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Secrets of The Belly Off! Club

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How do you lose nearly 2 million pounds?

We wanted to know, because that's the combined weight that members of the Men's Health Belly Off! Club — our online fat-loss community — have dropped since 2002. So we pored through their testimonials, searching for the common strategies that have helped more than 300,000 formerly fat men shrink their big guts. And we were surprised to find that many of our Belly Off heroes cited the same simple weight-loss techniques, whether they'd lost 10, 60, 100, or even 150 pounds.

Those same real-world strategies, supported by scientific research, form the backbone of our new book, The Belly Off! Diet. What worked so well for so many men can work for you, too. The Belly Off! Diet is about real men eating real food and doing workouts designed to fit a hectic, real-world schedule. Consider it your no-fail, guy-tested weight-loss plan.

Ninety-six percent of Belly Off! Club losers cut out refined grains and sugar. This may be the simplest way to eliminate empty-calorie junk foods from your diet. The list of products to pass up includes white bread (and other baked goods), soda, candy, and potato chips. These foods are loaded with fast-absorbing carbs that raise your blood sugar quickly. A sugar spike is typically followed by a crash, which can leave you feeling sluggish and hungry — a detrimental combination for any diet. So try to avoid products that contain sugar in any form (sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, or cane syrup) and refined flour. (If it doesn't start with the word "whole," as in whole wheat, cut it out.)

Ninety-three percent now eat more protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich produce and whole grains. This is the balanced diet you're looking for. Protein fills you up while you're eating and provides the raw material to help you maintain and build muscle. Fat tastes good and keeps you satisfied for hours after a meal. And fiber, which is also filling, slows down the absorption of carbohydrates into your bloodstream, so you'll have energy all day long. The final part of the picture: produce. Vegetables and fruits are low in calories, high in fiber, and packed with healthful antioxidants.

Delicious and healthy 3-step meals.

Seventy-five percent eat breakfast every day. In the morning, you have an entire day's worth of activity to fuel. After dinner, you lie motionless for 8 hours. You don't have to be a nutrition scientist to understand why you should eat big right after you rise.

In fact, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found that dieters who regularly ate a protein-rich, 610-calorie breakfast lost significantly more weight in 8 months than those who consumed only 290 calories and a quarter of the protein. Turns out, the big-breakfast eaters, who lost an average of 40 pounds each during the study, had an easier time sticking with the diet even though both groups took in similar daily calories.

Ninety percent hit the weights at least 3 days a week. Pumping iron vigorously not only burns calories but also can boost your metabolism for almost 2 days afterward, research shows. The trouble is, heavy guys tend to be intimidated by gyms and their grunting clientele. That's why many Belly Off! Club members began their weight-loss journey by working out in the privacy of their garages and basements. Try the Bodyweight 200 circuit on this month's workout poster, "The No-Gym, No-Excuses Workout." It's designed to work every muscle in your body — and burn off belly fat along the way — without the expense of a gym membership.

Eighty percent do cardio workouts. And perhaps the leanest use intervals. A growing body of research suggests that intervals — short bursts of intense exertion interspersed with periods of slower activity — burn fat and improve fitness more quickly than long, moderate bouts of exercise. And intervals trigger an afterburn effect similar to strength training, keeping your body churning through calories long after you've hit the shower.

Consider this Canadian study from 2006: A group of people were asked to exercise on stationary bikes every other day for 2 weeks. They alternated 10 sets of 4-minute bursts of riding at 90 percent effort with 2-minute rest intervals of slow pedaling. The study participants who did intervals had more of a muscle enzyme that burns fat, and they used more fat for energy. So intense intervals turbocharged even easy-level exercise.

One hundred percent are highly motivated. Call it the X factor: Strong motivation is what all big losers have in common. Without it, none of the techniques described above would have worked. Some Belly Off brethren found the will to lose after they'd had particularly ominous doctors' checkups. Some tacked photos of their pudgy selves in places they'd pass by every day. Weekly weigh-ins kept many guys going strong. But perhaps the greatest inspiration to stick with workouts and eating plans came from the camaraderie of men working out with friends and sharing their weight-loss experiences with their fellow dieters at the Belly Off! Club Web site. Why not join them there today?

For the complete diet and exercise weight-loss plans and to join the free Belly Off Club, go to MensHealth.com/bellyoff.

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