Just before Christmas 2016 a Bodyscan client presented with the most dramatic change in body re-composition we have ever seen.
In just four months (from August to December), the client lost 11.5kg of fat and gained 6.4kg of muscle.
The numbers are impressive enough on their own, but are even more remarkable when you learn the client:
1. used no drugs, stimulants, supplements or shakes
2. was in a calorie deficit of about 500 calories a day
3. did zero cardio
4. is female
Prepare to forget everything you thought you knew about fat loss, muscle gain and bodybuilding when you read Joanna’s story. It starts with a Bodyscan DEXA scan that was “so mortifying, so shocking that it messed with my head and took me six months to recover from”.
Then in August last year, Joanna began a programme of Bayesian Bodybuilding. Click 'Read more' to continue.
At age 34, Joanna had spent at least nine years qualifying as a clinician and more than half her life exercising and eating well. She had spent two years competing in bodybuilding and bikini contests and is a REPS Level 4 personal trainer, as well as a two-time Ironman finisher and had competed at the Half Ironman World Championships in 2009.
“I had always weighed a lot, my BMI was always above 25 (‘overweight’) but I figured that was because I had a lot of muscle from lifting weights,” she said.
“But when I had the DEXA scan [in May 2015] I was shocked. Everything on it was bad. I had 40% body fat, high visceral fat and my muscle mass was barely average.”
Indeed, set against Bodyscan’s female client base, those three markers put her around the 80th, 85th and 50th percentiles, respectively.
“The report messed with my head. It forced me to re-evaluate and realise that everything I had ever done and read, everything I thought I knew and had been told about exercise and nutrition – often by expensive personal trainers – was just nonsense.”
After six months of doing very little, Joanna tried a ketogenic (low-carb, high-fat) diet as well as intermittent 24-hour fasting, neither of which worked for her. [Bodyscan has clients for whom keto and IF works well.]
A full year after her scan and having made no progress, Joanna was desperate to get things moving again and chanced upon online training site BayesianBodybuilding.com, authored by Menno Henselmans, a Dutch former business consultant specialised in statistical data analysis. The Bayesian tag derives from Thomas Bayes, who contributed to statistics and economics. As the website says: “Bayesian methods tell us how to form rational beliefs based on the available information. The Bayesian method is thus data driven and evidence based.”
Joanna says, “The irony is that my years of medical training and my practise as a doctor is based on hard, statistical, empirical evidence and I was not applying that approach to my training.
“Most of us accept that the world of bodybuilding and body-shaping is fuelled by so much groundless ‘bro science’ but we accept and perpetuate it because we don’t really understand what we’re reading,” she says.
The ‘bro science’ is so ingrained, so accepted that “everything Menno wanted me to do seemed to be lunacy because everything he says goes against mainstream advice. But he’s a highly educated individual and proved that everything about building muscle and losing fat I ever believed to be true was not true. ”
Joanna’s results turn mainstream advice on its head: She built muscle and lost fat simultaneously (a net change of almost 18kg in just four months); she ate just 1000 calories a day, a deficit of about 500 calories a day according to most BMR calculations; she ate moderate (130g) protein (a “protein-sparing modified fast”) and consumed no supplements or shakes; calories have been increased to further reduce fat; she does a full-body weights workout every day – no rest days, zero cardio and no cheat meals.
“He told me to never be hungry, which is hard on just 1000 calories a day, so I eat more than 3 pounds of green vegetables a day. It’s hard not to eat too much protein either,” she says.
While Henselmans rails against swathes of mainstream advice (and provides evidence to support his contrarian stance) there is little that’s generic or shared across his clients; everything is uniquely otpimised. The results of Joanna’s first DEXA body scan were fed into the Bayesian programme.
And while weight-training seven days a week (and the rest of it) may seem intense, Joanna says, “It’s extreme, yes, but it also a very realistic mindset. If you want to be very good at something you have to be dedicated. There’s no room for balance!”
The results speak for themselves. As well as the remarkable change in body re-composition Joanna’s strength has increased dramatically. Her deadlift sets have increased from 55kg to 93kg.
Like an ex-smoker who has rediscovered her sense of taste, Joanna admits that her newfound physiology paradigm has made her “a bit self-righteous” (though not evangelical).
“I am a doctor in one of the most deprived parts of the UK and every day I see obesity, ill-health and chronic disease caused by poor diet and a lack of exercise. When I see people make bad choices I think to myself ‘what you’re doing today will affect you in 20-30 years from now.’”
And about the DEXA scan that – eventually – motivated Joanna to start the journey? She says emphatically: “There’s no point having a scan unless you’re going to act on it.”
Notes from Philip Chant, Director of Bodyscan:
I interviewed Joanna (not her real name) by phone in January. Her two scan reports are 17 months apart (May 2015 and December 2016), so unfortunately we do not have unchallengeable proof that the changes recorded occurred in five months. However, from having met Joanna and conducting the interview I am in no doubt whatsoever about the veracity of everything in this case study. As director of Bodyscan I would not publish or distribute the story if I did not believe it to be true.
Menno Henselmans has confirmed that Joanna became a client on August 9th 2016 and the programme he devised was based on the results of the May 2015 body scan. He also said, “She told me ‘If anything, I looked a bit worse.’”
The purpose of the case study is simply to provide an article of interest and ‘food for thought’ to Bodyscan subscribers. It is not intended as an advertisement or an endorsement of Menno Henselmans’s Bayesian Bodybuilding. Menno was sent the case study only after it was written to correct any technical or factual errors in relation to Joanna’s programme and general methodology.
It should be emphasised that Joanna's programme was uniquely constructed for her and her alone. It is not a generic programme and the individual elements within it (eg, weight training on a calorie deficit) should not be taken as general advice for you to follow.