There’s a reason our silhouettes look different at 70 than they do at 17. As we age, fat settles in certain areas—the belly, hips, back, thighs or upper arms—despite our best efforts to combat it.
“Due to hormonal and chemical changes in the body that cannot be altered, our shape changes through life,” says Karen Kennedy, M.D., of Gulf Breeze. “This is generally what we mean by ‘stubborn fat’—the kind that even weight loss and exercise will not decrease.”
While gaining body fat is a natural part of aging, where we gain it can be an indicator of overall health, she says.
Subcutaneous fat, which accumulates under the skin, is not necessarily associated with poor health. But visceral fat, which grows inside the abdomen, can increase the chance of high blood pressure, heart and vascular disease and diabetes, potentially leading to heart attack, stroke, organ dysfunction and failure, and more weight gain.
“A larger belly and a waistline that’s out of proportion to the rest of their body is indicative of more visceral fat, which increases health risks,” Kennedy says. “A woman who has an apple shape as opposed to a pear has more visceral fat and therefore more health risks.”
Diet and Exercise
Given the cosmetic and health effects of stubborn fat, there’s plenty of interest in diets and exercises promising to shrink it. The problem is, those methods can’t eliminate fat selectively, Kennedy says. “The body works as a whole system to increase or decrease the fat component based on food intake and energy expenditure.”
Certain foods can predispose us to gain or lose weight, she says. Simple carbohydrates (sugar, flour, starches, alcohol) will increase fat gain and prevent fat loss; eating raw whole foods does the opposite. But consuming more or less of something only affects overall fat—plus different diets may be more or less effective for different people.
“It’s often hard to tell what diet will work well for a person, because most of weight is based on food intake,” she says. “I’d say 80 to 90 percent is based on food factors, but it is also based on mental aspects, body chemistry, hormones, exercise and metabolism, among other factors.”
Nutritional supplements can play a role in overall fat reduction protocol, she says. “Vitamin B12 and B6 injections can help increase energy in many people. B12 can also act as a slight diuretic, releasing some excess fluid. It helps people feel better and stay on track with motivation. Supplements sometimes can be associated with increased appetite and nausea, which can cause weight gain. Generally, however, certain supplements are beneficial, and taking numerous supplements is acceptable for most people.”
For clients who need a healthier diet, Kennedy sometimes recommends Isagenix meal replacements, which contain pure whey protein, vitamins and minerals. Because they are more nutritious than processed foods, they automatically improve the quality of most people’s diet. Used in conjunction with vegetables and lean meats, they provide an easy, healthy meal, helping patients avoid fast food (a diet don’t).
Exercise can be another tool for losing weight, and therefore fat. But working certain muscle groups won’t significantly change the fat in those areas, Kennedy says. “It is important to do aerobic exercise, weight training and various other types of exercise to tone all the muscle groups, in order to keep your metabolism and body appearance even. But again, fat gain and loss is a general event and not localized.”
New, Nonsurgical Solution
With diet and exercise largely ineffective against stubborn fat, medical scientists have been working to develop a technological answer to the problem. In June, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first nonsurgical solution. SculpSure uses a laser to permanently eliminate fat cells, resulting in a decrease of up to 24 percent of fat thickness at each treatment.
Kennedy, who began offering SculpSure in August, says the manufacturer reports more than 90 percent client satisfaction and has photos and clinical studies supporting the treatment’s effectiveness. She’s “anxiously awaiting” her own clients’ before and interim photos.
A treatment takes 25 minutes, and a single laser covers an area about the size of a deck of cards, she says. “The laser feathers out to avoid uneven areas and shelving. We can treat four areas at once, and multiple treatments can be done—most people require two to three.”
SculpSure is approved for use on the upper and lower abdomen, “love handles,” back, and inner and outer thighs. “All fat, in general, responds to the laser treatment, since fat cells are all the same,” Kennedy says. “This will not cause weight loss, but loss of inches and thickness of fat.”
While the treatment is moderately uncomfortable—Kennedy describes it as “a pressure, pulling, burning sensation”—the power can be adjusted based on the client’s comfort level. After treatment, there is minimal discomfort and no recovery period or unsightly effects.
As the first practitioner in the westernmost Panhandle counties to offer SculpSure, Kennedy says her clients have tolerated it well so far.
PelleFirm, a radiofrequency treatment, can complement SculpSure by tightening the skin and reducing cellulite over the areas where fat has been ablated, leaving a smoother appearance, she says.
The cost of SculpSure depends on the area treated and the number of treatments, she says. “I want to keep the cost as low as possible to allow as many people as possible to benefit. And if SculpSure would not be the best management for an individual, I can provide some suggestions.”
As most good candidates for SculpSure carry some extra weight, Kennedy plans to offer periodic weight-loss sessions to complement the treatments. “If I can help people lose five, 10 or 20 pounds, or whatever they need, this would help their body appearance greatly in addition to the laser treatment,” she says.
Dr. Karen Kennedy has offices at 1118 Gulf Breeze Pkwy., Ste. 201, Gulf Breeze, FL, and 7552 Navarre Parkway, Unit 18, Harvest Village, Navarre, FL. For more information, call 850-916-7766 or KarenKennedyMD.com.