Recent studies suggest a new technique called A Body Shape Index, or ABSI, can reveal more about your chances of death and disease than body weight or BMI ever could.
Unlike BMI—which was invented in the 1800s and often seems like it, since it doesn’t take into account abdominal fat, which more and more studies are showing to be the critical factor in your risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease—ABSI factors in a critical component: waist circumference. If weight and BMI measure “bigness,” then ABSI measures “roundness”—and better identifies whether your belly puts you at risk.
This knowledge is absolutely essential. In my new weight-loss book, appropriately named Zero Belly Diet, I show how the one simple goal of trying to shrink your belly in six short weeks can change your life dramatically by reducing your risk of everything from heart disease to diabetes to Alzheimer’s. Study after study has shown that people with large waists die sooner than those with flat bellies, even if their BMI is normal. (Get a jump on slimming your stomach with these 10 Daily Habits That Blast Belly Fat.) Fortunately, there’s a new weapon in town.
How ABSI Works
The ABSI formula was discovered in 2012 by researchers at the City College of New York’s School of Engineering. They analyzed body measurements and death rates in more than fourteen thousand adults who had participated in two surveys in the 1980s and 1990s. By comparing survey results with death and cancer diagnosis records, they discovered a positive correlation between big bellies and high chances of death: for each standard deviation from the average in ABSI (a score of 1), the chance of death increased by 1.13 times. People with ABSI in the top 20 percent were found to have death rates 61 percent higher than those with ABSI in the bottom 20 percent.
When I launched the Zero Belly Diet test panel in spring of 2014, I paid special attention to targeting belly fat, and to monitoring how the diet changed the health profiles of panelists to make sure it would work for you, too. Take the example of Katrina Bridges from Bethalto, Illinois, who signed up for the Zero Belly test panel “to de-bloat and lose some belly fat.” She had tried Atkins, Shakeology, even the Jillian Michaels Body Revolution. Each had helped to a certain extent, but weight was still a battle. Katrina weighed 237 pounds, but the bigger health issue—which she really didn’t even know about—wasn’t her weight but her waist.
Katrina’s waist circumference was 50 inches. Katrina is only 5′5″, so her waist size put her in imminent danger. At just 30 years of age, she had an ABSI relative risk of 1.9. What does that mean? Katrina’s risk of dying from heart disease or diabetes was 90 percent greater than that of someone with a more modest waist measurement. This mother of three was nearly twice as likely to pass away prematurely.
But after just three days on Zero Belly, Katrina noted her stomach had started to shrink. Within just five weeks, Katrina’s waist was down to 45 inches, and her ABSI relative risk was down to 1.1. That means her risk of death was just 10 percent greater than that of the average person—an enormous change, and one that can give her children the gift of seeing their mom live a longer, happier life.
To help you quickly figure out your risk, I’ve put an easy-to-use calculator on ZeroBelly.com. What’s great is that as you go through the Zero Belly program, you’ll be able to plug in your numbers and watch as your ABSI—and your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and more—actually shrinks right along with your waist.
For more great tips on how to lose your belly, read on to discover the most powerful tips to follow.
Ditch Diet Soda
How bad can your calorie-free Diet Coke habit be for your belly? Belt-bustingly bad, researchers say. A study in the journal Diabetes Pro found that people who drank two or more diet sodas a day had waist-size increases that were six times greater than non-drinkers. Diet drinks are loaded with deceptively sweet artificial sweeteners, which, researchers say, trick the metabolism into thinking sugar is on its way, spike insulin levels, and shift the body from a fat-burning to a fat-storing state.
Eat Three Squares
For years, diet experts beat the “multiple small meals a day” drum—an eating rhythm purported to “stoke the metabolic fire!” Now, some researchers are singing a different tune. A study published in the journal Hepatology found that snacking between meals contributes to increased abdominal fat. Researchers say the findings suggest three balanced meals may be the way to go. Try weaning yourself off the snack wagon by nixing your morning nibble first. Research suggests mid-morning snackers tend to consume more throughout the day than afternoon snackers.
Dietary fats are kind of like lovers. Some of them make you a better person, and others—as you often discover too late—are catastrophically bad for your health. The good news is, unlike shoddy boyfriends, dietary fats come with red flags. The absolutely worst match for your apple-shaped figure? Saturated fats. A study published in the journal Diabetes found that while unsaturated fat can help reduce abdominal fat, saturated fat can increase waist size. Saturated fats, like the kind you’ll find in baked goods and red meat, “turn on” certain genes that increase the storage of fat in the belly, researchers say. Polyunsaturated fats on the other hand, activate genes that reduce fat storage and improve insulin metabolism. At about 13 grams per one ounce serving, walnuts are one of the best dietary sources. Sprinkle a handful on your morning oats or entree salad for belly-busting benefits.
Open any fitness magazine, and it’s clear: high intensity interval training (HIIT) is having a bit of a moment. But when it comes to your shrinking your belly, the start-and-stop exercise strategy won’t get you anywhere … other than into a larger pair of pants, researchers say. A study published in the Journal of Obesity found people who performed interval training on an exercise bike for 24 minutes three days a week, actually gained 0.7 percent abdominal fat over a 12-week period. Meanwhile, those on the same dietician-regulated diet, who performed traditional aerobic exercise—45 minutes of continuous moderate cycling three days a week—lost nearly 3 percent of their abdominal fat over the same 3-month period. The study authors did notes that HIIT improved fitness, but suggest that the only evidence to support interval training as an efficient weight loss method was research using young people who were already lean and healthy. Remember: Workouts are only half of the equation. To see the best results, follow these 11 Eating Habits That Will Uncover Your Abs.
Make Room for Musical Fruit
There are diet pills on the market that actually work. They’re called beans. Researchers suggest beans, as they’re particularly rich in soluble fiber, can lessen the accumulation of abdominal fat deposits. A study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber eaten per day, visceral fat reduced by 3.7 percent over five years. Fill up, without filling out, with just 1/2 a cup of beans. If the musical fruits tend to leave you bloated, stick to canned varieties that have soaked long enough to break down much of the gas-causing oligosaccharides.
Swap Your Cup of Joe for Green Tea
Green tea and weight loss are a natural pair. Sipping on green tea throughout the morning has proven to whittle your waist, but too much coffee has the opposite effect. What makes green tea so waist friendly are compounds called catechins, belly-fat crusaders that blast adipose tissue by revving the metabolism, increasing the release of fat from fat cells (particularly in the belly), and then speeding up the liver’s fat burning capacity. In a recent study, participants who combined a daily habit of 4-5 cups of green tea with a 25-minute sweat session (or 180 minutes a week), lost 2 more pounds than the non tea-drinking exercisers. Meanwhile, a research team in Washington found that the same amount of coffee (5+ cups/day) doubled visceral belly fat. If you're getting tired of green, turn to any of these 5 Best Teas for Weight Loss.
It’s not carbs, per se, that lead to belly fat; but the type, researchers say. In fact, whole grains are a dietary staple of people with the littlest middles. A Tufts University study found that participants who ate three or more servings of whole grains per day (oats, quinoa, brown rice, wheat) had 10% less belly fat than people who ate the same amount of calories from refined carbs (white stuff: bread, rice, pasta). Further research is required to figure out exactly why this is the case, but the hypothesis is it has to do with the high fiber and slow-burn properties of whole grains. When it comes to diet, being unrefined is a good thing!
Sprinkle Pepper on Your Meals
Meet Piperine, the fat blasting ninja! A powerful compound found in black pepper, piperine has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine to treat multiple health conditions including inflammation and tummy troubles. But recent animal studies have found that piperine may also have the profound ability to decrease inflammation and interfere with the formation of new fat cells—a reaction known as adipogenesis, resulting in a decrease in waist size, body fat, and cholesterol levels. More pepper, please! To speed up your journey to that 6 pack, make sure you're eating these 7 Best Foods for Rapid Weight Loss.
Swap Cooking Oils for Coconut Oil
What smells like an exotic vacation and can shrink your waist faster than your favorite Zumba class? You got it: coconut oil. A study of 30 men in the journal Pharmacology found that just 2 tablespoons per day reduced waist circumference by an average of 1.1 inches over the course of a month. What makes coconut oil superior to other fats is its medium chain triglycerides. Unlike the long-chain fatty acids found in animal sources of saturated fat, coconut oil doesn’t seem to raise your cholesterol and is more likely to be burned as energy than stored as blubber. At roughly 117 calories per tablespoon, it’s a near identical caloric swap for olive oil. Plus, its high smoke point makes coconut oil great for just about every dish, from eggs to stir-frys.
Indulge in Dark Chocolate
It's every chocoholic’s dream: Research now shows that eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate can reduce overall body fat and shrink the waist. A study among women with normal weight obesity (skinny fat syndrome) who ate a Mediterranean diet that included two servings of dark chocolate each day showed a significant reduction in waist size than when on a cocoa-free meal plan. Researchers say it has to do with the flavonoids, heart-healthy compounds in chocolate that have important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Just be sure you’re reaching for a bar with at least 70 percent cacao, and stay away from the “alkalized” stuff, which has a significantly reduced flavonoid content.