Monday, July 10, 2006

Maybe That 'Loose Skin' Is Really Excess Fat

I recently shared with you my concern about the seemingly large amount of loose, excess skin in my abdomen and inner thighs especially following my 180-pound weight loss compliments of livin' la vida low-carb. The e-mail volume and traffic to this and my previous blog post about this topic indicate to me that this is a subject matter that is definitely of interest to so many people who are either losing weight or thinking about losing weight.

Let me quickly address this issue head-on as I do most topics. If the prospect of carrying around a little hanging skin is keeping you from losing weight, then you need to get your priorities straight. Yes, the loose skin is ugly and yes it is not a desirable thing to have, but look at the alternative. Who wants to stay fat the rest of their life? I SURE DIDN'T and neither do you. So why would you let something so incredibly petty in the grand scheme of things keep you from taking back control of your health and ultimately your life? The answer is YOU WOULDN'T and better yet YOU SHOULDN'T!

Okay, now that I've got that out of the way, I wanted to share with you an e-mail I received from a 15-year-old girl who has "at least 15 pounds of loose skin" on her body following her weight loss from her starting weight of 320 pounds.

Here's what she wrote to me:

I feel your pain. I know exactly what you're feeling. I have the loose skin around the stomach, but I also have a lot around my upper arms, thighs, and, of course, the dreaded just makes you want to say "ewww" doesn't it?

EWWW indeed! Hee hee! Her comments are just a microcosm of how so many of us huge weight loss success stories feel about all of this skin. Are we really all condemned to live with this for the rest of our lives unless we are fortunate enough to be able to afford the abdominoplasty?

Well, one of my readers doesn't think so and he's living proof of it. After reading my previous blog post about my skin issue, he sent me an e-mail saying I don't need to "worry about that loose skin too much." This 37-year-old former 425-pound man who got that way eating the comfort food of his childhood has lost an incredible 248 pounds over the past two years to reach his current weight of 177 pounds. YOU GO BOY!

After he had lost a considerable amount of weight through last year, his stomach looked very similar to mine:

He told me he hasn't had ANY surgery whatsoever and the skin just tightened up for him. In fact, he said he still wants to lose ANOTHER 20 pounds! Yikes!

Here's what he wrote to me regarding his experience with the issue of that "loose skin":

I thought for sure I'd have to get plastic surgery. But the more weight I lost, the more what I thought was loose skin tightened up and the better it looked. Based on my experience, I don't think you have loose skin; instead there's more fat under there to lose.

So what I think is loose skin may actually be excess fat that I still need to lose? Really? The last time I checked my body fat percentage it was at a mere 11 percent! Do I need to push that down to, say, 4-5 percent to make my stomach look as flat as my reader's? I don't know, maybe I do.

He went on to say that while his stomach has gotten a lot tighter, his thighs "look worse" than mine do now.

But again, there's fat under there. My arms and wrists used to look terrible too, and when I'd go to the doctor my veins were buried so deep that they could hardly draw blood from me. I thought that was loose skin too, but now my arms look fine.

What's funny is the veins are actually POPPING OUT of my hands and arms and they are so skinny now. But there are very clearly areas of my body where I can pull skin for at least three inches. Is that not loose skin? Is that REALLY fat, too?

My reader says it is fat because "skin is just not that thick."

One interesting insight my reader shared with me was how so many of these plastic surgeons are actually playing on the vulnerability of people like me and him who have experienced this incredible weight loss by "manipulating" us into having a procedure done that is very likely unnecessary.

We are already insecure because we're still fat men in our minds and we're sort of convinced that we'll never be "normal." So to make a buck they prey on our insecurity by telling us we have loose skin that has to be chopped off. Those people who weighed like 600-1,000 pounds, they might need surgery, but I don't think we do. There's just not a lot of information for us out there. Not a lot of people lose weight, and especially the amount of weight that we do. We're sort of like pioneers, really.

I suppose we are entering new territory with out tremendous weight loss and hopefully there will be many more success stories to come as people finally get a handle on their weight problems. But he said this is an individual journey of choice that may mean "ignoring people who thought they had the answers (but really just wanted my money!)."

Just in case you are wondering, he didn't lose his weight on the Atkins/low-carb diet. He said he tried it and couldn't afford the meat and was never able to forget "how horrible I felt coming off of my carb addiction" which he compared to "having a three-week hangover." Yikes! It was bad, but I never thought it was THAT bad. :)

He still eats a lot of protein-rich foods to satisfy his hunger as well as the good fats and smaller portions while avoiding simple carbs. If it works for him, then I'm all for it! Even better yet is the fact that he exercises by walking, too.

I don't know how tall he is, but I assume he is shorter than my height of 6'3" and he didn't say anything about doing any ab crunches or other resistance training other than his cardiovascular walking workouts.

What do you think about his theory that this "loose skin" I have is just more fat that needs to be lost? Is there merit in that argument? How much more weight should I try to lose for my "loose skin" problem to go away? As always, I am honestly seeking your input and advice about this topic and may begin to get serious about losing another 20, 40 or even 50+ pounds if necessary. Is that preposterous to even consider? What are your thoughts?

7-12-06 UPDATE: Everyone has an opinion about this issue. Here's one that caught my attention from one of my readers who said my reader who says there's excess fat beneath that "loose skin" is in denial about his condition:

Skin is a bit thicker than he's giving it credit for. The skin is stretched and it's actually thinner so whatever fat is there is spread out more making it seem thick. If it weren't stretched out his body would look like the body of a similarly 'overweight' normal person and it doesn't. It looks like a person who used to be grossly fat. Excess skin is the unmistakable characteristic. Also, the second photo doesn't look all that much better. Still loose. I'm not even sure he didn't tuck in some of his sag but let's say he didn't. That hanging skin in front hasn't budged. No amount of weight loss is going to fix that sagging belly button. Time for the tuck.

How about this? Do you agree? Disagree? Tell me what you think.


Blogger Science4u1959 said...

Maybe he's considerably younger than you and, hence, his skin still more elastic. But it is a fact that skin loses elasticity with age. Increasing fat intake might help, as the outermost layer of the epidermis contains dead cells made of keratin, which are constantly shed and replaced by the deeper layers of continuously dividing cells. The deeper layers contain much fatty tissue. There is some evidence that supplementing HGH (Human Growth Hormone) might help tone up - but sufficient intake of saturates remains important.

7/10/2006 10:06 PM  
Blogger Lowcarb_dave said...


I believe this guy is right on the money!

The following website comes up a lot in these debates:

I reckon than you could get down to 190 pounds at least.

You could also do some heavy weights to increase muscle mass.

I think it's possible.

I wanna try this route before I fork out for expensive surgery.



7/11/2006 2:56 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

He's 37 and I'm 34, Science, so we're about the same age. Maybe I do need to lose that 40-50 pounds, Dave. It certainly might be Livin' La Vida Low-Carb ROUND 2!

7/11/2006 7:32 AM  
Blogger TeaJay said...

I myself have the excess skin after losing 100 lbs. I am 37 years old. The biggest area where I had it was around my tummy, so I purchased an Ab Lounge and over the last several months, I have noticed a major improvement in my stomach area. I'm also doing a combination of aerobic type activity (belly dancing and hula-hooping), pilates, and other weight-bearing exercises for toning. I think "toning" is the key. Lifting weights is also key. I might always have the underarm waggle and the extra skin on the bottoms of my thighs, but I look MUCH better than I did before. I look better at 37 than I did @ 27.

7/11/2006 9:57 AM  
Blogger 1Peter3 said...

Every time I see one of the "before" images of people who have had their excess skin removed after losing a large amount of weight, the only thing I can think of is that if that's only skin, then what I think of as fat on me is "only skin" too, because their chunks of skin are just as thick as my chunks of fat.

And yet, I know I still have a lot of weight to lose, so I don't think what they're having removed is just skin. There simply has to be a lot of fat under there too.

If you've ever seen pictures of holocaust victims, their skin seemed to tighten up around their emaciated bones, no matter how much they might have weighed before being starved to death in the concentration camps, or what age they happened to be, so I don't think it has as much to do with skin elasticity as it does to do with how much fat there is under the skin.

7/11/2006 10:40 AM  
Blogger Kent said...

I have my own "CharPei" effect going on from my weight loss. I do think the loose skin is a bit more than extra fat to be lost, but reducing your BF % even further can only help the problem. Would a person who had never been 400 pounds look like this at 11 or 12% Body Fat? I know they wouldn't have the stretch marks, so there is at least something to the elasticity or stretched out balloon argument.

I just realize there comes a point where it is vanity-induced and no longer health related weight loss. Is going from 10-12% down in my case to 6-8% worth the extra time? Dropping to that percentage by going into starvation mode dieting certainly won't help in the long run, and getting to that percentage and staying there seems like running uphill at the end of marathon. It is what I am working through right now too, Jimmy. I am certainly interested in hearing what your ultimate decision is. Maybe it will help me make up my own mind.

7/11/2006 11:37 AM  
Blogger The One True Tami said...

I'm not at my goal weight, but after I dropped 80 pounds I had some very "loose" looking skin on my upper arms. In fact, it was slightly discolored, as if bruised, as well. I decided to try different types of body lotions to see if they worked. Only one did - the one with caffeine in it. You would never know my arms had been "loose"-looking, or discolored. The one I used was Spehora's super-loaded body lotion, but I bet any lotion with caffeine would work, and it took about a month to see the results.

7/11/2006 3:15 PM  
Blogger Rob said...


Judging by your previous post you're around 230 pounds or so. I'm not sure how tall you are but you could easily lose at least another 30 pounds. When I dropped 120 pounds in 1998 my lowest was 195 and I thought I was skinny! Im only 5'7 3/4" so I should really be about 140-145. If you're not losing anymore weight naturally it may be because you're eating too many carbs.

The Zero Carb Path awaits you brother!

7/11/2006 3:33 PM  
Blogger Rozi said...

I do believe that it takes time to tighten up the loose skin. I lost half of my body weight from 220 to 110 when I was in my 50's (I am now 72). It took about 7 years but I did lose most of the loose skin. I tried going down further in weight to lose it faster and to lose the little belly pouch but it didn't work, just made my arms and legs look like sticks. I still have the belly. Unfortunately the low fat crowed convinced me that low carb was ruining my health and I gained most of it back before I regained my senses and went back to low carb. I now weigh 130 which is healthy for my 5'3". In short give it time, it takes about 7 years I have heard for the body to completely replace itself cell by cell.


7/11/2006 3:38 PM  
Blogger Sweet Tart said...

Time and exercise have worked for me. Almost four years after losing the bulk of 95 pounds, I only have a few spots that would qualify as loose skin and they're barely noticeable. The worst spot was my lower stomach, but it only looked a bit wrinkly, not hanging and since I've upped my exercise intensity it's gotten even better. I'm 43 and have birthed two strapping boys, so I don't have the benefit of youthful elasticity.

7/11/2006 4:56 PM  
Blogger Newbirth said...

At 11% body fat you are totally fine. You don't need to go lower. I'm at 24% body fat, which is normal range for a female.

And I have a roll of what I used to think was fat hanging over my jeans when I sit down. I lost and lost and it never went away. I finally realized one day that it was just loose skin from losing 65 pounds and that it won't go away no matter HOW much I lose.

7/12/2006 1:19 AM  
Blogger neversaydie said...

Hey I am guy aged 24.. lost some 120 pounds some 6 yrs back.. currently I am 162 pounds... just perfect weight for 5'-10" of height.. but loose skin is still there.... 5 yrs back my surgeon suggested surgery.. but I didnt go for it.... did lots of swimming, jogging and gymming.. with a little success... almost 60% of loose skin is gone but it doesnt go completely... heard of a new therapy called THERMAGE only for the face.. hopefully the technology will come out in a years time for loose skin also.. Any one out there whos got Thermage done... pls share ur experiences

8/06/2006 4:23 PM  
Blogger David said...

I'm pretty sure those pictures are fake, as the guy is wearing the same shorts in both pictures. I'd assume the shorts wouldn't fit him if he had lost the said amount of weight...

1/22/2007 7:43 PM  
Blogger Ali said...

Let me clear this up as I am probably the best lab rabbit for this case. When I was 18 I gained 100 lbs in 6 mounts because of an illness. I lost about 40 pounds of it automatically in a matter of two months after I recovered from the illness. 10 pounds more again after a year. Then I went on a crazy diet and I lost 60 pounds in three months. This fluctuation gave a bit of loose skin and stretch marks on various spots including my stomach. I picked up weight training and got muscular and was pretty close to have a six pack, but I never got the abs I wanted because of the skin on top of it. Now, ten years after (I am almost 28) I am an edurance athlete. I exercise more than 13 hours a week. my resting heart rate is 41. I run a 5K in 18minutes, a 10K in 39minutes, I have run a lot of marathons, half marathons, and sprint to half ironman triathlons with respectable times. My weight is 158 pounds now, and my body fat % was measured 5.8% last week. I am 5 9" tall and waist is 29".
I have probably tried more than 12 different creams and lotions and every kind of toning exercise you can imagine. I am telling you all this, to give you an evidence that this loose skin is not a myth, it becomes better, but you never get a six pack of a Men's health cover boy even if you have a lower BF% than that guy!!
Does it bother me ? No, mine is not bad at all, I am more worried about my Vo2Max now :)

2/14/2007 4:23 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

Ali is right, I lost 130 pounds....going from 330 to 200 pounds. After that I gained 30 pounds of muscle back....
This has helped dramatically, but like Ali I am never going to have a six pack and I know it. I have a pretty rocking 4 pack and thats good enough for me... plus I'm lucky enough the the little loose skin I have is low enough that swim trunks cover it up! But please dont waste time and money on creams... I've tried about 12 of them too with no luck. The only real way is to hope it will tighten up with time, supplement some extra muscle where that fat used to be or go see a doc to cut it off. I'd much rather be 230 and ripped with a tiny flap of skin on my abs than 330 and one BigMac away from a heart attack!

12/06/2007 4:58 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Amen Fred!

12/06/2007 5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it funny how in the before and after photos that lead to your blog, the guy is wearing the same exact shorts and belt, yet supposedly the photos are "months" apart. Before you try to say that was intentional... look at his belt strap... It has relatively the same exact amount of slack on the belt. Maybe because his waste didn't shrink since it was only "skin". Why is there such a lack of good photos in these supposed "miracle" loses of loose skin. The end result photo isn't even on this page that I can see. That's what people need. Real photos. Real proof. Not just fairy tales with no quality photos to back it up.

4/19/2008 3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The American standard weight loss diet recommends cutting out a lot of fat. This is bad when it comes to skin, which needs healthy fat to be at optimum health. A healthy diet can be fairly high in fat, as long as it is not the saturated or even worse hydrogenated kind. This is why people, especially ones who lose weight through stomach stapling have problems with skin failing to adapt to their seemingly healthy weight loss.

12/31/2008 5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, another problem you won't hear the cookie-cutter nutritionists who fail at doing anything other than repeating back info they learned in school is body toxicity. A lot of the time that layer of "skin" really does have fat because the body will fight to keep it there as hard as it can. Fat works as toxin dump to keep that crap away from vital organs. Many of the so-called "diet" products out on the market replace fat with chemicals and sugar, which do nothing but encourage this fat storage effect.

12/31/2008 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well the biggest problem is losing weight too fast. At 15 and 5 foot 10 i dropped 50 lbs from 240 to 190as a high school football player its mostly muscle however i lost this weight over 4 months which left me with tons of extra skin on my arms chest and stomach. Ive consistently been lifting weights and on a body building diet, however nothing works for me. I guess this is my eternal punishment for previously being fat

2/02/2009 9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the same article and its very intriguing to me. I lost 65 lbs in 2 months because I gained it during pregnancy because of a 10' baby and toxemia (a LOT of water weight gain).After I had my son I was really sick and that's why I lost it so fast (and most of it was water so just melted away).
I was left with a gross sagging 85 year old woman's stomach at the age of 22!

After I lost the weight it looked worse... so I looked into abdominoplasty. I watched shows on it, saw procedures done. The thing I noticed about all the procedures.... attached to the skin they cut off was a huge layer of fat. They weren't cutting off just skin.... it was a LOT of fat underneath it.
When you move the area around does it jiggle? Skin doesn't jiggle. Fat does.

The more I work on ab exercises and building muscle the smaller my gut gets and the less "extra skin" I have.
I absolutely believe what he says in the article... and the testimonial at the end is not from a 20 year old. Its an older lady who had results even though her skin wasn't as elastic. Its fat, not extra skin!

3/30/2009 4:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Skin is an ORGAN, it's not just some human saran wrap that holds everything in. With the right nutrition, and most importantly: patience, it should go back to "normal." When I say nutrition I mean vitamins/minerals, protein, fat, hydration and also supplements with MSM are good. MSM has been shown to promote collagen synthesis... this is exactly what you want if you are looking for saggy, wrinkly skin cells to be replaced with more elastic ones. In the meantime, building muscle in the area where you have skin will (obviously) help.

6/01/2009 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe humans are the only land mammal capable of storing subcutaneous fat. Here's an experiment to perform:

Go pet a dog. You'll notice it feels distinctly different than a typical human, as the skin layer is sliding over muscle with absolutely no fat underneath.

No pet your pannus. Unless it feels like a dog does, that's fat.

7/09/2009 6:19 AM  
Blogger Christopher Kessler said...

I am glad to have found this comment thread. I lost 150 lbs (345 to 195), and the loose skin question has been on my mind a lot.

It looks to me that there is no total reversal of the damage from being obese, but there is at least hope that it will get better from here with more work and focus.

I hope there are many more of us in this situation, as it is better than the health we were in before!

10/28/2009 6:47 PM  

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