What Is the Zero Belly Diet?

Zero Belly Diet

 Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

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 health care provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The Zero Belly Diet is a diet and exercise program that focuses on nine "power foods" to promote weight loss. The protocol includes lean meats and fish, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats, protein-packed smoothies, spices, and even dark chocolate. It also eliminates some less-healthy options such as fatty meats and refined sugar, which makes it a fairly nutritious program to follow. The exercise component includes strength training, which is key for both weight loss and long-term weight management.

The program is detailed in the 2014 book, "The Zero Belly Diet," by fitness journalist David Zinczenko, who is also the founder and CEO of the "Eat This, Not That!" media franchise. The Zero Belly eating plan includes foods that are high in specific nutrients (such as betaine, choline, folate, and methionine) to "turn off your fat genes," which, according to Zinczenko, will allow for quick and sustainable weight loss. It also eliminates foods that may be inflammatory to reduce inflammation and improve digestion.

The diet suggests that you can lose up to 16 pounds in 14 days. The program claims to attack fat cells on a cellular level to reduce and eliminate visceral fat that surrounds the organs in the belly and accumulates around the midsection. Research has shown that people who develop excess belly fat are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions like diabetes.

The Zero Belly Diet relies on research to support claims that certain genes can be turned on or off, which could affect whether your body burns calories as energy or stores them as fat. According to Zinczenko, the diet plan was successfully tested on a 500-person panel, yielding rapid weight-loss results.

Proponents of the Zero Belly Diet report that the plan is effective. Others have said the results were not as good as they expected, and that they could have achieved similar outcomes simply by cutting back on what they ate rather than by following the protocol. Some people may find the eating plan difficult to follow since it eliminates common foods like potatoes, dairy products, and foods containing wheat gluten, which are also affordable and accessible.

Still, the Zero Belly Diet contains plenty of nutritious whole foods, which are part of any balanced diet. But there is no evidence that the specific "power foods" included in the plan can help you burn fat more efficiently than other foods.

What Experts Say

"The Zero Belly Diet promises weight loss with a plan focused on nine "power foods." The author claims these choices help turn off fat genes. While the diet promotes nutritious foods, experts agree it's likely calorie restriction—not power foods—responsible for any pounds shed."

Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What Can You Eat?

The Zero Belly Diet allows three meals and one to two snacks per day. This, according to Zinczenko, helps to keep you satiated and fight cravings. The program emphasizes whole foods and eliminates processed foods, high-fat meats, gluten grains, dairy products, and refined sugars, which makes it a smart eating plan for both overall health and weight loss.

The diet also emphasizes "Zero Belly drinks," which are smoothies made with plant-based protein powder, non-dairy milk, frozen fruit, and nut butter. The program calls for at least one of these drinks per day. Zinczenko includes recipes for five different drinks, but it's just as easy to follow the basic parameters and develop your own.

What You Need to Know

There are two possible eating schedules on this plan with suggestions for meal timing. One accounts for exercise during the day while the other accounts for exercise at night and for the days you don't exercise. If you exercise around lunchtime, eat breakfast fairly early (7:30 a.m.) and then have a Zero Belly drink snack at around 10 a.m.

Follow your noon workout with lunch at 1 p.m., plan dinner for around 6:30 p.m. and have an optional snack or Zero Belly drink at around 7:30 p.m. On days when exercise is a nighttime activity or on days when you skip the workout, plan breakfast for 7:30 a.m., skip the morning snack and go right to lunch at noon, have a snack or a Zero Belly drink at 3:30 p.m., dinner at 6:30 p.m., and another snack or drink (if you wish) at 7:30 p.m.

The program also allows for a non-compliant meal once per week. This might help you to keep cravings for certain foods—sugar, wheat-based foods, and dairy products—at bay while you follow the protocol. As long as you don't go overboard, deviating from the diet for just one meal per week shouldn't hinder your progress.

A dumbbell workout is recommended three times per week to build muscle and support weight loss. The workout routine, which is detailed in the book, includes four supersets with a total of seven exercises. The book includes seven additional workout programs using basic portable fitness equipment like barbells, kettlebells, suspension bands, and medicine balls.

All of the exercises recommended in the book are described and illustrated. Workouts are an important component of the Zero Belly Diet and will play a key role in your effort to eliminate stomach flab and fat. These exercises exclude traditional abdominal exercises that target midsection flab such as sit-ups since fitness experts say they don't really work.

According to Zinczenko, the key to getting rid of belly fat is to build lean muscle tissue throughout your body.

What to Eat
  • Eggs

  • Red fruit (berries, red grapefruit, Pink Lady apples, tart cherries, watermelon, plums, and peaches)

  • Olive oil and other healthy fat sources, such as nuts, avocados, salmon, and flaxseed

  • Beans, brown rice, oats, and quinoa

  • Plant protein powder

  • Lean fish and meat

  • Leafy greens, green tea, and bright-colored vegetables

  • Spices

  • Dark chocolate

What Not to Eat
  • Gluten grains (wheat, barley, and rye)

  • Potatoes, turnips, and parsnips

  • High-fat meats

  • Milk and other dairy products

  • Highly-refined oils (such as safflower oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil)

  • Most processed foods

  • Alcohol (limit one drink per day during initial 6-week program)

  • Coffee (one cup per day is allowed)

  • Soda and diet soda

  • Refined sugar

The majority of the foods on the Zero Belly Diet are whole and unprocessed, with the exception of the plant-based protein powder requirement. This leaves out many convenience foods that are packaged and ready to eat.

To make the diet easier to stick with, save time by preparing a few of the essentials in bulk at the start of the week. Freeze bananas for smoothies and cook a batch of brown rice or quinoa to accompany your meals. You also can prepare legumes like lentils in advance.

Chop your vegetables and prep your Zero belly drinks ahead of time so they're ready to go when it's time to cook or blend.

Drinking lots of water every day is key to getting results on the Zero Belly Diet, according to Zinczenko. Like other nutrition experts, he recommends drinking eight glasses of water a day.

Sample Shopping List

Despite the restrictions on this plan, there is a wide variety of compliant foods you can eat on the Zero Belly Diet. The following shopping list provides suggestions for getting started with the program. Note that this shopping list is not all-inclusive and there may be other foods that work better for you.

  • Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, bok choy, arugula)
  • Bright-colored vegetables (broccoli, eggplant, bell peppers, beets, tomatoes)
  • Red fruit (berries, red grapefruit, Pink Lady apples, tart cherries, watermelon, plums, and peaches)
  • Lean fish and meat
  • Whole grains (brown rice, oats, quinoa)
  • Legumes (black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, lentils)
  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseeds)
  • Eggs
  • Spices (turmeric, paprika, cumin, oregano, coriander)
  • Plant-based protein powder
  • Green tea
  • Dark chocolate

Sample Meal Plan

The "Zero Belly Diet" book features a variety of recipes with compliant foods such as Thin Elvis Oatmeal, Mediterranean Dinosaur Salad, Quirky Turkey Burger, and Grown-up Goldfish. The protocol outlined in the book includes sample meal plans, but you don't need to follow them unless you want to.

You could also try some of the recipes included in the following three-day meal plan. Note that this plan is not all-inclusive and there may be other meals that better suit your tastes and preferences. Just be sure to stick with the allowed foods. Remember to eat one to two snacks a day in the morning and/or evening and to make one of those snacks a Zero Belly drink.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Lots of healthy foods

  • Incorporates plenty of exercise

  • Fairly well-balanced

Cons
  • May be difficult to follow long-term

  • Eliminates many common foods

  • Doesn't actually target belly fat

The Zero Belly Diet emphasizes whole foods such as fish, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and eliminates processed foods and refined sugar. The program is healthy and balanced and should meet most of your nutritional needs. The eating plan also includes smoothies made with plant-based protein powder. This may help to stave off hunger while you're on the plan.

The emphasis on physical activity, especially strength training, will help you build muscle, which in turn, can boost your metabolism and promote weight loss.

However, the Zero Belly Diet doesn't actually target belly fat any more effectively or efficiently than other diet plans. In fact, there is no diet that can target belly fat specifically, despite myriad products and programs claiming to do so. That's because it's not possible to spot reduce fat in certain areas of the body.

Some people may find the Zero Belly protocol difficult to follow long-term (even with its allowed indulgence once a week). Some anecdotal reports complain of a lack of food choices, while others have suggested that it's possible to get similar results by eliminating processed foods and getting more exercise.

To lose belly fat, you need to reduce your calorie intake and increase your level of physical activity to create a calorie deficit. The Zero Belly Diet can help you accomplish those goals, but so can many other diet programs.

Is the Zero Belly Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The Zero Belly Diet program is not entirely unique in its approach. For instance, the Sugar Busters diet calls for eliminating most processed foods while emphasizing whole foods and healthy fats, and the Flat Belly Diet claims to help you lose belly fat by eating healthy foods and fats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends filling up half your plate with fruits and a variety of vegetables with the other half comprising whole grains like brown rice as well as a serving of protein. The USDA also advises varying your protein intake with beans, lean meats, and fish. The Zero Belly Diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy whole grains and legumes, and lean meats and fish.

With the exception of its restrictions on dairy and wheat, the Zero Belly Diet mostly adheres to federal guidelines for a healthy, balanced diet. It's not necessary to eliminate gluten grains and dairy products from your diet unless you have an allergy, sensitivity, or autoimmune disease. There is no scientific evidence that doing so will help you lose weight.

To effectively achieve your weight loss goals, most nutrition and health experts advise a well-rounded diet combined with regular exercise. Many people will aim for about 1,500 calories per day—but this number varies based on age, sex, height, weight, and level of physical activity. Use this calculator to help determine your recommended number of calories.

The Zero Belly Diet is similar in concept to other diets that eliminate most processed foods and emphasize exercise. It also stacks up fairly well when compared to the USDA's recommendations for a balanced diet.

Health Benefits

While you can lose weight on the Zero Belly Diet, the program can't actually target belly fat. But overall weight loss can help reduce the amount of fat in the belly, which can promote long-term health. Research has shown that visceral fat—the fat that accumulates around your mid-section, especially as you get older—is linked to a number of chronic health conditions.

For instance, people who have more visceral belly fat are at higher risk for insulin resistance and high blood glucose levels, both of which can lead to diabetes. Research also shows an association between excess belly fat and high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a higher risk for heart disease.

Health Risks

Unless there is an allergy, sensitivity, or autoimmune reaction to gluten or dairy, it is not necessary to eliminate these from your diet. In fact, whole wheat can be a valuable source of fiber and other nutrients. Dairy products are a great source of protein as well as calcium, which is critical for bone strength.

Studies show that a diet lacking in wheat can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients such as vitamin B12 and folate. If you decide to cut out dairy from your diet, you'll want to be sure you're getting enough calcium from other food sources such as soy, fortified cereals, leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

In addition, restrictive, highly-regimented diets are not recommended for those who've either had or are at risk of developing an eating disorder, since they can create an unhealthy obsession with food.

A Word from Verywell

You will probably lose weight on the Zero Belly Diet—but it will likely happen all over your body and not just your belly. The program contains nutritious foods and focuses on strength-training exercises, which will help promote weight loss, tone your muscles, and improve your overall health.

However, you don't need to adhere to this specific diet plan to lose weight (including belly fat). You may find that other programs such as WW (Weight Watchers) are easier to follow to promote long-term weight management.

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, and 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.

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14 Sources
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