There is a common claim made by some massage therapists that “massage can help you lose weight”. In online discussions of massage therapy, it is increasingly common to see massage promoted as a weight loss technique. Sounds too good to be true, right? You cancel the gym membership, lie and get massaged for a couple of hours a week, and miraculous slimming ensues? Sorry to say, but it probably is too good to be true.
Don’t get us wrong – there are plenty of indirect ways a massage can help your weight loss plan: it can speed up post-workout recovery, improve rest and sleep patterns and get you back in the gym quicker and more frequently. But sadly we don’t believe it has any direct effect on weight loss.
But wait! What about all the claims that massage “bursts the fat capsules in subcutaneous tissue”; or “flushes out all the heavy toxins”; or “optimises nutrient delivery”? Some of those claims are just bogus, and some are mis-guided. For example, fluid retention can be reduced through massage, but losing water is hardly what most people think of as sustainable weight loss. It reminds us of the “slimming body wraps” that expensive spas offer – effectively just so hot that you dehydrate through perspiration, and promptly regain that water over the next day or so as you re-hydrate.
Similarly, gentle stomach massage may help speed the passage of food through your digestive tract and ease constipation. Yes, technically a weight loss, but certainly not a lasting reduction in body fat. It’s like claiming that having a haircut is a weight loss technique.
There was a much-publicised study in 2010 in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology which measured effects of massage on thickness of fat beneath the skin, as well as thigh circumference and waist-hip ratios. But there were only 20 subjects and the differences were measured in millimetres, so hardly a resounding finding.
Now we’re the first to promote the benefits of massage. There’s a lot to be said for massage to improve post-exercise recovery (enabling more exercise and consequently more weight loss); or to reduce stress (some claim that the stress hormone cortisol can lead to weight accumulation) – more on that here and here. But these are indirect benefits – and there is very little evidence (that we are aware of, anyway) for massage directly assisting weight loss.
We would love to say you can come and see us in London, enjoy a massage, and watch the pounds drop off, but we can’t. So we hate to say it, but it’s back to eating fewer calories and doing more exercise!