The Number One Reason Why You Don't Have Abs

The six-pack mistake even the fittest men make.

"Everything in moderation" is a really great saying—and not just because it gives you license to indulge in your favorite foods on a routine basis. It may actually be the key to achieving something that's been eluding you for years: rock-hard abs.

If you're training your heart out, watching your diet like a hawk, and rewarding yourself with a giant cheat meal on weekends—as many trainers advise—there's a good chance you're going about it all wrong, says Ilyse Schapiro, R.D., a New York-based dietitian and author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel?

Such a restrictive diet plan isn't just holding you back—it could be damaging your body.

Here's why: Eating too little Monday through Friday—which would be about 1,600 calories a day for athletic men—can slow your metabolism, Schapiro says. And when you scarf down a pizza on Friday night, your body holds onto a lot of those calories. "It doesn't know when the next meal is," she says. "If you're doing this regularly you're likely undoing any of the progress you made during the week."

The solution? Loosen up a little. "If you need a small treat and indulgence per day, to keep you from overdoing it on the weekends, stick to about 150 calories or less," says Schapiro. Watch your sleep, too. "When we are not getting in the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, your body can build up cortisol, which can accumulate belly fat."

Weekend boozing can be to blame for a less-than-flat stomach, too. "We know from studies that alcohol is metabolized differently than the three macronutrients, leading to a higher probability of fat storage, and often times in the gut," says Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., Wellness Manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, and author of the book Skinny Liver.

And if you're going to be strict about one area of your nutrition, let it be alcohol. Kirkpatrick suggests limiting liquor to no more than a few times a week—and to no more than one drink at a time. It's tough, we know. "It's below government recommendations but it's the final sacrifice you may need to take to get those abs." And for more of our great nutrition advice, don't miss the 5 Ways to Lose Stubborn Fat.

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