“Stubborn belly fat” is just another random ad on Facebook—until it happens to you. Now I know firsthand what those ads are talking about. I just wanted to be able to close the buttons on my Frank & Eileen fitted shirts, but my newly formed pooch of stomach fat was getting in the way.
Luckily, UltraShape was approved last year by the FDA to treat this midlife curse. It’s a noninvasive treatment that uses ultrasonic vibration to destroy fat cells. It works by “cavitation,” the medical term for shaking the fat cells until the cell walls break apart and release the stored triglycerides (fat). It’s the same technology used to destroy kidney stones. The released fat is then processed through the liver and metabolized naturally.
UltraShape is not just for middle-aged women—it’s suitable for anyone with a smooth, even layer of abdominal fat that won’t budge and who doesn’t want the downtime of liposuction. It’s suggested for those with a BMI (body mass index) under 30, which is technically the cutoff for obesity. So this is not a treatment for people who need to lose a lot of weight; instead, it’s for those of us who want to reduce that, you know, stubborn belly fat. I do take some comfort in the fact that I’m aging in a time when new, nonsurgical cosmetic treatments are popping up left and right. I had to try it.
At my consultation with LivingHealthy expert Haideh Hirmand, MD, FACS, she took a clinical look at my stomach situation and quickly determined what would work best on my various issues. She said my love handles could be treated by CoolSculpting (freezing fat cells) because that treatment entails the fat being pulled away from the body and grabbed; the loose skin on my lower abdominal area could be tightened up surgically; and my upper abdomen was prime for UltraShape since it is a thick, even layer of fat right under my skin. (The only painful part of this entire process was really looking at my abdomen in the mirror at her office. Did I mention I don’t own a full-length mirror at home?) Since my goal was to button my fitted shirts over my upper abdomen, I was all about the UltraShape.
Performed in a series of three treatments, spaced two to four weeks apart, UltraShape involves lying comfortably on a reclining treatment chair, much like the kind found in a dentist’s office. A nurse marks off the area to be treated with surgical tape and then applies cooling gel to conduct the ultrasound so it reaches the targeted tissue. Then she moves a large device resembling a curling stone (from the sport of curling), dispensing ultrasonic energy over the area. My first and second treatments lasted 45 minutes; my third was only 30 minutes since I had less fat to tackle. (Woo hoo!) I felt absolutely no discomfort—only some minor heat during a few passes and some pressure on my ribs when the device bumped them.
Hirmand, a New York-based plastic surgeon and clinical assistant professor of surgery at Weill-Cornell Medical College, says she has seen positive results using UltraShape at her on-site SkinLabRx medspa since the summer. “I am very critical with new technologies and UltraShape has thus far exceeded my expectations,” says Hirmand. “It works and we have seen successful fat loss by our patients who have tried it. UltraShape has also allowed me to offer a comprehensive nonsurgical approach to fat reduction.” Plus, Hirmand says there’s virtually no downtime or side effects, and it’s much more comfortable than other noninvasive options. She also uses it as a tool for touch-ups after liposuction, as needed. “And it permanently destroys the fat cells,” she says.
It’s also painless. Steven Teitelbaum, MD, a Santa Monica-based plastic surgeon and associate clinical professor of plastic surgery at UCLA who conducted clinical trials with UltraShape, says the pain-free factor makes UltraShape unique. “Liposonix [a thermal ultrasound treatment that generates heat] is so painful that it requires anesthesia,” he says. CoolSculpting, a fat-freezing technique, can also hurt.
The best news is that after just two treatments, I had already lost an inch around the circumference of my upper abdomen and 6½ pounds. I could button up my Frank & Eileen shirts. Of course I’d been watching the cheese and rosé intake, too.
Results really are immediate, since the fat cells are destroyed during the treatment. Elizabeth, the nurse who administered the treatments, says patients continue to see results, and that I will “probably lose another 1 to 1½ inches in the next 10 weeks and a pound or two more.” And if I “combine it with diet and exercise,” she adds, “it will be even better.”
UltraShape does sound like the miracle we’ve been waiting for—except for the price. Treatments range from about $3,000 to $4,500 for the series. Medical professionals who have the technology in your area can be found on the UltraShape website.
I also learned a lot about fat. Visceral fat, found around the organs and more commonly known as a “beer belly” in men, is best treated with diet and exercise. Subcutaneous fat, found more often in women and under the surface of the skin, is harder to reduce that way. Ideal for UltraShape treatment, this kind of fat is called “stubborn belly fat.”
And this was the only time I was happy I had it.