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How a Big Weight Loss Can Change You

Dec 11 2020
6 min read
Woman smiling and looking forward while sitting on a log outside.

Losing weight is one of the most worthwhile steps you can take for your health, but we all know that the journey isn’t easy.

Shedding a lot of weight can, of course, be particularly challenging. If you’ve done it, first off, congratulations. You’ve achieved a tremendous goal — one that will likely reward you with a renewed sense of self-esteem, fewer aches and pains and a decreased risk for a wide variety of diseases, not to mention a better sex life and a big boost in confidence.

As you enjoy these benefits, though, you may find yourself in the sometimes confusing state of feeling both happy and unsatisfied. The latter often comes when you are unprepared for some of the other life changes that substantial weight loss can bring:

Sagging Skin

When weight loss is gradual — say, a loss of one to three pounds per week — or when someone doesn’t have much to lose, skin’s elasticity typically allows it to “shrink” back to normal when fat is lost. That said, there are factors that affect the skin’s ability to adjust to a significant weight loss, including the health of the skin and age (over time our skin loses collagen, diminishing elasticity). And when skin has been stretched drastically due to obesity and weight loss (typically of more than 100 pounds) happens quickly, it doesn’t have time to catch up and you may notice some excess folds in areas such as your stomach, arms and inner thighs. How this looks might bother you, but you may also experience pain due to chafing that occurs when excess skin rubs against clothing or other parts of your body.

Emotional Highs and Lows

Almost every weight-loss journey includes a deep look into your emotions. You may have always thought of yourself as a “fat person” and find it difficult to see yourself differently, or feel uncomfortable with the newfound attention. This can be unsettling — particularly when you examine how your feelings affect what you eat and drink. Perhaps you’ve realized that you have used food to improve your mood, which wasn’t ideal. Given the complicated feelings many of us have around weight and food, you should expect some level of emotional discomfort along with the elation you feel as you slim down. “It’s so important to understand that a weight change is not only physical, but mental and emotional, too,” says Stephen Brewer, M.D., a doctor at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “The journey of weight loss can be of importance beyond the goal of healthy body composition. The opportunity to look at thoughts and feelings, especially the ones that are unpleasant, can represent an amazing portal into greater health and healing. I would encourage someone to speak about any difficult feelings with a mental health professional and with close friends and family.”

Feeling Sick

You’re likely to feel much more energized after losing a lot of weight, thanks to improved sleep and simply carrying fewer pounds around. However, you may feel sluggish, especially if you’re exercising too much and eating too little. Some research shows that environmental pollutants such as pesticides, that are stored in fat cells, are released into the bloodstream following weight loss, which can leave you feeling run-down or even ill; this correlation, though, has not been proven. The body’s changes and its chemistry and hormones may need time to reset and find a new balance.

Mixed Messages

Reaching your weight-loss goal deserves to be celebrated, and no doubt your friends and family have given you major kudos for your hard work. Yet some people may be conflicted about your weight loss, perhaps expressing jealousy, concern that you’ve lost too much, or regret, sadness or even anger that you’re no longer indulging like they do. This kind of feedback can be tough to grapple with, particularly if your friends are very vocal about their feelings and how they believe your healthy habits affect them.

These physical and emotional changes following a tremendous weight loss can be tricky to navigate, especially if you’ve been overweight for all or most of your life. You may find this advice helpful as you work to handle these situations:

Stay Committed to Your New, Healthy Living Ways

When you face challenges — whether they’re your own emotional hurdles or unkind reactions from friends or loved ones — you may be tempted to slip back into your former habits. These are the times when you’ll need to recommit to your goals and remind yourself of what you’ve accomplished so far. Reconnecting with the reasons why you embarked on this process can help you stay on track, too.

Give Yourself Time

If you’ve been overweight for as long as you can remember, it’s going to take time to see yourself in a new light. So be gentle with yourself (and those around you) and trust that both you and the people you love most will slowly but surely settle into your new, healthier way of life.

Consider Cosmetic Surgery

If you don’t want to live with sagging skin and you’ve exhausted non-surgical options (such as exercise) with the help of your healthcare team, a procedure known as body contouring — in which extra fat and skin are removed and the shape of underlying tissue is improved — may help. Research published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery shows that people who had excess skin removed following weight-loss surgery were less likely to regain the lost weight compared to those who had the surgery but did not undergo a body contouring procedure. Many perspectives and experts can help toward connecting to your best health.

Support your Journey at Canyon Ranch

The factors that influence weight are as diverse as they are personal. Our integrative pathways and weight loss retreats support the whole you, combining the right mix of services with individualized guidance, programming, and amenities for lasting change.

A headshot of Dr. Stephen Brewer

About the Expert

A headshot of Dr. Stephen Brewer

Stephen C. Brewer

MD, ABFM, Medical Director

Dr. Brewer knows from experience that the key to balancing a busy professional life with personal wellness is to find a plan that works with your lifestyle. He is passionate about helping our guests discover that balance for themselves.

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