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The Reality On What Can Be Done With Sagging Skin After Weight Loss

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from my “Ask Shane” page pertains to what can be done with excess skin folds that remain after significant weight loss?

There are a lot of misconceptions here so I thought it would be a good idea to do a post on this subject. I think it’s important to communicate honest and realistic expectations when it comes to the ability of exercise to tighten and tone flabby areas of the body.

Typically when I get questions involving tightening and toning of various parts of the body my recommendations are to take a “wait and see” approach. I’m not a big fan of cosmetic procedures even being on the table for consideration until the individual has successfully lost a large portion of their excess body fat.

My protocols for body transformation always include resistance training as I feel it’s essential to have a “concern for muscle” for long-term success. This extends far beyond the scope of toning and firming, which obviously are nice side benefits of weight training.

More importantly, the burst training or metabolic resistance training will help to facilitate the metabolic disturbances and hormonal responses from exercise to provide optimal results.

An individual could lose a large amount of body weight on a fad diet or quick-fix routine that has no concern for lean muscle. In fact, the majority or programs at a commercial weight loss center be it HCG injections, pills and shakes with severe low calorie diets, etc, all work with exercise playing a very limited role if not left out completely.

This results in lean muscle tissue being compromised and lost during the weight loss attempts. I’ve found this to be one of the main reasons why these strategies often back-fire in the end with the individual putting the weight back on, often times with additional weight to boot.

Specific examples of sagging skin and how exercise impacts it…

Let’s look at some specific examples of excess flabbiness in various parts of the body and the impact with exercise. We’ll start with an area that gets a lot of attention especially with female clients (the back of the arm). This is commonly referred to as “bat wings” and other slang terms to define the excess adipose and skin folds on the arm.

While resistance training on the triceps muscle group is going to be very beneficial towards developing the muscle underneath that layer of fat, countless bench dips and press-downs won’t be a magic bullet solution.

For starters, let’s remember there’s no such thing as “spot reduction,” generally speaking. You can’t just do a boatload of triceps exercises and expect that part of the body to all of sudden get lean, toned, and tight. Triceps exercises should be a piece of the puzzle, just not all the pieces.

The layer of fat in your arms needs to go before you could ever see any muscle definition and tightness. This will require work across ALL the large muscle groups, ideally with short bursts of high intensity effort to create metabolic disturbances.

Doing burst training with exercises that work your legs, chest, back, and shoulders will help create the right conditions to burn fat from across your body (including your arms).

Obviously diet plays the predominant role in fat loss so that will need to be your primary focus, with burst training on the large muscle groups being second, and third isolated exercises to work the triceps muscles.

The same thing goes for flabbiness and excess skin folds around your waistline. No amount of crunches or sit-up’s is going to make much of an impact. You’ll want to take the same approach I just laid out with diet, burst training, and lastly isolated exercises for the abdominals.

This is in stark contrast to what most people do when trying to lose their belly. They’ll do countless exercises on some seated ab machine at the gym instead of getting some free weights and squatting, pressing overhead, rowing, etc.

Bottom line is isolated exercises targeting a particular muscle group(s) where you want to tone, firm, and tighten should be last on your list, not first!

Skin elasticity problems that come with age…

As you age your skin loses collagen, a protein that keeps skin firm and wrinkle-free, and elastin, a protein that gives skin strength and allows it to stretch and expand and contract over your body as it changes.  The younger you are the less your skin will sag and the easier it is for your body to adjust after weight loss.

Without a significant amount of natural elastin, like young people have, skin begins to sag, and stretch more easily.

Depending on your age, there’s a certain amount of body fat you can lose from any area of your body and have your skin adjust without a significant amount of sagging. Generally speaking for most individuals, excess skin folds are an issue when 50 or more pounds have been lost. Granted this isn’t the same for everyone, but the more weight you’ve lost the greater the issue with excess skin folds.

The reason I recommend to take a “wait and see” approach is because this will be different for each individual. Genetics, collagen, and elastin levels all play a role in how well your skin adjusts to body fat decreases. You’re better off to use diet and exercise to drop body fat and build lean muscle then see where you’re at as you get closer to your ideal body weight.

Once you’re close to your ideal body weight and you still have excess skin folds, no amount of additional isolation exercise is going to make a difference. You can tone muscle but not necessarily large folds of excess skin.

The final option…cosmetic procedures to eliminate excess skin folds.

When you get to that point you’ll have to make a decision. It’s going to come down to having cosmetic procedures that tuck and fold excess skin or not having this done.  I’m sorry to break it to you but there’s no magic cream or Aesthetic Lane fillers or magic exercise to eliminate large folds of excess skin.

This is a major decision to have cosmetic surgery and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Of course there’s cost considerations, but there are also issues with scarring and the general factors with having any surgical procedure done.

This is something you’ll want to discuss in detail with a cosmetic surgeon and get all the facts before proceeding.

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In all fairness, I have seen numerous examples where an individual lost a large amount of weight and used cosmetic surgery to successfully tuck excess skin folds. Tummy tucks are a perfect example. Once again this is used AFTER the individual has used exercise and diet to eliminate excess body fat first.

I’m not a big fan of using things like liposuction as a tool for body fat reduction. These are cosmetic procedures to consider after a large part of the work has been done with diet and exercise.

The bottom line is you’ll want to consider these options at the end and not the beginning. Either way there needs to be realistic expectations with excess skin folds when large amounts of weight have been lost. There’s only so much the skin will tighten depending on how much it’s been stretched.

Here are some tips to keep your skin healthy and improve the chances of tightening with weight loss…

Get adequate sleep:  Make getting seven to eight hours of sleep a habit if you are between the ages of 19 and 69. Sleep is when skin regenerates elastin the fastest.  Multiple studies have shown time and time again that enough sleep also promotes weight loss.

Drink plenty of water:  This is one of the most important things you can do for your skin.  Drink a minimum of six to eight glasses of water daily. One of the best ways to do this is find a water bottle you like and carry it with you everywhere you go. Drinking lots of water helps to rid the cells of metabolic waste and improves elasticity of connective tissue underneath the skin.

Practice your A, B, C’s: You have to eat right for healthy skin.  The better your diet is the healthier your skin will be.   When you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet you will get essential nutrients and antioxidants you need for healthy skin.  Vitamins A, B3, C, D, and E are especially helpful for the skin.  Biotin is also one of the most helpful nutrients for hair, skin, and nails.

Get some sunlight: Recent studies have shown that Vitamin D is an important factor in weight loss not to mention healthy skin. Some reports estimated that up to 85% of Americans may have a Vitamin D deficiency. There are multiple reasons for this, but the bottom line is most of us could benefit from some additional vitamin D.  Getting sunlight is a great way in increase vitamin D assimilation, but you’ll want to do this in moderation.

Getting outside to exercise, go for a walk, etc, isn’t the same thing as sun-bathing for hours or going to the tanning bed. A little bit of sunlight and fresh air goes a long way towards healthier skin. Just don’t over-do the sunbathing.

De-stress:  I know it’s easier said than done but remind yourself to slow down from time to time.  Do as many things as you can to lower your stress.  Meditate, take a yoga class, leave more time for your commute, take time to curl up with a good book, splurge on a massage.  Just breathe and relax.  It’s good for weight loss, good for skin, and good for your health.

Moisturize:  This is the only item on the list that will not help you lose weight.  It won’t help your exercise motivation, your weight loss journey, or your waist line.  But it is important for your skin.  It doesn’t matter if you pick an expensive cream or a generic lotion, just look to moisturize your skin every day after a shower or before going to bed.  Exfoliating, which encourages dead skin to come off, is helpful as well.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides personal fitness training in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. Sign up today for a no obligations consultation.

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Category: Fat Loss.