Myth: The '6-Pack' Ab Diet

Posted On May 23, 2014 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

6-pack ab diet

I see the opposite of this statement, "Abs are made in the kitchen", on memes depicting rippled 6-packs floating around Facebook. I hear it from personal trainers trying to emphasize the importance of diet to their clients who aren't getting results despite three sessions per week with their trainer plus three hours of exercising on their own. I applaud the efforts to emphasize the importance of nutrition.

Instead of, "Abs are made in the kitchen," a more appropriate term is "Fat loss is 20% exercise, 80% diet." The point is that exercise will get some results, but without changes in diet, the results will not continue. You can't reach your optimal level of health or fitness through exercise alone and I agree wholeheartedly. Only a few select people with amazing genes can get trim, fit, and toned through exercise alone.

On the other end of the spectrum, having a "perfect" diet or cutting back calories without doing regular exercise will result in weight loss, but no one with a toned midsection achieves that through diet alone. Platefuls of grilled chicken, quinoa, and steamed broccoli are not going to magically transform a doughboy tummy into a rock-hard, sleek midsection you can bounce apples off of.

Even as a dietitian, I can't stand behind misleading information even if it is pro-diet. Fat loss, health, optimal fitness, whatever your goal is, cannot be dissected into parts. BOTH exercise and diet play equal roles for long-term sustainable results and optimal health. A good example of this is bone health. Even if someone has a picture perfect diet and gets adequate nutrients required for bone health, including calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin K, these nutrients can't do their job without weight-baring exercise. (This is oversimplifying bone health to make a point!)

Exercise does not outweigh good nutrition (no pun intended) and vice versa, so please be cautious of percentages on which one is more important or yields better results. There is a lot of contradictory research supporting one stance over the other. In reality, diet and nutrition are comparable to gas and oil in a car. You're only going to get so far before the limiting factor prevents you from moving forward.

Bottom line: Toned abs are made in the kitchen AND the gym. For the best results, nutrition and exercise are equally essential and deserve equal attention. Should you focus on one more than the other? No, you need to focus on both for optimal results. Additionally, this doesn't mean that you have to have a picture perfect diet and exercise for hours every day to get results.