Belly fat is not just unattractive; it’s dangerous. It’s one of the contributors to metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions – elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, high cholesterol levels – that increases your chances of getting stroke, heart disease and diabetes.

Belly fat consists of subcutaneous fat found under your skin, and the deeper, visceral fat that provides padding around your organs. Of the two, visceral fat poses more health risks because it is closely associated with systemic inflammation that changes the way your body operates and puts you at greater risk for coronary heart disease, dementia, depression, arthritis and sexual dysfunction, to name a few.

Despite what many weight loss programs claim, there are no shortcuts to getting a flatter belly, at least not if you want to keep off the pounds lost for the long haul. To fit into your jeans without that annoying muffin top, you have to adopt certain lifestyle choices, if not overhaul your lifestyle altogether, in small increments until they become habits you can keep for the rest of your life. Here’s how.

Get enough sleep

If you have been dieting and exercising religiously, and still wonder how to get rid of excess fat around your belly, you may be foregoing sleep. When your body is at rest, it still burns calories to support cell growth and repair and other vital bodily functions, so not getting enough sleep translates to fewer calories burned. Plus, lack of sleep leads to overeating (of junk food) because sleep deprivation triggers a chemical reaction that increases hunger levels and desire for high-fat, sweet and salty foods.

Lower your stress level

In the days when the threat of famine and predators are real, our ancestors’ bodies adapted by hoarding fat they ate or taking fat away from healthier areas (such as hips and buttocks) into the abdomen to prepare them for that fight-or-flight response because the belly has a higher supply of blood vessels and cortisol receptors to provide the body quick energy in case a hunt is on or a predator is on the loose.

Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles involve sitting on a chair for long hours and stressors that have become a fact of life: traffic, credit card bills, the threat of unemployment. When you are chronically stressed, your cortisol level goes up and doesn’t easily go back down to ensure that your body can easily get to that easily accessible fat storage in your midsection. Thus, a vicious cycle starts.

This vicious cycle of abdominal fat storage explains why you can’t easily lose belly fat no matter how you spot exercise with crunches. If you want to give nature a helping hand while working towards a flatter belly, consider getting a non-invasive fat freezing procedure to help slim down your pooch.

CoolSculpting is a safe, US FDA-approved fat removal treatment that utilizes controlled cooling to eliminate your fat cells naturally and permanently. If you have other pockets of hard-to-lose fat in your flanks and thighs, CoolSculpting can trim those areas without downtime.

Eat food high in fiber

Fiber takes time to digest because the body separates the sugar from the fiber, so you get fuller for longer and avoid snacking caused by frequent sugar crashes. Soluble fiber, in particular, helps reduce bad cholesterol (LDL or low-density lipoprotein), which sets the stage for obesity. It works this way: Fiber causes bile to be excreted in the feces. To make up for this loss of bile, the body pulls cholesterol from the bloodstream so the liver can make more bile salts.

Therefore, the more you eat fibrous foods, the more your body will pull LDL molecules from your bloodstream, thus lowering your risk for metabolic syndrome and the attendant diseases that result from too big a ‘spare tire.’

Fibrous foods also stabilize your insulin levels throughout the day so you have more energy in between meals. This is what many age management programs like Optimagenics aim to do via nutrition: Because you are less likely to have insulin fluctuations, you are less likely to develop insulin resistance which is a pre-diabetic condition.

Developed by a Harvard-educated age management doctor in a trusted anti-aging clinic in Singapore, Optimagenics Age Management combines exercise, hormone therapy and mindset with nutrition to provide older adults with youthful vitality for a longer, healthier life.

Get into interval training

The effect of exercise on stress and belly fat is well-documented, but there is a certain kind of exercise that burns more fat in a shorter amount of time. Unfortunately, these are not spot exercises for fat reduction of resistant bulges, but rather, interval training.

Interval training is any workout that alternates high-intensity and low-intensity exercises: It mimics the short bursts of energy our ancestors required to run away from a large predator or to hunt prey for dinner. Studies now show that these bursts of energy use more fat as fuel, with the rest periods in between used by the body to flush out waste products from the muscles.

Because abdominal fat is more receptive to these short bursts of energy than any other fat in the body, belly fat is usually the first to go after a period of regular interval training.

To boost your body’s ability to burn even more calories, get into strength training to build more muscles: Muscles burn more calories than the fat stored in your body, so a body composition with a high lean muscle-to-fat ratio could burn off more calories in the same amount of time than a body with a higher fat percentage.

After all the exercise and diet and you still have bulges that just won’t budge – arms, knee fat, bra bulges around the armpits, back fat, fat under the buttocks – CoolMini by Zeltiq has special applicators to treat these smaller pockets of fat. CoolMini in Singapore is also FDA-approved for removal of double chin, which some individuals are left to deal with after losing fat in other areas of their body.