I was 307 pounds at my heaviest and have maintained a 150-pound weight loss for more than a decade. I’m also a personal trainer with zero tolerance for hype. The truth is there are exactly six things you can do to minimize excess, loose skin after weight loss — regardless of how, or how quickly, you lose the weight. The first three are preventive 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 she’ll tell you: the younger you are, the more your 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.
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 four, six, or ten deflations. Much like the balloon, the more times you lose weight and gain it back, the looser your skin gets.
Again, now is not the time to berate yourself for all those “successful” stints with diets, when you wound up gaining the weight back and then some. It happens to all of us, myself included. But today your focus should be on finding tools that support long-term weight loss and minimize the probability of gaining it back.
3. Keep weight gain to a minimum.
The heavier you get, the more your skin stretches, and the less likely it is to bounce back after you lose weight.
You can’t do anything today about your weight history. 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.
4. After you've lost weight, you can work on building muscle.
Contrary to popular belief, strength training does not “tone” or “tighten” the skin. But strength training gives loose skin something eye-catching and firm to lie over, namely biceps, triceps, quads, and abdominal muscles.
Lots of people shy away from strength training, or think it’s better to use small weights and do more reps. This is a myth that keeps women from 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 will build, and the more likely you'll be happier with the way 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 you can have on excess skin after weight loss.
Like me, you may consider 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 because I had it. The surgery hurts like hell and can put you out of commission for weeks or months.
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, no matter what you weigh, you’re not alone, and there are practical, usable tools to help you get there.
I yo-yo dieted for 10-plus years, maxing out at 307 pounds. In my mid-20s, I lost more than half my body weight. Eventually I started strength training and became a personal fitness trainer. Two years later, I opted to have abdominoplasty (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 more than a decade.
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.