THE FLAT BELLY DIET
The Flat Belly Diet does not offer you magic. I generally recommend a reread of the Harry Potter books for that. But it offers something better: science. Science beats magic every time because science is real and can live up to its promises. My job is to tell you just a bit about the science underlying the Flat Belly Diet.
Since you are holding this book, there is a good chance you have some excess weight you would like to lase. If so, you have a lot of company! Well over 65 percent of adults in the United States are overweight, and scientists are projecting that if current trends persist, in a few decades, we ALL will be! A rising proportion of the entire population of the globe is on the same trajectory. With all of this weight gain come many questions, including that old standby. “Why me?” Certainly. many of my patients over the years have lamented their tendency to gain weight more readily than someone else and have wondered why it had to be that way. You may have, too.
But there is one fundamental question I’m not sure I’ve ever heard any of my patients ask, so d9l ask it now on their behalf and yours: Why do any of us make excess body fat in the first place? Why don’t extra calories just run through us, like surf through sand? Why do we have to get fat in the first place? It is in answering this question that the unique perils and challenges of -belly fat’ and the benefits of the Flat Belly Diet arc best brought to light. And make no mistake—with excess body fat, especially if it accumulates around the middle—there are indeed perils.
Excess belly fat generally means an excess risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer—and a greater likelihood of dying prematurely/Me benefits of the Flat Belly Diet could well include saving your life! Body fat is an energy reserve, much needed throughout most of human history. We can only store about 1,200 calories, give or take, as carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. The only place we can put more calories than that into storage against the advent of a rainy day is body fat.
So that’s just what we do. When calories from any kind of food are consumed in excess of need on any green day, the surplus goes into storage. Once the glycogen tanks are filled, the rest goes into fat. It is, in historical context, an excellent plan. Where better to safely store the calories you might need tomorrow than inside yourself?
That system works well when an excess of calories today is followed by a deficit tomorrow. The stored calories are used up, replaced, then used up again. But when the feasting never stops, well, Houston. we have a problem! And so does every other city in America, too, where a constant surplus of calories translates into rampant obesity. Body fat exists throughout the body, so excess fat can be widely distributed. But most of us tend to accumulate excess body fat is one of two places: the lower body.
Belly fat, and specifically fat accumulation in the vital organs of the abdomen, the liver especially, is particularly bad news. Why? Well, fat doesn’t just sit there; it communicates with the rest of the body and brain acing chemical messengers or hormones. The hormones, in turn, affect the keels of other hormones.
Belly fat tends to result in higher levels of stress hormones such as cortical and adrenaline. These hormones oppose the work of insulin so, to compensate, insulin levels tend to rise. Unfortunately, higher levels of insulin favor the deposition of even more fat around the middle. As belly fat infiltrates the liver, it interferes with the action of insulin there. In addition, the production of fat molecules in the liver is altered, so the levels of triglycerides in the blood rise.
Both of these effects further increase the requirement for insulin, and the higher levels of insulin that ensue worsen both of these effects. As they say in the old country, soy, Irv!” Insulin resistance is a very common metabolic mess. Well over 20 million Americans have diabetes, mostly type 2. Twice • at many-40 million or so of us—have prediabetes, meaning blood sugar is occasionally too high. But twice that number at least have insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes over time. Fixing this mess calls for breaking the degenerating spiral of too much belly fat, insulin resistance, too much insulin, more belly fat, and so on. That spiral can be broken, and the Flat Belly Diet meal plan is designed to do just that.
Tens of millions need the help this plan promises. Whereas both carbohydrates and proteins in the diet trigger a release of insulin, fat generally does not. And of the various types of dietary fat, the one shown to be most helpful in lowering those insulin requirements is monounsaturated fat. The Flat Belly Diet places just the right emphasis on monounsaturated fat, prominent in foods commonly found in the famously healthful Mediterranean Diet, such as olives, avocados, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
The plan also emphasizes other healthful foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and soy. Dark chocolate is on the list, Lou, and is beneficial mostly as a source of antioxidants rather than of monounsaturated fat. By shifting calories to foods rich in monounsaturated fat, the Flat Belly Diet promises to lower insulin levels and improve blood triglycerides even before weight is lost. The lower levels of insulin, in turn, help facilitate weight loss and the reduction of dangerous belly fat in particular. Does it deliver on that promise? That is the question Prevention magazine and the Flat Belly authors asked me to answer at my lab, Yak University’s Prevention Research Center.
To do so, we enrolled 11 overweight women with an excess of belly fat, ranging in age from 35 to 65, into a simple pre/ postassessment of the effects of 4 weeks following the Flat Belly Diet meal plan. The average baseline weight for the group was well over 200 pounds, and waist circumference averaged over 40 inches. The findings were truly impressive. The women lost an average of roughly 8.5 pounds and took off, on average, more than L5 inches from their waistlines. Using before and after MR1 scans of the belly, we saw a significant decline in overall abdominal fat. including fat in the liver.
Belly fat, quantified by a radiologist using dedicated software to interpret the MRI scans, fell by more than 25cm’ on average. This represented an approximately 25-percent reduction in the baseline level of potentially dangerous abdominal fat. With the promise of belly fat mobilization set decisively fulfilled, it was no surprise that a wide array of markers for chronic disease risk also improved dramatically. Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure trended down on average, by over 8 points and 5 points, respectively.
This change alone would be expected to reduce the risk for heart attack and stroke by as much as 25 percent, and even more in some cases, depending on baseline blood pressure, which averaged only a high normal 125/80 in our group. While there would likely be a large health benefit from the blood pressure reduction we saw alone. this change did not occur alone! Total cholesterol fell, on average, by more than 20 points, LDL cholesterol by 10 points, and triglycerides by almost 30. Protective HDL cholesterol came down a slight 5 points, as is often seen with dietary improvement and weight loss.
The decline in triglycerides was especially noteworthy, suggesting both a direct benefit to liver function, insulin sensitivity, and cardiovascular risk. The plan also demonstrated benefit at the very heart of the metabolic mayhem excess belly fat can cause: insulin resistance. Fast-ing insulin fell significantly, by about one-third of its baseline value. A measure called the 110MA-IR was used to measure insulin resistance, and it improved by more than 25 percent.
These changes indicate a clear and significant reduction in the risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. We assessed inflammation as well, using a measure called C-reactive protein. The value fell, on average, more than 50 percent! A reduction in inflammation indicates not only reduced risk of both cancer and heart disease, as well as diabetes, but even for such conditions as arthritis, osteoporosis, and chronic pain.
Quite simply. the flat Belly Diet delivered on its promise across a robust array of measures. The plan lowered weight, reduced belly fat, and improved overall health. Insulin sensitivity was improved, triglycerides lowered, blood pressure reduced, and inflammation doused. While the exact impact of such changes varies with individual baseline values, on average our study participants slashed their risk for major chronic disease and premature death by more than 50 percent—in just 4 weeks! I laving conducted this study at the request of my friends at Prevention, I was, of course, hoping for favorable results.
But the results we actually gut really blew me away. What a stunning demonstration of the power of a healthful meal plan to refashion one’s medical destiny! All diets that restrict calories can induce weight loss. but not all diets can do so healthfully. All diets that induce weight loss will eventually reduce abdominal fat, but not all diets are designed to target belly fat preferentially.
The Flat Belly Diet approaches weight loss with an appropriate focus on health and goes beyond weight loss to address the hormonal imbalances that contribute to the accumulation of dangerous intra-abdominal fat. As with any new meal plan, sticking with it over time tends to be the greatest challenge. But it also offers the greatest rewards. The dramatic health benefits seen after just 4 weeks on the Flat Belly Diet would certainly increase over time.
As a public health professional, I believe that the best strategy for weight control for all of us is an environment and culture that make eating well and being active the norm for everybody, every day. But even as I do what I can to contribute to that result, I am not holding my breath—and neither should you. So, as a doctor who takes care of individual patients, I can also say that you can defend yourself each day with your feet and your fork—and not just wait on the world to change! Bating well, being active, and controlling weight will, alas, be more the exception than the rule in our society for the foreseeable future. So you want to be the exception! And you can be.
The Flat Belly Diet offers you an exceptionally good way to get there. If you or someone you love has excess belly fat, you are also carrying an excess risk of diabetes. heart disease, and even cancer. As demonstrated by the participants in our study, if you take advantage of the Flat Belly Diet meal plan, what you gain is even more important than what you lose. As you lose abdominal fat, you gain health and vitality. You may very well gain both years of life and life in those years. You may want to lose excess belly fat mostly so you will like what you see in the mirror. As a physician, I want to lose it mostly so that you will be healthier. The Flat Belly Diet promises to give us both what we’re after. Our data indicate that if you follow the guidance in this book, the promises it makes will, indeed, be promises fulfilled.