By Dr. Mercola
Cellulite—those little pockets of fat that give some an "orange peel" or "cottage cheese" appearance to skin —is a source of great embarrassment for many. If you've tried numerous treatments to no avail, you may be wondering... does anything actually work on cellulite?
The answer is, YES! There really are things you can do, but they have nothing to do with the creams and gadgets you've seen advertised on late night TV.
There Are No Quick Fixes for Cellulite
Cellulite's bumpy appearance is due to the way your fat cells connect to your skin amidst the connective tissue just below it. Your connective tissue is attached to the lower layers of your skin by relatively inelastic fibers, causing the skin to become dimpled if your fat cells are enlarged.
Fluid retention, storage of toxins, poor circulation, and poor muscle tone all worsen the appearance of cellulite. Today, you can't escape bombardment by ads for creams, wraps, and medical procedures claiming to "cure" cellulite, but don't waste your money. These are temporary fixes at best, and without continual treatment, cellulite just reappears.
As with so many other health issues, the key is in the lifestyle choices you make every day. Treating cellulite successfully requires accurate information, a little bit of patience, and your willingness to make some long-term changes, such as what you eat, when you eat, and how you exercise.
I will be discussing specific strategies in a moment, but before we hit the nitty-gritty, it is important to understand what you are actually treating and why.
Your Lymphatic System Is Key
The presence of cellulite should be viewed as more than just a cosmetic issue—it's a window into your overall health and may indicate a larger health problem. Cellulite often results from a buildup of toxins in your tissues, especially in your fat cells. If you have cellulite, it may mean that your detoxification system needs support—specifically, your liver and lymphatic system.
"Detoxification" is more accurately defined as the mobilization and elimination of waste, toxins, pathogens, and other unwanted debris from your body. Therefore, if your goal is to reduce cellulite, supporting your liver and keeping your lymph flowing are two key objectives.
Lymph is a clear, colorless fluid that serves as the transport medium of your lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system is part of your circulatory system and has a number of functions, including the removal of interstitial fluid, the extracellular fluid that bathes most of your tissues. Lymph also transports white blood cells between your 600 to 700 lymph nodes and other areas of your body.
Lymph moves between your cells, tissues, and organs along a lymphatic "highway" of specialized capillaries. About three-quarters of these capillaries are superficial, located near the surface of your skin.1 This is why treating cellulite requires that you give some special care to your lymphatic system!
Cellulite May Mean Your Lymphatic System Is Backed Up
Your lymphatic system is essentially your body's "sewage processing plant," responsible for removing waste, toxins, and other unwanted material out of your cells and tissues so they can be flushed out of your body. When your lymph stops flowing freely, it's like having your garbage company go on strike. Your garbage begins to pile up—and the longer the strike, the higher it piles. If the strike goes on long enough, your home will become toxic and you'll get sick. This is what happens with sluggish lymph: waste accumulates in your cells and tissues.
Unlike your blood, which has a beating heart to push it along, your lymph requires actual movement from you in order to keep it flowing. So, if you don't move much, your lymph doesn't move much either... and cellular "garbage" begins piling up. Your fat cells are particularly susceptible to the buildup of fluids and toxins. You have 500 to 1,000 times more toxins in your fat than in the rest of your tissues. If your lymph becomes sluggish, then your fat cells may swell—and one of the consequences is cellulite.
According to one study, women with cellulite typically have lymphatic deficiencies.2 Another study found that 80 percent of women have sluggish lymphatic systems.3 Cellulite is not the worst thing that can happen when your lymphatic system isn't working properly—you can actually become quite ill.4 In your body, garbage removal is serious business, which is why it's so important to not ignore warning signs that your body's detoxification system is compromised, and cellulite is one of those signs.
You Can't Spot-Treat Cellulite
Cellulite is a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution, as opposed to spot treatments. In the words of personal trainer Ariane Hundt, founder of Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp:5 "Getting rid of cellulite requires proper exercise, nutrition, proper circulation and the control of fat-storage hormones that are more prevalent in the lower body."
Reducing cellulite is approached much like reducing overall body fat—it is best tackled through proper diet and exercise to get at the hormonal and metabolic processes that control fat storage. By regularly engaging in vigorous exercise, not only will you increase your lean body mass, but you'll also stimulate your lymphatic system and help your body to mobilize and eliminate toxins. Most of these toxins are fat-soluble and are released when your fat is burned for fuel.6 Exercise will improve your circulation, both in your blood and lymphatic vessels.
Acceleration Training May Reduce Cellulite 26 to 32 Percent
I'll address diet shortly, but in terms of exercise, there is nothing more effective at reducing cellulite than Acceleration Training, also known as Whole Body Vibration Training (WBVT). Acceleration Training is performed on a platform that vibrates in three dimensions, such as the Power Plate. This motion improves your lymphatic circulation and helps break down cellulite from the inside out.
The vibrations cause thousands of muscle contractions that pump lymph out of congested tissues, helping to flush out toxins, which eases the load on your immune system. It also stimulates your production of human growth hormone (HGH), the "fat burning hormone." The Power Plate has been scientifically shown to be more effective than aerobic exercise at reducing visceral fat,7 and research has also proven that it's also excellent at reducing cellulite. In a 2004 German study, subjects exercised on Power Plates for eight to 13 minutes, two to three times a week.
After six months, they experienced a 26 percent reduction of cellulite on their buttocks and thighs. A second group added 24 to 48 minutes of cardio training to the same Power Plate workout and experienced a 32 percent reduction in cellulite after six months.8 Other studies confirm the benefits of Acceleration Training for sustained fat loss. For example, one animal study showed that it decreased the production of new fat cells.9
How to Demolish Your Cellulite with a Power Plate
There are some specific Power Plate exercises that may be particularly good for cellulite-prone areas of your body, such as your buttocks and thighs. Not surprisingly, squats and lunges are among the best, whether done on a Power Plate or not. But when combined with Acceleration Training, their effectiveness is kicked up several notches! Women's Fitness recommends the following three Power Plate exercises. (For diagrams and equipment settings, refer to the original article.)10
- Squat with strap hold: Facing away from the machine, stand on the platform with a wide stance. Get into a squat position and grab the straps with a neutral grip at the base. Keeping your arms straight and inside of your elbows, pull the straps straight upwards. Maintain tension in the straps and hold for the required time to complete a set.
- Lateral Step-Lunge: Begin standing on a step next to the plate, with your right side nearest the machine. Step onto the platform with your right foot and lower down to a 90-degree bend in your right knee, keeping your left leg straight. Hold for a count of two and return your right leg to the step. Repeat for the required time to complete a set, then switch legs.
- Single-Leg Squat: Stand on the platform on one leg and sit back into a squat position by bending at your hips and knees, keeping your chest up. Slowly stand up without locking your knees, then move back into the squat. Repeat for the required time to complete a set, and then repeat on the other leg.
Another Women's Fitness article adds these exercises to the list:11
- Bridge: Lie in front of your Power Plate with your back on a mat. Place your feet in the center of the platform and adjust your position so you can lift your hips off the floor and balance your body weight between your shoulders and feet. Try to keep a straight line running from your shoulders to your knees. Pull your belly button "up and in" to activate your core.
- Lunge with Lateral Raise: Stand on the floor facing your Power Plate, one stride's distance away. Holding a strap in each hand, place your right foot on the middle of the platform. Ease your left foot back on the floor until you're in a lunge position, and lift your left heel so that you're balanced on your toes. Drop your back knee towards the floor, keeping your front knee behind your toes and your torso upright.
Lift your arms straight out to the sides, level with your shoulders, to form a "T" shape, keeping your wrists, elbows, and shoulders in a straight line with a slight bend at the elbow, and maintain tension in the straps by pulling upwards throughout. To progress, increase the depth of your lunge as you exhale and turn your palms to face the ceiling.
- Squat with bicep curl: Holding the straps, stand in the middle of your platform with the controls behind you. Ensuring your knees stay behind the line of your toes, lower your hips into a squat position. With your palms facing up, lift your arms in front of you, keeping a slight bend in your elbows. Focusing on your biceps, continuously pull on the straps as hard as you can. Try not to let your shoulders come forward as you tire.
- Quad massage: Place a mat in front of your Power Plate. Position yourself onto the base with the front of your thighs resting on the platform and your face down. Rest your forearms on the mat in front of you to support your upper body. Keep a strong, flat back. You can also place a step underneath your torso and arms to aid rest. Close your eyes, relax your breathing, and enjoy the massage.
Don't Have a Power Plate?
If you don't have access to a Power Plate, a rebounder (mini trampoline) provides some of the same benefits, but less extreme. Unlike jogging on hard surfaces, which stresses your knees and ankles, rebounding is much easier on your joints and helps improve your circulation, muscle strength, and balance. You don't have to do high impact rebounding to receive lymphatic benefits—even short episodes of gentle bouncing, spread throughout the day, are helpful in getting your lymph moving.
If you don't have access to a Power Plate or rebounder, in addition to them, one of the most effective cellulite-busting exercises is high intensity interval training (HIIT), especially when combined with intermittent fasting. HIIT is an excellent way to kick up your metabolism and shift your body back into a fat-burning mode, as well as, increasing your HGH production.
Intermittent Fasting Can Turn You Into a Fat Burning Machine
The key to reducing or eliminating cellulite is to shift your body from burning sugar (glucose) to burning fat as its primary fuel, in order to get rid of excess fat deposits. Intermittent fasting (IF) is one of the most powerful interventions I know of to turn you into a fat-burning machine. I have been experimenting with different types of intermittent fasting for the past several years, and my preference is to simply skip breakfast and restrict my eating to a six- to seven-hour daily window.
This is doable for most people, but you can restrict it even further—down to six, four, or even two hours if you want. But you can still reap many of these rewards by limiting your eating to a window of about eight hours. The most important thing to consider about intermittent fasting is this: do not attempt it if your diet still consists mostly of processed foods, as proper nutrition becomes critical when you are fasting. Once you have reached your ideal body weight, you can be a bit more liberal, and rather than doing daily IF you can do it as frequently as you need to in order to maintain your ideal body weight.
What You Eat Is as Important as When You Eat
It is important to reduce your sugar intake, particularly processed fructose, as excess dietary sugar will prevent your body from making that much-needed shift into its fat-burning mode. Eliminate ALL high fructose corn syrup from your diet (which is in nearly every processed food), as it will bring your fat burning to a screeching halt. Replace excess sugar and refined grains with beneficial dietary fats such as avocados, raw nuts and seeds, coconut oil, and organic grass-pastured meats, eggs, and dairy.
Chemical-laden junk foods just add to the toxic load on your liver and lymphatic system, and should be avoided. Refined salt, also loaded into processed food, contributes to fluid retention and therefore to cellulite. If you want more nutrition information, please refer to my optimized Nutrition Plan.
You may wish to incorporate a detoxification program to help reduce your body's toxic load. Once you get your lymph flowing, your liver must be healthy and able to eliminate all of this debris, so it may benefit from some support. One simple but very effective detoxification protocol involves a combination of niacin (vitamin B3), exercise, and sauna therapy. Make sure you drink plenty of water, especially if you are on a detoxification program—your body requires good hydration in order to flush out toxins.
Recap—Plus a Few More Valuable Tips
There are no quick fixes for cellulite, but there are ways to reduce or even eliminate it over time. In summary, my cellulite-busting plan consists of the following three primary strategies to restart your fat burning engine and help your body purge tissues of excess fluids, unwanted debris, and toxins:
- Regular vigorous exercise—especially Acceleration Training, rebounding, and HIIT—will boost your metabolism and assist your body with detoxification, providing support to your liver and lymphatic system
- Intermittent fasting further revs up your fat-burning engine
- Optimizing your diet is important to give your body all of the nutrients it needs for optimal metabolic and hormonal function
The following are a few additional strategies you may wish to incorporate:
- Dry Skin Brushing: Dry skin brushing stimulates your lymphatic system, accelerates detoxification, boosts circulation, exfoliates, and may help to reduce cellulite
- Massage: Massage stimulates your lymphatic flow and increases circulation, in addition to a long list of other health benefits
- Hydrotherapy: Taking a cold shower, or alternating between hot and cold water in the shower, boosts your body's fat burning ability and assists with detoxification
- "Emotional Detox": Have you taken out your "emotional garbage"? According to Louise Hay, the emotional cause of cellulite is "stored anger and self-punishment."12 One of the best tools for performing your own "emotional detox" is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which is easy to learn and very effective in clearing out old emotional stuff