When to choose cosmetic surgery, and when not to

Exercise and diet offer payoffs that go beyond physical fitness.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

I don’t have anything against cosmetic surgery.

No amount of running or iron pumping was going to do anything about the genetically programmed dark circles under my eyes, so I got those things zapped with a nuclear-powered laser that made me twitch and fidget in the chair like a spider monkey coming off a meth bender.

Cosmetic surgery can, quite simply, do things that diet and exercise can’t. If you’ve got something that looks like that mutant from “Total Recall” hanging off your stomach telling you to “start the reactor,” and it bothers you more than the sizeable surgery scars will, then getting some work done on this area could be an option.

Also, we all know that no matter how good you are at bench press, it won’t make female breasts much larger. If that’s your goal, then stuff needs to be shoved into places; two places, to be precise.


Guys can get things inserted into their chest area too, in the form of pectoral (and even bicep and tricep) implants; a number of possible congenital defects affecting the chest area can be fixed only via surgery.

So when used properly, cosmetic surgery can make you look better. And, by making you look better, cosmetic surgery can make you feel better. But a concerted and long-term effort to kick your own butt with exercise and healthy eating can do some of the same things that surgery accomplishes.

And unless you’re hiring Lance Armstrong as your cycling trainer, paying the Governator to teach you old-school weightlifting or bringing Jamie Oliver on staff as your personal chef, the diet and exercise option is also less expensive.

The options


So let us consider … making the diet-and-exercise choice.

Unless you’re rebuilding your body with cosmetic surgery on a McDonald’s drive-through attendant salary, diet and exercise is the tougher option, but it also comes with significantly more benefits. That’s the way life works most times; the more effort you put into it, the more you receive back, which is why I think that if you can achieve a visual goal with exercise instead of surgery, then you should.

Now before half of Beverly Hills reaches for their torches and pitchforks, let me explain some of the practical implications of diet and exercise versus cosmetic surgery:

• A rippling abdomen carved via diet and exercise is going to look better than one obtained via surgery. Same goes for a weightlifting / Pilates / boot camp sculpted behind.


• As already mentioned, diet and exercise will most likely cost less.

• Pectoral implants will not help you open ketchup bottles or pickle jars.

But it doesn’t end there. There is some science too.

Invasive cosmetic procedures have risks associated with them, whereas the health benefits of eating a balanced diet and exercising are undeniable (unless you happen to be out for a run and some cellphone-yapping moron creams you with his hybrid Humvee).


• A 2008 study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, assessed 970 men who lived to a minimum of 90 years of age. The conclusions: “Modifiable healthy behaviors during early elderly years, including smoking abstinence, weight management, blood pressure control, and regular exercise, are associated not only with enhanced life span in men but also with good health and function during older age.”

• A 2008 study by researchers at the University of Cambridge, published in PLoS Medicine, found that middle-aged and older people who didn’t smoke, who had a high fruit and vegetable intake and a moderate to low alcohol intake, and who exercised regularly had the equivalent of a chronological age that was 14 years younger than people who possessed none of these characteristics.

• A 2007 e-book, “The Role of Physical Exercise in Preventing Disease and Improving the Quality of Life,” by researcher David Hood of York University in Canada, made the case that leading a healthy lifestyle dramatically decreases the likelihood of contracting myriad diseases and, as a result, extends life expectancy.

• A 2008 study of centenarians by researchers at Boston University, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that the majority had what is referred to as “compressed disability” or “compressed morbidity.” What this means is that the long-lived remain highly functional and without debilitating diseases until they are close to death.


It’s nice to know that you can live to an exceptional age and not be an invalid.

Feeling better

Now let’s look at the psychology of all this.

Many studies have found that regular exercise is good for treating depression and improving your overall mental well-being, but what I’d like to examine is how it affects your self-confidence. The self-efficacy theory, developed by renowned Stanford University professor Albert Bandura, holds that we become stronger — better, in a way — through persistence and overcoming obstacles.


Say you’re in poor physical shape and make a determined effort to change your eating habits and adopt regular exercise. And say your efforts are successful. You’ve achieved a degree of mastery that boosts self-confidence. This success raises your expectations, and you then try to achieve more ambitious goals.

Ultimately, the sky’s the limit

Using diet and exercise to get in shape takes planning, patience and persistence. Being successful at it helps you become a problem solver and righteous goal achiever, spurring you to successes in other aspects of your life.

The diet-and-exercise approach changes you from the inside out — for the better. This is something that no surgeon, no matter how fancy the degrees hanging on the wall or how hefty the bill, can accomplish.


That isn’t to say that lifestyle and cosmetic surgery offer a cut-and-dried either/or choice. Many people live healthy and active lifestyles yet still get some strategic nipping, tucking and sandblasting to improve their appearance, and that’s all cool.

But if you’ve got the opportunity to achieve your goals in a non-surgical manner, then consider doing it. Your body (and inner self) will thank you.

Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada.