Why I Decided to Freeze The Fat From My Thighs

elle logoOriginal Article by Cristina Goyanes. Every woman has that thing, that one thing about her body that she wishes were just a little bit smaller, or tighter, or just, different. [Source: Elle.com] It’s 8:30 A.M. on a hot July morning and I’m nearly naked in the elegant Manhattan office of Dr. Arielle Kauvar. I’m holding my cloth examination gown above my waist, exposing a disposable thong, as well as the lower half of my body. I rotate clockwise as a camera takes snapshots of my thighs and butt from eight different angles. Afterward I review the photos with the nurse and exclaim, “My butt looks great!” She laughs and agrees. Right then, it crosses my mind momentarily, “Why am I here again?” Oh yes, I want to shrink my thighs.

There’s been a lot of talk lately, particularly on social media, about the #thighgap—the unrealistic fitness phenomenon even got a well-deserved sendup on SNL a few months ago. Aspiring to an unhealthy body image is dangerous. I know this. I have long accepted that having wide, child-bearing hips, thick thighs, and an ass-that-won’t-quit was simply part of being Latina. I didn’t question my body, I embraced it.

But every woman has that thing, that one thing about her body that she wishes was just a little bit smaller, or tighter, or just, different. For me, it’s my thighs. Over the last five years, thanks in part to writing about fitness, I have become fitness-obsessed myself: I’ve done triathlons, completed 100-mile bike rides, and run marathons. And while my active lifestyle has toned my body in some ways (I dropped three dress sizes), my thighs only got larger the more I worked out. I knew my cycling season was in full swing when my skinny jeans no longer fit above the knee. And shorts? Not an option. The fabric between my thighs bunches up as I walk. It’s not a good look. I spend my summers in dresses.

So for reasons partly to do with vanity and partly journalistic, I decided to try a new FDA-approved procedure called CoolSculpting. As of April 2014, CoolSculpting, which is owned by the medical technology company Zeltiq Aesthetics, began offering a non-surgical procedure that promised to spot-reduce your inner and outer thighs by 20 to 25 percent in three months. 86 percent of the patients in the FDA trials claimed to see a visible reduction in their thigh fat four months after receiving the treatment. The clincher? The non-invasive, painless procedure could be done over an extra long lunch break (one-hour session per inner thigh).Other body-contouring treatments that promise similar results, like liposuction, would require some form of anesthesia as well as a painful recovery period, including swelling and fluid retention, for the plastic surgery.

Dr. Kauvar, a Princeton, Harvard, and MIT-educated dermatologist and director of New York Laser & Skin Care, explains the procedure to me before I get iced: “Fat cells are very sensitive to cold injury. This was first discovered when a pediatrician in the 1960s observed that kids who sucked on popsicles frequently would get dimples on that side of their cheeks because they were temporarily killing fat cells in that area. Because the cold wasn’t prolonged, the fat in their cheeks would eventually come back.” CoolSculpting is essentially that popsicle phenomenon, made permanent. On your stomach. Or, in my case, thighs. The technology, Kauvar says, “allows you to cool down the layer of fat just below the skin to near-freezing temperatures, which results in damage to the fat cells in such a way that they slowly die over a period of two to three months.” She continues, “Once the fat cells have died, then the body’s white blood cells will pick up the debris and digest it. When you remove fat cells, they cannot grow back in that area.”

For the next six hours, Kauvar supervises while her two nurses, Lisa and Lindsey, administer the CoolSculpting treatment to my outer right thigh (two hours), outer left thigh (two hours), inner left thigh (one hour), and then inner right thigh (one hour). “Think of it as a six-hour flight,” Kauvar tells me. And an expensive flight, at that: At around $750 per side, one complete session would cost around $3,000.

The private patient room looks similar to what you’d find in your own primary care physician’s office. The only difference is the examination table, which has three or four pillows with disposable cases and a sheet on it. To the left of the table, there’s a giant medical device with a small screen and a hose attached to a rectangular applicator. The nurses prepare me by outlining a pocket of fat on my right outer thigh in purple erasable marker. After running to the bathroom one more time, I get cozy lying on my left side on the table (propping my upper body on the pillows at a 45-degree angle), while they get to work applying an ice-cold towel drenched in a clear, thick gel.

“It contains an antifreeze-like material to keep the temperature of the skin higher than the temperature below the skin. It allows the fat layer to be cooled more efficiently and serves to protect the surface of the skin, the epidermis,” Kauvar replied when I asked its purpose. Whoa, isn’t antifreeze in, like, air conditioners? Hmm. She assures me it contains nothing toxic.

Next, the nurses apply a thin liner (it looks like Saran wrap) and then finally, the small rectangular applicator, which they strap onto my leg using two Velcro straps. When the machine starts, nothing changes. It doesn’t suddenly get arctic as I suspected it would. Actually, my body got used to the temperature quickly, much like how it adjusts to the temperature of a pool or the ocean. A nurse sweetly placed a sheet over me (though the room was a nice 72 degrees), dimmed the lights (per my request), and shut the door.

I took a nap, caught up on some Netflix, and I almost forgot that I wasn’t curled up in my own bed till the nurses came back in (they checked in on me several times) to flip me over to do the other leg.