There’s a debate raging in the world of liposuction: If you gain weight after the procedure, do the new pounds pile on throughout the body—or only in areas that haven’t been treated? For some of us, this is a question as serious as the search for the Higgs Boson.
For years, doctors have observed that patients who can’t break the cycle of too many calories and not enough exercise are unlikely to put on tummy weight after abdominal liposuction, but tend to store new fat in another neighborhood of the body—the arms or back or boobs. Those anecdotal reports were confirmed in a study published in Obesity last year, in which researchers concluded that fat can return to untreated areas within one year.
Now, a new study of 301 liposuction patients appears to challenge that. Researcher Eric Swanson, a plastic surgeon in Leawood, Kansas, found that subjects observed over the course of a year retained their post-lipo body proportions, indicating there was no redistribution of fat after the operation, except in patients who experienced extreme weight gain. “Our study included a sufficient number of patients and used precise measurements, making the conclusions highly reliable. Patients can be reassured that their improvements will last, and they need not worry about putting weight back on disproportionately,” said Swanson. The results were published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
But the new research isn’t likely to end the debate overnight. “It’s an interesting study,” says Gerald Pitman, a clinical professor of plastic surgery at the New York University School of Medicine who has written extensively on the subject. “Liposuction is a superb method for correcting body disproportion with spot fat reduction. But it is of no value for losing weight. I’m concerned that this study may lead patients to believe that they can eat as much as they want without consequences, which is untrue. In my experience, the patient who gains weight after liposuction does increase the size of the body, and usually in areas that haven’t been treated.”