What Is the Abs Diet?

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The Abs Diet is a six-week diet and exercise plan that claims it will help you flatten and strengthen your midsection. According to the diet's author, great abs help you to live longer, sleep better, prevent back pain, and even improve your sex life. The original diet primarily targeted men, but a women's version of the plan was developed as well.

The basic premise of the diet requires you to eat six times each day and base food choices on certain power foods. One cheat day per week is allowed. A cornerstone of the plan is participation in a 20-minute exercise program which is performed at least three times per week.

While there is some scientific evidence to support certain elements of The Abs Diet, there is no research that specifically investigated this plan. The diet is likely to help some people reduce body fat and improve their level of fitness, but there is no strong evidence that it can provide the sweeping benefits that it boasts.

What Experts Say

"The abs diet requires frequent small meals, each with specified abs 'superfoods.' While experts agree these foods are nutritious, and that weight loss may occur on this eating pattern, they also emphasize there are no revolutionary six-pack promoting features of these superfoods."

Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

Background

The Abs Diet: The 6-Week Plan to Flatten Your Stomach and Keep You Lean for Life was a book published in 2004. The diet was developed by David Zinczenko, who was editor-in-chief of Men's Health magazine at the time. Zinczenko wrote the book with co-author Ted Spiker.

The book gained substantial media attention and became a New York Times bestseller. According to one New York Times article written at the time, six-pack abs were making a come-back in the early 2000s, and books like Zinczenko's appealed to those trying to achieve the perfect midsection.

Several related titles were published in the years following the success of the original book, including The Abs Diet Get Fit, Stay Fit Plan (2005), The New Abs Diet (2010), The New Abs Diet for Women (2011). Cookbooks and books with suggested meal plans were also published.

For some time, a website was maintained for the diet. The Abs Diet Online was available for a fee to those who preferred not to buy the book or needed extra support to maintain the plan. However, the website is no longer maintained or available online.

Author David Zinczenko has remained a key player in the diet and nutrition industry and makes regular media appearances on news and information shows. He has authored 25 books, including the popular Eat This, Not That! series, Zero Belly Diet, and The 8-Hour Diet.

How It Works

The Abs Diet is promoted as a simple plan to follow because few foods are restricted, no calorie counting is required, and it allows you to eat frequently throughout the day. Also, there is no strict carbohydrate restriction which was a key feature of many diets that were popular when The Abs Diet was first published. This helped set it apart from other fat loss programs.

But there are a few guidelines to follow on the plan. For example, portion control is encouraged. Zinczenko writes that men commonly eat up to twice as much food as they think they eat, especially when consuming grains, fats, sweets. (Interestingly, a USDA study published the same year as the book found that food recall in men is generally accurate.)

To avoid mindlessly over-consuming food, Zinczenko encourages his readers to watch portion sizes of all foods, but especially those containing fat (such as peanut butter) or carbohydrates like rice, bread, and pasta.

On The Abs Diet, you are guided to consume no more than one to two servings per food group at each meal. He also advises that the total contents of your meal should fit on one dinner plate without heaping the food too high.

Those who follow this diet are encouraged to take one "cheat day" per week. On this day, there are no guidelines, no portion control rules, no encouraged or discouraged foods. You simply eat the foods that you have been craving. Zinczenko says that the way to control your cravings is to satisfy them every once in a while. He also says the cheat day helps to increase metabolism.

Eating frequency and making certain key food choices are important on this plan

What to Eat

If you go on The Abs Diet you are encouraged to eat "energy-efficient foods." In general, these are foods that are nutrient-dense—meaning that they provide more macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals for fewer calories.

For example, beans are encouraged on the plan. Kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, and others provide fiber and protein and are relatively low in calories when prepared without oil or other fats. Nuts, whole grains, and berry-rich protein smoothies are also encouraged.

As a key part of the program, you are required to add at least two Powerfoods to each meal and snack that you consume. There are 12 total foods on the list and readers are encouraged to remember the foods because the names align with the concept of the book:

  • 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)
  • Eggs
  • Turkey and other lean meats
  • Peanut butter
  • Olive oil
  • Whole-grain breads and cereals
  • Extra-protein (whey) powder
  • Raspberries and other berries

Smoothies are also a cornerstone of this diet. Smoothies can take the place of a meal or a snack. You are encouraged to build smoothies around the 12 power foods, such as protein powder, berries, yogurt, peanut butter, and other ingredients. Smoothies should measure no more than eight ounces.

Readers are also provided with guidelines about beverages in The Abs Diet. Zinczenko points to the substantial calorie content of alcoholic beverages when he advises his audience to avoid alcoholic beverages during the six-week plan. He also reminds them that it is easy to eat more when alcohol is consumed.

Beverages that are encouraged include low-fat or fat-free milk, green tea, and diet soda (in moderation). He also recommends consuming at least eight glasses of water per day.

Compliant Foods
  • Whole grains

  • Lean meat

  • Vegetables

  • Lowfat dairy

  • Beans

  • Fruit (especially fiber-rich berries)

  • Nuts

  • Protein powder

  • Any food you desire on a cheat day

Non-Compliant Foods
  • Fatty meat

  • Refined grains

  • Alcoholic beverages

  • Sweetened cereals

  • Cookies, candy, processed sweet treats

  • Processed microwavable meals

  • Other foods containing trans fat or high fructose corn syrup

Recommended Timing

Eating frequency is another key component of The Abs Diet. Those following the diet are advised to eat six meals per day. But the details reveal that you'll really consume three relatively small meals and three snacks per day.

The reason for this eating frequency is described by Zinczenko. He says that eating three large meals creates an hourly energy imbalance that is associated with a fatter body. By eating regularly throughout the day, he claims you are able to keep your energy input (food consumption) and energy output (activity) in balance to maximize fat loss and muscle gain.

Zinczenko also writes that eating more often helps to improve satiety and reduce the risk of binge-eating. Satiety is a feeling of satisfaction and fullness that you are likely to feel after eating. Boosting satiety is believed to help avoid severe hunger that can lead to overeating or binge-eating.

As a specific schedule, Zinczenko has you alternate larger meals with smaller snacks. It is recommended that you eat two of your snacks two hours before lunch and dinner, and one snack two hours after dinner. If you eat over the course of a 12-hour day, you can expect to eat about every three hours.

Exercise Program

The exercise plan is important on The Abs Diet. If you follow the program (and hope to see some of the results promised by the author), you should expect to exercise at least three times per week for a minimum of 20 minutes per session.

Specific workouts are provided in the book. The exercise plan has three components:

  • Strength training performed three times per week. Each session is a total-body workout and one places special emphasis on the legs. Strength exercises are compiled into a circuit format with little to no rest between exercises. Typical exercises include the military press, upright row, leg extension, biceps curl, and bench press.
  • Abdominal exercises are performed two times per week. Ab exercises include the traditional abdominal crunch, bent leg knee raise, and side bridge.
  • Cardiovascular exercise is optional on non-strength-training days. Activities like cycling, running, or swimming are recommended. At least some light cardiovascular activity (like walking) is recommended for at least two of your three off days.

The book also recommends that you participate in an interval workout one day each week.

Resources and Tips

Books in The Abs Diet series are still available online and in many bookstores across the country. However, the website is no longer available. The site provided updated recipes, meal plans, and workout options to consumers who paid a monthly fee. There is no other live ongoing support available.

Consumers who follow the diet will, however, find helpful recipes, eating schedules, sample meal plans, and other resources in the many books published as part of the series. Also, since the foods allowed on the plan are very similar to foods recommended on other diets (like the DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet) you can follow the plan (or a program very similar) without buying the books.

There are also meal planning guides and other resources available through the ChooseMyPlate website that may be helpful for those on this eating plan.

Modifications

The original book was primarily targeted at men (although anyone can follow the program, regardless of gender). The Abs Diet For Women was published in 2008 and again in 2011 to help women flatten their stomachs and improve their health. It is also a six-week plan that includes 12 power foods and a regular exercise program.

Those following special diets should find The Abs Diet relatively easy to stick to. Vegans and vegetarians should be able to eat well on the program, although vegans will need to find an alternative to whey protein powder (such as pea protein powder or soy protein powder) for smoothies. Since whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are encouraged, plant-based eaters will find plenty to fill their plates at mealtime.

Those who eat a gluten-free diet will also be able to follow the program, choosing whole grains like quinoa or buckwheat, instead of gluten-containing grains.

Pros and Cons

The Abs Diet is a relatively healthy eating and exercise plan, but it may overpromise in terms of benefits.

Pros
  • Encourages consumption of nutrient-rich foods

  • Includes foods from all food groups

  • Promotes daily physical activity

  • Includes specific exercise plan

  • Maintenance plan included in books

Cons
  • Makes substantial health claims

  • Frequent eating doesn't work for everyone

  • No exercise or diet support

  • Cheat day may promote unhealthy eating behavior

Pros

Foods that are encouraged on The Abs Diet are not only nutrient-rich but they are also foods that are likely to help to build muscle and reduce hunger. For example, many of the foods on the power foods list are good sources of protein. Many also contain healthy fat and fiber so that you don't feel deprived. Men, especially, may find these aspects of the diet appealing.

Another benefit of this program is that it includes a specific, evidence-based exercise program that incorporates both strength and cardiovascular training. Many fat loss programs do not provide a specific exercise prescription. Research has shown that combining exercise and diet is more effective for fat loss than exercise or diet alone. And that both strength training and cardio are effective exercise modalities.

Cons

While the eating plan includes healthy foods that are linked to improved health and the exercise program is likely to improve fitness, the diet makes substantial claims and there is no research specifically related to The Abs Diet to support it. For example, the author says that a six-pack is the "ultimate predictor of your health" and further goes on to say that great abs have powers of seduction.

Additionally, there is disagreement in the nutrition community about whether or not frequent eating is effective for weight loss. While it was the trend in 2004 when the book was published, more recent studies have suggested that the opposite approach may be smarter for some if fat loss is your goal.

For example, a large research review was published in Frontiers in Nutrition in 2015. Researchers reviewed studies that investigated the relationship between eating frequency, food intake, and weight. Eight out of the 13 studies that reported on food consumption found that increasing eating frequency provided no significant benefit. Eleven out of 17 studies that reported on body measurements found that eating more often had no significant effect on body size. 

Additionally, studies investigating the practice of intermittent fast (restricting food intake for extended periods) may be effective for weight loss.

Lastly, in the years since this book was published there has been increased focus on the importance of developing a healthy relationship with food. Programs that include "good" foods or "bad" foods have been questioned as they may have an impact on eating behaviors. Cheat days have also been questioned as associating food with guilt-ridden behaviors like cheating may cause more harm than good. In fact, some studies have found that those who associate food with guilt are more likely to have unhealthy eating habits.

How It Compares

There are several other diets on the market that might appeal to those interested in trimming their waistlines. The Abs Diet compares favorably because it includes nutritious foods recommended by the USDA.

USDA Recommendations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines include recommendations and tips for a healthy, balanced diet. The following nutrient-dense foods are recommended as part of a healthy diet:

  • Vegetables and dark, leafy greens (kale, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, green beans) 
  • Fruits (apples, berries, melon)
  • Grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats)
  • Lean meats (chicken breast, fish, turkey breast)
  • Beans and legumes (all beans, lentils, peas)
  • Nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds)
  • Dairy (reduced-fat milk, cheese, yogurt) 
  • Oils (olive oil, avocado oil) 

All of these foods are included and encouraged in The Abs Diet. Furthermore, Zinczenko encourages readers to cook healthy meals at home instead of relying on packaged, processed foods.

Caloric intake on The Abs Diet will vary since there is no specific daily food plan. The USDA recommends consuming roughly 1,500 calories per day for weight loss, but this number varies based on age, sex, weight, and activity level. Use this calculator to determine the right number of calories for you.

Similar Diets

There is no shortage of programs that promise to help you flatten your abs. These are a few of the most popular.

The Zero Belly Diet

If you follow The Zero Belly Diet, you can expect to eat a range of nutritious foods including lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes. Also created by David Zinczenko, this diet includes nine—not 12—power foods. These foods are sources of specific nutrients such as betaine, choline, folate, and methionine that the author says can help to turn off your "fat genes."

While some might see The Zero Belly Diet as an updated version of The Abs Diet, it is far more restrictive because it eliminates gluten grains, dairy products, and other foods. A workout program is included and those who follow the plan also get a cheat day each week.

The Flat Belly Diet

The Flat Belly Diet is an eating plan that promises to help you lose 15 pounds in 32 days by following a food program centered on healthy monounsaturated fats. While this diet encourages the consumption of healthy plant-based foods (such as fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds), it overpromises weight loss.

The promise of a 15-pound weight loss in 32 days means that you would have to lose 1-2 pounds per day. In general, losing 1-2 pounds of weight per week is considered reasonable. Even if you were able to lose a pound or two per day for a few days, that rate of weight loss is not sustainable.

Body Reset Diet

The Body Reset Diet is a three-part plan developed by another well-known name in the weight loss community, Harley Pasternak. Those who follow this diet start by consuming mainly smoothies during stage one. Then they begin a healthier eating plan that includes smoothies along with low-calorie foods. Like The Abs Diet, physical activity is encouraged. The Body Reset includes an exercise plan and a minimum of 10,000 steps per day is recommended.

While this program includes healthy foods in stages two and three, it is highly restrictive in stage one. It may not be sustainable enough for many and may not improve weight loss as a result.

A Word From Verywell

A diet that promises a better sex life and six-pack abs is likely to appeal to many men and women. But there is no evidence that a diet program can specifically produce weight loss in a targeted area of the body. For health reasons, reducing visceral fat (belly fat) is smart, but that goal can be achieved with a program that includes reasonable portions of nutritious foods and regular moderate exercise.

If The Abs Diet appeals to you, there's no strong reason not to give it a try. But you don't necessarily need this book to improve your health, lose fat, or gain benefits associated with a leaner body.

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Article Sources
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