Body for Life is a twelve-week diet and rigorous exercise program designed by former competitive bodybuilder Bill Phillips. The program promises those who follow it faithfully that after 12 weeks they will not only have lost about 25 lb. (10 kg) if they are overweight, but they will have a new shape and a more muscular body.
Bill Phillips, the originator of the Body for Life program, is a former bodybuilder and was the founder of EAS, a dietary supplement manufacturer. In Body for Life, he has taken some of the principles of bodybuilding and incorporated them into a motivational program that is easily understandable to the general public. In 1996, when Phillips still owned EAS (he has since sold the company), he began the “EAS Grand Spokesperson Challenge.” The following year he changed its name to the Body for Life Challenge. This is a self-improvement competition based on the Body for Life program.
The Body for Life program became widely known with the publication of Body for Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength in 1999. Other books, videos, and a website have followed. Phillips claims that in a decade more than two million people have successfully changed their bodies and their lives through the Body for Life program.
Body for Life is both a diet and a rigorous exercise program served up with a big helping of motivational psychology. The diet part of the plan is relatively simple and offers some benefits over other plans in that it does not require calorie counting or careful measuring of food.
For 12 weeks, people on the Body for Life diet eat five or six small meals a day. The meals consist of a portion of lean, protein-rich food and a portion of unrefined or whole-grain carbohydrates. In addition, at least two meals daily must include a vegetable portion, and the diet should be supplemented by one tablespoon daily of oil high in monounsaturated fats. A portion is defined as being equal to the size and thickness of the dieter's hand (protein) or fist (carbohydrates and vegetables). Dieters estimate portion size rather than measuring.
Approved proteins include lean poultry, most fish and seafood, egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese, and, unlike many diets, lean beef and ham. For vegetarians, approved proteins include tempeh, soy, textured vegetable protein, and seitan. Vegetarians will have a hard time meeting the protein requirements of this diet. Vegans will most likely not be able to do so.
Approved carbohydrates include baked potato, sweet potato, both brown and white rice, pasta, whole wheat bread, whole wheat tortillas, dried beans, oatmeal, and whole grains such as quinoa. Also included in the approved carbohydrates list are apples, melon, strawberries, oranges, and corn. This is a much less restrictive list of carbohydrates than appears in many diets.
Approved vegetables include lettuce, tomato, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, zucchini, peas, bell peppers, celery, and onions. All are to be served as plain vegetables without sauce. The daily oil allotment can come from salad dressing.
The fats requirement of this diet can be met with unsaturated oils such as canola, olive, safflower, or flaxseed, but also through eating salmon three times a week or with avocados, natural peanut butter, or a handful of nuts or seeds daily.
In addition to allowed foods, dieters are required to drink 10 or more glasses of water daily. The diet is to be followed rigorously for six days. On the seventh day, dieters can eat anything they want. Overall, this diet allows a larger diversity of foods than many diets, but it is a high-protein, low-fat diet with about half the calories consumed coming from protein and very few from fats. Generally, dietitians recommend a diet that is about 55% carbohydrates, with emphasis on wholegrain carbohydrates; 15%–20% protein; and no more than 30% fat. The diet recommends unsaturated fats and restricts sweets, junk food, and empty calories that add few nutrients. One criticism of the diet is that Phillips repeatedly recommends dietary supplements made by his former company.
The exercise portion of Body for Life is more complicated than the food portion. It consists of a two-week block of exercises. Forty-five minute weight-training exercises for either the upper or lower body alternate with a minimum of 20-minute aerobic exercises with every seventh day as a day of rest.
Exercises are to be done at specific levels of exertion using a 10-point rating scale developed by the American College of Sports Medicine. This scale allows the level of difficulty to be personalized to the individual. Most exercises consist of multiple repetitions beginning around level 5 (hard, but with plenty of energy to continue). They move on to a completely flat effort at level 10, where the individual is putting out the maximal effort possible. These exercises are intended to be difficult. Phillips believes that short bursts of maximal exercise burn more calories than longer exercise periods at lower intensities. One drawback is that these exercises are best done in a gym with equipment and a supervised environment because of their intensity.
The theory behind the Body for Life diet is that eating many small meals high in protein during the day helps keep insulin levels steady and boosts metabolism so that the body burns calories at a higher rate. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose (sugar) levels in the body. When blood glucose is too high, cells store the extra glucose as glycogen or fat. In addition, Phillips says that protein suppresses energy and is essential for building muscle mass. The goal of the Body for Life plan is not just to lose weight, but to develop a sculpted body.
With increased exercise; a low-fat, high-protein diet; and reduced portion sizes, Body for Life does help people lose weight rapidly. People do gain muscle and strength through exercise. The main drawback to achieving these benefits is the rigorousness of the program and the difficulty people have staying on it. Eating five or six times a day and finding time to exercise daily requires a major lifestyle change. The committed will see benefits, but this program is not for everyone.
Because of the high level of exercise involved in this program, dieters should talk to their doctor about whether their physical condition will allow them to participate. This is probably not a good program for people with heart or respiratory problems. Children and teens who are still growing and pregnant women also are unlikely candidates for this program. People with kidney disease should discuss the diet aspect of the program with their doctor since their kidneys may not be able to handle a high-protein diet. Anecdotally, the program appears to be most successful with out-of-shape athletes who want to lose weight and get back in shape.
People who are not used to the level of exercise required by Body for Life are at high risk for developing injuries as a result of the exercise component of the program. In addition, many obesity experts feel that rapid weight loss—that is, loss of more than 1–1.5 lb. (0.5–0.7 kg) per week—increases the chance of weight cycling or putting the weight back on once the dieter begins eating a regular diet. Weight cycling is thought to have some harmful cardiovascular effects.
No scholarly research has been done on Body for Life. However, bodybuilders have used the diet and exercise principles behind the program for many years. Some registered dietitians (RDs) support the idea of eating many small meals during the day and using only unsaturated fats. They tend to dislike the high-protein content of the diet. The aspect criticized most strongly, however, is the need for dietary supplements in this program. Body for Life unabashedly pushes dieters to use EAS supplements. Many RDs feel that a healthy diet should not require protein shakes and other supplements beyond perhaps a multivitamin for certain dieters.
See also Bodybuilding diet ; Carbohydrates ; Protein ; Soy ; Whole grains .
Peeke, Pamela. Body-for-Life for Women: A Woman's Plan for Physical and Mental Transformation. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2005.
Phillips, Bill, with Michael D'Orso. Body for Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
Phillips, Bill. Eating for Life: Your Guide to Great Health, Fat Loss and Increased Energy! Golden, CO: High Point Media, 2003.
Phillips, Bill. Transformation. Los Angeles: T-Media, 2010.
Callahan, Maureen. “Body-for-Life.” Health.com . http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20410208,00.html (accessed March 15, 2018).
Tish Davidson, AM