Cellulite - Reduce The Appearance
Sallie Elizabeth has always had large breasts and a big
bottom, and she has accepted them as part of her genetic
makeup. But when cellulite appeared in the back of her upper
leg, she "freaked out" and resolved to do something about
A friend recommended endermologie, a deep massage treatment
using a motorized device with two adjustable rollers and
controlled suction. The device is said to improve the look
of cellulite by gently folding and unfolding the skin for
smooth and regulated deep-tissue movement.
The cellulite is "less visible," she says, noting her
smoother, softer skin. "I feel healthier. My circulation has
improved ... and I feel more relaxed."
To keep up the effects, the 20-something model visits Smooth
Synergy, a cosmedical spa in Manhattan, once or twice a week
for 35-minute sessions with the endermologie machine and a
Elizabeth may be enjoying her cellulite-busting experience,
but experts raise eyebrows at many tools or treatments
purported to reduce the appearance of cellulite, trim fat in
specific areas, shed pounds, or build muscle, particularly
if they claim to replace exercise and good nutrition.
"They're a waste of money," says Richard Cotton, a spokesman
for the American Council on Exercise and chief exercise
physiologist for myexerciseplan.com.
If that is the case, then a sizeable chunk of currency could
be going down the drain. According to a Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) weight loss advertising trend report, in
the year 2000 alone, consumers spent an estimated $34.7
billion on weight-loss products and programs.
While it is not known how much of that accounts for sales of
unproven or fraudulent merchandise, an FTC study of weight
loss ads from different media shows that nearly 40% of ads
make at least one false claim, and an additional 15% make at
least one claim that is very likely false, or lacks proof.
To add to the number soup: Results from a national health
survey conducted between 1999 and 2000 indicate that more
than six out of every 10 Americans are overweight or obese,
a figure that has increased dramatically in recent years.
Another recent survey that looked at the attitudes of
Americans adults toward their own weight found that despite
the fact that two-thirds of men were considered overweight,
only about half (51%) said they wanted to lose weight versus
68% of women who said they wanted to lose weight.
Put it all together and there are arguably more people
wanting to use weight loss products, and according to the
government's trend report, the "marketplace has responded
with a proliferating array of products and services, many
promising miraculous, quick-fix remedies."
There are, indeed, numerous therapies, including weight loss
programs and dietary supplements. Then there are the popular
treadmills, bun and ab rollers, the body bow, and bun and
For this piece, however, WebMD looked only into passive
exercise devices such as electrical muscle stimulators and
toning tables, cellulite reduction therapies, and gels,
creams, eyeglasses, earrings and similar doodads marketed
for weight loss, and muscle-building.
Granted, not all remedies may be the same, but health
professionals say far too many of them can't be trusted.
Passive Weight Loss
To Elizabeth's credit, she tries to eat right, jog, do
Pilates, and perform squats to supplement her endermologie
sessions. In fact, good nutrition and regular physical
activity are recommended with the treatment.
However, many weight loss, cellulite-busting, and
muscle-building products promise results without having to
do too much.
"It's the idea that an individual can get to the body size
they want without any increase in physical activity or
without any change in eating," says Jennifer Anderson, PhD,
RD, professor and extension specialist at Colorado State
University's department of food science and human nutrition.
She simply laughs at appetite-suppressing eyeglasses, weight
loss patches and chewing gum, toning gels, fat-melting
creams, and evening solutions that claim to trim waistlines
"In some instances, it's a total gimmick," says Anderson.
"In other instances, it will reduce a lot of water weight
quickly, but it's never going to change eating behaviors,
activity levels, and make that the key to their lifestyle."
This quick water weight loss never leads to real, long-term
weight loss, says Anderson, noting that the only weight loss
and toning plan that works involves eating well and moving
Furthermore, she says there is no proof that cellulite can
be massaged away or taken out by injections of vitamins,
special underwear, or use of other gizmos. To get rid of the
dimpled fat, weight must be shed, and skin made firmer by
doing strength training.
Francie M. Berg, a licensed nutritionist, and founder of the
Healthy Weight Network, agrees. "If you want to tone your
body or become more fit, you need to do the work. It's not
lying on a table, and having [a gadget] lift your feet," she
says referring to no-effort toning tables, beds, and
The value of toning and weight loss equipment depends on how
much work you can get a person to do to burn energy, says
Berg, pointing out that when people see desired results with
normally passive devices and treatments, it's usually
because they've also made efforts to eat well or exercise.
Truth With A Twist
Berg coordinates the Task Force on Weight Loss Abuse for the
National Council Against Health Fraud, which gives out
annual Slim Chance Awards to selected weight loss products.
This year's "worst gimmick" prize went out to MagnaSlim,
which claims to relieve stress and its byproduct of
overeating by placing magnets and a magnetized solution at
specific acupuncture points. The magnet at the acupressure
point would supposedly improve cell function, restore Chi
(life force energy), and give a person more control over
what they put in their mouths.
Weight loss promoters have long cashed in on the concept of
acupressure and magnetic therapy for weight loss, even
though there is no proof it works, says Berg. Items using
similar concepts on the market include magnetic weight-loss
earrings, adhesives, beads, and seeds.
It is apparently not uncommon for manufacturers to piggyback
on ideas and studies that may have genuine validity, and
twist them for commercial purposes.
Another example would be the electrical muscle stimulators
(EMS) promoted to do anything from slough off weight to tone
muscle to form six-pack abs. Some ads claim this is possible
Health experts scoff at such an idea, but do say EMS is a
valuable tool for physical therapy. "There are times when
that really helps," says Anderson, pointing to
rehabilitation programs for people with physical injuries or
"The problem I have with it is if it's being marketed as
muscle stimulation, and that will help you tone up and lose
weight," says Anderson. "Well, it probably will help you
tone a little bit, but it shouldn't take place of being more
active and looking at how many calories we put in our mouth
Gad Alon, PhD, associate professor in the department of
physical therapy and rehabilitation science at the
University of Maryland in Baltimore, has studied the effects
of EMS, and many promoters often refer to his research in
peddling their wares.
He says many of these marketers misuse his work, saying
things like, "Seven physicians at the University of Maryland
have concluded that you may never have to do sit-ups again."
First of all, says Alon, there were no physicians present
for the studies; he and his students conducted the studies,
and they never addressed the topic of weight loss.
Alon warns, though, that some EMS devices in the market
might not have the proper specifications to work properly.
He says they may use electrodes that do not have good
conductivity, or some may be too small to cover large muscle
The Damage and what to do with it
Some of the weight loss gadgets may seem too good to be
true, yet even smart people fall for them. Why are people so
willing to believe these quick and easy schemes?
"Hope springs eternal," says Edward Abramson, PhD, a
clinical psychologist, and author of Emotional Eating: What
You Need to Know Before Starting Another Diet. He says
people are always looking for a shortcut, especially for
difficult, ongoing problems.
Besides losing money on bunk products, however, consumers
could get their hopes dashed. Abramson says repeated
disappointments with weight loss could undermine a person's
overall sense of well-being. He says some people could even
internalize blame to a point that could lead to eating
Berg adds that false weight loss systems and goods could
also prevent people from seeking real treatment, interfere
with responsible programs that do work, and promote distrust
of the medical community.
To avoid falling prey to such schemes, the FDA says
consumers should be particularly skeptical of claims
containing words like easy, effortless, guaranteed,
miraculous, magical, breakthrough, new discovery,
mysterious, exotic, secret, exclusive, and ancient.
The experts interviewed by WebMD also recommend
concentrating on weight-management strategies that are
proven to work, such as incorporating a balanced diet with
reduced calories with a regular exercise regimen. Some tips
Eat more fruits and vegetables. Foods high in fiber such as
whole grain breads, fruit, and cereal can help you feel full
Exercise. Get 30 minutes of physical activity a day even if
you must split it in 10-minute increments throughout the
day. Try to exercise on most days of the week; choose an
activity you enjoy. Start slowly and then add more days as
Be accepting. Accept your body the way it is.
Maintain. Instead of having a goal to lose weight, think of
not gaining it, says Anderson.
Be aware of your mind and body while you exercise. Cotton
says it helps not to read magazines or watch TV while
working out. "When you're present, you're better able to
make decisions about your habits ... and your true needs,"
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