Lipedema is a serious condition that affects women, almost exclusively. It can call quality of life into question if left unchecked.
Luckily, there are many treatment options and therapies, including lipedema diets, available to help support you on your journey. Read on for more information on lipedema, including the best diet for lipedema.
What Is Lipedema?
Lipedema is a condition in which excess fat accumulates in the body, particularly the lower half. It’s often confused with lymphedema, and although the two conditions can be linked, lipedema primarily affects the following areas of the body:
Sometimes, the upper arms are also affected in about 80% of cases. However, a hallmark of the condition is that it does not affect the hands, feet, trunk, or waist (when obesity is not also present).
This condition affects females predominantly, with about 11% of the female population being affected. As a condition mainly affecting females, estrogen has understandably been implicated in the excess accumulation of adipose (fat) tissue.
Lipedema Causes and Symptoms
Unfortunately, lipidemia is often under- or misdiagnosed since it presents similarly to other conditions.
While the exact cause is unknown, many researchers believe lipedema to be inherited. This means a family history of lipedema may make a person more prone to the condition.
Causes of Lipedema
While lipedema isn’t caused by obesity, over half of lipedema patients qualify as overweight or obese. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can also worsen the characteristics of the condition.
Other theories concerning what contributes to lipedema include:
• Abnormal small blood vessels
• Abnormal lymphatic vessels
• Abnormal sympathetic signaling
No matter the cause or what conditions may exist in tandem with lipedema, the main message about lipedema should be that it is not a disease of being “overweight.” Lipedema, although often poorly defined, is a condition that progresses with a pathway different from other diseases.
Life stage plays a major role in the onset of lipedema. Often, the condition worsens in women with lipedema around a time of major hormonal changes, such as:
Common symptoms of lipedema include:
• Emotional upset (including anxiety or depression)
• Fluid retention (a build-up of lymph fluid)
• Symmetrical swelling of the extremities
• Easy bruising and tenderness
• Painful fat and chronic inflammation of the buttocks, thighs, and/or calves
• Legs and arms that “feel heavy”
• Small nodules or fibrosis of the fat tissue
In the early stages of lipedema, the accumulation of fat may simply be uncomfortable. However, in later stages, the buildup of fat can cause mobility issues (such as affecting walking ability). Recognizing each stage of the condition can be key in seeking proper treatment.
The stages of lipedema generally progress as follows:
• Stage 1: surface of the skin appears smooth or normal, but pain, bruising, and nodes exist in the fat tissue
• Stage 2: skin appears uneven with cellulite-like indentations, representing the thickening (fibrosis) of underlying tissue
• Stage 3: skin fold of fat tissue exist (usually down to the ankles), representing a loss of elasticity and causing a loss of mobility, reduction of blood and lymph flow, and increased inflammation
Lipedema Treatment Options
When left untreated, lipedema can cause considerable disability, including impairment of daily functions and emotional distress. On the other hand, treatment (especially in the early stages) can significantly improve quality of life, reduce pain, and reduce inflammation and swelling.
Noninvasive and “Natural” Treatments
Before resorting to more intense treatments, healthcare practitioners may recommend some of the following noninvasive therapies:
• Compression garments or multi-layer compression bandaging
• Decongestive therapy (a special wrapping technique)
• Manual lymphatic drainage therapy (a gentle skin stretching or massage technique)
Medication and Surgery
More invasive forms of treatment also exist, including liposuction to remove lipedema fat. Generally, a form of liposuction called wet-jet assisted liposuction is recommended. This is due to the fact that this specific type of liposuction is less likely to cause lymph node damage, which would further complicate the condition.
In more severe causes, including those where obesity contributes to complications, a doctor may recommend bariatric surgery. Don’t forget that, due to the emotional effect of the condition, psychotherapy is also recommended in combination with other therapies.
Some medications and supplements may also be useful in managing lipedema, such as:
• Guaifenesin, a common cold medicine known as Mucinex© (for swelling and inflammation)
• Selenium (to support metabolism)
• Vitamin D3 (to avoid deficiency)
Lipedema Diet Tips
Dieting when you have lipedema can be tricky. In fact, lipedema fat is often resistant to typical diet and exercise trends. Quick diets—without actual long-term lifestyle changes—can cause a loss of weight in the upper half of the body without affecting the areas of the body where lipedema is causing negative side effects.
Generally, weight loss has little effect on lipedema, and may even result in an increased risk for eating disorders. Instead, intentional dietary patterns and healthy habits may be able to ease symptoms and slow the progression of the condition.
The focus of a lipedema diet plan should not be weight loss but rather overall healthy eating patterns and weight management The following tactics can help you mitigate the risk of developing lipoedema.
Have Heart-Healthy Habits
Eating heart-healthy foods, especially in the early stages of lipedema, can help to slow the progression of the condition. Exercise for mobility, such as swimming or walking, can also ease swelling and other painful symptoms.
As mentioned above, the goal of exercise should not be to lose weight but rather to improve the flow of blood and lymph fluid throughout the limbs.
Meet with a Dietitian
A dietitian may be able to help you choose the right diet protocol for you. Since inflammatory pathways are involved in lipedema, an anti-inflammatory diet may be recommended. This may involve reducing or avoiding certain foods for a time while increasing intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
One specific diet associated with decreasing inflammation is the Mediterranean diet. A modified version of the Mediterranean Diet—known as the Rare Adipose Disorder diet (RAD diet)—may be recommended for individuals with lipedema.
During this diet, the following foods are limited:
• Animal fats and proteins
• Pasteurized dairy products
• Preservatives and artificial flavors or sweeteners
• Processed flour products
• Simple sugars and carbohydrates
Another diet being researched in association with lipedema is the keto diet. While a ketogenic diet for lipedema has its pitfalls, having a diet high in healthy fats can have advantages. One study suggests that a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet (like keto) may improve the perception of pain and quality of life in lipedema patients.
The Last Word on All Things Lipedema
Lipedema is a condition that involves the painful fat accumulation and can lead to mobility issues. While it can be linked to obesity, misdiagnosis, and common obesity treatments—like weight loss—can actually cause more harm than good in the case of lipedema.
Luckily, having a well-rounded healthcare team, including a dietitian and psychotherapist, can make dealing with lipedema much more manageable.
Related Questions: Diet for Lipedema
What is the best diet for lipedema?
The best diet for lipedema is a diet that helps to relieve painful symptoms and inflammation. Examples of diets that may work for people with lipedema include an anti-inflammatory diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Rare Adipose Disorder (RAD) diet, and (potentially) the ketogenic diet.
How do you get rid of lipedema naturally?
Many natural, noninvasive therapies exist for the treatment of lipedema. For example, compression garments and bandages, lymphatic massage therapies, and certain vitamin or mineral supplements may make a difference.
Aksoy H, Karadog AS, Wollina U. Cause and management of lipedema-associated pain. Dermatol Ther. 2021;34(1):e14364.
Buso G, Depairon M, Tomson D, Raffoul W, Vettor R, Mazzolai L. Lipedema: A Call to Action! Obesity (Silver Spring). 2019;27(10):1567-1576.
Cleveland Clinic. Lipedema. Cleveland Clinic. Published May 2019.
Ernst AM, Bauer H, Bauer HC, Steiner M, Malfertheiner A, Lipp AT. Lipedema Research-Quo Vadis? J Pers Med. 2022;13(1):98.
Herbst KL. Subcutaneous Adipose Tissue Diseases: Dercum Disease, Lipedema, Familial Multiple Lipomatosis, and Madelung Disease. [Updated 2019 Dec 14]. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Blackman MR, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK552156/.
Herbst KL. RAD Diet. Lipomadoc.org. Published April 2012.
Katzer K, Hill JL, McIver KB, Foster MT. Lipedema and the Potential Role of Estrogen inExcessive Adipose Tissue Accumulation. Int J Mol Sci. 2021;22(21):11720.
Keith L, Seo CA, Rowsemitt C, Pfeffer M, Wahi M, et al. Ketogenic diet as a potential intervention for lipedema. Med Hypotheses. 2021;146:110435.
Sabchez-De la Torre Y, Wadeea R, Rosas V, Herbst KL. Lipedema: friend and foe. Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2018;33(1).
Lipedema Medical Solutions. Diet & Supplement Recommendations And Rationale For Lipedema. Lipedema Medical Solutions.
Reich-Schupke S, Schmeller W, Brauer WJ, Cornely ME, et al. S1 guidelines: Lipedema. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2017;15(7):758-767.