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Waging a war against weight

Angie Bjorgaard prepares client Sarah Rasmussen for "Coolsculpting," a technique to get rid of stubborn fat at Sublime Aesthetic Professionals in Grand Forks. Herald photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

After giving birth to two kids, Sarah Rasmussen had a hard time ridding herself of stubborn fat in her midsection.

"The stomach is the hardest area to get rid of," said the East Grand Forks woman who tried exercising and dieting to reclaim her pre-baby body.

She also experimented at home with a body-wrap product that involves wrapping the body in bands designed to shrink offensive fat cells.

But she wasn't pleased with the result.

"They work only for a wedding or a weekend, but not long-term," she said. "The minute you drink or eat anything, you gain (the weight) right back."

The desire to recapture a svelte shape, combined with the willingness to plunk down significant amounts of money, has kept the bulge-busting industry in business.

Remember the thigh-master or other fitness fads and dieting trends?

That array has been joined by techniques such as liposuction, Botox treatments, microdermabrasion, sclerotherapy to eliminate "spider veins" and dermal fillers to plump and restore smoothness where wrinkles once ruled.

Freezing fat cells

Frustrated over her inability to shrink her stomach through conventional means, Rasmussen turned to one of the newest methods of body reshaping: "CoolSculpting."

The FDA-cleared technique uses a targeted cooling process that freezes fat cells underneath the skin. As a result, these cells die and are naturally eliminated from the body in one to four months, the time it takes for the body to dispose of the fat cells, according to the CoolSculpting website.

"FDA-cleared" refers to a category of approval reserved for low-risk procedures, for which side effects are minor and "it's rare to have anything go wrong," said Angie Bjorgaard, who owns Sublime Aesthetic Professionals in Grand Forks.

Her business is the first and only to offer CoolSculpting in North Dakota. The nearest outside of the Grand Forks location is in Minneapolis.

The process, which typically takes one to three hours, uses a vacuum-like apparatus that pulls and holds the area between two panels while fats cells are frozen.

Bjorgaard recommends one treatment if the client is within 10 pounds of goal weight. The cost for one treatment is $1400.

If the client is within 10 to 30 pounds of his or her goal weight, a second treatment is recommended. The cost is $1900 for two treatments, but "one treatment will make a difference," she said.

It "is not a weight-loss procedure," said Bjorgaard, a nurse and Cassleton, N.D., native. "You don't see a lot of pounds coming off.

"CoolSculpting zeroes in on fat pockets -- inner thigh, inner knee and bra-strap areas -- anywhere you can pinch at least one inch of fat."

'Overwhelming' response

Response to the business, which opened nearly a year ago, has been "overwhelming," she said, "from men and women alike."

"People don't want downtime, incisions or scars," she said. "More and more, we're going to noninvasive procedures."

More men are finding their way to her business, she said. About one-fourth of her clients are men.

Those who have excessive fat pockets on their chests, a condition known as gynecomastia, have sought this treatment.

Her clients include "young men who are really self-conscious about it and don't want to take their shirt off," she said. "It's a real social problem."

But there are customers she would turn away, she said, such as people who are on blood-thinning medications, pregnant or breast-feeding, or have had a hernia, she said.

Flattening stomach

Rasmussen said she considered CoolSculpting for a couple of months.

"I went back and forth about it. I wondered, 'Should I do this? Is it going to work?'"

Her husband was supportive. "He said, 'Do whatever makes you happy,'" she said.

After two treatments, Rasmussen saw "a flattening down" of her stomach, she said. "My clothes fit me differently."

She said the only discomfort she felt was "in the first two minutes, when the machine is placed on your stomach. It was like really bad menstrual cramps.

"Then, they dim the lights a little, and you sit there for an hour. I read a book."

Treatment on the abdomen, the most sensitive area, results is feeling "like you did 100 sit-ups," said Bjorgaard. "You're sore the next day, but nothing that would prevent you from normal activities."

Rasmussen tries to maintain the results by focusing on eating healthy foods, practicing portion control, and exercising regularly.

"I love the results," she said. "If they had a big machine that could suck it all (the fat) away, I would do it."

Rasmussen works as a hair stylist and has recommended the procedure to her clients, "especially if there's stuff they can't get rid of," she said.

She may undergo the procedure again.

"I'd love to do my love-handle area. I'll save up and do that area next."


Bjorgaard and Amy Shimek, a family nurse practitioner, have been operating Sublime Aesthetics Professionals since last November. They have earned certification to offer CoolSculpting services.

The business's medical director is Dr. Ngozi Okoro, of Fargo, who used to practice at the Cancer Center of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

For CoolSculpting, the most frequent requests from clients is for treatment on the abdomen and flanks, Bjorgaard said. After that the inner thighs and inner knees are the next most-targeted areas.

Most clients are ages 35 to 55.

"They're done having children, and they have money to spend on themselves," she said.