You might not love the look of belly fat, but there are far more important reasons to get rid of it. Belly fat is more likely to be the “visceral” kind, which is stored in and around your organs. Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, is located between the skin and muscle tissue. It might be no more attractive, but it does serve the purpose of cushioning bones against falls, keeping you warm, and storing energy. But visceral fat can be much more harmful; it makes you more prone to Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease, and can contribute to high blood cholesterol or blood pressure levels.

Even “skinny” people can have visceral belly fat. One way to check your risk for visceral fat is to measure your waist circumference. Using a tape measure, measure your waist at the belly button level. Remember to completely relax, and be honest with yourself. No sucking in that gut! Think of this as a private health exam. Only you need to know the results.

Now, everyone has a different body build and shape, but men with a waist circumference greater than 40, or women with a circumference greater than 35, are at higher risk for excess visceral fat. And this puts you at greater risk for disease.

Unfortunately, no amount of stomach crunches is going to get rid of dangerous visceral fat. Those exercises are great for toning your tummy muscles, but you need to make more serious lifestyle changes in order to burn body fat. Luckily, when your body goes into ketosis (fat burning mode), viseral fat is the first to go. It’s the stubborn subcutaneous fat that is harder to banish, but luckily it’s the less harmful kind.

You already know that a well-balanced diet, low in fat and carbs but high in protein, will help you lose weight. On top of that, you should be performing fat-burning, aerobic exercise for 30 to 60 minutes per day. As you lose weight, remember to check more than the number on the scale; keep measuring that waist circumference too! And if you have concerns about difficulty losing weight, the safety of exercise, or possible underlying conditions that make it hard to lose weight, make sure to schedule an appointment with your physician.