Ah, the formidable and protruding problem that is beer belly. Everyone has heard and been warned of the infamous bulge that emerges after years of drinking and yet, so many find themselves dealing with an unwanted gut. While it can be hard to avoid, it’s good to know just what beer belly is, and how it happens.

Despite its nickname, beer belly doesn’t actually have anything to do with beer itself. Instead, it’s all about the calories. Beer notoriously contains more of the pesky belly enlargers than other alcoholic drinks. A glass of red wine typically contains about 120 calories and most liquors fall into the 95 to 105 ballpark. Beer varies dramatically in calories due to the wide range of styles and ingredients available, but the average 12 ounce glass runs around the 150 mark, while darker beers can reach upwards of 200. Simply put, beer drinkers are taking in more calories per beverage than fans of other types of alcohol.

Beer belly sets in through excessive calories storing themselves in fat in the abdominal area. Fat cells in the belly, particularly in men, tend to enlarge faster than fat cells in other parts of the body. Because of this, fat in the region condenses quickly and can begin to crowd internal organs, which can lead to numerous health problems such as increased risk in heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. That being said, genetics plays a huge role in how fat is stored in the body, so a simple measurement of the waist is not necessarily a good indicator for overall health.

As is the trick with most other dietary issues, exercise and healthy eating habits can reduce the potential of a beer belly forming. While abdominal fat cells often enlarge more than others, they are also burned off more easily, meaning it’s a largely reversible issue. For those looking for a substitute, light beer generally contains 100 to 120 calories. However, light beers tend to be lower in alcohol, so you’ll have to drink more to get the same buzz. Some craft breweries also swap in fruit and fungal enzymes to replace sugar and grains, which can reduce the final carb count. Still, the reality is that beer is simply a heftier alcohol than its alternatives. Beer is full of flavor, complexity, and unfortunately, calories. Beer belly will forever be something that beer drinkers have to combat. However, with some diligence, we can indulge while still keeping the bulge away.