In the last few weeks, several of my patients have said that they are concerned about the excess skin if they were to lose significant weight. The first few times that I heard this, I don’t think I realized the significance of this statement. But as this worry about excess skin kept repeating itself in patient after patient in the last few weeks, I also noticed that these patients who were worried about excess skin were the patients who are not making progress towards their weight loss goals. I decided that I needed to address this worry.
It is true that people often have excess skin if they lose a lot of weight. It is true that sometimes this issue of excess skin can cause problems. However, I want you to consider if this issue of loose skin is something that you are using as an excuse to not lose weight.
So how big of a deal is excess skin? Well, to start, most people who lose a lot of weight are not bothered by excess skin. However, some people do find that excess skin after significant weight loss is a real problem. Excess skin is more common in people who have had bariatric surgery (a gastric bypass or gastric sleeve) although it can occur in people who lose significant weight with lifestyle changes as well. Some women after delivery of a baby have excess skin for many years after giving birth.
It is somewhat unpredictable if you will have a lot of excess skin after losing weight. There are some factors that might lessen your risk of excess skin. It might be helpful if you lose weight more slowly. Also, exercise may help to keep your skin more firm. Also, smoking can cause decreased elasticity of the skin, so that is one more reason not to smoke. Although, you may do everything in your power to reduce the risk of excess skin, and you may still have it.
Sometimes, when I have a fear, it is helpful to take the worst case scenario, and see how that feels. Once you live through the worst case scenario in your mind, then it sometimes makes it easier to let the fear go.
So, let’s take the worst case scenario, and think about how you would deal with the situation. Let’s picture that you have a lot of excess skin… rolls and wrinkled loose skin on your belly that feel embarrassing to you.
OK…now, let’s picture that you are at the gym in your exercise pants. You are wearing some type of compression underwear that keeps your belly in place as you do Zumba class and bounce around. In your Zumba class, there is a big mirror up front and you are in the front row dancing around and having a great time. You are thinking about how great this is that you can now do these Zumba moves more easily now that you’ve lost all this weight, and you are watching the instructor intently. But then, you take a glance at yourself in the mirror, and you realize that your compression undies and exercise pants have slipped below your belly, and everyone can see your excess skin jiggling and loose as you dance.
This is your worst case. What will you do? Can you make it through? You may think that everyone in the class is disgusted by your excess skin and that no one will like you anymore. But is that really true? Take a moment to visualize this and see how this feels.
I can tell you that this actually happened to me, and I survived. For those of you who don’t know me already, in addition to being a doctor who specializes in obesity… I also lived with obesity for about 10 years before losing the weight. So, what did I do in the Zumba class? I pulled up my compression undies and exercise pants over my belly again, and keep going. A few people in the class may have had disgusted looks on their faces..or maybe that was in my head. I might have gotten a few looks after class…or that may have been in my head also. But I can tell you for sure… I did not think…even for an instant… “I should never have lost all of this weight.”
Your worst case may be a little different. So if this scenario did not resonate with you, feel free to substitute your own worst case.
I can also tell you that I have seen many patients with excess skin, and none of them feel that gaining weight back would be the best solution to their problem. Even the people who have the most severe cases of loose skin might feel a little insecure about their excess skin, or may even need surgery to remove their excess skin, but in the extreme cases of excess skin, I have never had a patient state that they regret losing weight.
There are hundreds of benefits to weight loss. If you are starting out on the journey to weight loss now, and the thought of loose skin is holding you back…let’s let that issue go. I encourage you to rethink your fear of loose skin. It is normal to have fears about what life will be like after significant weight loss. Focusing on the amount of excess skin you will have is not going to motivate you to take action and continue on your healthier path. You can shift your mindset to think about all the positive aspects of weight loss.
Shifting your mindset to visualize all of the benefits of weight loss is one key step on your journey. If you want more information about resetting your mindset for weight loss, you can find this and much more in my new ebook, The Obesity Solution, A compassionate step-by-step guide to losing the weight and keeping it off.