It's potentially the most ironic of beginnings, but health's latest trend cryolipolysis, more commonly known as 'coolsculpting' – a way of sculpting a more defined body, free of stubborn fat pockets – came from two doctors witnessing how dimples were created in the cheeks of kids sucking on an icy pole.
The doctors – Dr. Rox Anderson and Dr. Dieter Manstein, affiliated to the Harvard medical school – named the medical curiosity popsicle panniculitis and applied it to other parts of the body.
Because fat cells are more temperature sensitive than your skin, temperatures of up to minus 11 can be applied for short amounts of time without giving the skin frostbite. Meanwhile, fat cells "shut down" over the next six to twelve week period – when you should start seeing results.
During this time, no other part of the body is harmed; it simply removes these dying cells through waste. The procedure is non-invasive so, unlike liposuction, there's no downtime.
Sounds way too good to be true, right?
Google it and you find mounds of marketing material extolling its virtues. Each session kills up to 25 per cent of fat cells, promotions claim, and you can have as many sessions as you like on the same area (though best to wait in between for soreness and swelling to settle).
It lasts forever. Promo material seems honest about what it isn't, as well: it's not a weight loss procedure, but a body sculpting procedure. It's aimed at people within their ideal weight range; perfect for those with a smaller layer of fat which is stubbornly resistant to fitness or nutrition efforts.
I fitted the bill. So what better way to cut through the marketing gumpf than report back to you, gonzo style?
Three months ago I had six cool sculpting sessions at the Man Cave in Sydney. This means six parts of my body were treated – moving from my mini love handles round to my stomach. It was no muffin top but certainly no six pack. Less of a dad bod, more a, I don't know, older brother bod. Anyway, let's just say there was fat to zap.
Two machines worked simultaneously on 35 minute sessions, freezing my fat cells to minus 11 till they winced and died. Protective gel pads are placed on skin then two giant clamps tightly grip the treatment area.
At first it's uncomfortable, then cold, then weirdly hot – and finally goes numb. Afterwards, a drill hammer-like device smooths your skin over. It's loud but you're still numb. An hour later the treated area feels tender and slightly sunburnt. Four days later the tender swelling changed to an acute pain like a stubborn cramp. Still, nothing ibuprofen couldn't ease.
The thawing process
As you can see from my pictures, there's a relatively subtle but visibly noticeable difference. Considering my diet and exercise have been consistent, I'm impressed. I can even see the cheeky tease of an ab, where I couldn't before.
The man cave
Sara Kotai is Medical Director and owner of Sydney's Man Cave, Australia's only cosmetic clinic dedicated to men. She tells me results differ from patient to patient, and many see more pronounced results than me. The treatment has been available in Australia for the last six years and is approved by the TGA.
"For some women, favourite areas to treat are everywhere except the boobs and butt! But common treatment areas for men are love handles, man boobs, belly. Men and women opt for under the chin and on the lower back. I've had joggers who do their inner thighs to reduce chafing."
Dale, from Sydney's Elizabeth Bay, is a CEO for a recruitment agency who opted for coolsculpting because, despite working out five to six times a week, had the "stubborn layer men get at my age".
At first, he wasn't sure if the procedure had worked: "I didn't see a lot in the first month but after six to eight weeks, I did. So did others at the gym and pool." He was happy with results, "especially considering it wasn't surgery".
Reactions from the industry
Some experts offer caution on the procedure.
Personal trainer and health coach Amanda Fisher said while methods like "coolsculpting seem great, if you don't address your diet and exercise choices the impact will only be short term. This technology isn't a solution, but an addition to making healthy lifestyle choices."
Accredited nutritionist Tracie Connor said "When the procedure is performed in a medically-based practice by a certified clinician and when the candidate is close to their ideal body weight and sticking to a exercise regime and diet appropriate for them, I think it's very effective treatment for removing unwanted fat stores."
But would you recommend it?
It's certainly pricey, the results from one round can be mild and it must be coupled with good diet and exercise. But I was really impressed when my pictures showed a relatively more defined and sculpted body, rebuking my initial skepticism.
Now I just have one question: Why burn fat when you can freeze it?
Every tried body sculpting treatments? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.