We've been chasing weight-loss shortcuts for centuries. From William the Conqueror, who tried a liquid diet after he became too heavy to ride his horse, to Lord Byron, who exercised in layers to sweat off pounds, people have always been drawn to radical slimdown schemes. "They provide a sense of both risk and control," says Sander Gilman, Ph.D., the author of Fat Boys and Obesity.
Do any lose-weight-quick tricks actually do the trick? Sometimes. Here are five crazy things some people are trying. (Speed up your progress towards your weight-loss goals with Women's Health's Look Better Naked DVD.)
Inspired by "popsicle panniculitis"—the temporary dimples kids get from sucking on popsicles—researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital created cryolipolysis, or CoolSculpting, in 2008.
During the first hour-long session (several may be needed, and the tab runs upwards of $750 every time you treat an area), the fat in a patient's problem site is pressed between two cooling plates connected to a vacuum tube. Dermatologist Mathew Avram, M.D., a CoolSculpting advocate, says the freezing of cells stimulates apoptosis, or programmed cell death. After two to three months, the body clears the affected fat cells out of the area. It's unclear whether they relocate elsewhere in your body or come out when you go to the bathroom.
Avram cites studies that show that cryolipolysis can provide about a 22 percent reduction in fat-layer thickness. However, that's only in the treatment area, like a love handle or your spare tire.
DOES IT WORK?
It's not invasive surgery, and it's FDA approved. Overall, though, the fat loss is "minor at best," says Michael Roizen, M.D., chair of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. "As far as getting rid of the fat that's dangerous to your health, it does nothing."
What's more, there's potential for infection. "Think of it as frostbite, but on purpose and internally," says David Katz, M.D., director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. "Cellular debris like that undermines the inner barriers that prevent bacteria from getting into places they don't belong." Plus, your fat could return: UCLA researchers found that fat freezing could lead to something called "paradoxical adipose hyperplasia," an increase in weight in the treated area, in a very small percentage of patients.
Diet programs like Slissie and the Vapor Diet promise to curb hunger cravings with artificial flavor vapors. There are roughly 450 e-cigarette brands, with flavors ranging from black licorice and cheesecake to pizza and, yes, Katy Perry's Cherry. The Vapor Diet starts at around $100, and then you pay $65 a month for refill bottles.
DOES IT WORK?
Researchers in New Zealand who recently examined the idea came to a less-than-resounding conclusion: maybe. Marewa Glover, Ph.D., an associate professor of public health at Massey University, says vaping may help smokers who've recently quit cigarettes avoid weight gain, but more research is needed. "The long-term health risks of vaping are yet to emerge," she clarifies. "But it's vastly safer than smoking cigarettes. If people are reluctant to quit smoking because they're afraid of the slight weight gain...what we've seen seems to indicate that vaping could help."
But not gaining a few pounds as you try to give up cigarettes is very different from real weight loss. "This is about smokers making choices that are less destructive. No one is recommending that nonsmokers take up vaping," Glover says. Plus, vaping may have serious health consequences. Researchers at UC San Diego have discovered that e-cig vapor can be toxic to the cells lining human organs, causing DNA damage that could conceivably lead to cancer.
Have you ever finished a big meal and then thought, "Wouldn't it be great if I could open a valve in my stomach and just drain out a third of what I've eaten, like the most disgusting beer keg ever?" Of course you haven't, but this technology exists anyway and is marketed as AspireAssist.
"It's basically a tube that's surgically inserted into your abdomen," says Dr. Ren-Fielding. A port valve remains outside your body, flush against the skin, like a new orifice (that costs between $8,000 and $10,000). "About a half hour after you eat, you just open up a tube and pour out a third of the contents—about 30 percent of the calories—from your stomach into the toilet bowl," Dr. Ren-Fielding says. You are, in effect, pooping out of your stomach.
DOES IT WORK?
Ongoing clinical trials suggest that it does. The FDA has approved AspireAssist for adults with BMIs between 35 and 55. Average weight loss among the 200-pound participants was 12.1 percent of their body weight, versus 3.5 percent for those on diet alone, says Louis Aronne, M.D., of the Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, who helped with the trials. "Then they maintained the weight loss by using the device intermittently," he says.
The AspireAssist has a safety feature that tracks the drainage, and it automatically stops working after 115 cycles (five to six weeks). The device might help people modify their behavior, Ren-Fielding says. "When you use this device, you can't just gobble food," she says. "Because then it'll be in thick globs and won't fit through the tube." You have to learn how to chew more slowly—a smart habit for anyone.
Katz calls aspiration therapy "metabolic mayhem." When you're pumping out those excess calories, he says, "there's no way of controlling your nutritional balance."
See some the the craziest things people have done to lose weight.
The Thermojet Morfologic is a body wrap treatment purported to help you burn thousands of calories by emitting infrared rays that stimulate your metabolism. With this spa treatment, you lie on a table for an hour with your arms, legs, and abdomen wrapped in silicone pads heated to temperatures just below intolerable. The idea is to sweat, and you'll feel like you're in a sleeping bag filled with warm ricotta.
DOES IT WORK?
If sweating off the pounds sounds too good to be true, that's probably because it is. Katz calls the Thermojet body wrap "utter hooey," adding, "There is certainly no science behind it." In the name of due diligence, I tried the treatment myself. I lost exactly one pound, which I promptly regained by morning. I also showered four times in the 48 hours following my body wrap treatment, because I felt like I was constantly sweating. If you want to sweat away weight, vigorous exercise is a much better choice. Try this metabolism-boosting interval workout.