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.

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

The original diet was published in the 2004 book, "The Abs Diet: The 6-Week Plan to Flatten Your Stomach and Keep You Lean for Life." Though the program primarily targeted men, Zinczenko followed up with "The Abs Diet for Women" in 2007. It is also a six-week plan that includes 12 power foods and a regular exercise program. Zinczenko co-wrote both books with Ted Spiker, a journalist and former editor at Men's Health.

"The Abs Diet" gained substantial media attention within a year of its publication and became a New York Times bestseller. According to a New York Times article written at the time, "six-pack abs" were making a comeback in the early 2000s, and books like Zinczenko's appealed to those trying to achieve a leaner midsection.

Zinczenko is a prominent figure in the diet and nutrition industry. He is the founder and CEO of the popular "Eat This, Not That!" media franchise and has authored 25 books such as "The Zero Belly Diet" and "The 8-Hour Diet." Following the success of "The Abs Diet," Zinczenko and Spiker co-authored several related titles including, "The Abs Diet Get Fit, Stay Fit Plan" (2005), "The New Abs Diet" (2012), "The New Abs Diet for Women" (2012).

The Abs Diet diet program is relatively healthy and balanced and is likely to help some people lose weight and improve their fitness. However, there is no strong evidence to support some of Zinczenko's bolder claims. It is also not possible to target fat loss in one area of the body such as the midsection.

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

What Can You Eat?

The Abs Diet is promoted as a simple-to-follow plan because few foods are restricted, no calorie counting is required, and it allows you to eat frequently throughout the day. Also, there is no strict carbohydrate restriction, which was a key feature of many diets that were popular when "The Abs Diet" was first published. This may have helped to set it apart from other fat loss programs at the time.

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.

What You Need to Know

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. (By contrast, a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 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 1–2 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, beans are encouraged. 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. Nuts, whole grains, and berry-rich protein smoothies are also emphasized.

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, he claims 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 writes 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. It is recommended that you eat two of your snacks two hours before lunch and dinner, and one snack two hours after dinner. If you eat over the course of a 12-hour day, you can expect to eat about every three hours.

Resources and Tips

Books in "The Abs Diet" series are still available online and in many bookstores across the country. For some time, a website was maintained for the diet. It provided updated recipes, meal plans, and workouts to paid subscribers. However, it is no longer available nor is there is any other form of live ongoing support.

Those who follow the diet will, however, find helpful recipes, eating schedules, sample meal plans, and other resources in the books that were published as part of the series. Also, 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 plan (or a program very similar) without buying the books.

Exercise Plan

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 performed 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 are performed two times per week. Ab exercises include the traditional abdominal crunch, bent-leg knee raise, and side bridge.
  • Cardiovascular exercise is optional on non-strength-training days. Activities like cycling, running, or swimming are recommended. At least some light cardiovascular activity (like walking) is recommended for 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.

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.

What to Eat
  • Whole grains

  • Lean meat

  • Vegetables

  • Lowfat dairy

  • Beans

  • Fruit (especially fiber-rich berries)

  • Nuts

  • Protein powder

  • Any food you desire for a "cheat meal"

What Not to Eat
  • Fatty meat

  • Refined grains

  • Alcoholic beverages

  • Sweetened cereals

  • Cookies, candy, processed sweet treats

  • Processed microwavable meals

  • Other foods containing trans fat or high fructose corn syrup

"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.

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.

Sample Shopping List

The Abs Diet eliminates processed foods and added sugar and other unhealthy foods and includes a wide variety of nutrient-dense, whole foods that you can eat. 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, oats, quinoa)
  • Legumes (black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, lentils)
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseeds)
  • 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 like the Abs Diet Ultimate Power Smoothie, the Banana Split Smoothie, and the Halle Berries Smoothie. 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

Day 2

Day 3

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Encourages consumption of nutrient-rich foods

  • Includes foods from all food groups

  • Promotes daily physical activity

  • Includes specific exercise plan

  • Maintenance plan included in books

Cons
  • Makes substantial health claims

  • No exercise or diet support

  • Cheat day may promote unhealthy eating behavior

  • Frequent eating doesn't work for everyone

The Abs Diet is a relatively healthy eating and exercise program, but it may overpromise in terms of some of the benefits. Review the pros and cons to help inform your decision about trying this plan.

Pros

  • Protein-packed nutrition. 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.
  • Maintenance plan included. "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.

Cons

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Current research suggests this may not be the most effective strategy.

Is the Abs Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

There are several diets on the market that may appeal to those interested in reducing their waistlines. For instance, the Zero Belly Diet, also developed by Zinczenko, includes a range of nutritious foods like lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. This diet includes nine—not 12—power foods that Zinczenko says can help to turn off your "fat genes," but this claim is unsubstantiated by research.

The Flat Belly Diet suggests you can lose 15 pounds in 32 days by following an eating plan centered on healthy monounsaturated fats. While the diet encourages the consumption of healthy plant-based foods, such as fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds, it overpromises in terms of weight loss.

There's also the Body Reset Diet, a three-part plan developed by another well-known name in the weight loss community, Harley Pasternak, a celebrity trainer. Stage one of the diet includes mostly smoothies followed by a healthier eating plan that includes smoothies along with low-calorie foods. Like the Abs Diet, physical activity is encouraged.

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 1–2 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.

Health Benefits

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.

While there is some science to support certain aspects of the Abs Diet such as the aforementioned, 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.

There is no evidence to suggest that Zinczenko's diet and exercise plan is more effective than other well-balanced diets that include exercise.

Health Risks

Eating More Meals Doesn't Always Work

Eating more frequent, smaller meals may have been a health trend when "The Abs Diet" was first published, but more recent studies have suggested that the opposite approach may be smarter for some if fat loss is your goal.

A large research review on the matter was published in Frontiers in Nutrition in 2015. Researchers examined studies that investigated the relationship between eating frequency, food intake, and weight. Eight out of the 13 studies that reported on food consumption found that increasing eating frequency provided no significant benefit. Eleven out of 17 studies that reported on body measurements found that eating more often had no significant effect on body size.

May Create An Unhealthy Relationship With Food

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.

"Cheat days" and "cheat meals" are also problematic, as these terms associate food with guilty behavior and imply that "cheating" may cause more harm than good. In fact, some studies have found that those who associate food with guilt are more likely to have unhealthy eating habits.

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 (belly 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.

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Article Sources
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