If you were to strip down in front of a full-length mirror right now, you’d be able to identify at least one spot on your body that has cellulite.
On second thought, who needs a mirror? You know your body intimately and can easily recall where those little dimples have left their indelible marks.
The term cellulite was first used in the 1920s by owners of beauty services to promote sales of their products. Fast-forward four decades and publications caught on to the buzzword and started writing about it, with none other than Vogue tackling the issue for its American readers in the early 1970s.
Before cellulite became a hot topic in women’s magazines, it was simply known as fat, and considered a normal feature of adult female skin that manifests when growing older. Today, however, we know that regular body fat differs from cellulite, and to eradicate these dimples you need to understand what cellulite consists of and how it’s formed.
How cellulite is formed
Everyone has a smooth layer of body fat just beneath the skin that functions as an insulator, a cushion for organs, and storage for energy. That’s the good news. Cellulite, however, has a lumpy texture and is a non-medical term for subcutaneous tissue (tissue that is beneath the skin) that has engorged into cells. These cells contain fats, fluids and toxins, and are trapped deep beneath the skin. They swell and pull down the overlying skin and then bulges up in pockets against the connective tissue, causing indentations to the skin. The connective tissue connects the subcutaneous fat cells to the skin.
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Note, your fat cell chambers can become weak and prone to collapse if the connective tissue isn’t strong enough to sustain the pressure from excess weight, poor nutrient levels, fluid retention and/or little exercise. And when these fat cell chambers collapse, smaller compartments of fat cells are formed that cluster under the skin. The combined effect causes the dimpling on the skin’s surface that’s known as cellulite.
Cellulite affects 80 to 90% of women, and is much less common in men. Female skin tissue is thinner and less porous, so when fat cells push up against the skin, they’re more noticeable. The hypodermis (the thickest layer of the skin, which lies just below the dermis) in males have smaller fat cell chambers with stronger connective tissue that enables them to withstand the pressure of collapsing. It’s believed that this structural difference of the fat cell chambers may predispose women more to cellulite. Sorry, ladies!
Women also have a higher concentration of the fat-storing enzyme lipoprotein lipase in the breasts, thighs and buttocks, while men generally have higher levels of the enzyme in their abdomens and backs.
Now that you understand how cellulite is formed, let’s look at the factors that contribute to these pesky little dimples, and how you can curb them:
1. Reduce toxins and aid detoxification
Your skin, liver, intestines and kidneys must work effectively to remove toxins from the body. Incomplete release of colon waste will worsen the toxic level, and waste in fluids will damage collagen and elastin fibres, which can lead to cellulite formation.
By making positive changes to your diet, environment and lifestyle you can effectively reduce the body’s toxin levels:
- Fibre: Ensure sufficient fibre intake and maintain balanced and optimised gut flora. Brown rice, oats, lentils, water, beetroot, beans and green leafy vegetables assist with gut mobility. The pectin in apples is a soluble fibre that also helps clear the digestive tract.
- Prebiotics and fermented foods: These foods contain organic acids, antioxidants, enzymes and probiotics that enhance gut function. Stock up on fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented soya (for example, miso) and kefir, and drinks such as apple cider vinegar and kombucha (a drink containing tea that has been transformed through a sugar, bacteria and yeast fermentation). Also enjoy plain yoghurt daily.
- Refined foods: Packed with additives, sweeteners, chemicals, preservatives, fats and salt, over-processed foods are a definite no-no as they strain the body’s cleansing system. Sugar and refined carbohydrates have a high glycaemic index (GI) that promotes the secretion of insulin, a hormone that leads to premature ageing and the breakdown of collagen. Sugar is also stored in fat cells and causes them to expand.
- Less salt: Cut down on salt as sodium causes water retention, making cellulite appear more visible. A high-sodium diet can cause weight gain, hypertension and dark circles under the eyes.
- Less caffeine and toxins: Remove or limit the use of tobacco, alcohol and coffee. Caffeine – found in coffee, tea, chocolate and fizzy drinks – has a negative and direct impact on lymph flow and blood circulation as it constricts blood vessels.
2. Dehydration and water control
Cellulite shows fluid retention in the connective tissue fibres of the upper layers of the skin. This fluid can cause the thighs, hips and abdomen to swell. Counter this fluid retention by ensuring your potassium-sodium intake is balanced. Use mineral-rich sea salt and eat good quantities of potassium-rich fruit and vegetables.
High quantities of coffee, refined salt, alcohol, and low water intake cause dehydration and will cause cells to hold onto water for their survival. Fill up on filtered water and water-based foods to keep hydrated. Water also flushes toxins that hide in the fat layers beneath the skin.
Cucumber is loaded with the mineral silica, an essential component to ensure healthy connective tissue in the muscles, ligaments, cartilage, bone and skin. Cucumber is also packed with ionic potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. So fill up on cucumber in salads and juice it in smoothies to help draw out excess fluids and tighten collagen to help reduce the appearance of cellulite.
3. Improve the body-fat ratio (reduce excess fat)
Just because you have cellulite doesn’t necessarily mean you’re overweight. Cellulite is formed from fat cells that are stored with fat, fluid and toxins, so it stands to reason that the more fat cells in your body, the greater the chance that cellulite would form.
Cellulite is stored in subcutaneous fat in the hypodermis, and this is also where appetite-regulating hormones – leptin, the appetite suppressor, and ghrelin, the appetite increaser – are produced. Losing weight and reducing the accumulation of fat in the fat cells will help control the release of appetite-inducing hormones, which in turn will lead to a decrease in fat cells. And we all know what this means… less cellulite!
Losing excess weight is a constant struggle for many of us, but there are easy, and tasty, ways of doing it.
4. Stabilise hormones
Hormones are instrumental in the formation and elimination of cellulite. The female hormone oestrogen encourages the storage of excess fat around the hips, thighs and buttocks. It also inhibits the mobilisation of adipose tissue (the main type of connective tissue) from fat cells, preventing it from being used and redistributed to other areas of the body.
Luckily there are effective ways of clearing excess oestrogen. Vegetables from the brassica plant family, including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, contain powerful nutrients, known as indoles, which detoxify bad oestrogenic molecules. These veggies also have sulphur-rich nutrients that enhance liver detoxification processes.
Foods associated with the alium family of plants, including garlic, onions, scallions, chives and leeks, are all rich in sulphur-containing amino acids as well as the powerful flavone antioxidant quercetin, which both help the liver detoxify at a higher level and reduce the production of oestrogen.
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5. Reduce and manage stress
Most of us live stressful lives as we try to balance our work and personal lives. In stressful situations the inflammatory stress hormone cortisol is released and research has proven that people with elevated cortisol levels are more likely to have cellulite.
When you’re suffering from chronic stress, the body starts accumulating fat stores as it prepares for possible famine, which in turn leads to cellulite formation. Try to identify and eliminate the causes of chronic stress and you’ll see the benefits, one of them being less cellulite.
6. Optimise blood circulation and oxygenation
Cellulite generally forms in areas that have poor circulation due to a lack of exercise, too much sitting or clogged arteries. Purifying the body through effective circulation and oxygenation of cells is important in the fight against cellulite. Poor circulation leads to loss of skin firmness and hampers the body’s ability to deliver nutrients to skin cells, causing them to clump together, which can worsen cellulite. Poor lymph drainage leads to sluggish removal of waste in the body which can result in water retention, toxic build-up, slow circulation and further cellulite formation.
The answer to optimising blood circulation and oxygenation lies in the food you eat. Green leafy vegetables, especially those rich in chlorophyll, help with oxygenation. Chlorophyll-rich foods have a deep green colour pigment and they’re extraordinarily useful in purifying the body of toxins. Coenzyme Q10, found in meats, spinach, peanuts and fish, is a potent fat soluble antioxidant which helps circulation, and has an important role in tissue oxygenation.
7. Prevent elastin breakdown and connective tissue alterations
Collagen is the fibrous protein and main component in the connective tissue network that’s responsible for your skin’s firmness, contour and strength, and it also provides cushioning, insulation and temperature regulation. Research has shown that cellulite tissue has a definite decrease in the number, strength and flexibility of elastin and collagen fibres. Cellulite appears worse when the skin's connective tissue is weak, because fat cells can protrude through the connective tissue into the layer of skin just beneath the surface.
Ageing, generally, causes these structural proteins and connective fibres to weaken further, which is why cellulite tend to be more visible in older women. At menopause the epidural layer of the skin also tends to become thinner and less elastic. Also remember to guard against sun exposure as this also causes skin to lose elasticity.
One way of boosting the skin’s strength, thickness and elasticity is to ingest foods that are rich in silicon. These include bell peppers, cucumber (with skin), watermelon, spinach, tomatoes, apples, strawberries, oranges, beets, carrots, radish, romaine/cos lettuce, burdock root, marjoram, and horsetail. Research has also shown the health benefits of bone broth, as it provides the raw materials for the rebuilding and repair of connective tissue structures.
8. Reduce inflammatory factors
An overall increase in inflammation can contribute to poor circulation and reduced lymphatic drainage making the appearance of cellulite worse. Here’s how to get a handle on inflammation by choosing the right fats:
- Replace saturated fats with healthy omega-3 fats that are found in oily fish, flaxseed and fish oils, and nuts. These foods will help with blood circulation and are anti-inflammatory. Include plant-based fats such as coconut oils, extra virgin oil, hemp seeds and avocado in your diet.
- Raw nuts (other than peanuts) and seeds contain anti-oestrogenic plant sterols. Organic poultry, wild-caught salmon, wild game and 100% grass-fed beef contribute to healthy hormone function.
- Flaxseed supports oestrogen levels and boosts collagen growth.
- Choose artisanal butter made from good quality full fat milk products. It contains the fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids that our bodies require to metabolise foods.
- Minimise overcooked and overheated fats as they are difficult for the body to metabolise, and will be stored more easily. This applies to pasteurised dairy, roasted nuts, cooked starch and deep fried fats, especially palm oil and margarines. Cooked fat no longer contains the lipase fat-splitting enzyme and this makes it difficult for the body to correctly metabolise the fat, allowing it to accumulate.
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9. Dietary improvements
A healthy lifestyle, without doubt, can help minimise cellulite formation. The ideal diet should focus on good fats, clean organic animal protein and phytonutrient-rich vegetables.
- Antioxidants are your number one defence against free radicals, which cause damage to skin cells and can contribute to cellulite formation. Include plenty of antioxidant-rich foods in your diet, such as purple berries, and red and orange fruits and veggies. Herbs such as oregano, thyme, cloves, rosemary, sage and turmeric are also loaded with volatile oils that promote liver detoxification.
- Bioflavonoids are known to have chelating properties, binding to toxins and eliminating them safely out of the body. Like other antioxidants they have the ability to neutralise the highly damaging molecules that are responsible for cell deterioration. Bioflavonoids strengthen capillaries and collagen, and target and protect oestrogen-prone fat cells. Primary bioflavonoids can be found in foods such as buckwheat, rose hip, broccoli, citrus fruits, including lemons, oranges, limes and tangerines) berries (including blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries), papaya, cantaloupe, cucumber, garlic, onion, cherries, plums, apples, tomatoes, kiwifruit, grapes, chamomile, lemongrass and red wine.
10. Lifestyle guidelines
Yes, most of us have to give ourselves a pep talk before we hit the treadmill, but it’s worth it if we can lose weight and in the process get rid of those pesky dimples. Regular exercise, especially running and swimming, burns kilojoules that will reduce fat, boost circulation and help disguise cellulite by increasing muscle tone under the skin. Exercise also improves lymphatic drainage, which carries toxins away from cells and curbs cellulite.
Remember these tips while exercising:
- Drink enough water to help flush the system through sweating.
- Breathe deeply to ensure oxygenation of the body.
Forget the ointments and wonder cures that promise to rid you of cellulite. With careful planning and commitment to changing your diet and lifestyle, you can truly bust those dimples. Good luck!
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Image: Woman testing her skin for cellulite from Shutterstock