What to Do When You Have a Bellyful

Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005

Losing the love handles

By Bob Calandra
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

March 12, 2001 -- Most men like large breasts. But not when the breasts are theirs.

Just ask Sam. The Indianapolis industrial tool and sales engineer has spent most of his life embarrassed by his large breasts. As an adult, he rarely removed his shirt on the beach or at pool parties.

"I felt really inhibited," says Sam, age 56, who asked that his last name not be used. "I found it keeping me from going without shirts on the beach and stuff like that. I play golf a good deal, and I wasn't crazy about how I looked in T-shirts, either. It obviously bothered me."

It wasn't until Sam saw the wonderful results of a woman friend's liposuction that he decided to give it a try. He's happy with his new look.

"The only words I can use to express my thoughts is that I'm ecstatic," says Sam, who is 5-foot-10 and weighs 160 pounds. "I think it is probably one of the greatest things that new technology has brought us."

More and more men are turning to liposuction to help them reshape, restructure, and recapture the bodies of their youth. Many are the same men who just a few years ago would have snickered at the notion that they would ever consider cosmetic surgery. But liposuction has become the second most popular form of cosmetic surgery for men, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. (The most popular procedure for men is hair transplantation.)

"I've noticed the increase over the last five years, with more men requesting liposuction," says Robert Jackson, MD, FAC, president-elect of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgeons and the doctor who operated on Sam.

Many of Jackson's patients come to him after years of trying in vain to exercise off unyielding bulges of fat. Men hold fat in three areas: the stomach, midriff (love handles), and breasts. A guy with a jelly belly doing 1,000 crunches a day will have a set of washboard abs to die for. But no one will see the six-pack because the jelly belly will still be covering it. The only way to see those abs may be liposuction. Then again, it may not.

Men also tend to store fat inside their abdominal cavities that is too deep for liposuction, Jackson says. Whether they can get the results they want will depend on where the fat lies. So it's important for men considering liposuction to talk with their surgeon beforehand, to get a realistic assessment of what can be done, according to the academy.

"Each male has to be evaluated because of genetic influences on how men distribute their fat," says Jackson, who has had liposuction. "I tell my male patients that I can't do anything about the fat inside their abdomen. They have to lose that fat through diet" and exercise.

Once an area is liposuctioned and the fat cells removed, the area will keep its new contour, he says. "You are not going to gain weight in that area," Jackson says. "But if they overeat, men can still gain weight in the abdomen."

In liposuction surgery, an incision is made and a long tube is placed under the skin to suck away stubborn pockets of fat. A new method called power-assisted liposuction uses a mechanical cannula to remove fat using a rapid back and forth motion. Unveiled at the American Academy of Dermatology's recent annual meeting in Washington, D.C., the power-assist method reportedly causes less skin bruising, which reduces healing time.

Jackson uses the so-called tumescent technique, which employs low doses of drugs to loosen fat and reduce bleeding. "It is the gold standard," he says. "Anyone not using the tumescent technique I would probably not go to."

Before deciding on surgery, Jackson suggests that men ask their doctors several questions:

  • Among the most important things you want to know are the techniques the surgeons use, how long they have being doing liposuction surgery, and how many procedures they have performed. "You need to make sure that the person doing the surgery has been doing it for a long time," he says. "The experience level of the surgeon is more important than anything else."
  • Ask to see before and after photos of other men to see their results. "It's not a bad thing to ask the doctor to let some of his patients call you," Jackson says.
  • Ask if the fat you want removed will come off, and what kind of result you should expect. Be realistic, and don't expect miracles, Jackson says.
  • Find out what to expect after the surgery. "You'll basically feel like you've exercised real hard," Jackson says. "You're not sick, you're sore."

Jackson likes his patients to stay home from work between three and four days after surgery. He also expects them to wear a garment that compresses the surgical area 24 hours a day for the first week, 18 hours a day the second week, and 12 hours a day the third week. "It's like a binder," he says. "You wear it underneath your clothes like a tight band."

Sam returned to work four days after his surgery. He had enough discomfort to require pain medication. He weaned himself off the medicine during the second week, stopped wearing the wrap after the fourth week, and lost all but a little swelling by the fifth week.

"You need to be cautious and not overdo it," says Sam, who was told his skin would be sensitive for six months to a year. "When they separate your skin from your body in a large area, you will have some discomfort. But it is certainly manageable."

Sam says it will take 13 weeks to fully appreciate the results of his surgery. But that doesn't seem so long compared to what he says was a lifetime of embarrassment.

"I feel really liberated, and I'm excited about seeing the summer come and going to the beach," he says. "My results were so good that I would say to anyone who can afford it, don't put it off. Because every day after the fact, it will be more fun for you."

Bob Calandra is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in several magazines including People and Life. He lives in Glenside, Pa.


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