In light of last week’s exposed movement and my own loose skin, I thought I’d follow up this week with a more general discussion of loose skin. This is frequent topic on most weight loss message boards I’ve come across, introduced with trepidation by those new to weight loss and greeted with varying levels of sympathy and derision by those who’ve been on this journey for a while. Why is this something that causes so much concern and interest?
If you google “loose skin and weight loss” . . .
You find an interesting variety of “cures” for the loose skin, ranging from collagen creams, body wraps and dry brushing (none of which have been proven) to hydration and sunscreen, which make a little more sense. The things about loose skin that make the most sense to the scientist in me are unfortunately the things that we have the least control over. So many things about skin elasticity are related to genetics, age and the number of times your skin has had to rebound from previous stretches (pregnancy, prior weight loss/gain, etc). We really can’t control those things unfortunately, without a time machine or a magic wand. What we can do it take good care of our skin as we have it now, to give it the best chance of performing to its potential. That means hydrating both with topical moisturizers and with drinking lots of water and using sunscreen on exposed skin any time we’re outside. You could certainly spend a small fortune on lotions and creams meant to help tighten sagging skin, but those products are generally designed for tightening skin on the small scale that we see with normal aging, not the large scale we see with significant weight loss, so you may not get much bang for your buck.
Losing weight at a reasonable rate (ie less than 2 lbs a week) is frequently cited as a way to avoid loose skin. For lots of reasons, including decreasing your chances of rebounding with weight gain and giving yourself time to learn new your new healthy lifestyle, I think losing weight slowly is a good idea. It also can’t hurt when it comes to loose skin, but be aware that if you have a significant amount of weight to lose, you are probably going to end up with loose skin regardless of how slowly you lose it unless you are very lucky.
Strength training is also frequently mentioned in these articles. It is important to remember that strength training is not going to do anything to directly help with the loose skin itself, but it can define the tissues under the loose skin and improve the overall appearance of the area. Like drinking water and losing weight at a reasonable pace, strength training has lots of benefits for your overall health, but do not expect it to be a magic bullet for loose skin. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a magic bullet for loose skin (even surgery – which has been a good option for some – isn’t a magic bullet given the scarring, healing time, financial costs, physical pain and imperfect results).
What I find I more interesting is why loose skin seems so terrifying at the beginning of a weight loss journey. Objectively, we all know that the health gains we get from losing weight far outweigh the cosmetic downside of loose skin and yet over and over, otherwise rational individuals (myself included) attribute a huge amount of psychological weight to this issue. I think it may be because we have this idea that losing weight will give us a better body and pictures of loose skin are a glaring reminder that the damage we’ve done may not completely go away. It is also honestly not that attractive to look at it and it can be hard to mentally come to terms with that physical appearance being the “reward” for all of the work you’re putting in. For me, there was honestly a happy medium somewhere in the 220s (approximately) where I’d lost enough weight to really feel like I was looking good, but hadn’t gotten a lot of loose skin yet. At that point, I probably looked better naked than I do now. It can be very hard to work to so hard to accept your body, whatever the size, when that size and appearance are constantly changing. I think it is very human to be unsure about those feelings and to struggle with the unknown of what we’ll look like down the line or the frank disappointment that we don’t have the body that some secret little part of us feels like our hard work has earned.
Reasonable articles on loose skin:
Were you worried about loose skin? What would you say to someone who asks you about how to avoid it when losing weight?
On a personal note, yesterday I got an award at work for recognition of my contribution to the university. The award was lovely but the truly fantastic part for me was hearing what my nominator said about the work I do (we don’t get told who the nominator was – we only know that it is a peer nomination and the Chancellor’s Council decides on who gets the awards from the nominees). It was so gratifying to know that the things I do are appreciated, even the small things that don’t otherwise show up on my resume or annual reports. It reminded me how important it is to tell people how much you appreciate them. Any time someone asks me to write a letter of recommendation for them, I always send them a copy as well because if I’m telling the world how fantastic they are, maybe some part of them needs to hear that they are fantastic too. Tell somebody how much your appreciate them today! You never know how much they might need it at that moment