Cellulite: the bottom line

The sun's come out, your tights are off and your wobbly bits are on show again. But dimply thighs be damned. Sarah Stacey presents her cellulite action-plan
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Summer's arriving with an early roar and the word from Mr Fish is that that big ol' sun is just going to keep on shining. So, you search out the skimpy frocks from the back of the cupboard, then you try on the cozzie, then you gaze, as I did last weekend, at the acres of lumpy, bumpy, squishy, white flesh formerly shrouded by the black opaques. And the great national drought problem is instantly obliterated from your mind (temporarily, of course).

So, what's to do? Trust me, there are answers, both in the short and longer term. I know, because at the age of 48, it's a bitter-sweet realisation that, although my eyesight is failing, hair greying and memory shot to bits, I sport slimmer thighs than I did in my plump teens.

First, give your thighs, body and psyche a quick boost with a coating of fake tan. There are a lot of good ones on the market these days which won't daub you in orange stripes or make you pong like a chemical loo. When a panel of women tested self-tanners for The Beauty Bible, which I co-wrote with Josephine Fairley, (Kyle Cathie, pounds 18.99), the top scorers were Lancome's range of self-tanners and Clinique's Self-Tanning Face Formula. The best budget buys were Yardley Easibronze and Vichy Autobronzant. Devotees of natural products opted for plant and aromatherapy-based Elemis Sunwise Bronzing Cream. (Beware: products designed for the face can be used on the body, but not always vice versa. So, check the label carefully.)

The other quick fix is cellulite cream. This may sound like a rip-off but, to our surprise, Beauty Bible testers were enthusiastic. The big three were world-market-leader Dior Svelte, which has been updated this season to Dior Svelte Perfect, Clarins Body Lift and Chanel Firming Active Body Gel, with Boots Grapefruit Massage Oil heading the budget buys, and Anne-Marie Borlind Body-Lind Cellulite Cream top of the natural section.

The creams will immediately improve the look and texture of the skin and also have an instant, albeit temporary, tightening effect (useful if you want to slither into a tight skirt, but beware tingling on a chilly morning). New York dermatologist Dr Karen Burke, author of Thin Thighs For Life (Hamlyn, pounds 8.99), recommends using creams twice a day for more than a temporary effect. London-based Dr Elizabeth Dancey (author of The Cellulite Solution, Coronet Books, pounds 4.99) recommends two French products - Cellulene by Carilene and Madacason by Laroche Naveron, available from French pharmacies or Beauty By Post (call 01249 819160). Two aminophylline- based products got the thumbs down for triggering skin rashes.

No matter what the ads say, nothing can make your cellulite disappear in a day or even a week. But a month's assault on all fronts could improve it vastly. Your cellulite action-plan needs to be fought on two fronts: first, losing weight and firming flesh; second, liberating fat from the cellulite deposits. Treatment divides into what you can do for yourself, at low cost, and what you can have done for you, which may be expensive.

The following are the staples of successful cellulite treatment. They are also the bases for good health, glowing skin, a streamlined body and abundant energy - so you can achieve a multiple whammy in good time for summer. What's more you'll look and feel better as every day dawns.

Diet

If possible, kick off by detoxing your system with a couple of days only eating fresh fruit and salads

Drink one to two litres a day of still, pure water at room temperature and herbal teas

Eat little and often

Minimise intake of red meat, dairy products, alcohol and sugar

Avoid solid animal fat

Avoid fat/sugar and fat/salt combinations

Avoid artificial additives and processed foods

Feast on high-fibre fruit and vegetables. Current medical thinking in the US dictates eating at least five portions of vegetables, salad and fruit daily (poach or steam vegetables if you have digestive problems)

Try reducing your protein intake to 1oz to 3oz of fish, chicken or egg daily, or opt for all vegetarian food with plenty of pulses, nuts and whole grains

Buy organic produce if possible (thereby avoiding added chemicals or artificial additives which can disrupt your circulation)

Supplements

Dr Burke recommends taking 1g to 6g of vitamin C daily, 400 international units of natural vitamin E in capsule form and supplementing with calcium to make up for the reduction in dairy foods.

Exercise

Try to do four sessions a week of yoga, dance and swimming, which stretch and tone, rather than body-building, plus a brisk, daily walk, swinging your arms as you go (research shows that while joggers may go twice the pace, over the same distance, they burn the same calories as walkers).

Dry Skin Brushing

This is one of the cheapest and most effective methods of stimulating your circulation. With a small, stiff brush or massage glove, brush from your feet upwards in long strokes all over your body towards the heart. (Be careful if you have any problem skin conditions or healing wounds.) It may sound - and feel - like masochism at first, but it is the most wonderfully invigorating treatment. If you shower, try skin brushing first then having a hot shower followed by a cool or cold one - the effect is electrifying.

Massage

The most safe and effective massage for cellulite is manual lymphatic drainage massage (send an SAE to MLD UK, 8 Wittenham Lane, Dorchester on Thames, Oxon OX10 7JW). Gentle self-massage with anti- cellulite oils also helps.

Aromatherapist Robert Tisserand recommends a blend of oils: two drops fennel, two drops rosemary and one drop cypress or two drops sesame. Work this into your legs, from toe to waist, using long firm strokes. (For mail order, call 01273 325666.)

Stress Reduction

As with everything in life, it is vital to reduce stress to combat your cellulite. The quickest thing you can do is to start improving your breathing. Untangle your arms and legs, stand or sit straight, feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. Breath in slowly through your nose to a count of four, hold the breath for one, then breathe out through your mouth, again counting to four. Do this several times and as often as possible during the day.

Professional Therapies Ionothermie: A method of combining plant and mineral preparations with a gentle electric current. Good for tone and texture. May be useful in combination with the basic home treatment above and other professional treatments. (For further details, call 01753 833900.)

Mesotherapy: A respected European technique, where minute quantities of pharmacological drugs are injected into the cellulite deposits to boost circulation, stimulate drainage and digest hard-lump tissue around cells. Must be administered by a medical practitioner and should be done in conjunction with home techniques outlined above. Patients usually need 15 sessions, which cost around pounds 50 each. (For further details, call Dr Elizabeth Dancey on 0171 224 1330.)

So what is cellulite?

It's still unclear, but it's undoubtedly a type of fat that is packaged in a way different to that found in the rest of the body, and different to that found in men. Dr Karen Burke (see main piece) says it's a natural female condition related to the hormone oestrogen. At puberty, oestrogen creates curves by enlarging fat cells, particularly on hips and thighs. From then on, women live in a scud of rising and falling hormones, exacerbated by the Pill or HRT. Cellulite shows up because women's fat is packaged in standing chambers, tall and arched like gothic windows, with the points of the connective tissue anchored to the deep layer of the skin. As women grow older, these connective tissue anchors thicken, surface skin becomes thinner, and most of us put on weight, which reduces both blood flow and drainage of the lympathic system (the body's mechanism for taking away waste and toxins). So, the cellulite becomes not only more visible but also more difficult to budge.

What causes cellulite?

The food you eat: anything which deposits fat on your bottom half, particularly too much fat and sugar which is stored as fat, principally around your thighs and bottom. Villains include sugary, fatty treats and junk-food snacks.

Yoyo dieting: women store fat six times more readily on their lower body than the upper part. Conversely, the lower body is six times less keen on releasing its fat. So, if we gain 7lb in weight, 6lb goes on our bottom half. If we lose 7lb, 6lb goes from the top and only one from the bottom. If we continually yoyo diet, the pattern intensifies (try the maths, it's mindboggling). You can change the shape of your body permanently - for the worse.

Blood sugar imbalance

Insufficient trace elements (mainly zinc, chromium, nickel and cobalt), usually due to too many processed, ready-made, pre-packed foods and not enough fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, pulses, fish and meat (for non-vegetarians). Symptoms of this deficiency include a general fatigue and lack of energy and may lead to a sugar craving before menstruation or in general. Lack of fresh fruit and vegetables can also upset the sodium/ potassium balance which can contribute to cellulite.

Not enough water

Diuretics: ultimately cause more water retention.

Slimming pills: these lead to water retention, fatigue and irritability.

Artificial additives: pesticides, colouring, flavourings and sweeteners.

Food allergies and intolerance: many common foods today can trigger reactions, ranging from mild intolerance to a full-blown allergy. The most common trigger foods are: wheat, milk (particularly cow's), eggs, coffee and tea, tomatoes, oranges, chocolate, fish and shellfish.

Hormones: many experts believe that prescribed hormones can increase the problem. Any hormonal disruption from puberty through pregnancy to menopause can affect cellulite.

Pelvic Surgery: disrupts the lymph system.

Stress: can alter body chemistry and prompt the storage of fat.

Damage from free radicals: excess free radicals in your system (the probable culprits behind cancer and heart disease) can contribute to cellulite by damaging the circulation. Excess is principally caused by smoking, pollution of all kinds and UV light.

Treatments to steer clear of

Always beware clinics which promise to cure your cellulite without you lifting a finger, especially if they want payment for a course of treatment in advance. And I'm also sceptical about the following:

Cellulolipolysis: An invasive medical technique, usually carried out at cosmetic surgery clinics, where electrodes in the form of long needles are inserted into the cellulite. This claims to be a long-lasting method of burning up fat, achieved by helping cells to fight against the current, thus stimulating cellular activity. It is painful and, in a small, unpublished study by a leading surgeon, only half of a sample of people treated in this way said that they had seen an improvement.

Surgery: Surgical interventions in the form of liposuction, liposculpture and ultrasonic liposuction have been offered as answers to cellulite. The bottom line is that they remove fat, not cellulite. And they don't repair the damaged miaocirculation and lymph system. In fact, it is conceivable that surgery could inflict further damage to these, leading to more cellulite.

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