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New 'fat-shrinking' technology gaining popularity in Fargo

Mark Deraney demonstrates how the laser-emitting pads would be placed on someone with concerns about their stomach. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Fat cells don't stand a chance against Mark Deraney and his i-Lipo machine.

The Slim Ambition general manager uses the device to "shrink" fat cells with low-level lasers.

The i-Lipo is among a new crop of systems that claim to target stubborn pockets of fat without surgery. The liposuction alternatives have been creating a lot of buzz - both excitement and skepticism - in the health industry.

Before-and-after pictures provided by Slim Ambition and from the manufacturer display apparently striking results.

The i-Lipo's laser pads are placed on the target area for 20 minutes, then the client exercises for 30 to 40 minutes afterward.

Deraney says most people don't feel anything. Some describe warmth or a pulsing sensation from the electrical energy.

That's it.

As advertised, no needles, no incisions, no pain, no downtime.

Deraney says one session typically yields a half-inch to an inch of reduction in circumference of the target area.

Slim Ambition offers a trial session for $99; the recommended nine-treatment package costs $2,000.

Trisha Cyr, a 46-year-old mother of two and one of Slim Ambition's first clients, lost 4 inches off her waist in eight treatments.

"Even after about two treatments I could feel a difference," the Fargo woman says.

Though Cyr is happy with her results and plans to do more, she admits she had her doubts in the beginning. "I was probably more skeptical than nervous," she says.

The skinny on fat cells

When Deraney decided to turn the technology into a business, he first set out to disprove it.

He spent every minute of his spare time on research. "We couldn't find anything that said this thing won't work," he says.

Deraney explains how the machine gets rid of unwanted fat:

The wavelengths stimulate the fat cells, causing them to break down their contents into free fatty acids and glycerol, which are then released into the bloodstream and flushed out of the body.

Moderate cardiovascular exercise and increased water intake help speed up the process.

For best results, Slim Ambition recommends drinking 80 ounces of water a day. "If you're dehydrated, your body will not mobilize and burn fat in the same way," Deraney says.

He says the cells aren't damaged or destroyed in the process; they simply shrink and collapse.

Deraney likens what happens to the fat cells to a water balloon deflating. The cell collapses once its contents are expelled, and the dermis layer of the skin compresses the area.

Technicians undergo eight hours of training with the manufacturer to operate the i-Lipo machine.

The technology, which originated in the U.K., is about 4 years old but only recently began making headlines stateside.

Other fat-zapping treatments are available locally, including CoolSculpting, offered at Fargo's Image Medi-Spa.

Instead of shrinking the fat cells, CoolSculpting technology freezes and crystallizes them. The company's website says the fat cells are "naturally eliminated" from the body over the next few months.

The i-Lipo machine can be used on anyone, but certain conditions and medications (thyroid disorders, diabetes, antidepressants) can affect the outcome, Deraney says.

He says the procedure is safe, but medical professionals seem hesitant to weigh in. Dr. Kenneth Berge of the Mayo Clinic is among the few who have.

"Because of their newness to the market, it's too soon to tell if liposuction alternatives are a good way to remove excess body fat or if they'll replace traditional liposuction," Dr. Berge says on Mayo's website.

He adds that few clinical trials have been conducted to test their effectiveness and that the results have been mixed.

Some plastic surgeons from across the U.S. have come out with stronger statements against the validity of the manufacturers' claims.

Though most of his clients are women between the ages of 35 and 50, Deraney even sees bodybuilders coming in for treatments, especially before competitions.

The treatment can be done on any part of the body except for the female breast. Deraney says about 90 percent of his clients choose the midsection.

"Everybody stores fat differently, but most people have a tendency to store it around their waist," he says.

Deraney says the laser procedure does what diet and exercise can't - target specific areas of subcutaneous fat.

The treatment is designed for people who don't have a significant amount of weight to lose, but Deraney has several clients who've lost a lot of weight or are in the process of losing a lot weight.

Deraney says achieving visible results can have a ripple effect. For example, he says a woman who zips up a smaller pair of jeans might be encouraged to add an extra workout to her routine.

He says the results will last provided you maintain a healthy lifestyle. The fat-reduction treatments aren't meant to replace proper nutrition and exercise.

"It's not a get-skinny-quick scheme," client Cyr says.

Slim Ambition provides a suggested nutritional plan primarily composed of lean proteins like ground turkey and high-fiber carbohydrates like asparagus.

Deraney says there's no reason for the fat stores to return other than resuming unhealthy habits.

Big plans for business

Apparently, word of the treatments' success has spread fast.

Business has exploded since Slim Ambition opened its doors at the start of the new year.

Thanks to a mailbox flier, clients started calling before the cabinetry was installed. Now Deraney and his staff average 20 to 25 treatments a day.

Slim Ambition started with two i-Lipo machines, but now they have three, with a fourth on the way.

Deraney is considering expanding locally as well as nationally.

"It's not a small business. It's a small business that's going to be a really big business," he says.

Deraney and his three business partners have their sights set on Denver for a second location, with a goal of opening in the third quarter of this year.

"We think we could have 100 of these in five years," Deraney says.

Business profile

What: Slim Ambition Cold Laser Body Sculpting

Where: 4501 15th Ave. S., Suite 104, Fargo

Info: Call (701) 566-7307 for an appointment.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590