Weight Q&A: Avoiding Excess Skin

News and Advice, Weight Loss
on November 1, 2010
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Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl.shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week. 

QUESTION: I have lost 70 lbs. (yay me!) through hard work and eating right. But why am I losing so much lean muscle and not fat? I’m not afraid to work hard and sweat buckets and watch every morsel in my face—but why do I still have this loafage around my stomach? Any suggestions for the frustrated Former Fat Girl with the clingy fat? — Rita

DEAR RITA: First, how do you know you’re losing lean muscle, and that what you’re seeing is fat? I’m assuming you’re basing your assessment on the fact that you jiggle in certain areas you wish were taut and firm … in addition to the loafage around your waist, maybe a bit of flapping under your arms. Or saggy baggy knees. A droopy bum, perhaps.

All of that could in fact be skin, not fat. When you gain weight, your skin stretches to accommodate those extra pounds. When you lose it, you hope your skin snaps back into place. But sometimes it doesn’t. It all depends on your skin’s elasticity. Our skin loses elasticity due to aging, sun damage and smoking, in addition to other things. So the jiggle could in fact come from skin rather than fat.

You can find out for sure by getting a body composition test. That’s not the same as a simple body fat test. Most fitness clubs can estimate your body fat percentage using calipers, these clamp-like devices that pinch your skin in several places. But calipers won’t help you here–they don’t accurately distinguish between body fat, skin, and lean muscle mass. You would be better off asking your doctor where you can get a professional body composition test, either using bioelectric impedance (an electric current that responds differently to muscle, fat, tissue, etc.) or something called a Bod Pod, which uses air displacement. (I’ve had my body composition done in a Bod Pod–it’s painless but if you’re claustrophobic, prepare yourself, as you have to sit in a tiny space for a few minutes.) There are also bathroom scales with bioelectric impedance capabilities (home units cost around $100), although they’re not considered very accurate.

If your test does indeed reveal that you’re losing lean muscle mass, you need to make sure you’re doing some type of strength training along with cardio exercise. I would consider working with a personal trainer for at least a few sessions to get on a targeted program to build muscle mass. You may also want to cut back on your cardio some, too, to accommodate your strength-training sessions and to achieve some balance in your workout regimen.

If what you are seeing is excess skin, though, there’s little you can do short of surgery to get rid of it. You should definitely, regardless, try strength training, as increasing muscle mass might zap some of the jiggle. But you may have to find a way to live with some loafage. Take heart, though–there are ways to use clothing to camouflage problem areas. It could be a matter of wearing a higher-rise style of jeans (no, I’m not talking about Mom jeans!), or opting for half-sleeve tops rather than going sleeveless. A session with a good stylist or a personal shopper (often free at department stores) could help you figure out how to dress your new body best.