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Cottage cheese thighs

Cellulite 101

Have you ever heard the term “cottage cheese thighs?” The phrase derives from the unsightly dimples found in the thighs, stomach and buttocks of millions of Americans-- a result of fat deposits known as cellulite.

But what causes cellulite and why is it so difficult to get rid of? Jasmin Theard, ACSM HFS, an exercise physiologist at Piedmont Atlanta Fitness Center, gets to the bottom of this bumpy subject.  

What is cellulite?

“Cellulite is formed when fat pushes up against connective bands beneath the skin, creating a dimpling effect,” says Theard. “Because cellulite is located in the subcutaneous layer of the skin, right under the skin’s surface, it can be difficult to get rid of.”

More than 90 percent of women and ten percent of men have some form of cellulite.  And it does not discriminate— even plaguing those who are physically fit.

Women are more likely to develop cellulite because of the way they are structured, says Theard.

“When fat tissue increases in women, the compartments expand vertically, pushing upward and creating bumps on the skin’s surface,” says Theard. “With men, fat containers are smaller, and they expand at more of an angle.  So the fat tissue is more disguised.”

What causes cellulite?

The exact cause of cellulite is unknown, but contributing factors may include:

  • Use of certain medications or hormone treatments. Certain hormones like estrogen encourage the body to build up and store fat, increasing cellulite.
  • Smoking. Smoking causes connective tissues to become stretched and damaged, allowing underlying fat to push its way to the surface.
  • Gaining weight or becoming obese.  An increase in body weight will lead to an increase in fat tissue, making cellulite more pronounced.
  • Wearing tight underwear. Tight underwear reduces blood flow around the buttocks and thighs, which may increase cellulite development.

How to reduce cellulite

Many cutting-edge treatments and creams tout their ability to reduce cellulite, but they may not always deliver the best results.

“There is no strong science to support that cellulite creams work,” says Dave Harvey, M.D., a dermatologist at Piedmont.  “It is often difficult for the creams to get into the fat layer. And since cellulite is normal, one shouldn’t expect a cream to reduce it significantly.”

The most effective long-term method of treating cellulite may be exercise and weight loss.

“Weight loss is one of the best ways to treat cellulite, because if you can reduce the fat cells, there will be less cells to create that dimpling effect,” says Theard.  “And with exercise, there’s nothing but additional benefits you can get. You can reduce your cellulite, in addition to being healthier and reducing your risk of a lot of other cardiovascular diseases.”

To reduce cellulite, Theard offers the following tips:

  • Look at your diet and start tracking the fat content.
  • Monitor your activity level to see how much you are moving in a day. If you don’t have a regular exercise regimen, try to take at least 10,000 steps a day.
  • If you do have a regular exercise routine, look for ways to beef up your activity level. Try strength training exercises that utilize multiple joints, like a squat and press.

For more helpful, healthful tips, click here.

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