Cellulite or fat? Why I should know the difference?

cellulite x fatIs cellulite different from fat? Although some people use them interchangeably, the terms “cellulite” and “fat cell” mean different things. Under the microscope, the components of both fat and cellulite look the same, but that’s where any similarity ends. To understand why there is a difference, and what the skin treatment therapist can do to help treat the cellulite condition, we need to understand them, and theirs role in the body.

Fat cells, also called adipocytes, are connective tissue cells that specialize in the manufacture and storage of fat. Cellulite refers to a visible condition on the skin’s surface, a lumpy or dimpled appearance that sometimes is compared to an orange peel, cottage cheese or a quilted mattress. But let’s go to a deeper understanding about both.

Adipose tissue, or commonly known as Fat

It is present in a few different forms throughout the body. White fat and brown fat, refer to the function (classified by colour) of the fat cell itself.

Subcutaneous and visceral fat, refer to where in the body it’s located.

fatSubcutaneous fat lies in a layer just below the surface of the skin, it serves as a layer of insulation for the body, helping the body maintain its internal temperature. It also serves as a cushion and an energy storage depot. This is the type responsible for that orange peel, dimply cellulite that women everywhere fear, but is important to know that just the presence of this type of fat doesn’t mean you will get that cellulite appearance.

Visceral fat is the type of fat located in the abdominal cavity, surrounding vital organs. Accumulating deep under muscle tissue in the abdomen and expanding the waistline.

It is more than just a storage depot, it produces hormones such as leptin and adiponectin. Normally released after a meal, leptin suppresses appetite. Adiponectin influences the cells’ response to insulin.

This type of fat is considered by some to be the most dangerous, as in excess it has been linked to an increase in the risk of heart disease, strokes, insulin resistance, increased inflammatory responses and diabetes. On the small positive side, this isn’t the type that causes cellulite.

Cellulite also known as gynoid lipodystrophy

Cellulite is often thought of as fat, that isn’t quite accurate. Fat is just a component of what causes cellulite, as well as excess fluid and toxins, so perhaps more aptly cellulite is a possible manifestation of fat. The presence of fat doesn’t mean you have cellulite.

Cellulite itself is the result of the overlying skin structure combined with underlying fat cells protruding outwardly, hold the skin in place causing a rippled, or orange peel appearance

It is also considered an inherited condition. There is a body type that will show the cellulite condition despite how low the overall body weight is. It can also be developed by excess fat storage, which will aggravate the inherent anomalies in enzymatic or hormonal functions. This type of cellulite is more wide spread over the body, and is always found with a moderate/severe weight problem. This type of cellulite is compounded by a sedentary/negative lifestyle and poor eating habits.

celluliteCellulite tends to affect women more than men. Most studies state approximately 90% of women and only 10% of men will get this undulating skin blemish. According to Dr. Lionel Bissoon, author of the book “The cellulite Cure” the reason seems to revolve around decreasing hormone levels as women age.

When a women starts approaching menopause (usually when cellulite begins to rear its ugly head) their estrogen levels begin to decrease. Decreasing estrogen levels will cause you to lose receptors in blood vessels and thighs. The result is decreased circulation that tends to cause lower levels of collagen (the protein that gives skin its structure) production that leaves the skin thinner. Hormonal imbalance also increases the capacity the body has to retain toxins and fluid. This is also around the same time people tend to get larger amounts of subcutaneous fat, and voila, Cellulite!

Fat x Cellulite

Cellulite and fat are linked because they essentially have a cause and effect relationship. This relationship between cellulite and fat is demonstrated by how cellulite forms.

Although there is a relationship between them, there are other contributors to the accumulation of cellulite, such as aging, inactivity and stress. So while obesity or weight gain might affect the appearance of cellulite, even lean people exhibit the dimpling as well. The appearance of cellulite can range from mild to severe.

Fat can cause a variety of health risks but cellulite is usually only viewed as unsightly and not as a serious medical condition.

The common misconception that if you have excessive fat you will inevitably have cellulite is also untrue. You can be a rather obese person and still have no cellulite, particularly if you’re male.


Everyone has fat cells; however, fat cells vary in number and size, depending on how much fat is being stored or burned. As a person gains weight, existing fat cells become bloated and new ones are recruited to store the excess; as a person loses weight, those fat cells do not disappear, but they do shrink in size.

Cellulite is caused by subcutaneous fat, protruding through gaps between the collagen fibers that connect the fatty layer to the skin. The fibers sometimes stretch, pull taut or degrade, causing a rippled effect on the surface of the skin. Any number of factors can contribute to the occurrence of cellulite, including hormones, age, gender, genetics, diet, weight fluctuation, dehydration and water retention.

Health Concerns

Fat cells perform the necessary functions of storing energy, padding bones to absorb shock and insulating the body against cold. However, overeating, bad nutrition, lack of exercise, low metabolism and certain diseases and medications can cause a body to store too much fat.

barrigaoThis can lead to overweight and obesity, which increase a person’s risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, heart attacks, cancer, osteoarthritis, gallstones and sleep apnea.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, body fat should comprise about 20 percent of a woman’s body weight; 30 percent or more is considered obese. In men, a healthy body fat percentage is 13 to 17 percent of body weight; 25 percent or more qualifies as obese.

Cellulite, in and of itself, is not a health concern, but a harmless condition whose physical appearance distresses some people.

Healthy Living

Regular exercise can help prevent the gain of excess fat as well as decrease your chances of developing cellulite. For people who are prone to developing cellulite, exercise will keep the dimpled look from becoming more pronounced.

balanceSensible eating, daily aerobic exercise and strength training two to three times per week are all helpful whether you want to lose visceral or subcutaneous fat, though you’ll probably notice subcutaneous is more stubborn.

Walk, jog or find another form of cardiovascular exercise that you enjoy and work out at 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes each day. Any tool is fine for strength training, according to the American Council on Exercise, including free weights, machines or even just your body weight, which is all you need for exercises such as push-ups or pull-ups. Slow and steady weight loss as a result of healthy lifestyle changes should be the goal.

We will discuss in more details about both and its appropriate cure in the next posts. Don’t miss it!

Sue xoxo

6 Comments on Cellulite or fat? Why I should know the difference?

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