Learn How to Flatten Your Belly

A new book offers advice on how to slim your midsection.

ByABC News via logo

Jan. 2, 2008 — -- If you're like thousands of other Americans, one of your New Year's resolutions likely had something to do with getting in shape. Dreams of toned and flat bellies don't have to remain just dreams, though.

A new book claims it can give you the keys to a flat and envied midsection. Prevention editor in chief Liz Vaccariello and Prevention nutrition editor Cynthia Sass have written "Flat Belly Diet!" Find out more about the book at www.flatbellydiet.com.

You can get more health, diet and fitness tips at www.prevention.com.

Read an excerpt of the "Flat Belly Diet!" book below.

It doesn't matter what your personal stumbling blocks are: baby weight,killer cravings, or (say it with me) "getting older." Belly fat is not yourdestiny. I am delighted to tell you that you can, and will, get rid of it.Prevention has found a way to target belly fat that is healthy, real, longlasting,and works for everyone.

Before we get started, I think it's important to do a "gut check."Chances are, if you've plunked down cold, hard cash for a book calledFlat Belly Diet, you may wish you had someone else's belly, or wish youhad your own belly—from 20 years ago.

I want to ask you to change your thinking. Be kind to your belly. Nomatter how flat or round, jiggly or rock-hard—it's yours, and it's powerful.It's probably the center of some of your most profound memories.Think about it . . . the laughter you've shared, the romantic dinners you'vehad, the butterflies you've felt, the children you may have carried. Allthese set up house in—yes—your belly. And for that, it deserves yourrespect. Your appreciation. And more than a little love and kindness . . .even when you're struggling to button your jeans.

How do I feel about my belly?

I consider it my core strength, and I love to feel it move, twist, supportme as I go through life's business. It's where food (one of life'sgreatest pleasures, yes?) touches down, and there are few things aspeaceful for me as that not-stuffed-not-hungry-but-just-full feeling. It'salso my meditative center, and I sense the calm overtaking me when Ifill my middle with deep breaths. Then, of course, there's the role itplayed in my pregnancy with twins. Anything willing to expand to hosttwo precious, growing, kicking girls earns a special place in my heartfor all time.

But the belly betrays. If I'm puffy the morning after a sushi dinner,that's where my outfit feels tight. If PMS strikes, my belly moans andgroans. When I gain five pounds, that's where it shows. And, of course,when I go to take those five pounds off, that's where they stay.

One of the best things about being editor-in-chief of Prevention ishearing from all of you and learning—clearly and quickly—that I am notalone in my love/hate affair with this fascinating, troublesome part of thebody. Many of you have told me that when look at yourself in the mirror,you overlook your familiar, beautiful features, the favorite nuances ofyour physique. Instead, your eye travels directly to the areas where yourfat resides. And for most of us, that's the belly.

For countless reasons that I will outline throughout this book, the bellystarts letting us down around age 40. Sometime between our 35th and55th birthdays (some earlier, some later and some, God willing, never) thebelly pooches, puffs, and starts spilling over our waistbands. First we suckit in, yet it refuses to achieve its formerly flat shape. Then we crunch untilour necks scream, while the fat over the sculpted abs muscles remains.And eventually we diet, then watch with frustration as the weight disappearsfrom our breasts and our faces and the belly fat stays put. Eventually,belly fat starts to feel like our destiny—something that even hours onthe treadmill or the strictest diet in the world won't budge. . . .

Until now.

Here's another great thing about heading up a brand like Prevention. Ihave deep relationships with the best experts in every area of health, fitness,and nutrition, and it's my job to look for solutions to the health challengesthat my readers struggle with most. (Bonus—that help me too!)And that's exactly what I've done.

My quest to find the absolute best way to blast belly fat started whenI hired Prevention's new nutrition director, Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD. Herfirst challenge was to comb the latest research, combine it with her vastclinical experience, and develop a diet that would target abdominal fatspecifically. I made a good decision—Cynthia is not only a phenomenalmagazine editor, but she is also a registered dietitian with two graduatedegrees and 15 years of experience, including countless hours of workingwith women over 40. And here's the best part: She is passionate aboutfood! I knew that any diet I asked her to construct would be satisfying anddelicious, that it would be a way of eating that women could embrace fora lifetime. And boy, was I right.

She has developed a belly-reduction eating plan that is grounded in thelatest and most credible science (that you won't find anywhere else!)—andoffers the most filling, satisfying, and delicious way of eating that you willever come across.

But my vision for this Flat Belly Diet went beyond food. I know thatany successful diet acknowledges that we eat for emotional reasons as wellas physical ones. Not only does the Flat Belly Diet deliver a healthy, satisfyingway of eating—one that will rid your body of fat in the place youtold us you want to slim down most—but it will teach you how to want toeat this way forever. The mental tricks, tips, and strategies are culled fromthe latest research and are designed to inspire you, motivate you, and setyou up for a better relationship with food for the rest of your life!

Belly Fat Defined

When I toss around the words "belly fat," I'm actually talking about twodifferent types: subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat is best,though perhaps not most scientifically, defined as the fat that you can see,the "inch you can pinch." Subcutaneous means "beneath" (sub) "the skin"(cutaneous), and it's no big secret that this fat resides all over. In somespots—your thighs, underarms, tummy, anyone?—it may be thicker thanin others, but for the most part it's everywhere, even on the soles of yourfeet. A moderate amount of subcutaneous fat is essential for life—for onething, it keeps you from freezing to death in the winter. But too much ofit causes dissatisfaction with how we look (which studies show leads toeven more dangerous health behaviors). And worse: Excessive amounts ofsubcutaneous fat function as a visible sign of being overweight or obese,which studies show raises your risk for many diseases. But I have somegreat news: Subcutaneous fat responds immediately to this diet plan.

Before you happily skip pages and move to the diet, let's talk about thesecond type of fat—visceral—which is much more dangerous and difficultto lose. Visceral fat resides deep within your torso and is sometimesreferred to as "hidden" belly fat. I prefer the term "deadly." Because of itsproximity to your heart and liver, excess visceral fat can increase your riskof all sorts of diseases, from heart disease and diabetes to cancer andAlzheimer's disease. And the most frustrating part? You can cut caloriesand exercise religiously and still be left with too much of it.

In fact, the only way to minimize both visceral and subcutaneous fatsimultaneously is to eat the right . . . fat.

The New Belly-Flattening Nutrient

At Prevention, we've been talking about the healthfulness of monounsaturatedfat—the kind found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados—for decades.Nearly every issue contains some tip or strategy for getting more in yourdiet. In fact, we're on such intimate terms with monounsaturated fattyacids that we have a nickname for them—MUFAs (pronounced MOOfahs).But it wasn't until the spring of 2007 that we realized just howamazing these fats are. That was when Spanish researchers published astudy in the journal Diabetes Care showing that eating a diet rich inMUFAs can actually help prevent weight gain in your belly.1

The researchers looked at the effect of three different diets—one highin saturated fat, another high in carbohydrates, and a third rich inMUFAs—on a group of patients with "abdominal fat distribution" or, inlanguage the rest of us non-scientists can understand, belly fat. All threediets contained the same number of calories, but only the MUFA diet wasfound to reduce the accumulation of belly fat and, more specifically, visceralbelly fat.

Bear in mind: No other nutrient can do this. And that's what makesFlat Belly Diet unlike any other diet book you've ever read. It's the onlydiet to give MUFAs center stage, to make them an essential part of everysingle meal. And that means it's the only diet that helps you lose fat in thebelly specifically! In Chapter 5, you'll read more about MUFAs and theirvarious health benefits, but until then, let's take a broader look at thistruly groundbreaking diet plan.

The Flat Belly Diet Program

The Flat Belly Diet is made up of two parts—a Four-Day Anti-BloatJumpstart and a Four-Week Eating Plan. The whole thing together takesjust 32 days, which studies show is just enough time to make any dietarychange a lifestyle. Then, after you've mastered the program and seen thedesired changes in your weight and measurements, I give you the tools tokeep your belly flat for life. Even though you may be tempted to followone part without the other, I want you to start with the Anti-Bloat Jumpstart,then move straight into the four-week eating plan. Here's why:

The Four-Day Anti-Bloat Jumpstart isn't just about beating bloat; it'salso extremely important in sparking your emotional commitment tothe entire program. The four-day plan includes a prescribed list offoods and drinks you can eat that will help flush out fluid, reduce waterretention, and relieve digestive issues like gas and constipation, whichcan make your belly puff unnecessarily. You'll drink Cynthia's signatureSassy Water and eat healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, andwhole grains. When we tested this diet on our group of volunteers, oneof the participants lost an amazing 7 pounds and 5 inches in the first4 days.

Losing the bloat isn't just a way to fit into your favorite dress again. It'sabout feeling confident, powerful, and proud of your body. Dropping evena few pounds of unnecessary water weight can be thrilling and can giveyou a major confidence boost—essential for success on any diet plan. Plus,I've added a second element to the four-day plan: a Mind Trick at everymeal. These quick and easy healthy-eating triggers will serve as mealtimereminders that you have embarked on a new way of life—a new way ofliving with and caring for your body.

The Four-Week Eating Plan begins the morning after you complete theAnti-Bloat Jumpstart, and it's the centerpiece of this book. Every day you'llenjoy three super-satisfying 400-calorie meals and one 400-calorie SnackPack. Each meal and snack contains just the right amount of MUFA to makethat belly fat disappear. How simple is that? No calorie counting. No math!We chose the quantity of 1,600 calories per day because that's the preciseamount for a woman over 40 of average height, frame, size, and activity levelto get down to her ideal body weight, while maintaining a high energy level,healthy immune system, and strong muscles. It also ensures you won't feeltired, cranky, irritable, moody, or hungry.

But because no plan fits all, we've provided two different versions: Thefirst one's perfect for people who have little time to spend in the kitchen.In Chapter 6, you'll find 84 different 400-calorie, MUFA-packed Quick-Fix Meals and 28 different 400-calorie Snack Pack options. Choose threemeals and one Snack Pack a day and you're done. In a month, you'll havea flatter belly and I'll have done my job.

Sometimes, however, you'll want a more involved home-cooked meal,whether it's family night, or the weekend, or you're just a good cookwho likes to flex her culinary muscles now and then. In Chapter 7, you'llfind more than 80 recipes that all provide the requisite number of caloriesand MUFAs per serving, so they can be swapped in for any of yourrequired three meals a day.

What About Exercise?

I exercise every day, walking 50 minutes as part of my commute. (I alsostrength-train every weekend and try to fit in a weekly Pilates class or yogasession, too.) And I encourage every Prevention reader to make exercise a partof their healthy lifestyle.

To that end, I asked Prevention's fitness director, Michele Stanten, to devisethe exercise program in Chapter 9 for you to follow as you embark on the FlatBelly Diet. Adding a fitness program to the eating plan and mental strategieswill mean faster results (it certainly did for some of our testers). And of course,whether you're trying to lose weight or simply maintain good health, fitness isintegral.

But what makes the Flat Belly Diet truly special is that you don't need toexercise to reap the benefits. If you do exercise, you will most certainly seeresults faster, and you will gain secondary benefits like improved cardiovascularhealth and stronger, more toned muscles. But you can still expect to shrinkyour belly—and lose both subcutaneous and visceral fat—by simply followingthe eating plan.

If you do not already exercise regularly, you don't have to start doing so rightaway. I have always been a big believer in the phrase "Small changes, big results."

To me, it's more important that you do something to reduce your belly fat than itis to do everything, only to find that too many changes are too overwhelming tomaintain. If you do not already have a workout routine, incorporating a new wayof eating into your lifestyle may be change enough for the first 32 days.

Like the four-day jumpstart, the four-week plan isn't only about whatyou eat. It's about how you think. In Chapter 8, you'll be asked to keep adaily journal—a key predictor of success on any diet. Every day, you'll beprompted to reflect on a particular aspect of your relationship to food,your belly, your body, and your goals. I call these reflections Core Confidences—not only because your belly lies at the physical center, or core, ofyour body, but also because your attitude is at the core of your ability tosucceed . . . at anything.

Let's review:

The Flat Belly Diet is:

A Four-Day Anti-Bloat Jumpstart, with

A daily dose of Sassy Water and

A Mind Trick at every meal plus

A Four-Week Eating Plan, comprised of

Three 400-calorie meals a day of your choice and

One 400-calorie Snack Pack of your choice and

One daily Core Confidence reflection

An Optional Exercise Program, plus

The foundation for a way of life you can continue for


Throughout this book, look for the boxes titled Did You Know? andFast Facts to learn more about fat, weight loss, and general health. Theseare quick tips, strategies, and bits of information that experts and readerstell me are useful. And don't forget to read the entries titled Notes fromOur Nutritionist. These are written by Cynthia directly to you, sharing herown thoughts and advice about how to achieve success on this amazingprogram. You'll also find incredible success stories from the women (andmen) who participated in our Flat Belly Diet test panel—and have a flatterbelly to prove it!

I hope that by the time you finish reading this book and followingthis plan, you will have fallen in love with good, healthy food . . . andyour belly. If there's one thing I realized when I turned 40, it was thatmaintaining a healthy mind and body were the absolute most importantthings I could do for myself—and my family. I wish that for all of us.

"Flat Belly Diet!" (Rodale Inc., January 2008)

by Liz Vaccariello, Prevention editor in chief, with Cynthia Sass, Prevention nutrition director, MPH, RD