Thursday, January 7, 2016

"Skin Tight": Reflections on the Loose Skin Experience


Back in 2008 when I first wrote a blog post about loose skin, I knew logically that it was going to be part of my future. Everyone knows if you are morbidly obese and lose weight and you're not a teenager anymore, you're left with loose skin. I didn't have it yet at 219 pounds, but my fat was starting to get weird and saggy and squishy instead of firm. I was so excited to be getting smaller, though, that I was really dismissive about the whole loose skin thing. It seemed like no big deal to me. I wrote:

"...not for ONE SECOND do I think I would prefer to have nice tight skin and be 278 pounds, rather than be a normal weight with loose skin. I will take the loose skin and a normal, healthy life! And if you are really distressed about it, you have two choices. You can have skin removal surgery when you get to your goal. Or, if you really hate the skin problem and don't want surgery, and find yourself longing for your formerly tight, fat-filled skin, you can always gain back all the weight. Right?"

Oh yes... right. I didn't know how right I was! I *could* gain the weight back for sure! But at the time, I really thought it was lame that people worried about skin and I just knew that when I lost the weight I would not care about the extra skin at all. I was wrong. Thirty pounds later, I was writing a different story as my body continued to deflate and the thinner layers of skin and fat started really hanging and wobbling. It started getting strangely wrinkly and unpleasant, rather than smooth. I wrote:

"I don't like my melting body. I don't like the skin being wrinkly in places and the deflated feeling of my fat. I don't like that I can poke with my finger and it goes in two inches because the fat is so loose and mushy. I don't like that when I put on my underwear, which fit perfectly and are not tight at all, they dent into my fat a good inch or more because that fat is so soft and squishy. I don't like that my upper arm fat sways in the breeze if I reach for something, or that I have a patch of wrinkly skin appearing under my jawline. I absolutely do not like the sensation that I am melting, with my flesh dripping down like wax off a hot candle. My body is not the right shape anymore. It feels like someone should take a spatula and scrape up the oozing frosting and get rid of the drips. I do not like it at all."

I weighed 185 pounds at that time and was becoming afraid that the skin issue would just keep getting worse as I lost more weight. And I was right. Ten pounds later, to my horror the crepe-papery, wrinkled skin under my jaw was becoming even more noticeable. And the last straw was when I noticed loose hanging skin starting around my wrists and forearms! I felt like a Shar-pei.

I cannot justify how much this affected me, because logically to me it seemed SO shallow. I don't think I am a vain person. I know I am not going to look like I did 20 years ago and I knew there would be loose skin. But actually seeing it ON my body, in the mirror, and in places I could not cover it up was very distressing to me. The way my body literally looked like melting wax and had strange unfamiliar globs and drips that I could not erase or smooth out was a shock to me. There was a a gut feeling, an anxiety, a fear... a sense of "this is not right... this is not me" that I couldn't shake. It makes no logical sense to me. But those feelings came right back last night when I was watching a TV show.

There's a new TLC series called "Skin Tight" that's about the excess skin of weight loss, Watching it last night, I was taken right back in time to the point when I had lost enough pounds to see that no, it was not just more fat hanging on my body that would go away if I just kept losing weight. It was a  whole different problem.

I wondered if I was losing one problem just to gain another that was just as unpleasant. I mean, you do all this work, you defy the odds and take off all those pounds... and then you feel imprisoned in a whole different way: a way that is unfixable without surgery. On the show, right before she had her skin surgery, Lauana said, "This has to work, because it's my last hope." She said this AFTER she had lost the weight... AFTER getting to a normal BMI. We are so used to thinking of some diet, some gastric bypass or last ditch weight loss attempt as the "last hope" because the goal is a healthy, normal-ish body. But instead, she got something else very distressing: a new body that she felt compelled to hide.

So she had this very extensive, scary looking surgery. And then instead of happiness and relief, we see her crying with sadness after taking off her bandages for the first time and seeing her scarred, still-imperfect arms... it was just too much. I got tears in my eyes.

Watching her surgery and recovery, the whole time I was thinking, "there is no way, NO WAY I would ever have that surgery. Absolutely not." And that's the thing. I *am* 95% sure I would not choose to have surgery to remove loose skin, no matter how distressing it was, unless it was actually getting infected and going to kill me. I would not do it for comfort, or cosmetics, because I have such a strong feeling that I need to *be here* for my family and I have an intense (irrational, perhaps?) fear of dying during surgery. So... knowing that I am almost certain to have a large amount of loose, hanging skin if I lose weight past a certain point, but also knowing that I am very unlikely to ever have skin removal surgery, there comes the realization that was lingering under the surface, possibly driving me to subconsciously regain and not re-lose: if I keep losing weight, I am going to have that horrible, loose, hanging skin. For the rest of my life. I am going to feel trapped in a different kind of way, with different things to hide, with a body that drips with deflated fat rolls.

During the episode last night, both of the featured persons conveyed that they could not live life to the fullest unless the lose skin was gone... even though they had lost massive amounts of weight.

Tim said, "I was held captive by that loose skin." He was freed by the skin removal surgery.

After skin removal, Lauana said,  "I can do anything now!" She definitely didn't feel that way after weight loss alone. It took skin removal.

I know that my loose skin was a major factor in why I regained so much of the lost weight. I have written many, many times as I lost weight about how disconcerting the too-large "skin bag" is when it's hanging on a normal-sized body. Like Lauana said, she wondered if it would be almost better to be a bit chubby than to be thin and have all this skin hanging. I felt that way. I did not consciously WANT to regain any weight, but I felt better about my body 10 pounds heavier than my lowest... all the while still wanting to get the weight off and lose even more. But the loose skin situation was so emotionally triggering for me that I just could not handle it. Right now, at 229 pounds, I have pretty much NO loose skin. I have nothing unnatural looking about my (fat) body. I mean, that's the thing, isn't it? People expect a fat person to have curves and bulges, so my body right now looks and feels pretty normal for a fat chick. I feel smooth, soft, and curvy. If I lose 30 or 40 more pounds, my body is going to look and feel like a dripping candle again. Do I really want to go there?

Do I really want to lose the weight again, just to be stuck with a deformed, unsightly body that I am embarrassed about? Do I want to trade wishing away the fat (which can be lost) to wishing away the skin (which cannot be lost)? Am I trading one jail for another?

At this point I just tell myself, "look, you will be healthier by losing weight, so just do it. Do it for your health. Do it so you can be more active and feel better. Get back into the skin care routine: the lotions, the dry brushing, all of that, to minimize the skin issues. Maybe take some kind of skin care supplements like collagen. Just do it." But I admit... it's scary wondering if history is just going to repeat itself. Guess once again, we will see.

14 comments:

TheAgonyOfBeingFat said...

I lost a lot of weight in my 20s and probably could have gotten some skin removed, but only maintained that weight for an embarrassingly short amount of time so it never stayed an issue for long.
Body image is such a personal thing though. Skin removal might be an awesome life-changing event for one person, but not the next.

Anonymous said...

Weight loss is an extremely personal journey and effects everyone differently. I know your relationship with weight loss is complicated and I wish you the best however you decide to live your life.

However - loose skin has no negative health effects while excess fat, particularly around your organs, has massive impact on your current and future quality of life.
Please do not conflate obesity and excess skin as two "prisons". I'd recommend having a serious discussion about body image and loose skin with a counselor because it would be a terrible thing to not improve your health because of fears of the look and feel of excess skin.

All the best.

Karen said...

This mental and physical barrier to weight loss can be delt with via a good shrink And your willingness to reframe. Be aware of big, slippery slopes.

Deb said...

This post will sound ridiculous to anyone who hasn't experienced it, but you know that I know exactly what you're talking about, because "I was okay until it got to my face." I still--5 years later--still feel my muscles tighten into a cringe when I think of my mother's elderly face looking back at me in the mirror.

Thing is, the face that's looking back at me in the mirror now isn't what I want to see, either. Not by a long shot. (Not one of those fat girls with a pretty face.) I tell myself much of what you've written here. No matter how aged I look, I will feel better, be healthier, and will no longer have a body deformed by bulges of fat, so I will look better.

I do certainly get it...and now I have to lose it. Simple as that.

Deb

Lori said...

I never got to the point in my journey that I had the saggy skin. I planned, however, to have it removed. I even had a consult with a cosmetic surgeon, who explained the procedure and the cost. It is 100% self pay on my insurance plan. I started saving my money. I had not had major surgery at that point and was naive to the issues surrounding it. Now, that I've had two hip replacements, I am completely rethinking the idea.

My sister had gastric bypass surgery 10+ years ago and opted not to have skin removal. She kept it as a reminder of how far she'd come and a reminder not to go back there. Over time, the skin has tightened. She no longer has to pick up skin to fasten her pants, nor does she have that loose skin under her neck. Her skin isn't tight like a teenager but it has tightened a good bit. Now, I'm hoping for the same thing when I get to my goal.

It is a very personal decision. I know you will give it careful thought and do the right thing for you.
Lori

Anonymous said...

Hi,
A few things.
1) Have you ever read any of the materials on the site Go Kaleo? This whole "eat what I want and still manage to be healthy/lose weight" is sort of her thing. She has a group on Facebook called Eat the Food. Many of the women and men there have struggled in the same way you have. I really think they could help you. They let new members into the FB group every couple months.

2) I agree with the other posters who suggest working with a counselor or therapist. I've gone from almost 250 lbs to 130 lbs. The body I thought I would have isn't exactly what I ended up with. Having a counselor to talk through all those issues has been exceedingly helpful and has kept me from giving up because i'm a tiny bit "melty" rather than tight like I expected.

LHA said...

I think the fact that you are facing this reality now might help you accept the skin issue as it surfaces. At least you won't be surprised or shocked. Good foundation garments can also do a lot to firm up your body's look in clothes. I know a woman who lost well over 100 pounds and found a lot of difference once she really bought a good array of Spanx. It certainly cant hurt to keep skin well moisturized and keep yourself well hydrated. Good luck in dealing with this issue. I am betting it won't be as bad as you imagine it might be.

Vickie said...

It takes at least a year, after reaching goal weight, for body to settle. So the first day the scale reads lower weight, is not what things will look like after at least a year. I recommend minimal clothes purchases for at least a year. Can get by with just a few, well chosen things easily.

Pilates helps a lot. Start now. Cannot wait to start then, start now. Pilates. And also free weight work. Really important.

Therapist helps a lot (not the one you had before) but have to start that now too, not later. I think this is vital.

Underwear helps hugely. I think this is vital too.

Avoiding foods that irritate or bloat the body helps a lot too.

(Full disclosure - I did have upper surgery. It was worth the pain and expense. But it was not vital. I had it many years into maintenance. I would recommend waiting for anyone who is considering surgery. It is important to let things settle first which takes a long time, at least a full year. 4-5 years is smart, in my opinion. Most people do not make five years. So six years might be smarter.)

Anonymous said...

I don't think that I would ever stay heavier to avoid skin.
But that is me. I know for me, it is about my addiction, and my addictions will tell me all sorts of things to keep me in the food.
The health and mental well being of being of normal weight out weigh skin fears for me. Everyone has to find their own balance. I am not 20 anymore, that is the reality, I will have to accept what consequences my years of abuse has done to my body as I heal. Not as punishment, it's just reality! Good luck to you!

Lyn said...

Thanks for all the thoughts and comments. I am not going to put off losing weight over fear of loose skin, but I think talking about it is essential. I have to acknowledge my feelings about this; there is something about bringing deep fears to light that, in itself, is therapeutic. this time around I can express my thoughts about this ahead of time, instead of being shocked and upset as it happens. I am doing my best now, with my skin care and nutrition, to minimize the skin issue but I have no delusions that that alone will prevent it completely. If I start to have uncomfortable feelings about the state of my body as I lose, I think it might be a good idea to slow down and give myself time to accept it, instead of losing quickly (like I did last time) which seemed to make it worse.

Anonymous said...

I have been on a diet for as long as I can remember. My grandmother used to call me "Plumpy" and tell me I had better slim down or no boys would want me. She use to feed me a small bowl of light cottage cheese with a pineapple ring for lunch daily -- when I was six! I was not allowed snacks. So, I snuck food at every opportunity. As a teenager I hit the vending machines hard with my allowance and hid it all under my bed.

I weighed 332 pounds when my doctor told me that if I did not loose weight, I was falling to an early grave. But, every diet I tried left me heavier. When I was 31 a new neighbor moved in next door. She is the one who taught me to eat properly. Her way sounds very much like your way. In short, I started respecting my body and mind. I have lost 108 pounds doing this. It works!

I have one suggestion and that is to get enough roughage. Things tend to absorb too much when they stay in your system too long. The less time a Twinkie is in your body, the less calories and sugar go to your system. If you don't get enough veggies try Metamucil or another Fiber drink.

Anonymous said...

My recommendation is to regularly look at naked photos on realself dot com of major weight loss circumferential body lift patients, so you have realistic expectations of what your body will look like after losing 100 or more pounds. Whether you are going to have skin surgery or not, it is helpful to see the photos of arms/thighs/stomachs that have lost a lot of weight and to see the skin laxity that you will face. We all imagine we will have the tight firm body we had on our way up the scale. It just doesn't work like that though. Preparing yourself mentally for what your body will be like can really help accept it as it comes. Your body will not be perfect. And every day as you get older, your body will continue to decline. This is the human condition. Youth and beauty are wasted on young people who don't appreciate how great they look at the time. I was one of them. After losing 80 pounds, my stomach is disappointing. My breasts aren't as perky as they used to be, and my arms look saggy. I am forty. They are going to look worse at fifty and sixty. That's how it works. One day, you will be older than you are now, and reflect on how awesome your body was when you were the age you are now.

X said...

I also struggled with the realization that major weight loss was not going to leave my body in any kind of "ideal" form. I had lost over 40 pounds (starting at 200) and even though I was happy with the smaller clothes sizes, the thinner face, and the way my body looked in clothes, I was quickly realizing that, without surgery, I would ALWAYS have a sagging lower belly (or skin where the belly was) arm flaps, etc. For me it was somewhat of a motivation killer; knowing that no matter how hard i worked, how many years I dieted and exercised, how much i "succeeded", my body was not going to end up turning into the "perfect" body I wanted. Like someone took away the carrot at the end of the stick.

I have regained (haven't we all!) about 20 pounds, but I still practice healthy eating habits and stay active. I am not "happy" with my body, but I have the knowledge that I would also not be completely "happy" with the body that comes after years of restrictive eating and exercise intended to lose weight. I have had to accept that a perfect body is not a realistic goal no matter what- so I work on self-acceptance, self-love, balance, and re-setting my mindset to not be overly focused on my outer appearance/weight/size.

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