A beer belly may be the result of some fun times, good food, and tasty suds, but it may also be making it harder to move around or fit into your clothes. In addition, extra weight may be sapping your energy and putting extra strain on your joints and heart.

Getting rid of a beer belly will take a combination of diet and exercise. It tends to take longer to lose weight than it did acquiring it, too.

Keep reading to learn what causes a beer belly to form and the best methods for getting rid of it.

Certainly alcohol consumption, particularly among men, is associated with the formation of a beer belly, or what’s clinically referred to as “abdominal obesity.”

A study in Epidemiology and Health found that high alcohol intake was related to high waist circumference. This isn’t surprising due to alcohol’s calories.

But a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that while drinking a lot of beer may widen your waist, the belly isn’t a unique destination for beer-related weight gain.

Despite the popular belief that beer tends to go straight to the belly, it appears the high-calorie drink actually contributes to weight gain throughout the body. Many women, for example, start to carry extra weight below the belt, rather than just above it.

Beer may also be indirectly responsible for your growing waistline. Think about what you often have with beer: Pizza, nachos, and other high-fat, high-calorie foods tend to accompany a chilled mug of lager or IPA. The light beer may not be the culprit as much as the food you’re enjoying it with.

Interestingly, drinking beer may also interfere with your body’s ability to efficiently burn fat. The body will work on breaking down alcohol for energy before it gets to any stored fat waiting to be burned.

Too much alcohol consumption is also associated with reduced testosterone levels, which is, in turn, associated with an accumulation of excess weight in the abdominal area.

Targeted fat loss, especially around the midsection, sounds good in theory, but it may not be the most realistic.

Exercises like crunches may help firm up muscles, but there’s mixed research about how well specific exercises can burn fat just in the belly or elsewhere.

However, a beer belly will usually shrink as you lose body weight. Losing weight is often described in simple terms: Burn more calories than you consume. To help with that, consider the following strategies.

Eat healthier

Cutting back on your beer consumption will help, but it’s only one dietary change you can make. Here are few tips to consider:

Cut your portion size in half

For example, instead of having two slices of pizza, have one. You’ll get used to simply consuming smaller portions as the days and weeks go on. This is especially important if you eat out a lot. Restaurant serving sizes are often much larger than standard serving sizes.

Count calories

It can be a pain at first, but once you learn how many calories are in the foods you usually eat, you won’t have to do as much math.

To lose about 1 pound per week, the average woman should shoot for about 1,500 calories daily (down from an average of 2,000 calories). The average man should limit intake to about 2,000 calories daily (down from a typical 2,500 calories).

Keep in mind that these estimates vary greatly from person to person. An individual’s age, weight, height, activity level, and general health must be considered.

Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins

And eat less processed food and foods containing added sugars, enriched flour, and saturated fats.

Make healthy food swaps

For example:

  • Try strawberries instead of ice cream for dessert.
  • Drink water (flavored with a twist of lemon or lime) instead of soda.
  • Use healthier fats, such as olive oil, instead of butter when cooking.

Move more

Increasing your physical activity level is a key factor in most weight loss efforts. Here are some tips:

Try high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE)

HIIE involves all-out efforts in rapid sets of sprints or other exercises, followed by brief rests, and then more short but intense exercise.

A study in the Journal of Obesity suggests that HIIE is more effective at burning fat and accelerating weight loss than many other forms of exercise.

Exercise more often than not

Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise most days of the week, as well as 2 days per week of strength training and stretching in the morning and evening.

Sneak in exercise

Make lifestyle choices that will naturally burn more calories, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or taking frequent breaks at work to take short walks.

The time frame for eliminating a beer belly depends on many factors, including the amount of weight you want to lose and your commitment to the exercise, diet, and lifestyle choices necessary to lose the weight.

One way to think about is this: One pound equals about 3,500 calories. So if you cut your calorie intake by 500 a day, burn 500 calories every day, or find some other combination that works for you, you could conceivably lose 1 pound a week (7 x 500 = 3,500).

That works out to about 4 pounds a month. Cutting back (or burning) 1,000 calories daily could get you to an 8-pound weight loss each month.

That’s a safe, reasonable weight loss plan. Of course, if you don’t follow your eating and exercise goals, that schedule won’t hold up. Diligence is key.

Be wary of fad diets and weight loss pills that promise rapid results. These product claims are likely exaggerated. They could lead to some dangerous health complications, too.

If you want to make your beer belly less noticeable as you make these lifestyle changes, here are a few quick tips:

  • Wear loose clothing, such as flowy blouses and button-up shirts. Tight clothes, such as muscle shirts, can accentuate the belly area.
  • Try dark colors for pants and shorts and lighter colors for shirts. This may provide a more proportioned look, since beer bellies can make legs look extra skinny. However, in general, darker clothes from top to bottom can help make any extra weight less noticeable.
  • Don’t tuck in your shirt.
  • Wear vertical stripes, if you’re going to wear stripes at all.
  • Choose tailored pants, or simply pants that flatter your lower half. This will help with your overall appearance.
  • High-rise jeans and other pants are a better choice than low-rise ones.
  • Wear single-color shirts or blouses.

Carrying around a beer belly isn’t by itself a medical emergency. But it can be a sign that your risk for serious medical problems is increasing. Extra weight can be associated with:

It’s also possible that weight gain in the belly may itself be a symptom of something unrelated to your diet and exercise routine. Swelling in the abdomen can mean everything from pregnancy to serious digestive issues, such as:

If your expanding belly is accompanied by pain or changes in your bowel habits, see a doctor soon.

If you want to get rid of your beer belly but are worried that you’ll have to completely give up the magic of hops and barley, fear not. Beer, in moderation, can still be present in your diet. You’ll just have to make some other changes to allow that beer habit to continue.

Generally, that means less soda and calorie-dense foods and more fat-burning exercise. You may also want to try light beers and fewer of them.

You can also talk with a personal trainer and a dietitian for help in changing your lifestyle and turning a beer belly into a six-pack.