Zero Belly Smoothies: Lose up to 16 Pounds in 14 Days and Sip Your Way to A Lean & Healthy You - David Zinczenko (2016)

Chapter 3. How Zero Belly Smoothies Smooth Out Your Belly

Have you ever experienced a gut feeling that something wasn’t right? We might call it intuition or a sixth sense, and we might dismiss those feelings as completely illegitimate—just because you have a feeling in your belly doesn’t mean there’s logic involved.

But that thought process is actually wrong. What we interpret as gut feelings is actually the work of the enteric nervous system, a series of nerves and synapses that’s just as complicated as the system in your brain. In fact, most of your serotonin, the “feel good” brain hormone that modern antidepressants work on, is located in the gut, not in the head.

Why does this matter? Because a healthy body, and a healthy mind, start with a healthy gut. That’s why I’ve designed Zero Belly Smoothies to work with your digestive system in a way that helps end tummy troubles, reduce inflammation, and eliminate bloating.

A healthy belly means a healthy belly biome. In fact, you have a whole ecosystem that’s operating inside you. There are about a hundred times as many bugs—single-cell bacteria—in your digestive tract as there are human cells in your entire body. On a per capita basis, you’re about 99 percent microbe. And what’s happening in your gut determines what happens in pretty much every other area of your body and your life. Before you can reset your metabolism and turn off your fat genes, you need to balance your belly.


The human GI tract contains more than 500 species of bacteria—trillions of microbes that help to break down food, while also playing a role in knocking off any invading bugs that might be taking a ride on your radicchio. In fact, some of the bacteria in your gut even help ward off the pathogens that cause colds and flus. But like any efficient military, your bug brigade needs solid leadership—otherwise, you get chaos and mutiny. A balanced gut means your squirming little squadron is working with maximum efficiency on your behalf. But when things get out of whack—because of a poor diet or, sometimes, medications like antibiotics and even heartburn remedies—the forces below your navel can turn on you. Studies show that obese people have higher levels of bad bacteria from the phylum Firmicutes, while lean people have higher levels of good bacteria from the phylum Bacteroidetes.

So it’s important to help the good bacteria along, because the bad bacteria in your gut release toxins, which inflame the GI tract. As long as these bacteria are kept in check, that’s not a problem. But when they begin to overwhelm the better-trained bacteria, those toxins begin to cause inflammation in your digestive tract—a condition known as “leaky gut.” Essentially, think of your intestinal tract as a fine screen, with little tiny holes through which nutrients can move into the bloodstream from your food. When bacteria get out of whack, they begin to irritate the lining of the intestines, and those holes become larger. Bacteria, food particles, and other nasty things escape your GI tract and get into your bloodstream.

A leaky gut leads to inflammation, as pathogens begin to attack the body and the body fights back. That can trigger your fat-storage genes, leading you to gain more weight than someone eating the same amount of food and spending the same amount of time in the gym. In fact, it’s the fatty acid butyrate, produced by healthy bacteria feasting on fiber, that helps dampen the behavior of genes linked directly to insulin resistance and inflammation. Less fiber means less healthy bacteria, which means less butyrate and, eventually, inflammation and diabetes.

That’s why these smoothies are designed to restore your gut health. In one study, adults with “large visceral fat areas” who drank 7 ounces of bacteria-supporting liquids lost up to 9 percent visceral fat and 3 percent belly fat, while the control group lost nothing.

Bad bacteria in your gut feed off sugar, just like the bacteria in your mouth. That’s why Zero Belly Smoothies are low in sugar and high in fiber: They starve the bad bugs and feed the good ones. In one Canadian study, subjects who were supplemented with a natural insoluble fiber not only lost weight but also reported less hunger than those who received a placebo. Researchers discovered that the subjects who received the fiber had higher levels of ghrelin—a hormone that controls hunger—and lower levels of blood sugar. The reason insoluble fiber works so well in balancing the gut is that it’s not digested; it remains in your GI tract all the way to the end, reaching the good bacteria in the lower intestines and helping them fight off the bad guys.

My Zero Belly Smoothies are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation, and gluten-free. Recent studies have found that gluten can negatively impact gut bacteria, even in people who are not gluten sensitive.

After reading all of this about belly bugs, you might be wondering: “How come I’m not eating yogurt all day long, or popping those probiotic supplements? Isn’t that how you get those healthy gut bugs into your system?”

Well, yes. It’s true that some yogurts contain beneficial bacteria that can send reinforcements into the gut when you need them. Lactobacillus acidophilus is the bacteria you want to look for, with yogurts that say “live active cultures.” But most yogurts are so high in sugar that they do more to promote unhealthy gut bacteria than anything else, which is why I don’t recommend it on the Zero Belly plan. And while probiotics may help, these supplements are unregulated, and it’s not clear whether they pack enough bacterial cultures to make a difference. But relying on supplements and even yogurt isn’t a great idea. It’s like polluting a pond and then stocking it with fish. The new fish will eventually die, and then you’ll have to ship in more fish. Wouldn’t you rather have a healthy pond in which the natural aquatic life can live healthfully and thrive forever?


Your belly is a war zone. Tribes of microbes battle it out every minute of every day in an epic clash that makes Game of Thrones look like Wheel of Fortune. Some of these gut bugs are good for you—they help digest food and create fatty acids that reduce inflammation and hinder fat storage. Others are less helpful; in fact, studies show that obese people have higher levels of unhealthy bacteria like Staphylococcus and Firmicutes, which cause inflammation and have been linked to an increased risk of diabetes.

One of the most powerful weight-loss effects of Zero Belly Smoothies is that they provide the healthy bacteria in your gut with plenty of fiber to munch on, helping them grow stronger, while reducing the amount of sugar in your diet. (Sugar is what the bad bacteria feed on.)

While experts are scrambling to figure out exactly what a “healthy” microbial community looks like, they’ve discovered that some of the things we’re doing on a daily basis are giving a leg up to the bad-for-you bugs in our bellies. Here are five things that alter our gut microbes in unhealthy ways.


>Taking Antibiotics

Most people take antibiotics at least once a year. And while we know that antibiotics wreak havoc on bugs good and bad in your belly, the general theory among the medical community has always been that after you stop taking them, your body goes on to recover completely. But recent research reveals that broad-spectrum antibiotics leave lasting changes to the communities of microbes that live in us. Antibiotics reduce the diversity of our microbiome by killing off whole communities of microbes, selecting communities that have resistance to the antibiotics, and allowing harmful “opportunist” microbes to flourish in the wake of treatment, according to recent research published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. Antibiotics can be lifesaving if used when truly necessary. But don’t seek them out every time you get the sniffles.


>Searing Meat

When you cook meat at high temperatures, and that includes beef, pork, fish, or poultry, chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are produced. According to a study in Nutrition Journal, increased intake of HCAs causes changes to our gut microbiota that increase our risk to colorectal cancer. Consider slow cookers or long, languid barbecues the healthier alternative to pan-frying or grilling.


>Spraying Roundup

A controversial study published in Interdisciplinary Toxicology attempted to make a connection between glyphosate (better known as the herbicide Roundup, used on GMO crops and many a suburban lawn) and disturbances in the gut microbiota that lead to celiac disease. While chemical-industry-backed experts were quick to point out the flaws in the study (of which there are a few), the question of whether pesticides alter gut microbes has been answered in animal studies. A German study in Current Microbiology found that glyphosate encourages the growth of harmful bacteria like Salmonella and Clostridium botulinum, while slashing beneficial bugs like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.


>Traveling Across Time Zones

You’re not the only one with jet lag: It turns out our gut microbes have circadian rhythms, too. A recent study in the journal Cell found that our gut microbes are just as affected by changes to our circadian clock as we are. When we shift our sleep/wake cycles our gut flora changes, and beneficial bacteria are replaced by the growth of bacteria that have been linked to obesity and metabolic disease.


>Moving North

Have you ever heard of Bergmann’s rule? It says that body size increases with latitude. Well, a recent study in the journal Biology Letters found that the reason for this is that living in northern latitudes encourages the growth of Firmicutes microbes, which have been linked to weight gain, while decreasing microbes linked with slim body types called Bacteroidetes. The number of Firmicutes increases with latitude, and the number of Bacteroidetes decreases with latitude.


How does belly fat feel?

If you said “squishy,” “spongy,” or the less elegant “gross,” you may be right. But fat has other feelings associated with it, too: anxiousness, loneliness, even happiness sometimes. Because your belly doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It influences, and is influenced by, a complex series of hormones that course through your brain and body constantly.

And those hormones not only drive our emotions but also are driven by them. Our bodies reflect our emotional state—our hearts pound when we’re afraid, our blood pressure soars when we’re angry, our stomachs churn when we’re feeling guilty.

And our belly fat responds, too. Sometimes our emotion-driven hormones act directly on our fat cells, causing us to gain or lose fatty tissue. Other times they drive behaviors that lead to greater weight gain. Either way, being more in touch with your feelings can help you get more in touch with your abs. Here are the emotions that put your belly fat in motion.



Because It: Messes up your hunger hormones

Any bad mood can lead us to try to comfort ourselves with food, and loneliness is about as bad a feeling as you can have. But the link between loneliness and weight gain is more substantial than that. A new study in the journal Hormones and Behavior found that those who feel lonely experience greater circulating levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin after they eat, causing them to feel hungrier sooner. Over time, folks who are perennially lonely simply take in more calories than those with stronger social support networks.

Break the Mood: Get off the computer. Use of social networks and high Internet use exacerbate feelings of loneliness. Go find people who share your interests, whether it’s hiking, knitting, biking, reading, shopping, even eating.



Because It: Makes us copy our partner’s bad habits

A review of more than 600 studies found that being married, and transitioning into marriage, are both associated with weight gain.

Transitioning out of a marriage, however, is associated with weight loss. (Maybe that’s how the quintuply divorced Billy Bob Thornton stays so slim.) The researchers found that weight gain occurs because of increased opportunities for eating due to shared, regular meals and larger portion sizes, as well as “decreased physical activity and a decline in weight maintenance for the purpose of attracting an intimate partner.” That’s science speak for “You let yourself go!”

Break the Mood: Assuming bliss isn’t an emotion you want to give up on, the next best approach is to identify the shared habits that are harming your health. The best way to stick to a healthy diet and exercise routine is to do it with someone else. So partner up: Consider taking cooking classes and fitness classes together, and make weight loss a fun goal for the two of you.



Because It: Manifests itself as hunger

Food. Sex. Adventure. Validation. If you feel as if you or someone else is depriving you of something, then you are more likely to overeat, regardless of how “good” you want to be. And if it’s food you’re trying to resist, you’ll also experience more cravings for whatever it is you aren’t getting, according to a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. Our brains actually become wired to view forbidden foods as rewards, setting us up for cravings that are hard to satisfy. And this, my friends, is why most diets fail. You can resist chocolate cake for only so long before you find yourself at the diner, wolfing down three slices.

Break the Mood: If you’re feeling deprived by your diet, build in a cheat meal at least once a week in which you can indulge guilt-free. Doing this will help you avoid viewing certain foods as off-limits, which will help you crave them less.



Because It: Triggers fat storage

When stress hits, the first thing your body does is to up its production of adrenaline. Adrenaline causes fat cells all over your body to squirt their stores of fatty acids into your bloodstream, where they can be used as energy. This was great back when stress meant facing a charging saber-toothed tiger or an attacking horde of barbarians, and you could turn and head for the hills. But you can’t really run away from a deadline or take up arms against a traffic jam. All you can do is bear down and, to help soothe your nerves, maybe have a snack. And another. Meanwhile, a second hormone called cortisol grabs all those unused fatty acids from your bloodstream and stores them in your belly region. With that fat stored, not burned, your body goes looking for more calories to replace the fatty acids it released earlier (back when it thought the hordes were invading).

Break the Mood: Laughter is the best stress reliever. It lowers your heart rate, improves your mood, makes you friendlier, and decreases anxiety. So go to YouTube and plug in one of these search terms: “a bad lipreading of the NFL,” “dogs just don’t want to bathe,” or the ever popular “grandmas smoking weed for the first time.”



Because It: Confuses your brain

When you’re bored you actually lose your ability to make smart food choices; you become an “emotional eater,” according to a new study in the Journal of Health Psychology. And boredom turns you into the worst kind of emotional eater, because you not only make the wrong food choices but also eat much more of those fattening foods than you normally would. Unfortunately for us, “because I’m bored” is one of the top reasons people give when they’re asked about their emotions before they eat.

Break the Mood: You feel bored when you are dissatisfied, restless, and unchallenged, according to a study in Frontiers in Psychology. The best way to beat boredom is to find something to do that is purposeful and challenging. Instead of trying to entertain yourself, look for opportunities to help others.



Because It: Leads to disordered eating

When you’re anxious, your body feels like it’s under a tremendous amount of stress all the time. This is why anxiety is a powerful trigger for weight gain. A recent study in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders placed anxiety as “one of the most important factors significantly associated with weight gain.” In fact, two-thirds of people with eating disorders also suffer from anxiety, and the anxiety usually existed first.

Break the Mood: Two of the most proven cures for anxiety are exercise and spending time in nature. Combine both with an outdoor run or bike ride and race away from the anxiousness.



Adding a cup (or two) of green tea to your daily regimen can help fire your fat furnace in two ways. First, it controls blood sugar and quashes hunger: In a Swedish study that looked at green tea’s effect on hunger, researchers divided up participants into two groups: One group sipped water with their meals, and the other group drank green tea. Not only did tea sippers report less of a desire to eat their favorite foods (even two hours after sipping the brew), they found those foods to be less satisfying. And second, it boosts your calorie burn, especially if you have it before any type of exercise: In a recent 12-week study, participants who combined a daily habit of four to five cups of green tea each day with a 25-minute sweat session lost an average of two more pounds than the non-tea-drinking exercisers. It’s the power of the unique catechins found in green tea that can blast adipose tissue by triggering the release of fat from fat cells (particularly in the belly), then speeding up the liver’s capacity for turning that fat into energy. All this while doing something unique for your heart: A 2015 study from the Institute of Food Research found that the polyphenols in green tea block a “signaling molecule” called VEGF, which in the body can trigger both heart disease and cancer.