Read an Excerpt
Why Beating Belly Fat Is Health Goal #1
Your Belly Isn’t Just Sitting There, Looking Sloppy. It’s Actively Trying to Harm Your Heart, Your Muscles—and Even Your Brain!
Any diet plan can promise you weight loss. What Zero Belly offers you is something more: the power to wield food as a weapon, to turn off your fat genes, boost your metabolism, rebalance your gut health, and burn off fat for good.
Zero Belly is about putting your hand firmly on the tiller and turning hard to starboard, steering your life away from the twin icebergs of obesity and illness and out into the open water of a better destiny.
I’m not telling you that Zero Belly is the only way to lose weight. There are thousands of different ways you could achieve weight loss: exercise programs, calorie-restrictive diets, “master cleanses,” even hypnosis. You could have surgery, you could check yourself into a clinic, you could subsist on nothing but grapefruit or peanut butter or mung beans. You could become a Weight Watcher, a Tough Mudder, a Bowflexer, a CrossFitter, a South Beacher, a Dukanite. You can Zumba, you can Shred, you can Spartan Up, you can P90X to your heart’s content. They will all help you get fitter and drop a few pounds.
But they will not do what Zero Belly does: set a bull’s- eye on the fat cells that matter most, and go at them with high-intensity, almost surgical precision until your physical, mental, and emotional health is fully restored.
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So look . . . I’m not going to downplay it. The physical transformations wthat Zero Belly can bring about are stunning. Dropping the weight equivalent of a two-year-old boy in just six weeks will change the way people look at you, and the way you look at yourself.
And if appealing to your vanity is what it takes to get you to take the first steps toward a new life, then I’m all for it. After all, studies show that vanity works—in the short term: If I told you that you were going to appear on national television in a swimsuit, and you had six months to get ready for it, believe me, you’d be pretty motivated to start eating differently and to stick to it.
But Zero Belly is more than just another weight-loss program. This plan blasts belly fat from the inside by dramatically reducing bloating and inflammation; shrinks it from the outside by melting away fat and replacing it with lean, firm muscle; and keeps attacking it on a long-term basis by turning off your genetic weight-gain switches and restoring your metabolism to what it ought to be. This three-part strategy is how my program will give you back the health you need and the happiness you deserve.
To fully grasp how virulent belly fat is, and how to fight back, it’s important to understand where it comes from—and why, exactly, it behaves in the ways that it does.
KNOW THE ENEMY
A little bit of fat does a lot of good in our bodies—especially if it’s located in exactly the right places. It helps to keep us warm in winter and stores energy for later use. It’s involved in some important chemical reactions as well. A shapely little bit of fat produces the hormone leptin, which travels to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls appetite, and flicks the switch that tells us to stop eating. It also produces adiponectin, another hormone that helps regulate the metabolism of lipids and blood sugar. In fact, in a 2014 study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers reported that subcutaneous fat in your hips and thighs is associated with reduced insulin levels and increased insulin sensitivity (meaning that it actually protects against diabetes). People who are “pear-shaped” and store fat in their hips and thighs also tend to have higher HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and lower triglycerides, which means that Kim Kardashian may live forever.
But biologically, there’s an enormous difference between subcutaneous fat—the stuff that’s right below your skin, the stuff that makes up love handles and the like—and visceral fat, which is inside your abdominal wall, wrapped around your internal organs. The easiest way to tell the difference might be this: subcutaneous fat jiggles, but visceral fat doesn’t. Subcutaneous fat is fat you can pinch; visceral fat is the solid stuff that makes your gut stick out. Subcutaneous fat comes in different colors (white, brown, and beige), each of which has some positive health benefits. (To learn more about the oddly complex world of fat, check out “Fifty Shades of Fat” on page 56.)
But unlike its subcutaneous cousin, visceral fat isn’t just hanging out, keeping us warm. It’s more like an active volcano. It’s spewing out dangerous substances all the time.
Indeed, visceral fat secretes more than a hundred biochemicals, which are collectively known as adipokines. But they ought to be known as adipo-unkinds, because they include such nasty substances 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
And the more visceral fat you have, the less of the positive fat-based substances (like adiponectin) your body seems to be capable of producing. In fact, increased visceral fat can be a sign that your subcutaneous fat is not functioning properly, according to research by Michael Jensen, M.D., of the Endocrine Research Unit at the Mayo Clinic. That may explain why more visceral fat equals less positive fat-based adiponectin. Decreased adiponectin is linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, elevated glucose levels, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and even some types of malignancies, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Visceral fat also increases the amount of estrogen in your body, and interferes with the function 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 ten 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: 10 percent of children in the United States may already have liver damage caused by visceral fat, according to federal surveys.
But removing that visceral fat—which is exactly what Zero Belly is designed to do—helps to remove those risks.
THE ALIEN INSIDE YOU
So stop thinking of belly fat as a (literal) extension of your fine self, and start thinking of it as what it really is—a living, squirming parasite inside your body that’s out to ruin your life.
I know. Gross. But true.
This visceral-fat creature wrapped around your internal organs is eager to grow and cause even more mischief. And we now know that there are three specific factors that contribute to the growth of visceral fat: a diet low in fiber, high in carbs, and high in saturated fat; chronic inflammation; and a genetic propensity toward visceral fat storage that’s been triggered by the previous two factors. Once your fat storage system is turned on, you’re set up for a bigger belly. I’ll explain more about fat genes and how to turn them off in the next chapter, but before I do, I want to outline more about why it’s so important to focus on belly fat.
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. Your belly fat basically tricks you into helping it grow.
But as fat cells become more metabolically active, they also become more toxic. So each time your weight goes up a single percentage point, your health risk goes up a lot more. When you accumulate visceral fat, you begin showing signs of something scientists call “metabolic syndrome.” Metabolic syndrome is a condition that’s really just a collection of heart disease risk factors: a larger waist, high triglycerides (the fat in your blood), high blood sugar, low HDL cholesterol, and high blood pressure. This combination increases the likelihood that you’ll
• Develop diabetes: 500 percent increase
• Have a heart attack: 300 percent increase
• Die of a heart attack: 200 percent increase
Recent estimates are that between ages 20 and 39, about 16 percent of women and 17 percent of men are already in the throes of metabolic syndrome; between ages 40 and 59, about 37 percent of women and more than 40 percent of men are; and by the time we hit 60, a majority of us all are symptomatic. In fact, visceral fat has been linked to pretty much every epidemic of our modern times, including not just diabetes and heart disease but high blood pressure, colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. (It is also a major contributor to the epidemic spread of “mom jeans.”)
Think about it for a moment: Heart disease. Diabetes. Cancer.
How many loved ones have you lost to those three devils? How many times have you worried that one of the devils was hunting you? How many doctor’s appointments have you rushed to—or put off going to—because you thought that cough, that pain, that dizzy feeling meant one or more of those health problems might have you in its grasp? And how much are you already spending on medication to keep them at bay?
Now consider that I’ve seen Zero Belly reduce the risk of death from obesity-related disease in just six weeks—by up to 80 percent in at least one of our participants.
Like I said, any weight-loss plan can help you lose a few pounds. But Zero Belly is specifically designed to target the fat that matters most to your health: visceral fat—the kind that insinuates its way in and around your internal organs. Visceral fat is a living, breathing welcome committee for the Big Three.
I’ll go much more into the science of this later in this book, but recent and ongoing studies have found that just carrying around extra weight isn’t necessarily the worst thing that can happen to your health. Where and how fat is distributed in your body makes all the difference. In fact, belly fat alone may be the number one contributor to three of the biggest killers of our modern times. According to a Mayo Clinic study of 650,000 adults, greater waist circumference means greater risk of death at pretty much every turn.
In a study presented in fall 2013 to the American Heart Association, researchers reported following 972 obese people over eight years. They found that those who store most of their fat just beneath the skin—subcutaneous fat—were not at increased risk for heart disease, no matter how much they weighed or how broad their waistlines. But patients with high levels of visceral fat were much more likely to develop heart disease, including heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat).
High levels of belly fat are also linked directly to diabetes risk. In a trial that followed participants for more than eight years, researchers tracked two sets of people who had recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. One set followed a low-fat diet, while the second group followed a diet high in the fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats that make up the Zero Belly plan. Those in the second group went significantly longer before needing diabetes medication, and more of them had their diabetes go into remission.
Most people understand that heart disease and diabetes are linked to weight gain. But more and more scientific research is finding a direct link between visceral fat and a variety of cancers, especially prostate, breast, and colon cancer. And in a recent paper, Italian researchers outlined how they have begun to study adipokines as markers for autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. In the near future, doctors may be able to predict whether you’ll get everything from arthritis to irritable bowel syndrome to psoriasis and even Alzheimer’s by measuring how active your visceral fat is. Imagine that: we may soon be able to tell exactly how much mental decline you’ll suffer based on how effective your belly fat is at attacking your brain. Makes you want to attack the fat first, right?
And if that doesn’t make your head reel, then grab hold of your cerebellum, because this will blow your mind. Visceral fat tries to grow itself not just by messing with your hormones and making you more hungry but also by killing off other parts of your body, particularly your muscles.
Let me say that again: like a parasite, visceral fat literally kills off other parts of your body to keep itself alive.
I know what you’re thinking: “Fire up that liposuction machine and let’s hoover this monster out of me now!” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Because visceral fat literally wraps itself around your liver and other vital organs, there’s no way to safely remove it with surgery. There’s only one viable answer.
Fortunately, you’re holding the key in your hands.