Loose skin after weight loss

SharpeiSo enquiring minds want to know about Loose Skin. What does one look like naked after losing half their body weight? Does my stomach hang down to my knees? Do I resemble a human shar-pei? Will you resemble a human shar-pei if you lose weight?

I completely understand why this issue causes so much worry. At the end of 2000 when I was trying to work up the nerve to Do Something, part of me was reluctant to even start for fear I'd end up looking like my furry friend on the left there.

Of course now I can only answer from my own experience, and I am happy to report I don't look like a roly-poly-dog.

Now lets get down business.

1.    AM I GOING TO BE A SHAR-PEI?

I must have read a dozen articles with varying levels of doom and gloom but most folk agreed that how your skin bounces back from a large weight loss depends on a range of factors:

  • the elasticity of your skin – this decreases with age
  • how long how you carried the excess weight (eg. 9 months pregnant vs 9 years being overweight)
  • how much excess weight you carried
  • if you've previously gained/lost large amounts of weight
  • how quickly you gained the excess weight
  • how quickly you lost it – slower loss allows skin more time to readjust
  • your body composition – how much body fat vs muscle you have

One of the more interesting articles I found was by Tom Venuto, author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle. He said that in many cases when people have lost a lot of weight and think they've been left with great puddles of excess skin, it's actually still body fat. You may have reached your Goal Weight on the scales but Tom sayz it's worth looking at your body fat percentage (see point 12 of his article).

"Except in extreme cases, you are very unlikely to see someone with loose skin who has very low body fat. It's quite remarkable how much your skin can tighten up and literally start to "cling" to your abdominal muscles once your body fat goes from "average" to "excellent." Someone with legitimate single digit body fat and loose skin is a rare sight.

So… the key to getting tighter skin is to lose more body fat, up to the point where your body composition rating is BETTER than average (in the "good" to "great" category, not just "okay"). Only AFTER you reach your long term body fat percentage goal should you give thought to "excess skin removal."

… unless you are really, really lean, it's difficult to get a clear picture of what is loose skin, what is just remaining body fat and how much further the skin will tighten up when the rest of the fat is lost."

Now Mr Venuto is a pretty hardcore personal trainer type and his article seems directed at blokes, but in my experience I have found this to hold true. Body composition makes a huge difference. The more muscle I build, the more my skin appears to "tighten up". I have not had any dramatic weight loss on the scales for two years now, but my body composition has changed – I have gone down another size or so and I'm much firmer. I once said I could flap my arms and fly all the way to Australia for free, now I think I'd only make it to say, Dubai. Haw haw haw.

2.    WHAT THE BLOODY HELL CAN I DO ABOUT IT?

Honestly, the best thing you can do is be realistic. I knew when I started out that there was no way my 351 pound body would ever snap back flat and flawless Elle McPherson stylee. But my aims were more about making the bed without getting breathless than attaining perfection.

This article has a few suggestions, including:

  • losing weight slowly
  • keeping your skin hydrated
  • preserving muscle tone and
  • eating nutrient rich foods:

"If your meals and snacks consist of junk food (even if you eat it in smaller quantities than before) then you're unlikely to nourish your skin properly and build up its strength.

Choose foods which are high in vitamins and minerals and low in sugar, saturated fat and additives. Include foods high in essential fatty acids such as avocados, olives, oily fish, nuts and seeds and oils made from these and also ensure that you have an adequate supply of lean protein."

Thanks, learned experts!

Here's what I personally found helpful:

  • Slow and tedious weight loss – Yes, six years was a bit bloody ridiculous, but the fact that it took me so long seems to have worked in my favour.
  • Weight training – This has been THE biggest thing for me and goes back to the body composition stuff mentioned above. I started weight training about eight months into my lard busting and have been doing it 1-3 times a week for six years now. I was about 120 kilos when I read this "No Fat Chicks" article on Krista's Women's Weightlifting page and it changed my thinking forever. Pumping iron has made a huge difference to my shape and tone. I noticed changes within weeks and used to love feeling the muscles developing beneath my baggy size 24 tracksuit pants.
    Years and years later, I'm so glad I persisted. My legs, for example, are never going to be small but they're strong and solid and there's no loose skin.
    My arms haven't fared as well; they're still wobbly but considering they used to barely squeeze into a size 26, they're okay and I'm happy to wear t-shirts.
    I only wish I'd known about weight training from Day One. So if you're starting out, even if you just pick up a can of beans and so some bicep curls, get lifting!
  • Pilates – I started a weekly class at work in December 2005 and while it took a good six months to understand what the hell was going on, over time it made a huge difference to the tone of my abdominal area. Not mention better posture :)
  • BEING PATIENT – I know people don't want to hear about things taking years to improve, but for me it gets better the longer I simply carry on with the exercise and healthy eatin' .

WELL MISSY, IF YOU'RE SO DAMN SMUG AND SEXY WILL YOU BE POSING NUDE FOR PLAYBOY ANYTIME SOON?

Well, no. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so while I look at my body and think mwrrrrowr, you may recoil in horror. You might see my naked body as a starting point or a candidate for Slice and Dice at the plastic surgeon. Yet I am amazed at what good nick my skin is in, considering everything I've put it through.

I didn't realise quite how happy I was with the ol bod until I visited my friend Argy in Athens this July. Living in Scotland you can ignore your wobbly bits much of the time, since they're hidden under 27 waterproof layers most of the year. But in sweltering Greece I had nowhere to hide. I expected to feel anxious being skirts and t-shirts again, but I felt good. My stomach is still hella wobbly – I don't know if you'd call it loose skin or just flab I could still lose if I could be bothered – so I'll never don a bikini.

But I was perfectly happy in my one piece swimsuit lazing by the pool at Argy's apartment – not hiding beneath towels or kaftans. That is good enough for me. At one point we were going to the beach and I was excited by the prospect rather than worrying how my pale lumpen form would clash with the bronzed Greeks. Hurrah for progress!

IN SUMMARY

What will happen to your body if you lose a lot of weight depends on your circumstances, methods, current condition, etc etc; but time, patience and consistent exercise can help your lovely epidermis. But most of all I passionately stand by what I said in my Things I Have Learned list last year:

"Don't let the fear of loose skin, belly rolls or flabby arms stop you. Do you think Oprah worried about her bingo wings? No. She just flap-flap-flapped and flew away to world domination!"

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54 thoughts on “Loose skin after weight loss

  1. I didn’t know about the body composition being a factor but now it has been bought to my attention it does make sense!! Thanks for writing this on DG it’s laid my fears to rest.

  2. I know this is a big issue for a lot of women. I actually got stretch marks when I lost weight and then again when my arms got stronger. I think genetics has a lot to do with it.

    RT

  3. thank you for this post. i’ve been having problems reconciling my distaste/disgust over my “flappy” arms recently. & sometimes the patience is really the hardest part of the whole venture.

    cheers, beckah

  4. loose skin was one of the things i convinced myself (excuse excuseeeee) was a good enough reason to put off losing weight.

    then it hit me… why not lose weight NOW and worry about the skin LATER. lo and behold i’m not turning into a shar-pei. go figure ;)

    Although almond toning milk and firming oil has helped, surely it has helped. Well, if anything it makes my skin smell nice LOL

    Thanks for sharing your experience Shauna, it should help put future weight losers minds at ease :)

  5. I know that for people that do have excess skin, there is a cheap alternative to expensive surgery. Many burn hospitals will do the surgery for free because they need the skin. Though, to be honest, I’m really hoping to not have to go that route when all is said and done and I’m glad I’ve got a while to go yet.

  6. Ah, you’re a star, Shauna! Just what everyone needs – some straight talking, common sense and a bit of perspective.

    I missed all my fave bloggers while I was temporarily internet-less. Please God, never again! One can only go so long without a dose of DietGirl, et al.

  7. While you’re on the subject of skin, please give me comfort about stretch marks, especially the old deep ones!

    (Absolutely love the blog by the way, keep up the fantastic work!)

  8. Can I add in something for the mothers amongst us? My (limited) personal research suggests that if you’ve had kids and particularly if you have had a c-section, you could well end up with a wee “overhang” in the belly area. This is NORMAL!!!!!!! And Lauren, I had hideously bad stretch marks – even the midwives commented on them when I was pregnant – and I find they fade so they’re not so noticeable but they don’t go away entirely. Creams and massage help them look and feel better but I have yet to find anything that removes them entirely.

  9. Thank you so much for this. I’ve just recently started to lose the weight and I keep reading all these HORRIFIC stories about loose skin and it honestly just made me want to give up. But this has given me not only hope but practical things I can do! Seriously, I can’t thank you enough for such an honest straight-forward entry. I am not inspired to get my butt back in the gym and back to pumping that iron again. Thanks!

  10. Hi Shauna
    I chanced upon your blog and was so hooked that I went back through your archives and read every post! It was amazing to read about your journey and you’ve been such an inspiration to my own journey. Thanks for sharing your stories.

  11. Thanks for that Shauna, I’ve been worrying about that too. My weightloss has slowed right down (44 pounds gone, at least the same again to get anywhere close to being out of the obese range), which given what you’ve said, might be a good thing!! :) I can also confirm that 2 c-sections and an ectopic pregnancy have left me with a bit of an overhang, but on a scale of things-to-worry-about it’s not near the top!

  12. Isn’t it weird how that question is one of the first things people ask?? I lost over 120lbs and I’d say more people ask about that than anything else!! What do they want me to say? “Yes – it’s terrible – so bad I’m going to put it all back on again just so I fill out the wrinkles”!! Yeah right…

    Actually the more weights and pilates stuff I do the fewer wrinkles I have anyway so it’s all good man!

  13. Hi there! I have just finished reading most of your blog & archives. I am amazed, proud and hopeful after reading everything you have been through. It may have been a bit of a slower process than you wanted, but you got to your goal. And that makes it “hopeful” for me, that I’ll make it to my goals. Thank you! Keep up with the great posts!

    p.s. Love your name too (heh, same as me if you didn’t guess!)!! Spelled correctly, as well! ;-)

  14. I don’t have nearly as dramatic a WL as you, but I want to put in my two cents in case it helps encourage anyone to go ahead and lose the weight. Don’t worry about the skin!

    I’ve lost 60 pounds and don’t have any loose skin at all – even though I’ve been fat for a long time, and I’m 45 years old. So even being in the higher “risk” category doesn’t mean you’re automatically doomed. And I think you are dead on about body composition. The stuff we see on TV about people with enormous amounts of excess skin requiring several operations are generally people who had WLS: they lost the weight very quickly, and without the time to change their composition, so in most cases they still have a very high percentage of body fat.

    You know I am a big believer in lifting weights; this is one more encouragement for women to go pump some iron!

  15. This is a great entry. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

    I endorse what you’re saying. I’m 45, have lost a lot of weight too, and my skin isn’t too bad at all. I’ve done weights a couple of times a week most of through my weight loss, which has taken me a good three years so far.

    It’s encouraging to read the Tom Venuto info.

  16. You can tell when it’s loose skin or if it’s still fat. Loose skin has a completely different feel to it…

    I workout 7 days a week, a combination of strength training, spinning, running, pilates and targeted ab-work. I have a pretty low percent of body fat (14%) and regardless of hydration, lotions and intensity of workouts I still ended up with loose skin around my lower abs (being 2 weeks late during my pregnancy didn’t help either!). It didn’t appear until I dropped down to about 120lbs.

    It’s not as bad as it sounds and besides…a cute pair of hip-hugger jeans cover it up very nicely :)

  17. cheers everyone!

    and well said Sue! Same goes for Magic Knickers, hehehe :)

    blossom – thank you! nice name.. hehe

    marla – good on ya tiger. lift them dumbells, ladiiiiees!

  18. Dear DG

    What can I say? THANK YOU!!! This is fantastically informative, combined with your own unique take on a sensitive subject. It was a joy to read and has given me much encouragement (I was one of those readers who requested this post).

    I am going to send the forum people over here so that they can see what’s needed (in terms of weight training et al).

    It’s time to get some weights (maybe from freecycle) since I gave mine away this summer! Doh!

    Big kiss and MUCHAS GRACIAS!!!!

    Mrs Lard xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  19. What a fantastic post about loose skin! You have covered it so well!! I agree with the composition stuff. I haven’t really lost weight since getting to goal but I’m getting more toned and hence smaller in areas where the fat is melting away. I still have a wobbly tummy though and will skip the 2 piece bikini for now too LOL.

  20. So there goes my very last excuse not to lose this damn weight and start moving my ass. Thanks for all this info, you’re always a great source of information and insight. That’s why we love you!! Oh that and your ginger hair!! :) ~j

  21. Thank you for this Shauna….once again, just what I needed to hear! My skin issues depressed me and then I started putting the weight back on! So I gave myself a good kick in the butt and told myself that I could cover a multitude of sin with my clothes! But….I also kicked up the exercise and I am really seeing a difference….I will never be perfect but I am getting better slowly but surely! Thanks for the reminder to be patient! You are AWESOME!!
    Michelle

  22. Thanks for the insight! Personally I have more stretch marks than lose skin. Have never been pregnant but I have extremely fair skin so I think the marks just show up more prominently. I guess it just shows everyone’s body is different!

  23. I’m another of the lucky ones – 42 years old, 50-odd kilos down and no loose skin. Everyday I thank genetics and the fabulous skin tone both my parents have!

  24. I’m a big fan of resistance training(pump, boxing circuit, free weights)now, but I lost my initial weight by walking. My skin bounced back on its own. It just needs time.
    Resistance training does provides the gloss on your muscle tone but it is still the mix of better food and drink choices, movement and attitude that makes you feel good.
    I still have wobbly bits and cellulite but who cares when a set of stairs are a molehill not a mountain anymore.
    Smiling helps keep the face muscles tight too.

  25. I always wonder about people getting upset by stretch marks, I sort of don’t get what’s so bad. My arms, yes, but as you say, the weights help. But stretch marks…? This could perhaps be because I got my stretch marks by hitting puberty and going from a wee titch of a lassie to a strapping lass looking over the heads of everyone else – this was nature pure and simple and not a thing could I do about it: weight stayed the same, I simply had a growth spurt as teenagers tend to.

    I like to think that were I hiding from a lion in long grass my stretch marks would help me blend in, zebra-like, with my savannah surroundings. There is not much savannah in Scotland, the lions tend not to feast on Scots that often and the chances of me having to run, naked, from a lion are slim, but IF IT HAPPENS, I am much better prepared than the stretch-markless who will suffer a liony chomping. Saved by my hips, is what I intend… I kind of like them.

  26. Thank you :) this just reinforces a conversation I had with a rather know-it-all not nice person when I was fat. She was DEAD SET certain that we would be doomed with loose skin after losing weight that we’d have to save our money for plastic surgery.

    I KNEW I would not have loose skin, because I look after myself. Lo & behold, here I am at goal with no loose skin. So there! Smug know it all!!!

  27. Thanks for the reminder about weight training! I have to say, with the weight I loss, when I catch myself looking in the mirror, it’s more to admire the muscle definition I can see, and less about how far out my belly sticks.

    And, I tried treacle tart last night for the first time, and oh my goodness. If I lived in the UK, I’d be about 100 pounds heavier.

  28. The body composition thing is interesting – whenever I watch those Xtreme plastic surgery shows and they have the women going in for tummy tucks, I sit there screaming “it’s not loose skin, it’s fat”, (cos you can be all horrible and judgement about people when they’re on tv). Most of them are having lipo as well as surgery so they obviously aren’t down to their goal weight.

    I don’t think I’ll ever have toned arms or a toned belly. I’ve been trying to tell Andrew the belly is his fault and he ruined me so he should pay for a tummy tuck – but he’s seen photos of me from before he was born so he’s not buying it.

  29. This is actually a tremendous relief to read. I’ve wanted to ask myself, but well, I’m kinda shy and all…and so…thanks!

  30. I really thought that this was a timely post – thank you. I remember seeing Oprah’s batwing arms and being really discouraged, but the truth is – I’d much rather be thin and fit with flappy arms than enormous with hugely fat arms (and everything else). Plus, I was 40 when I lost 100 lbs and if you are patient, the skin does shrink up – it just takes a while.

  31. awesome post, but unfortunately I was one of the unlucky ones due to being overweight for so long :( I lost 154 pounds (70kgs) over 3 and a half years, ate extremely well and exercised like a trooper, but was left with excess skin. I’ve just had a lower body lift operation (10 days into recovery) and already I feel 100% pleased with the results. I’m still swollen and while its not painful it is uncomfortable, but still pleased I did what I did. No one should be put off losing weight in fear of excess skin – the skin side of things is only minute in comparison to the health benefits of being fit and healthy and slim. Congrats on your achievemetns DG :)

  32. Everyones story is different… I lost 61 kilos after being obese for 15 years and having had 6 babies… two of which were well over 10 pounds, and my belly did hang down terribly and there was NO WAY it was going anywhere fast… so I did resort to plastic surgery and I would never regret it. You were just lucky mate.

  33. I’ve lost 144 pounds and I am eagerly looking up information about weight loss surgery and that’s how I came across your blog here. Great information. I really wish I could meet someone that has gone through the same struggles as I have and had the surgery. I have 10 more pounds to go to reach goal. Jodi where are you! I bet you could explain more to me :)

  34. I’m so glad your info is on here~!

    I’ve lost 74lbs so far (with a lot still left to go) and loose skin is a worry….

    Jacx

  35. Dear Shauna, you are both brilliant and beautiful! I look forward to buying and reading your book.

  36. Did you get the loose skin under your chin and neck area? I am 58 and lost 11 pds and now I am having a hard time getting my neck area and under the chin to get tightened up. I do go to the gym about 3 days a week and under the chin is where the loose skin is. I also have been doing the excercises for the neck and chin areas that I found on the internet but it doesn’t seem to be doing anything,at least it doesn’t look like it is to me.Any suggestions besides surgery?
    I saw you on the Early Show this morning and you look great. Thanks

  37. Hi Barb, this has been one area that hasn’t been much of an issue for me so unfortunately I’m not sure of what a solution could be. Congratulations on your loss :)

  38. Thanks so much for this. I lost a load of weight a few years ago, only to gain most of it back again… I’m back on track and building more muscle than I thought possible, so it’s reassuring to know this is key in the fight against loose skin!

  39. THANK YOU! I want to believe you!!

    I have lost close to 20 kilos, well, about 40 kilos to go, still…

    And yes, one major “”reason”” not to have lost the weight before has been the fear of becoming shar-pei. *** Really, can loose skin look and feel worse than 60 – 70 extra kilos? *** If the answer is yes, I can always gain the weight back again cannot I…just joking, NO WAY would I take it back!!

    Happily, I am not a supermodel whose appearance is her living, and I have been (over)confident enough to wear bikinis and tankinis even before my weight loss.

  40. I know this is much, much after the fact, but I just wanted to say thanks for this info. I started getting serious about losing weight this year after realizing I was only 50 pounds away from 400 pounds, and there’s been a nagging fear of ending up looking like the saggy baggy elephant once I’m done in the back of my brain this whole time. It’s good to know that isn’t necessarily the alternative to being fat!

  41. Wow – this post is still receiving comments three years after it was posted!

    To anyone who is worried about ending up looking like a “human shar-pei”, I’d say don’t worry about it, and deal with the issue when you get down to your goal weight.

    I had plastic surgery and am very happy with the results. And yes, weight training has made a huge difference.

  42. Thank you soooo much for writing realistically (all the way back in 07′)about loose skin after weight loss. I’m starting a 50 pound weightloss goal and panicking about getting loose skin and your post and some of the comments -like blossom’s have helped a great deal. Am panicking much much less.
    Cheers,
    Devin