More and more men are resorting to CoolSculpting — a non-invasive treatment to permanently freeze away fat bulges that won’t budge with diet and exercise. (Photo: Corbis)
When I returned home to New York City after a month spent eating my way through Scotland — a country where butter is the signature, if secret, ingredient in just about every dish — I knew I’d packed on a few pounds. But it wasn’t until my nine-year-old niece rubbed my bulging belly and asked when the baby was due that I realized it was time to take drastic measures to bust my gut.
The truth is, my lower abs have always been a “problem area” for me. I’ve taken countless workout classes, gone through stages where I’ve run miles each day, spent a small fortune on personal trainers, and yet even when I’m in peak condition, that little extra pocket of fat is always, embarrassingly, there.
Which is how I ended up in the office of Robert Anolik, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the NYU School of Medicine, lying on a table in a pink cloth robe — I had decided to take a faster route to a flatter belly by undergoing CoolSculpting.
So what is this shape-up shortcut, exactly? “It’s a method of precisely delivering extreme cooling to the skin in such a way that it crystalizes the fat below the surface,” says Anolik. “These fat cells are more sensitive to cold temperatures than muscles and skin, and so they basically die and wash out of your body.” The technical name for this type of fat-freezing is called cryolipolysis, and it’s now being performed widely across the country— by derms, cosmetic surgeons, and even medical assistants who have undergone the certification training.
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Here’s how it went down: The doctor applied a cool numbing pad to my lower abdomen, then gripped my belly pouch between his hands as the nurse helped him attach a suction-driven apparatus to it. “Feel free to breathe and move around on the table because it’s not coming off,” Anolik assured me. He wasn’t kidding. The thing had clamped on tighter than a Kardashian to an endorsement deal.
It was not exactly the most opportune time to conduct an interview, but I’m a curious writer so I launched in:
Me: “Can CoolSculpting treat obesity?”
Anolik: “No, it’s for spot treating trouble areas.”
Me: “So trouble areas actually exist? That’s not just an excuse I make for never having great abs no matter how hard I try?”
Anolik: “Yes, they exist. I’ve had marathon runners come in for the treatment. They are perfectly fit, but just have one area that exercise and diet can’t seem to tackle. I tell them that they should see a 20-to-25 percent reduction in the part of the body we treat — the change is definitely noticeable.”
Me: “What are the most common treatment areas?”
Anolik: “For men, it’s lower abs and love handles. For women, it’s thighs.”
Me: “So does this mean I can go back to eating like a pig again? Speaking of pigs, I saw a BBQ place on the way here that looked pretty good. It’s almost end of the day. Do you want to get BBQ together after this machine lets go?”
Anolik: “No. I still have other patients to see. And this treatment should be viewed as motivation to be healthier and live better.”
Me: “Ok, then. But if I happen to regain the fat?”
Anolik: “You will regain it in other areas.”
Me: (about to rip the machine off): “Like my behind?! I don’t want to be one of those guys with a big butt!”
Anolik: “Don’t worry. It will just distribute evenly in other areas.”
Me: (debating the BBQ again): “Thank God.”
As I waited out the remainder of the (nearly painless) treatment, I remembered the odd back story of the body-sculpting procedure that I’d come across while researching it. Apparently, CoolSculpting was conceived by two doctors who knew of a bizarre phenomenon known as “popsicle panniculitis”— the loss of cheek fat that occurs while sucking on a frozen popsicle. (Don’t try this at home.)
Even stranger: There was also a documented case where a woman who rode a horse naked in the cold weather reported the loss of fat on her inner thighs. Both examples helped establish a connection between the exposure of an area of the body to cold temperature and resulting fat loss in that area. After much trial and error, CoolSculpting was born. The FDA approved the procedure in 2010.
Turns out, the concept of cold things burning fat is heating up: According to a 2014 study conducted by National Institutes of Health researchers and published in the journal Diabetes, cold makes your brown fat more active. (Brown-fat cells burn energy —and therefore, calories— to produce heat). Similarly, another study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed that using an ice pack for 30 minutes helps burn calories by turning white fat into beige fat (a kind of brown fat).
All of this seems to lend credence to the concept that you can “shiver yourself slim” by turning down the thermostat. Thanks, but I’d rather not freeze in the discomfort of my own house!
Finally, an hour later, the doctor and nurse together detached the machine from my midriff. We all stared down to see that my flabby abs had been frozen into a weird-looking, white rectangular blob that looked just like … “a melting stick of butter,” the nurse observed
Anolik assured me my skin’s appearance would return to normal in a matter of minutes and that results would start to become evident at three weeks and continue to improve for up to three months. It’s now been six weeks since the treatment, and I’m happy to report that while it has not given me the six-pack of my dreams, I can once more comfortably button my size 32 jeans. Most importantly, no one has asked if I’m with child.
Depending on the doctor you visit, the price of CoolSculpting can range from about $850 to $1,500 per treatment area. Not cheap, but if, like me, you have a stubborn spot, I’d say it’s worth it.
Finally, to exercise and nutrition purists out there who are thinking, “No fair! This dude cheated his way out of hours at the gym doing grueling ab workouts and months spent watching what he eats!” To you I say, “You’re absolutely right.”
To see CoolSculpting in action, check out the video, below:
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