Liposuction and Your Weight: Clearing up Common Misconceptions

Woman taking body measurements around the hips.

In 2018, more than a quarter million liposuction procedures were performed in the United States. That makes it the second most common type of plastic surgery, after breast enhancement. Combine this with the fact that more than two-thirds of all Americans are classified as overweight or obese, and it’s easy to imagine that liposuction is a tool for weight loss.

It is true that the goal of liposuction is fat removal, and whenever any part of the body is removed, there is a small amount of weight lost. But liposuction is used for shaping or contouring the body, not for weight loss. In fact, the ideal candidate for liposuction is near or at their ideal weight.

According to Dr. Slack, “A good candidate for liposuction has one or more deposits of fat that are out of proportion with the rest of the body and can’t be eliminated with diet and exercise.” This includes “love handles” or stubborn areas of fat on the thighs, hips, belly, arms, chin, neck, and cheeks (face and buttocks).

Liposuction is best done in areas with good skin elasticity, and it does not address loose or sagging skin. For this reason, liposuction is often used in conjunction with other body contouring procedures like breast reductions, tummy tucks, arm and thigh lifts, and mommy makeovers.

During a liposuction procedure, a thin, hollow needle, called a cannula, is inserted through a small incision in the skin. For larger areas, several incisions may be made. The inserted cannula is connected to a vacuum pump which sucks out deposits of fat underneath the skin. Liposuction cannot be used to remove visceral fat, that is fat around the organs in the abdomen, common in people who are overweight or obese.

There is also a limit on how much fat can be removed at one time. “Large volumes of liposuction can cause significant fluid shifts inside the body. In certain circumstances this can be dangerous,” says Dr. Slack. “The American Society of Plastic surgeons recommends anyone having liposuction over 5 liters stay overnight in a hospital or ambulatory care center for observation and fluid management.”

With liposuction, fat cells are permanently removed, but that does not mean you can’t still gain weight. The more weight gained, the less effective the liposuction results.

According to the American Association of Plastic Surgeons:

“If the patient gains a small amount of weight after their procedure, say 5 pounds, fat cells throughout the body will get a little bigger. While this slight weight gain can diminish results, the overall improved body shape provided by a liposuction procedure will still be visible as treated body areas have less fat cells (and thus experience a lower enlargement rate) compared to surrounding areas.”

If someone gains more than about 10 percent of their body weight after liposuction, in addition to the remaining fat cells in the body getting even bigger, new fat cells can develop. This can happen even in the area that was treated. However, because there are still fewer fat cells there, the body contouring effect of the liposuction may still be visible. In other words, you may still have the body shape you desire, even if you are heavier.

Issues of body weight are complex, entangled with issues of health and body image, and they are not always easy to solve. There are tools that can help like building self-esteem, diet, exercise, and even bariatric surgery, but liposuction shouldn’t be considered one of them. If you are thinking about having liposuction, make sure you see a plastic surgeon who understands this.

If you want to learn more about liposuction and whether you are a good candidate, contact our office today and set up a consultation with Dr. Charles Slack. He can help clear up any misconceptions you may have.