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The Downside of Rapid Weight Loss

Written by Gregory Nikolaidis, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on January 7, 2014 14 Comments

lean stomach pic

Most people who are looking to shed pounds want immediate results. The desire for quick and instant weight loss fuels a billion dollar fat loss industry filled with gimmicky products and extreme diet plans. Interestingly and somewhat ironically, many of the individuals who seek a quick drop in body weight to improve their looks do not realize that rapidly shedding pounds can negatively impact personal appearance in the long run.

Rapid weight loss does not always equate to fat loss. Fat burning requires a specific set of conditions within the body. With quick weight loss, the numbers on the scale are often simply reflecting a loss of water weight. They may also be indicating a burning off of lean tissue as the body goes into starvation and cannibalization mode. Weight lost in this way is unstable; the weight almost always comes back at the end of your diet. Water weight replaces itself as the body finds homeostasis (steady state). Eat a salty meal or have an extra bowl of cereal and you will see the pounds come back (carbohydrates and sodium hold water). Loss of lean tissue commonly results in a lower metabolic rate, leading to rapid weight gain right after the weight loss phase has ended. This set of events is clearly not producing the long term benefit anyone wants.

Even worse, crash dieting and other rapid weight loss methods can have serious negative effects on one’s dermatological health.

Health Issues Related to Rapid Weight Loss

Acne: Rapid drops in body weight can cause acne. The drastic change in body weight may create a hormonal shift in the body resulting in an acne breakout. In addition, many fad diets are of poor nutritional quality. The lacking vitamins and nutrients in the diet can have a negative impact on your skin, making it more susceptible to blemishes.

Excess Skin: Human skin is very durable and amazingly elastic. However, rapid weight loss can limit the time the skin has to adapt to a change in body shape. The elasticity of the skin has its limits, and it may not be able to keep up with the changes of the underlying tissue and structures. This can lead to excess sagging skin which is common to the arms, the thighs, and the abdomen. In the case of significant weight loss, this excess skin can sometimes be so unsightly; it can create a loss of confidence and result in serious body image issues. In extreme cases, an individual’s appearance after fat loss can be worse than that before the weight loss. In these cases surgical body contouring treatments may be necessary to remove excess skin and reshape the body.

Potential Hair Loss Issues: To the body, a large drop in mass can be a traumatic experience, much like a car accident or childbirth. This trauma can trigger a hair loss condition called elogen effluvium. In this state, hair follicles go through a telogen phase (death phase). After four to six months those dead hairs fall out as new hair begins to grow in the follicle and push the old dead hairs out.

Conclusion

Dramatic and rapid weight loss can have unexpected negative effects on physical appearance and health. To avoid these issues, aim for slow and continuous weight loss which means 1-2 pounds per week. This pace gives your body the natural time it needs to adapt. During the weight loss period, take care of your skin by drinking plenty of water and getting the antioxidants and fatty acids your body needs. By focusing on the long term, you can be sure to get the results you deserve after all of your hard work.


Gregory Nikolaidis, MD

Gregory A. Nikolaidis, MD is a Board Certified Dermatologist. Dr. Nikolaidis serves as a Botox® Cosmetic Black Diamond Level National Education Faculty Member, and he has additionally trained numerous physicians on Sculptra Aesthetic, Radiesse, Restylane, and other non-invasive procedure techniques. He was among the first cosmetic surgeons in the United States to offer Smartlipo laser body contouring.


14 Responses to “The Downside of Rapid Weight Loss”

  1. Avatar Christina says:

    It’s difficult to find surgeons to trust on this particular subject, but you seem like you know what you’re
    talking about! Thanks

  2. Avatar Lisa H. says:

    Was just wondering if overweight people have acne ? And if so will weight loss improve their acne?

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Lisa, there have been well documented cases where weight loss is correlated with improving skin conditions including acne. However this would depend on the specific individual.

  3. Avatar carol says:

    Good article. I definitely appreciate this website. Keep it up!

  4. Avatar Maegan says:

    Hello Gregory,

    We know you keep up-to-date on all things fitness and weight loss, so we’d love to hear your thoughts on the following article written by Kris Gunnars of Authority Nutrition.

    In it, Kris outlines how to lose weight as quickly as possible. You can see the article here:

    https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-lose-weight-as-fast-as-possible

    As an expert on this topic, we’d like to know your thoughts on the following:

    1) Is it safe?
    2) Is it true?
    3) Is it something you’d share with your clients?

    We look forward to hearing your feedback and discussing a continued partnership.

    In health,

    Maegan

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Maegan,

      Thanks for reading our post and reaching out! I’ll forward your contact info to Dr. Nik so he can contact you directly.

      Thanks again!

      WD Staff

  5. Avatar Dan says:

    I really don’t know how to slow down my weight-loss, been losing weight like a Bandit, and gaining acne all over, it’s upsetting, and understandable now to me, after reading this.

  6. Avatar Bianca says:

    My skin was clear and recently I’ve had a sudden drop in my weight causing acne to appear all over my face, neck, chest, and upper back. I’m not sure what to do about treatment.

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Bianca,

      We’re sorry to hear about the acne development, however it can be quite common during sudden weight fluctuations. We’d recommend seeing a dermatologist to determine what the specific issue may be (i.e. hormonal changes, or changes stemming from lifestyle changes like diet). A professional should be able to diagnose the exact cause and recommend an effective treatment option.

      I hope that helps!

      Thanks,
      WD Staff

  7. Avatar Kim An says:

    I used to be very thin and pale (people describe me as a lifeless person) because I don’t like to eat and my body does not take much nution from the food I eat. I used medicine to eat more and that caused me to gain weight. I was happy that I look much better than before. But somehow that has caused my acne to break out. Should I continue to eat like this so my body can be familiar with my new eating habit or should I reduce the food I eat?
    Excuse me for my bad English

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Kim An,

      We would refer you to a nutritionist or your personal care physician as we do not specialize in dietary functions. It sounds like it might be a good idea to see a doctor in your area and get assessed in person. They will be able to go over your previous health history and recommend the best program for your needs.

      Sorry we can’t be more help 🙁

      Thanks,
      WD Staff

  8. Avatar Helvin says:

    Any tips on when one should get a tummy tuck after losing a bunch of weight? I’m due to undergo gastric bypass (more for health reasons than appearance) next month and I fear I will be left with a crazy amount of excess skin 🙁

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Helvin,

      We’re actually working on a blog post on this issue now. Basically you will need to be fully recovered from your bypass surgery (and cleared for plastic surgery from your bypass surgeon). You should also wait until you are at or near your target weight (i.e. when you’ve lost all the wait you aim to lose). You’ll want to be at a weight that you know you will be able to maintain in order to preserve your tummy tuck results.

      Make sure to research plastic surgeons and choose one that is Board Certified and has experienced doing abdominoplasty after dramatic weight loss.

      We hope that helps!

      Thanks,
      WD Staff

  9. Avatar Chintan says:

    Finally I found something which I was looking for…I am on my weight loss program. And happy to reduced 8 to 10 kgs in 5 months. But the only disappointment or demotivating factor is Acne all over face..I consulted dermatologist too but they have offered treatment but No Results even after 5 months. I had initially Hair fall too but that is now slower down. But Acne is still worst.

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