These short-term fixes were encouraging, but I decided that if I wanted something more lasting and dramatic, I’d have to get clinical—and the most buzzed-about machines for volume reduction and skin tightening are CoolSculpting by Zeltiq and Exilis. CoolSculpting uses extreme cold to destroy fat cells, whereas Exilis employs superhot radio frequency waves to melt fat within the cells as ultrasound tightens the skin. (Opinions vary as to how hot exactly tissue needs to be to make this happen.) Manhattan dermatologist Francesca Fusco, who works with star derm Patricia Wexler, has been thrilled with Exilis, which operates between 104 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit. However, she warns, it’s not for the truly lazy: If you go on a bender after the treatment, fat will return to the area. “I use it for people who try to keep in shape through diet and exercise but have stubborn areas that they can’t slim down,” she says. “Like the belly or the underarm area.” (Four to six treatments cost about $2,500.)
A technician taped a grounding patch to my thigh so I wouldn’t be shocked by the electrically charged metal-tipped wand, and for the next 40 minutes she and I played a game: Every time the wand threatened to scorch me, I’d cry, “Hot!” and she’d dial back the temperature. At the end of six sessions over two months, I’d lost two inches around my middle. Looking at the after pictures in Fusco’s office, I noticed the biggest improvement was in the view from behind, though my stomach also looked flatter than it had in a decade. Five months (and many, many meals) later, I’m still happy with the results.
As with every medical field, though, the science of slimming is constantly being improved upon—there’s always something just on the market or around the bend. Case in point: Israel’s newest export, the Apollo, considered the most cutting-edge of the radio frequency treatments. Instead of the Exilis’s one pole of energy, the Apollo has three, which reach temperatures of 111 degrees. “Six knobs melt the fat tissue in the dermis without overheating the skin’s surface,” explains Jamé Heskett, M.D., who heads Wellpath, an anti-aging treatment center on the Upper East Side. In addition to melting fat cells, the Apollo is said to stimulate collagen growth, which helps tighten the skin. As Heskett moved Apollo’s silver-knobbed wand around my belly and hips, I still had to interrupt our conversation with the occasional “Hot!”—though not nearly as often. Best of all: I lost an inch in under 30 minutes ($350 per area, per visit).
Like the others, Dr. Heskett didn’t promise permanent miracles. Heating fat cells until they “liberate” their contents, she told me, is one thing; preventing my body from restocking its reserve supply is another. “It’s just as if you’d exercised it off,” she said. “But however you do it, it’s up to you to keep it off.”