After Liposuction, the Fat Returns — Just in a Different Place

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Who needs diet and exercise, when you’ve got liposuction? The flab-busting procedure is now the most popular plastic surgery in the U.S., with surgeons siphoning fat from the love handles and saddlebags of nearly half a million patients each year. But a new study finds a downside: fat, easily sucked away, tends to resurface elsewhere on the body.

Led by Drs. Teri L. Hernandez and Robert H. Eckel of the University of Colorado, researchers randomly assigned 32 non-obese women in their mid-30s into two groups: one group received liposuction on their thighs and lower abdomen, while a control group did not receive surgery. However, the control group was told they could have discounted liposuction after the study ended and they found out the results.

(More on TIME.com: Going Under the Knife? Ask Your Surgeon How Much He Drank Last Night)

It’s too bad the surgery group didn’t get the same deal because all the fat they had removed through liposuction ended up coming back within a year. Rather than reappearing on the women’s thighs and lower bellies, however, “it was redistributed upstairs,” Eckel told the New York Times, mostly in the upper abdomen, and also around the shoulders and the backs of the arms.

The Times‘ Gina Kolata reports:

[O]besity researchers say they are not surprised that the women’s fat came back. The body, they say “defends” its fat. If you lose weight, even by dieting, it comes back. And, the study showed, if you suck out the fat with liposuction, even if it’s only a pound, as it was for subjects in the study, it still comes back.

“It’s another chapter in the ‘You can’t fool Mother Nature’ story,’” said Dr. Rudolph Leibel, an obesity researcher at Columbia University.

The reason fat doesn’t simply reappear where it was suctioned away: likely because liposuction destroys the structures under the skin where fat cells reside.

(More on TIME.com: Pretty Boys: Plastic Surgery Isn’t Just for Women Anymore)

But despite the fact that the women in the study gained back all the fat they’d lost, they were still happy with the outcome. “They had hated their hips and thighs and just wanted that fat gone,” Kolata writes. “As for the women in the control group, when the study ended and they knew the results, more than half still chose to have liposuction.”

The research appeared in the journal Obesity.

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