The problem: When I gain weight, it goes straight to my middle

You know those squishy midsection lumps you can pinch? That’s subcutaneous fat, located just beneath the surface of your skin, says Ursula White, PhD, an obesity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University. Another type of fat, called visceral fat, sits deep within the abdominal area, surrounding the organs. This is the kind that’s considered especially harmful; research has found that excess amounts of visceral fat may put your at a higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Where we pack on flab may be determined by genetics, says White. But in general, notes Tara Collingwood, RDN, coauthor of Flat Belly Cookbook for Dummies ($23; when people gain weight, it often increases their amount of visceral fat. That’s one reason a diet that’s too high in simple carbs is so problematic: “Eating too many low-fiber, high-sugar foods can spike levels of insulin, which then stores all those calories as fat,” explains Collingwood. 

The solution: You can’t fight genetics—but you can make it harder for your body to store excess calories as fat by limiting your consumption of refined carbs. Eat more high-fiber foods instead, such as oats, beans, and sweet potatoes, suggests Leslie Bonci, RDN, owner of Active Eating Advice. Also, aim to eat three meals and one snack a day—and have them on a set schedule, recommends Bonci. One 2014 study found that eating erratically was linked to a bigger waist circumference than sticking to a schedule.