90% of post-pubertal women suffer with cellulite. That tells me that 9 out of 10 of you will experienced some form of horrendous bikini-buying moment, usually characterised by an unsightly bottom-related manifestation in the changing room ‘rear view mirror’ (are they really necessary?)
Cellulite is an evil that is widely experienced but poorly understood. In a nutshell cellulite, or lipodostrophy, is a modified form of subcutaneous adipose tissue (i.e. body fat). It affects skinny minnies and the more fullsome alike, although higher levels of body fat will exacerbate the condition.
Cellulite is largely found in the gluteal-femoral area (bum and thighs) although it can also appear on the abdomen and shoulders/armpit area. The characteristic ‘cottage cheese’ or ‘orange peel’ effect is due to fat ‘bulging’ through connective tissue into the dermis. The appearance of cellulite is due to structural alterations in the skin and reduced circulation, leading to a reduction in blood flow to affected areas. Retention of fluids in the matrix also contributes.
A little Science – subcutaneous fat (the fat beneath our skin) is divided into two layers: an areolar layer just beneath the dermis and a deeper lamellar layer. The lamellar layer is comprised of smaller, horizontally arranged cells with larger blood vessels providing a richer blood supply. This is the layer that enlarges with weight gain. The areolar layer is formed of larger globular adipocytes (fat cells) arranged vertically, and numerous fragile blood vessels. This layer is home to cellulite, and is under the control of oestrogen - hence why it is predominantly a female problem. Furthermore, the areolar layer in the femoral region is more resistant to fat breakdown which leads to dimply thighs. For a pictorial representation, leaf through any trashy mag and it’s likely to have been located on the latest unsuspecting holiday-making celebrity!
In spite of the limited availability of Scientific papers on cellulite, is has become a multi-million pound industry, with salon treatments, potions and lotions costing the consumer astronomical sums. Every year a new ‘revolutionary’ treatment goes in and out of fashion. I must confess to once wrapping myself head to toe in clingfilm in a DIY full body wrap (why pay £80 when I can do it for 80p at home?) My findings? Don't try to go to the loo wearing clingfilm.
On a serious note, however, cellulite is simply another form of body fat and hence weight loss strategies used to reduce body fat should synergistically work on cellulite. Analysis suggests that the fat globules can retract out of the dermis with weight loss.
Improving the circulatory system can also help. Clearly exercise is the optimal means of boosting circulation and blood flow. Cardiovascular exercise such as jogging is ideal, whilst weight-bearing exercises serve to tone muscles leading to firmer, leaner limbs, reducing the cottage-cheese effect. Further practical approaches include body brushing and massaging in upward motions towards the heart, stimulating lymphatic drainage. On a dietary level, decreasing saturated fat intake and increasing the levels of omega-3 heart-healthy fats will also improve circulation. Aim to eat oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel 2-3 times per week.
Strict, restrictive (and often hideously depressing) detoxification diets are largely unnecessary, as the body is primed to detoxify itself, however there are foods and strategies that can support the body’s detoxification systems. These include drinking at least 2 litres of water a day to ‘flush’ toxins, eating a diet rich in wholegrains and fibre to reduce transit time (the time digested food stuffs including toxins remain in the bowel), eating your 5 a day (as a minimum), reducing alcohol consumption and consumption of fizzy and caffeinated drinks, and switching for herbal teas, such as dandelion which can reduce fluid accumulation. An interesting contradiction arises with caffeine, which, when ingested orally is thought to worsen the appearance of cellulite through reducing circulation and lymph flow, but when applied atopically to the problem area is proposed to open up blood vessels and improve blood flow to allow breakdown of fatty deposits. Caffeine is a common ingredient in cellulite creams and treatments.
Whilst we often focus on saturated fat as the harbinger of all evil, sugar is in fact body fat in a cunning, delicious, chocolate-coated disguise. Insulin, the hormone released proportionally to sugar intake, stimulates fat storage – be warned: sugar can make you just as fat as fat! Cellulite is a hormonal issue with insulin, oestrogen and prolactin all increasing its prominence.
Cellulite-sufferers should avoid processed foods as they tend to be loaded with salt, sweeteners and additives (as should we all). Instead, increase consumption of fresh foods, especially those rich in B vitamins, vitamin C, E, essential fatty acids, calcium, fibre and potassium. Foods such as avocados, oily fish, bananas, bran, oats, broccoli and asparagus are all excellent anti-cellulite warriors. Indeed asparagus is so loved by the celebrity world that it is used to reduce water retention the night before a red-carpet event – far preferential to the cling film I feel....
Mangoes, papayas and bananas may increase blood flow, whilst vitamin-C rich foods increase collagen formation which improves the appearance of skin. A diet rich in grapefruit, onion, strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, apples, spinach, carrots and chicken, plus antioxidant-rich berries and nuts for healthy fats should see you on your way. Drinking a cup of boiled water with squeezed lemon and a teaspoon of honey (option) is also a strategy adopted by those looking to cleanse the system first thing in the morning.
In sum, cellulite is a very normal and highly prevalent condition. It is designed to ensure that adequate calories are available for pregnancy and lactation and thus affects most of the adult female population.
Distressing though it may be, rather than investing hundreds of pounds in anti-cellulite treatments and creams, which may or may not have any significant and lasting effect, see what changes you can make to your nutrition for lifelong results. Boost your diet with these cellulite-fighting foods and reduce intake of processed, fatty and high-sugar foods. Treat your body like the beautiful temple that it is.