The only way you will ever lose fat and see your abs is if you eat fewer calories than you're eating now. Nothing else—not lifting weights, not cardio, not supplements—can offset failing to adhere to this simple rule. Period. So if you can put your pizza and beer day on hold for the next six weeks, read on, and we'll show you how to get a six-pack before summer is over.

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To lose fat, you have to burn more calories than you take in—but that doesn’t mean you can burn them with exercise. As Eric Ravussin, Ph.D., a weight-loss expert and professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA, famously told The New York Times, “Exercise by itself is pretty useless for weight loss.” He ultimately made the point not only that people consume more calories than they can burn, but also that the extra strain of exercise stimulates appetite, making it even easier to replace the calories they’ve worked off.

According to Mayo Clinic research, a 160-pound person performing high-impact aerobic exercise will burn only 533 calories in one hour. (Note that most people aren’t capable of sustaining an intense pace anywhere near that long.) Now consider that a healthy dinner of just four ounces of skinless chicken breast and one cup of rice contains 385 calories. That’s right: Eat one light meal and you’re a stone’s throw from breaking even with the calories you burned in that day’s workout—assuming the workout was long and extremely vigorous in the first place.

So if you can’t create a caloric deficit with exercise (at least not without a ton of it, marathon runners not withstanding), you must do it with your diet. Multiply your current body weight by 12—that’s how many calories you should consume per day to start with. If you’re very overweight, base your diet on the body weight you’re aiming for. So if you’re 220 pounds but remember looking and feeling your best when you were 190, start taking in 2,300 calories a day (190 x 12, rounded up for simplicity).

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