One of the most common phrases I hear when it comes to body sculpting is “six pack.” “Flat tummy” is a close second. And, since we’ve all seen Kelly Rowland’s Shape magazine cover, I totally get it. Everyone’s got a little case of ab-fever, during what could possibly be the worst time of year to get it.

Oh, you want that six pack, too? It’s not going to be easy. Luckily, I’ve got a few notes for you to keep in mind on your journey towards washboard abs.

The first thing you need to learn is this: while its true that everyone has the foundational muscle necessary to build a six-pack, actual defined abdominal muscles only come with training. Lots of people have flat stomachs and no six pack, mainly because they don’t train for it. If you’ve got a visible six-pack, it’s because your abs are trained consistently for months on end, and your body fat percentage is fairly low. In short, you’re going to have to commit to training them.

If you want to see that six-pack appear, you’ll need to train, yes, but you’ll need to do something even more important – getting rid of the body fat you currently have. Abs are made in the kitchen, sure, but just as important is the fact that abs are made in training. Burning fat is what happens when you combine consistent nutrition with consistent training. Notice how often the word “consistent” appears, here? It is vital. You can’t eat properly and work out hard for three weeks only to get mad and quit because your muffin top is still there. It doesn’t really work that way for everyone.

All bodies – that is, provided your body fat percentage isn’t somewhere in the single digits – have a layer of subcutaneous fat on them. The higher your body fat percentage, the larger that layer of fat is likely to be. Proper nutrition combined with cardio will not only help burn that fat down, but will help you preserve whatever muscle you’ve got and maybe even help you develop a little more.

Now, what does proper nutrition look like? For starters, it’s high water consumption – not dangerously high, but high enough – and high fiber, a minimum of 25g per day on average. Your digestive system lays right behind your abdominal muscles, and the longer you go in between having bowel movements, the more likely your belly is to look distended and round, as if you were preparing to give birth. Fiber – like, say, that which you’d normally find in a giant salad with a flax seed dressing, or a big bowl of fresh collard greens and lentils – combined with water keeps you regular and, no a more superficial level, also can help keep your stomach down.

(On a responsible note, don’t feel compelled to down any teas or detoxes or laxatives on a consistent basis to cheat this way – not only can that kind of thing jeopardize your digestive tract, it deprives your body of nutrients, causes you to develop uncontrollable diarrhea, will actually diminish your abdominal muscles, damage your metabolism, severely dehydrates you, can make your hair fall out, it just… you don’t want any of that. Trust me.)

So, what’s the diet going to look like? It’s different for everyone, but here’s a hint – it’s not without carbs. Not only can a no-carb lifestyle severely damage your kidneys, but it can also compel your body to eat away at the very muscles you want to show as you get leaner. Quality protein, fresh produce (and lots of it), and healthy fats like avocados and coconut oils are all you need to be on your way to your six pack. Anything beyond that should be consumed sparingly.

Remember, the most important thing here is to alter the way you live so that you can carefully sculpt your body the right way. A consistent effort to burn fat, plus regular strength training will not only help turn you into a fit powerhouse, but it’ll also help you develop that tummy you’re after. As I always say, your body (and, apparently, your waistline) will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award-winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she chronicles her journey of going from 330lb couch potato to certified personal trainer, nutritionist, and all-around fitness dynamo. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on twitter at @bgg2wl.