Whether you call it a belly, gut or pooch, excess belly fat is a common problem that is putting the health of many Americans at risk, says Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief of Prevention magazine. In her book Flat Belly Diet!, Liz shares her three rules to eat by that can help you end the battle with your waistline.

Stick to 400 Calories Per Meal
You've probably noticed from looking at the list of MUFAs on page 37 that they're not exactly low-cal choices. They're all foods—nuts, oils, chocolate—that you're usually told to avoid when you're trying to lose weight. But because these MUFAs are so essential to losing belly fat, calorie control in what surrounds them takes on extra importance. All the meals in the Flat Belly Diet provide a MUFA and total about 400 calories. An added bonus of this controlled-calorie plan is that you can substitute one whole meal for another. You can eat breakfast for dinner or lunch for breakfast. If you like, you can even eat four breakfast meals in one day. That's part of the ease of this plan. I don't expect that you'll love every single meal. But on the other hand, if you find a few you absolutely adore, it's perfectly okay to enjoy them to your heart's content.

This diet is 1,600 calories per day because that's how much it takes for a woman of average height, frame size, and activity level to get to and stay at her ideal body weight (men who want customized calorie counts can go to flatbellydiet.com). So 1,600 calories is not a starvation plan—it's enough to keep up your energy, support your immune system, and maintain your precious calorie-burning muscle. That means you won't feel run-down, cranky, irritable, moody, or hungry. But you also won't be eating enough calories to hang on to your belly.

Never Go More Than 4 Hours Without Eating
I don't have to tell you that a diet won't work if it makes you feel hungry or tired. That's why on the Flat Belly Diet, you're required to eat every 4 hours. Waiting too long to eat can cause you to become so hungry (and irritable) that it's hard to even think clearly. That means you won't have the energy or patience to think through the healthiest meal choice, let alone prepare one. You'll probably want to tear into the first thing you see (bag of chips, handfuls of dry cereal straight from the box, cookies, and so on), and you'll probably have a hard time slowing down while you eat and not reaching for seconds.

Snacks are especially important, but when you eat them is entirely up to you. I like to have a snack in the evening while I'm reading manuscripts, but some of the editors I work with need a small meal in the afternoon to keep them going until dinnertime. Your snacktime is entirely personal and entirely essential. To help you include your snack every day, Cynthia has created a variety of Snack Packs that you can prepare ahead of time and take with you each morning. They're portable and MUFA-loaded. Use the Snack Pack as a floating meal.

Eat a "MUFA" at Every Meal
"A MUFA at every meal" has almost become a mantra for me. As you know, "MUFA" (MOO-fah) stands for "monounsaturated fatty acid," a type of hearthealthy, disease-fighting, "good " fat found in foods like almonds, peanut butter, olive oil, avocados, even chocolate. MUFAs are an unsaturated fat and have the exact opposite effect of the unhealthy saturated and trans fats you've heard about in the news.

But there's more! MUFAs are delicious in and of themselves. Who doesn't love drizzling olive oil over a salad or grabbing a handful of chocolate chips? You'll find the MUFA-rich foods incorporated into the meal plans and Snack Packs. You can substitute one MUFA for another as long as the calorie counts are nearly equivalent. For example, you can exchange almond butter (200 calories) for semisweet chocolate chips (207). For precise MUFA serving amounts per meal, consult the chart on the opposite page. Better yet, copy this chart and post it on the inside door of your pantry. To get better acquainted with the five MUFA groups and learn how to buy, store, and prepare them, turn to page 103.

Five surprisingly healthy foods
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