Excess abdominal fat places you at an increased risk for major health issues, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Even if you’re at a normal weight overall, carrying that excess fat around your weight elevates the risk, so taking measures to lose belly fat can give your health — and your self-esteem — a big boost. Although genetics determine where your body stores fat, and there’s no way to spot reduce, there are still some things you can do to get rid of belly fat and prevent it from returning.

Excess abdominal fat can lead to many serious health conditions.

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Reduce Caloric IntakeYou must create a caloric deficit to lose fat. Each pound is equal to 3,500 calories, which means you have to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume to lose 1 pound of fat. If you place yourself in a daily deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories, you can lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. Calculate your basal metabolic rate and then factor in your activities and exercises to determine how many calories you need to consume each day to break even. From there, reduce your intake to create your desired deficit. Remember, your body will lose fat from the places it wants in the order it wants to. If your stomach was the first place you put on extra fat, it will probably be the last place you lose it from. Don’t let this be disheartening, though. Just understand you may have to work a little harder for a little longer to shed the fat around your waist.

Avoid Foods That Trigger Abdominal Fat StorageWhile genetics largely determine where your body stores fat, you can minimize the likelihood of gaining belly fat by avoiding foods known to trigger storage around your midsection. A 2010 study in “Nutrition Research” found that consumption of foods that are high on the glycemic index, such as those containing white sugars and flours, can cause the storage of abdominal fat. Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that alcohol consumption can also lead to belly fat accumulation. Their findings, published in the 2003 issue of the “Journal of Nutrition,” revealed that wine drinkers had the least belly fat, while liquor drinkers had the most. The degree of participants’ belly fat correlated with the amount of alcohol they regularly consumed.

Exercise DailyRegular exercise will help your body burn and keep off excess belly fat. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise each week. It doesn’t matter how you break it down to squeeze cardio into your schedule, as long as you do it. If you’re only able to exercise in 15-minute blocks, that’s fine — just do 10 blocks throughout the week. Resistance training will increase lean muscle mass and fire up your metabolism. This makes it easier for your body to burn fat and harder to gain it. ACSM suggests that adults train with weights two to three days each week, using a variety of equipment.

Keep Your Cortisol in CheckThe stress hormone, cortisol, has been strongly linked to abdominal fat. In a 2008 study in “Endocrinology and Metabolism,” researchers found a strong correlation between the cortisol levels of overweight girls and excessive abdominal fat. Similarly, a 2011 study published in “Obesity” examined how stress affected cortisol levels and visceral fat in Hispanic girls. Participants who had high levels of school-related stress also had high levels of cortisol and abdominal fat. Proper diet, exercise and meditation are all effective ways to reduce cortisol.