5 Ways To Deal With (And Get Rid Of) Loose Skin After Weight Loss
How to deal with loose skin after losing weight naturally? One of the most frustrating aspects of losing weight for many men and women is that after months of watching your diet and exercising regularly you lose the weight but are left with pockets of loose skin. Depending on how your body fat is distributed, this can happen whether you lose 20 pounds or 100 pounds and in some cases the amount of loose skin remaining after extreme weight loss requires surgical intervention to be completely removed. That said, in over twenty eight years of working with people who have lost considerable amounts of weight (from 50 to over 100 pounds)- none of them ever opted to go under the knife as they were able to deal with the excess skin over time using non-surgical interventions. In this article we will take a look at five tried and true tips to help prevent and deal with the problem of loose skin after losing weight. They are however neither magical nor fast acting, but for some it can bring about an improvement if not a near complete removal of excess skin, depending on your age, body fat distribution and how you lost the weight in the first place. A search on the internet for articles on dealing with loose skin after losing weight will give you tons of articles that are little more than advertisements for surgical skin interventions or creams and potions proposing to solve the problem, but there is little out there cataloging the experiences of those who have lost significant amounts of weight and who dealt with the issue of loose skin without any external interventions. I hope this article helps as many people as possible realize that there are options besides surgery and do feel free to share it!
Getting Rid Of Loose Skin- Understanding How Skin Works
The first thing we need to do before jumping into how to avoid or get rid of loose skin after losing weight is to understand how our skin works. Skin elasticity defined as your skin’s ability to stretch and then revert to its previous position and shape once the stretch is complete. . Along with wrinkles and gray hair, reduced skin elasticity is a fact of aging for most people. This natural loss of elasticity is called elastosis and can be especially easy to see in parts of the body that have excessively exposed to the sun. In fact, elastosis is most prevalent among those who spend most of their time outdoors and can be identified by a telltale leathery, weather-beaten appearance. [3, 4] Smoking can also increase the likelihood of elastosis as well. [4,5] When you lose weight skin elasticity is a key factor in how long it will take for your skin to tighten up afterwards. Bodybuilders and physique competitors who diet down for competitions need drum tight skin over their muscles to be able to display maximum muscular definition and present an aesthetically pleasing appearance and are experts in the field of dealing with loose skin. In a way, being a bodybuilder or any kind of physique competitor comes down to ensuring that your skin is as tight as possible after reducing your body fat and there are tried and true ways to do it even if you have problems with excess skin. That said, here are some recommendations that can help you avoid the problem using some tricks that have used in the natural bodybuilding trenches for decades.
How To Deal With Loose Skin— Step 1: Check If It’s Really Skin
Most people who I have seen who I have worked with who complained of having excess skin still had some excess body fat to lose in order to get the look they were trying to achieve. The first thing you need to do is to check to see if it’s really skin and not fat. If you pinch the area and it feels almost paper like when you squeeze it, then it’s skin, but if there is a bit of a resistance when you pinch it, that means there is usually some fat that still needs to be lost. Keep in mind that fat loss for health reasons and fat loss from a cosmetic point of view are two diametrically different goals. A loss of only 10% of your body weight among those who are categorized as obese or overweight confers tremendous benefits in terms of reduction in chances of developing diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. That being said, the only way those fat stores between the skin can be lost is by dropping your body fat levels even lower. Most people don’t realize how low our body fat levels may have to be reduced in order to have a really tight appearance and what’s even more daunting is the fact that in order for this to work you have to not only lose the excess body fat but also be able to sustain a low body fat percentage for a significant period of time in order for your skin to adapt. How long depends on your age, lifestyle and skin elasticity. My experience with individuals ranging from their twenties to their fifties is that it can take weeks for some, months for others and years for most but only when there is a dedication to consistently good nutrition and a weight training program focused on increasing muscle mass.
How To Deal With Loose Skin— Step 2: Build Muscle
We hear the term ‘muscle’ today and immediately the image of an outrageously musclebound man or woman comes to mind. Unfortunately, this stereotype prevents most people (women especially) from achieving their goals as the look that the general public associates with weight lifting is that of the bodybuilders you see in the magazines or online who use anabolic steroids. Without drugs and a balanced training system building muscle mass won’t make you look like you are wearing a gorilla suit, a fact that anyone attending a reputable drug tested bodybuilding contest can attest to. Building muscle is in fact as close to a miracle aid as you can get if you are losing weight as without a weight training program most people will end up with significant amounts of excess skin if they lose a sizeable amount of weight. Let’s say you don’t have much in the way of muscle mass to begin with and you are striving to lose weight. You drop your calories and or partake in aerobic based training routines and you lose 10-20lbs over the course of several months. The aerobics you did would not have increased your skeletal muscle mass (and may have decreased it- see my article Rethinking The Need For Cardio) and so if your skin was taut to begin with, the loss of fat tissue under it would indeed leave some degree of loose skin. You aren’t going to be mistaken for a Greek gods or goddesses as you will only be a smaller version of yourself. A version wearing a set of skin that is a size or two bigger than when you started off, leaving a loose look that most aren’t very pleased with.
Now as long as you spend the rest of your life with a reduced calorie intake (which studies show is rather unrealistic long term for most) and doing aerobic exercises you might be able to keep your weight down and you may have some tightening of your skin over time, but it will take a very long time if it ever happens at all. This is the experience most people tend to have when losing weight. On the other hand, if you started a program of weight training to build muscle while also watching your diet to increase muscle definition and lose weight the outcomes will be very different. For one you won’t lose weight as quickly as the person doing aerobics and keeping their calories low, as you are not only losing fat but also building muscle at the same time. A pound of muscle tissue is far denser than a pound of adipose tissue and so small increases in your muscle mass can reduce how quickly the numbers on the scale go down even though the increased muscle mass means you’ll burn more calories at rest and thus are more likely to burn off more body fat if your diet is controlled.[6,7] To the rapid-weight-loss-fixated it may sound counterproductive but it’s a superior method in every way possible. Not only will the increased muscle mass serve to tighten up your arms, legs and abdominal regions so that when you lose the fat you will have some toned muscle showing through instead of just being a smaller version of yourself, but the area under your skin that was once tightened by fat stores will over time be replaced with muscle tissue. Not as much muscle tissue as the fat that might have been there previously but enough to reduce the amount of time required for your skin to adapt to the reduction in size.
How To Deal With Loose Skin— Step 3: Take Your Time
An artist beginning a sculpture looks at the stone, wood or whatever medium he or she is going to use and does their best to plan out how they will realize their final vision. Most people seeking to lose weight tend to be a bit more myopic, focusing only on losing weight as quickly as possible without much care for the consequences of rapid weight loss. The nearly communal obsession with rapid weight loss is often the very reason people end up with hanging skin. If we keep in mind the idea that our skin’s elasticity is finite, it becomes somewhat clear that the faster you lose weight the less time your skin would have to adapt to the reduction in adipose tissue under it that was keeping it taut in the first place. I have seen people lose as little as 15 pounds within the span of a couple of weeks from combinations of starvation diets and extreme amounts of aerobic type exercise and have hanging skin as a result, while I have worked with others who have lost over 50 pounds over the course of a year (with a program of sensible diet and high intensity weight training and zero steady state aerobics) who had consistently less loose skin than those around their same age who loss far less weight in a shorter period of time. It isn’t a message many are willing to embrace but when it comes to weight loss the slow and steady do win the race. The older you are the more important it becomes for you to take your time in losing weight. I have worked with competitors in their 20’s who have lost over 40 pounds within a three month period who had no problems with hanging skin and others in their thirties, forties and fifties who lost less weight to get into contest shape but took a while for their skin to adjust to the drop in body fat. Studies show that post-menopausal women especially tend to have a harder time dealing with loose skin than those who lose weight in their earlier years, perhaps due to the effects of estrogen on skin elasticity and so it becomes critical that you take your time and understand that slower weight loss means faster tight skin afterwards. (See my article: How Weight Training Reverses The Aging Process.) With the growing popularity of bariatric surgery patients routinely lose 50 to as much as 100 pounds within a very short period of time, a massive degree of weight loss that inevitably leads to hanging skin as there is no way our body could possibly adapt to such fast weight loss regardless of our age or skin elasticity. Unfortunately in these cases plastic surgery is the only recourse to deal with the remaining skin and it’s one reason why I always recommend individuals to stick with the slow and natural approach. It might take years instead of months but you are far less likely to have the problem with hanging skin if you lose weight the right way.
How To Deal With Loose Skin— Step 4: Stay Hydrated At All Times
Hydration is a bit of a funny thing- if your body doesn’t have enough water it does it’s best to hold on to as much water as possible and you get a bit bloated. On the other hand, if you always have a constant intake of water that meets your body’s needs your body does not retain water. Now you might wonder what hydration has to do with loose skin after losing weight and it’s actually very much connected. Most people don’t drink enough water to begin with and thus will be slightly dehydrated- holding excess fluid under their skin. That fluid pushes against your skin, and can reduce the degree to which your skin shrinks when you lose weight. Think about it- if you are dehydrated you can hold anywhere from 2 to as much as 7-10 pounds of excess fluid whereas if you are fully hydrated you won’t have that excess fluid buildup and your skin will have a much easier time adapting to your reduction in body fat. The key idea is that if you want your skin to adapt to a reduction in body weight you want to try to stay consistency at that body weight. The ups and downs brought on by water retention does nothing to help and proper hydration is also a critical factor in optimizing skin elasticity. So don’t forget that water is indeed an important component to your dietary program and avoid high sodium foods that can also make you retain water.
How To Deal With Loose Skin— Step 5: Be Patient And Accept Yourself
Acceptance is a hard thing for most of us. We want the body of our dreams and after working hard to lose weight it can be difficult to look in the mirror and see hanging skin. The problem is that very often this very perception can be for all intents and purposes a bit skewered. Humans are by nature designed to be very selective in focus. If you walk down a busy street talking to your friend you can easily follow your friend’s conversation even if it’s a bit noisy, and if you are really involved in the discussion you may not realize that it’s a noisy street at all. This perceptual focusing is part of how our hardware operates but it doesn’t change reality. No matter how great (or horrible) the conversation, the fact that we stop being aware of the car horns, people talking and general hustle and bustle around us doesn’t mean that they cease to exist- it just shows where our focus is. Similarly if you work hard for months on end watching what you eat and how you train and keep your focus only on the hanging skin that you see, that skin becomes your reality. Your friends and family may be telling you how fantastic you look, you may be wearing clothes that you haven’t worn in years and you may have energy and a general feeling of health that you never had before but if your focus is solely on what could be better, then you can’t enjoy your accomplishments- and that is a tragedy that plays over and over for most people losing weight today.
The health benefits of losing weight and the cosmetic ones as well aren’t marred by some lose skin, and you aren’t any less beautiful or accomplished because of it. Our society holds up images of individuals with (Photoshop) perfect skin, and seemingly perfect bodies and we often can’t help but compare ourselves to the models who have nothing in common with us in terms of our individual fitness stories. A 19 year old with a six pack isn’t much of an accomplishment, whereas a 50 year old who was overweight and now is down to his or her optimal weight most certainly is! Comparison is often the mortal enemy of inner peace and inner peace is the foundation of the very patience you need to continue training and eating well even though you have some loose skin. I know some professional natural bodybuilding champions who were very much overweight and who spoke with me early on in their careers about their fears that the hanging skin from their ‘past lives’ would make it impossible for them to ever really be competitive without surgical intervention. In each case, it did indeed take years, but to look at them today you would never think that they had a problem with loose skin. The same applies to some of my clients who lost 50 to 100 pounds and have little in the way of hanging skin today. In the end it comes down to the simple reality that if there isn’t some degree of self-acceptance and a sense of accomplishment for what you have done you are far less likely to keep up with your routine and see the long-term benefits. True there are those who are driven by self-hatred to train and diet but at the end of the day I never saw anyone with such motivations ever really enjoying the fruits of their labor. Balance is and always will be the key.
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References for Dealing With Loose Skin After Weight Loss
- Archer DF. Postmenopausal skin and estrogen. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2012
- Columbia University. “Weight Loss and Excess Skin.” Go Ask Alice.
- Dugdale, David C. “Aging Changes in Skin.” Medline Plus. 2008
- American Academy of Dermatology. “Causes of Aging Skin.” 2008
- Manson, JoAnn. “Can the Skin’s Elasticity Be Restored?” EverydayHealth. 2008
- Gaal LF, Vansant GA, De Leeuw IH. Factors determining energy expenditure during very low calorie diets. Am J Clin Nutr 1992
- Hunter GR, Byrne NM, Sirikul B, Fernández JR, Zuckerman PA, Darnell BE, Gower BA. Resistance training conserves fat-free mass and resting energy expenditure following weight loss. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008