Belly Fat Facts

The Truth About Belly Fat

A strong six-pack or a flat, toned tummy is the ultimate goal for many of us, but some people have a harder time than others achieving the core they desire.

Even if your heart isn’t set on a washboard abs, there are plenty of reasons to aim for shedding weight in your mid-section. For one, according to Human Molecular Genetics, abdominal fat is associated with an increased risk of type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease, among other serious health complications.

Here, everything you need to know about belly fat—so you can kiss it goodbye!

What causes belly fat?

For starters, evidence says that there is a definite genetic component. For instance, in one Human Molecular Genetics study, five genes were identified to be related to a high waist to hip ratio.

But if Mom and Dad aren’t to blame, there are certainly some habits that contribute to excess fat around your middle. Excess sugar, for instance, has long been known to increase insulin resistance—a key player in the belly fat fight, according to Dr. Barry Sears, a bestselling author who has dedicated his career to studying the interaction of nutrition and the body’s hormonal response.

“It is partially genetic, but primarily driven by increased insulin resistance,” says Dr. Sears. “Increased insulin resistance is a consequence of inflammation disrupting the signaling between the insulin receptor and the interior of the cell.”

Related: Shop weight-management products to stay fuller and and more satisfied longer.

So, how do you get rid of it?

Not to burst your bubble, but core exercises alone won’t do the trick. The main way to get rid of abdominal fat is by taking your nutrition seriously. Cutting down on your caloric intake is the key player in fat loss, because doing so signals your body to burn stored fat for energy, according to Dr. Sears.

“Use the 80-20 rule for exercise,” he says. “Eighty percent of the reduction of belly fat will come from calorie restriction.”

As for what you should eat, it is important to keep in mind that there’s no magic six-pack diet. Instead, a long-term commitment swapping sugar and refined carbs for vegetables, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates is going to reduce your belly fat (and overall body weight) over time.

Related: 7 Weight-Loss Myths That Can Sabotage Your Progress

What exercises work?

Sure, nutrition is the most important factor in slimming down your waist, but double that up with exercise and you’ll be on your way. The type of exercise you engaged in really does matter, too. Don’t be fooled into believing that a lot of crunches or planks will banish your extra tummy weight for good. Instead, Dr. Sears encourages a focus on fat-burning interval training, which reduces insulin resistance.

Interval training combines short, high-intensity exercises that get your maximum heart rate pumping followed by short recovery periods during a less intense exercise. Paying attention to your heart rate is an important part of an effective interval training workout, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

During the high-intensity exercises, your heart rate should be between 80 and 95 percent of your estimated heart rate and when you slow things down for a recovery period, your heart rate should be between 40 and 50 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Related: 6 Dietitians Share Their Go-To Healthy Breakfasts

Taking care of yourself matters, too.

In addition to diet and exercise, it has long been believed that cortisol, a hormone our body releases in response to stress, plays a role in fat accumulation around the middle. For instance, one 1994 study by the Department of Psychology at Yale University found participants with a high waist to hip ratio had higher cortisol levels when exposed to stress and reported having poor coping skills and stressful life events in their past.

Finding ways to manage stress in your life —whether that’s through yoga, meditation, or getting more sleep —can help your cut down on your stress and, in turn, your belly fat.