Bodybuilder and motivational guru Bill Phillips is a walking example of his Body-for-Life philosophy of weight control and fitness. Just look at his photo, sans T-shirt, on the Web site or in the books. The words that come to mind: buff, muscular, whipcord-lean. Heres a 40-year-old guy who has pummeled his body into amazing physical shape. And hes willing to share his secrets about how others can do the same. As an added twist, Phillips challenges dieters to compete for prizes as they work through his 12-week program. After the first challenge, the winner took home Phillips blood-red Lamborghini Diablo. This year, the top prize is $1,000,000. Not interested in the competition? Thats OK. Dieters dont need to sign up for the challenge to join the program.

Its hard not to like the way Phillips guides a dieter through the difficult process of shaping up. He commiserates over potential fitness and weight-loss pitfalls like a good buddy might. And hes extremely adept at delivering lingo that is motivational. But with an everyday exercise regimen and a rigid diet plan, youre likely to be in for some major work with this plan.

Basic principles:

Phillips says his plan is not a diet, but a style of eating that helps promote fat loss and good health. Exercise is a big part of the program. In Phillips words, “Exercise is the spark. Nutrition is the fuel. Without both, there can be no flame—no results.” Phillips is all for planning: planning meals in advance, planning the precise times to eat and exercise, and planning trips to the supermarket. The emphasis, as with most bodybuilding regimens, is on lean protein, supplements, and weight training.

How the diet works:

For 6 days out of 7, you nibble on the daily prescribed six small meals. On the seventh, or “free,” day, you can eat whatever you crave: hot-fudge sundaes, cheeseburgers, whatever. Nothing is taboo for those 24 hours. But then its back to precise eating.

What you can eat:

Authorized foods only. At first, just 21 foods made that list. Now in Phillipss latest tome, Eating for Life (High Point Media, 2003), the list includes 82 options divided among five food categories—proteins, vegetarian proteins, carbs, vegetables, and fats. You eat a serving of protein (about the size of your palm) and a serving of carbohydrate (the size of a clenched fist) at each of six small meals. Vegetables are added to at least two meals daily. For fat, 1 tablespoon of unsaturated oil is allowed each day. Or you can have three portions of salmon each week in place of the daily fat.

Does the diet take and keep weight off?

Theres no scientific data. But Phillips provides lots of anecdotal stories, as well as dramatic before-and-after photos of people who have trimmed body fat with his program. His belief: Most people can lose 25 pounds of body fat in 12 weeks. If they lose “more weight than 2 pounds a week, they may be losing muscle tissue as well, which is bad news,” he says. Losing muscle slows metabolism, and “fat loss could come to a screeching halt.”

Is the diet healthy?

Hard to say. Talk about protein overload: The Monday sample meal plan Phillips provides in Body-for-Life is 46 percent protein without even adding in the high-protein Myoplex shakes. And two servings a day of vegetables, albeit the minimum required, isnt going to provide much in the way of vitamins and minerals.

What do the experts say?

Six meals a day and a daily exercise plan are both good strategies for weight loss, says registered dietitian Jane Kirby, who reviewed Phillips regimen in her book Dieting for Dummies (Wiley, second edition, 2003). “But the diet is overly strict, and the foods on the authorized list have no special qualities that help with weight loss,” she says. Sports nutritionist Jackie Berning, PhD, RD, an associate professor of biology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, finds the regimen difficult to maintain long-term. “When people start eating a bigger variety of foods,” she says, “the weight comes back. I know people who have followed the eating and exercise program religiously for a while, but eventually they seem to fall off the wagon. They cant keep it up for the rest of their life.” What does Berning think of all this protein? “The high protein is little bit like bodybuilding diets. The body doesnt need that much protein, so youll probably be peeing out the excess and ending up with very expensive urine.” And the exercise? “People like the workout. I just wish it had a bigger cardiovascular component,” she says. Bodybuilding programs often skimp on heart-healthy cardiovascular exercise.

Who should consider the diet?

Serious bodybuilders; dieters who thrive on strictly regimented eating and exercise plans.

Bottom line:

This diet is far too strict to be realistic for all but dedicated bodybuilders. Surely dieters can lose weight and get in shape with less effort than called for here. After all, flexibility, not rigid guidelines, is what makes dieting doable for most folks.
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