How Long Liposuction Results Last

Liposuction procedure being done on a woman's side
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As with many questions relating to plastic surgery, the answer to the question about whether liposuction is permanent is yes...and no.

The human body has only a certain amount of fat cells, and they grow larger or smaller as we gain or lose weight, respectively. The number and distribution of our fat cells is set before we even reach adulthood. This is why we may have some stubborn areas where fat won't seem to budge, even though we are losing weight in other areas. This is where liposuction comes in.

When fat deposits are removed through liposuction, those fat cells are gone forever. The body's contour is improved, and ideally, the areas in questions are now more in proportion to the rest of the body. However, there will always be some remaining fat cells in the area, as well as in other areas of the body. Therefore, if the patient subsequently gains weight, the remaining fat cells will grow larger.

Since there are now fewer fat cells in the liposuctioned area, the idea is that in cases of weight gain, those areas will stay in better proportion to the rest of the body. However, be aware that it may appear that you are gaining more weight in areas where you did not have the procedure since those areas now contain proportionately more fat cells.

In short, while it should improve your body proportions and contours, liposuction is not an effective method of weight loss, and it certainly does not grant you a guilt-free (or weight-gain free) all-you-can-eat license. In fact, gaining weight in the areas in which you still have fat cells could result in proportions you would rather not have.

How to Make Results Last Longer

Many people wonder what they can do in order to keep their new proportions in shape longer.

It is very easy—exercise. According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, normal weight women who had 2.5 to 3 pounds of abdominal fat removed by liposuction and who exercised after surgery enjoyed their new shape six months afterward.

Specifically, of the 36 healthy but inactive women aged 20 to 35 that had the procedure, half had regained fat six months after liposuction. What's more: It was mostly visceral fat, the type that settles around the organs and increases one's risk of diabetes and heart disease. These women also gained 10 percent more visceral fat than they had prior to the liposuction.

The other half didn't gain back the fat, and more, because they were the group in the study that were randomly assigned to participate in a four-month training program that had them doing cardiovascular and strength training exercise three times a week. This group ended up with less fat in their bodies.

Why Liposuction Fat Is Regained as Visceral Fat

We don't know why liposuction fat gain comes back as visceral fat. It could be because after surgery people tend to be more sedentary, which can lead to fat gain. Our bodies are finely tuned to defend their fat stores and may try to compensate when we lose fat quickly—like during liposuction. However, exercise may mitigate those efforts and recalibrate the body's weight setpoint, or what it thinks it should weigh.

Bottom Line

The answer to the question about whether or not the results of liposuction are lasting, is thus that the body shape change following liposuction is permanent, but fat can return in different areas where fat cells are stored in the body. What this means for any one person depends on whether fat is regained after the procedure or not. If fat is regained, you can expect a different shape that you had following your surgery as well as before you had surgery in the first place.

Unfortunately, a 2015 review of studies found that for abdominal liposuction, changes in body fat and weight were usually transient (short term) with the procedure. The reasons for this are uncertain but are considered to be due to a combination of fat redistribution (as in the example with visceral fat above) or due to compensatory fat growth. Our bodies like to maintain a state of "homeostasis" meaning little change over time. It's thought that through feedback mechanisms in our body, the removal of fat may trigger fat growth in other areas to compensate for the fat which was removed.

It's clear that there is much we need to learn about liposuction and the management of body proportions we wish to change in the first place. Until we know more it's important to talk with your surgeon about what you can honestly expect—and what you shouldn't expect—from a liposuction procedure.

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