We all know that achieving the perfect body won’t happen overnight, but what happens to your skin when you lose body weight and how do you achieve that coveted toned physique?
Your body has amazing capabilities that can adapt to change, but sometimes it takes a while for it to catch up. If you have lost a large amount of weight in a short period of time, you may still have some stubborn loose skin hanging around. While this is natural, it can seriously affect how you perceive your own progress and you may still feel unhappy with your appearance despite significant weight loss.
Your skin is a living organ, which consists of millions of cells. The cells on the outside of the skin’s surface are lost and replaced every day, but as the cells on the inside are more permanent they take longer to restore themselves. When you lose or gain weight, you effectively stretch or shrink your skin. By reducing the fat that keeps skin stretched out, you will also weaken the elasticity of the skin temporarily, so that post weight-loss skin may appear loose and flabby.
Here are 12 tips to tone up your body and drop that excess skin.
Identify: Skin or fat?
First of all you need to identify whether the excess skin is actually that, or whether it could be a thin layer of stubborn fat.
If you can pinch more than a few millimetres of skin then you probably still have some fat cells that need to be lost before the skin will appear firmer. Our bodies hold on to ‘stubborn’ types of fat - in men it’s usually areas such as the lower abs and lower back, whereas in women it can be stored on the thighs, backside, abs and hips - which, as the name suggests, is more difficult to lose.
In order to burn fat, your body produces a chemical known as ‘catecholamine’. These travel through your blood and attach to receptors on fat cells, catalysing the release of the energy stored within the cells so it can be burned off.
What you think is excess skin may actually be stubborn fat cells stored within the skin, in which case you will need to keep training to reduce it before the skin can look firm. The best way to do this is through HIIT training, which maximises fat burning during and after the workout, and also through strength training.
Building muscle is crucial to eliminating excess skin. Many cases of rapid weight loss are the result of high levels of cardio and a calorie-deficient diet. Due to this the majority of muscle has been lost along with the fat, which can lead to a lack of definition and a ‘saggy’ skinned look.
Performing compound resistance movements in circuits is a great way to burn fat and build muscle simultaneously, which will create an overall toned physique. Try moves such as deadlifts, squats and clean-and-press to maximise muscle groups. Don’t be afraid of using heavy weights during these movements, opt for a lower rep count if you are struggling to complete a set but continue for 3-5 sets with little rest. You could also utilise classes such as Body Pump, circuits or GT30, which combine these resistance training sessions with cardio moves.
For more help on building muscle and aftercare, check out our guide on exercising with DOMS.
Exfoliating your skin on a regular basis encourages blood circulation and removes dead skin cells from the surface, which promotes fresh skin production. Use a dry skin brush before you shower, work in circular motions starting from your feet to encourage the blood to travel up to your heart. Alternatively you could use an exfoliating body scrub while you are showering, try a product containing caffeine as this will stimulate the blood flow. Exfoliating will also help to reduce cellulite for the same reason.
While hydrating your skin from the inside by drinking plenty of water is vital, you must also hydrate the surface of the skin in order to keep it healthy. Use an intensive moisturiser, one that is enriched with skin-plumping collagen, or a product that contains natural oils like coconut, almond, or olive oil to lock in moisture and tighten the skin. These oils can also help to reduce the appearance of stretch marks - parallel lines varying in grey, pink or purple colour and size which form when the skin is stretched or shrunk very quickly - aim to massage them with oil on a daily basis for best results.
Much like exfoliation, regular massage helps to increase the circulation of blood to the skin’s surface which promotes the growth of new skin cells for a firmer appearance. It can also help to reduce muscle tension and encourage a stress-free state of mind.
Careful attention must be paid to the loose skin while massaging so that it doesn’t hurt the person being massaged. Avoid using oil when massaging someone with loose skin so that your hands don’t slip and accidentally pull on the skin. Opt for a thicker cream enriched with Shea butter instead. If you find that it is still too slippery, pat the skin down with a towel and massage gently with dry hands.
The masseuse should make sure that they are also reaching the muscles underneath the skin, and not just the skin itself, by applying enough compression using their hands, forearms or fingers to reach the muscles.
Boost skin elasticity
You naturally lose skin elasticity with age, however it can also affect younger people if they have lost a large amount of weight. While you cannot completely counteract this process, there are certain foods, drinks and supplements you can take to improve the elasticity of the skin.
Fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants can help to protect the skin from damage. Eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables including blueberries, green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, and yellow/orange fruit and veg. Nuts, beans and legumes are plant-sourced proteins that the body can use to replace dead skin cells. Some nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, also contain vitamin B which may reduce the sagging and wrinkling of skin.
Eating a portion of oily fish, such as mackerel and salmon, a couple of times a week will provide your skin with essential omega 3 fatty acids, which keep your skin soft and pliable. According to a study conducted by Stanford University, people that took a gelatine supplement every day were also able to improve their skin’s elasticity, however this option is not suitable for vegetarians.
Revisit your fitness & diet plan and slow things down
Before you begin a diet/fitness plan, you need to keep your long-term health in mind. Losing huge amounts of weight in a very short period of time is incredibly bad for your body. It puts a great amount of stress on many of your organs, including your skin. Remember that losing weight healthily should be a gradual process to allow your body to have enough time to adapt and recover. So the quicker you lose weight, the looser your skin may become.
Keep yourself hydrated
The majority of your skin cells are made up of water, so when you’re dehydrated your skin looks significantly thinner and less plump. Aim to drink at least two litres of water a day to ensure that you are properly hydrated and you will soon notice a difference in your skin.
For more help on staying hydrated before, during, and after a workout, check out our hydration guide.
Continue exercising - don’t let things slide
Just because you’ve reached your goal it doesn’t mean you should stop exercising. You’ll need to continue exercising to stay in the shape that you worked so hard to achieve. Additionally, exercise will also help to tighten and tone your skin as you stimulate blood flow around your body and build muscle.
Stay away from sunbeds
While it’s tempting to hop on a sunbed to hide any imperfections under a glowing tan, the ultraviolet (UV) light that you are exposed to on a sunbed can significantly damage your skin. Over time it can cause your skin to look old, wrinkled and leathery, but there is an even more serious danger than accelerated ageing. Sunbeds can damage the DNA of your skin, which may lead to skin cancer including malignant melanoma, the most fatal type of the disease. Opt for fake tan if you want to achieve a safe golden look, there are now a number of spray tans that can last over one week that won’t damage your skin at all.
Consult your doctor
Surgery should only be undertaken as a last resort when you have exhausted all other options. Wait at least six months to one year before undergoing surgery, your skin can adapt but it does take time, so don’t rush into any surgery until you can be sure that your skin won’t shrink and return to the same elasticity as it previously had.
The process of surgery consists of cutting away all loose skin and tightening and smoothing the remaining skin underneath. While this surgery can be very effective, it can leave scars, be expensive and take a long time to recover from. Make sure you consult your doctor before making any big decisions like this.
Love your body
Beauty is not skin deep, the important thing is that you feel happy in yourself. Loose skin is a natural process, even if none of the techniques above work for you, you should still be proud of the body that you have worked so hard to achieve. Think of your loose skin or stretch marks as reminders of just how far you have come, be proud of your body!