Clogs in the body’s detox system stall fat burn, leading to cellulite, jelly belly and wobbly fat. Feel-great strategies clear blockages for fast slimming!
Call to mind the last time you stopped to smell the roses: You admired their beautiful color, soft petals and sweet scent. But you may not have thought about why the flowers looked and smelled so good. And that is thanks to the flower’s nutrient-delivering root system, which requires careful tending so the plant will flourish.
Science shows that our own internal “root system” — called the lymphatic system — is similarly responsible for our health and well-being. “When the lymphatic system is functioning, lymph fluid flows through the body, detoxifying tissues, filtering out fat and toxins and maintaining a healthy immune system,” explains Bruno Chikly, M.D., D.O., director of the Lymph Drainage Therapy & Brain Therapy Programs in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“When lymph flow becomes stagnant, waste builds up, and this can lead to stubborn weight gain, cellulite and bloat,” asserts women’s health expert Jennifer Weinberg, M.D., author of The Whole Cure. Why this happens: Over time, stress hormones and toxins collect in the system, making the lymph fluid thick and sludgy. “When your lymph system is congested, it cannot properly transport fat where it needs to go,” says Dr. Chikly. So extra fat is deposited in fat cells— leading to lumpy, bumpy cellulite and jiggly fat around the belly, hips and thighs. In fact, Stanford University researchers report that a lymphatic slowdown causes fat storage to double. And slowdowns get worse with each passing decade: According to researchers in Japan, lymph flow decreases by 39 percent between age 20 and 50 and drops another 20 percent between 50 and 70.
Fortunately, it’s easy to get lymph moving and flush fat fast. Studies show that combining pampering strategies, like self-massage, with some easy diet tweaks, like drinking more water, can quickly thin out congested lymph and stimulate flow. It’s that simple, Dr. Chikly assures: “Once the lymphatic fluid is moving freely, fat can be transported to be burned for fuel, and toxins can be flushed from the body.” Just ask Marie Collins, 59, who lost 20 pounds after incorporating self-massage and deep breathing into her daily routine: “My whole body changed. I feel better and look better,” she cheers. Natalie Kikkenborg experienced similar benefits when she began stimulating her sluggish lymphatic system with low-impact exercise and gentle massage. “I never took inch measurements, but oh gosh! You could see the difference,” cheers Natalie, who ultimately dropped an impressive 172 pounds. “I can’t believe how much my life has changed.”
“Freely flowing lymph fluid detoxes tissues, filters out fat and boosts immunity”—Bruno Chikly, M.D., D.O.
And weight loss is just the beginning. “Improving the function and flow of your lymphatic system can help clear up your skin, improve your energy and boost your metabolism,” says Dr. Weinberg. Women FIRST spoke to also credit a healthy lymphatic system with thicker hair, better focus, improved sleep and sunnier moods, as well as less breast tenderness and fewer menopause symptoms.
Improving lymph flow is a surefire way to power off excess pounds — and jumping on a small trampoline (or rebounder) for 10 minutes three times a week is a powerful way to get the benefits. That’s because jumping parallels the way lymph ducts function, opening and closing vertically, pumping lymph fluid through the body. Indeed, Finnish researchers report that moderate-intensity activity like rebounding, jump rope or dance increases lymph flow by 400 percent.
Read on for the revitalizing plan that will turn back the clock and transform your health!
“The lymph system cleanses the body of toxins and waste, regulates the immune system and supports fluid balance,” explains women’s health expert Jennifer Weinberg, M.D. The system tends to slow as we get older, but reviving sluggish lymph prompts the body to burn stored fat. To get the benefits, she recommends pairing self-care practices with simple diet tweaks.
Flush fat with feel-great strategies
“Adding self-care practices to your routine can get the lymph system flowing,” says Dr. Weinberg. Jumping on a mini trampoline (see page 26) is a great place to start, and consider adding these feel-good strategies for faster slimming.
Breathe from your belly. “Slow, deep breaths activate abdominal muscles to assist lymph flow,” says Dr. Weinberg. To do: Place your hands on your belly. Inhale, expanding your belly as you count to three. Exhale, relaxing your belly as you count to three. Repeat five times, taking deeper breaths each time.
Try self-massage. “Lymph flow increases during lymphatic massage,” asserts certified lymphatic therapist Lisa Levitt Gainsley, author of The Book of Lymph. “You’ll instantly feel refreshed.” To do: Lying down comfortably, massage your abdomen clockwise with the palms of your hands.
Next, starting at your navel, massage downward toward your pelvic bone. Then, using your palms, scoop from your right hip toward your navel; from the bottom right of your rib cage toward your navel; from the bottom left of your rib cage toward your navel; and from your left hip bone toward your navel. Finish by massaging clockwise all around your abdomen again. End with five deep breaths. Repeat at least three times a week, says Gainsley. “This will eliminate congested waste, break up tight connective tissue and keep your bowel movements regular to help you lose inches.”
Brush your skin. “The natural bristles of a dry brush encourage lymph movement to help move built-up toxins,” says Dr. Weinberg. “I dry-brush my body for 10 minutes each morning.” To do: Using a firm-bristled brush, make long, gentle strokes toward your heart, paying special attention to the feet, neck, chest and abdomen. The payoff: Stanford University doctors report that dry-brushing daily reduces bloat within 10 days.
Roll it out. A “foam roller,” which looks like an oversize pool noodle, is a self-massage tool that stimulates movement of lymph fluid. “Foam rolling awakens the lymphatic system,” explains trainer-to-the-stars Lauren Roxburgh, founder of the virtual Aligned Life Studio. “It helps release stuck toxins, oxygenates the blood and reduces inflammation.” Look for a “medium compression” roller for as little as $20, then download Roxburgh’s free foam roller guide at AlignedLifeStudio.com/body-reset-guide.
For detailed self-massage instructions for the whole body as well as additional lymph-healing self-care practices, pick up The Book of Lymph by Lisa Levitt Gainsley (Harper Wave, 2021).
Fill up on lymph-boosting foods
“Choosing what to eat is one of the simplest and most effective ways to impact lymphatic health,” asserts Dr. Weinberg. “Aim to eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods, which create congestion and swelling that slow the flow of lymph fluid.” For speedier weight loss, add these quick tips.
Eat the rainbow. Enjoy colorful vegetables. “Naturally red foods, for example, contain antioxidants that keep the lymph moving freely,” says Dr. Weinberg. Also smart: Include plenty of raw fruit and vegetables. “They’re rich in enzymes and bioflavonoids that break down toxic buildup and keep the lymphatic system healthy.”
Swap your fats. “The more you cut back on saturated, long-chain fatty acids in dairy fats, palm oil and other vegetable oils, the better it is for your lymphatic system,” says Gainsley. This kind of fat clogs the lymph fluid. To get the benefits, cut back on dairy and processed foods (which tend to contain long-chain fatty acids) and switch to olive, avocado or walnut oil for cooking.
Drink plenty of fluids. “Lymph fluid is about 95 percent water and becomes thicker when you’re dehydrated,” explains Dr. Weinberg. That’s why she recommends sipping water throughout the day and avoiding soft drinks and alcohol, which are dehydrating.
A sample day to get you started:
- Breakfast: Garden omelette. Load a 2-egg omelet with your favorite lymph-healing veggies, like mushrooms, red peppers and sprouts.
- Dinner: Salmon dinner. Serve 6 oz. baked salmon with an array of colorful vegetables, including broccoli, bell peppers and asparagus tips.
- Lunch: Summer salad. Top 2 cups baby spinach with1 ⁄2 cup fresh berries, half an avocado and a handful of walnuts. Dress with olive oil.
- Dessert: Crumble .Mix 3 tsp. oats, 1 tsp. sugar and 1 tsp. olive oil. Fill ramekin with1 ⁄4 cup berries. Top with oats. Bake at 350°F for 10 min.
Drinking plenty of fluids helps thin congested lymph fluid to transport stored fat so it can be burned for fuel — and these delicious picks come with extra benefits to speed slimming even more
- A fruity mocktail: Anthocyanins, the antioxidant compounds that give pomegranates their deep red color, break down lumpy deposits of lym-phatic waste to speed slimming. A recipe t o try: Combine 1 ⁄2 cup of 100 percent pomegranate juice, 1 ⁄2 cup of seltzer and 2 Tbs. of fresh lime juice over ice. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
- A peppery energizer: Unique phytonutrients in ginger (zingibain and zingerone) emulsify the fats that clog lymph flow, causing waste to build up in cells. A recipe to try: In a cocktail shaker, combine 1 ⁄4 cup of orange juice, 3 ⁄4 cup of ginger beer and 4 (1″) slices of gingerroot over ice. Garnish with an orange wedge .
- A zesty iced tea: Natural plant acids in red clover tea speed elimination of toxins trapped in the lymph system. A recipe to try: Steep 1 red clover tea bag (like Alvita brand) and 1 peppermint tea bag in 1 ⁄2 cup of hot water for at least 10 minutes. Pour into a cup filled with ice.
The results: Before & after
Marquita Wilson, 45
THEN: 279 lbs | NOW: 168 lbs
Marquita lost 111 lbs!
Out of breath, Marquita Wilson helped her disabled sister change clothes, then lovingly placed her back in her wheelchair. Marquita knew: If I’m going to provide the care my sister deserves, I have to get my health under control.
After Marquita lost her mom to cancer, she became the full-time caregiver for her sister, who needed 24-hour assistance. “I never realized how much strength and dedication it took to care for her. But I knew without me, she’d be institutionalized.”
So this wife and mother of four began making changes. In the kitchen, Marquita adopted a clean-eating approach, reaching for lymph-detoxing foods like cranberries, apple cider vinegar and red peppers. At the gym, Marquita learned to activate her lymph system by jumping rope and using a foam roller. She also sat in a sauna to improve circulation and sweat out toxins. “Even weeks I didn’t lose weight, I lost inches.”
Marquita went on to drop 100 pounds, cure her diabetes and trade her 3Xs for 10s. More wins followed, as the doctor happily reported:
“Cholesterol, normal. Heart disease, avoided. Everything, changed!”
Marquita’s transformation blessed her sister too. “Cheryl’s been in a wheelchair for 42 years, but I strengthened her legs and taught her to stand and scoot!” says Marquita. “I think my mom is dancing in the sky. Second chances are real!”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.