Here's What Experts Want You to Know About That "Abs Are Made in the Kitchen" Thing
"Abs are made in the kitchen." How many times have you heard that one? It's not too hard to figure out what it means: you won't "get abs" — that is, you won't be able to see your abs — unless a healthy diet is part of the equation. But this phrase is such a favorite in the fitness community that we wanted to dig a little deeper. Sure, diet is important when it comes to losing belly fat and getting visible abs, but that's not the whole story; exercise plays a role as well.
"Abs Are Made in the Kitchen": What Does It Mean?
First, let's nail down a definition. The phrase means that "when it comes to achieving a flat midsection, diet is the most important factor," said Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN, an exercise physiologist and fitness adviser for Bowflex. You can do ab workouts and build your core muscles, but without the healthy diet component, the abs themselves won't be visible. Your six-pack might actually be there — it's just underneath a layer of fat.
Your body type also comes into play, said Erin Coates, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic. "All bodies are unique and some have an easier time seeing their abs than others," she explained. She agreed that diet plays an important role in getting visible abs, but added that "abs are made in both the kitchen and with consistent resistance training. You need a combination of the two."
A Healthy Diet Will Help You Lose Belly Fat
"The foods we eat play an important role in how our bodies look physically," Erin told POPSUGAR. You can build muscles in the gym, but "in order to see those muscles, you have to pair training with healthy eating," she said.
The first step that Erin recommended is a mental one. Building visible abs is a great goal to have, but she said it's important to avoid comparing yourself to people you might see on TV or social media. Take an approach that's realistic for your body and lifestyle, and set your goals accordingly. Instead of setting your sights on a six-pack, for example, you could aim for a lower body-fat percentage or a stronger core.
Then, look at your daily eating habits and adjust them one at a time. Erin suggested packing your lunch instead of going out, limiting desserts to fewer than 200 calories a day, and only eating when you're hungry to avoid excess calories your body doesn't really want.
You should also look to eat more healthy, nourishing foods. Try eating a Mediterranean-style diet, Erin suggested. Choose colorful fruits and vegetables, opt for lean proteins such as chicken and fish, and include healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. (Here are some Mediterranean diet recipes to get you started.) At the same time, do your best to avoid or limit refined grains, trans fats, added sugars, and foods that are high in sodium, Erin said. This includes foods like chips, crackers, cakes, and cookies. Besides potentially hurting your fitness goals, "these foods leave you feeling bloated and low in energy," she explained. (Check out more dietitian-approved tips for losing belly fat right here.)
Exercise Builds Ab Muscle
As for the exercise half of the equation, Tom recommended a "multipronged approach." You want a balanced blend of different kinds of exercise. Cardio burns major calories and can help control your appetite, while resistance training builds lean muscle that boosts your metabolism and helps you burn calories even after your workout is over. (This weekly workout plan for fat loss gives you a balanced, effective approach.)
Ab exercises, he added, actually "come last in order of importance" when it comes to getting visible abs. Tom implements a "10 percent rule" in workouts: ab exercises should make up just 10 percent of each workout, which equals six minutes of an hour-long workout or three minutes of a half-hour workout. "Spending more time on crunches is taking time away from burning calories and building . . . lean muscle," Tom explained. And if you use proper form for the entirety of your workout, engaging your core the whole time, your abs will be working even during non-ab exercises.
For Visible Abs, Exercise and Eat Right
Both Tom and Erin agreed with the "abs are made in the kitchen" adage: you probably won't see your abs if you don't eat a healthy diet, but exercise is important as well. Even then, depending on your body type, getting a sculpted midsection can be tough. Other, less controllable factors come into play, like hormones and genetics.
Still, Erin said, "we are all capable of having a leaner body type with proper diet and activity." Consistency with your workouts and healthy eating is key, Tom added. And studies show that combining the two aspects — a healthy diet and exercise — will get you the best weight-loss results, which can get you closer to a flatter belly and more visible abs.