What Really Happens to Your Body When You Lose A Lot of Weight?
Losing weight can be intensely challenging, particularly for those who want to shed 100 pounds or more. While finally reaching your target weight can feel wonderful, in addition to improving a number of health conditions or mobility issues, it’s not always a simple process emotionally. In fact, many weight loss patients find they are still unhappy about aspects of their body long after the extra weight is gone.
If you’ve lost a large amount of weight and are feeling conflicted about your results, you’re not alone. There are a number of things that happen when you lose a lot of weight that people don’t often talk about—we’ve outlined some of the most common below.
It’s not always happily ever after right away
Those who have gone through the long, often trying weight loss journey will tell you that physical evidence of progress—whether it’s the number on the scale going down or pants fitting more loosely—is one of the biggest motivators to continue. It also helps to inspire positive feelings about yourself and your accomplishments.
Any big life change can put you on an emotional rollercoaster—and the emotional ups and downs of weight loss don’t always stop when the scale hits your goal number.
You might feel a little lost or unsure where to focus your energy
The problem for some patients is that, when the journey ends and your weight loss goal has been met, this tangible accomplishment cycle ends—and maintaining a fit body is not necessarily as obviously rewarding as pursuing weight loss. At this point, a “weight loss hangover” can make it easy to feel like you have no purpose or direction.
Sometimes, completing a weight loss goal results in an unhealthy obsession with being healthy, always chasing that smaller pants size or losing an extra pound here or there. Other times, you may find you are fixating on “fixing” other problems rather than taking time to enjoy life.
You might feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster
Any big life change can put you on an emotional rollercoaster—and the emotional ups and downs of weight loss don’t always stop when the scale hits your goal number. As a society, we’ve been fed the idea that once you look a certain way, everything else will fall into place. Carefree “after” photos that ooze self-confidence depict a reality that many who’ve lost a significant amount of weight don’t experience right away, and that alone can leave you feeling guilty, confused, and unsure of yourself.
Relationships with friends and even interactions with strangers change
Additionally, you may find that your existing relationships or interactions with strangers have changed. You may be spending more time with friends you made at the gym or in support groups instead of buddies who you used to get takeout and binge watch TV with.
You might also be unsure how to react or feel about the attention your weight loss is garnering—and the feeling of being in the spotlight, whether you are overweight or slim, is often an uncomfortable one. It’s common to question other people’s motives, “are they only being nice because I look fitter?”, or to distrust compliments.
Remember, weight loss has changed more than just your body—and the experience may have made you a slightly different person than you were before. Consider seeking out counseling to help you cope with these challenges and find your new emotional center.
Chances are, you’ll still struggle with body image
Feeling positive about the way your body looks and feels doesn’t happen overnight, and most everyone has one or two things about themselves that they simply don’t like. It can be a letdown to still not feel totally happy with yourself when you look in the mirror after you’ve lost weight, but it’s a process. A smaller body does not always equal greater confidence.
Before & after images plastered on magazine covers don’t always highlight the realities of what post-weight loss bodies look like.
Many who have lost the excess weight that plagued them still think of themselves as an overweight person, wearing clothes that are much too large for their new, smaller proportions or feeling like they’re taking up too much space in the world. Weight loss isn’t just a physical metamorphosis, it’s also a mental and emotional transformation—and your mind may need some time to catch up with your body.
In some cases, you may feel discouraged because you simply don’t look like you thought you would, which brings us to our next point:
Your body probably isn’t going to look the same as someone who has always been naturally thin
The weight loss #TransformationTuesday photos you see on Instagram don’t always highlight the realities of what post-weight loss bodies look like. Many aren’t prepared for the fact that their body doesn’t look toned even when they are eating healthy foods and working out just like the people they admire online.
Remember that weight loss success stories you see often emphasize all the good while skimming over (or even retouching out) the grittier details. The truth is, even supermodels have stretch marks—and while your skin can shrink and expand to some degree, skin that has been stretched beyond its genetic capacity will not fully “bounce back” on its own.
If you’ve lost a lot of weight, you will have surface stretch marks and sagging skin. This can range anywhere from stretch marks and a “pooch” on the abdomen to uncomfortable amounts of loose skin hanging all over the body that causes chafing, inflammation, and skin infections. Even if you returned to a past weight, your shape may look quite different from before due to pockets of fat that didn’t shrink as much as other areas of your body.
It can be difficult to think of these body changes as badges of honor from your hard-earned weight loss. Regardless of whether you accept your new body as-is or seek further medical treatment, it’s critical to take care of your mental health and well-being.
Getting together in person with others who can relate to your challenges can be an excellent source of support and ideas—if you’re not sure where to start, your doctor can point you to local support groups. Individual counseling or therapy can also be key to coping with body image challenges as well as evolving personal relationships. Additionally, when looking for online health and beauty advice, seek out real people dealing with the same challenges rather than only following “ideal” Instagrammers and health bloggers.
Medical treatments for sagging skin
For those with moderate skin sagging issues, popular lifting procedures such as tummy tuck, breast lift, and arm lift can target specific problem areas. Patients who’ve lost more than 50 pounds often choose more extensive post-weight loss body lift surgery, which is recommended when excess skin around the entire torso makes choosing clothing or working out difficult.
Body lift surgery physically removes lax, drooping skin and pulls remaining skin taut, helping to highlight underlying musculature and the natural contours of the body. For patients who have lost a substantial amount of weight and feel held back by the loose skin left behind, it can be a life-changing procedure. However, the choice must be undertaken with care: body lifting procedures typically require general anesthesia and a multi-week recovery.
Following are some safety tips. First off, you’ll need to choose a board certified plastic surgeon with extensive experience in body lifting—be sure they can show you before and after photos of patients like you. Ask if you can also speak to other patients about their surgery and recovery. Additionally, to further safeguard your improved health, it’s critical to verify that your surgeon operates in an accredited operating facility with hospital level safeguards and uses a board certified MD anesthesiologist (or CRNA supervised by an MD anesthesiologist).
In Western North Carolina? We’d be glad to help with restoring your shape after weight loss.
If you’re considering body lift surgery in Asheville or are interested in learning more about your options, we’d love to help—contact us today to schedule a private consultation with Dr. Conway.