Cryotherapy is a pointless fad: there are no short cuts to weight loss

Celebrities are plunging themselves into vats of vaporised nitrogen, exposing their bronzed flesh to temperatures as low as five degrees Celsius for several minutes at a time.

This is ‘cryotherapy’. Not a ritual performed by scientologists, but the latest Hollywood fitness fad. The service is marketed as a miracle treatment. It supposedly does everything. Just leave your credit card at reception, step inside this glorified fridge for three minutes and you’ll lose weight, cellulite, wrinkles and £100 of your hard-earned money.

If that wasn’t enough it will also reduce inflammation and make your skin ready for an appearance on the cover of Vogue. The eccentric habits of the rich and famous don’t stay in La La Land for long; what started in Redondo Beach is coming to the high streets of Britain.

As a fitness instructor I understand the appeal of cryotherapy. I’m always meeting new clients who have tried every available gimmick to lose weight; they start fashionable (but unsustainable) diets and buy expensive exercise equipment. If only it was so easy!

Part of the problem is that celebrities (who, let’s face it, are often a bit simple) are very influential. The strange things they do to their perfect bodies are copied by an envious public.

Some of the more outlandish claims made by those marketing the service are easily dismissed. Most practitioners say it has cosmetic benefits. There’s no evidence for this at all, which is why the glossy websites don’t offer any further explanation.

One study did find that ‘whole body cryotherapy’ improves subjective recovery after a workout. In other words, it eases the feeling of muscle pain. No surprises there; an ice pack does the same thing for a fraction of the price.

One vendor promises ‘instant inch loss’, which just isn’t possible unless there’s an extremely skilled plastic surgeon hiding in the white mist.

Other claims sound more plausible, but fall apart on closer inspection. Some ‘cryo-therapists’ say the experience ‘strengthens the immune system’. That’s clearly nonsense. No direct link has ever been established between lifestyle choices and immune system function.

The evidence that suggests enhanced antioxidant capacity and altered inflammatory pathways is extremely weak.

If it was genuinely possible to lose weight by standing in a cold, upright vapour bath for a few minutes, such a treatment would be revolutionary. Cryotherapy is nothing more than a pointless fad. Spas that offer it pray on the hopes of desperate people looking for easy answers.

If you want to lose weight without wasting money (and getting stiff nipples) start by cutting out processed carbohydrates and increasing your intake of protein and healthy fats. If you do this, and stick to an effective high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine, you’ll eventually get the results you desire.

Some people see immediate progress, while in others it can take months. It’s crucial to stay committed, consistent and have patience. You need to really want it. Find a way to enjoy the process. That could mean putting together a motivational playlist or having a picture of your goal in front of the treadmill. If you’re inspired by fitness it will feel less like a chore, and you’ll always look forward to getting your sweat on.

Though there is something to be said for the ‘calories in-calories out’ approach to weight loss, it can be counterproductive. If you go from eating 3,000 kcal per day to 1,000 you will lose weight. However, it won’t all be fat.

From personal experience I can assure you that such an extreme approach to weight loss is going to reduce your hard-earned lean mass drastically. But there is a solution.

By replacing carbohydrates with protein you can promote fat loss while preserving lean tissue. It sounds like simple advice because it is; swap a potato for a steak. I’ve tested this approach on myself and it works. I was able to lose about three pounds of fat in six weeks without losing any lean mass.

Unfortunately there are no shortcuts to fitness and good health. The only way to lose weight is to eat healthily and exercise often; it really is that simple.

  • ray

    One hint which I pass on free of charge to readers is this. If advice about losing weight or eating healthily comes from America, then it is bound to be wrong . Their rates of obesity- i.e lack of self-control are even worse than ours. With few exceptions , obesity is about lack of intellect or lack of will-power. Countries with lower obesity rates tend to be more self-disciplined- eg Japan , Singapore.

    • No it is NOT bound to be wrong! Are you Russian or something?

      • ray

        I am British . The point that I was hoping to make is that we would should not take advice from Americans on diet any more than we should take advice on elections from Russia or advice on freedom from North Korea.
        Nothing personal , mate.

  • Chris

    People need to understand the actual beneficial physiological effects of cryotherapy (ie. the effects that were utilized upon its inception in Japan in the late 1970s) for treating pain associated with arthritis and joint inflammation. Nothing more, nothing less. This article reinforces the point that false advertising is rampant (look at the Supplement industry or maybe USA pharma in itself), but also completely fails to understand the history and documented successful application of cold therapy outside of its slim-minded Hollywood focus. Cryotherapy has been utilized in Europe & Asia for decades in helping to manage pain and inflammation.

    • Brittney

      Well said, couldn’t agree more!

  • Brittney

    I hate to see articles with titles like this. Cryotherapy is an amazing cold therapy that aims to reduce inflammation in the body-nothing more. It is absolutely the fault of bad business owners out there who are new to the industry, misinformed and using the weight loss advertising as a way to make money which being a Cryotherapy business owner myself I completely disagree with marketing it this way. It is NOT a weight loss tool and there is no simple short cut to weight loss, enough said. However to say the therapy doesn’t work is just false and discourages those who could really benefit from the therapy. Please rethink this title as Chris stated there are actual beneficial physiological effects of Cryotherapy, don’t over think it, cold is good!

  • dandelion

    ‘their perfect bodies’: you must be joking. Are you referring to Katie Holmes’s toes (I hope not)? Or Nicole Kidman’s gummy smile? Aidan Turner’s frizzy hair (good on some days; yuck on others: I know, my hair is curly too)? Or Woody Allen’s anything?

    I’ve known a few actors: not professionally but because a relative (okay, my mother) worked in North American film & TV. Some of them are embarrassed by their profession: it’s not really a line of ‘work’, and it’s not really fitting for grown-ups (though the kissing of beautiful women is fun): I have this direct from a successful lifelong actor. But even among the more confident (self-satisfied), such as lovely Simon Callow et al, there is anxiety about their looks. Let’s face it, if you’re Jeff Bezos, no one gives a d*mn if you have a pimply bum or small biceps. But if you’re an actor, you care. Trust me: I was told.

  • Christine

    I would love the opportunity to present a different point of view to the author of this article, but there appears to be no way to contact him.

    I spent more than 23 years of my life overweight. Seriously overweight by more than 50+ lbs. I tried diets, exercise – especially low-carb diets, but all with extremely limited results. I might lose a few pounds on a low carb diet, but the first time I consumed anything with carbs or sugar – it was all over. It was not sustainable unless I gave up eating carbs entirely and the weight loss was slow, while gaining from a single indulgence was swift.

    I discovered whole body cryotherapy in 2016. I am a fan. but I have NO financial investment in the industry – so I have nothing to gain here. I tried it on a whim after hearing about the endorphin rush and relief of pain (I had back pain) and loved it. I convinced my chiropractor to add a machine to his office and I began doing daily cryotherapy – and was shocked when I started losing weight.

    I lost 65 lbs. I went from a size 16 to a size 6/8. Without dieting.

    Further, my lifelong battle with insomnia ended – I now sleep like a baby, my anxiety is reduced, my skin is in great condition, and when I recently added exercise into my life it was a lifesaver. After an intense Pilates workout, cryotherapy removes any trace of muscle pain or fatigue. Sure, as the author states, you could apply an ice pack – but when your entire body has been stretched and strained and everything from your shoulders, arms, legs, thighs. back, core and more is screaming in pain – where the heck would you even begin to apply it? You could hop into am incredibly uncomfortable ice bath (yikes) – or step into a refreshing 3 minute cryotherapy session and feel instant relief. I choose the latter every time and I could literally do the entire workout all over again based on how complete the relief is.

    Perhaps this author isn’t a fan, perhaps he doesn’t know enough about cryotherapy himself – and perhaps he never had my personal experience with obesity and the success I had with cryotherapy. In any case, this article isn’t quite fair. It’s an opinion, at best. My story is completely verifiable through my primary care doctor, my chiropractor, my personal diaries and online journal, my photographs and witnesses. I’m more than happy to stand as living proof. Cryotherapy works.