Zero Belly, Zero Excuses

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Imagine taking off your shirt, looking into the mirror, and seeing zero belly. Not a little belly. Not a tiny bit of belly. Not a spare tire or a gut. Zero belly. A flat, rippled stomach where the softness used to be. Most of us have long abandoned that ideal. We’ve accepted belly fat as an inevitable albatross, a companion for life, just a normal part of being a normal human being. But that’s not true. We don’t have to live that way.

As the nutrition and wellness editor for ABC News and the editorial director of MEN’S FITNESS, I’ve spent my entire career learning about belly fat: where it comes from, what it does to us, and how we can fight back. I’ve literally traveled the globe reporting on fat—from launching fitness and nutrition magazines in Europe and Africa to covering the habits of Olympic athletes in Beijing. So I might just know more about your belly than anyone else on the planet.

And what I know is this: There is no greater threat to you and your family—to your health, your happiness, even your financial future—than the dumpy bit of fat that has climbed up onto your lap and nestled itself against your belly. It’s a torpedo aimed at your torso, a missile fired at your midsection. It is a living, growing organism whose goal is to ruin your life. But you can win this war. That’s the goal. And the Zero Belly Diet is your plan.

I’ve made my career in health and fitness, but I wasn’t always what you’d call healthy or fit. I came of age in the 1980s, just as the obesity crisis started to expand, and I expanded with it. McDonald’s started to ask, “Would you like to supersize that?” and every time I said, “You bet!” By the time I was 14, I had 212 pounds of oily adolescent adiposity on my growing 5’10” frame. 

I knew I looked bad. I knew I felt bad. What I didn’t know was that if I didn’t change, I was headed toward disaster. 

It took a tragedy to wake me up.

At the still-young age of 52, my father passed away from a sudden, massive stroke. Always heavy since the time I was born, he had ballooned into obesity in the 1980s. I was his son. I carried the same “fat genes” that he did. Would this be my fate too?

My father’s death woke me up to the fact that excess weight—especially excess belly fat—is more than just a vanity issue. Belly fat may be the No. 1 cause of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer in America, and it contributes mightily to our epidemics of Alzheimer’s, depression, and even inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. 

Indeed, new studies show that belly fat is utterly different from other types of fat. It evolves out of a different set of stem cells than the fat found in other places on our bodies, its actions triggered by fat-storage genes that get turned on and cranked to high volume by our fast-food, high-stress lifestyles. Once those genes get turned on, visceral fat acts like an invading force, trying to take over our bodies.

Some of us carry a number of genes linked to metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity; others have a lower genetic propensity for these health issues. But once the “on” switch is flipped for our fat genes, we are at risk for weight gain and all the health issues that surround it—and no amount of exercise or calorie restriction is going to reverse that course completely. (That’s why so many people who diet and work out like crazy still can’t lose weight! Eureka!) And the No. 1 trigger for our fat genes is diet—especially a lack of certain nutrients.

In just the last couple of years, we’ve also learned more about belly fat—how it’s formed and how it behaves. As it gains greater purchase inside you, it spits out higher and higher levels of adipokines—a series of more than a hundred biochemical substances that do terrible things to your health. They include such nasty compounds as:

Resistin, a hormone that undermines your body’s ability to metabolize glucose and leads to high blood sugar.

Angiotensinogen, a compound that raises blood pressure. 

Interleukin-6, a chemical associated with arterial inflammation.

Tumor necrosis factor, which is as bad as it sounds—it causes inflammatory issues such as psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and various forms of arthritis.

Visceral fat also increases the amount of estrogen in your body and interferes with the functioning of your liver, meaning your body has a harder time flushing away toxins—including the very toxins that fat is creating! In fact, visceral fat does the same thing to your liver that chronic alcoholism does; a recent study at the Mayo Clinic found that one in 10 cases of liver failure resulting in the need for a liver transplant is now caused by nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH—a newly coined term for liver damage caused by visceral fat.

You can think of having belly fat as being in a state of chronic inflammation: Your body is being irritated and attacked, 24/7, by the substances your belly fat spews out. For some reason, men are much more likely than women to store fat in their midsections, although plenty of women have this “apple shape” as well. And new research is showing that children may be even more vulnerable: Ten percent of children in the United States may already have liver damage caused by visceral fat, according to federal surveys.

This is what visceral fat does. This is the enemy. And it is not fooling around. What was clear to me was this: Belly fat killed my dad. And I was going to find a way to fight back.


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The new science of nutrigenetics—the study of how food and DNA interact—holds the answer, a way to turn the odds in your favor. It’s this exciting new field of research that forms the basis of Zero Belly, the first program to reduce belly fat dramatically, not through traditional calorie-restrictive weight-loss methods, but by actually “turning off” our fat genes and putting an end to the inflammation that causes them to switch back on.

Your genes are your genes, and that can’t be changed. But how those genes express themselves can be. As Alfredo Martinez, Ph.D., professor of food sciences and nutrition at the Department of Physiology and Nutrition at the University of Navarra in Spain, most eloquently puts it, your personal genetic code “is like the lyrics of a song. You can’t change the lyrics, but you can change the way the song is played—the speed, the rhythm, and the volume—by changing your diet.” If your fat genes are blasting away like Metallica, adjusting your diet can turn them down to Mozart.

This new science is the foundation of Zero Belly. The Zero Belly foods are calibrated to disarm your fat genes, alter your genetic destiny, and reverse the march of diabetes and obesity. A healthy combination of fiber, protein, unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids works in tandem with foods that provide specific micronutrients (including betaine, choline, and methionine from animal products; B vitamins from seafood and greens; and sulforaphane and resveratrol from brightly colored fruits and vegetables) that are linked directly to the function of our fat-storage genes. 

Every time you take in more energy than you burn off, the individual visceral fat cells inside your body become larger. The larger the fat cells, the more metabolically active they are. 

And activated fat cells have one goal in life: to make themselves even bigger. So they send out adipokines to cause more inflammation, which helps shut down your satiation hormones, which makes you crave more carbs and saturated fat, which you then eat, causing more fat storage and giving your belly fat even more power to wield against you.

Even worse, visceral fat tries to grow itself by killing off other parts of your body, particularly—you guessed it—your muscles. Muscle burns energy on a regular basis, so it steals energy from fat cells to sustain itself. Unlike, say, a sprint through the airport, which requires an instant burst of energy, muscle draws on your fat banks more gradually. In fact, pound for pound, muscle tissue burns about three times as many calories as fat tissue.

Plus, muscles do something else that visceral fat hates: Muscles store energy. When you lift a bag of groceries, go for a bike ride, or flee an invading zombie apocalypse, your muscles quickly burn up energy they’ve got stored (in the form of glycogen). After you’re done lifting, biking, or fleeing, your fat-storage hormones are subdued because your body wants to use any incoming calories to restore the depleted glycogen in your muscle that you burned up during exercise. So building muscle, and working that muscle, robs visceral fat of the ability to grow larger.


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Zero Belly is a unique approach to weight loss that attacks belly fat in three ways.

First, it lights a fire under your metabolism, triggering your body’s natural calorie-burning mechanism—a mechanism that specifically targets belly fat. Zero Belly unleashes the power of protein, fiber, and healthy fats to burn calories by encouraging lean muscle growth and maximizing the thermogenic effects of eating—in effect, burning more calories by eating more great food. These three “macronutrients” will trigger your brain’s natural satiation hormones to keep you feeling full while you strip junk from your diet.

Second, this plan attacks inflammation throughout the body by triggering your digestive system’s natural defense system, shrinking bloat, easing digestion, and flattening your stomach with shocking rapidity. While Zero Belly isn’t strictly dairy-free or gluten-free, it will substantially reduce your intake of lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in dairy), gluten (the protein found in wheat), and animal-derived saturated fat, and it will eliminate inflammation-causing additives and preservatives.

Third, this program turns off your fat-storage genes by focusing on nine powerfood groups that are linked directly to the emerging science of nutritional genetics, the study of how nutrients in food influence gene expression. By reversing the acceleration of your fat-storage genes, Zero Belly completely remaps your genetic destiny, allowing your body to return to its natural, healthful state.


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This plan targets the fat that matters most—visceral belly fat—through a unique nutritional approach powered by the latest revolutionary research in weight loss, digestive health, and anti-inflammatory foods that target, and turn off, your fat genes.

Three square meals, one Zero Belly drink, and one additional snack per day.

While Zero Belly is carefully balanced to give you all the essential nutrients you need to strip away fat and reveal lean, healthy muscle, you’ll ask three important questions before each meal or snack:
1. Where’s my protein?
2. Where’s my fiber?
3. Where’s my healthy fat? 

These foods have been carefully selected for their micronutrient content; in fact, most have been linked to genetic triggers within the human genome that are associated with weight gain and metabolic disorders. They will help reset your body’s genetic destiny while decreasing inflammation and attacking visceral fat.

Zero Belly drinks 
Red fruits 
Olive oil and other healthy fats 
Beans, rice, oats, and other healthy fiber 
Extra plant protein 
Leafy greens, green tea, and brightly colored vegetables 
Lean meats and fish 
Your favorite spices and flavors (ginger, cinnamon, chocolate) 

High-phytonutrient fruits and vegetables
High-fiber, high-protein nuts, legumes, and grains
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
Lean meats, fish, and eggs
Omega-3 fatty acids 

Zero Belly is not strictly gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegan, but this program is built specifically with those dietary concerns in mind. Zero Belly dramatically reduces your exposure to gluten and dairy while boosting intake of plant-based sources of protein.

Limit alcohol to one drink per day during the initial six-week program.

One snack a day will be a Zero Belly drink, a satisfying plant-based, protein-filled smoothie. 

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