- Eat the veggies, already!
- What a bad diet does to your skin
- My experiences with loose skin
- What can you do to help your skin transform healthily?
- External skin care
- Internal skin care
- Steer clear of…
- A few important notes
- In closing
The above is my stomach. It isn’t perfect, but I realize what it represents: someone whose lost a lot of weight and managed to come out of the process with skin that isn’t and doesn’t sag. I don’t share out of bragging or narcissism – I don’t really get anything out of that – but out of demo. I am a person who has experienced success in this arena, and aim to share what I’ve learned to help me achieve what I’ve achieved thus far.
My journey is still ongoing, so there’s still some pouch there, but it’s not the full-blown sagging apron that it once was, and for that, I am humbled. This post is me sharing why hope isn’t an unrealistic emotion for every woman. – Erika
Lately, I’ve started receiving a flurry of e-mails asking me specifically about loose skin, and why I don’t have any.
The reality is that I did have it, I don’t anymore, and I likely won’t have much of it as I get closer to my fitness goals.
To make my point, I’m going to have to – unfortunately – talk around my point a bit before I bring you home. Sorry.
When people talk to me about how they want to lose weight, and it’s a triple digit number or close to it, I pay intense attention to the language they use surrounding how they plan to lose it. Are we talking a complete overhaul of how you eat? Or are we talking “portion controlling” the things you already eat?
When a dear friend – who okay’d me telling y’all about her, as long as I told y’all she won in the end before telling y’all the story – told me that she wanted “to look like [me], but eat the way [she] eats,” I groaned. By her own admission, she had at least 75 pounds of fat to lose before he reached her ultimate goal, but she was super-attached to how she eats, to the point where change felt impossible.
I, very eager to take on new clients and test out my skilllllllllz, went through the week with her. What does she eat for breakfast? (Lucky Charms that she shares with her little one.) What does she eat for lunch? (Whatever fast food her co-workers decide to make a run for, and snacking on whatever she could squeeze in-between class periods.) What does dinner look like? (Hamburger helper, corn dogs, steak and potatoes when her boothang was over for dinner, KFC – the macaroni salad was a favorite for her – and sometimes the salad from McDonalds.)
When people talk about weight loss, they instantaneously revert back to portion control of the same foods they used to eat, never thinking much beyond counting the calories. I asked her, “Why do you think you eat as much of the foods you currently eat, now?” She shrugged, telling me that this was what how she always poured, never thinking much about it. I asked her, the next morning, if she was full after eating her cereal. The answer was expected: “Not really, I’ll probably be starving by lunch time.”
“Well, if you’re struggling with this portion size, how do you think you’ll survive eating Lucky Charms for breakfast if you cut your portion?”
“Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, this sucks.”
I considered this my “in” to trying to get her to change the way she thinks about food, and the way she chooses her meals.
There’s more to weight loss than food, and that’s for sure, but there’s more to food than weight loss, as well. When I took a look at her week-long spread, there were very little vegetables. Very few sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. There was plenty to keep the calories coming and going, enough to power through a very busy day, but beyond that? She was losing, nutritionally speaking.
As we continued on with working together, I slowly tried to convince her to embrace fruits and veggies, and find ways to add them to her diet. While I was thinking more along the lines of raw veggies and fresh dips, she went with smoothies.
Whatever. Anything’s a start.
When you merely add fresh produce to an otherwise questionable diet, you’re still fighting the negative effects of the questionable diet. Hyper-processed foods with certain chemicals – and chemical combinations – have a tendency to screw with your hormones, screw with your internal organs and their ability to adequately do their jobs, and can quite literally make you sick. Adding fresh produce to that kind of diet while still consuming processed food isn’t going to let the fresh produce do repair work of fixing what the processed food screws up. Instead, the fresh produce will only fight to keep things from getting worse. Very little progress towards better health can be made in this kind of situation.
And, here we are, at my point.
There is more to weight loss than food, of course, but there is more to food than weight loss.
Nutrition plays a role in everything from the way your blood flows freely throughout your body to the way your toes wiggle when you want them to. Poor nutrition impedes them both – type 2 diabetes can take your toes and any other limbs it pleases, and the plaque from poor quality food that largely coats the insides of your veins and arteries can affect how your heart pumps blood.
The same goes for your skin.
Writing for the Daily Mail, dermatologist Dr. Patricia Farris wrote the following:
The link between sugar and premature ageing lies in a process called ‘glycation’. This chemical process happens when blood sugar levels become excessively high.
Sugar molecules then circulate in the blood and bind to other components to form substances known as protein-sugar complexes – also called advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs.
These can be found in virtually all organ systems around the body – from the kidneys, brain and nervous tissue to the skin – and trigger an inflammatory response, causing tissue damage and premature ageing.
Glycation should just be part of the natural aging process that starts when you are in your mid-30s and increases with age. But we now believe the speed at which glycation occurs is directly related to your dietary intake of sugar.
The collagen and elastin molecules in the skin that help your face defy gravity are extremely susceptible to being attacked by sugar. When these molecules are turned into AGEs, their soft and supple fibres become more rigid. This leaves skin saggy, baggy, and wrinkled.
So, the more sugar and refined carbohydrates you consume, the more your collagen and elastin will be attacked – and the older your skin will appear.
A high-sugar diet not only contributes to ageing of the skin, but it can lead to the skin becoming unhealthy, dry, and vulnerable to infection.
It can also exacerbate acne. This is because high blood-sugar levels trigger high levels of the hormone insulin, which can set off a hormonal cascade that stimulates oil production and increases the proliferation of skin cells that can block pores – causing acne.
I strongly believe cutting back on sugar is one of the best possible things you can do for your skin.
And so goes my argument: a diet full of hyper-processed foods is degenerative to the quality of the skin – reducing the elasticity that would allow for your skin to bounce back – and trying to add veggies to that kind of a diet isn’t going to help with the challenges of loose skin. You literally have to find enjoyable ways to replace the hyper-processed foods with fresh produce in order to experience the regenerative benefits of its contents.
There is more to weight loss than food, but – most importantly – there is more to food than weight loss.
Did I experience loose skin? You bet your sweet tooth I did.
When I first started – ahem – deflating, for lack of a better phrase, my skin hung and sagged. I had muscle that I was trying to build, but neither did the muscle come immediately, nor did the skin immediately snap back. But a few months and a hundred pounds later, and my skin was slowly beginning to do its job.
It was hard to keep track of because, quite honestly, much of the skin shrinking was happening while I was still losing. Going from a double-digit loss in a month’s time to slowing down to a crawl of 5, 7, 8 pounds in a month made me a little self-conscious, and the loose skin only made it worse. That’s how I realized – with the help of a dear friend – it was time to start lifting. All that sagging and deflating, I at least needed to have some curve.
Eventually, my sagging skin stopped, well, sagging and eventually caught up. Even as I’ve focused on building muscle over the years – I made the silly mistake of believing I’d lose fat and then all this muscle I never really ever had would appear… ha! – my skin has still slowly conformed to my body’s new-found frame, something I expect to continue over the next leg of my journey, when I begin cutting down some of the fat separating me from my goal body fat percentage.
Many people reference waist trainers, belly bands, and corsets for this process.
I don’t, and I’ll tell you why.
When it comes to loose skin, neither of these can do anything that a good pair of compression pants can’t. The extra expense for this purpose is useless. A thin pair of compression pants – I fully recommend Under Armour’s HeatGear compression pants, but a reliable pair of tight leggins will work in a pinch – can go underneath a pair of work pants and, without the stress and suffocation of a taut corset, you still get the same benefits of compression.
A good pair of compression pants will help keep everything in place – they can hold the skin of the tummy against itself, keep the skin of the thighs and the booty in place without additional rubbing and irritability. Gravity will impede your skin’s ability to cling to your body – compression garments help fight those negative effects. Furthermore, if you require lotion or oils for your particular skin situation, a good moisture-wicking pant should be able to keep that off of your work pants.
For arms and breasts, I recommend a good sports bra or an otherwise comfortable bra and either a pair of compression sleeves for your arms or a long-sleeved compression shirt. In other words, the girls shouldn’t be “sitting high and pretty” unless it’s absolutely necessary. And, quite honestly, most times it isn’t necessary. Put them away. I don’t have sagging breasts, either. And yes, I’m a mom.
Compression helps – not only with irritation and rashes but also, anecdotally, with the skin being able to “find its way back home” – but not more than external skin care. Shower regularly – daily, even – and moisturize your skin with your lotion of choice while your skin is still wet. Protect your skin from the elements – extreme sun and extreme cold should be non-factors for you. Exfoliate – a generous skin scrub (homemade ones work wonderfully, too) can make a world of difference in your skin’s glow, shine, and the appearance of your pores. (There are many options for exfoliating, but here’s what I do.)
There’s also an internal component to skin care, as well.
As I said twice before – there’s more to weight loss than food, and there’s more to food than weight loss. Because so many other processes affect your ability to lose weight – and keep it off – healthily and successfully, and because so many of those processes are directly affected by the food you choose to eat, and so many of those processes will determine how your weight loss journey turns up…changing the way you eat not only has the added benefit of helping you leave behind the habits that helped you gain the weight in the first place, but also will aid your body in normalizing your hormone levels, cleansing your veins and arteries, and – yes – redeveloping some of the elasticity in your skin.
People try to pinpoint exactly which vitamins, which nutrients best contribute to healthy skin growth and care, but the reality is that they all contribute in equally important ways because without one factor, they all suffer. Vitamin A strengthens skin tissue; vitamin B can tone skin, reduce redness, encourage hair, skin and nail growth; vitamin C reduces inflammation and aids the natural development of collagen – one of the base elements of human skin, Vitamin D (though not best acquired via food) promotes healing and repair, vitamin E not only aids the skin in sun protection but also can enhance healing and tissue repair, and vitamin K supports proper blood flow and coagulation. If you are lacking in one way, the rest suffer.
What’s more, even if you try to manage all of this by simply adding one multi-vitamin to your diet, you’re still likely missing something: vitamins A, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning that they are best-absorbed through being combined with dietary fat. Not to mention, that daily build-up of these vitamins through supplementation can actually be toxic. Investing in a supplement as a resource might not be worth it. Consume healthy sources of fats – avocado, nuts, olive/coconut/organic canola oils – on a regular basis. They’ll help you get the job done.
There’s also water. Water is a necessity in both skin care and overall health in general. A dehydrated body begins the lockdown process: sweat, a process intended to help cool down an otherwise hot body, only happens when absolutely necessary, thereby potentially causing damage to your internal organs and robbing moisture from the skin; water helps a fibrous diet keep your digestive system ‘moving,’ cleansing the intestines and aiding the body in better absorbing nutrients needed to heal the skin.
When we say the body is an intricate system, we mean it.
Alongside cleaning up your diet, should include cleaning up your vices and the consistent use of such. Alcohol acts as a diuretic and a blood thinner, dehydrating your body and rushing vitamins and minerals out of your system before your body has the opportunity to absorb them. There’s also the fact that alcohol turns your liver into a dried brick of unfortunateness. Your liver absorbs toxins and turns them into something less-toxic for your insides, and without it working at full capacity, your body isn’t as able to cleanse your blood stream of toxins. This impedes your ability to better absorb nutrients.
Caffeine – to a certain degree – causes similar effects. Caffeine is also a diuretic – something that makes you pee, potentially causing dehydration if enough of it is consumed – but so is celery. The difference between caffeine and alcohol, however, is that alcohol doesn’t provide any antioxidants. Coffee does. It’s up to you whether or not you choose this as a source or not.
Taking it a step further, only a few people are out here drinking black coffee, no sugar, no cream. You’re likely drinking something with tons of sugar in it – and, yes, even the “skinny” version is a mess, too. Consider switching to black coffee, or consider weaning yourself off.
Cigarettes! No. Pure nicotine affects the way your blood transports oxygen and nutrients throughout your body and, as we’ve stated before, blood flow is important to healthy skin.
One of the hardest things to accept, as an obese woman, was the reality that my eating habits were so intricately linked to everything I did. I couldn’t merely “only eat 600 calories” and do fine – I had to actually eat that diverse diet that so many people preach about. I couldn’t starve myself into weight loss, because starving myself meant starving my body of nutrients, too. And, even as we sometimes believe we deserve to starve, we don’t. We deserve to feed ourselves healthily without shame and without guilt, and we deserve all the benefits that come from such. Anorexia would only exacerbate my skin issues. Bulimia, the same. It’s not about eating less, it’s about eating differently.
If you are battling an eating disorder, seek help – not because your skin won’t look so great, but because this is a kind of pain you don’t deserve. No one does.
As healthy exercise only increases and encourages proper blood flow, with the ability to cleanse arteries and veins damaged by a high-sugar diet, it should also be noted that good cardiovascular activity – anything that can get that heart rate up there and keep it up there for a while – is also an integral part of rejuvenating your skin. Get it in, and get it in regularly – 3 times a week, at least.
There’s also the matter of weight loss surgery patients. I receive about five e-mails per month from women who are weight loss surgery patients – always, without fail, at least 4 of the five share with me that they were never told anything about how to eat or even what to eat. As weight loss surgeries encourage weight loss to happen rapidly, the heavier you are, the more likely you are to experience skin issues – and, by extension, hair loss as well. I know that weight loss patients are often told to “just portion control their old meals,” but trust me, if they’re hyper-processed foods, you shouldn’t. You can’t. You have to change, even if you’re still losing weight eating your old diet in smaller portions, particularly if you want to pay special attention to your skin. If anything, weight loss surgery robs you of one of the most reliable markers of success or failure in a weight loss plan: the ability to experience a plateau.
What if you’re saying to yourself, “I’ll just get skin surgery, then!” You’re also likely to be told the same thing I’m telling you here, too. An inability to change your diet means your skin will only continue to get worse, even if its been cut and re-stitched. If your dermatologist doesn’t tell you that your diet can aid you in healing from those scars? I will. Clean up your diet.
Age absolutely plays a factor in the skin’s ability to rebound, but only because age helps determine how many years you’ve been putting your body through the ringer. Our grandmas who eat veggies from their own garden, with flawless skin and flowing silver locks? Let them be your inspiration. Whatever age you are in life right now, start now. While the usual suspects – Oprah, Mercola, Health.com, HuffPo, and so on – have lots of information about fresh produce reversing aging, I can’t find any data on any of the reliable open databases for research I’ve seen, so my suggestion is a little more reserved: eat the produce because the rest of your body needs it, and if you experience reversal of aging, then consider yourself awesome. If not, you’re still awesome.
I hope I’ve made it abundantly clear, here – the need to change your diet and pay special attention to self care is an essential part of fighting sagging skin. I know I always end these long essays with “your body will thank you for it!” but, in this instance, it couldn’t be any truer.You’ll see it in your nails, in your hair, in your face. You’ll feel it in the softness of your skin, the amount (or lack) of dryness you experience, and how quickly your skin heals after bruises and cuts. Change your eating habits today, and I promise – I promise – your body will thank you for it!
Oh, and if you’re wondering, it’s been 13 months now, and my friend lost most of her weight but actually wound up gaining another 20, thus far – not because she slipped on her routines, but because she and her boothang-turned-husband became pregnant! So, she technically did win, in the end.