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The Truth About Beer and Your Belly

What really causes that potbelly, and how can you get rid of it?

What’s Wrong With a Beer Belly? continued...

Carrying extra pounds in your thighs or hips is less risky than carrying them in the abdominal region. Further, subcutaneous fat that you can grab around your waist and on your thighs, hips, and buttocks is not as dangerous as the visceral fat that's found deep within the abdominal cavity surrounding your organs.

Visceral fat within the abdominal wall is frequently measured by waist circumference.

"When waist circumference exceeds 35 inches for women and 40 for men, it is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and overall mortality," Jensen says. He cautions that these numbers are simply guidelines, and recommends keeping your waist size below these numbers.

Losing Your Belly

There is no magical way to tackle belly fat other than the tried-and-true method of cutting calories and getting more physical activity. Monounsaturated fats and so-called "belly fat" diets won’t trim your belly faster than any healthy, low-calorie diet, Jensen says.

Because of the link between alcohol calories and belly fat, drinking less alcohol is a good place to start. Avoid binge drinking, which puts you at risk for liver damage and other serious health problems. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting alcohol to one serving per day for women and two for men.

Beer lovers should opt for light beers with 100 calorie or less, and limit the number they drink per day. Another option is to drink alcohol only on weekends, and to alternate alcoholic drinks with low-calorie, non-alcohol beverages.

Don’t forget to have a healthy meal before or with your drinks to help you resist the temptation of high-calorie bar food.

Can Exercise Eliminate Your Beer Belly?

Doing sit-ups, crunches, or other abdominal exercises will strengthen your core muscles and help you hold in your belly fat, but won’t eliminate it. The only way to lose belly fat (or any kind of fat) is to lose weight.

Aerobic exercises like running, swimming, cycling, and tennis are some of the best to help reduce body fat. But "any kind of exercise will help you keep the weight off more effectively than diet alone," Jensen says.

The good news is that when you start losing weight, you tend to lose it in the midsection first. "Visceral fat is more metabolically active and can be broken down quicker than other fat," Jensen says, "so it is usually the first to go, especially when you have a lot to lose."

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

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