One of the cardinal principles of physiology - and axioms of weight loss - is that you can't spot-reduce. You can't shed fat in just one part of your body without shedding fat all over.
Over the years, various gadgets have been developed and promoted that claim to perform the miracle of spot-reduction, targeting especially such common embarrassments as "muffin tops," "mommy paunches," and "love handles." Most, if not all, are scams.
So when Sandy Weston of Weston Fitness in Center City contacted me recently to tout the benefits of an exercise belt called Slim Belly that's supposed to accelerate fat reduction around the waist, I was more than a bit leery.
Weston also admitted being skeptical at first, as were many of her staff and her fitness director.
"There's a lot of crap on the market," Weston says in her usual pull-no-punches way, "and we didn't want people to think we were selling out by promoting a gimmick . . . that would reflect poorly on us and our integrity."
The theory behind the Slim Belly belt is that it increases blood circulation in fatty tissue around the waist through the alternating action of air pockets. These pockets, activated by a set of pneumatic hoses, have a massaging effect that kneads the flesh and stimulates blood flow, hence increasing the utilization and metabolism of fat.
In a 2010 study by the Austrian Institute of Sports Medicine and Science that was sponsored by the manufacturer, 98 women were divided into three groups. One group used no special equipment. One used a device called Slim Legs, and the third used Slim Belly. Over two weeks, the women consumed the same amount of food and exercised an equal amount as well. All the women experienced reductions in weight and skin-fold thickness. But according to the study, the overall effect was eight times greater in the waist for Slim Belly users than for those who did not use any equipment.
Denise Kanagie, 37, of Fishtown, has been a Weston Fitness habitué for the last 15 years. Since the birth of her last daughter, she has tried in vain to lose what she calls "the pocket" or the "mommy belly." After four weeks exercising with Slim Belly, she says, she could feel the difference. Her waist measurement is an inch and a half smaller, her clothes fit better, and her weight has dropped six pounds, she says.
All of the above testimony is what scientists called anecdotal. It does not prove the Slim Belly works. It could be that most of these results are caused by exercising more and eating less.
"It's really the exercise and watching what you eat," says Craig Stevens, a professor of exercise science in the department of kinesiology at West Chester University. "It may have nothing to do with the belt."
Stevens, who has not seen or tried the belt, is nevertheless doubtful that it functions the way it's advertised. Fat is usually burned with ample amounts of oxygen during low-intensity exercise over a long period. The body's first source of fuel is carbohydrates and glycogen stored in muscle tissue, which can provide energy for as long as an hour or two.
Furthermore, he is unconvinced that kneading fatty flesh like dough is likely to improve circulation and increase fat metabolism substantially.
On the other hand, Stevens adds, "If [the belt] motivates people to get off their fanny, if that's the carrot you have to dangle to get people to exercise and eat properly, fine, but based on what I know about human physiology and fat metabolism, I don't know that I could endorse it."
For more information about Slim Belly, visit www.westonfit.com.