Wearing warm clothing could help with sweating off the pounds, but what about freezing them off instead?
According to inventor Adam Paulin, his device, the Thin Ice Weight Loss Vest, could help its wearers burn off fat by cooling parts of the body, an idea that stems from research on the metabolism of brown fat cells.
Brown fat burns calories to maintain the body's temperature, particularly in colder environments, such as a winter's day or during a swim in a cold pool. The more commonly known white fat, however, stores calories and fat.
Brown fat was known to be found only in babies and kids until 2009, when it was discovered in adult humans in three different studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Those with healthy weight and women in general carry more of the fat, which is located around the neck in adults, according to researchers.
Paulin's invention, a vest that freezes to temperatures ranging from 5 to 15 degrees Celsius (or 41 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit), mimics these colder conditions, which he said could spur calorie burning at a rate of 500 extra calories a day.
"As a former NCAA athlete and trainer, I have a personal history of finding wellness hacks to make things easier," Paulin, a former personal trainer who has a BSc in neuroscience from the University of Toronto in Scarborough, said. "I've noticed that when I took ice baths, the rate of weight loss was significantly higher. I even went as far as inventing a flotation desk for the bath tub to work while in the bath."
According to Paulin, the battery-powered and rechargeable vest, which includes temperature controls through a phone app, focuses on parts of the back and upper chest where BAT, or brown adipose tissue, is located.
"The vest tells your body that it's cold by activating thermoreceptors in the hypothalamus of the brain, which then activates the brown adipose tissue," Paulin said.
The hypothalamus is the region of the brain that controls temperature regulation. When cold, the hypothalamus activates nerves that stimulate BAT, according to various studies. According to Paulin, the heating mechanism of the body will keep the vest users from getting too cold and users will adjust to the temperature much like when swimming in a cold pool.
Paulin and a team of engineers and metabolism researchers from York University in Toronto said the vest could help jumpstart weight loss for those who cannot commit to rigorous calorie burning routines--to the tune of 500 extra calories burned daily.
"Thin Ice could help obese people since it's not healthy to jump too quickly into an aggressive weight loss program," Paulin said. "The initial weight loss from Thin Ice could help obese patients get more energy before transitioning into vigorous exercise."
However, despite the vest's calorie-burning power, Thin Ice Fitness also provides a nutrition plan with the garment. The plan includes foods that have a high thermic effect, Paulin said.
The thermic effect of a food is determined by the amount of energy needed to digest it. According to one 1998 study, foods with a high thermic effect are more filling. Paulin's diet plan also includes spicy foods that can increase metabolism. Research on whether spicy foods can lead to extensive weight loss is still inconclusive, however, some spices do slightly increase metabolism.
"If used correctly, people could lose weight without having to be too active, but they won't get the many other health benefits that come with proper nutrition and exercise," Paulin said.
Since the vest burns calories, there is some leeway when it comes to the amount of food a wearer can consume, depending on their calorie needs and preferences, according to Paulin.
"People have the choice to eat more while using the device since it does create a calorie deficit," Paulin said. "You can play with that deficit however you want, technically."
The Thin Ice Vest is undergoing trials on mice at York University, during which researchers will create miniature versions of the vest for the mice both to study the effects on brown fat and improve upon the materials of the vest. Scientists on the project include Pouya Rezai, a microfluids engineer and assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering at York. Sunny Leung, an assistant professor in the school of engineering and Rolando Ceddia, an associate professor in the school of kinesiology are also part of the project.
Six people and Paulin himself have tested the vest so far. Paulin lost 15 pounds with the product. The team is also arranging for human trials, partly with help from its crowdfunding effort, which has already gathered 4,300 preorders of the vest.
According to Paulin, the Thin Ice Vest could help even out the playing field between those who have a high metabolism rate and those who don't.
"There are certain people out there that we all love to hate, and these are the people who can eat whatever they'd like to and not gain any weight," he said in a promotional video for the vest. "What this product is actually able to do is give you those characteristics by speeding up your metabolism."