Doctors Dispute Study About Fat Returning Post-Liposuction

K. Mathews on 4 May 2011 at 2:00pm

New research out of the University of Colorado finds that fat reappearance is a common side effect in liposuction patients. Within a year of undergoing liposuction, study participants were discovered to gain the weight back in different regions of their bodies.

This study’s news probably doesn’t surprise RealSelf forum poster "cavablanco" who complains that after having liposuction on her butt and thighs, she gained the weight back in her waist and belly and is having trouble getting rid of it. "Tinatwo" finds herself in a similar situation, saying, “Now I feel as if I need lipo on the top of my body.”

When these concerns were posed to RealSelf doctors, they overwhelmingly agreed that liposuction surgery itself is not responsible for the increase in weight. Once the fat cells have been removed, they do not come back – but that doesn’t mean a person can’t gain weight in areas that weren’t treated by liposuction. Manhattan Plastic Surgeon Dr. George Beraka explains:

The number of fat cells in the body after adolescence is constant.  Liposuction permanently removes fat cells from the thighs, for example. (That's why the bulges don't come back.)  So new fat cells develop in the upper body to keep the total number constant.   But new fat cells can be small and empty.  This phenomenon does not lead to increased size unless the woman actually gains weight.   When she does gain weight, the increased size does not selectively go to her old bulges, like it did before liposuction.

“That means if 5 pounds were taken off in surgery, and you have gained 5 pounds since the surgery, you have actually gained 10 pounds,” adds Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon Dr. Brent Moelleken. “So liposuction patients should maintain a healthy body and not gain weight after their surgery.”

Liposuction before and afterIndeed, the University of Colorado study does not focus on the eating/exercise habits of the liposuction patients, so that could be the root of the problem. It seems likely that after removing weight, patients would feel good enough about themselves that they do not try as hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The New York Times reports on the study and suggests a different take: the weight gain is natural. Even women who diet generally gain the weight back, so the body might be finding a way to return to its previous state.  The study still leaves a lot of lingering questions, but fortunately it is likely to inspire further research that could help to better understand the long-term effects of liposuction.

In the meantime, liposuction will continue to thrive (it was the second most popular cosmetic surgery in 2010). Of the women participating in the study who did not receive liposuction, more than 50% of them still planned to go through with the procedure even after learning of the results. Furthermore, most of the women who gained weight were happy overall, since the liposuction had kept the weight off of the body areas about which they were most self-conscious.

Manhattan Plastic Surgeon Dr. Kenneth R. Francis sums it up: “Liposuction is not a license to eat… Get to the gym and protect the investment you have made to your body.”

More doctor responses

Lipo and weight gain discussion on RealSelf

Would you be more or less inclined to have lipo after reading about the study and reponses? Have you already had a bad lipo experience?

Photo credit: Seattle Dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Reichel