Kelly had 2in trimmed off her waist and back – without the need for surgery. So where did all the fat go



21:00 GMT, 13 October 2012



21:01 GMT, 13 October 2012

Trim: Kelly O'Brien shrunk to a size 8 after the procedure

Trim: Kelly O'Brien shrunk to a size 8 after the procedure

There’s a whisper going around the elegant waiting rooms of Harley Street’s finest plastic surgeons.

The word is that old-fashioned liposuction, once considered a quick-fix procedure that tackled everything from flabby thighs to double chins, is falling out of favour.

It’s not that the vain have become prettier or the plump suddenly skinny. The change is all down to that increasingly sparse commodity: time.

In the past few years a new range of weight-loss treatments that promise subtle improvements rather than major body reshaping have come on to the market.

It has long been the holy grail for slimmers: a gadget that would melt away fat without leaving a scar.

In the Seventies, there were vibrating belts and steam tents, and in the Nineties electric zappers that promised to help tone the midriff while you watched television.

In recent years, these have been replaced by ultrasound, infrared and vacuum technology.

But unlike their dubious forefathers, these new treatments have clinical trials to back up their claims. But can they really work

Rajiv Grover, head of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), believes that within ten years, these new technologies will leave liposuction trailing in their wake.

‘If we look into a crystal ball, we may one day not be doing much major liposuction any more. For people who are toned and just need shaping, these will be the kinds of treatments that will be helpful.’

Still dubious So was Kelly O’Brien, a 38-year-old mother of two from Hertfordshire. As Europe’s leading Dolly Parton Tribute Act, Kelly has to try to keep her waist as close to Dolly’s 20in as possible. But after giving birth to daughter Amber last year, she found it hard to slip back into her slender Dolly costumes.

Although Kelly, who is 5ft and weighs 8st, exercises four times a week and watches her diet, she could not shift the post-baby weight from her tummy or her lower back. Last month, she agreed to undergo a series of six sessions of a new non-invasive treatment called Med Contour at the Riverbanks Clinic in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

After having traditional liposuction on her stomach ten years ago – which involves making incisions in the skin and inserting fine metal tubes called cannulas to suck out fat – and finding the pain after surgery ‘horrific’, Kelly had been nervous about having any more weight-loss treatments.

Yet she was astonished with the results of Med Contour, losing almost 2in from her waist and dropping a dress size.

Bulges: Kelly wanted to get rid of the fat beneath her bra line and on her hips

Bulges: Kelly wanted to get rid of the fat beneath her bra line and on her hips

Trim: After the treatment Kelly's figure looks svelte and far more toned

Trim: After the treatment Kelly's figure looks svelte and far more toned

The patient is required to lie on a consulting-room bed as an iron-shaped device beams ultrasound into the fatty tissue and then a nozzle the size of a vacuum massages the treated area.

Med Contour claims that high-frequency sound waves warm the fat cells so the fat is released. It is then massaged out of the problem area so that it drains into the lymphatic system, and is then flushed out with other toxins and waste products through the liver. The treatment takes just an hour and requires five to six sessions to shave inches off the patient.

These techniques do not offer the radical ‘big reveal’ changes of liposuction. But they do target the small, irritating bulges of fat that no amount of diet or exercise will shift. The course costs £700, which includes five sessions in a lymphatic drainage suit. The suit inflates and then deflates, and this gentle pressure helps to improve the flow within the lymphatic system so the body can expel any waste fat.

Kelly, who lives with her husband Ben, 38, a communications director, her nine year-old son Oscar and one year-old daughter Amber, says: ‘I had liposuction a decade ago without properly researching it. I didn’t like the fat pockets on my stomach and as a professional entertainer I had to get into tiny costumes.

‘I had ten incisions on my stomach to get the fat out and then had to wear compression pants for six weeks afterwards. After the operation it was so painful, it was horrific. Although it did remove those bits of fat, the recovery was so painful that I don’t think I would ever do it again.’

Double act: Kelly was 'zapped' so she could go on imitating country music legend Dolly Parton, pictured with the mother-of-two

Double act: Kelly was 'zapped' so she could go on imitating country music legend Dolly Parton, pictured with the mother-of-two

After having just one Med Contour treatment on her stomach and back, Kelly had lost an inch and a half around her waist. Over the next six weeks she kept the weight off and saw the bulges under her bra line and at the top of her jeans vanish, while her stomach was smoothed subtly.

From being a size 8-10 at the start of treatment, she is now a svelte size 6-8.

‘The Med Contour works faster than lipo,’ she says. ‘You can leave and go home and look in the mirror and say ‘‘wow’’ straight away. It wasn’t painful to have done – it felt like being sucked with a hoover. I will now happily go back and pay to have my bottom and thighs done because it is so affordable. The best bit is that now my Dolly costume fits perfectly.’

Dr Ravi Jain is the medical director of the Riverbanks Clinic that offers Med Contour. He says he is delighted by how many customers like the treatment. ‘This is the first system I have seen that I am confident in selling to patients,’ he says. ‘It is also the first we have seen where people are happy.’

Dr Jain says Med Contour is for people who already use diet and exercise to stay in shape but have found they still cannot rid themselves of muffin-tops, back fat or lumpy thighs. Those having Med Contour need to eat healthily, abstain from drinking, cut down on carbohydrates and also keep up with their exercise regime.

This healthy attitude alone could achieve some of the results patients are seeing, and unfortunately this is still a rather hazy area when it comes to clinical trial results.

Ultrasound is not the only type of non-invasive treatment proving popular with customers. Many clinics now offer to either freeze or laser fatty deposits away.

Pioneering: A female patient has the treatment, which could spell the end of liposuction

Pioneering: A female patient has the treatment, which could spell the end of liposuction

Freezing uses a device that cools the fat cells beneath the skin to such a low level that they crystallise and a third are destroyed. Again, fat is excreted naturally by the body’s lymphatic system and out through the liver.

Meanwhile, laser treatments promise to send an electrical current into fat cells, causing the fat to seep out and be expelled from the body. The only thing baffling the experts is exactly how – and possibly if – the body really excretes all that loose fat.

Although the machine manufacturers claim that the fat is disposed of through the lymphatic system, the body can dispose of only a small amount at a time. There is a worry that the fat could simply move to a different area, causing inconsistent results and even scar tissue, and that emptied fat cells will reinflate.

Dr Mike Comins, a top cosmetic doctor who runs the Hans Place Practice in London and is also the former president of the British College of Aesthetic Medicine, says non-invasive treatments have come on in leaps and bounds in the past decade. But he still believes that at some point, fat needs to be sucked out for patients to see long-term results.

Six one-hour sessions and it's hello, Dolly!

He offers his patients a gentle form of liposuction under local anaesthetic, using tiny tubes to suck away the fat. It costs £2,000 and leaves patients slightly bruised for a couple of days, but he says that at least he can see the fat being removed.

‘I would love my patients to have walk-in, walk-out fat removal with no down-time. But with my hand on my heart I could not say that is the case with the new machines. There is a massive variable in how the body breaks up the fat and results could be inconsistent from one patient to the next.’

Plastic surgeons, the doctors who carry out liposuction, are also sceptical. Bryan Mayou, one of the country’s top plastic surgeons, introduced liposuction to the UK almost 30 years ago. He has tried non-invasive machines but abandoned them because he says the results are so poor. ‘The main failure is that these treatments do not remove significant amounts of fat. Big claims are made but the clinical trials are not properly conducted.’

But it seems that regardless of the science behind these machines, Britons are already falling in love with the idea of a pain-free and cheap alternative to lipo.

According to business intelligence experts GlobalData, in 2012 patients will spend £12.5 million on non-invasive treatments. By 2017, this will have exploded to reach £31 million a year.

Meanwhile, figures from BAAPS suggests that liposuction operations are increasing by just six per cent a year.

But only time will tell if liposuction is really losing its grip on the cosmetic fat loss market and if these new machines – and their results – are here to stay.