Up until last year I have been fortunate to not have any issues with cellulite or circulation. And certainly no problems with kneeling like the photo above.
However mid last year my body began reacting in ways I hadn't experienced before. The silver lining of chronic fatigue + scoliosis has meant that I have become very in tune with my body but I was left quite baffled and stumped when it wasn't responding to my usual healthy diet and exercise.
After 12 months of trial + error, a lot of learning and some huge lessons in self love I can happily say that I got to the bottom of it. So I thought I'd pop it all in a post to share with anyone who might be struggling.
When I moved to the Gold Coast my diet changed quite considerably. I began eating more vegetarian and vegan meals - which from my perspective meant my diet was more healthy. But it was mostly a decrease in protein (with no replacement as my body doesn't process soy) and an increase in carbs and sugars.
Since cutting out a lot of sugar around 5 years ago I haven't had a sweet tooth, however last year this started to creep back in. I feel as though part of it was due to not feeling satiated (feeling full / satisfied) after a meal (which in hindsight was lack of protein and knowledge of what a 'complete' meal looked like). This had me reaching for sweeter snacks throughout the day eg. gf banana bread, acai bowls and almond milk hot chocolates - my go-to warm winter drink at the time as I wasn't drinking coffee.
The other factor was a change in living arrangements. I had gone from living in places where the fridge and pantry consisted of my food only. I always refrained from buying sugary products and therefore didn't consume them. However when they became available, I found it very difficult to say no.
I was also never a dessert person but soon after moving in with the girls, dairy free choc or gf & vegan choc chip cookies became a house treat. Due to these treats being free of refined white sugar I didn't make the connection that essentially it was still sugar and therefore would have the same effect on my body. PS. The 'healthy' choc had over 13 teaspoons of sugar per block :|. The entire batch of cookies consisted of 1/2 cup coconut sugar & 1/2 cup maple syrup - healthier sugars but still irresistibly moreish.
With the transition to more vegan meals, my intake of corn, rice and beans increased dramatically too. And although delicious, my body was not a happy chappy.
I soon began experiencing swelling, bloating and the appearance of cellulite - not just on my thighs but all over my body. The feeling of tight & swollen limbs along with lack of circulation was certainly far more uncomfortable than the physical changes (according to friends my body hadn't changed that much).
I knew this wasn't simply weight gain as some mornings I'd wake up extremely puffy and other mornings I'd feel ok. My body usually responds very quickly to exercise as well and despite exercising (and feeling fit beneath the surface) my body wasn't changing at all.
Without exaggerating it felt as though I was having an allergic reaction or an issue with my lymphatic system draining properly as it felt very superficial (close to to the skin) and my lymph nodes were painful to touch. Sometimes the front of my thighs felt as though they had hundreds of bee stings - definitely not the usual side effects of gaining weight in my experience.
It was also incredibly uncomfortable to stretch as my circulation was cutting off, leaving me with numbness and tingling. This is something I had never experienced before. If you noticed a reduction in Get Bendy posts on Instagram over the last year - this was the reason. I wasn't posting many photos of myself at all as I was very uncomfortable.
More than anything it was frustrating as I couldn't figure out what was happening yet I felt as though I was trying everything / doing everything right.
The following sections outline the processes (or the process of elimination) that I went through. I have popped all of these down as one area might be more applicable to you than it was for me. PS. All of the following things relate to cellulite and circulation.
My body has never been too happy with alcohol (my lymphatic system becomes very sluggish and I become quite puffy) so my first step was to make sure this wasn't the culprit. I cut out all alcohol for two months. This was never a large factor - occasional glass of red or the odd cocktail or two for a birthday celebration. Although I felt great not having any alcohol, I was still experiencing the swelling issues.
Fluid Retention / Lymphatic Drainage
When I researched swelling, lymphatic drainage and lymph node pain (groin, armpits, behind knees) terms such as lymphedema started popping up. I had a few lymphatic drainage massages which were quite painful and the massage therapist confirmed something wasn't right. Fluid retention / edema and lymphatic issues are signs that something is out of whack. I think it's important to identify the difference between these and general weight gain. My body was definitely trying to tell me something.
My digestion was very out of whack throughout this process (bloating + constantly either side of an ideal stool) along with my skin breaking out (face / back / upper arms) so I started seeing Holistic Nutritionist Alyse Co-cliff. I had a lot of work to do in terms of learning how to 'build my plate' properly - the correct balance of protein, fats, carbs for my body + the inclusion of specific supplements to get my body back up to scratch. She also helped me identify other areas that needed attention - namely sleep as I was burning the candle at both ends.
My friend Bec and I both went to Alyse at a similar time for digestion / weight issues and I'd like to give you an idea of how different two people's treatment plans can be (and how important it is to see a health professional, for yourself).
Alyse explained to us that there are essentially three foundational pillars to good health:
- The chemical (Nutritional)
- The physical (Chiro/Osteo/Acu)
- The emotional (Psych)
I had a LOT of work to do in the chemical / nutritional dept so this was my main focus for a few months. Bec's diet / nutritional intake was perfect but she was flat out working two jobs, over-training and her stress hormones were incredibly high. Her treatment plan included training less and chatting with a psychologist. Both of these things combined with addressing her work situation made an enormous difference to her health.
This is why it is so important to get assessed. We can be presenting similar symptoms but they can be stemming from very different areas.
When we are in fight or flight mode our bodies prioritise the systems necessary for survival. Our digestion and hormones can quickly go out the window.
There are a number of hormones that may have been at the root of this problem. I'd heard of high cortisol levels causing weight gain but that didn't make sense for me as I was the most relaxed I'd been in years (though this was the case for Bec). Side effects of estrogen dominance include weight gain, fluid retention and bloating so I worked with Alyse on making sure I was doing everything I could to balance my hormones. This felt relevant however I still felt as though something must have changed in order for me to suddenly be experiencing such whack feelings within my body.
The idea of acupuncture kept popping into my mind and I had heard this was great for hormonal imbalances so I started getting regular treatments at Nuwa Natural Health. Jess and Bonnie taught me a lot about my body through Traditional Chinese Medicine and I left each treatment walking on clouds (still do). I'd highly recommend acupuncture. Speaking with someone who is knowledgeable in Traditional Chinese Medicine is on par with speaking to a psychic. The way they can read your body and pinpoint health issues blows me away every time. I guess it's really no surprise when it's been around for thousands of years. Far more holistic than Western Medicine.
Acupuncture and the knowledge I absorbed certainly made a difference by way of improving my digestion and nervous system. It also became apparent that my hour at Nuwa was the only time I completely switched off and zonked out. If I was experiencing a flare up in swelling, an acupuncture session could reduce it but it wasn't solving the root of the swelling problem.
Food Sensitivity Test
Considering my gut needed a lot of attention Alyse said it wouldn't be an ideal time to take a food sensitivity / intolerance test so I focused on cleaning up my diet and practicing patience and self love instead - seriously. I needed it.
This is important to note as food intolerance tests can give false (insanely confronting) readings when your gut is in a bad way - not a true indication of foods your body doesn't agree with. Ie. Bec's situation.
Bec and myself both love results and data. If I hadn't already had 2 food intolerance tests in my time (note: they can be very expensive) I would have been in the same boat as Bec. Elizabeth Orme (an incredible Naturopath on the Gold Coast) warned Bec that it wouldn't be a great time for a test but Bec wanted to go ahead with it for some peace of mind. As the Naturopath (and also Alyse) predicted, it came back with high intolerances to almost every food under the sun. When you have a leaky gut / similar digestive issues this is often the case.
After a few months of really cleaning up my diet and eating regular meals which in turn balanced my blood sugars and hormones I was still experiencing the swelling and the idea of this feeling like an allergy (eg. bee sting / swelling feeling) was still on my mind so I decided to have a test. The food intolerance test revealed a high intolerance to raw, brown and white sugar along with agave. White rice and chickpeas also came up. So these combined with foods I already knew didn't agree gave me more of an idea as to what was going on.
I have had 3 different tests over the years. Two blood tests and one hair test. Please speak with a qualified Nutritionist / Naturopath to ascertain whether you need one and/or what is best suited for YOU.
My Diet Now
Predominantly paleo (gf, df, grain + sugar free) and an interesting discovery is that all of the food intolerance tests I've had over the years + the foods I am naturally drawn to are very much in line with the information in the Blood Type Diet. Obviously something to be taken with a grain of salt, but I was very interested to see how similar the recommendations were for my blood type which is O positive. Bec is also O and we have very similar diets. My sister has a plant based diet and funnily enough she is A blood type which is said to thrive on a meat-free diet. Emma and Hayley are also plant based and have A / B blood types.
I think it's important to know your ancestry too. Paleo definitely makes more sense in my mind when you take into consideration my Indigenous Australian ancestry. In saying that, when you wind the clock back we were all hunting and gathering foods available in our area and our diet was very seasonal. Wherever you are and wherever you are from, I feel as though keeping it simple and getting back to basics is key.
Find what works for YOU - this might be different to what works for your friends or the people you follow on social media and THAT'S OK!
Please make sure you are taking advice from a qualified health professional.
My goal is to get everything I need from my food without any digestive issues. I have been able to sort out my digestion - FINALLY, best it's been my whole life - but it's taken a lot of work. It has also meant I have had to accept that a vegan / vegetarian diet does not work for my body.
Sugar Free - Ramping It Up
At the moment I am doing Sugar Free September (a strict self imposed ban on sugar). Which means swapping my usual almond milk cappuccinos for almond milk flat whites - because I was definitely addicted to the choc. And no more 90% Lindt dark choc after dinner. This has very minimal sugar but again, my treat of two squares was sometimes turning into ten... and the swelling was apparent, albeit mild.
Research Then Act
Every body is different and it is important to do your research. There is lots of info out there surrounding sugar and the impact it has on our health. When you start noticing it, it's as though it's laced in everything!
Watch: That Sugar Film
Read: Sweet Poison + I Quit Sugar - these are books I read a few years ago.
Educate yo'self. Read, listen, watch - whatever works for you. Read both sides of the story. Consult health professionals. Be willing to implement new things. Use yourself as a guinea pig. Find your happy medium.
I'd advise learning as much as you can and being aware of 'healthy' alternatives such as agave, coconut aminos (nectar), maple syrup, raw cane sugar and honey. For me, they all cause havoc. Knowing how fructose is / isn't used in the body is important. My basic understanding is that excess fructose = fat accumulation. And the sneaky thing is, our bodies don't have an off switch or a 'ok I'm full' response with fructose so we can keep eating and drinking it. Read up on it.
It's also important to understand calorie density of foods, especially 'healthy' alternatives. I enjoy following Instagram pages like Equalution. I definitely need to keep in mind the sugar factor though (not simply macros), because it's something my body certainly recognises.
Troy at Beach Therapy in Palm Beach is an incredible kinesiologist who helped me figure out what my body was and wasn't processing. If you don't know anything about muscle testing, I'd highly recommend looking into it. I'm a huge fan!
The cellulite and swelling is gone and my circulation is back in tip top shape. I can stretch without limbs going completely numb WOOHOO! I'm sure I will always have a little bit of cellulite but the majority of it (caused by sugar) is gone.
Lumps, bumps, curves and cellulite are BEAUTIFUL. This journey was an exploration into something that was causing me immense discomfort and impacting my circulation so I'm glad it is something I have finally figured out.
For me, exercise didn't really play much of a part at all. So for those busting your balls and attempting to sweat it out I'd suggest paying just as much attention to your diet. These are things we all know but I was gob smacked at how sensitive my body was.
I try to do 3-4 weights sessions a week (4 sets x 8 reps per exercise - heavy weights). Sometimes I only squeeze in 2 sessions a week but my body is still happy with that. At the moment I don't do any high intensity training (because I honestly don't enjoy it) and the only cardio I do would be surfing and my body is back to its happy balanced self.
I hope this blog has / can help you if you're in a similar position!
As always, don't shoot the messenger. Listen to your body and if something doesn't feel right - keep digging for answers.
I am grateful for this experience as it gave me another opportunity to get to know my body on an even finer level and made me assess all areas of my life.
PS. SLEEP IS SO IMPORTANT. Highly recommend reading or listening to Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson!
If you have any questions or would like to share your own experience and findings please leave a comment below.
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