The good and bad news about ways you can minimize cellulite

It’s bathing-suit season again. There you are, trying on bikinis in the fitting room of a chic boutique. The fluorescent lighting makes your skin look an oh-so-lovely shade of light green; that funhouse mirror your figure is reflected in would make even Lisa Lowe look 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide. You know all that’s just an illusion–but hey, wait a minute! What’s that cottage cheese doing on your upper thighs? Can it be? Cellulite?

Many of us are all-too-familiar with the wafflelike, bumpy, fatty tissue that presents itself on our legs and buttocks. Cellulite may seem tough to beat, but you don’t have to restrict yourself to wearing long shorts and skirts all summer. You can use a number of easy and effective methods to reduce cellulite or eliminate it altogether. The first step? Read on: Understanding what causes cellulite in the first place, the factors that may make you more susceptible to having it, the difference between cellulite fact and fiction, and the solutions that really work will help you minimize or even get rid of that pucker once and for all.

The Cellulite Starting Point

Cellulite is best defined as deposits of fat under the skin. How it comes to be is actually pretty simple: Underneath the epidermis, or covering of the skin, lies a connected structure of tissue known as the corium, and beneath that lies more matter called subcutaneous tissue. Within the body’s subcutaneous tissue, fat is contained in chambers, which are separated by walls of linked collagen tissue. When too much fat crams itself into those chambers, the result is an uneven bulging of the skin and–you guessed it–cellulite. Being overweight, then, is a major contributing factor to those dimples on your thighs.

According to estimates, 90%-98% of people with cellulite are women. Why? One reason is that men have tougher skin corium, and the makeup of their subcutaneous tissue structure doesn’t allow fat to collect. Men therefore have smoother, tighter skin than women do. Another factor is hormonal. Estrogen, and to a lesser degree progesterone, rev up fat storage as it’s needed for menstruation and pregnancy Plus, in late stages of pregnancy estrogen can actually break collagen tissue fibers apart, a crucial step in relaxing the cervix for childbirth. All this sets up a major breeding ground for cellulite. Progesterone can also play a role by stressing out your veins, making you retain fluid and causing you to put on the pounds.

Aging can be another risk factor; some research reveals that as many as 95% of women over age 30 have at least some cellulite. The tissue walls that separate those chambers where women store their fat can get thinner, which in turn lets the chambers expand, and fat cells can escape into the corium itself. A slower body metabolism as we age can contribute to the problem, too.

Cellulite develops in stages, not all at once. Michael Murray, ND, and Joseph Pizzaro, ND, in their book Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Revised 2nd Edition (Prima Publishing, 1998) outline four stages of cellulite. Stage 0 is when your skin is smooth. During Stage 1, your body basically looks cellulite-free unless you pinch an inch–then you can see some puckering. This is a realistic goal for most people to attain. Stage 2 happens when you can see lumps and bumps when you stand upright, but then they disappear if you lie down. Stage 3 means you have visible cellulite no matter what position your body is in.

Busting The Myths And Learning The Real Deal

Even though carrying extra weight is certainly one cause of cellulite, it’s a myth that you won’t get it if you stay at a normal bodyweight. Truth is, even if you have just 15% bodyfat, you can still have cellulite, even if it’s a small amount. Why can slim women still be affected? Poor blood circulation to where your bodyfat is stored can damage tissue, blocking air and trapping toxins, which can lead to that unsightly bulge. Other factors include lack of exercise; poor lymph system drainage; food allergies; eating foods high in preservatives, which build up body toxins; yo-yo dieting, which can cause your body to hold onto more fat deposits in the lower body; even too much sun, which ages your skin faster.

You may have heard that drinking too many carbonated beverages or eating lots of bread may cause cellulite, that hubbies or yeast can actually create that cottage cheese. Not so, explains Janet Helm, MS, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Because cellulite is nothing more than regular fat, no foods cause it particularly, or can help reduce it,” she says. “Fizzy drinks don’t cause it. Excess calories in general are the cause–and some people are more prone to cellulite than others.”

Family history can play a big part in the development of cellulite. “It’s all genetic,” notes Jonathon Allen, a personal trainer at The Sports Club/LA in Los Angeles. “Cellulite is a pattern–the body owns the fat, the muscles don’t release toxins, then add to that a lifestyle that promotes fluid retention and poor circulation.”

Which solutions should I try?

A lot of weird and wacky “miracle cures” claim to get rid of cellulite, but really don’t work at all. Creams, gels, loofahs, bath liquids, body wraps, toning lotions, rubberized pants (scary, but these really do exist)–such products won’t cause you to lose anything but your hard-earned money. Cellulite isn’t something you can just rub away. It’s really just plain old bodyfat.

Flip through any fashion magazine and you’re bound to see articles and advertisements detailing a variety of spa treatments that purport to reduce or eliminate cellulite. Electrical muscle stimulation, hormone and enzyme injections, vibrating machines, exfoliants and heating pad treatments are just a few of the services you might be tempted to try. Concerns about safety have caused the Food and Drug Administration to investigate many of these products. Others have been proven to be nothing more than placebos where you may see temporary results, since your body has just lost water from the treatment. Your cellulite usually reappears in all its glory once you eat or drink something. Should you nix spa options altogether? Not necessarily–just be realistic in your expectations.

Herbal treatments, such as ginkgo biloba, soy lecithin, grape seed bioflavonoids, sweet clover extract, evening primrose and fish oil haven’t been proven to offer long-term solutions. Lymphatic drainage, as achieved through medical percussive therapy techniques, may offer some cosmetic improvement, but clinical trials on this type of therapy aren’t complete. Endermology or roller massage can be a short-term fix at best.

So if you don’t want to subject yourself to the major expense of liposuction, how can you win the war against cellulite? Eat right, and work out! It sounds deceptively simple, but a solid, overall fitness program combined with a healthy eating plan is the tried-and-true weapon in the war against cellulite. “There’s no way spot reduction will work,” insists Helm. Alien agrees: “In terms of an exercise program, frequent 20-60-minute workouts will improve circulation and move fluid. Drink lots of water, do aerobics and eat clean food–minimal sugar, fat and preservatives.”

Stick to a plan and be patient. You’ll start to notice results when your muscle tone begins to increase: Residual fat will cease to protrude as much.

Cellulite can definitely be improved smartly and safely, so don’t freak out over a little bit of cottage cheese here and there. Maintaining healthy habits and a healthy attitude should keep those lumps and bumps at bay. After all, your thighs are just a tiny part of what makes you healthy, strong and beautiful–so accept them, and yourself!


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