Everyone knows that being overweight can increase our risk of serious health problems. However, most people don’t realize that not all fat distribution is equal. Accumulating fat under our arms and thighs, for instance, is more of a cosmetic concern than a cause for significant medical alarm. Yes, we are better off without it and should endeavor to remove it, but fat in these areas is more likely to make us feel bloated rather than send us to the emergency room in the immediate future.

In reality, the most serious problems associated with being overweight, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, are overwhelmingly caused by a build-up of abdominal fat. Abdominal fat, which is also called belly fat or visceral fat, is the fat that lodges itself against our major organs and compromises their ability to function properly — a state of affairs which, if left unchecked, can lead to an early death. Fortunately, the following lifestyle changes are known to help remove abdominal fat in a natural manner.

1. Reduce carbohydrate intake

Studies have shown that cutting carbs is an extremely effective way to lose abdominal fat. For example, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who restricted their carbohydrate intake over a 2-week period experienced significantly decreased liver triglycerides when compared to the control group. Another study, published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism, discovered that there was a “clear benefit of a [very low carbohydrate ketogenic] over [low fat] diet for short-term body weight and fat loss, especially in men.” Significantly, the low carb diet demonstrated a “preferential loss of fat in the trunk region.”

Though there are numerous reasons why a reduction in carbs contribute to fat loss, perhaps the biggest one is that most carbs (especially whole grains) have an extremely high glycemic load. According to cardiologist Dr. William Davis, modern wheat is especially notorious in this regard, and eating too much of it can result in significant abdominal fat accumulation — the dreaded “wheat belly.”

2. Avoid refined sugar

Refined sugar is one of the most destructive ingredients in the Standard American Diet, and countless studies link sugar consumption to overall weight gain. However, a study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation has also shown that a consumption of sugar (specifically, fructose-sweetened beverages) is responsible for increasing abdominal fat in overweight and obese adults — a result that shouldn’t really be surprising, since our livers are forced to turn fructose into fat when it is flooded with refined sugar. Therefore, losing those last few pounds of belly fat might be as simple as avoiding high-sugar processed foods in favor of whole foods.

3. Engage in more aerobic exercise

While all exercise can potentially remove belly fat in the long-term, aerobic exercise (such as running and swimming) seems to be especially effective in this regard. Research published in the International Journal of Obesity, for instance, showed a clear link between aerobic exercise and visceral fat reduction. A review featured in Obesity Reviews reached a similar conclusion, noting that “aerobic exercise is central for exercise programmes aimed at reducing [visceral adipose tissue]