Pappas is used to resistance. "But let's not kid ourselves," he says. "The kind of fat deposits that liposuction is geared to remove are very, very difficult for the average person to get off without surgical assistance. Liposuction is not for the obese. It's not a way to lose weight." A surgeon will suction off between 2,000 and 3,000 cc's of fat during a typical procedure; 2,500 cc's of fat equals about three pounds. "It is a way to eliminate regional fat deposits, like those that collect on the thighs of women and the abdomens of men," says Pappas.
I described myself to Pappas: 40, good general health, not obese, but concerned about the paunch. "Well, I'd say you sound like a perfect candidate," he said.
I've got to admit that the doctor made it sound more reasonable than I had previously thought. But, no, like most of you, I know I'll never take him up on it. Too much like cheating on a final exam. Besides, liposuction is major surgery and carries the concomitant risks and unpredictable recovery period.
Which leaves only two alternatives: to grin and bear the paunch, as my father and countless millions of males have done; or to take arms against this curse of testosterone and resist it, like the plucky little cottage on the shore that resists the roaring sea.
O.K., you've chosen the latter. As I have. (Sort of.) A few things you should think about:
•Ripping off a couple sets of situps three times a week—or even seven times a week—won't get the job done. I've tried that, possibly contributing to my back woes. "The greatest misconception in the world is that you can eliminate a potbelly with situps," says Croce. "Not possible. Besides, most people do situps incorrectly. They use too much of the back or legs, instead of the abdomen."
You can, however, tone the abdominal muscles. Croce gave me two simple exercises. First, lie on the floor with your arms locked behind your head, as in the classic situp position, but raise your torso only a couple of inches, and make sure the abdomen is doing all the work. One trick is to keep your elbows pointed back, toward the floor, for maximum "pull." The other exercise is a sadistic little combination of the situp and the bicycle pump. Lie down with your legs lifted slightly off the floor. Touch each elbow to the outside of the opposite knee while pumping your legs up to your chest and back out. Do 25 of these babies and, as Jane would say, feel the burn. Do 40 and get ready to vomit.
•To lose the paunch, you've got to lose weight. It's that simple. "Don't let the scale tell you whether or not you should lose weight," says Croce. "The scale lies." Those extra inches around your middle are, and always will be, fat. And the only way to get rid of fat is to burn it off by exercise and diet and then keep it off the same way. Just maintaining the status quo of caloric intake versus caloric expenditure isn't going to work either. As people age, their metabolic rates usually drop, so they might need more exercise to burn off fat than they needed a decade earlier.
•Vastly overweight people can lose fat faster because they have more fat to lose. Once an obese person starts to diet, the pounds may well, as they say in the commercials, "literally melt away." And they will disappear, as they did in the case of Lasorda, from the abdomen. But for men like me, who have never been particularly overweight, it's more difficult to lose the paunch. "You have control of if you lose weight," says Brownell, "but you don't have much control over where you lose weight."
•The final thing you must do is accept the reality of the situation. Unless you're committed to an all-out, Olympic-style exercise regimen combined with a carefully monitored low-fat diet—or unless you're thinking about liposuction—there is a very good chance that you will not dramatically reduce your paunch.