Cellulite is an interesting topic. 90% of women (and 10% of men) have cellulite. If you talk to the average 20-year-old male personal trainer, he may tell you that cellulite is just about burning fat. “All you have to do is lose your fat and your cellulite will go away.”
Cellulite is actually an issue of fat storage as well as the unique genetics of female collagen. Just below your skin, you have a mix of fatty tissue and collagen. Collagen is continuous with the fascia (the covering of your muscle fibers). The collagen in women runs vertically (up-and-down), kind of like a picket fence. Men, on the other hand, have more of a criss-cross or chain-link fence distribution of collagen.
The reason this is an important fact is because when collagen runs vertically, it is able to form pockets. Fat and fluid can accumulate in these pockets, pushing upward and outward on the skin. This is where that dimpling comes from.
Cellulite is interesting because not only are we dealing with fat, but we are also with collagen fibers and the way that they are distributed. The collagen fibers are the most difficult for us to understand because they are heavily influenced by genetics. The reason some women have a problem with cellulite, even though they appear to be very fit, is because they have a distribution of collagen that is more vertical than other women. Some women have more of a male distribution of collagen and therefore don’t have a problem with cellulite.
The Difference Between Fat Associated with Cellulite Vs. Other Fat
Subcutaneous fat is the fat right underneath your skin (sub=under, cutaneous=skin). Subcutaneous fat, especially in women, is very rich in a certain type of receptor called the alpha receptor.
When you burn fat, your fat burning hormones interact with beta receptors and alpha receptors. When those fat burning hormones interact with alpha receptors, fat burning is slowed down. When these hormones interact with beta receptors, fat burning is efficient and very FAST! You can think of beta as “burn.” Even when you are tight with your diet and your training is on track, the fat associated with cellulite is much slower to burn due to the alpha receptors.
Often women come to me and say, “I want to lose weight, I am going to train for a marathon.” What happens is they often do tend to lose some weight but they are frustrated because they lose it in their arms, breasts and waists instead of the areas most of them want to lose it, which is their butt and legs. In fact, as time goes on, many of them tell me they feel they have GAINED in the lower body since training for the marathon.
That isn’t always the case, but dropping body fat from the lower body in women is a slower process due to these alpha receptors. Plus, if you’re not careful, running will burn up a lot of muscle tissue. Women who go on these running programs usually end up a little smaller, a little more flabby and with a little a little more cellulite than they had before (which is not what they want).
We Can Block the Alpha Receptors!
1. Reduce Carbs, Not Calories
Insulin is a major influence of the alpha receptors. Instead of reducing calories, think about reducing carbohydrates.
2. Stay Tight on the Diet When Estrogen is at Its Lowest
Estrogen amplifies the activity of alpha receptors. The time estrogen is lowest is the week before and the week of menses. Time your strict diet during these two weeks when estrogen is lowest. You can cycle your diet so that you are eating relatively normal for two weeks out of the month and the other two weeks, you adapt a lower carb diet.
Also, during these two weeks that you tighten up your diet, it is a good idea to decrease your workout intensity. For example, instead of lifting heavy during these two weeks, lighten your weight and increase your reps. Instead of doing high intensity interval s for cardio, go for a walk. Walking is GREAT during these two weeks. Try to get 10,000 steps a day.
If you need to, buy a FitBit or an Up band to track your steps. I have an UP and I encourage people to join my UP team. As your trainer, I am able to see your steps and your sleep and if you log your food and workouts, I can see that, too. This is great, because it is FUN and will hold you accountable!
3. Pay Attention to Thyroid Hormones
The normal levels of thyroid hormones will suppress alpha receptors and amplify beta receptors, which is good. However, what people tend to do is cut carbs or calories so drastically and exercise so intensely that their thyroid glands are decreasing their production of thyroid hormones, making this area a little more stubborn. We don’t want this. To avoid this, you need to cycle your diet. If you are following #2 above, you will have no problem, because you will be cycling your diet every two weeks.
Carbs raise neurotransmitters in the brain such as seratonin and dopamine. These are known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitters. Estrogen and progesterone also raise these neurotransmitters. This means during your menstrual cycle, when estrogen and progesterone decrease, serotonin and dopamine decrease as well. This is why our cravings for carbs and other junk go thru the roof. Many of us crave chocolate!
Chocolate raises our seratonin and dopamine levels. Chocolate = cocoa + fat + sugar. When we take away the sugar and the fat, we have cocoa, which is fine for us to have. We can use cocoa to raise our “feel good” neurotransmitters!
What I tell women to do is this: Buy cocoa (that you cook with) and mix it with some unsweetened almond milk, a little bit of cinnamon, stevia, and cayenne pepper if you like spicing things up! It’s a way to get the effects of eating chocolate without actually eating it.
When estrogen is a little higher, it allows you to train harder and eat a little bit more without storing extra fat. When estrogen is around, you can tolerate a more carbs in your diet and you can gain a little more muscle. I know women get scared of the words “gain muscle,” but that’s how you stay tight. That is the time to do your heavy weight training, do your more fitness conditioning camps, go for your longer runs, etc. Then when menses comes around, you back off your training a bit and eat a little less.
As far as your weight training is concerned, I do need to tell you this: There are no “bad” exercises, there are just exercises that I recommend sticking with to get the most “bang for your buck” as far as burning up lower body fat. Things like squats, leg presses, lunges, and step ups are going to be much more effective and create a much better hormonal response to burn up body fat than glute kickbacks or abductor/adductor machines.
If you are going to attack cellulite and this type of lower body fat, you’re really going to have to get a little more savvy than “eating less and working out more.” Following these three keys will help block the alpha receptors enabling you to burn more fat in the area were cellulite accumulates.