Imagine a world where you could stroll into a clinic, spend fifteen minutes reading a magazine while a doctor’s assistant points a bizarre contraption at your backside, and skip out the door, down a few thousand bucks and twenty pounds lighter. Provided you had the money and the extra weight, would you do it? Would you be willing to take the ultimate weight loss shortcut? With less invasiveness than liposuction and fewer complications, it would be tough to say no. Just make sure you save money for new pants and a new belt on the same trip.
Low-invasive weight loss technology is getting there, believe it or not. Zeltiq Aesthetics, out of Pleasanton, CA, and Erchonia Medical, out of Texas, have both developed a fat-zapping cold laser gun which they say can and will realize a realm of weight loss heretofore claimed only by late night fitness infomercial charlatans: spot reduction. Yes – Erchonia’s Zerona anti-fat laser offers targeted weight loss by using low-level beams to cause “fat to seep out of a cell, almost like a balloon being struck by a needle,” into the lymphatic system, where it can be used as energy by the body. (Hmm, fat as an energy source? Now that’s just crazy talk.) Zeltiq’s system utilizes “selective cryolipolysis,” or cold-enabled fat cell homicide. Weight loss doesn’t happen immediately, though. It takes up to six forty-minute sessions to work (for Zerona), and a Zeltiq session kills fat cells over a two-month period. Patients in Zerona’s clinical trial lost an average of 3.5 inches total (give me two months and I’ll get you more than that). Okay, so it’s not quite strip mall insta-fat burn clinic territory just yet, but it appears to work on some level, enough to dethrone the likes of Suzanne Somers’ epic Thigh Master collection or the amazing electric ab stimulator.
I’m undoubtedly an enormous fan of lifehacks – of shortcuts that get you to your health or fitness destination without compromising the integrity of the trip. It’s why I’m partial to sprints (because they work both the anaerobic and aerobic energy pathways in a short amount of time), intense strength training using compound movements (because it promotes the best anabolic hormonal response without requiring hours in the gym), and the Primal Blueprint diet (I hate counting calories and stressing over food) itself. These shortcuts are proven to work without shortcutting the actual results or the many benefits. They’re only shortcuts compared to what Conventional Wisdom is peddling (Chronic Cardio, meticulous calorie counting, etc). My kind of shortcut isn’t really a shortcut; it just describes the simplest, quickest way to achieve a health or fitness goal. Does this laser technology represent a viable shortcut to weight loss?
It’s absolutely a shortcut, technically, if fat loss is your only goal. If it works, the lasers remove fat without resorting to scalpels in your flesh or vacuum cleaners embedded in your adipose tissue. In that respect, it seems to be a far better, safer choice than liposuction.
I’ve got to say, though, this certainly doesn’t qualify as a Primal shortcut. As a guy who’s mostly concerned with health, long-term sustainability, and fat loss as an ulterior benefit, rather than ultimate, expressed goal, I’m a bit dubious of the new technology. Provided they actually work as advertised – and there’s decent evidence that they do – I worry about the implications of a readily available, incredibly effective band-aid that completely covers up the symptoms of a problem. Traditional weight loss confers a number of benefits beyond just visible abs or looser pants. It also results in improved lipid numbers, increased lean mass, healthier organs, increased energy levels and longevity, and improved insulin sensitivity. Will killing your fat cells with a laser confer the same added benefits? Prohibitive pricing aside (and I’m sure this stuff will be pretty damn expensive, at least for the foreseeable future), if fat loss required absolutely no dietary modification and no exercise commitment, it isn’t a stretch to suggest that fat loss via technology won’t be as beneficial as fat loss via the old fashioned way. Tech-assisted weight loss probably wouldn’t be as sustainable, either, simply because bad dietary habits are best curbed by changing lifestyle behaviors. If you can simply kill your fat cells in a clinic without resorting to surgery, what’s stopping some people from eating just as poorly as before?
I wonder how this compares to bariatric surgery, which is usually used on only the most morbidly obese patients. Bariatric surgery isn’t so much about aesthetics so much as it’s about fighting the progression of obesity-related diseases (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc). Most accounts say it works pretty well; there are a relatively high number of complications arising from invasive bariatric surgery, but the ones that work, seem to work quite well. People lose weight and reduce the impact of metabolic syndrome. If Zeltiq and Zerona can manage to do that, I’d be impressed. I doubt they do, though. Here’s why:
Bariatric surgery is still akin to going on a diet – albeit an extreme, forced, calorie-restriction diet. Whether your stomach is stapled or your nutrient absorption is surgically impaired, the end result is similar: dietary modification leading to fat loss and health improvements. The fat loss laser technology doesn’t require dietary modification, but it does burn fat. Where’s the ultimate benefit coming from? Is it from the loss of fat tissue, or is it the change in nutrition? The track record of liposuction – targeted fat loss and spot reduction without the need for changing your diet or exercise habits (sound familiar) – doesn’t bode well for the laser. There is a possibly minor, perhaps major difference between liposuction and Zerona tech, though, that should be noted; whereas liposuction breaks down the fat and physically removes it from the body, Zerona spurs the breakdown of fat cells and allows it to be used as fuel by the body. If the health benefits derive from the internal consumption of body fat stores for energy, Zerona might have an advantage over liposuction.
I’m not against technology. I love the stuff. I’m just immediately suspicious and skeptical of definitive claims by companies promising to use technology to streamline a millions-of-years-old physiological process as basic (and yet incredibly complicated and complex) as adipose tissue mobilization. Could it work? Sure, it could, and I’ll be paying close attention. I’m not going to hold my breath, though, and I’d advise anyone who’s struggling with their weight to do the same.
Remember – there are already proven, time-tested methods to lose weight and ensure you obtain the multitude of accompanying health benefits. It may require some actual commitment, plus the shunning of Neolithic foods like sugar and grains, along with a few bits of regular, intense exercise, but it isn’t hard. And best of all, it’s been working for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s not often that you’re privy to the results of an ongoing case study of billions as it evolves before your eyes.
That’s me, though. What do you guys think? Would you try this technology out if you had the money and a few stubborn inches to lose?
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.