Sunday, July 25, 2010

Body for Life: What Went Wrong, Part 1

Some readers may know that I was a Body for Life enthusiast for six years. At age 33, I had no workout program, was a little on the fleshy side, and yet I was constantly hungry. A friend showed me a book called Body for Life (BFL) by Bill Phillips, and I was so impressed by the before and after photos that I tried the program. The plan consisted of eating six servings each of carbohydrates and proteins and two servings of green vegetables per day, plus six short but hard workouts per week. (A serving is the size of your fist.) I did, indeed, go down two dress sizes quickly and build muscle while eating more on BFL.

Four years later, I had recovered from a sprained neck and back from a car wreck and resumed BFL in earnest. But it stopped working, and by late 2009, I had put on 20 pounds of fat despite following the diet as well as I had before and being diligent about workouts.

Why did the same program produce different results at different times? This is the question I’ll explore in this post.

Why I think BFL worked, and then stopped working for me
I believe BFL worked for me initially because I was eating sufficient protein and lifting weights. The insulin released due to carb intake was used in building muscle. (Some weightlifters inject insulin to bulk up; I never did nor does BFL even mention the practice.) I believe that BFL stopped working for me because I was no longer building much muscle (I was lifting the maximum that my joints, not my muscles, would take) and because I was releasing more and more insulin, which increases appetite and sends more nutrients to the fat cells.

How metabolism changes
A person’s metabolism can change with time. The perfect example is diabetes II, formerly known as adult onset diabetes. Over time, the pancreas can lose its ability to produce enough insulin to handle excess blood sugar. Carbohydrate intake increases blood sugar, and insulin is released to send it to certain cells instead of leaving it in the bloodstream, where it can cause damage. High carb intake leads to lots of insulin, which can lead to the cells becoming insulin resistant, so the pancreas has to produce more and more insulin. When the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, blood sugar levels remain too high, a condition called diabetes II. And the “lots of insulin” part causes some people to gain fat, which is why diabetics are often overweight. (People with diabetes I cannot produce insulin at all; therefore, they cannot gain fat without insulin injections.) You cannot get diabetes without certain genes; there are diabetics on both sides of my family.

Phillips himself says much the same thing about metabolism on p. 48:

Insulin is what I call a “nutrient-transport hormone.” It shuttles amino acids and glucose (blood sugar), among other things, into cells. But, when you eat too many carbs over a long period of time, your body becomes “insulin resistant,” and you can develop adult-onset diabetes, which can lead to obesity, heart disease, and a whole lot of other health problems, including unstable energy levels and fatigue. Eating a high-carb diet can also stimulate the appetite and cause unfavorable and unpredictable mood swings (especially in the midafternoon). Moreover, whenever insulin levels are elevated, your body will not burn fat....The solution is to balance carbohydrate and protein intake.

Stimulated appetite, not burning fat, and according to some coworkers, unpredictable mood swings (or "being unhelpful") was exactly what happened to me. So how does it follow that the solution is to balance carbohydrate and protein? I'll address that in my next post.

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