How To Lose Belly Fat — 4 Tips for a Flatter Stomach

The Truth About Belly Fat

Surprise: Everyone has some belly fat, even people who have flat abs.

That’s normal. But too much belly fat can affect your health in a way that other fat doesn’t.

Some of your fat is right under your skin. Other fat is deeper inside, around your heart, lungs, liver, and other organs.

It’s that deeper fat — called «visceral» fat — that may be the bigger problem, even for thin people.

Deep Belly Fat

You need some visceral fat. It provides cushioning around your organs.

But if you have too much of it, you may be more likely to get high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and certain cancers, including breast cancer and colon cancer.

The fat doesn’t just sit there. It’s an active part of your body, making «lots of nasty substances,» says Kristen Hairston, MD, assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

If you gain too much weight, your body starts to store your fat in unusual places.

With increasing obesity, you have people whose regular areas to store fat are so full that the fat is deposited into the organs and around the heart, says Carol Shively, PhD, professor of pathology-comparative medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

How Much Belly Fat Do You Have?

The most precise way to determine how much visceral fat you have is to get a CT scan or MRI. But there’s a much simpler, low-cost way to check.

Get a measuring tape, wrap it around your waist at your belly button, and check your girth. Do it while you’re standing up, and make sure the tape measure is level.

For your health’s sake, you want your waist size to be less than 35 inches if you’re a woman and less than 40 inches if you’re a man.

Having a «pear shape» — bigger hips and thighs — is considered safer than an «apple shape,» which describes a wider waistline.

“What we’re really pointing to with the apple versus pear,” Hairston says, «is that, if you have more abdominal fat, it’s probably an indicator that you have more visceral fat.»


Thin People Have It, Too

Even if you’re thin, you can still have too much visceral fat.

How much you have is partly about your genes, and partly about your lifestyle, especially how active you are.

Visceral fat likes inactivity. In one study, thin people who watched their diets but didn’t exercise were more likely to have too much visceral fat.

The key is to be active, no matter what size you are.

4 Steps for Beating Belly Fat

There are four keys to controlling belly fat: exercise, diet, sleep, and stress management.

1. Exercise: Vigorous exercise trims all your fat, including visceral fat.

Get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 5 days a week. Walking counts, as long as it’s brisk enough that you work up a sweat and breathe harder, with your heart rate faster than usual.

To get the same results in half the time, step up your pace and get vigorous exercise — like jogging or walking. You’d need to do that for 20 minutes a day, 4 days a week.

Jog, if you’re already fit, or walk briskly at an incline on a treadmill if you’re not ready for jogging. Vigorous workouts on stationary bikes and elliptical or rowing machines are also effective, says Duke researcher Cris Slentz, PhD.

Moderate activity — raising your heart rate for 30 minutes at least three times per week — also helps. It slows down how much visceral fat you gain. But to torch visceral fat, your workouts may need to be stepped up.

“Rake leaves, walk, garden, go to Zumba, play soccer with your kids. It doesn’t have to be in the gym,” Hairston says.

If you are not active now, it’s a good idea to check with your health care provider before starting a new fitness program.

2. Diet: There is no magic diet for belly fat. But when you lose weight on any diet, belly fat usually goes first.

Getting enough fiber can help. Hairston’s research shows that people who eat 10 grams of soluble fiber per day — without any other diet changes — build up less visceral fat over time than others. That’s as simple as eating two small apples, a cup of green peas, or a half-cup of pinto beans.


“Even if you kept everything else the same but switched to a higher-fiber bread, you might be able to better maintain your weight over time,” Hairston says.

3. Sleep: Getting the right amount of shut-eye helps. In one study, people who got 6 to 7 hours of sleep per night gained less visceral fat over 5 years compared to those who slept 5 or fewer hours per night or 8 or more hours per night. Sleep may not have been the only thing that mattered — but it was part of the picture.

4. Stress: Everyone has stress. How you handle it matters. The best things you can do include relaxing with friends and family, meditating, exercising to blow off steam, and getting counseling. That leaves you healthier and better prepared to make good choices for yourself.

“If you could only afford the time to do one of these things,» Shively says, «exercise probably has the most immediate benefits, because it gets at both obesity and stress.”


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Assessing your weight and health risk.”

Mayo Clinic Women’s Health Source, June 2011.

Dedert, E. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 2004.

Hairston, K. Obesity, published online June 16, 2011.

Hairston, K. Sleep, March 2010.

Heinrichs, M. Biological Psychiatry, Dec. 15, 2003.

Kilpeläinen, T. Nature Genetics, published online June 26, 2011.

Lewis, T. American Journal of Epidemiology, June 1, 2011.

Noble, R. Western Journal of Medicine, April 2001.

Slentz, C. American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, published online Aug. 16, 2011.

Carol Shively, PhD, professor of pathology-comparative medicine, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC.

Kristen Hairston, MD, MPH, assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC.

Tuomas Kilpeläinen, PhD, assistant professor, The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, Copenhagen University; former epidemiologist, Institute of Metabolic Science, Medical Research Council, Cambridge, U.K.

Cris Slentz, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, Duke University, Durham, NC.

Latest News

How to Prepare for (and Win!) Your Small Claims Court Case

Jamie Sternberg, Esq.

Revised January 2018


This guide will show you how to maximize your ability to win your Small Claims Court case — whether you’re a plaintiff or a defendant.

A plaintiff is the person who filed the complaint. A defendant is the responding person against whom the lawsuit has been filed.

Small claims cases are decided by a judge or commissioner. Attorneys are not allowed to practice in Small Claims Court. This means that you need to effectively represent yourself. How you prepare your case and present it to the court often has as much to do with the outcome of the case as the “merits” of the case itself.


If you are the plaintiff in a Small Claims Court action, you are trying to obtain a money judgment against someone to compensate you for damages caused by that person or entity. The damage may be caused by the defendant’s actions or failure to act. It is important that you prepare your case thoroughly to give you the best chance at winning. A plaintiff who loses a Small Claims Court case cannot appeal. Only a defendant can appeal a small claims case.

If you are the defendant in a Small Claims Court, you are trying to avoid being held liable to the plaintiff for some amount of money.

Whether you’re a plaintiff or a defendant, prepare your case thoroughly the first time.

Below are instructions about how to prepare your Small Claims Court case.


If you are the person filing the lawsuit (the plaintiff), you speak first at trial. You have the burden of proving your case to the judge by a “preponderance of the evidence.”

“Preponderance of the evidence” means that the evidence you present must show that it is more likely than not that you should prevail. Some people refer to this as the 51% rule. If a judge is 51% sure that the plaintiff is correct, the plaintiff wins. However, if a judge is only 50% sure that the plaintiff is correct, the defendant wins. In contrast, the burden of proof in a criminal matter is more difficult to meet; the burden of proof in a criminal matter is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“Evidence” is the facts, testimony, witnesses, and documents you present to persuade the judge that you deserve to get what you are asking for.

Remember: At trial there are usually significant disagreements between the parties about what happened. You need to persuade the judge that your version of the facts is accurate. Even though you are telling the truth and the other party isn’t, that may not be readily apparent to a judge if you don’t have witnesses and documents supporting your position. So, how you present your side is very important.

Bringing a small claims case involves the steps described below.

A. Demand Payment

Before you file your Plaintiff’s Claim with the Small Claims Court, demand payment from the defendant Write a letter to the defendant, explaining that you want him or her to pay you a certain amount of money and why. Give the defendant a reasonable time in which to respond. Fourteen (14) days is a good rule of thumb.

B. File the Plaintiff’s Claim

If the defendant does not pay you the money demanded within a reasonable time, go to Small Claims Court and file the Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (Form SC-100). If you’re suing a business, it’s important to know whether it’s a corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship, and whether it’s doing business under a fictitious business name. If you are doing business under a fictitious business name, file and serve a Fictitious Business Name Declaration (Form SC-103).

Follow the instructions on the back of the Plaintiff’s Claim and the form Information for Plaintiff’s (Form SC-100-INFO). Fill out the forms accurately. Often there is a local “Small Claims Court Advisor” who can answer questions for you at no charge.

1. Amount of Claim

You must indicate the dollar amount that you are suing for, and you must prove the amount of your damages. You will be limited to a claim of $10,000 or less (See California Code of Civil Procedure §116.220, 116.221, 116.224 and 116.231 regarding additional jurisdictional limitations, including additional limitations against guarantors and actions brought by “natural persons” for bodily injury claims arising out of automobile accidents). Amounts that can be recovered in small claims actions increased from $5,000 to $7,500 for “natural persons” as of July 1, 2006, and again to $10,000 in July, 2011. The increase does not apply to plaintiffs who are corporations, partnerships, unincorporated associations, governmental entities, LLCs or other entities.
2. Identify the Defendants

You must correctly identify the responsible parties, and sue the defendant by his/her/its exact complete name. It is very important to name the defendant correctly, because you will only be able to collect from the party or parties whose name is exactly the same as the name that appears on your claim. List any fictitious business names as well.

Insert the letters “dba,” (which stands for “doing business as”) between the name of the owner and the company name if the owner is doing business under a fictitious name. (Example: Joseph F. Stanley, an individual dba Stanley Stores).

If you are suing an individual, write his or her first name, middle initial, and last name.

If you are suing a husband and wife, write the husband’s full name and the wife’s full name (Example: Joseph F. Stanley and Sara R. Stanley).

If you are suing a partnership, name both the partnership and the partners as individuals as well. (Example: Joseph F. Stanley, an individual, Peter R. Jones, an individual and Stanley & Jones, a general partnership). If you win your case, you will be entitled to collect from either the partnership or the individual partners if you name them this way in your Plaintiff’s Claim.

If you are suing a corporation, write the exact name of the corporation. (Example: Stanley Stores, Inc. a corporation).

3. Serve the Defendants

Next you need to “serve” the defendant with a copy of the case. Follow the rules on the Proof of Service forms for accurate service.

There are four ways to serve the defendant:

1. Hire the Sheriff’s office to serve it.

2. Hire a commercial registered process server. Kimball, Tirey & St. John’s process service company can assist you with services in any location and has offices in San Diego (619) 234-1690, Irvine (949) 476-5585 and Concord (925) 469-1690.

3. Ask the Small Claims Court Clerk to serve it for you by certified mail. You cannot serve it yourself by certified mail and service is completed only when the defendant signs the receipt and it is returned to the clerk; or
4. Have a friend or any person, who is not a party to the lawsuit over the age of 18, serve the defendant for you.
While service by certified mail seems the simplest, it is not always the best method. It can be difficult to obtain good service by certified mail. The defendant may refuse to sign for the letter, or the post office may not return the certified mail slip to you by your court date.

4. Locating an Address for Service

You must instruct the server where to serve the defendant. If you don’t know where to serve the defendant, locate an address for service using one of the methods below or see How to Serve a Business or Public Entity (Small Claims) (Form SC-104C).

If the defendant has moved, address a letter to him or her at the last known address. Below your return address, write “Address Correction Requested – Do Not Forward.” The letter will be returned to you with the new address, if one is on file with the post office.

If you have a telephone number, use a reverse directory to find an address. Reverse directories can be found at libraries or on the internet.

If you have a post office box listing for the defendant, you can request the name, street address, and phone number of the holder of a post office box from the post office by completing and submitting a form to the post office.

5. Who Should Be Served?

See How to Serve a Business or Public Entity (Small Claims) (Form SC-104C) for instructions about who should be served.

6. Personal or Substituted Service

Service may be personal (i.e. personally handed to the defendant) or by substituted service. Personal service is preferred but substituted service is used if the server can’t find the defendant at his/her home or business. To complete a substituted service, the server leaves a copy at (1) the defendant’s office with a person who appears to be in charge or (2) at the defendant’s home with someone who is at least 18 years old. The person with whom the documents are left must be told what they are. The server must also mail a copy of the documents by first class mail to the defendant at the address where the documents were left.

A copy of the documents must be served on the defendant at least 15 days before the hearing if the defendant lives in the county in which the trial will take place, or 20 days before the hearing if the defendant lives outside of the county in which the trial will take place. If service is by mail, the claim is considered served 10 days after the copy is mailed.
The defendant need not accept the documents in order to be considered served. Once the defendant has been correctly identified, the documents can literally be dropped at his or her feet if he or she refuses to accept them when they are handed to him or her.

7. File a Proof of Service

The person who serves the defendant must complete a Proof of Service (Form SC-104). The proof of service form must be filed with the small claims clerk. The clerk can tell you of any time limitations you have in filing it. (For example, in San Mateo County it must be filed at least 48 hours before the trial.) For more information about proof of service, see What is “Proof of Service” (Form SC-104B).

B. Preparing Your Case

1) Authorization to Appear. In certain situations, someone may appear on behalf of a plaintiff or defendant in a small claims case. See the Authorization to Appear (Form SC-109) for more information.

2) Your Witnesses. If there is a person who was a witness to certain events, who has original documents, or can verify that what you’re telling the judge is true — you want that witness to be in court the day of trial to tell the judge, in person, what happened or to produce original documents.

If the witness is a friend, ask him or her to testify in court for you. Chances are he or she will show up in court without being subpoenaed. But if you have doubts, subpoena the witness (see below).

If your witness will not come to court voluntarily, or will not voluntarily provide the documents or records you need, you can subpoena them. A Subpoena (Form SC-107) is a court order that requires a person to come to court or to bring certain papers or records to court. Subpoenaed documents must be delivered to the court on or before the date of the trial.

Make sure you read the subpoena carefully and fill it out correctly. A copy of the subpoena must be personally delivered to the witness. Any person (including yourself) may deliver the subpoena. You must return the original subpoena, to the court and serve the copy to the witness.

Make sure you have the subpoena served on the witness properly. Otherwise, the witness does not have to show up, and you’ve lost a witness who might make or break your case.

A witness can ask for fees of $35 per day and 20 cents a mile each way. Witness fees for law officers are higher. If a witness asks for fees, he or she does not have to appear if the fees are not paid. The person who serves the subpoena should be prepared to pay the fees at the time of service if they are requested. If the witness does not ask for fees, you do not have to offer them.

After the subpoena is served, a Proof of Service (Form SC-104) must be filed with the small claims court clerk before the hearing date.

BUT: If the witness will be unavailable the day of trial (due to illness, death in the family, business trip or on vacation), you may want to ask that your trial date be postponed. You can use the Request to Postpone Trial (Form SC-150) form. The next best alternative is to get an original signed declaration from the witness. Use a Declaration (Form MC-030), writing out (typed would be better) a clear, concise statement of what happened.

So long as you submit a (rele¬vant) written or typed statement by a witness, signed under penalty of perjury, it will be given consideration by the judge. Having a statement notarized is not the same thing! If it is not signed under penalty of perjury, it is considered hearsay and may be given little or no consideration by the judge, even if it is notarized.

NOTE: It is always better to have a “live” witness testify for you, if possible. This is because the judge then has the chance to personally see and hear the witness. If your witness is “credible,” (makes a good appearance and will repre¬sent your side of the case well), have that person testify in person on your behalf. It can help you win your case because credibility is always an issue.

2) The Facts. If you are the plaintiff, it is very important that you tell the judge quickly, and in an organized fashion, what happened. This is your opportunity to tell your side of the case.
Prepare a chronology, or a step-by-step accounting of the events. Write down the dates, times, places, and names of people that are important to your case. It will help you remember the important events so that you can tell your story more quickly in an organized manner. Also, you will impress the judge if you are asked a question about a date or time, and you can answer it right away.

NOTE: Your case is not the only case the judge is deciding that day. The judge has many cases to decide in a short period of time. It is important that you present your facts to the judge quickly and in an organized manner. Judges don’t like it when people ramble, take too much time or are disorganized. After all, if the judge is taking the time to hear your case, you should be taking the time to prepare your side of the case thorough¬ly.

3) Documents. Submit all bills, receipts, telephone messages, photographs, letters, demands, etc., that concern your case to the judge. This is so you can prove what happened to the judge. The documents must be submitted the day of trial. You only have one shot at your case and this is it. Don’t leave your documents at home or tell the judge you will mail them to the court. If you don’t have your documents with you on the day of trial, you may lose your case. Whenever possible, bring the original documents, not copies.

The judge may not want to see every document that you bring with you. That’s okay. Your job is to bring everything that you think will help the judge make up his or her mind.

Consider preparing and submitting to the judge a written chronology, a written itemization of your damages, and an index of your documents. They will help the judge understand your case more quickly and completely.

If you carefully follow the above steps, you will have gone a long way towards doing everything possible to win your case.


1) If you’ve been sued, you can contact the Plaintiff and try to settle the dispute before the hearing. If you reach an agreement, make sure the Plaintiff files a Request for Dismissal with the court to take to the hearing off the court’s calendar.

2) If you aren’t able to resolve the disagreement, stop and think. Is there a claim you have against the plaintiff or any other third party that is in any way connected with the facts and circumstances in this lawsuit? If there is, you may file a counter claim against the plaintiff. See the “File the Plaintiff’s Claim” section above for general information about filing a claim.

You will file a Defendant’s Claim (Form SC-120) against the plaintiff and any other person who is involved. You must serve your Defendant’s Claim 5 days before the trial date, unless you were served with the Plaintiff’s Claim 10 days or less before the trial date. If you were given 10 days or less notice, you must serve the Defendant’s Claim at least 1 day before the trial date.

If you fail to file and serve your Defendant’s Claim on the plaintiff or any other person, you may lose your legal rights.

3) Follow all of the steps under the section above regarding “Preparing Your Case.” It is necessary for you (as the defendant) to have a written chronology of events, documents, witnesses and witness’ statements, especially if you have filed a Defendant’s Claim against the plaintiff or any other person. The only difference is that the defendant does not have the same “burden of proof” as the plaintiff. You just need to provide the necessary evidence to defend yourself. (Of course, if you have filed a Defendant’s Claim, your burden of proof on the claim is the same as the plaintiff’s against on the Plaintiff’s Claim- by a pre¬ponderance of the evidence.)

4) If you are the defendant, your job at trial is to make the court aware of any facts, circumstances and/or witnesses who can show the judge that what happened was not your fault, or was the fault of the other person you named in your Defendant’s Claim.


Here are some general rules to follow when you appear in court. Though some of them may seem obvious, you would be surprised at the number of people who appear in Small Claims Court who ignore them.

1. Think carefully before stipulating to a Judge Pro Tem.

Often a regular judge or commissioner is unavailable to hear small claims cases. Instead, small claims matters are sometimes decided by volunteer local attorneys who sit as a “judge pro tem.” A judge pro tem cannot decide the outcome of your case unless both parties have “stipulated” or agreed that the judge pro tem may hear their case. A stipulation is also necessary if the case is to be decided by a commissioner instead of a judge.

There are many fine judge pro tems. However, judges or commissioners may be more familiar with the type of dispute you are bringing. If you do stipulate to a judge pro tem, for example, you take the chance that a personal injury attorney will decide the outcome of your landlord-tenant or real property dispute. It has been estimated that as many as one third of all small claims matters involve landlord/tenant disputes, so a small claims judge or commissioner may be more familiar with landlord-tenant matters than a judge pro tem. If you don’t stipulate to a judge pro tem, your case will be postponed until the next available time that the regular judge or commissioner will be available to hear your case.

2. Be prompt.

If the case is set for 8:30 a.m., make sure you’re there by 8:25 a.m. Many cases have been taken “off calendar,” or canceled, because a plain¬tiff failed to show up in time. And many defendants who were late or failed to show up have had a default judgment entered against them.

3. Wear nice clothing.

This doesn’t mean you have to wear a tuxedo or a suit with a tie (although a suit is always preferable). It does mean you should wear clean, pressed slacks and shirt (if you’re male) and the same if you’re female (or a skirt, suit or dress).

Why? We all make judgments about other people based upon what they’re wearing (whether we want to admit it or not). You’re in court to win your case. Give yourself every opportunity to make a good impression, including wearing nice clothing.

4. Don’t call your opponent a “liar” in court.

Even if you know the opposite party is lying, don’t call your opponent a “liar” in court. This is not the “People’s Court.” Let the evidence you present before the judge prove what really happened. Remember, you are being judged on everything you do, say and present before the judge. When you call someone else names, it reflects badly on you.

5. Don’t argue with the judge.

You may not like the judge’s comments. But don’t argue with the judge. The last thing you want to do is make the judge angry at you. Remember, not everything that you think is important to your case is important to your case. That’s the judge’s call. Let the judge make it, and be courteous and polite when you answer the judge’s questions.

6. If you don’t understand the judge’s questions, tell the judge that you don’t understand.

Sometimes judges will ask questions. Sometimes judges use “legalese.” If you don’t understand the question, say, “I’m sorry, your Honor, but I don’t understand your question. Could you please rephrase your question?”

7. Always refer to the judge as “Your Honor.”

It shows respect. If you show respect to the judge, you should receive respect in return.


Remember that Small Claims Court cases move very quickly. Sometimes it seems as though you don’t have much of a chance to tell your side of the story. That’s why it is so important to have lined up your witnesses, testimony, witness statements, and documents ahead of time.

You may want to consult an attorney about your case before you go to Small Claims court. While an attorney cannot represent you at the hearing, an attorney may help you prepare. The attorney may be able to point out legal issues or facts to help you that you may have overlooked or not been aware of. There is no substitute for good legal advice.

In all cases, one party wins and the other party loses. Unfortunately, there’s no way anyone can guarantee that you’ll win any given case. But if you are well- prepared, well-dressed, courteous and prompt, you will have done everything within your power to enable you to win.


See What to Do After the Court Decides Your Small Claims Case (Form SC-200-INFO) for information about what to do after the court decides your small claims case.


If you are the plaintiff in a Small Claims you only get one shot at winning. You cannot appeal on the Plaintiff’s Claim. But, if the defendant has filed a Defendant’s Claim against you in the same case, and you lose on the Defendant’s Claim, a plaintiff may appeal the judgment on the Defendant’s Claim only.

If you are the defendant and you lose, you may file an appeal with the Small Claims Court.

You must file a Notice of Appeal (SC-140) in Small Claims Court within thirty (30) days from the date on the court’s Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC-130). Make sure you don’t miss the time frame or your appeal will be denied.

Appeals are heard in Superior Court. An attorney can appear with you at the appeal hearing.
Certain Superior Court judges will order monetary sanctions against parties found to have filed a frivolous appeal, so don’t file an appeal for harassment or delay purposes.


If you’ve been awarded a money judgment in your favor, Kimball, Tirey & St. John’s Collection department can assist you with collection. Kimball, Tirey & St. John’s Collection department can also assist you with collection of amounts even if you haven’t been to court and don’t have a judgment. The collection methods used differ depending upon whether or not you have a judgment. You can contact Kimball, Tirey & St. John’s Collection department at (619) 234-1770 or (800) 575-1770 for more information.


1. Contact the court where you will be filing the Plaintiff’s Claim. While the courts cannot give legal advice, court clerks can answer certain questions and many courts distribute information about small claims actions.
2. Contact your local Small Claims Advisors Office.
3. Get online help at the California Courts Self Help Center at
4. Consult with an attorney. For legal advice, contact Kimball, Tirey & St. John’s Business Real Estate Group at (619) 234-1690.

All court forms referred to in this article are linked in the following “download pdf” version below.

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