man getting fat frozen off
Courtesy of Ellen Hart

I Paid Someone to Freeze My Fat Off, and Make Me Scream in Pain

Right now, as you're reading this, people are freezing the fat off of their bodies. They're freezing it, and then they're waiting, and then they're resorbing the fat, and eventually they're flushing it down the shitter.

Who are these people? Well, first of all, they're not obese. As I'll explain in a second, that would make for some very weirdly shaped people. No, they just have some fat and wish they didn't. These are people whose love of pizza in inversely proportional to their dislike for high-intensity interval training; people for whom liposuction or some other invasive fat-removing procedure seems a bit much given the stubborn yet relatively meager amount of wobble they're rocking. People who can find a way to justify the cost of an outpatient procedure tailor-made for the vain and the bourgeois.

Who are these people? Throw in a recent divorce, and these people are me.

The procedure is called "CoolSculpting." I only became aware of it when I met my already-slender friend Michael at a bar and asked him how he'd become noticeably more svelte so quickly.

"I had my fat frozen," he said, after guzzling 153 empty calories of beer and then unthinkingly ordering 153 calories more. "There was no down time. It just started coming off within a week or so and, from what I understand, it'll never come back. It's kind of amazing."

"Did it hurt?" I asked.

"It feels weird right after," he offered with a shrug. I didn't know then that "weird" was basically this:

man getting fat frozen off
Courtesy of Ellen Hart

But that day, back in the bar, I figured, I can handle weird. Michael explained how the procedure works and told me that he was already planning to have more treatments in other areas that he felt should be less jiggly. Perhaps understandably, he declined to lift up his shirt at the bar, but the results were still evident. I was already thinking about how this procedure would work for me.

A little context: I'm in pretty good shape for a man nudging 40. (Good enough that what I'm about to say will very likely get me savaged in the comments below, but I'm going to say it anyway.) I have a 28" waist, hover around 140lb, and have a resting heart rate in the low 50s. On a good day my upper abs are faintly discernible. Ironically, however, it's these indicators of fitness that make the bagel-sized ring of adipose fat around my navel and burgeoning muffin top all the more infuriating. I’ve tried everything to get rid of it. Running, depriving myself of pasta, beer, ice cream. None of it worked. So I resigned myself to the rest of my life as a skinny fat guy.

But now this. I asked Michael for the clinic where he'd had his procedure done. I emailed them that very same evening.

man getting fat frozen off
Courtesy of Ellen Hart


That's what tipped off two doctors affiliated with the Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital about the effect of cold on body fat. They were both familiar with a phenomenon called "popsicle panniculitis": the name given to a reduction of cheek fat observed in people who regularly sucked popsicles. Doctors Anderson and Manstein went on to discover that fat cells were much more sensitive to cold than the cells of nerves, skin ,and muscle. In September 2010 the FDA approved the cryolipolysis device produced by ZELTIQ, a company that was quick to capitalize on the doctors' 2008 findings.

Within a few days I was having a consultation with Rebecca, an aesthetician at Chelsea Eye and Cosmetic Surgery in New York. I removed my shirt and then endured the odd experience of being pulled at and squeezed for a few minutes.

"You're a great candidate for this because you're in pretty good shape already," she said. "You ought to see some good results."

Rebecca then explained cryolipolysis -- the non-branded term for CoolSculpting. Something that looked like a vacuum cleaner hose would suck the flab away from my body and into a rectangular attachment that resembled a large, clear vacuum cleaner head. Then, with the head packed tight with my flesh, my unsightly blubber would be cooled to 4 degrees celsius (39.2 degrees Fahrenheit) via thermal conduction. Turns out that when fatty tissue is cooled below body temperature but above freezing, it undergoes a "localized cell death." Those dead fat cells are then absorbed into and then passed out of the body. A jiggly area would be reduced by around 25% per treatment she said.

"Once fat cells are removed from a specific area, they're gone for good," said Rebecca. "That's the really great thing about this."

"Meaning that if I ate to excess after a procedure..." I said.

"Oh, you could still gain weight," she said. "Just not in those areas."

"I'd be a fat guy but with pockets of leanness."


"I promise you, this will be all over in just a few minutes," she said as she pressed the bizarrely angular protrusion back into my body and I tried not to scream.

Rebecca identified four areas that could be reduced in size by CoolSculpting: my right and left flanks (love handles) and the areas on either side of my navel. At $750 per area, the treatment isn't cheap, but then neither were all the gym memberships and fancy running shoes and the pain of avoiding beer and pizza for years.

"Each area takes an hour, but we can do your right flank and your left belly at the same time then switch," she said. "After the hour, I'd remove each of the applicators and massage the treated area. The massage can really improve the end result though it can feel pretty weird."

There's that word again.

"How... weird?" I asked.

"Well some people find it really ticklish and can't stop laughing," she said. "Other people experience discomfort, but if they do it's temporary."

Slender Rebecca then told me that she knew this because she'd had CoolSculpting in several spots herself. She told me that there was no down time to the procedure, though I would experience a little swelling and redness around the treated areas over the next week or two, as well as some numbness that may not fully subside for two weeks or longer.

I was only half-listening to her by this point: I'd become transfixed by the before-and-after pictures flicking by on wall-mounted screens. Bulges disappearing. Paunches evaporating. Love handles melting away like snow in the springtime. Sold!

man getting fat frozen off
Courtesy of Ellen Hart

Two weeks later...

... I was back at the clinic, shirtless and posing for my very own set of before pictures taken by Rebecca from eight different angles. I was then led into a room where Rebecca applied a sheet of clear gel that she called "ectoplasm" to the first of my areas.

"This is to prevent your skin from getting damaged by the cold," she said.

"It's funny that it’s so freezing,” I said through clenched teeth.

She then attached the first applicator over a line she'd drawn on my left belly in Sharpie. What does it feel like? Well, at some point in your life, you’ve probably put a vacuum cleaner attachment against a part of your body. Imagine a much more intense version of that sucking feeling. Once the applicator was secure and she sat me down in a reclining chair, Rebecca turned on the cold. And cold it was, not cool as the brand name suggests. However, it got colder gradually. In that sense it was a real-life opposite to the aphorism about the slowly boiled frog. She then applied a second applicator to my right flank, turned on the cold, and then it was up to me to sit tight for the next hour or so. It wasn't the most comfortable I've been in my life but no less so than flying coach in a middle seat.

I guess I'd been lulled. That's what made the next part all the more shocking. Rebecca turned off the cold and the suction, then removed the applicator from my body. I hadn't been expecting to see that a part of my belly had been transformed into a protrusion the size and shape of the applicator head's negative space. It looked like I was now attached to a slimy, flamingo-pink stick of butter.

man getting fat frozen off
Courtesy of Ellen Hart

"Oh my God!" I exclaimed.

"Pretty weird, huh?" said Rebecca. "Now I'm going to massage the area."

Two things happened next in quick succession. Firstly, I heard the slushy crunch of my belly fat as Rebecca pressed her fingers into it. The sound, like the horrifying sight before my eyes, was sickening. Then there was the "weird feeling" that my friend Michael hadn't said too much about. As Rebecca had said, how acutely people feel the procedure's immediate aftereffects varies greatly. For me, it was like the worst charley horse I've ever had, combined with a powerful gut punch and the sensation of someone scooping my innards like pumpkin goop with icy-cold fingers. Rebecca couldn't help herself from laughing as I writhed and swore and laughed at this hitherto unknown variant of "discomfort."

man getting fat frozen off
Courtesy of Ellen Hart

"I promise you, this will be all over in just a few minutes," she said as she pressed the bizarrely angular protrusion back into my body and I tried not to scream.

The second massage -- on my flank -- was no more enjoyable. Neither was the next hour of waiting for another two rounds of admittedly brief but mind-opening pain. I suppose my writhing was proof positive that I've so far been lucky enough to not experience anything too painful in my life because this feeling -- a feeling some patients barely feel at all -- was agony for me.

In the aftermath of it all, my middle was pink, swollen, lined with Sharpie, and covered in skin-protecting goo. I toweled off, got dressed, said goodbye to Rebecca, and walked outside. I felt a numb tingling in the treated areas but nothing actually hurt until I jogged across 16th St. Every footfall rippled through my aching belly and sides, prompting me to wait for the walk sign for the remainder of my walk home.

man getting fat frozen off
Courtesy of Ellen Hart

For the next week...

... or maybe two, touching my middle area felt like I was being mildly Tasered. Unlike Michael, who saw results within three weeks, I entered week five wondering if it somehow hadn't taken, but by the end of that same week I started to notice that the navel bagel was significantly diminished in size. By the end of the sixth week, it had all but disappeared, giving me what could be roughly described as a flat stomach for the first time since I was around 15 or 16 years old.

My friends didn't really notice the difference in my silhouette because, in the greater scheme of things, it was a relatively subtle difference. (Again, I weigh 140lb.) I didn't particularly care because I could appreciate the difference in the way that my T-shirts no longer clung to my belly. When I caught my reflection in a storefront window, that small change seemed significant. It was a bit like that feeling after you have your hair cut and are pleasantly surprised each time you look in the mirror. Imagine that feeling for yourself, but the haircut you now have is one you've unsuccessfully strived for for a decade, and it also makes all your pants fit better.

As my paunch continued to gradually shrink, I found myself going to the gym more often and eating better in an attempt to amplify the effects of the procedure. But then the holiday season got underway. There was gluttony, there was drinking, there was miserable weather that saw my runs become less frequent and shorter. By the time my 10-week follow-up appointment came around in mid-January, I'd seemed to have done everything I could to diminish the procedure's effects in six weeks short of moving to Arkansas. Despite this, Rebecca confirmed that each of my four jiggly areas had been reduced by around 25%. It's the difference between being able to pinch an inch of flab between my thumb and forefinger and grabbing a handful.

man getting fat frozen off
Courtesy of Ellen Hart

It's now April. The weather's getting nice. In a moment I'll be lacing up my sneakers and going for a run. I may even take my shirt off, safe in the knowledge that my reduced paunch will stop moving at more or less the same time as I do. I'd grown to love running years ago, but now I've got a new incentive to get out there: the prospect of any more "weird" sensations, and the threat of my long-awaited six-pack becoming bookended by a striking set of moobs and a FUPA.

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Grant Stoddard's writing has appeared in New York magazine, T: New York Times Style Magazine, Men's Health, Vice, Playboy, and others. He's the author of a memoir, Working Stiff: The Misadventures of an Accidental Sexpert, and co-author of sex guide Great in Bed with Dr. Debby Herbenick of the Kinsey Institute.