This Woman Experienced Excess Skin After Weight Loss

Although she lost 312 pounds, she never expected this very painful side effect.

When you hear about someone who lost a lot of weight, it's usually regarding how amazing they feel or how much healthier their lifestyle is now. But what about the not-so-glamorous parts, like living with loose skin or debilitating pain? 

Well, that's what happened to Indiana-based influencer Lexi Reed. Here's what you should know about why excess skin occurs and what you, like Reed, can do about it.

The Weight Loss Journey

Reed's weight-loss journey began with a New Year's resolution

On January 1, 2016, when she weighed about 485 pounds, she and her husband decided it was time to make some lifestyle changes. It was out with Netflix and junk food, and in with exercise and healthy eating, Reed told Health.

Fast forward two years, and thanks to a lot of hard work and dedication, Reed lost 312 pounds. She was finally free of the weight that had kept her, in her words, "prisoner," but no one told her she was about to face an entirely new obstacle: Loose skin.

Research has found that when skin is stretched because of weight gain and stays that way for a long time, collagen and elastin fibers in the skin become damaged and cannot retract as quickly, causing excess skin to hang from the body after a large amount of weight loss.

Unexpected Side Effects After Weight Loss

Reed started experiencing severe neck pain. She went to multiple healthcare providers, receiving various prescription medications, but nothing was helping. No healthcare provider could figure out exactly what was wrong, she said, and they started looking at her like it was all in her head.

"There were times when I didn't know if I would wake up the next day because I was in so much pain," explained Reed,

Then she had an epiphany. 

"One day, we were in the bathroom, and my husband stood behind me and lifted my stomach. So, for the first time, I could see what I would look like if my stomach wasn't covering my hips and everything else," recalled Reed. "That was the first time that I didn't feel the neck pain and all of the pain I had been feeling for months."

She couldn't believe she hadn't thought of that before, but she had never heard anyone talk about the pain that comes with loose skin. Reed explained that people typically focus on the vanity of losing weight, not the complications that can come with it.

Her struggle with her skin didn't stop there. Sometimes it felt so heavy that her arms would numb from holding it up.

Regardless of what others thought, Reed recalled knowing that she had every right to be proud of her body. 

"I would rather have 10 times more skin than I have now than be 485 pounds back on my deathbed where I wasn't able to do anything, such as even go to that theme park," noted Reed.

Removing Excess Skin

In some cases, you can try resistance training, drinking plenty of water, and using moisturizers to deal with excess skin. 

Still, the reality is that those techniques cannot reduce skin folds. The solution to getting rid of that excess skin is typically surgery, called skin excision or body contouring, completed by a board-certified plastic surgeon. It involves risks that you should discuss with a healthcare provider before deciding whether to proceed.

Reed, who eventually decided that she couldn't live her life in pain, scheduled surgery to have some of her loose skin removed. 

She recalled being terrified of surgery, but she was even more terrified of what the long-term effects of carrying that much skin could be. 

"I don't know the long-term effects because there's not a lot of research on that," said Reed.

Reed endured a nine-hour surgery performed by board-certified plastic surgeon Joseph Michaels, MD. Dr. Michaels removed some excess skin from her stomach and contoured her backside.

Life After Surgery

When Reed was a week post-surgery, she said she knew she had made the best life decision. 

"I can already tell how different my life is going to be," noted Reed.

Reed's goal was to help as many people as possible. She stated that she had planned to write a book about her experience and hoped to inspire others who want to lose weight or are trying to navigate living with loose skin.

"It's not about the weight that you lose, but the life that you gain," said Reed. "Yeah, I have loose skin, but it doesn't stop me from being able to do things like ride rollercoasters, travel on airplanes, go canoeing—all things that, at 485 pounds, I couldn't do."

A Quick Review

As in Reed's case, excess skin after extreme weight loss is not uncommon. However, excess skin may become painfully uncomfortable, impacting your quality of life. During weight gain, the collagen and elastic fibers in the skin become damaged and unable to retract following weight loss. Therefore, your skin stretches, leading to excess skin.

There are a few ways to manage excess skin—resistance training, drinking plenty of water, and using moisturizers. You may also opt to undergo body contouring surgery, as in Reed's case.

If you're experiencing excess skin, consult your healthcare provider to determine the most optimal solution that suits your experience.

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Sources
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  1. Sami K, Elshahat A, Moussa M, Abbas A, Mahmoud A. Image analyzer study of the skin in patients with morbid obesity and massive weight lossEplasty. 2015;15:e4.

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Body contouring after weight loss: What you need to know.

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