I know many post-ops are concerned about loose skin after surgery but I hadn’t appreciated just how many pre-ops worry about this too, and how it influences their decision to go ahead with surgery or not. It’s very much a personal thing and varies enormously from one individual to another. We’ve covered some of the basics before (here) about why it happens, the extent of it and factors that influence it, but this guest post below (from someone formerly obese) gives a different point of view and experience.
It makes good reading …
The 6 Things You Can Do To Minimize Loose Skin After Weight Loss
Dear Coffey –
I’m thinking about having weight loss surgery, but I’m not too keen on living the rest of my life with extra, loose skin. What can I do to keep that from happening?
Cecelia in CA
Hey there, Cecelia –
Congratulations on taking the reigns and exploring your options. I hope you find a good, honest surgeon who can help you figure out if weight loss surgery might be a strong choice for you.
As with everything concerning our bodies, the topic of loose skin generates a whole lot of hype.
The truth is there are exactly six things you can do to minimize excess, loose skin after weight loss – whether or not you have WLS. The first three are preventative, and apply to the period before weight is lost. The last three apply to the post-weight loss period.
1- Don’t wait.
Ask any aesthetician or midwife and they’ll tell you: the younger we are, the more our skin can bounce back from a stretch. If you would be more comfortable weighing less and you’re afraid of having excess skin, the younger you are when you lose weight, the better.
But don’t waste precious energy wishing you had lost weight in your early 20s. You have today, and today is where your power is. If there are choices you want to make in service to your health and happiness (whether or not they would result in weight loss) today is the day to make them.
2- Avoid the loss/gain cycle.
Imagine how a once-inflated balloon looks and feels after you let the air out. Now imagine the same balloon after 4, 6, or 10 deflations. Much like the balloon, the more times we lose weight and gain it back, the looser our skin gets.
Again, now is not the time to berate yourself for all those “successful” stints in Weight Watchers that ended with you gaining the weight back and then some – it happens to all of us, myself included. Today is the day to get yourself stronger, more sustainable tools – tools that support long-term weight loss and minimize the probability of gaining it back. These tools do exist.
3- Keep weight gain to a minimum.
The heavier we get, the more our skin stretches, and the less likely it is to bounce back after we lose weight.
You can’t do anything now about your weight history. Feeling badly about it or judging yourself for it will only make you want to numb out (if you’re anything like me, probably with food). If you are reading this at the heaviest weight you’ve ever been, then this is the heaviest you ever need to be. If weight loss is something you want to do for you, your skin will thank you for making caring choices toward that goal starting now.
That covers the things you can do to minimize excess skin before you lose weight. Now let’s look at what you can do once the weight is gone.
4- Build muscle.
Contrary to popular belief, strength training does not “tone” or “tighten” the skin. Skin elasticity has nothing – NOTHING – to do with exercise. But strength training gives loose skin something hot and firm to lie over – namely biceps, triceps, quads and abdominal muscles.
Lots of folks – especially women – shy away from strength-training, or think it’s better to use smaller weights and do more reps. This is a myth that keeps women from ever seeing the results they want and deserve. Assuming you’re being safe and reasonable, the heavier and harder and you train, the more muscle you build, and the better you’re likely to feel about how your skin looks.
5- Have surgery.
Even if you’re young, even if you lose weight just once, and even if you strength train like a boss, there’s still a limit to the impact we can have on excess skin after weight-loss.
Some consider having skin removal surgery.
If this is something you’re thinking about, be warned: Words like “lift,” “nip,” and “tuck” are misleading. Skin removal surgery is no joke. I know that because I had it. The surgery hurts like hell, and can put you out of commision for weeks or months. Also, the medication usually prescribed to manage the post-op pain is highly addictive. If you’ve got a compulsive / addictive relationship to food, you’re way more likely to get hooked on painkillers than someone who doesn’t struggle with the compulsive overeating.
6- Love yourself.
Loving your body isn’t going to tighten, lift, or shape your skin after you lose weight, but it can minimize the negative impact that living with loose skin might have on you otherwise.
Love is action. Love means making consistently caring choices because you deserve to be cared for, no matter what you weigh or how your body looks. If you struggle to make consistently caring choices, whether you’re pre-op, post-op, or no-op, you’re not alone, and there are practical, usable tools to help you get there.
Where will you fall on the loose skin spectrum? You can’t really know unless and until you lose weight.
I yo-yo dieted for 10+ years, maxing out at 307 pounds. I had Roux-en Y in my mid-twenties and lost over half my body weight. Eventually I started strength training and became a personal fitness trainer. Two years later, I opted to have abdominoplasty (aka a tummy tuck), because the excess skin on my stomach was beyond anything that could be mediated or improved with exercise.
The surgery hurt like a son-of-a-b***h and had me out of work for a month.
I’ve made peace with the loose skin on the rest of my body. The muscle I’ve built with regular strength training helps a lot. So has treating my body with care one choice at a time for over a decade. It’s given me self-respect and peace that make my batwings an insignificant afterthought.
Loose skin post-weight loss is inevitable for those of us who are or have been obese. But if you would be healthier or more comfortable in your body weighing less, don’t let the fear of loose skin keep you from doing what you need to do to get there.
Our bodies will never look like other people’s bodies, and that’s OK.
Our bodies tell our stories, and our stories are our strength.
All good things,
Coffey had roux-en y gastric bypass in 2003. Ten years later, she wrote the now-famous “5 Things I Miss About Weighing More Than 300-Pounds.“
Coffey teaches folks how to tap into the pleasure of making healthier choices, because if we’re not enjoying ourselves, what’s the point?
Her acclaimed online course, Pleasure Principles, has helped hundreds get happily grounded in healthier habits.