Indulging in holiday sweets or forgoing your daily walk may sabotage long-term liposuction results.

A new study shows people who have liposuction (search) are three times more likely to gain weight if they don’t follow a healthy diet and four times more likely to pile on the pounds without regular exercise. But those who follow a healthy diet are twice as likely to lose weight after liposuction.

Researchers say the results confirm what many plastic surgeons have been telling their patients for years: Liposuction should not be used as a quick fix for weight loss. It should be used only in conjunction with exercise and a healthy diet to encourage long-term weight loss success.

“Liposuction has always been for contouring, not for weight loss,” says researcher Rob Rohrich, MD, professor and chairman of the department of plastic surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “Sometimes people get that confused.”

Rohrich says liposuction is intended to reshape and recontour the body in the areas that diet and exercise often can’t help, such as the hips and thighs in women and the belly in men.

He says this is one of the first studies to look at the long-term results of liposuction and shows that people are much more likely to be happy with their results if they make other healthy lifestyle changes.

“I always tell my patients that I’m doing the easy part for them,” Rohrich tells WebMD. “But it’s only one part, and the rest is diet and exercise.”

Life After Liposuction

In the study, researchers surveyed 209 people who had liposuction between 1999 and 2003 and asked them about their lifestyle habits, areas of liposuction, and satisfaction with the procedure. Most of the participants had liposuction more than two years before the survey.

Overall, 43 percent had gained weight since their liposuction, with most reporting a weight gain of between five and 10 pounds.

Among those who gained weight, the study showed only 10 percent had increased their exercise level as recommended, and only 22 percent had improved their diet.

In contrast, among the 57 percent who did not gain weight, 35 percent said they were exercising more, and 50 percent were eating a healthier diet than they did before liposuction.

In general, 80 percent of the participants were satisfied with the results of their liposuction and most would have it again or recommend it to family and friends. But the study showed those who didn’t change their diet and exercise habits after liposuction were 10 times more likely to be dissatisfied with their results compared with those who made healthy changes.

Liposuction Only Part of the Picture

Cosmetic surgeon Patrick McMenamin, MD, says it’s no surprise that those who have a healthy attitude do better over the long run after liposuction. But it’s good to have a study that documents that fact.

Although some people who come into his office for liposuction may be looking for a quick weight loss fix, he says the majority are already working on improving their health.

"The patients that do the best are the ones who come in already close to reasonable body weight,” says McMenamin.

Rohrich agrees and stresses that liposuction should not be used alone as a weight loss tool.

“I tell my patients that if they’re going to have liposuction without changing their lifestyle, diet, and exercise, then don’t do it because it’s not worth the monetary loss and the time lost from work,” says Rohrich.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Rohrich, R. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, December 2004; vol 114: pp 1945-1952. Rod Rohrich, MD, professor and chairman, department of plastic surgery, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. Patrick McMenamin, MD, cosmetic surgeon. News release, American Society of Plastic Surgeons. American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery.