Why is protein so important for cellulite prevention and skin firmness?
All the body tissues that give you shape and make you look young and firm are made of protein. Your skin and other connective tissues are made of proteins such as elastin and collagen. Elastin offers elasticity whilst collagen provides firmness. A high protein skin level keeps you toned and fit, whilst a high water and fat level makes your skin look and feel loose, puffy and "cellulite-y" (loose skin, excess fat and water retention are the three hallmarks of cellulite).
Several lifestyle factors can degrade your skin and connective tissue proteins, both in terms of quality and quantity, creating skin looseness and cellulite in the process. The list below outlines the 10 most important things to avoid in order to maintain your skin and connective tissue protein integrity and consequently keep your skin firm and cellulite-free.
Keep very active - even if you do not consume excessive calories
You may already know that your body is very economical with fat: it does everything possible in it's power to maintain it's fat levels in order to be able to cope with starvation in the future. This is what helped us survive over the millennia and this is also what makes it so difficult to lose fat these days of plenty.
However, your body is not frugal only with fat, it is economical with protein too: maintaining protein tissue is metabolically very expensive for the body and if your body does not need a specific tissue it slowly breaks it down in order to reduce "maintenance costs". A business might call this "downsizing". In layman's terms this is called "if you don't use it, you lose it", and it applies not just to muscle but also to capillaries and skin.
So every time you sit on your bum in the office, or lie on the couch watching TV, you send a signal to your body to downsize: being immobile, you need less muscle tissue, less skin tissue, less ligament tissue, less tendon tissue, less blood capillary tissue, less lymphatic capillary tissue and less bone tissue. Who needs firmness and strong bones if there is no movement-induced vibration to utilise this firmness against? And who needs strong blood vessels if they are hardly ever used in a vigorous way? You might as well be a "blob": that would be very economical for your body and that's what it actually becomes after chronic immobilisation.
So as you understand, general physical activity and exercise are not important just to burn excess calories, they are also important because they send the right messages to your body to build new protein tissue and repair the existing one, thereby stimulating your body to maintain a firm skin, tones muscles, strong bones and an effective capillary network.
However, it's not only inactivity that make you lose protein form your tissues. Alcohol stimulates the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, a catabolic hormone that stimulates the removal of protein from the body. In addition, cortisol stimulates the creation of new fat cells in your abdominal area - hence the "beer belly".
Avoid excessive calorie intake
And it doesn't end here either. As adipocytes (fat cells) expand, they physically break down the connective tissue matrix around them in order to accommodate the extra calories that you stuff them with. Remember, what you call firmness depends on connective tissue (made of protein), and allowing your fat cells to expand and break this tissue down means more skin laxity.
Use non-hormonal contraception
Being on the pill, therefore having excessive estrogen in your system, helps expand your fat cells and leads to further skin laxity.
Cigarette smoke, contains chemicals that cause free radicals and inflammation which damage your connective tissue and blood vessels. Smoking doesn't just cause cancer and heart disease, but skin ageing and poor circulation on your thighs as well.
Keep off hydrogenated fats (trans fatty acids)
Nasty trans-fats, fried oils and other dietary and environmental toxins disturb cellular function, cause inflammation and free radical damage and therefore have a negative effect on connective tissue, including your skin and your blood vessels. This is why fried food and hydrogenated fats are leading causes of heart disease. Trans fats are contains in frying oils, margarines and margarine-rich foods such as pasties, croissant, muffins etc.
Avoid sugar and sugary foods
Sugar is the number one cause of cellulite today, not only because of the excess calories it provides, it's addictive nature and the fluctuations in insulin levels and the insulin resistance that it causes. Sugar and overcooked starches also cause connective tissue degradation and ageing through a process called glycation.
Avoid nutrient deficiency
Lack of connective tissue-specific nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, aminoacids) caused by nutrient-poor, calorie-rich diets cause connective tissue deterioration on skin (leading to skin looseness) and on blood vessels (leading to poor circulation and water retention), further worsening the appearance and health of your legs and buttocks.
Avoid wearing tight clothes
Wearing tight clothes restricts your circulation and lymphatic drainage and makes it difficult to remove excess water and waste products from the tissues, leading to inflammation and water retention.
Fat would also have a tendency to "hang around" in the tissues and not be removed, even if you were on a fat loss diet, thereby making the diet less efficient for your cellulite. Graduated compression garments are an exception to this rule because they actually boost circulation and lymphatic drainage due to the pressure gradient between the extremities and the torso, but in any case they should not be worn for more than 8 hours a day.
Avoid crash dieting and yoyo dieting at all costs
Follow a crash diet and you will certainly lose protein from your skin, which will then be replaced by fat when you regain your weight, thereby replacing firmness with flab. Do this yo-yo dieting for several years and surprise yourself with how loose your skin has become.
Do vibration plate training - lots of it
Vibration platform training (also known as power plate) is the strongest form of skin firming, connective tissue building exercise. It helps boost skin, blood vessel, tendon, ligament and bone connective tissue, protein levels and firmness.
All you need to do is stand (NEVER sit or lie) for 20' on the machine, either doing squats or just checking your Facebook messages - whatever you do the vibration will stimulate skin firming on the above tissues. If you exercise at the same time, all the better, as you all build more leg muscle. If not, it's still works.
Personally, I do my heavy weights separately and then go on the vibration plate in the end, as a way of relaxing and boosting circulation / waste product removal from my body.
And most importantly, eat enough protein!
I cannot emphasis this enough: most women simply do not get enough proteins, not just vegans and vegetarians. For some reason, protein got a bad name in the 90s by ill-informed nutritionists, dieticians and naturopaths, who thought that excess protein is not needed and the body can survive with very little protein. The truth is, that although the body can survive with little anything, it cannot thrive with lack of resources. 1-2g/kg of body weight will NOT cause kidney damage, as the prophets of doom mentioned above claim and are absolutely fine.
Skin, muscle organs, even bone are all made to a large extent of protein, and if you do not provide your body with enough protein daily, yes, it will hold on to existing, denatured, partially damaged protein, in order to survive. This basically means low protein tissue repair, which in beauty terms is translated as ageing.
So, go on and tuck into this chicken, fish, red meat, eggs, yoghurt and pulses! And if you are vegan or vegetarian do not buy into the myth that nuts, tofu and especially quinoa contain enough protein, they don't! These days there are plenty of high quality, highly concentrated vegan protein powders made of rice, peas, hemp and even cranberries. Having such a protein drink once or twice a day will provide you with all the protein you need, without having to resort to binging on tofu day in, day out, for eternity. We all know now that tofu, and soya in general, is not the health food we are brainwashed to believe it is...
Non vegetarians can also benefit from the same vegan protein powders, or can also have whey, casein, egg protein too, as well as hydrolysed collagen supplements, which are indeed proven to help with skin firmness.
The contribution of cellulite creams and skin firming treatments
The above is a pretty exhaustive list of things you can do yourself to avoid losing your skin firmness and keeping cellulite at bay.
In addition to these measures you can also consider receiving regular high-intensity deep tissue radiofrequency treatments, the strongest skin tightening / firming technology known today.
Furthermore, a comprehensive, highly concentrated cream which contains multiple skin firming ingredients can also be of help.
The combination of cream, treatment and the above 12 measures is guaranteed to boost skin firmness and keep cellulite at bay.