Let’s talk about loose skin
So many people have written to me, asking about loose skin. The most common questions are: Did I end up with loose skin after losing all my weight, and if so, what did I do about it? But I suspect that what most people really want to know, when they ask me these questions, is will it happen to them? So I thought I would talk about the various factors that can contribute to loose skin after weight loss, to give you more of an idea of whether it will affect you, and hopefully allay a few fears.
Understandably, many people do worry about ending up with loose skin after they lose weight. After all, nobody relishes the idea of investing a huge amount of time and effort into slimming down, only to be left disappointed and unhappy with the look of their body afterwards. But if you’ve been putting off losing weight because you’re worried about ending up with a lot of loose skin let me put your mind at rest, because the fact is, in the vast majority of cases loose skin is a relatively minor issue.
The Factors Affecting Loose Skin
Whether you end up with some loose skin after losing weight is determined by a number of factors; some of them you can do something about, and some of them are completely out of your control.
1. Your Age
Everyone’s inevitable nemesis! The older you get, the more likely that your skin is going to lose elasticity because our production of elastin slows down as we age. Elastin is what gives your skin the ability to stretch and then bounce back. The younger you are, the more responsive your skin is to changes brought about by gaining or losing weight, so if you are losing weight at an older age it’s much more likely that you will have a little loose skin afterwards.
2. The Genetic Lottery
As with aging, another factor you can’t do anything about is your genetic make up. Your genes affect everything about you, including the characteristics of your skin. We can all think of someone with skin that seems to age particularly well, and also somebody with the opposite – it’s just the luck of the draw. Darker, and more olive-toned skins tend to be thicker and more resilient, and therefore do often age better. If you look at your mother or grandmothers’ skin, or photos of them, you can at least get an idea of how you might expect your skin to age. And yet, even with great genes on your side you can still have weakened, less resilient skin if you have too much …
3. Sun Exposure
Apart from the known risks of skin cancer, too much UV exposure can have a major impact on your skin’s ability to bounce back after weight loss. For so many reasons, I suggest you always protect your skin with sunscreen and clothing when you’re outdoors – in particular, the skin on your arms, legs and stomach, as these are areas that can get quite loose when you lose weight.
4. Pollutants/Environmental Factors
By which I mean: alcohol and smoking. I surely don’t need to go into any detail about these! However, I would just point out that over-consumption of alcohol, or ANY consumption of tobacco products, is known to adversely affect skin elasticity. As with exposure to sunlight, these are factors that you can definitely do something about!
5. What have you got to lose?
It goes without saying that if you have a large amount of weight to lose, your skin is going to be far more stretched than someone who just needs to lose a few pounds. So the more weight you take off, the more likely that you might have some loose skin at the end. It may also mean that more areas of your body are affected; for example arms and chin, as well as stomach.
6. Your Weight Loss History
If, like me, you’ve been somewhat of a yoyo dieter and your weight has gone up and down a lot, your skin has been forced to stretch and shrink back many times. Like a balloon, skin can only be inflated and deflated so many times before it loses elasticity and becomes saggy. If you do have an extensive weight loss/regain history, it’s likely that you will end up with some loose skin; possibly more so than someone who has a lot more weight than you to lose, but is losing it for the first time. Naturally, you also need to consider your maternal history; your skin is very stretched during pregnancy and is also affected by how many births you’ve had.
7. How Fast You Lose It
How fast you lose the weight can make a big difference to your skin’s firmness. It’s natural to get impatient and try to lose weight as quickly as possible, but if you want to avoid loose skin when you’re finished I really advise you to take it slow. If you lose the weight too fast, it’s far more likely that you’ll end up with loose skin. Aim to lose no more than 1-2 pounds per week; that’s an optimum rate to give your skin the best chance of shrinking back with your shrinking body.
8. Type Of Exercise
The kind of exercise you do while losing weight is going to have a big impact on whether you get loose skin. The best exercise you can do to support great skin structure is strength training, either by lifting weights or using your own body weight. Surprisingly, the worst kind of exercise you can do is cardio. This is because too much long steady-state cardio is counterproductive to building muscle, and can even cause muscle wastage. And you need muscle, as that’s what gives your body definition and firmness, and helps to fill out your skin as you lose weight.
9. Getting Too Thin
This last factor might sound like a great problem to have, but I can assure you it’s not! If you let yourself get too thin I can pretty much guarantee that you will have loose skin to contend with, and you will not be thrilled with the look of your new body. It’s because you won’t have enough flesh to fill out your skin. The simple solution is to just bite the bullet and put a few pounds back on. You don’t need to go overboard; just try to find that sweet spot where you’re a happy, healthy weight, but you fill out your skin again. You’ll look so much better, and you may find this is enough to fix the problem.
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These are some of the factors that I believe determine your likelihood of ending up with some loose skin after weight loss. Please don’t be disheartened if you tick a few of those boxes; I know I certainly did, and yes, I did end up with some loose skin. But, compared with how I felt at my highest weight – trapped, miserable and unwell – that little bit of loose skin on my lean, fit body doesn’t bother me at all! Having said that …
What To Do When Loose Skin DOES Become A Problem
Of course, sometimes the question of how much loose skin you have after weight loss won’t be a minor issue, but a significant one. Emotionally, the sight of loose skin anywhere on your body may be too much for you to bear. Also, the presence of a significant amount of loose skin can bring its own problems; eg. excessive sweating, chafing etc. In extreme cases, surgery such as a tummy tuck or arm lift may be not only desirable, but necessary or recommended. Of course, the decision to utilize medical intervention should only be made in close consultation with your doctor.