Body For Life

Last Editorial Review: 5/20/2005

What It Is

Body-for-Life is an intense exercise and nutrition program based on the premise that you're more likely to stick with a diet and workout if you see results quickly. Indeed, founder Bill Phillips makes this promise: Follow his program for 12 weeks and you'll have the best body you've ever had. The program is challenging. It involves training with weights for 45 minutes three days a week, then alternating with aerobic exercise for at least 20 minutes three days a week.

The diet involves eating six small meals each day for six days a week, drawing from a list of healthy foods such as vegetables, brown rice, poultry, and fish. On the seventh day, you rest -- free to eat anything you want and take a day off from the rigorous workout.

Open the best-selling Body-for-Life book and you'll see before-and-after photos of people who went from flab to fab. They don't just look slimmer. They look terrific. Their fab abs and chiseled muscles in the "after" photos are in stark contrast to the "before" pictures that look, well, like most of us. But remember, strenuous exercise virtually every day is the key to this program. Odds are, your body would improve significantly with such workouts, even if you weren't also dieting.

What You Can Eat

The good news is that with all the work Body-for-Life requires, you have to eat. Grazing, not gorging, is the key. The program requires you to eat six moderate-sized meals a day. Each meal consists of a fist-sized portion of protein -- lean mean, poultry, fish, egg whites, or cottage cheese -- and a fist-sized portion of carbohydrates such as potatoes or brown rice. You must also eat at least two portions of vegetables, and drink 10 glasses of water each day. Nutritional supplements (sold by another company that Phillips founded) and a tablespoon or two of healthy oil (such as flaxseed) round out the diet.

The diet breaks down to about 40%-50% protein, the same for carbohydrates, and very little fat. (A traditional weight-loss diet is 60% carbohydrates, 20-25% protein, and 20-25% fat.)

Body-for-Life provides this list of authorized foods to choose from:


  • Chicken breast
  • Turkey breast
  • Swordfish
  • Haddock
  • Orange roughy
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Top round or top sirloin steak
  • Lean ground beef
  • Buffalo
  • Egg whites
  • Lean ham
  • Low-fat cottage cheese


  • Baked potato
  • Sweet potato
  • Yam
  • Squash
  • Pumpkin
  • Steamed brown rice
  • Steamed wild rice
  • Pasta
  • Oatmeal
  • Barley
  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Strawberries
  • Melon
  • Apple
  • Orange
  • Fat-free yogurt
  • Whole-wheat bread


  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Lettuce
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Green beans
  • Green pepper
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Tomato
  • Peas
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Artichoke
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber
  • Onion

How It Works

Bottom line: You eat fewer calories and you burn more calories in exercise.

The foods on Body-for-Life's authorized list tend to be lower in calories than standard American fare. By eating fist-sized portions, you're sure to consume fewer calories, even if you are eating six meals a day.

Also, the intense weight lifting will build muscle, which lifts your metabolic rate all day. By exercising strenuously six days a week, eventually you'll burn more calories around the clock.

What the Experts Say

Body-for-Life's program is effective if you follow it closely, but it may require too much exercise for most people.

"There's an element of truth and an element of science and a lot of hype to this program," says fitness expert Steven N. Blair, PED, director of research at the renowned Cooper Institute in Dallas.

"Is this the solution to our huge national problem of obesity? No, people will not do that much exercise, other than a tiny percentage," Blair tells WebMD. "As it is, fewer than 15% of adult Americans get as much exercise as the recommended three 10-minute walks a day. But if a person who by sheer force of will is able to do the BFL program -- and tolerate the injuries from such intense effort -- there is nothing wrong with it."

Experts disagree on the value of a diet that's 40-50% protein. If you have normal kidneys, it's probably not a problem, says Conrad Earnest, PhD, direct of human performance at the Cooper Institute. "If you are not blessed with well-functioning kidneys, you may have a problem." The body uses carbohydrates first for fuel. When you limit carbohydrates, your body turns to stored fat for fuel. This process burns fat, but it also increases the strain on your kidneys.

Food for Thought

Six small meals a day is a very good idea, as long as the total number of calories you eat doesn't go up, says Peter W.R. Lemon, PhD, director of the exercise nutrition research laboratory at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada.

"If you go to grazing instead of (large) meals, you alter how your body handles energy intake," he explains. "The body is predisposed to store energy as fat when you eat a few large meals. When you graze, you tend to use stored fat as energy. So eating many meals will make you more efficient."

But don't expect to look like the "after" pictures in just 12 weeks, warns Earnest at the Cooper Institute. "Intensity like this does produce both a functional and a cosmetic result, but nobody gets bodybuilder muscles just by following the basic program for 12 weeks," he says. "That takes more advanced training."

Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD February 2004.

SOURCES: Body-for-Life web site. Conrad Earnest, PhD, director of human performance, The Cooper Institute, Dallas. Steven N. Blair, PED, director of research, The Cooper Institute, Dallas. Peter W.R. Lemon, PhD, director of the exercise nutrition research laboratory, the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.

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