“Is it working?” the spa assistant with the thick Russian accent asks me.

vibrating-fat-belt

I’m not sure what to tell her. If she means do I feel ridiculous lying on a table with my arms, legs, and abdomen wrapped in cellophane and silicone pads heated to temperatures just below intolerable, then yes, it’s absolutely working. But if by “working” she means “healthy sweating,” which is what I’ve been promised,

I don’t have any idea. I’m definitely sweating—I feel like I’m in a sleeping bag filled with warm ricotta— but what makes this sweat especially healthy?

I’m at the Biolife Organic Spa in Chicago, putting the body-baking promises of the Thermojet Morfologic to the test. This body wrap treatment with a futuristic name is purported to burn thousands of calories —“the equivalent of running 3-5 miles during a 40-minute period,” claims the spa’s website—by emitting infrared rays “with a frequency of 8,000 Angstroms” that increase the body’s temperature and stimulate metabolism.

Thirty minutes into my hour-long Thermojet session, I’m starting to worry. I’m feeling nauseous and lightheaded, and I smell like grocery store meat priced for quick sale.

I ask Tanya, the Russian woman administering my treatment, what my body temperature has reached. She peers at the monitor, which looks like something from a science fiction b-movie, and tells me, “You are at 80% of heat.”

Wait, what? I ask her what this means, but she just holds a cup of water with a straw next to my mouth. “You lose so much weight,” she assures me.

If sweating off the pounds sounds too good to be true, you’d be right. David Katz, M.D., director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and Men’s Health weight loss advisor, calls the Thermojet body wrap “utter hooey. There is certainly no science behind it.”

Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., a weight management expert and author of The Diet Fix, dismisses it as “pseudoscientific bafflegab. If there were quick, easy ways to permanently lose weight, then the world would be slim.”

Which hasn’t stopped people from trying anyway. Remember when gastric bypass was considered extreme? There were just 20,000 bariatric surgeries during 1998, but today there are about 200,000 annually in the U.S., and getting your stomach stapled or reduced is a mainstream medical treatment.

In 2017, the fringe of lose-weight-quick schemes has gotten more radical, and now includes everything from swallowing balloons and jaw wiring to freezing fat cells and emptying meals directly from the stomach with a tube.

Does any of it work? Sometimes, but as Katz points out, “A cocaine binge will result in weight loss, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.”

Men aren’t the only gender looking for weight loss shortcuts, but we’ve usually been the trailblazers, says Sander Gilman, author of Fat Boys and Obesity: The Biography. The Vomitoriums of Ancient Greece weren’t invented by women, after all. From William the Conqueror in 1087, who tried a liquid-only diet after becoming too heavy to ride his horse, to romantic poet Lord Byron during the 19th century, who drank vinegar and exercised in layers to sweat off the pounds, men have historically been drawn to radical weight loss regimens because, Gilman says, “they provide a sense of both risk and control.”

You’d think men would have learned by now, but we still place more importance on attractiveness over health. In a 2016 Chapman University survey, women listed their appearance as the third strongest predictor of life satisfaction, behind money and romantic relationships. For men, appearance was second, behind financial security. So there you have it: The modern guy would rather be thin than regularly getting laid.

Men aren’t eating tapeworms or using vibrating belts to lose weight anymore—that’s so 20th century—but here are five crazy things that guys do to themselves just to lose weight without the hassle of diet and exercise.

1. FAT FREEZING

What Is It?

Inspired by “popsicle panniculitis”—the temporary dimples that young kids get from sucking on frozen popsicles—researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital created cryolipolysis, or CoolSculpting (a brand name, like Coca Cola). It involves targeting specific problem areas, like love handles or double chins, and freezing the fat cells without harming the skin or surrounding tissue.

During the first hour-long session—several sessions can be necessary, and the total fat-freezing tab can run upwards of $2,250—a patient’s fat is pressed between two cooling plates connected to a vacuum tube.

“By freezing the cells, it causes them to undergo a process known as apoptosis, or programmed cell death,” says Mathew Avram, M.D, a dermatologist and CoolSculpting advocate. The cells eventually die, get metabolized by the liver, and after a period of two to three months, “the body clears the area of the affected fat cells,” Avram says.

Which is a classy way of saying you piss out your love handles.

Does It Work?

Avram insists that it does, citing studies that show that cryolipolysis can “provide about a 22% reduction in fat layer thickness.” But that’s 22% of a very specific area. If your only weight loss goal is to get rid of man-boobs, then sure, it does the job.

But those looking for weight loss that isn’t just aesthetic, the fat loss is “minor at best,” says Michael Roizen, M.D., a physician and chair of the Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic. “As far as getting rid of the fat that’s actually dangerous to your health, it does nothing.”

Why You Probably Shouldn’t Try It

At least on paper, cryolipolysis sounds terrific. There’s no invasive surgery, it’s FDA approved, and there’s no recovery period. But Katz warns that when the intention is to kill cells—and that’s definitely the intention with CoolSculpting—there’s a potential for infection.

“Think of it as frost bite, but on purpose and internally,” he says. “Cellular debris like that undermines the inner barriers that prevent bacteria from getting into places they don’t belong.”

It could also be “a short term fix,” Katz says. Or worse, result in the weight returning with more vengeance than before. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that fat-freezing could lead to “paradoxical adipose hyperplasia,” an increase in weight in the treated area that happens mostly to men.

Not only do the man-boobs come back, they’re bigger this time.

Although the study found only a 0.0051% risk, a subsequent study by the University of Texas in 2015 found that weight gain was likely underreported by doctors, and could be as high as 2 in 422 cryolipolysis treatments.

2. GASTRIC BALLOONS

What Is It?

You know that feeling of being uncomfortably full after a big meal, and the very thought of eating again sounds repulsive? That’s the weight loss concept behind gastric balloons, a treatment that can range in price from $3,000 to $7,000.

A silicon balloon is placed into your stomach, either endoscopically (using the same type of tubes used in colonoscopies) or swallowed in a vitamin-sized pill tethered to a small catheter. Once inside you, the doctor inflates the balloon with saline or nitrogen gas, to roughly the size of a grapefruit.

“It’s sort of like eating a big Thanksgiving dinner times two, and the Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t leave your stomach,” says Vladimir Kushnir, M.D., the Director of Bariatric Endoscopy at Washington University in St. Louis.

The side effects include more or less what you’d expect from having an inflated balloon in your stomach: Vomiting, nausea, cramping, discomfort. “We tell people to take two or three days off work, because they’re going to be miserable,” says Kushnir.

But once you get used to the sensation, there aren’t many restrictions. “I just wouldn’t recommend rugby or kickboxing or anything where you could get punched in the gut,” says Kushnir.

Does It Work?

It’s more of a “weight loss jump start,” says Christine Ren-Fielding, M.D., chief of bariatric surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center. “You’ll lose maybe twenty or thirty pounds, but you’ll gain it all back if you don’t change your lifestyle.”

Kushnir, who consulted on clinical trials of the recently FDA-approved Obolon balloons—the swallowable pill form—says it’s typical to lose 25% of excess weight. “We’ve had patients who’ve lost in excess of fifty or sixty pounds,” he says. “On rare occasions, you’ll get someone who loses up to a hundred pounds.”

Why You Probably Shouldn’t Try It

Putting a foreign object in your stomach is just welcoming a host of scary hazards. Kushnir, who mostly argues that gastric balloons are totally safe, admits that there’s “a small chance of the balloon deflating and causing blockage in the bowel.”

Katz suggests that the risks could be a bit more severe. “It can cause atrophy of the stomach lining or even rupturing of the stomach,” he says.

The gastric balloon comes out after six months, and Kushnir says that patients are encouraged to consult with a dietician, before and after the balloon’s removal, to “reinforce the behaviors they learned while living with a smaller stomach.”

But Katz is skeptical at best. Even with a balloon suppressing their appetite, people can find a way to outsmart science. “Many people compensate by eating smaller amounts but more continuously, so the general calorie intact doesn’t change that much,” he says.

When that happens, congratulations, you’ve spent $7,000 to eat a balloon and stay the same size.

3. JAW WIRING

What Is It?

Ted Rothstein, D.D.S., a Portland, Oregon-based orthodontist who’s provided weight-loss jaw wirings for hundreds of patients since 1998, makes it sound like a medieval torture device.

“I attach stainless steel brackets that connect three upper teeth—usually canines and the first two premolars—to three lower teeth,” he says. “You want to keep the jaw in a physiological rest position, so you’re not able to open your mouth wider than two to four millimeters.” Just wide enough to fit a straw.

For the next five weeks, patients subsist on a liquid diet— “about 1,200 calories a day,” Rothstein recommends — and then have the device removed for a five day rest period, “so you jaw doesn’t get stiff,” he says. The whole procedure costs around $2,700.

Does It Work?

The most recent research, a 1981 study published in the British Medical Journal, followed just seven patients, and found that while they lost up to seventy pounds because of jaw-wiring, they gained twelve of those pounds back over the following year.

Rothstein claims that his patients usually lose a pound and a half a week, or between twenty-five and thirty pounds a month. “You could keep it in forever, or until you reach your goal weight,” he says. “As long as your jaw doesn’t lock up and you don’t mind drinking your meals.”

Why You Probably Shouldn’t Try It

“Truly barbaric” is how Ren-Fielding sums up jaw-wiring. “It’s awful! Worse than Chinese water torture. I can’t say enough about how terrible this is.”

Even if the weight comes off, it likely won’t change the behavior that caused the weight gain in the first place. “I did a jaw-wiring once for a very famous football player, I won’t tell you his name,” says Roizen. “He got down to 290 pounds, but when we took the wires off, he blew up to 490. I was with him for the first meal after we took the wires out. He ate a hundred Danish pastries in one sitting. That’s about 50,000 calories in a single meal.”

There are other complications that come with jaw wiring; like not being able to brush your teeth, and possibly suffocating.

“You have to use Listerine to clean the inside of your teeth,” admits Rothstein. “And there’s the far-out possibility that you might choke and die. Your jaw is wired shut, so if you throw up, you run the risk of not being able to expel the vomit.”

But, he adds, the wires are easy enough to remove with a pair of nail clippers, should you start to panic. Happy dieting!

4. VAPING

What Is It?

Diet programs like Slissie, a “good-eating habit trainer,” and the Vapor Diet, a so-called “revolutionary weight loss system with garcinia cambogia,” promise to curb hunger cravings with artificial flavor vapors. There are roughly 7,700 e-cig flavors sold by more than 450 brands, with flavors ranging from black licorice and cheesecake to pizza and (brace yourself) Katy Perry’s Cherry.

The price tag isn’t cheap—the Vapor Diet starts at $84.70, and then $144.50 every month for “refill bottles.”

Does It Work?

A 2016 New Zealand study examined the evidence, and came to a conclusive . . . maybe.
Marewa Glover, a professor of public health at Massey University who led the study, said that vaping may help smokers who’ve recently quit cigarettes from gaining weight—typically around 10 pounds—but further research needs to be done.

“It’s definitely not healthy,” she clarifies. “But it’s vastly more healthy than smoking cigarettes. If people are reluctant to quit smoking because they’re afraid of the slight weight gain, and flavored vaping options can make a difference, what we’ve seen seems to indicate that it’s worth it.”

But not gaining a few pounds as you try to quit cigarettes is a very different thing from weight loss. “Oh no, this isn’t about losing weight,” Glover clarifies. “This is about smokers making less destructive health choices. A non-smoker who takes up vaping, well, that’s just . . . that’s just crazy.”

Why You Probably Shouldn’t Try It

Aside from being “crazy” —to borrow Glover’s word— it might also have serious health consequences. Harvard researchers found in 2015 that 75 percent of the e-cigarette liquids contain the compound diacetyl, a chemical used in food flavoring to create a creamy, buttery taste.

The FDA has classified diacetyl as “generally regarded as safe,” but not for inhaling. Diacetyl has been linked to respiratory diseases like bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as “popcorn lung” (named for the outbreak of sick workers breathing in diacetyl vapors at microwave popcorn factories back in 2000.)

Concerns about the connection between vaping and popcorn lung are greatly exaggerated, says Michael Siegel, M.D., a public health researcher at Boston University. “The levels of diacetyl are actually about 750 times lower in electronic cigarettes than in tobacco cigarettes,” he says.

Despite the rise in vaping over the past several years, he says no cases of popcorn lung have been reported. “The risk appears to be miniscule,” Siegel says.

That’s good news for smokers, but not compelling evidence to start vaping if you’re a non-smoker looking to shed a few pounds.

5. STOMACH DRAINING

What Is It?

Have you ever finished a big meal and then thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could open a valve in my stomach and drain out a third of what I’ve eaten, like the most disgusting beer keg ever?” Of course not, because you’re not a crazy person. But this technology exists anyway.

Created by Washington University researchers and approved by the FDA last summer, it’s marketed as “AspireAssist,” which may be the most purposely vague name ever given to a weight loss treatment. (How about “Gut Retch”? Or “Meal Be-Gone”?)

“It’s basically a tube that’s surgically inserted into your abdomen,” says Ren-Fielding. A port-valve remains outside your body, flush against the skin, like a new orifice. (An orifice that cost between $8,000 and $10,000.) “About a half hour after you eat, you open up a tube and pour out a third of the contents—about thirty percent of the calories—from your stomach into the toilet bowl,” Ren-Fielding explains.

You are, in effect, pooping out of your stomach.

Does It Work?

If the ongoing clinical trials are to be believed, yes. Patients lost an average of 12.1 percent of their total body weight, says Louis Aronne, director of the weight-control center at Weill Cornell Medicine who helped with the trials.

“They lost a significant amount of weight —fifty, sixty, up to seventy pounds during a six-month period,” he says. “And then they maintained the weight loss by using the device intermittently.” The device has a safety feature that tracks the drainage, Aronne says, and it automatically stops working after 115 cycles (approximately five to six weeks of therapy.)

Why You Probably Shouldn’t Try It

Katz calls aspiration therapy nothing short of “metabolic mayhem.” It defies all common sense, he says, because it doesn’t change your intake of food “willfully designed to overload the body with calories.” Also, when you’re pumping out those excess calories, you’re not picking the exact mix of what stays and what goes. “There’s no way of controlling your nutritional balance,” Katz says.

Ren-Fielding isn’t a fan, but she admits that AspireAssist can have a positive effect on behavior modification. “When you use this device, you can’t just gobble down food,” she says. “Because then it’ll be in thick globs, and it won’t fit through the tube.” You have to learn how to chew more slowly, to make sure the device works properly.

Or here’s another idea: Just chew more slowly, and skip the step where you empty your stomach like you’re cleaning a storm drain.

[This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the March 2017 issue of Men’s Health.]