Excerpt: 'The Abs Diet'

This excerpt from The Abs Diet, by David Zinczenko and Ted Spiker, offers guidelines on supercharging your diet with the "power 12 foods", and the weekly workout.

You have abs.

Yes, you.

When you think of abs, you may think of Brad Pitt or Janet Jackson. Your cynical side may also think of airbrushing, starvation diets, and an exercise regimen so time-consuming it would violate labor laws. Your conclusion: You have a better chance of scaling Mount Everest in a Speedo than you do of developing great abs.

But as the editor-in-chief of Men's Health magazine, I know you can have the midsection of your dreams. Listen: I analyze health and fitness information the way brokers analyze the market. And I've talked to and heard from thousands of folks who have shared their weight-loss success stories with Men's Health. So I've seen the plus side of the equation. But I've lived the negative, as well. I know what it's like to feel fat.

As a latchkey kid growing up in the early '80s, I made every mistake in the book. I ate fast food instead of smart food. I played video games when I should've been playing outside. By the time I reached age 14, I was carrying 212 pounds of torpid teenage tallow on my 5'10" frame. But I got lucky. When I graduated from high school, I enlisted in the Naval Reserve, where the tenets of fitness were pounded into me, day after day after day. Soon after I graduated from college, I joined Men's Health and learned the importance of proper nutrition and--just as important--the health threats inherent in carrying around too much fat in your gut. If you have a bulging belly, it means your internal organs, including your heart, are literally packed in fat. It's like renting a room to an arsonist.

Whether you want to change your body to improve your health, your looks, your athletic performance, or your overall appeal, this plan--which I call the Abs Diet--offers you a simple promise: It can transform your body so you can accomplish all of those goals. It won't just enhance your life; it will save it.

Start here: This is your six-pack, to go.

Belly Fat Will Kill You! Once You Have Fat, You Can Never Go Back

In gyms, playing fields, beaches, and bedrooms across the country, our bodies are constantly being measured. And in dressing room mirrors and on bathroom scales, we're constantly measuring ourselves. But let's set aside those vanity measurements and concentrate on measuring ourselves by a different set of criteria - the number of fat cells we're carrying.

The average American has about 30 billion fat cells; each of them is filled with greasy substances called lipids. When you pump doughnuts, corn chips, and fried Snickers bars into your system, those fat cells can expand - up to 1,000 times their original size. But a fat cell can get only so big; once it reaches its physical limit, it starts to behave like a long-running sitcom. It creates spin-offs, leaving you with two or more fat cells for the price of one. Only problem: Fat cells have a no-return policy. Once you have a fat cell, you're stuck with it. So as you grow fatter and double the number of fat cells in your body, you also double the difficulty you'll have losing the lipids inside them.

The Badness of Belly Fat Many of us tend to store fat in our bellies, and that's where the health dangers of excess weight begin. 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.

For instance, it releases free fatty acids that impair your ability to break down the hormone insulin (too much insulin in your system can lead to diabetes). Fat also secretes substances that increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as the stress hormone cortisol (high levels of cortisol are also associated with diabetes and obesity as well as with high blood pressure). 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.

Take Back Your Belly! Now take the person with a six-pack. He or she is the icon of strength and good health. He/she's lean; strong; looks good in clothes; looks good without clothes. Defined abs, in many ways, have defined fitness. But they define something else: They're the hallmark of a person who's in control of his body and, as such, in control of his health.

The Guidelines Most people who are embarking on a new mission begin with one fundamental question: When do we eat?

Let the Dinner Bell Ring Most diets are all about what foods you'll cut out. This one is all about what you'll include. And that's good news, because if you want to emerge on the other side of this plan with a new body, you must have the flexibility and freedom to keep yourself from getting hungry, and the knowledge that you can eat well no matter what.

GUIDELINE 1 - Eat Six Meals a Day Didn't I tell you this isn't about deprivation?

We're so used to hearing people talk about eating less food that it's become weight-loss doctrine. The new philosophy I want you to keep in mind is "energy balance."

Researchers at Georgia State University developed a technique to measure hourly energy balance--that is, how many calories you're burning versus how many calories you're taking in. The researchers found that if you keep your hourly surplus or deficit within 300 to 500 calories at all times, you'll best be able to change your body composition by losing fat and adding lean muscle mass. People with the largest energy imbalances (those whose calorie surpluses or shortfalls topped 500 calories from hour to hour) were the fattest, while those with the most balanced energy levels were the leanest. So if you eat only your three squares a day, your energy levels are all over the place. That kind of eating plan is great--if your dream is to be the next Chris Farley. But if you want to look slimmer, feel fitter, and live longer, then eat more often. Simply alternate your meals with snacks (we've given you a ton of food suggestions below) and you'll keep your stomach full, which will reduce the likelihood of a diet-destroying binge.

GUIDELINE 2 - Drink Smoothies Regularly A blender may be the ultimate weight-loss power tool. Smoothies--blended mixtures of milk, low-fat yogurt, whey powder, ice, and other good stuff--can act as meal substitutes and as potent snacks. They require little time; the berries, flavored whey powder, or peanut butter will satisfy your sweet cravings; and their thickness takes up space in your stomach.

A University of Tennessee study found that men who added three servings of yogurt a day to their diets lost 61 percent more body fat and 81 percent more stomach fat over 12 weeks than men who didn't eat yogurt. Researchers speculate that the calcium helps the body burn fat and limits the amount of fat your body can make. So drink an 8-ounce smoothie for breakfast, as a meal substitute, or as a snack before or after your workout.

GUIDELINE 3 - Know What to Drink--and What Not To There are many ways that alcohol can get you into trouble, and not just at the intern luncheon. Alcohol doesn't make you feel full or decrease the amount of food you'll eat. But it does encourage your body to burn as much as 36 percent less fat and make you store more of the fat you eat. And it can inhibit your production of testosterone and human growth hormone--two hormones that help burn fat and build muscle.

Okay, so water isn't exciting, but drinking about eight glasses of it a day has a lot of benefits.

It helps keep you satiated (often what we interpret as hunger is really thirst). It flushes the waste products your body churns out when processing protein or breaking down fat. And it transports nutrients to your muscles, to keep your metabolism clicking. Otherwise, the best drinks you can have are low-fat milk and green tea (or, if you must, no more than two glasses of diet soda a day).

GUIDELINE 4 - Focus on the Abs Diet Power 12 The Abs Diet encourages you to focus on (not restrict yourself to) a generous market basket of food types--the Abs Diet Power 12 (see below)--to fulfill your core nutritional needs. These foods are so good for you, in fact, that they'll just about single-handedly exchange your fat for muscle (provided you've kept your receipt). Just as important, I've designed the Power 12 to include thousands of food combinations. The more of them you eat, the better your body will be able to increase lean muscle mass and avoid storing fat. Just follow these simple guidelines:

Include two or three of these foods in each of your three major meals and at least one of them in each of your three snacks.

Diversify your food at every meal to get a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

Make sure you sneak a little bit of protein into each snack.

GUIDELINE 5 - Stop Counting Though calorie burning is paramount to losing fat, calorie counting will make you lose focus and motivation. The great news is that when you zero in on the Abs Diet Powerfoods, you'll be healthy and won't feel hungry as often. 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 6 - For One Meal a Week, Forget the Guidelines I would never advocate cheating on your spouse or your taxes. But I want you to cheat on this diet. Take one meal during the week and forget everything about good carbohydrates and good fats. Have whatever it is--pizza, buffalo wings--that you miss the most. Think of this cheat meal as the carrot at the end of a good week of eating. Enjoy your meal of gluttony, but please, don't make the carrot literally a carrot. Power 12 Feel free to eat along as you read

The Power of Food The Power 12 are the foods that have been proven to do one or more of the following:

Builds muscle Helps promote weight loss Strengthens bone Lowers blood pressure Fights cancer Improves immune function Fights heart disease

Here's an easy way to remember what's good for you. The first letter of each food group spells: A.B.S.D.I.E.T.P.O.W.E.R 12

1) Almonds and Other Nuts: Eat them with skins intact.

Superpowers: Building muscle, fighting food cravings

Secret weapons: Protein, monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, folate (in peanuts), fiber, magnesium, phosphorus

Fight against: Obesity, heart disease, muscle loss, cancer

Sidekicks: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, avocados

Impostors: Salted or smoked nuts. High sodium spikes blood pressure.

2) Beans and Other Legumes Including soybeans, chickpeas, pinto beans, navy beans, kidney beans, lima beans.

Superpowers: Building muscle, helping burn fat, regulating digestion

Secret weapons: Fiber, protein, iron, folate

Fight against: Obesity, colon cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure

Sidekicks: Lentils, peas, bean dips, hummus, edamame

Impostors: Refried beans, which are high in saturated fats; baked beans, which are high in sugar

3) Spinach and Other Green Vegetables Superpowers: Neutralizing free radicals (molecules that accelerate the aging process)

Secret weapons: Vitamins including A, C, and K; folate; beta-carotene; minerals including calcium and magnesium; fiber

Fight against: Cancer, heart disease, stroke, obesity, osteoporosis

Sidekicks: Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts; green, yellow, red, and orange vegetables such as asparagus, peppers, and yellow beans

Impostors: None, as long as you don't fry them or smother them in fatty cheese sauces

4) Dairy Products: Fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese.

Superpowers: Building strong bones, firing up weight loss

Secret weapons: Calcium, vitamins A and B12, riboflavin, phosphorus, potassium

Fight against: Osteoporosis, obesity, high blood pressure, cancer

Sidekicks: None

Impostors Whole milk, frozen yogurt

5) Instant Oatmeal: Unsweetened, unflavored.

Superpowers: Boosting energy, reducing cholesterol, maintaining 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

Impostors: Sugary cereals

Another cool fact about oatmeal: Preliminary studies indicate that eating oatmeal raises the levels of free testosterone in your body, and enhancing the body's ability to build muscle and burn fat.

6) Eggs Superpowers: Building muscle, burning fat

Secret weapons: Protein, vitamins A and B12

Fight against: Obesity

Sidekicks: Egg Beaters, which have fewer calories than eggs and no fat, but just as much of the core nutrients

Impostors: None

7) Turkey and other lean meats. Lean steak, chicken, fish.

Superpowers: Building muscle, improving the immune system

Secret weapons: Protein, iron, zinc, creatine (beef), omega-3 fatty acids (fish), vitamins B6 (chicken and fish) and B12, phosphorus, potassium

Fight against: Obesity, mood disorders, memory loss, heart disease

Sidekicks: Shellfish, Canadian bacon, omega-3-rich flaxseed

Impostors: Sausage, bacon, cured meats, ham, fatty cuts of steak like T-bone and rib eye

A bonus benefit: BR> Researchers in Stockholm found that men who ate no fish had three times the risk of prostate cancer of those who ate it regularly. It's the omega-3s that inhibit prostate-cancer growth.

8) Peanut Butter All-natural, sugar-free.

Superpowers: Boosting testosterone, building muscle, burning fat

Secret weapons: Protein, monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, niacin, magnesium

Fights against: Obesity, muscle loss, wrinkles, cardiovascular disease

Sidekicks: Cashew and almond butters

Impostors: Mass-produced sugary and trans fatty peanut butters

9) Olive Oil Superpowers: Lowering cholesterol, boosting 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

Impostors: Other vegetable and hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fatty acids, margarine

10) Whole-Grain Breads and Cereals Superpowers: Preventing your body from storing fat

Secret weapons: Fiber, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc

Fight against: Obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease

Sidekicks: Brown rice, whole-wheat pretzels, whole-wheat pastas

Impostors: Processed bakery products like white bread, bagels, and doughnuts; breads labeled wheat instead of whole wheat

11) Extra-Protein (Whey) Powder Superpowers: Building muscle, burning fat

Secret weapons: Protein, cysteine, glutathione

Fights against: Obesity

Sidekick: Ricotta cheese

Impostor: Soy protein

12) Raspberries and Other Berries Superpowers: Protecting your heart, enhancing eyesight, improving memory, preventing cravings

Secret weapons : Antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C, tannins (cranberries)

Fight against: Heart disease, cancer, obesity

Sidekicks Most other fruits, especially apples and grapefruit

Impostors: Sugary jellies

The Workout The Easiest, Most Effective Workout Plan Ever

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.

I've created a workout you can do in your local gym - or in your living room. This plan allows you to keep your workouts short and focused, while still keeping you on target for your ultimate goal. Pound for pound, it's the best workout possible for finding your abs. Below are the workout principles.

Weekly Workout Schedule You can mix and match to meet your lifestyle needs

When you construct your schedule, make sure to: Leave at least 48 hours between weight workouts of the same body parts. Your muscles need time to recover and repair themselves after a workout.

Take 1 day each week to rest with no formal exercise.

Warm up for 5 minutes before starting to exercise, either through a light jog, riding on a stationary bike, jumping rope, or doing slow jumping jacks.

The three components of your weekly schedule 1. Strength training: Three times a week. These are total-body workouts with one workout that puts extra emphasis on your legs.

2. Additional cardiovascular exercise: Optional, on non-strength-training days. Examples are cycling, running, swimming, walking, and using cardio machines. An interval workout is recommended for 1 day a week, and light cardiovascular exercise like walking is recommended for 2 of your 3 off days. 3. Abs exercises: Twice a week. I recommend doing them before your strength training or interval workouts.

Read More About It If you want to become an Abs Diet expert go to http://www.menshealth.com/absdietchallenge

100 of pages of cutting edge research

Advanced ab exercises

Dozens of recipes for quick and delicious meals

Read the success stories from those who transformed their bodies and their lives

The Abs Diet maintenance plan to take you well past the first 6 weeks

Read the truth about low-carb diets

Extra nutrition advice, tons of tips and fun and inspirational stories from Men's Health Editor-in-Chief David Zinczenko

Excerpted from The Abs Diet, copyright 2004, Rodale Press.