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Reading Into It: The Flat Belly Diet

Posted Mar 15 2010 5:33am

A couple weeks ago, I hit the library to browse new cookbooks and diet books. One of the ones on my list was the Flat Belly Diet . I had seen recipes from it in a few different magazines and they always sounded delicious so I figured I’d check it out.

Since so many people want flat abs, the title is pretty eye-catching, no? The book starts out by talking all about body fat — why some is good, how it matters where you store it, and how current research shows that abdominal fat is the stuff most linked with high blood pressure, heart disease, breast cancer, and diabetes.

The whole diet is based on one antidote: MUFAs. MUFA is quite possibly the best acronym ever, so this immediately made me like the book more. MUFA stands for “monounsaturated fatty acid,” which, according to the book, can specifically help you lose belly fat. But aside from that, we do know that MUFAs are part of the family of “good fats” we talk about. They lower your risk of the big diseases and keep your heart healthy.

So what are the MUFAs in food form? Mainly, fats that come from plants: olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate. Not only are these foods delicious (!!) they have MUFAs and other good nutrients like vitamin E, potassium, and iron, along with protein and fiber in some cases.

The whole idea of the diet is to include a MUFA every time you eat!

The Diet

It starts with a four-day “anti-bloat jumpstart” that just helps you cut that water retention, whether it’s from pizza, booze, or PMS. It’s basically just fruits, veggies, protein, some dairy, whole grains, and lots of water. You eat four meals a day, 300 calories each. It gives you a very specific menu (although it explains substitutions) and a shopping list, which I thought was nice. An example breakfast: 1 cup unsweetened cornflakes, 1 cup skim milk, 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, two tablespoons of raisins, and a glass of water.

After the four day jumpstart, you move onto a 1600-calorie-per day plan that has you eating four meals a day, 400 calories each. Again, each meal has a MUFA.

The Menus & Recipes

I LOVE the food in this book! I’m seriously considering buying it just for the recipes! It’s nothing crazy or outlandish — actually quite the opposite — and I like that it’s just small changes to the healthy foods I’m already eating. They really had me at “banana split oatmeal.” Another thing I really like is that they list brand names of things. Of course you can get different brands, but for things like waffles or bread, it’s cool to know what they recommend. I hate when diets are super general with the foods! But this book includes lists of meal replacement bars, frozen dinners, and fast food options, and tells you how to add a MUFA. (Example: Kashi Black Bean Mango entree + ten olives.)

I also love that so many of the recipes are for one person (although there are more that would feed a family and there’s also a separate Flat Belly Family Cookbook coming out in May). I feel like so many diet books or healthy cookbooks have recipes for four or six people, and that’s just not the reality of how most of us are eating. I mean, let’s be honest, so many women who are on a diet do it alone.

Emotional Eating

There’s a chapter on the “mind-belly connection” that comes before the diet plan. It talks about how stress can affect body fat and how to take control and fight stress. I also love that the book comes with a built-in food journal! It makes so much sense to do this. It’s a good journal too — it has you rate your hunger before and after eating, and it has a daily “Core Confidence” prompt. (Ex: Make a list of five activities you’ve always been interested in but never have  gotten around to doing and then write the first action you need to take to make each happen.)


The book has a solid little workout plan. You walk for 25-30 minutes six times a week and do their strength training plan (nine moves, pretty basic, can be made easier or harder) three times a week. It’s a good plan for beginners or people new to strength training, but if you already have a good routine down, I see no reason to switch to theirs.

Bottom Line

This diet is so similar to how I already eat, but I’m not sure how I feel about the 400 calorie, four times a day thing. On the one hand, I can see how a huge afternoon snack would keep me full for a while. I think this is awesome if you work at a desk and you work late, as I used to do in NYC. I got home at 8:00 and made dinner, so I didn’t need a bedtime snack. But these days, I love a bedtime snack. My current schedule is sort of like…snack at 4:00, have dinner at 6:30; if I have a second lunch at 4:00, I would probably not want dinner until 8:00, which is fine, but then it would prevent me from eating with my family. (Not a huge deal.)

Since seeing a nutritionist in September, whose main recommendation was “eat more healthy fats,” I actually think I do have a MUFA at every meal. I definitely noticed this resulted in very good changes in my body. Also, having a MUFA in the snack meant I usually took out the dairy — which helped me realize I was lactose intolerant, and that’s done wonders for having a flatter belly.

The book just came out in paperback and it’s only $10 on Amazon, which I think is worth it for the recipes alone. There’s also a separate Flat Belly Diet Cookbook which might be worth checking out. They seem to come up with pretty great recipes, so I’d consider buying the whole cookbook.

I know a lot of diets say, “This isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle change,” and I feel like this is actually a diet that fits that description. It’s got solid nutritional advice, whole foods, and flexibility.

Have any of you tried it? What did you think?

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