The Skinny On Getting Rid Of Fat Without Surgery

So many moms know this story all too well: You carve out time for exercise and diligently watch what you eat, just to stare in disbelief when you look in the mirror and see little to no difference. Those bulges with cute nicknames such as muffin tops and love handles? Yep, they're still there.

What gives? No matter how much you sweat or how assiduously you avoid those extra carbs, there are certain areas of the body that serve as safe havens for fat. There's a reason liposuction is one of the most popular cosmetic surgical procedures year after year.

When it comes to stubborn rolls of fat, though, the choice is no longer lipo or live with it. A raft of non-surgical body contouring treatments have rolled out in the past several years that promise to give you the sculpted, toned body you've been working so hard to get.

You can melt fat cells or freeze them. Zap them with lasers or blast them with wave after wave of focused ultrasonic energy. The choices seem limitless, so here is a brief primer to help you distinguish between the various options. Keep in mind, neither liposuction nor any of these procedures is designed as a weight-loss treatment. Anyone who is 15 or more pounds heavier than optimal should lose that weight before considering these procedures.

So here's a breakdown on the non-surgical fat reduction options currently available:


This treatment is probably the most common of its type. As its name suggests, CoolSculpting works by "freezing" the targeted fat cells. The key is that the process doesn't actually involve reaching 32 degrees, which would cause damage to the skin and tissue. Fat cells actually begin dying at higher temperatures. The treatment causes some minor discomfort as a cold treatment head is applied to the skin, but the area quickly numbs and patients can relax. Clinical trials have shown that CoolSculpting reduces fat in the targeted area by more than 25%.


SculpSure only received clearance from the FDA earlier this year and is not yet widely available. But the website Patient's Guide® BodyContouring calls it "a revolutionary, highly advanced procedure," and it's getting some good reviews from specialists on the popular RealSelf website, a user forum for patients and doctors. The laser treatment typically takes only 25 minutes, and you can be back running errands or taking care of your children immediately after your appointment.


Zerona is another laser fat reduction treatment that's been around for several years. It works in much the same way as SculpSure, but the treatment can take longer. A typical patient might sign up for a series of 6 treatment sessions to get the best results. Reviews are somewhat mixed.


Instead of extreme heat or cold, UltraShape uses sound waves to target and kill fat cells just below the skin. The treatment time is fairly quick, lasting from 10 minutes to 50 minutes depending on the size and number of areas being treated. As with other non-surgical fat-destroying procedures, the results show up gradually as the dead cells are naturally filtered from the body.


Again, high-intensity ultrasound energy targets the fat cells. Unlike Ultrashape, though, Liposonix patients usually feel some mild discomfort as the treatment progresses. On the other hand, only a single session is typically needed to get the results you want, while UltraShape usually takes 2 or 3 treatments to work. One thing the treatments have in common is that the fat is ultimately absorbed by the body and naturally flushed out through the natural metabolic process.

There is a final caveat: Even though these treatments have shown to be effective for the right patients, they simply can't match the fat reduction accomplished by liposuction. The tradeoff is a longer recovery. The Portland Plastic Surgery Group's website says "recovery from a liposuction procedure depends on which method of liposuction was used, and how many areas of the body were treated. Generally, patients are instructed to wear a compression garment for several weeks following the procedure. … Most patients report that they returned to work and resumed light activity within a week. It is beneficial to avoid strenuous exercise for at least 4 weeks following liposuction."

Still, the results are decidedly more extensive and predictable with this surgical solution. If you — like so many of us — are looking to reduce stubborn fat that doesn't respond to diet and exercise, consult with a board-certified specialist who has experience with several options to find out which is right for you.