How to Get Rid of Loose Skin After Midlife Weight Loss

Loose skin doesn’t have to be a natural part of weight lose.

Most of us at some point would have come across a reality TV show where extremely overweight contestants lose a large amount of weight in a short amount of time by doing extreme dieting and very challenging exercises. At the end of the series everyone gets very excited about how much weight the contestants have lost in a few short months. As drastic as the results are, everyone notices that due to the speed at which the weight was lost, the contestants finish the show many kilos lighter, but with a fair amount of loose skin as well.

Why do we get loose skin and is it an inevitable part of losing weight in midlife?

For most people who notice they’ve been left with loose skin after losing a fair amount of weight, what they think is loose or excess skin is just excess body fat, which is soft, flabby and easily mistaken for skin. While there are legit cases of excess skin after weight loss, for most people the solution is about losing a couple more kilos of (sometimes stubborn) body fat. The simplest way to tell the difference between actual loose skin and excess body fat is to pinch the area you’re concerned with and if you can grab more than a few millimetres of skin, there’s more fat in there to lose.

Skin is an adaptable and living organ and will usually return to its former size and tautness. But unfortunately, if there is some underlying fat attached, it will appear loose and flabby.

If you’re a man, I wouldn’t consider other options to deal with loose skin until you’ve hit 10% body fat. If you’re a woman, 20% is the number.

To adequately assess the state of your skin you need to have a very low body fat percentage. For men, you’re looking to get into the sub 10% body fat percentage and for women it’s usually below 20%. It’s at these body fat ranges where your subcutaneous fat levels become low enough to accurately assess the state of your skin. And chances are, just getting lean enough will resolve the entire problem for most people.

If, however, someone gets to down this low level of body fat and his or her skin is almost paper thin and looks like crinkled papyrus, then it truly is a matter of excess skin, and can be dealt with accordingly.

What many people think is loose skin is just excess amounts of stubborn fat.

How to tighten loose skin.

First rule is prevention:

  • Don’t lose weight too rapidly.

When you gain a large amount of weight, your skin must expand quite a bit to accommodate the increase in body size. When you lose the fat, however, and especially when you lose it quickly, your skin doesn’t necessarily shrink at the same rate as your fat cells. This imbalance can lead to the loose skin look.

One of my biggest concerns with 12 week weight loss programs (especially for anyone over forty years old) is that these restrictive diets combined with large amounts of cardio will not only cause you to lose fat, but will also cause significant muscle loss, further expanding the void between the skin and the underlying tissue.

Although there is a reduced body fat percentage, when combined with the associated muscle loss, this rapid weight loss leads to a smaller, but soft looking physique with flabby skin. The “skinny fat” look, as it’s called.

Build Muscle.

A big part of tightening loose skin is building muscle. The reason for this is simple.

There are two layers of tissue underneath your skin: fat and muscle, both of which support your skin and keep it from looking loose.

The first objective for those who have lost weight too quickly and are in middle age, is to replace the lost muscle from the rapid weight loss AS WELL AS replacing lost muscle due to age related muscle loss (Sarcopenia). Regaining this muscle fills out the looseness in the skin, creating a visibly tighter, healthier look.

I must stress how important it is for those over forty who are interested in weight loss to include weight training into their fat loss program. This advice applies to people who have already lost a lot of weight as well as those who are just beginning. And of course, if you’re currently dealing with issues of loose skin, you should start lifting weights immediately!

Stop smoking.

As a Dentist I spend my work day encouraging people to eliminate smoking from their lives. The dental and medical issues are very well known and well documented.

But there is also an adverse effect on your skin from smoking.

A study of female smokers revealed that the average biological age of smokers was 9 years older than their chronological age. After 9 months of not smoking, however, the average reduction in the biological age of the skin was 13 years.

The bottom line is this: if you want healthy, younger looking skin, you need to stay away from cigarettes.(1)

Eat enough protein.

Protein is the building block for all our body’s tissues and cells. Low-protein dieting is associated with poorer skin health when compared against high-protein dieting. The higher protein intake has been shown to help reduce wrinkles, dryness, and skin deterioration.(2)

Eat your Five-a-Day (Fruit and Veg).

When people start to reduce calories by focusing on a specific, restrictive diet program (think “gluten free”, “no sugar” or “paleo”), it’s very easy for the importance of the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to be lost in the obsessive focus on the macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats). Your body needs a wide spectrum of micronutrients to carry out the millions of biological processes that keep you alive and healthy, and eating several servings of fruits and vegetables every day is the only reliable way to provide everything your body needs. A much better approach than trying to juggle a combination of vitamin and mineral supplements. (These are the only supplements I take, if you’re interested).

In terms of skin specifically, research has shown that higher intakes of fruits and vegetables are associated with healthier, better-looking skin.(3)

Give it time.

For some people, there is no way to fully eliminate loose skin without surgery.

But for most, spend a little more time focusing on the advice in this article and you will have a great chance to achieve the tight, healthy looking skin you desire.

In summary:

  • Get to 10% body fat (men)/20% body fat (women)
  • Regain and build muscle to replace some of the “space” left from the fat loss
  • Don’t smoke
  • Adopt a high-protein diet
  • Eat several servings of fruits and vegetables every day

If you do all these things and remain patient, there’s a very good chance you can dramatically reduce or even eliminate your loose skin problem and feel healthier and stronger as well.

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  1. Serri R, Romano MC, Sparavigna A. “Quitting smoking rejuvenates the skin”: results of a pilot project on smoking cessation conducted in Milan, Italy. Skinmed. 2010 Jan-Feb;8(1):23–9.
  2. Cosgrove MC, Franco OH, Granger SP, Murray PG, Mayes AE. Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Oct;86(4):1225–31.
  3. Whitehead RD, Ozakinci G, Perrett DI. A randomized controlled trial of an appearance-based dietary intervention. Health Psychol. 2014 Jan;33(1):99–102. doi: 10.1037/a0032322. Epub 2013 Mar 25.
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