So 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!
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!"