What should I eat to obtain a flat stomach?
July 27, 2006 1:05 PM   Subscribe

This is a tangent on the various posts asking about how getting a six-pack stomach. I'm 5'10' and 155 lbs and once and for all, I want to get rid of my slight beer gut and get a flat stomach (any pack would be a welcome bonus). I know that it's all about dieting/nutrition and exercising. I have the exercising thing down, but I have no clue about nutrition. Without giving me intake percentages or confusing me with omega fructose 3 fatty acid stuff, what should I eat to make my stomach flat?

The rest of my body reacts well to weight-lifting and exercise, but I can't seem affect any noticeable change in my stomach-ab area. I don't have any food allergies and as a "low taster," I will eat anything. However, I have no interest in supplements or eating three shakes a day.

For example: Should I cut out all soda from my diet? Can I drink diet soda? Any alcohol? Should I only eat just salads? (Also, as a poor recent graduate student living in expensive NYC, budget is an issue--I can't afford to shop at Whole Foods every day) Help me.

For example, today for lunch, I ate some rice and chicken with greenbeans with a can of Sprite. Then, I ate about 7 strawberries. Is this healthy? What should I cut out?
posted by Juggermatt to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You can't have a six-pack without lowering the overall fat content of your body and doing exercises to work those areas so you eventually have muscles to show off. I'll assume you know how to do various abs exercises.

Cut out all the soda. You're frontloading your body with empty calories of sugar.

Scale back on the alcohol (depending on how much you drink, this might not be an issue) as well. Same reason. It's all about the calories.

How much food did you eat? The rough estimate for meat portions is about a deck of cards.

That's a start.
posted by canine epigram at 1:21 PM on July 27, 2006

Eat nothing but chicken breasts and workout incessently and then you might have a six-pack. The six-pack is incredibly hard to get and you need to have very low body fat to obtain it. Seriously, nothing but chicken breasts and water, possibly salads. Workout all the time and then you will get a six pack. I have never actually seen anyone earn a six pack with moderate working out -- everyone either has it naturally or not.

On the American Psycho commentary they said that Christian Bale ate only chicken breasts and worked out to the point where he no longer ever wants to work out again. I have talked to many people and they conclude that this is the only way that the rest of us proles would be able to build up a six pack. This really has to be the hardest thing to do and you have to be incredibly driven to do it.
posted by geoff. at 1:22 PM on July 27, 2006

What geoff said, and bear in mind that "once and for all" actually means "a lifetime of effort that will get much more difficult as you grow older." The six-pack, even if it is attained, must be then maintained.

The guys you see with very pronounced six-packs are either genetic freaks, with an abnormal combination of high muscle potential/ low body fat percentage / tight skin, or else they work very very hard for the effect -- massive exercise and strict diet.
posted by La Cieca at 1:36 PM on July 27, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks ya'll for the advice so far. I'm not necessarily looking for a six pack--Just a flat stomach.

Good advice about the deck of cards. I generally eat at least double that in portions.
posted by Juggermatt at 1:38 PM on July 27, 2006

What you're asking about is the most basic kind of issue: you simply need to lose weight. There's no other magic formula. Several friends and I who exercise a lot but have wanted to lose some weight for performance enhancement have all used the No seconds, No Snacks, No Sweets diet to great effect.
posted by OmieWise at 1:51 PM on July 27, 2006

There is no way to selectively lose fat in one area of your body. It comes off from everywhere at once. So the short of it is you need to take in fewer calories than you burn and just plain old lose weight. The stuff about "toning a specific area" is mostly nonsense. You can certainly build specific muscle groups, but if there is enough fat that you have a gut, then building abdominal muscles will do absolutely nothing until you lose the fat.

So, to sum it up: Eat fewer calories.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:55 PM on July 27, 2006

Wha! beer is "just bad"! Say it ain't so. if the boy wants a six pack he'll need to drink beer. 'nuff said.

Seriously- Beer has lots of goodness going for it. In November of 1999, The New England Journal of Medicine stated that light to moderate beer drinkers would decrease their chances of suffering a stroke by 20%. ... Beer has more flavenoids than wine, more B6, and has proven vascular benefits... more at
posted by Gungho at 1:58 PM on July 27, 2006

Gungho: But it's called a beer belly for a reason. He's asking how to be skinny, not how to be healthy. The two are very different.
posted by SpecialK at 2:12 PM on July 27, 2006

True, Gungho - but beer's a yeast byproduct. The benefits of the alcohol are weighed down by the liquidized starch within the brew. The key isn't to eliminate it entirely, but to set an intake limit.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:16 PM on July 27, 2006

Continue exercise, and do a lot of sit-ups/crunches. I'm pretty much at the same point as you -- I weigh in around 150 lbs first thing in the morning, just out of the shower and am about 5'10" as well. My scale that claims to read body fat percentage (although I'd rather trust the caliper method) claims I'm around 20% body fat, a little higher than I'd like.

Ideally you just want to get that body fat percentage down. Cut out all refined sugars that you can, including soft drinks, alcohol, and white bread. Try to get a cardiovascular workout in at least the 45 minute range 3-4 times a week. To be honest, my weight and waist size dropped just from cutting out soft drinks (I went from a couple cans of Dr Pepper per day to a couple per week).
posted by mikeh at 2:18 PM on July 27, 2006

I've had luck with the South Beach Diet. Try Phase 1 (it's only 2 weeks) and see how it works for you.

Even if you don't follow the diet directly, you can get a good idea of foods to eat vs. foods to avoid.

(btw, I tried it to support my wife [she was doing it] and have lost 20 pounds [most around my gut] and have kept it off, even though I'm no longer strictly following the diet. No kidding...)
posted by noahv at 2:39 PM on July 27, 2006

Best answer: You likely need to "cut" your obliques - the love handle muscles. Do your crunches and situps and such:one straight up, one to the left, one straight up, one to the right. Another thing to try is to do situps with a weightlifting plate on your chest - or over your head. I used to do these elaborate situps where I'd have the plate over my head on the way down, then on my chest on the way up - kinda like a negative, which my body happens to react very positively to.

Also, "explosive" situps may help, but you need a partner. Get on a decline situp board (in prone position, your head should be below the rest of your body). Have your partner stand, facing you, at your knees, with a basketball. Your partner then throws the ball to you, above your head, so you have to lean back and do a situp to get the ball. Then youcome back up, and toss the ball back (keep the ball above your head as you finish the down and on the way up). Then have your partner toss the ball to your left. Catch it with an outstretched arm as you lean back, then come up throwing. Then over the head again, and to the right. I cannot stress enough, take it very easy the first couple workouts you try this exercise - I overdid it the session I learned this technique and was in constant pain for over two weeks. Once I got into it, though, I developed a frighteningly awesome midsection (which is now mostly covered with flab, unfortunately).
posted by notsnot at 2:45 PM on July 27, 2006

Mikeh, you'd have to be an absolute *stick* in your arms and legs to have 20% bodyfat at 5'10", 150lb. I'm a bit stockier, but when I was down to 6%, I was still 170 (and I'm also 5'10).
posted by notsnot at 2:48 PM on July 27, 2006

Just to add to what notsnot said, I'm a bit jiggly at the moment - probably around 16-18% - but you can still see some hint of abs on me. And the secret is low-rep sets of weighted crunches. Ie, do 2 or 3 sets of 8-10 reps holding a plate or dumbell to your chest, and build up the weight. Your abs are muscles like any other muscles and they grow with progessive overload. Fat reduction is 9/10 of it I'm sure, but the other 1/10 is having some bulges to poke through the fat.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:57 PM on July 27, 2006

Best answer: I'll pile on and say it sounds as if a flat stomach will be attainable with proper diet and exercise. you'll have to then *maintain* it afterwards.

diet: nthing everyone who says cut out all the high fructose corn sirup. This means soda, juices and an amazingly high proportion of packaged foods as well.

I've given this tip before, but it bears repeating: best tip I was ever given to simplify grocery shopping: shop only around the perimeter of your grocery store, don't go down the aisles. sounds weird but it works, trust me.

As far as a six-pack? Assuming you're within a reasonable BMI then the chances of you having one are 70% up to genetics, 20% working out, 10% weight management.

(warning personal anecdotes ahead): My x was 6'0" and 175# when we met. He *always* sported a little bit of a pooch that he could never get rid of no matter what he did - that was just his body type. Another dude I dated was 5'2" and 145# with the most defined six-pack I ever saw (collegiate gymnast... even his biceps had biceps). Yet another ex BF was 6'1", 162#, rail thin, rode a bike 20 hours a week and had NO definition in his belly at all, tho his stomach was tabletop flat (you'd think at that low weight he'd be ripped, right?). I, on the other hand (female) am 5'4", have been as high as 170#, and never had any belly rolls regardless of HOW fat I got (my ass, otoh...). Even when I was in the 150's, I had some definition in my abs. Now that I'm down to less than 130#, I have a pretty decent 6-pack, despite that my body weight really isn't that low. I just don't carry any fat in my belly. So basically, it depends.

/personal anecdote

The best exercises you can do to help gain ab strengh (regardless of definition) are *very slow* complete crunches. You will hate them because the slower you go, the harder you're working the muscle. Pay attention, and eventually you'll be able to discern each set firing as you complete the range of motion. Make sure you do the lateral 'rope pull' style too. The key is to make them very slow, and hesitate at the top of the motion. Guys that can rip off 300 crunches machine-gun style may look impressive as hell whilst doing so but they really aren't doing all that much for themselves because they're only firing (at most) about 10% of the muscle mass.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:25 PM on July 27, 2006

Ketogenic diet my man.
posted by rinkjustice at 4:31 PM on July 27, 2006

I'm recommending Shangri-La once again. The guy who invented it ended up with such low body fat that his friends were asking if he had a serious illness. He felt fine, but he actually had to gain some fat back to make them stop asking that. Should be worth a try.
posted by kindall at 5:03 PM on July 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

I recommend you lurk around the John Stone Fitness Forums and, in particular, read the stickies in the beginners thread.

What you want to do, essentially, is reduce your body fat. You also need muscle underneath for your "pack" to show up.

The best way to do this is a clean diet, paying attention to you calories and where your calories are coming from, and exercising including weights. Don't bother with any weird diets. Yeah, they may help you lose weight, but if you eat healthy, you can lose weight, eat food, and still enjoy it. Balance is key. You can't cut fat out completely. That's bad for you. Ditto carbs.

Right now, I am healthy, but I still want to reduce my own body fat to down below 10% (rule of thumb seems to be that on a guy, the abs show up thereabouts). So I eat a balanced diet of 500 calories below what I need to maintain (there are many calculators out there to see what this number should be, and it may take some trial and error to find a number that is right for *you*). I track my calories on fitday, and pay attention to my carbs, protein, and fat intake, and shoot for about 50 : 30: 20. If I don't get it exactly, I am fine, but I try to get close. It seems intimidating at first, but it is worth looking at. Remember, though: if you want to lose fat and not muscle, you need to make sure you are eating enough to support your activity level. Just dropping your calories down to some ridiculous level might make you lose weight, but odds are it won't be the kind of weight you want to lose, especially if you want to see some definition.

For the foods you eat, avoid processed stuff as much as you can, and stick to whole grain stuff. 100% whole wheat bread, if you are going to have bread, whole wheat pasta, if you are going to have pasta, and brown rice (I didn't like it much at first but now I prefer it to white rice).

The JSF Forums are second to none, though. The people there are genuinely helpful, especially in the beginner forums. Occasionally you'll get some "tough love" but usually it pays off. Some of the people are pretty nuts about their regimen, and it works really well for them, but most of the members respect that not everyone is there to become a competition body builder and that they just want to look good. I read a lot of the stuff on there, and I use some of it, but not all of it, and things are going alright for me. I'm not as in to all the supplements some people use, for example. But I think that, in general, most guys on there who are not dreaming of competing get by on, if anything, whey protein (as far as supplements go).
posted by synecdoche at 8:10 PM on July 27, 2006

Surprised no one has mentioned The Hacker's Diet. It's very popular around here.

Myself personally, I'm all about Tom Venuto's "Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle" program. Google BFFM and you'll find support groups for it.
posted by willmize at 4:46 AM on July 28, 2006

Best answer: lonefrontranger is right, you can exercise like hell but if you don't have the genetics, you're in trouble. I think from your physical description that you may be ok though. 5'10' and 155lbs sounds pretty lean to me so with the right diet and concentrated effort you could do it. I'm the same height as you but I'm 175lbs. I have a couple of pounds lurking on my lower abs that I'm shifting, but I'm naturally stocky (bodyfat percentage around 14%) so I'm pretty sure that I'm not genetically predisposed to getting a six-pack. As far as ab exercises go I'd recommend hanging raises. You should also target your obliques, twists with a broomstick on a decline bench are good.
posted by ob at 7:35 AM on July 28, 2006

This really is a matter of body fat % and not a matter of ab exercises. Until you're down below 10% and probably closer to 8% body fat, you aren't going to be able to see a six pack no matter what kinds of ab stuff you do. You might see an ab column, but no six pack. So whatever way you do it, losing weight is what you need to do.

I was curious about the Shangri La diet after seeing it mentioned so often, and I went and read some stuff about it on CalorieLab. It's completely a fad diet, the very definition of one. The calorielab post makes the point, but is merciful about not taunting the author about it, that the guy eats 1200 calories a day as a maintenance diet. That's very little for a normal sized man. Now the claim is that by taking some unflavored calories (mostly in the form of a tablespoon or two of oil) appetite is controlled and participants don't feel hungry. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but what's clearly true is that the claims that the diet "readjusts" your body's set point are ludicrous: if that were true one wouldn't have to eat a diet so severly restricted in calories. I'm not saying the diet doesn't work, just that it's nothing more than another kind of calorie restriction diet that uses a fad to get you to restricit your calories and lose weight.
posted by OmieWise at 8:31 AM on July 28, 2006

According to an instructor at my gym, bodies like to pick out one place in particular to deposit weight, and they will lose weight on every other body part BEFORE they will take weight off of that part. If your body's area of choice is your gut, you're screwed for a six pack. I have pretty much stick thinness going on in every other area, but my stomach is still big. Bleah.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:58 PM on July 28, 2006

the claims that the diet "readjusts" your body's set point are ludicrous: if that were true one wouldn't have to eat a diet so severly restricted in calories

It's not that Seth Roberts "has to" eat a severely calorie-restricted diet. He doesn't count calories and try to keep it under some arbitrary threshold to avoid gaining weight. He eats what he wants, whenever he wants, tossing in some flavorless foods, and when he tallies up what he ate for the day, it comes to about 1200 calories. Your objection is like asking, "If the Toyota Prius is so efficient, why does it have to burn so little gasoline?" Roberts would say that his low calorie intake is a direct result of his set point having been lowered, not evidence that it hasn't been.

Roberts's theory of how his diet works may be wrong in its details, of course, but that doesn't mean it the plan itself doesn't in fact work like a motherfucker. Nobody who's having success with Shangri-La is going to listen to someone lecture them on how it can't possibly work because the theory doesn't make any sense.

bodies like to pick out one place in particular to deposit weight, and they will lose weight on every other body part BEFORE they will take weight off of that part

This is definitely true in my experience.
posted by kindall at 11:11 PM on July 28, 2006

I think you, in your own zeal, misunderstood my point. I'm not suggesting that he didn't lose the weight, or that you're not losing the weight. I'm simply pointing out that the weight is lost through the same mechanism weight is always lost, by decreasing calorie intake below calorie expenditure. There are a ton diets that help people to do that, but they all work the same way, by restricting calories. It isn't that cabbage, for instance, in the cabbage diet has magical fat burning properties, it's that it's damn hard to eat enough of it to maintain your weight when that's all you're eating.

My objection has nothing to do with the wieght lost, it's to do with prostelitizing for this diet as if it were somehow different from some other diet. I have no idea why Robert's eats 1200 calories, but on the face of it, his ideas are bunk because that's all he eats. I'm 5 10 and if I only ate 1200 calories a day I could expect to lose 2 lbs every 5 days or so. Keep in mind that monetary gain can also be a great appetite supressant...a lot of things can. You and I don't know how Roberts feels or what his motivations are. We know he lost a bunch of weight, we know he claims powers for his diet that obviously cannot exist because if his diet were different than any other diet it wouldn't operate in the same way as all other diets.

Look, I'm all for people losing whatever weight they want to in whatever way they can that's mostly healthy. If that's the Shangri-La diet, that's great. If it's by cutting out Snacks, Sweets and Seconds, like me, that's great. If it's moderate applications of the cabbage diet, so be it. But once people start profiting by claiming specific powers for their diets that their own calorie intakes suggest are bunk, then I think it's worth pointing out not that the diet doesn't work, but that it works only because it restricts calories, the same as any other kind of diet. I've seen your posts in a couple of AskMes about the diet, so I know you're having some success with it, which I applaud. Keep it up. There's no reason to rob yourself of the satisfaction of having done yourself what magic hasn't done, though.
posted by OmieWise at 9:01 AM on July 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

'm simply pointing out that the weight is lost through the same mechanism weight is always lost, by decreasing calorie intake below calorie expenditure.

Well, of course. Roberts doesn't claim anything different.

The question is, how do you decrease calorie intake? Just trying to eat less doesn't work, as shown by the 90+% long-term failure rate of most diets. Hunger is a strong signal. You can only hold your breath for so long, and you can only eat less than your body is telling you it wants for so long.

The goal of Shangri-La is not to reduce calorie intake directly but to reduce appetite, which no other diet that I'm aware of explicitly sets out to do, and very few succeed at. (Low carb was pretty effective for me at appetite suppression, but none of the low carb diet books I read talked about appetite suppression as the goal of the diet.) Roberts's theory about set points and flavor associations may be the wrong explanation for how his plan reduces appetite, but it's not without evidence. In any case, he's clearly discovered something new about how the body maintains its weight.

Anyway, I don't intend to defend the diet in detail here. I only offered it as something the original poster might try, because the diet's inventor claims that he lost so much body fat using the method that his friends remarked upon his gauntness. There is very little cost or health risk to trying it (in fact, olive oil and some of the other oils people are using are pretty healthy) and so if extremely low body fat is what you're going for, then it is probably worth a try.
posted by kindall at 12:45 PM on July 29, 2006

Cut out all breads. All. The muffin. The bagel. The sandwich. And the soda. Eat close to the ground. Vegetables. Eat at home, not restaurants. Drink plain water. Use soy milk in your coffee.

I've told you all my tricks. They work.
posted by trii at 5:06 PM on July 29, 2006

Oh, and no cheese. None.
posted by trii at 5:07 PM on July 29, 2006

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