I am not about to propose a miracle pill to get rid of belly fat or even a particular exercise to do on a daily basis. Many people spend most of their day holding in their belly to hide that it sticks out. Holding in the belly can become so habitual that a lot of folks forget that they are doing it. Yes, diet and exercise (or lack thereof) certainly contribute to whether or not a person carries around excess weight, but whether or not your belly sticks out can also depend greatly on your posture.
If you are compressing your body from the top down and from the sides in (what most adults do), this will most likely result in you leaning back when you stand and exaggerating the lumbar curve in your lower back. What's on the front side of your lumbar curve? Your belly! So if the back is going in, then the front must be sticking out.
The problem with "fixing" this issue by sucking the belly in is that it doesn't solve the problem, it just masks it visually and creates other problems such as shallow breathing as the diaphragm is prevented from descending completely and the lower ribs become rigid. Your digestion may also be negatively impacted. Also, holding in the belly may start a chain reaction leading to further compression or too much tension in other areas such as the thighs.
Instead of holding your belly in, how about learning how to stop sticking it out? When you take Alexander Technique lessons, you learn how to stop compressing down on yourself so that your whole body lengthens and you reach your true full height. As you stop essentially squishing your whole body, three things happy with the belly:
1) The belly naturally comes in
2) Your belly can move in and out, your lower ribcage can expand fully, and your back ribs can expand, resulting in fuller, more relaxed breathing.
3) You'll actually tone your abs more (and your whole body) just doing normal things because you are using your body efficiently and breathing efficiently. If you continue to use your body in this way when you exercise, then you'll get more tone in the "right" places when you exercise because you won't be holding yourself up with muscles that should be working to move you and for breathing.
When I was taking Alexander lessons about 13 years ago, before I had even trained to become a teacher of it, I remember telling one of my teachers during a lesson that my abs felt tight. She informed me that they weren't tight and I actually had very little tone in my belly. She said that my belly was instead compressed. Now 13 years and two pregnancies later, I have more ab definition than I've ever had, whether I'm working out regularly or not.
Do you feel tempted to hold your belly in? Do you ever do habitually without noticing it? Share your experience in the comments below.