What Is the Abs Diet?

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At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

What Is the Abs Diet?

The Abs Diet is a diet and exercise plan that promises a flatter and stronger midsection in six weeks. According to the diet's creator, David Zinczenko, the former editorial director at Men's Health, stronger, flatter abdominals can help you to live longer, sleep better, prevent back pain, and even improve your sex life.

The diet requires you to eat six times each day and base food choices on certain nutrient-dense "power foods." You're allowed to deviate from the diet one day per week. A cornerstone of the plan is a 20-minute exercise program that followers should perform at least three times per week.

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

The 7-Day Diet Plan

The Abs Diet calls for six meals throughout the day—three small meals and three snacks. Alternating between these meals will give you variety and satiety, keeping you eating about every two hours throughout the day. There are many ways to create a meal plan on the Abs Diet, and this is one example.

  • Day 1: Low-fat yogurt (breakfast); protein smoothie (snack); guacamole tuna salad with crackers (lunch); toast with nut butter (snack); baked salmon with asparagus (dinner); peanut butter with low-fat ice cream (snack)
  • Day 2: Whole-grain cereal with milk (breakfast); half grapefruit (snack); open-faced sandwich with turkey breast and cheese (lunch); banana smoothie (snack); turkey meatballs with zucchini noodles (dinner); chocolate milk (snack)
  • Day 3: Eggs with turkey slices (breakfast); trail mix nuts (snack); veggie salad with grilled chicken (lunch); strawberry and protein smoothie (snack); loaded sweet potato (dinner); one serving of almonds (snack)
  • Day 4: Low-fat cottage cheese (breakfast); smoothie with fruit and peanut butter (snack); Mediterranean quinoa salad (lunch); hummus with vegetables (snack); chicken breast with sautéed kale (dinner); peanut butter with apple slices (snack)
  • Day 5: Whole-grain toast with peanut butter (breakfast); berries with almonds (snack); chickpea salad with tomatoes and onion (lunch); string cheese (snack); turkey and bean chili (dinner); low-fat ice cream (snack)
  • Day 6: Egg sandwich with ham (breakfast); veggies and guacamole (snack); leftover turkey and bean chili (lunch); deli slices with an apple (snack); steamed broccoli with fish (dinner); dark chocolate (snack)
  • Day 7: High-fiber cereal (breakfast); hard-boiled egg (snack); black bean and low-fat cheese wrap (lunch); steamed edamame (snack); brown rice bowl with chicken, spinach, bell peppers, and eggplant (dinner); dark chocolate-covered strawberries (snack)

What You Can Eat

The Abs Diet is promoted as a simple-to-follow plan because few foods are restricted, no calorie counting is required, and you eat frequently throughout the day. Also, there is no strict carbohydrate restriction.

The six-week plan encourages whole fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, whole grains, healthy fats, and whey protein. Smoothies are also a cornerstone of the diet and can take the place of a meal or a snack.

The book provides followers with guidelines about beverages and suggests they avoid alcohol. Beverages that are encouraged include low-fat or fat-free milk, green tea, and diet soda (in moderation). Zinczenko also recommends consuming at least eight glasses of water per day.

"Power Foods"

As a key part of the program, you are required to add at least two "power foods" 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

"Cheat Meals"

Those who follow this diet are encouraged to have what Zinczenko refers to as a "cheat meal" once a 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 or missing.

Zinczenko says that the way to control your cravings is to satisfy them every once in a while. He also says that a high-calorie "cheat day" helps to increase the body's metabolism.

Smoothies

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.

What You Cannot Eat

Zinczenko's diet encourages avoiding fatty meat, refined grains, sweetened cereals, processed microwaveable meals, and other foods containing trans fats or high fructose corn syrup. You are also encouraged to skip processed sweet treats including cookies and candy.

Alcohol

Due to the substantial calorie content of alcoholic beverages, Zinczenko advises followers to avoid alcohol during the six-week plan. He also believes there is a tendency to eat more whenever alcohol is consumed.

How to Prepare the Abs Diet & Tips

Despite the lack of restrictions, there are a few guidelines to follow, such as portion control—which is strongly encouraged.

Zinczenko writes that men commonly eat up to twice as much food as they think they're eating, especially when they consume grains, fats, and sweets. (However, a study published the same year as "The Abs Diet" found that food recall in men is generally accurate.)

To avoid overconsuming food, Zinczenko encourages those who follow the diet to watch portion sizes of all foods, but especially those containing fat (such as peanut butter) or carbohydrates like rice, bread, and pasta. The diet recommends consuming no more than one or 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 piling the food too high.

Making certain key food choices is also important on this plan. 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, 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.

Recommended Timing

Eating frequency is another key component of the Abs Diet. Followers are advised to eat six meals per day—three relatively small meals and three snacks. Zinczenko claims that eating three large meals creates an hourly energy imbalance that is associated with a fatter body.

By eating regularly throughout the day, Zinczenko suggests 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 suggests 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, and boosting satiety is believed to help avoid severe hunger that can lead to overeating.

As a specific schedule, the Abs Diet alternates larger meals with smaller snacks. The book recommends eating snacks two hours before lunch and dinner, and two hours after dinner. If you eat over the course of a 12-hour day, you can expect to eat about every three hours.

Modifications

Those with dietary restrictions should be able to follow the Abs Diet for the full six weeks. Vegans and vegetarians should be able to eat well on this 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 adhere to a gluten-free diet will also be able to follow the program, choosing whole grains like quinoa or buckwheat instead of gluten-containing grains.

Exercise Tips

The exercise plan is fundamental to the Abs Diet. Followers of the program should expect to exercise at least three times per week for a minimum of 20 minutes per session. The exercise plan has three components:

  • Strength training (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 (two times per week): Ab exercises include the traditional abdominal crunch, bent-leg knee raise, and side bridge.
  • Cardiovascular exercise (optional on non-strength-training days): The book recommends activities like cycling, running, or swimming, and suggests at least some light cardiovascular activity (like walking) at least two of your three off days.

Specific workouts are provided in "The Abs Diet" book, which also recommends one interval workout one day per week.

Resources

Although "The Abs Diet" was first published in 2004, it is still available online and in many bookstores, along with other books in the Abs Diet series. These contain recipes, eating schedules, sample meal plans, and other resources.

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 eating plan (or a very similar one) without buying the books.

Sample Shopping List

The Abs Diet eliminates processed foods and added sugar and includes a wide variety of nutrient-dense, whole foods. The following shopping list provides suggestions to help you get started on the six-week plan. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and there may be other foods that you prefer.

  • Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, bok choy, arugula, lettuces)
  • Bright-colored vegetables (broccoli, eggplant, bell peppers, beets, tomatoes)
  • Fruit (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, grapefruit, cherries, pineapple)
  • Lean meat and fish (chicken and turkey breast, lean ground beef, salmon, tuna)
  • Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, instant oatmeal)
  • Legumes (black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, lentils)
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseeds); peanut butter
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Eggs
  • Whey protein powder

Sample Meal Plan

"The Abs Diet" book features a variety of compliant recipes for meals and specialty smoothies. The protocol outlined in the book includes sample meal plans for those in need of extra guidance.

The following three-day meal plan offers additional suggestions for getting started on the Abs Diet. Note that this meal plan is not all-inclusive, and if you do choose to follow this program there may be other meals that you prefer. Just be sure to remember to eat three meals and three snacks and include a smoothie every day.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: 8-ounce Abs Diet Ultimate Power Smoothie (1 cup 1% milk, 2 tablespoons low-fat vanilla yogurt, 3/4 cup instant oatmeal, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 teaspoons chocolate whey powder, 6 ice cubes, crushed)
  • Snack #1: 2 tablespoons peanut butter with apple slices
  • LunchMediterranean veggie wrap 
  • Snack #2: 1/2 cup mixed berries; 1 serving almonds
  • Dinner: 2 grilled chicken and tomato skewers; 1 cup quinoa tabouli salad
  • Snack #3: 1.4 ounces dark chocolate

Day 2

Day 3

Pros of the Abs Diet

The Abs Diet is a relatively balanced eating and exercise program and may provide some health benefits.

Provides Ample Protein

Foods that are encouraged on the Abs Diet are not only nutrient-rich but 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.

Encourages Exercise

Another benefit of this plan is that it includes a specific, evidence-based exercise program that incorporates both strength and cardiovascular training, which may lead to weight loss. Many fat loss programs do not provide a specific exercise prescription.

Includes a Maintenance Plan

"The Abs Diet" book includes a maintenance plan to follow once the six-week diet is complete, which may help to promote long-term weight management.

May Promote Weight Loss

The Abs Diet encourages healthy, whole foods and regular exercise, which may very well lead to weight loss. 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 of the Abs Diet

While this plan has its advantages, there is no evidence to suggest that Zinczenko's diet and exercise plan is more effective than other well-balanced diets that include exercise. It also has some drawbacks.

Lacks Sufficient Evidence

The Abs Diet makes substantial claims about certain health benefits, but there is no research specifically related to this particular diet to support it. For example, Zinczenko says that a six-pack is the "ultimate predictor of your health" and that great abs have powers of seduction.

While there is some science to support certain aspects of the Abs Diet, there is no research that has specifically investigated this plan. Core strengthening exercises can certainly help develop stronger abdominal muscles, but spot reduction of fat in one area of the body is a weight-loss myth.

Lacks Live Ongoing Support

"The Abs Diet" book is the only resource available to those following this plan. Many people benefit from personalized guidance or additional resources when trying to lose weight, which can help them to stay motivated and reach their goals.

Encourages Unhealthy Eating Habits

Zinczenko advises eating whatever you want on your "cheat day," which does not promote a healthy relationship with food and encourages overeating.

Since "The Abs Diet" was published, the importance of developing a healthy relationship with food has become a focus in the nutrition community. Programs that include "good" foods or "bad" foods have been questioned as they may have a negative impact on eating behaviors.

Eating Frequency May Not Work for Everyone

There is disagreement among nutrition and wellness experts about whether or not frequent eating can promote weight loss. Research suggests this may not be the most effective strategy.

In a large research review on the matter, researchers examined studies that investigated the relationship between eating frequency, food intake, and weight. Eight out of the 13 studies found that increasing eating frequency provided no significant benefit.

Is the Abs Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

When compared to federal guidelines for a well-balanced diet, the Abs Diet is well aligned. The USDA's 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes recommendations and tips for a healthy diet. The USDA recommends the following nutrient-dense foods:

  • "Vegetables of all types—dark green; red and orange; beans, peas, and lentils; starchy; and other vegetables
  • Fruits, especially whole fruit
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain
  • Dairy, including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives
  • Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts"

The USDA also advises limiting foods and beverages with higher amounts of added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and also limiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages, similar to the Abs Diet protocol. 

When it comes to calorie intake, the Abs Diet will vary since there is no specific daily food plan, only suggestions. For a sustainable rate of weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week, the USDA recommends a reduction of 500 calories per day, but this number varies based on age, sex, weight, height, and activity level. Use this calculator to help determine the right number of calories for you.

The USDA's recommended foods are included and encouraged in "The Abs Diet" book. Zinczenko also encourages followers of the program to cook healthy meals at home instead of relying on packaged, processed foods. These are smart choices for both weight loss and overall health.

A Word From Verywell

A diet that promises six-pack abs and a better sex life sounds appealing on the surface, but there is no evidence that a diet program can spot reduce fat in a specific targeted area of the body.

For health reasons, reducing visceral fat is smart—but that goal can be achieved with a program that includes reasonable portions of nutritious foods and regular moderate exercise. You don't necessarily need to read "The Abs Diet" book to improve your health or lose fat.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Paoli A, Tinsley G, Bianco A, Moro T. The influence of meal frequency and timing on health in humans: the role of fastingNutrients. 2019;11(4). doi:10.3390/nu11040719

  4. Clark JE. Diet, exercise or diet with exercise: comparing the effectiveness of treatment options for weight-loss and changes in fitness for adults (18-65 years old) who are overfat, or obese; systematic review and meta-analysis [published correction appears in J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2015;14:73]. J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2015;14:31. doi:10.1186/s40200-015-0154-1

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  6. American Council on Exercise, Why is the concept of spot reduction a myth?.

  7. Kuijer RG, Boyce JA, Marshall EM. Associating a prototypical forbidden food item with guilt or celebration: relationships with indicators of (un)healthy eating and the moderating role of stress and depressive symptoms. Psychol Health. 2015;30(2):203-17. doi:10.1080/08870446.2014.960414

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By Malia Frey
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.