The Weight-Loss Side Effect Not Enough People Talk About

weight loss side effect
Courtesy of Sandra Costello Photography

I had always been the heaviest kid in my class. One day, I was sitting in the shade while my classmates played tag, and to keep comfortable in the heat, I’d hiked my skirt up to my underwear. A group of girls were looking over at me, giggling. One broke away from the pack and walked over.

“Like, what happened to your legs?” she said, clearly on a dare. I looked down. The marks on my inner thighs were dark red. It looked like I’d been attacked with a cheese grater. I didn’t know what to say, so I told the truth.

“My mom said they’re stretch marks,” I said, trying to sound matter-of-fact.

“GROSS!” she said, and ran away, screeching. The other kids laughed.

I was the only second-grader with breasts, and suddenly the only kid in the whole school with stretch marks.

I hit 300lbs by the time I was 18.

It was a vicious cycle. The less popular I felt, the heavier I got; the heavier I got, the less popular I was. I ate, my body stored more fat, and my skin stretched tighter over the load. The tighter my skin stretched, the less interested I was in staying active. I wanted nothing to do with sports. I faked illness to avoid putting on a bathing suit.

Time and time again, I went on diets. I’d lose a little weight, or maybe just stop gaining. I’d quit the diet and gain back whatever I’d lost. Then I’d gain more.

I hit 300 pounds by the time I was 18. I yo-yo dieted for five more years. At 23, I started losing half my bodyweight, going from a size 26/28 to a size 6. At 27, I became a personal trainer.

Very few personal trainers have ever been morbidly obese, so it makes sense that I get tons of questions about weight loss. What’s surprising is that I get almost as many questions about the loose skin that results from weight loss -- namely, how to avoid getting it, and what to do about it once you’ve got it.

Loose skin happens to everyone who loses a lot of weight

Forget everything you’ve ever heard to the contrary: if you've lost -- or ever plan to lose -- a significant amount of weight, the question is not “Will I have loose skin?” but rather “How much loose skin will I have?” That mostly depends on three factors: your age, your heaviest-ever weight, and how many times you’ve lost and regained a significant amount of weight in the past.

I was 25 when my weight leveled out in the 140s. I had lost and gained many times, but I was young, so the loss left me with only a moderate amount of loose skin. Most of it was across my stomach and upper arms -- three formless flaps that spoke volumes about what my body had been like, and been through, fat.

Ignore the empty promises of tighter skin from pills, potions, and creams.

But unlike when I was fat, no one gave me shit for those or any other parts of my body after I lost the weight. Still, after the weight was gone I continued to work hard to feel as good in and about my skin as possible.

Ignore the empty promises of tighter skin from pills, potions, and creams. If you want to keep loose skin to a minimum, there are exactly three things you can do today: don’t get any older before you drop the weight, don’t get any heavier than you are today, and address self-sabotage once and for all so you can break the yo-yo dieting cycle.

OK, so those three tips may be simple, but they certainly aren't easy. Losing a lot of weight almost never is. But if you've done it, or have plans to do it, here's what I did, and what you (and the weight-loss clients I advise) can do to feel good in and about your skin after even major weight loss:

Stay active in your skin. We're often uncomfortable being active when we're heavy. If that sounds like you, once the weight is gone, it’s time to play! Join a local rec team. Roughhouse with the kids. Run down the driveway because you can. After I lost my weight, I got super into softball. My team was The Thundercats. Thundercats. Thundercats. Thundercats. HO!

Wear clothes that work for you, and don't just go for what's fashionable. You can't force a round peg in a square hole, so don’t force yourself into clothes that were made for someone else’s body. Instead, ignore what’s trendy and invest in clothes that feel and look good on you.

Start putting yourself out there. If you hesitated to socialize when you were heavier, after weight loss is prime time to connect with more peeps. Waiting in line? Start a conversation! Return a smile. Let the eye contact linger. Show that you're open to having conversations and see who crosses your path. I met some of the coolest people on the planet after I lost weight. I even married one.

Go places you hesitated to go when you were heavier. If, like me, you found your life getting smaller the bigger your body got, now that you're a more comfortable weight, it's high time you see and do all the cool shit you’ve been putting off. Go ahead, visit the Cliffs of Moher with your sister! Go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and party like it's 1998!

Get physical with someone you love. It’s hotter if you wing it, so I’ll skip the instruction on this one.

Give your skin something strong and gorgeous to lie on top of: MUSCLE. Lift heavy weights. Lift them lots. The muscle you build will fill out your skin a bit, and with that solid, sexy foundation, don’t be surprised if you suddenly feel proud to show off your guns.

Be proud of the skin you’re in. Don’t hesitate to tell people about your body now -- specifically, about how good it feels, how much more energy and stamina you have, and how grateful you are to be healthy and alive. Giving self-love and gratitude a voice has helped me and hundreds of my clients maintain weight loss long-term.

Do whatever it takes to feel good in -- and about -- your skin. For some of us, that means repeating positive affirmations. For others, it means having skin removal surgery. No matter your approach, it’s all good so long as you’re making informed, caring choices that enable you to be healthy physically AND mentally.

Take time to slow down and relax. The period after weight loss can be a busy time full of new challenges, especially if you’re getting more active. Don’t forget to slow things down and enjoy some low-key sensuality, like massage, gentle yoga, or more of No. 5.

Remember that your body tells a story -- YOUR story. Your skin and your scars are a record of your past, and your past is what makes your story powerful and inspirational. Listen to your body. Learn from it. Take care of it. Treat it well and you’ll have the power and the energy to write yourself a kickass future.  

My classmate and I are all grown up, and we still run into each other occasionally. When we happen to cross paths, I’m always walking tall, smiling, and feeling good about my body. I don’t give a shit if she notices my batwings. My body is my story, and the longer I treat my body well, the better the story gets.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Sign up HERE now for Kelly Coffey’s free online workshop ‘Why We Sabotage Ourselves with Food and What We Can Do About It.’ She’s also on Facebook. Shocker!