What are the worst things for cellulite?
This is the most common question we are asked at our practice, especially by younger women who are interested in cellulite prevention more than cellulite reduction. Elsewhere on this website we analyse the causes of cellulite in a more general way. The following list, however, gives you more specific information on the 7 most important lifestyle causes of cellulite, i.e. the things you can practically avoid to prevent cellulite or to stop it from becoming more pronounced.
The seven deadly (for the appearance of your legs) sins
This list was compiled according to the information we received from more than 2,000 clients which we have treated during the last 14 years, and according to what science has to say about the the physiology of cellulite. First you can read about the three main causes (the deadly triad as I call it): sugar, inactivity & the pill. And then you can read about the other four: overeating, smoking, alcohol and hydrogenated/fried fats / oils.
Sugar consumption is the most important cause of cellulite today. Sugar and all it's forms (sucrose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), maltodextrin etc.) comprise an ever increasing part of our diet these days.
Sugary foods (pastry, sugar, fructose, deserts, honey, chocolate, cocktails, jam, cola drinks etc.) don't just provide the female body with excessive calories but also with insulin, i.e. the means of depositing those calories straight into the fat cells (including the cellulite fat cells): sugary foods, especially when consumed by sedentary people, stimulate the secretion of excessive amounts of insulin, a hormone that in turn mediates the absorption of sugars by the adipocytes (fat cells) where they are converted into fat. Furthermore, insulin stimulates fat deposition into the fat cells as well.
In addition, sugars cause deterioration and ageing of the connective tissue (including skin and the collagen fibres found in the cellulite tissue) through a process called glycation.
Because of the excessiveness of sugar consumption today sugar has to at the be top of this list, especially if it's consumption is combined with inactivity.
Inactivity is a close second to sugar consumption as a leading cause of cellulite. Inactivity upsets the calorie balance and encourages large amounts of calories to be stored as fat in the adipocytes, including the adipocytes found in the "cellulite layer" of the hips and thighs. This process is accelerated with sugar consumption, and very quickly leads to cellulite creation.
Like sugar, which has a "double whammy" effect in cellulite creation, inactivity does not just cause cellulite by upsetting your body's calorie balance. Inactivity denies your connective tissue cells (fibroblasts) the valuable mechanical stimulation they need to stay functional and productive. Moreover, inactivity encourages your fat cells to proliferate at the expense of fibroblasts, thereby replacing your firmness with fat...
If you thought that inactivity in combination with sugar consumption is bad enough for your body, wait until you hear how hormonal contraception can make things even worse...
3. The "pill"
The birth control pill may have contributed to the liberation of women, uncoupling the issue of reproduction from that of sex, but it has also put a new word in our vocabulary: cellulite.
There is no denying that the word cellulite appeared in our language (at least in the French language to begin with) at roughly the same time that the use of the contraceptive pill became widespread - and for good reason.
Estrogen is the main factor why women develop cellulite and men don't. Estrogen help fat cells in the hip and thigh area to act like fat traps, stimulating the proliferation of fat cells in the subcutaneous layer of the skin and setting the foundations for the development of pre-cellulite first, and cellulite afterwards. Another way in which estrogen transforms thigh and butt fat cells into fat traps is by ensuring that there is a higher percentage of anti-lipolytic enzymes (enzymes that stop the breakdown of fat) in the thigh and hip fat cells, both on the surface (cellulite) and deeper inside the body (storage fat).
Estrogen itself does not cause cellulite, but in combination with sugar consumption, inactivity and other factors, acts as a catalyst for the creation of cellulite. Furthermore, excessive amounts of artificial, alien to the body estrogens provided by hormonal contraception in the form of pills, patches and coils, further accelerate cellulite development.
Pregnancy is another situation where estrogen levels are high in the body (and consequently a leading cause of cellulite), but it is hardly not a deadly sin, so it is not analysed in this article.
4. Overeating (and binge-drinking)
Overeating, especially in combination with inactivity upsets the calorie balance in your body and can lead to excessive deposition of fat into your fat cells, including the "cellulite layer" fat cells.
Mild calorie imbalance would not normally be a significant cellulite-causing factor, as your body can adjust it's metabolism to accommodate for a few extra calories. Or, alternatively you could make up for mild overeating one day by exercising on the same or another day.
However, with serious overeating, or bingeing, things are different. When you consume, for example 500 or even 1,000 calories more than you need on a single day, you body has no other option than to dump those excessive calories straight into your fat cells, especially your hip and thigh cellulite layer fat cells.
We described above how these fat cells acts as a fat trap due to action of estrogen. The effects of overeating also become worse when overeating is combined with inactivity or when the sugary foods are consumed.
As you have probably guessed, binge-drinking is similar in it's effects to binge eating, but much worse: even medium regular alcohol consumption (especially beer or cocktail consumption) is in itself a cause of cellulite, but not as important as binge-drinking or binge-eating are. You can read more on that below.
Smoking is indeed a cause of cellulite, but not as important as the above four factors. Smoke components cause oxidative damage and inflammation on the skin and the blood/lymph vessels, thereby impairing circulation and lymph drainage and deteriorating the quality of skin collagen and elastin. Since connective tissue deterioration, poor circulation / lymphatic drainage and inflammation are major causes of cellulite, it is easy to understand why smoking is so bad for cellulite.
However, these effects manifest after years of smoking. In the first few months or years, smoking seems to have the opposite effect on cellulite, as it decreases appetite and also reduces the absorption of fat by the fat cells, thereby inhibiting the enlargement of the cellulite fat cells.
So, in summary, we can say that smoking initially prevents the formation of cellulite as it prevents fat accumulation. However, in the long run (that can be months or years, depending on each person), smoking exacerbates cellulite by damaging the blood vessels and the connective tissue.
Alcohol is very similar in it's effects to sugar, in that it provides the body with potentially cellulite-causing excess calories, plus the means to guide these calories straight into the fat cells. This is because alcohol metabolites are preferentially used by the body as a fuel source, leaving the carbohydrates and fats to be stored as fat in the fat cells. Alcohol also increases appetite, tires the liver, reduces energy levels, and in the long run causes water retention and poor circulation (after an initial diuretic and blood vessel-dilating effect).
When alcohol is combined with sugars / refined carbs (as in beer and cocktails) the effects are magnified. Predictably, when alcohol is combined with hormonal contraception, inactivity, overeating and smoking things become even worse.
Alcohol would be much higher up on this list if it's use was as widespread as that of sugars. For young women, who tend to drink more, alcohol is in fact a major cause of cellulite.
7. Hydrogenated / fried fats and oils
The effects of hydrogenated fats and oils (also known as trans fats) and fried fats and oils are now very well described by science. These oils and fats act as toxins and cause inflammation and oxidative damage, thereby impairing the function of almost all cells and tissues in the body. In this way, hydrogenated / fried fats and oils indirectly contribute to cellulite formation.
A more direct contribution, of course, comes from the excess calories that these fats and oils carry and from the damage these "foods" inflict on connective tissue, blood vessels and lymphatics. Cellulite can be defined as a combination of excess fat, poor circulation/lymphatic drainage, connective tissue deformity, skin looseness, inflammation, oxidative damage, glycation and toxin infiltration, and as you can see trans fats and fried oils tick almost all the boxes...
When trans fat / fried fat consumption is combined with sugar, alcohol, smoking, bingeing, contraceptives and inactivity, cellulite seems to be inevitable. And this is the reason why cellulite is so prevalent today. Quality cellulite creams and treatments do help fight cellulite, but they have to be combined with preventative measures against the above seven cellulite causes for maximum efficacy.