We Tried It: Cool Shapes Contouring ApparelPosted on Jul 30th 2010 1:00PM by Liz Neporent
In its infinite wisdom, the board decided that June would be a good time to replace the building's air-conditioning system. The ambient temperature in my apartment had now climbed to more than 100 degrees. I changed my thermometer to Celsius thinking it would make it seem cooler. It did not.
As I was contemplating whether boiling in oil was too ironic a punishment, up popped an e-mail inviting me to demo a new product called Cool Shapes contouring apparel, a pair of shorts designed to literally freeze your butt off. Even in my super-heated condition, I couldn't reply fast enough. Ice pants? Yes, please! I put revenge on the back burner.
The Cool Shapes kit arrived the following day. It contained a pair of dark blue shorts with a pocket along the saddle bag area of each hip, another covering the stomach pooch area and a third over the classic back fat region. There was an ice pack insert for each pocket.
After waiting for the packs to freeze, I slipped on the shorts and asked my husband how I looked. "Hot," he said, as he surveyed the dry ice steam emanating from my now-lumpy nether regions. Sarcasm duly noted. But this was the most comfortable I'd felt in weeks.
Beyond creating a pleasantly self-contained air-conditioning unit, Cool Shapes are supposed to repeatedly expose your trouble zones to cold, thus revving up the body's brown fat -- the kind that is most metabolically active -- so you burn calories at a faster rate, according to the website.
Additionally, white fat cells -- your garden-variety, slow-metabolizing blubber -- will shrink, shrivel and, in some cases, take on the calorie-burning characteristics of brown fat. After wearing the shorts for 30 minutes every day for at least a month, the iced-up areas will purportedly look smaller, firmer and smoother. There is even a research section on the site with links to articles published in prestigious journals like The New England Journal of Medicine and Obesity.
These theories may not be as loopy as they sound. Scientists have known for decades that cooler temperatures do, in fact, spur adult fat brown fat cells into action and that being so cold you shiver incinerates up to 400 calories in 30 minutes. Several of the studies listed on Cool Shapes' website asked subjects to sit in frigid rooms or with their feet in a bucket of ice water for several hours. Not exactly a great way to spend your time but, as the researchers discovered, a pretty darned good way to switch on the metabolism of brown fat. Intrigued, I decide to track down some of the investigators to see what they think about these "ice-ca-pants," as my husband has now taken to calling them.
"I've been waiting for this call," said Dr. Aaron Cypess, the lead researcher on one of the New England Journal of Medicine papers cited by Cool Shapes, when he picked up his phone at the Harvard-affiliated Joslin Diabetes Research Center in Boston. "I knew the day would come when someone would try to mislead the public with my research."
Cypess believes products like Cool Shapes are a waste of, well, cold, hard cash. "In theory, exposing yourself to the cold for extended periods of time might help you burn a few extra calories; but they are generated by virtually every body tissue, and we cannot say they are burned from brown fat alone," said Cypess.
"Cold does possibly stimulate brown fat metabolism and production, but this does not happen on the surface of the skin where we feel cold. It's an event in the deep body, regulated centrally from the brain, so placing a cold pack on the thigh has very little chance of changing the shape of the thigh. How you burn fat and calories is highly individual and not easily controlled at all."
In other words, just as you can't expect the ab blaster machine at the gym to magically melt the fat off your tummy, Cool Shapes won't chill your booty down to size. Short of plastic surgery, there's simply no way to selectively spot reduce.
When I asked the two sisters who invented Cool Shapes to respond to this criticism, they had their science advisor, a biochemist, explain their counterposition. She spouted a bunch of stuff about white fat cell apoptosis (programmed cell death), which, to me, came across as off-message and, as far as I can determine, not referenced at all in the website study list. At one point, she described an investigation done on pigs. Considering we are talking about a body-shaping product, this seemed ill-advised.
In all fairness, the sisters seemed sincere about their product and not out to cheat anyone. When I asked why they never bothered to check with the researchers about the meaning of their studies, they said they preferred to draw their own conclusions about what the science says and that they stand behind Cool Shapes because they have seen the results for themselves.
Ah, but did I see results? Despite an unhealthy amount of ridicule from both my husband and 5-year-old daughter, I wore the shorts faithfully for half an hour every day for a month. I took my hip and waist measurements before and after, but I won't share them with you here, because frankly, we're not that close. I experienced absolutely no change from wearing the Cool Shapes. But again, in all fairness, hips and tummy aren't really issues for me. Now if we were talking inner thigh, that might be a different conversation.
Results or no, I'm going to continue to wearing the Cool Shapes until our air-conditioning kicks in. In fact, I've now added an iced-up bandana around my neck. It feels good, and the neck, after all, is the primary spot we full-grown adults store our brown fat.
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