What Is the Zero Belly Diet?

Zero Belly Diet

 Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

some foods included on the Zero Belly Diet
 Cathy Scola / Getty Images

The Zero Belly Diet includes plenty of nutritious foods, such as lean meats and fish, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and even dark chocolate. It also eliminates some less-healthy food options, including fatty meats and refined sugar. Therefore, generally speaking, it's a pretty nutritious diet to follow.

The diet claims to attack fat cells on a genetic level, seeking to reduce and eliminate the more dangerous visceral fat that surrounds your organs and causes that well-known gut or "beer belly." Research has shown that this type of fat may indicate you're at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and for conditions that may lead to diabetes.

The Zero Belly Diet uses foods that are high in specific nutrients (such as betaine, choline, folate, and methionine) to "turn off your fat genes," which author David Zinczenko says will allow for quick, sustainable, and easy weight loss. It also eliminates foods that may be inflammatory in an effort to reduce systemic inflammation and improve digestion.

The diet contains plenty of nutritious foods, which always are a good idea to incorporate into your daily meal plans. However, there's no evidence that these foods, which include eggs, colorful fruit, lean meat and fish, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and beans, plus extra plant-based protein powder and dark chocolate, can help you burn fat more efficiently than any other diet plan.

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


Medical research has shown that visceral fat—that annoying belly fat that accumulates around your mid-section, especially as you get older—is linked to a variety of concerning health conditions. For example, 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.

Clinicians have also linked excess belly fat to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a higher risk for heart disease. The Zero Belly Diet relies on research purporting to show how diet might be able to turn certain genes on or off, impacting whether your body burns calories as energy or stores them as fat.

Zinczenko, also the author of Eat This, Not That! book series and a well-known fitness journalist, says he used a 500-person test panel to field-test his diet plan, and that the testers received quick results. Many people who have used the diet report it worked quickly to help them shed pounds, although many also reported that the diet was difficult to follow for any extended length of time since it eliminates so many common foods.

Others said their results were not as good as they had expected, and that they could have lost similar amounts of weight simply by cutting back on what they ate generally, rather than by following the Zero Belly Diet blueprint.

How It Works

The Zero Belly Diet allows three meals and one to two snacks per day. This, according to Zinczenko, helps to keep you satiated and to fight cravings.

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

  • Extra 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)

  • Soda and diet soda

  • Coffee (one cup perday allowed)

  • Refined sugar

The Zero Belly Diet includes a wide variety of recipes featuring allowed foods, such as Thin Elvis Oatmeal, Mediterranean Dinosaur Salad, Quirky Turkey Burger, and Grown-up Goldfish. The diet blueprint contained in the book includes sample meal plans, but you don't need to follow those specific plans or even the recipes as long as you stick with the allowed foods.

The diet does place a hefty emphasis on what it calls Zero Belly drinks, which are smoothies made with vegetarian protein powder, non-dairy milk, frozen fruit, and nut butter. The diet calls for at least one of these drinks per day. Zinczenko includes recipes for five different drinks, but it's easy to see the pattern and develop your own.

Recommended Timing

The diet recommends two possible eating schedules: one accounts for exercise during the day, while the other accounts for exercise at night and for meal timing on 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.


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. That being said, Zinczenko points out that traditional exercises meant to target midsection flab, such as sit-ups, don't really work.

Instead, he says, you need to build lean muscle tissue throughout your body in order to rid yourself of belly fat.

Zinczenko says that many of the 500 people who originally tested the diet used a specially designed dumbbell workout three times per week to build muscles and lose weight. This workout, which is detailed in the book, includes four supersets with a total of seven exercises, most of which use dumbbells.

The book also details seven additional workout programs, using aids that include barbells, kettleballs, suspension bands, and medicine balls. All of the exercises recommended in the book are described and illustrated.

Resources and Tips

To make the diet easier to follow, prepare a few essential ingredients in bulk at the beginning of each week, including frozen bananas for smoothies and brown rice and quinoa for meals. You also can consider preparing lentils in advance. However, don't make your vegetables and drinks ahead of time, since that may cause the vitamins in them to oxidize.

Drinking lots of water every day is key to getting results in the Zero Belly Diet, according to Zinczenko, who recommends chugging down eight glasses of water every day.

Finally, the Zero Belly Diet allows for a cheat 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 program's blueprint. As long as you don't go overboard (for example, turning your cheat meal into a full cheat day), one cheat meal per week shouldn't harm your progress.

Pros and Cons

  • Lots of healthy foods

  • Incorporates plenty of exercise

  • Fairly well-balanced

  • Emphasizes exercise

  • May be difficult to follow long-term

  • Eliminates many common foods

  • Doesn't actually target belly fat specifically

The Zero Belly Diet includes plenty of nutritious foods, such as fish, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and even dark chocolate. It also eliminates some less-healthy food options, including fatty meats and refined sugar. Therefore, generally speaking, it's a pretty nutritious diet to follow, and should meet your nutritional needs.

The program also includes lots of smoothies made with plant-based protein powder. This reliance on high-protein smoothies is similar to other diet programs and may help stave off hunger pangs while you're on the weight-loss program.

The diet's emphasis on physical activity, especially strength training, will help you build muscle, which in turn helps you to lose weight and boost your metabolism.

However, despite the author's claims, the Zero Belly Diet doesn't target your belly fat any more effectively or efficiently than other diet plans. In fact, there's no diet that will help you to target belly fat specifically, despite the multitudes of products and programs claiming that they can do so.

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

The diet may also be fairly difficult to follow long-term (even with its allowed weekly cheat meal). Some reviewers have noted boredom with the food choices, while others say it's possible to get similar results simply by eliminating most processed foods from their diets.

How It Compares

The Zero Belly Diet is similar in concept to many other diets that eliminate most processed foods (including wheat-based foods and dairy products) and emphasize exercise. It also stacks up fairly well when compared to the USDA's healthy, balanced diet recommendations.

USDA Recommendations

Because the diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy whole grains and legumes, and lean meats and fish, it falls reasonably in line with the USDA's recommendations for an overall healthy diet. According to the USDA, a well-balanced diet means 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 recommends varying your protein intake with beans, lean meats, and fish.

Yet, the Zero Belly Diet requires that you eliminate gluten grains and dairy-based products from your diet, and again, there's no scientific evidence that doing so will help you lose weight. In fact, whole wheat can be a valuable source of fiber and other nutrients, and dairy products can help you get enough calcium, critical for bone strength.

There's no close dietary program cousin to the Zero Belly Diet available, but several diets include similar elements. For example, 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.

A Word from Verywell

There's no question that you can lose weight by following the Zero Belly Diet. However, if you do shed some pounds, they'll come from all over your body, not just from your belly region.

The diet generally contains nutritious foods and a beneficial focus on strength-training exercise, which also will help you reach your weight loss goals and tone your muscles. It's also generally not difficult to follow, especially if you purchase the book and make use of the recipes that are included.

However, you don't need to follow this specific diet blueprint to lose weight (including belly fat), and you may find that other programs, such as Weight Watchers, are easier to follow long-term and should lead to similar (if not better) results.

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Article Sources
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