By Kim Duke, NETA & AAFA Certified Trainer
Recently, one of my clients, who has lost a lot of weight, wondered if she would ever regain elasticity of her skin to match her weight loss. As much as I wanted to tell her that strength training alone will be the answer to all of her prayers, I know better. I’ve been in this business long enough to see the reality versus the myth of sagging skin after excessive weight loss.
When you work to lose a bunch of weight, you dream of a tighter, toned body. You don’t picture extra, loose skin. But that’s a real possibility, and one that can cause health problems and a poor self-image.
“It’s frustrating to patients who have put all this hard work and commitment into their weight loss journey and new bodies to be left with extra skin that doesn’t reflect that effort,” says Jason B. Lichten, MD, a plastic surgeon in Columbus, OH. “Often, they feel that their extra skin hangs on them the same way their old clothes from before their weight loss would, only they can’t take it off.”
Why Skin Doesn’t Snap Back
The elasticity of your skin depends on how long you were obese. The longer it was stretched out, the less likely it is to bounce back.
“It’s like a balloon,” says Marie Jhin, MD, a dermatologist in San Francisco. “When you first blow up a balloon, it’s really small and tight. You have to stretch it first,” she says. “But when it’s deflated, it doesn’t return to its original shape.”
A lot of it has to do with age and genetics, too. She says, “Everyone starts to lose [elastic tissue] as they get older.”
There are several reasons why losing a slow and steady one or two pounds a week is the ideal rate at which to lose. Saving your skin’s elasticity is one of them. The more quickly you lose your weight, the more likely you are to have a problem with excess skin.
In addition to slow and steady weight loss, you can also build muscle to shape the tissue underneath the skin.
Maintaining or increasing muscle tissue is the key to minimizing loose skin. Remember, the phenomenon occurs when the underlying layers of tissue shrink under a much larger surface area. If muscle mass is lost in addition to fat, it creates an even larger void under your skin’s surface. On the other hand, increasing lean tissue fills the area underneath the skin, keeping it taut.
Lastly, make sure to keep protein intake high. During caloric deficit, this will not only prevent the loss of lean mass, but also ensure that you have the optimum amount for building muscle.
So how do you know if you should consider surgery? If excess skin is causing an actual medical problem (e.g. chafing that leads to skin infections), you may need to consider surgery. You might also want to have a procedure performed simply to improve the appearance of your body after weight loss.
So what’s the bottom line? Worrying about the likelihood of having loose skin is no reason to put off losing weight. Losing weight will leave you healthier and will most likely lead to a longer, fuller life. If you have loose skin after weight loss, talk to your doctor about skin tightening surgeries and methods that can approve both the function and the look of your body.