Excess belly fat can be caused by a poor diet, lack of exercise, too much stress or simply as a result of genetics. Though it's not possible to spot reduce fat from a specific portion of the body, such as the lower part of the belly, it is possible to lose overall body fat -- and, consequently, belly fat -- through a strict diet and vigorous exercise.
1. Abdominal Fat
Abdominal fat consists of two types of fat, subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat is located just under the skin and is the type of fat you can pinch on your belly. This is not considered a dangerous fat, though it's not particularly appealing. However, visceral fat, which is located deep within the abdomen and surrounds your organs, can increase the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to MayoClinic.com.
2. What to Eat
Emphasize whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein in your diet. According to Harvard Medical School's healthy eating plate, meals should consist of whole grains such as brown rice, whole-wheat bread or whole-grain pasta, protein sources such as fish and poultry, a healthy serving of vegetables -- the more, the better -- and colorful fruit. Choose healthy oils, such as olive or canola oil, for cooking or salad dressing. Calcium-rich foods have been linked to lower visceral fat in women, according to Harvard; good options include low-fat or fat-free dairy products such as yogurt and skim milk.
3. What to Avoid
Cut out sugar foods such as candy, baked goods, soft drinks and other highly processed, and replace them with healthier alternatives. Refined grains, such as white rice and white bread, should be limited, as should processed meats like bacon and cold cuts. Swap soda for water or another calorie-free beverage. Avoid foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils.
4. What to Consider
Rather than cutting calories drastically, which often leads to regaining weight later on, eat nutritious meals in proper portion sizes, says MayoClinic.com. When paired with regular aerobic exercise and strength training, a healthy diet can help you lose weight, including belly fat, and keep it off for the long term.
- MayoClinic.com: Belly Fat in Women: Taking — and Keeping — It Off
- American Council on Exercise: Why is the Concept of Spot Reduction Considered a Myth?
- Harvard Medical School: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- Harvard Medical School: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- Harvard Medical School: Healthy Eating Plate
- MayoClinic.com: Which is Better for Weight Loss — Cutting Calories or Increasing Exercise?
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images