When you’re overweight and diligently working to lose it, there are probably times when you start to daydream about your new body once all of that extra weight is gone.
But when that day comes, and you’ve finally hit your goal weight, the reality of gravity and the limits of skin’s elasticity over the long-term may be staring back at you from your full-length mirror.
Depending on how much weight you lost, some loose skin is probably going to be still hanging around. But as hard as it is not to feel discouraged because the weight loss has left you with loose skin, don’t be: You’ve accomplished a lot and should feel proud of yourself.
You may just need to adjust your workouts and meal plan to fill things out, but in case of extreme weight loss, surgery may be your only option. Read on to learn how to deal with your surplus skin.
What Happens to Skin When You Gain and Lose Weight
Your body produces a protein called collagen, which provides structure and strength in your bones, tendons, ligaments, and skin.
Collagen plays an important role in your skin’s elasticity. Lack of collagen can mean saggy skin and and droopiness —age (collagen production decreases as you get older), genetics, hydration levels, smoking, and diet all contribute to your levels of collagen.
When you’re overweight, your skin accommodates the extra mass by stretching; when you lose weight — it doesn’t matter whether you lose it quickly or gradually — your skin can lose elasticity, depending on how long you were overweight, and can’t pull back tight around your new and bigger muscles.
The fat mass underneath the skin may be gone, but the surface area remains the same. Think of it like a balloon that you’ve filled taut with air — when you let the air out, the balloon doesn’t just snap back to it’s original form, it’s now a bit stretched out. That’s similar to what happens to your body and skin when you drop a large amount of weight.
Can I Tighten Loose Skin After Losing Weight?
The short answer: It’s complicated. If you weren’t overweight for very long, or if your weight gain and subsequent loss wasn’t that big, ramping up your workouts to build muscle and eating healthy, balanced meals can help reduce the appearance of loose skin.
But if your weight loss was fairly extreme and you were overweight for a long time, you’ll probably experience excess folds of skin that you can’t get rid of with any amount of exercise or diet. At a certain point, your skin has been stretched too much for too long and, and it can’t bounce back.
What Can I Do to Tighten Loose Skin?
Before you go under the knife to rid of extra skin, try building more muscle. One of the best ways to help tighten up that looseness is to fill up the space that used to be occupied by the fat you lost. Hit the weights hard and aim to build muscle, says Steve Csolak, a New York City-based personal trainer.
“Continue building muscles and continue leading a nutritious, lean, and healthy lifestyle for best results,” adds Csolak, who coaches people who suffer from loose skin after significant weight loss.
For your diet, stick to what helped you lose all of the weight — a balanced eating plan with plenty of whole foods. Continue to avoid processed foods and focus on eating whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.
“Focus on eating full meals throughout the day and not snacking. Each meal should consist of at least 20 grams of protein, one to two servings of vegetables, and complex carbohydrates like a sweet potato,” says Liza Scott, R.D., C.I.S.S.N. “Avoid foods and drinks with ‘hidden sugars‘ such as granola bars, snack packs, juices, and any diet sodas.”
When you’re specifically trying to build muscle, it’s important to get enough protein in your diet in order to create new, skin-tightening mass. Your goal should be to consume between .5 and .9 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.
Plastic Surgery for Loose Skin
Unfortunately, to get tighter skin beyond what exercise and a healthy diet can help provide, your only other option may be some kind of medical procedure, but the minimally invasive ones like liposuction, still won’t do much for loose skin.
“Thermage [a procedure that uses “radiofrequency energy” to tighten skin] and treatments like cold therapy do a modicum of tightening, but nothing else helps very loose skin, except going under the knife,” says Craig A. Vander Kolk, M.D., director of cosmetic medicine and surgery at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “The other non-surgical treatments only result in a 10 to 15 percent improvement.”
For a 100-percent effective solution for pounds of saggy skin, you’ll need to get body contouring surgery, says Vander Volk. “Before considering surgery, your weight loss should be stable for a year,” he says, because losing a significant amount of more weight after surgery could result in more loose skin. Look for a doctor who specializes in post-weight loss procedures, and consult with board-certified plastic surgeons until you find the right one.
But if you have just a little bit of loose skin, surgery may result in only a small improvement. Skin surgery should only be considered if you’ve lost significant body fat and kept it off, says Vander Volk.
Non-Surgical Ways to Love the Skin You’re In
Depending on how noticeable your loose skin is, you may consider leaving things as they are. There are compression garments and other body-slimming clothing available to help smooth things out, and countless brands include spandex and other stretchy materials in their clothing lines that are comfortable and flattering.
You know what else you can do? Nothing. You put in the hard work and now you’re healthier, stronger, and in better shape. Reframe how you look at that loose skin: It’s not “extra” baggage you’re carrying around; it’s tangible proof that you set a goal and absolutely crushed it.
“It’s a badge of honor that you experienced weight-loss success,” says Csolak. “Have confidence and stay healthy.”