If you ask most people what causes a flabby-looking belly, they’ll immediately answer “excess fat.” However, while excess fat can certainly be a contributor to poor abdominal tone, it’s not the only reason why people struggle to get a flat stomach. Excess skin can also cause this condition, and the treatment used to get rid of it is very different to the one required for stubborn fat deposits.
How to Tell if You Have Excess Skin
If you’re a healthy weight but have distinct stomach “rolls,” you should check for the presence of loose skin before deciding on a plan of action. The following factors make the presence of loose skin more likely:
You’ve been overweight or pregnant in the past.
Whenever our stomach expands, our skin must expand to accommodate it. For some people, this isn’t a big deal; thanks to excellent genes, they have unusually strong, elastic connective tissues that snap back into place after they lose weight or give birth. Alas, for most people, this isn’t the case. Their skin remains stretched even after their stomach has shrunk back to its former size. This loose skin forms unsightly rolls that are easy to mistake for excess fat, particularly because they do often contain some subcutaneous fat. Most healthy people have about an inch of fat under their skin, but when the skin is taut, it’s not very noticeable.
You’re over 40.
As we age, our bodies produce less and less collagen and elastin, two compounds that keep our skin strong and firm. This process occurs very gradually, so you probably won’t notice your skin getting looser until it starts to form visible folds. Adding to this issue, our bodies redistribute fat as we get older; fat leaves our extremities and instead collects around the abdomen. This can worsen the appearance of loose skin, and the additional weight this fat places on the skin tends to cause further skin stretching over time.
To verify the presence of loose skin, cosmetic surgeons suggest trying the pinch test. If you can pinch more than an inch (especially if you’re not overweight), then you probably have at least some amount of excess skin.
Keep in mind that while we think of excess fat as always being jiggly and “pinchable,” this actually isn’t the case. One of the most harmful types of belly fat—visceral fat—is actually quite dense and typically packed around the organs, making it all but impossible to pinch. Ergo, if you have a belly that protrudes but you can’t pinch more than an inch of subcutaneous fat, your problem is probably excess fat. If, on the other hand, you can pinch two or more inches, or your skin stretches two or more inches away from your abdomen when you pull it, you’re probably dealing with excess skin.
Why the Difference Between Loose Skin and Excess Fat Matters
Treating excess fat is surprisingly easy, thanks to advances in aesthetic medicine and liposuction techniques. Today, patients who want to get rid of stubborn fat deposits have a range of procedures to choose from. Fat can be frozen away, heated and destroyed via laser technology, or removed through liposuction. Liposuction can be performed with just local anesthetic and very thin tubes called cannulas, so it’s one of the easiest plastic surgery procedures to recover from.
Treating excess skin, on the other hand, requires a more invasive approach. Tummy tuck surgery is almost always needed in this case, as loose skin must literally be cut away before the skin can be pulled taut again. Sometimes patients with just a small amount of loose skin can have what’s known as a “mini” tummy tuck, where loose skin is removed from the lower abdomen only. However, most patients who have been pregnant or obese in the past need a full tummy tuck. These patients have usually sustained some amount of damage to their abdominal muscles, and this needs to be repaired, in addition to skin removal.
While tummy tuck surgery is fairly low-risk, the invasive nature of this surgery means that patients need to prepare for it properly. If you have a significant amount of loose skin, you should be aware that recovering completely from tummy tuck surgery usually takes about two months, and you’ll need to take at least one week off work. You’ll also need to avoid lifting heavy objects. However, when you’re done healing, your abdominal muscles will be fully functional again—allowing you to strengthen them via core exercises. If you put in the effort required, you’ll be able to achieve not only a flat stomach, but one with visible muscle tone. For this reason, most tummy tuck patients say that their surgery was more than worth it.