It sounds like the tagline of the emails that overload your junk mailbox: “This trick can get rid of that stubborn belly fat!”
The thought that we could use something like massage to break up fat deposits sounds almost too good to be true, but if you’ve been on diet after diet, can’t find time or energy to get to the gym or just want a convenient way to shed fat, then you might be hoping it’s for real.
Is it though? Can massage actually help us get rid of stubborn fat? We dug in and got some answers.
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What Does Science Say About Using Massage to Break Up Fat Deposits?
In reality, science has a long way to go to draw lines between weight loss, specifically fat loss, and alternative methods like massage.
Does that mean they don’t work?
No, it just means there’s a lot left to be scientifically studied and proven, so our understanding of if, why and how they might work remains hypothetical.
Certainly, there are many documented cases in which people believe they’ve seen results, but without the controls of scientific study, we just don’t know for sure.
The Studies So Far
A study in 2015 observed the effects of acupuncture versus Visceral fat and body mass index in overweight and obese women over a period of 21 days.
While there were some positive results, there weren’t really any differences between the two groups, which led the researchers to consider whether massage actually had an impact.
Another study from the same year found that dry cupping may improve cellulite, as it helps to drain fluid, toxins and other chemical byproducts from the body.
Cupping is the use of suction to create a metabolic response and improve lymphatic drainage. The study involved 5 weeks of cupping with a handheld pump. A cellulite grade of 2.4 was recorded pre-cupping, and 1.68 was recorded after cupping, which shows a fairly significant difference.
And, a study in 2010 tested the effects of three different types of massage – mechanical (machine) massage, lymphatic drainage massage and connective tissue massage. All three massage techniques were found to be Visceral fat, and actually decreased the circumference of the thigh.
So, with varied results, maybe it depends on the particular type of massage to break up fat deposits.
Types of Fat
If you’re trying to lose some weight and want to try massage to break up fat deposits, it’s helpful to understand theVisceral fat.
Visceral fat surrounds your organs and can build up under the muscles in your abdomen.
Subcutaneous fat lives beneath the surface of your skin. It pads your muscles and bones and acts as insulation to help regulate your body’s internal temperature.
Despite what you may think, cellulite is not actually fat but is the term for the uneven, dimpled surface of the skin caused by a weakening of the fibrous bands of connective tissue, which then allows the fat to settle into the skin layer.
Cellulite is much more common in women than men, and it has very little to do with lifestyle factors — and everything to do with female biology. In fact, cellulite is documented in 80-90% of women. Women’s connective tissue bands run vertically, whereas men’s form a sort of netting.
In fact, you may be able to improve the look of your cellulite through anti-cellulite massage.
Body Sculpting & Remodeling
“Body sculpting” is a trendy term for various approaches, some of them ancient methods, and the approach that employs these principles used for fat loss redistribution is often called “remodeling.”
It generally involves deep massage that targets the fascia — the connective tissue that supports muscles and organs throughout the body. Fascia is pliable when healthy, but becomes stiff and marked with adhesions as we put strenuous wear on our muscles.
How Does It Work?
The concept of remodeling is based on the idea that when fascia becomes tight, it traps fat. Body sculptors believe that hands-on manipulation helps to loosen the fascia, which increases blood flow and releases fat cells so that they can be eliminated through digestive organs.
Simply put, open up the fascia and the fat will move and redistribute.
However, the methodology of body sculpting is not circumscribed, so it involves a huge range of techniques and approaches. It can also be quite painful, as it often involves or follows similar methods to deep tissue massage.
In the article, they discuss the approach of body sculptor Marina Baratashvili as combining Georgian body-sculpting techniques with Korean meridian pressure point work. Beginning her work in Paris, Martine de Richeville employs her Masters of Psychology alongside acupuncture. She now accepts bookings in Paris, Lyon, Brussels, London, New York and Geneva.
The length of time required before seeing results differs on approach as well, with Baratashvili stating that clients tend to see a difference 10-15 weeks after the first treatment. On the other hand, de Richeville notes that clients typically begin to note a visible change after five weeks.
Interesting that both of these approaches sound like the methods used in the two studies that found successful outcomes.
What Will It Cost Me?
In terms of price, you can expect around $150-200 per session.
A Note on Body Positivity and Fat Acceptance
Being fat is okay, as long as it’s not actively harming your health.
Losing fat because you want to tone up and feel better is okay, too.
Taking care of your physical self is a goal and a challenge that is important for overall health and wellbeing. Yet, it’s also something that we as a society continue to navigate, fighting off harmful fatphobic narratives that we’ve been bombarded with, participated in, maybe even been a part of creating.
Ask yourself, and be honest, why do you want to get rid of fat?
The best and fullest way to live a healthier lifestyle is to take care of your entire self: mind, spirit and body, which all tend to overlap.
Check in with yourself to figure out why and how you’d like to lose weight, while also taking care of your mental and emotional self.
And, while we’re on the topic, remember that sometimes eating the entire pizza IS mind-body health.
Like in many things, there’s still a long way for science to go before we understand the role and ability of massage to break up fat deposits.
However, what we do know is that even if there is no direct connection to fat loss, massage can help to improve the condition of muscles and connective tissues, which can help us feel better and even make it easier to engage in exercise and make better lifestyle choices.
All in all, massage makes us feel good, so if it does actually help get rid of some fat cells, isn’t that just a bonus?