With spring finally here, now is the perfect time to tone your tummy for bikini season. Men's Health Editor-in-Chief David Zinczenko — the man known as the architect of abs — helped millions of Americans banish belly fat with his best-selling book, "The Abs Diet." Now his latest book, "The Abs Diet for Women: The Six-Week Plan to Flatten Your Belly and Firm Up Your Body for Life," tackles the specific needs and concerns of today's busy women — from those who work late in the office, to moms juggling school and soccer schedules. Here's an excerpt:
The Abs Diet for Women
You Have Abs. Yes, You.
When you think of abs, you may think of Brad Pitt or Janet Jackson. You may think of magazine covers and underwear commercials. You may think of six-packs, washboards, and a belly so tight that you could bounce a diamond off it. Your cynical side may also think of airbrushing, starvation diets, and an exercise regimen so time-consuming it would violate labor laws. Abs, you assume, are reserved for athletes, for models, for bodybuilders, for trainers, for rappers, for the half-dressed “talent” on infomercials, for genetic freaks, for the liposuctioned, and for people who would classify celery as a dessert.
Your conclusion: You have a better chance of finishing the Boston Marathon barefoot than you do of getting great abs and a flat belly.
As the editor-in-chief of Men’s Health magazine, I know that you-no matter how big, round, or droopy your belly, how many diets you’ve tried, or how tempting the Boston barefoot challenge sounds-can develop a flat stomach. See, I analyze health and fitness information the way brokers analyze the market. It’s my job to find the fastest, best, and smartest ways for you to make tremendous gains in your most important investment: your body. So when I think about flat stomachs, the only thing I think about is this: how you can get one.
I understand the struggle. You look down, see a Jell-O mold implanted in your stomach or thighs, and figure that your days of having a flat belly vanished the day you graduated from high school or gave birth to Junior. Even if it’s been decades since you’ve made any kind of contact, the physiological fact remains: You have abs.
The Abs Diet is going to help you flatten your stomach so you can find them.
Belly Fat will Kill You
Many of us tend to store fat in our bellies, and that’s where the health dangers of excess weight begin. Some of us store it above the belt, while others store it below the belt. In any case, abdominal fat doesn’t just sit there and do nothing; it’s active. It functions like a separate organ, releasing substances that can be harmful to your body. Abdominal fat bears the blame for many health problems because it resides within striking distance of your heart, liver, and other organs-pressing on them, feeding them poisons, and messing with their daily function.
But you can save yourself from belly fat!
So let’s get right to it, because eating more of the right foods more often is the basis of the Abs Diet. Remember: MORE FOOD + MORE MUSCLE = LESS FLAB
Guideline 1: Eat Six Meals a Day
We’re so used to hearing people talk about eating less food that it’s become weight-loss doctrine. But as you remember from the physiology of metabolism, you have to eat more often to change your body composition. The new philosophy I want you to keep in mind is “energy balance.”
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There’s science to support the fact that more meals work, but the plain-speak reason it works is because it does something that many diets don’t do: It keeps you full and satiated, which will reduce the likelihood of a diet-destroying binge.
Guideline 2: Make These 12 Abs Diet Powerfoods the Staples of Your Diet
The Abs Diet will teach you to focus on (not restrict yourself to) a handful of food types--the Abs Diet Power 12--to fulfill your core nutritional needs. These foods are all good for you. They’re so good, in fact, that they’ll just about single-handedly exchange your fat for a toned, lean body (provided you’ve kept your receipt). Just as important, I’ve designed the Power 12 to include literally thousands of food combinations. There are hundreds of dairy products, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and other choices to satisfy your tastes. Incorporating these Powerfoods into your six meals a day will satiate your tastes and cravings and keep you from feasting on the dangerous fat promoters in your diet.
You’ll read more about these Powerfoods below. For now, I just want you to remember:
Almonds and other nuts
Beans and legumes
Spinach and other green vegetables
Dairy (fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese)
Instant oatmeal (unsweetened, unflavored)
Turkey and other lean meats
Whole-grain breads and cereals
Extra-protein (whey) powder
Raspberries and other berries
Guideline 3: Drink Smoothies Regularly
When you consider that changing your body takes time, motivation, and knowledge, consider your blender to be one of your most powerful tools in this plan. Smoothies made with a mixture of the Abs Diet Powerfoods can act as meal substitutions and as potent snacks, and they work for a few reasons.
• They require little time.
• Adding berries, flavored whey powder, or peanut butter will make them taste like dessert, which will satisfy your sweet cravings.
• Their thickness takes up a lot of space in your stomach.
How it works: Drink an 8-ounce smoothie for breakfast, as a meal substitute, or as a snack before or after your workout.
Guideline 4: Stop Counting
Though calorie burning is paramount to losing fat, calorie counting will make you lose focus and motivation. By eating the 12 Abs Diet Powerfoods and their many relatives, the foods themselves will, in a way, count your calories for you. They’ll keep you healthy and feeling full and satisfied. Plus, the most energy- efficient foods are almost like doormen at a nightclub: They’re not going to let any of the riffraff in without your approval.
Guideline 5: Know What to Drink-And What Not To
I hate to tell you to drink water, but drinking about eight glasses a day has a lot of benefits. It helps keep you satiated. (A lot of times what we interpret as hunger is really thirst.) Water flushes the waste products your body makes when it breaks down fat for energy or when it processes protein. You also need water to transport nutrients to your muscles, to help digest food, and to keep your metabolism clicking.
Guideline 6: For One Meal a Week, Forget the First Five Guidelines
I would never advocate cheating on your spouse, your employer, or your taxes. But I want you to cheat on this diet. I want you to take one meal during the week and forget everything about good carbohydrates and good fats. Have half a pizza, Kit Kats, Alfredo sauce, or whatever it is that you miss the most while you’re on this plan. Have it, savor it, and then dig back in for another week. I want you to cheat for a couple reasons. One, I want you to control when you cheat. Plan your cheat meal for the week-whether it’s Saturday night out, a neighbor’s cookout, or whenever. But if you keep it planned, you’ll stick to it.
Meet the powerfoods that will shrink your belly and keep you healthy for life
The Power 12 are the foods that have been proven to do one or more of the following:
- Build muscle
- Help promote weight loss
- Strengthens bone
- Lower blood pressure
- Fight cancer
- Improves immune function
- Fights heart disease
#1: Almonds and Other Nuts
Superpowers: builds muscle, fights cravings
Secret weapons: protein, monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, fiber, magnesium, folate (peanuts), phosphorus
Fights against: obesity, heart disease, muscle loss, wrinkles, cancer, high blood pressure
Sidekicks: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, avocados
Imposters: salted or smoked nuts
#2: Beans and Legumes
Superpowers: builds muscle, helps burn fat, regulates digestion
Secret weapons: fiber, protein, iron, folate
Fights against: obesity, colon cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure
Sidekicks: lentils, peas, bean dips, hummus, edamame
Imposters: refried beans, which are high in saturated fats; baked beans, which are high in sugar
#3: Spinach and Other Green Vegetables
Superpowers: neutralizes free radicals, which are molecules that accelerate the aging process
Secret weapons: vitamins including A, C, and K; folate; minerals including calcium and magnesium; fiber; beta-carotene
Fights against: cancer, heart disease, stroke, obesity, osteoporosis
Sidekicks: cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts; green, yellow, red, and orange vegetables like asparagus, peppers, and yellow beans
Imposters: none, as long as you don’t fry them or smother them in fatty cheeses
#4: Dairy (Fat-Free or Low-Fat Milk, Yogurt, Cheese, and Cottage Cheese)
Superpowers: builds strong bones, fires up weight loss
Secret weapons: calcium, vitamins A and B12, riboflavin, phosphorus, potassium
Fights against: osteoporosis, obesity, high blood pressure, cancer
Imposters: whole milk, frozen yogurt
#5: Instant Oatmeal (Unsweetened, Unflavored)
Superpowers: boosts energy and sex drive, reduces cholesterol, maintains blood sugar levels
Secret weapons: complex carbohydrates and fiber
Fights against: heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, obesity
Sidekicks: high-fiber cereals like All-Bran and Fiber One
Imposters: cereals with added sugar and high-fructose corn syrup
Superpowers: builds muscle, burns fat
Secret weapons: protein, vitamin B12, vitamin A
Fights against: obesity
#7: Turkey and Other Lean Meats (Lean Steak, Chicken, and Fish)
Superpowers: builds muscle, improves the immune system
Secret weapons: protein, iron, zinc, creatine (beef), omega-3 fatty acids (fish), vitamins B6 (chicken and fish) and B12, phosphorus, potassium
Fights against: obesity, various diseases
Sidekicks: shellfish, Canadian bacon
Imposters: sausage, bacon, cured meats, ham, fatty cuts of steak like T-bone and rib-eye
#8: Peanut Butter (All-Natural, Sugar-Free)
Superpowers: boosts testosterone, builds muscle, burns fat
Secret weapons: protein, monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, niacin, magnesium
Fights against: obesity, muscle loss, wrinkles, cardiovascular disease
Sidekicks: cashew and almond butters
Imposters: mass-produced sugary and trans fatty peanut butters
#9: Olive Oil
Superpowers: lowers cholesterol, boosts the immune system
Secret weapons: monounsaturated fat, vitamin E
Fights against: obesity, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure
Sidekicks: canola oil, peanut oil, sesame oil
Imposters: vegetable and hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fatty acids, margarine
#10: Whole-Grain Breads and Cereals
Superpower: prevents your body from storing fat
Secret weapons: fiber, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, potassium, iron, calcium
Fights against: obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease
Sidekicks: brown rice, whole-wheat pretzels, whole-wheat pastas
Imposters: processed bakery products like white bread, bagels, and doughnuts; breads labeled wheat instead of whole wheat
#11: Extra-Protein (Whey) Powder
Superpowers: builds muscle, burns fat
Secret weapons: protein, cysteine, glutathione
Fights against: obesity
Sidekick: ricotta cheese
Imposter: soy protein
#12: Raspberries and Other Berries
Superpowers: protects your heart; enhances eyesight; improves balance, coordination, and short-term memory; prevents cravings
Secret weapons: antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C, tannins (cranberries)
Fights against: heart disease, cancer, obesity
Sidekicks: most other fruits, especially apples and grapefruit
Imposters: jellies, most of which eliminate fiber and add sugar
The Abs Diet Workout Principles
Having worked at Men’s Health for more than 10 years, I know all the latest trends in exercise, but I also scour the latest and most credible scientific research measuring the effectiveness of various workout plans. With that knowledge, I’ve constructed the exercise portion of the plan to help you burn fat at the highest levels possible in the least amount of time.
These are the workout principles:
Focus on your diet first
The first 2 weeks of exercise are optional. If you already exercise regularly, you can jump right into the Abs Diet Workout, and you should, because you’ll burn even more fat than with the Abs Diet alone. But if you’re a beginner or you haven’t exercised in a long time, take the first 2 weeks to adjust to your new eating plan before starting the workout. If you’re champing at the bit to begin maximizing your weight loss, start getting in the exercise habit by walking briskly for up to 30 minutes a day.
Focus on muscles
I know a lot of people who have tries to lose weight by running, but many of them don’t accomplish that even after following a good running program. They’ve either stayed at the same weight or gained some. I think that happens for a couple of reasons. For one, steady-state cardiovascular exercise doesn’t burn fat the way strength training does. Plus, when you work your larger muscles, you fire up your metabolism by creating a longer calorie afterburn—one that can last right up to your very next workout!
Focus on spending less time in the gym
The Abs Diet Workout employs two simple concepts to maximize muscle growth and fat-burning and minimize the time you spend exercising.
Compound exercises. Another key part of the strength-training program is compound exercises, that is, exercises that call into play multiple muscle groups rather than just focusing on one. For example, with the Abs Diet Workout, we don’t want you to exercise your chest, and then your shoulders, and then your triceps, and then your forearms. We want you to hit many different muscles at the same time and then get out of the gym. What’s best is that workouts that build 2 to 3 pounds of lean muscle for women take only 20 minutes three times a week.
Focus on intensity. Time and time again, research has shown that higher-intensity workouts promote weight loss better than steady-state activities.
Copyright © 2007 by David Zinczenko and Ted Spiker. Excerpted from "The Abs Diet for Women: The Six-Week Plan to Flatten Your Belly and Firm Up Your Body for Life" by David Zinczenko and Ted Spiker. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from Rodale.
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