There is no shortage of dietary advice regarding cellulite. Most of it involves eating more fruits and vegetables, less fat and sugar, and everything in moderation. But we are quickly discovering here at The Cellulite Investigation that there is more to the elusive anti-cellulite diet than most nutritionists are taught in school.
As we learned in our primer on cellulite, cellulite is the visible component of damaged connective tissue, more specifically, the tissue connecting the subcutaneous fat to the skin. The body will repair this damaged tissue naturally given the right raw materiel (i.e. nutrients), but these nutrients need to be adequately digested and then circulated to the outermost cells of the body.
An effective anti-cellulite diet will 1) provide the proper nutrients to repair connective tissue, 2) maximize digestion, and 3) foster healthy circulation both to and from the cells. Here in the CI kitchen, we investigate foods that have a significant impact on each of these core functions.
Dr. Bruno Chikly, one of the world’s foremost experts on the lymphatic system, describes cellulite as pockets of fat that will not dissolve following an extreme fast (see “The Difference Between Fat and Cellulite: Interview with Dr. Bruno Chikly”). Studies have shown that weight loss can actually increase cellulite.1
Instead of focusing on losing weight, it is more effective to treat cellulite by including key nutrients in the diet. In The Cellulite Solution, Dr. Howard Murad identifies nutrients that are particurepairing connective tissue. It is not surprising that these nutrients are abundant in the connective tissue of animals throughout the food chain. Ample amounts of these nutrients are no longer present in the modern diet. Not long ago, they were a cornerstone.
Before the advent of our industrialized food supply, homemade bone broths were an essential element of the human diet. These slow-simmered stocks are rich in the raw material the body needs to repair connective tissue, such as glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen, and othermicronutrients we have yet to discover.
Broths are simple to make at home, and they are economical because they use ingredients you would otherwise throw away (see this post for a basic recipe for homemade stock). Shrimp shells are particularly dense in glucosamine, a fact which is the basis of my shrimp stock theory. Be sure to use the best quality ingredients you can find. Wild shrimp or organic, free-range poultry work best. Avoid poultry raised on feed that is not certified organic. I learned this tip the hard way.
Most cellulite experts are quick to recommend Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) as a crucial component of the elusive anti-cellulite diet. EFA’s help rebuild the cell membrane and attract moisture to the cells. Yet because they are stuck in the conventional thinking on fat, these same cellulite experts advise against foods that are richest in EFA’s.
Animal products contain certain Essential Fatty Acids that are not present in fish and nuts. Conjugated linoleic acid, for example, is an EFA found primarily in the meat and dairy products of ruminants. It is a common ingredient in many anti-cellulite treatments. Other foods that are rich in EFA’s include whole milk, heavy cream, cheese, butter, coconut oil, palm oil, even beef tallow and lard.
But won’t these foods make you gain weight and lead to heart disease? Foods high in saturated fats were often prized and consumed liberally in non-industrialized societies where ailments such as heart disease and obesity were virtually unknown. To read a fascinating account of these traditional diets, see Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price (you can also read the book online). Heart disease and obesity did not become common until the advent of refined sugar, refined flour, and industrialized vegetable oils.
This view of saturated fat is a significant deviation from conventional nutrition theory, so I don’t expect you to take my word for it. You’ve likely heard the argument against saturated fat your whole life. Why not read the other side of the story and draw your own conclusion?
If you are looking for the hard scientific evidence, I recommend Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. Taubes recently wrote another book called Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It that presents the same information in a more readable format. Fat: It’s Not What You Think by Connie Leas also takes a scientific approach without losing readability (read our Interview with Connie Leas). Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck explains the more practical aspects of the theory, such as how to implement it in your daily diet.
Some authors argue that eating healthy saturated fats (I don’t recommend fats from animals raised in CAFO’s) will actually lead to weight loss. The Atkins diet is the most famous, of course. Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig is another. In this book, the authors explain that, in addition to supplying Essential Fatty Acids, saturated fats are more satiating than other foods –meaning they work to satisfy hunger and reduce cravings for sweets and carbs, the true culprits in the obesity epidemic.
So while we don’t focus on losing weight as a cellulite strategy, you just might notice it as a side effect.
**Please note that saturated fats can be difficult to digest if your body is not accustomed to them (I can vouch for this from personal experience). Many saturated fats are composed of longer-chain fatty acids that require bile salts secreted by the gallbladder for digestion. If your diet does not regularly include adequate amounts of saturated fats (and most modern diets do not), your gallbladder will stop producing sufficient amounts of bile salts. This will improve in time as your body adjusts to the change in diet. For this reason, coconut oil is a good saturated fat to start with since it is composed of medium-chain fatty acids that do not require bile salts for digestion.2
What good is a nutrient-dense diet if your body is not absorbing the quality raw material you are providing? For this reason, healthy digestion is a critical aspect of an effective anti-cellulite diet.
Fiber is the term used to describe a family of complex carbohydrates that are indigestible to humans. The term includes cellulose and other substances present in the cell walls of plants. In her bestselling book Cellulite: Those Lumps, Bumps and Bulges You Couldn’t Lose Before, Nicole Ronsard recommends a high fiber diet to “sweep” the entire digestive system of waste and dead cells. This is a common refrain in anti-cellulite diet plans.
I followed this advice at the outset of The Cellulite Investigation by using psyllium husks for a two week “cleanse,” as prescribed in The Ultimate Cellulite Treatment in a Book by Bronwyn Hewitt. I soon noticed negative side effects of the cleanse that led me to find an alternative theory of digestive health.
The majority of cells in the human body are bacteria that live in the digestive system.3 They help the body break down food, prevent the growth of pathogens, and even produce vitamins such as B and K. Hefty doses of fiber can disrupt this delicate ecosystem.4
This is why traditional societies placed a great emphasis not on fiber, but on foods that build up the intestinal flora –including fermented dairy products, raw cheeses, sauerkraut, and other naturally-fermented foods. Even the American staples of ketchup, mustard, and relish were traditionally prepared as fermented foods for this same purpose. Kefir is a particularly powerful probiotic, and it’s easy to make at home.
According to Dr. Christiane Norththrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, 1 in 4 women show signs of gluten sensitivity. Gluten isn’t the only culprit that can wreak havoc on the digestive system. Processed milk, soy, corn, and countless other foods can be the hidden cause of recurring indigestion, bloating, heartburn, and other unpleasant symptoms.
In extreme cases, the source of food intolerance is easy to identify. But what about cases that aren’t so severe? Many of us carry on with unidentified food sensitivities. The next time you experience a symptom of food intolerance (bloating, gas, upset stomach, diarrhea, heartburn… you get the point) why not make an extra effort to identify its source?
If keeping a food diary sounds too cumbersome, start by documenting what you ate just prior to an onset of symptoms. Eventually, you might notice a trend. Elimination diets require more effort, but they can be an effective way to identify an offending food.
If there is one food to avoid on an anti-cellulite diet, it is trans fat. Since cellulite is caused by lymphatic congestion, anything that impairs lymphatic flow will contribute to the dreaded blight. Here’s why trans fats are particularly bad.
When you eat a fatty meal, the fat molecules are absorbed by lymphatic vessels in the small intestine. Smaller particles, like amino acids and sugars, are absorbed directly into the bloodstream but larger particles, like fat, must first go through the lymph before entering the bloodstream at the heart.5
Trans fats are oils that are chemically altered by manufacturers to be solid at room temperature. The body tries to treat trans fats as normal dietary fats, but their altered chemical structure interferes with thousands of necessary chemical reactions.2 Dr. Mary Enig, a lipid biochemist who was among the first to study trans fats in the 1970′s, claims saturated fats were wrongly accused for the problems caused by trans fats, since most studies at that time did not differentiate between the two.
Trans fats are commonly found in commercial baked goods and fried foods. Avoid foods made with shortening or hydrogenated oils. Don’t be fooled by misleading labels. Some foods claim to be free of trans fat because they contain less than half a gram per serving. Popular coffee creamers are especially guilty of this.
When it comes to treating cellulite with food, these are the major leads we’ve uncovered in our investigation thus far. But the possibilities for treating cellulite through diet are seemingly endless.
We have yet to delve into the details of anti-cellulite herbs, although I have experimented with horse chestnut seed extract (with surprising results). Cranberry juice, lecithin, farm-fresh eggs, raw honey, and even beer have each shared the CI spotlight at one point or another in our investigation. Surely there are many healing foods we have yet to discover.
Another aspect of the anti-cellulite diet not covered above is the influence certain foods can have on our hormones. There exists a clear link between cellulite and estrogen, but the nature of this connection is still poorly understood. Current research on thyroid-affecting halogens, such as iodine, fluoride, and bromine, could play an important role in our investigation, as well.
Cellulite is by no means an open-and-shut case. As you can see, the investigation is ongoing. To stay updated on the latest developments, be sure to subscribe to the CI blog either through RSS or email.