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A woman's guide to a betterand healthier body

How you should eat and exercise changes as you get older. "Body for Life for Women" outlines each stage. Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

When Bill Phillips wrote "Body for Life" in 1999, hundreds of thousands of readers signed on to the plan and changed the way they ate, exercised and lived. Now this program has been altered specifically for women. In "Body for Life for Women: A Woman's Plan for Physical and Mental Transformation," Dr. Pamela Peeke recognizes that women's bodies change throughout their lives, and she outlines exercise and nutritional guidelines for these different stages. Read an excerpt.

The Breakthrough for Women: Part 1

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
—Helen Keller

We met on a fine autumn day in 2001. Then 48, Margaret, a talented editor who sat anxiously in my waiting room, was in full-throttle perimenopause. I led her to my office, offered her a seat in the Victorian armchair across from my desk, and asked why she’d come.I had a pretty good idea.

She looked at me and tried to smile. Instead, her eyes welled with tears.

“I’m 5 feet 5 inches and 236 pounds. I wear a size 22. I’m disgusted with my body — and scared that I’m going to die.”

Back then, studies had just begun to implicate excess inner abdominal fat — what I call Toxic Fat — as a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes, among other illnesses. Margaret was aware of these studies, and she had reason to worry. The workup I gave her that day said it all.Fully 45 percent of her body was fat. Her fasting blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure were all above normal. Her mother had both heart disease and diabetes, and Margaret was following in her footsteps. She wanted to be there for her three children. She was having nightmares about losing it all.

I told her that to save her life, she had to change it. Then, together, we customized a new method of living that would work for her — a new way to eat, move her body, and manage the stress that was undermining her physical and emotional well-being.

Several months into her program, she left me a voice mail. Her husband, Richard, was ill. She’d be back as soon as the crisis was resolved. I sighed — I was concerned that she’d abandon all the positive changes she’d made. Who could blame her?

But 5 months later, there she was. In my waiting room, I’d walked right past her. You see, she’d really changed. The sad, defeated Margaret I’d met months before had been transformed into a smiling, serene-looking, and very fit woman.

Margaret told me that Richard had developed a life-threatening intestinal blockage and had had to spend weeks in the intensive care unit of a major medical center 60 miles from her home. She’d spent 4 months by his bedside.

I thought: This woman had the perfect excuse to let herself go — a sick husband, a boatload of stress. She could have stopped working out, started eating badly again.

Instead, she brought her own healthy meals to her husband’s hospital room and left his side long enough each day to walk briskly around the hospital campus. She’d even gotten a short-term membership at a local gym to get in her weight lifting.

Margaret had removed 45 pounds. Her body fat was down 7 points. She’d lost 4 inches off her waist, and her fasting blood sugar and cholesterol were within normal limits. Her blood pressure was down, too.

“Awesome. Absolutely awesome,” I said, giving her a hug. “How’d you do it?”

Smiling, Margaret said, “When my husband got sick, I wanted to crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head. I knew I had to stay strong — for him, for my family — but I didn’t know how I was going to pull it off.

“One day as I was stressing out, this image of myself popped into my head. I was a woman warrior. I had the sword, the breastplate, the whole deal, and I was fighting for my husband’s life.”

Sounds very Xena, right? But that image gave her focus. Purpose. Every time she walked, lifted weights, chose to fuel her body with good, healthy food, she was staying strong. For him, and for her children.

But somewhere along the line, Margaret started getting stronger not just for them but for herself.

“I felt powerful,” Margaret said. “My muscles were stronger. My mind was clearer. By the time my husband had recovered, I felt like I’d been reborn.”

Right then, I got it. This woman had cracked the code. She’d stayed with her program because she’d decided, consciously or not, to fight for her own life as fiercely as she’d fought for her husband’s.

And that, girlfriends, is the core of Body-for-LIFE for Women.

The search for a woman’s formula
In my first book, "Fight Fat after Forty," I helped introduce the world to the stress–fat connection with the aim of helping women prevent what I called Toxic Fat, the stubborn fat inside your belly that accumulates when stress is out of control and that has been linked to many deadly chronic diseases.

Since the publication of that book, we know more than ever before about women’s health. The bad news: Women’s health has gotten worse! Over 30 percent of women carry at least 50 pounds more than recommended for optimal health. And, frighteningly, their daughters are becoming so sedentary and overweight that they risk becoming the first generation not to live as long as their parents. These changes only further steeled my resolve to develop a solution that would help women live longer, healthier lives. I’d heard of the book Body-for-LIFE, of course — was there anyone left on the planet who hadn’t heard of this program for physical and mental transformation? — but when I hatched the plan for my second book, I hadn’t yet read it. One afternoon, I picked up Body-for-LIFE, sat down, and read it cover to cover.

And it got me thinking. I’d treated lots of women over the years. They had had babies, got PMS every month, were going through perimenopause, or were well past menopause. Normal woman things. And though many got very fit during our work together, many struggled with creating the time and the emotional space for themselves to change their bodies the way they wanted to.

I knew from my practice that the most successful plan for today’s women would factor in the realities of a woman’s whole life — the full-time job, the endless caregiving, the stress that comes with trying to do it all. It would also recognize the importance of specific nutrients women need for optimal health, like calcium, iron, and folic acid. It would certainly need to accommodate the fluctuations in mood, energy, and appetite that happen around the time of a woman’s period or during perimenopause. And, most clearly of all, it would address the issues of emotional eating and poor body image — issues with which many women struggle on a daily basis.

I liked the idea of achieving a fit, healthy body “for life,” and how the program revolved around a personal 12-week Challenge. I knew from my work with my patients that the very word challenge suggested hope, potential, empowerment. When you accept a challenge, you step up to the plate and give it your all. Roll up your sleeves, so to speak, and get to work. And when the challenge is met, you get to savor the rewards of your efforts. Just for fun, I began to play with the program — to modify it to a woman’s unique physical and emotional makeup. And, as life would have it, I met Bill Phillips, the author of the original Body-for-LIFE, in Washington, D.C., on a snowy night in January 2004. We talked for hours, and it was clear that we both wanted to help people achieve their optimal mind and body, each from our own uniquely male and female points of view. That’s when I resolved to bring the Body-for-LIFE program to a wider audience of women and give them the opportunity to achieve their own physical and mental transformation.

The result? This mind/body program of transformation for women, which synthesizes the newest science; my expertise in the fields of nutrition, stress, and metabolism; and my experience in helping thousands of women revitalize their health and their lives. Body-for-LIFE for Women is a refinement of the original Body-for-LIFE program, a holistic, integrated plan for healthier living that incorporates information about nutrition, exercise, and stress management specifically chosen to help women achieve their Body-for-LIFE.

Excerpted from “Body for Life for Women: A Woman's Plan for Physical and Mental Transformation,” by Pamela Peeke. Copyright © 2005 by Pamela Peeke. Published by Rodale Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.

For more information, go to Dr. Peeke's Web site,