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These clothes cool your body to trick you into burning fat — or at least they’re supposed to

People struggling with their weight make easy targets for scams. Fat-busting pills, fad diets, and workout gadgets come and go as their popularity is overwhelmed by their ineffectiveness. Now a line of clothing purportedly tricks your body into losing weight by “hacking your metabolism” — but are the only hacks here those selling the phony technology?

“This would be too uncomfortable to tolerate for the many, many months of wearing Thin Ice that would be required to produce any significant weight loss.”

The Thin Ice Weight Loss Clothing Line, recently backed on Indiegogo by more than half a million dollars, is designed to trick your body into thinking you’re cold and burning fat to keep you warm. The team behind Thin Ice is kicking off the line with two items to target areas of your body with a lot of thermoreceptors (nerves that detect temperature changes). The first is a tank top, dubbed a “vest.” The second is a pair of insoles. Peltier cooling strips (used to cool compact electronics) and the rechargeable battery that powers them are built in. Both garments connect to the Thin Ice Android or iOS app using Bluetooth Low Energy so you can see how many calories you’ve burned and control the temperature.

Turn the temp down and watch the weight fall off, the company claims.

And don’t worry, you won’t freeze to death: Even if you turn the temp as low as it will go, the company says you won’t end up shivering. The cooling mechanism targets specific parts of your body to trick your nervous system and avoid triggering the shiver response. The science is explained in depth in Scientific American and the New England Journal of Medicineamong others. In short, cold triggers your brown adipose tissue (BAT) to consume lipids (A.K.A. fat) to produce heat, and Thin Ice is designed to affect that consumption without chilling you enough to cause muscle spasms (shivering).

Weight-loss facts and figures

It all sounds very clever, as does Adam Paulin, the creator of Thin Ice Clothing — an NCAA athlete who holds degrees in neurology and psychology from the University of Toronto. But is it real? One backer questioned Adam, asserting on the company’s Indiegogo page that research says the temperature range required for thermogenesis — the process of internal heat production that burns fat — is lower than what the clothes can achieve. Adam’s response was simply to assert there were studies saying the opposite. (Paulin did not respond to multiple emails from Digital Trends.)

That’s the thing about emerging technologies: If you want to be an early adopter, it helps to do your own research. Some backers may have not have read the New England Journal of Medicine study listed on Thin Ice’s Indiegogo page thoroughly enough. Consider the statement of conclusion in that paper, which notes that “mean brown-adipose-tissue activity was significantly lower in the overweight or obese subjects than in the lean subjects.” This means that the heavier you are, the less effective cold therapy may be for you.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Digital Trends reached out to Shaun Morrison, a member of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Oregon Health and Science University for his thoughts. Morrison was skeptical, to say the least. “The BAT in overweight and obese humans cannot be activated by cooling,” he wrote to us. “Thus, the ThinIce approach is not expected to activate the BAT in overweight people and thus isn’t expected to produce weight loss in overweight people.”

Dr. Morrison would know. He’s currently running a study on central inhibitory regulation of brown adipose thermogenesis, and has studied the central regulation of sympathetic activity to brown fat in previous work. While he said there was hope for people with a normal body mass index, he pointed out that over time even their Thin Ice results might suffer.

“Although skin blood flow should be reduced in the areas of the Thin Ice stimulation, the normal level of heat production from the basic metabolic processes in the body of an adult human could produce a subcutaneous temperature that would counteract a mild cooling from the ThinIce outside the skin, resulting in little stimulation of cool thermoreceptors, and little activation of BAT.” After a while, the body would simply adjust to counteract mild external cooling.

“This phenomenon could require that the ThinIce product must produce a greater level of skin cooling to get BAT activation, and, at some point, this would be too uncomfortable to tolerate for the many, many months of wearing Thin Ice that would be required to produce any significant weight loss.”

Maybe some backers did read the studies attached to the Indiegogo page and are aware that no one can lose weight with cold alone. To be fair, the Thin Ice app also suggests meals and workouts to “supercharge” weight loss. However, Dr. Morrison went on to point out that over time wearing cooling clothes might change your metabolism, making you feel hungrier.

“I would be concerned that if BAT were continuously activated (even at some low level) and energy stored in fat were consumed by BAT to produce heat, the brain circuits regulating metabolism would sense this sustained energy consumption and attempt to reinstate the energy stores in fat by increasing food consumption, thereby eliminating any weight loss effect of the BAT activation.” So Thin Ice might turn the little rumble in a dieter’s stomach into a gnawing gurgle of emptiness.

Coming soon to a store near you?

On the other hand, maybe backers haven’t really paid attention at all. Based on funding alone, it appears backers are all in, regardless of Thin Ice’s actual effectiveness. The Thin Ice Weight Loss campaign was 3,786 percent funded as of September 17. People grabbed shirts and insoles for $100, saving 35 percent off the projected retail. Who wouldn’t want a shortcut to weight loss? Besides, some people readily spend this amount on workout gear, so it’s not a totally ridiculous ask for a smart shirt that connects to an app.

Unfortunately, there are limitations on this gear you don’t normally see on garment tag. For instance, you can’t run Think Ice through the washer (the company recommends using antibiotic wipes for regular cleanings). And the insoles aren’t for high-impact activities like running or basketball, but more to keep you cool during your daily errands.

It’s possible consumers wearing those insoles won’t be the only ones with cold feet. The company just missed its December shipping deadline, which is still listed on the Indiegogo site. An update on the site explains: “In our last email update in November, we told you that we were looking forward to shipping your Thin Ice weight loss product in the spring. We are happy and excited to tell you that we remain on target.”

Will it ship in the Spring? Like a foodie after Thanksgiving, the wait is still on.

Aliya Barnwell
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Aliya Tyus-Barnwell is a writer, cyclist and gamer with an interest in technology. Also a fantasy fan, she's had fiction…
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