Flat Belly Diet
The aim: Weight loss.
The claim: You’ll drop up to 15 pounds in 32 days and lose several inches of belly fat.
The theory: Monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, target and destroy belly fat while promoting fullness and preventing overeating, according to the diet’s creators, former Prevention magazine editor Liz Vaccariello and registered dietitian Cynthia Sass. These plant-based fats are found in foods like nuts, seeds, chocolate, avocados and olive oil – and the “Flat Belly Diet” (Rodale, 2008) calls for a precisely specified serving at every meal and snack. Unlike saturated fats, which harden and clog the arteries, MUFAs keep blood vessels soft and pliable after digestion. In addition to emphasizing these healthy fats, the Flat Belly Diet is modeled after a Mediterranean eating approach. The key ingredients – fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, olive oil and fish – are thought to help keep weight off.
Flat Belly Diet is ranked:
Weight Loss Short-Term3.4
Weight Loss Long-Term2.7
Easy to Follow2.9
Scores are based on experts’ reviews.
How does Flat Belly Diet work?
Dos & Don’ts
One MUFA serving with every meal and daily intake of 1,600 calories, although dieters can tailor the plan to their age, gender and activity level. Fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds and lean protein are emphasized. There are two parts: a four-day “anti-bloat” jumpstart, and a four-week eating plan. The book includes extensive meal plans, recipes and grocery lists, minimizing guesswork and planning. Though both men and women can follow Flat Belly, it’s geared toward a female audience – and women will likely favor the style of the book. There is, however, a separate book for men; the plans are nearly identical, but men get more calories.
The initial four-day anti-bloat regimen is the most restrictive part of the program, capping daily calories at 1,200. It’s touted as a clean and simple way of eating that eliminates ingredients that promote unnecessary fluid retention and gas. Each day, you’ll have four 300-calorie meals that adhere to a rigid list of acceptable food and drink. That means lots of baby carrots, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, skim milk, extra-virgin olive oil, sunflower seeds, applesauce, chicken breast, organic deli roast turkey, tilapia and fresh or dried basil. You’ll also have 2 daily liters of homemade “Sassy Water,” which the authors claim “helps calm and soothe your GI tract.” It contains ingredients such as ginger, cucumber and mint leaves. Off limits: alcohol, coffee, tea, hot cocoa and acidic fruit juices, chewing gum, fatty foods, salt, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and anything seasoned with barbecue sauce, horseradish, garlic, chili pepper, black pepper or other spices.
Then comes the four-week eating plan. You’ll get three 400-calorie meals and one 400-calorie snack each day, and never go more than four hours without eating. Each meal is designed to include the right amount of one MUFA, such as 1 cup of soybeans, 1/4 cup of semisweet chocolate chips or 2 tablespoons of olive tapenade. (Other MUFA options include almond butter, pesto sauce, tahini and sunflower seeds.) You’ll consume no more than 4 grams of saturated fat per meal, keep salt below 2,300 milligrams a day to prevent water retention, eliminate trans fat and avoid artificial sweeteners, flavorings and preservatives.
Flat Belly meals are built around MUFAs, lean protein, a choice of whole grains or fruit and (for lunch and dinner) vegetables. Although sample menus are provided, you’re free to create your own meals. Start by selecting a MUFA and use the book to determine how many calories are left to work with. If your MUFA choice is nuts, for example, you’ll have about 300 calories remaining. Your meal might consist of 3 ounces of lean protein; 2 cups of raw or steamed veggies; and either a 1/2 cup of cooked whole grains, 1 whole-grain bread serving or 1 cup of fruit.
A spinoff, “Flat Belly Diet! For Men,” is broken into a four-day “flat abs kickstart” and a monthlong “MUFA meal plan.”
How much does it cost?
Online membership costs $19.95 per month, or $49.50 for three months. But try taking advantage of promotions – like a 21-day free trial – first. “The Flat Belly Diet,” an essential guidebook, is $15.99. Additional books range from $26.99 (“Flat Belly Diet! Family Cookbook”) to $7.99 (“Flat Belly Diet! Pocket Guide”). Following the meal plan is moderately pricey. Some ingredients, such as olive oil, nuts, fish and fresh produce, can be expensive.
Will you lose weight?
Maybe. The Mediterranean diet, on which the Flat Belly Diet is loosely modeled, seems to promote weight loss or a lower likelihood of being overweight or obese, but even if those benefits hold up, whether the same can be said of the Flat Belly Diet is unproven. Expand this section to see research on diets similar to the Flat Belly Diet.
- A 2016 study in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology that analyzed data from PREDIMED – a five-year trial including 7,447 adults with Type 2 diabetes or at risk for cardiovascular disease who were assigned either a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil, the same diet supplemented with nuts or a control diet – found that people on the Mediterranean versions added the fewest inches to their waistlines. The olive oil folks lost the most weight.
- In a study commissioned by Prevention magazine, researchers tracked nine overweight women who were following the Flat Belly Diet. After 28 days, visceral belly fat mass had shrunk by an average of 33 percent. (Visceral belly fat, which lies deep inside the abdomen, surrounds the internal organs; having too much increases the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.) Participants also lost an average of 8.4 pounds and 2 inches off their waist during the study period, according to findings published in the February 2009 issue of Prevention.
- A study published in Diabetes Care in July 2007 and conducted by scientists at Reina Sofia University Hospital in Cordoba, Spain, placed a group of overweight people on three four-week diets with the same number of calories but one was high in carbs, one in monounsaturated fat and one in saturated fat. Harmful belly fat built up in the participants on the high-carb plan but not in those on the two high-fat plans.
How easy is it to follow?
The Flat Belly Diet explains exactly what and when to eat. It even includes shopping lists. These resources take much of the hard work and planning out of dieting. However, sticking to a strict eating schedule – a meal or snack every four hours – can be daunting for busy dieters.
Convenience: Recipes abound, though meal prep may be time-consuming. Eating out is doable, and alcohol is allowed. The company’s online and printed resources may be helpful.
Recipes: “Flat Belly Diet! Family Cookbook” and “Flat Belly Diet! Cookbook” are packed with breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and snack recipes. Choices range from crab primavera with spaghetti to sweet-and-sour blueberry parfaits. All recipes include information on calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and fiber.
Eating out: Allowed. Check out restaurant menus beforehand to find meals that most closely resemble those in the book. Opt for safe bets such as salad made of leafy greens, raw veggies, grilled chicken or salmon and balsamic vinegar. Always bring 2 tablespoons of nuts to supplement meals at restaurants where MUFAs aren’t available. The “Flat Belly Diet! Pocket Guide” lists acceptable dishes at many popular restaurants.
Alcohol: Allowed. Moderation is key, i.e., one drink a day for women and two for men. If you do imbibe, you’ll have to compensate with exercise or by shaving 25 calories off your four meals (or 50 from two).
Timesavers: Detailed meal plans and grocery lists are provided.
Extras: Online membership at flatbellydiet.com includes tips from diet experts, message boards and a buddy network, a food journal and success stories. You can also customize meal plans and store your shopping lists.
Fullness: Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. You shouldn’t feel hungry on the 1,600-calorie-a-day Flat Belly Diet. MUFAs help slow digestion, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. And you’ll be eating lots of fiber, which staves off hunger.
Taste: Recipes range from whole-wheat pizza to pork and pine nut meatballs; snacks include chocolate-drizzled popcorn and a peanut butter and yogurt smoothie. For dessert, try a lemon cupcake with citrus icing or pumpkin cream roll.
Health & Nutrition
This program revolves around foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids like nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados, which are paired with fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains and fish. Experts were impressed with the plan’s nutrition and safety. Dieters needn’t worry about serious side effects or risks, the experts agreed.
What is the role of exercise?
Strongly encouraged, but not required. “The Flat Belly Diet” outlines an optional plan, including workout descriptions, intensity and duration. It recommends cardio exercise to burn calories and shed fat; strength training to build muscle and boost metabolism; and core-focused exercises to tone and tighten the midsection.