The perils of rapid weight loss
Marion Bartoli last made a stir at Wimbledon in 2013. Sadly, not so much for her powerful two-handed shots as for the storm whipped up by John Inverdale’s remark that she was “never going to be a looker”.
Despite Inverdale’s apparent concern that Bartoli’s appearance would hamper her ability to be anything other than a scrappy fighter on the tennis court, three years later she is back in London, joining him as part of the BBC commentary team at this year’s championship.
Ironically, she is also back in the news for her appearance.
Last time, she was criticised, in effect, for being too chunky. This time it is the 31-year-old’s weight loss – allegedly more than three stone in the past three years – that has caused a flow of comments, with fans on Twitter claiming to be “concerned” about her “gaunt” look.
Bartoli is not the only celebrity to face this kind of scrutiny: last month, people remarked that Colin Firth, 55, was almost unrecognisable at Cannes, after he had slimmed down dramatically to play a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma railway.
You could write off public obsession with others’ weight – which begins in the playground long before it reaches the red carpet – as a mix of voyeurism and envy. What a tennis player or actor or anyone else, for that matter, chooses to eat is up to them.
Yet it can’t help but become a talking point because so many of us are desperate on the one hand to find a way to shed pounds quickly, while on the other feeling fear of sudden or extreme weight loss – which often signifies weakness and ill-health.
Moreover, when we see familiar faces change from gently rounded to gaunt and looking suddenly older, a frisson of schadenfreude may comfort those of us who are still rather well-covered.
Think of Nigel Lawson’s dramatic change when he lost five stone in 1992, and in that one year seemed to age decades. Or Matthew McConaughey, who appeared 30 years older after becoming 30 pounds lighter for his role in Dallas Buyers Club.
At some point, most of us have to choose between our face and our figure. The plump, comely cheeks associated with youth, health and beauty tend to go M.I.A. when you have squeezed every last fat cell from your thighs to have a body that looks, well, young, healthy and beautiful. Which makes Dawn French’s seven-stone weight loss over the past four years even more remarkable, for having left her face line-free.
“The key point,” says dietitian Dr Sarah Schenker, “is that we all have stubborn areas of fat, and at some point we have to accept them. You can diet and diet but some fatty bits will remain and you’ll lose too much from your chest and face, where you may not want to lose it. It’s about deciding: can I be happy with a pot belly and thicker thighs to have a more youthful-looking face?”
That choice is not as superficial as it sounds. Dr Schenker says that losing too much weight too fast can cause sarcopenia – the loss of muscle mass that happens with ageing and is a cause of frailty among the elderly. “Bear in mind,” she says, “that you can’t prevent that by just eating more protein. You need to combine cardio work to lose fat with weight-bearing exercise to build muscle.”
Bartoli is “perfectly happy” with her new look, which she says is due in part to retirement from tennis and “sketching all day” instead of “squat-lifting 200kg”.
But she also has a new interest in clean eating, shared on Instagram, where she talks of following a diet free of gluten, dairy, sugar and salt but full of vegetables, salads, grains and protein shakes. “I never get sick,” she said recently. “I think I look OK, and I’m in good health.”
Dr Schenker, however, warns against relying on protein shakes as they may not supply all the nutrients you need. “To keep hair and skin looking good, and avoid the dreaded ‘gym face’,” – the gaunt, lined look of the workout obsessive – “remember that you do need some fat.”
Dr Nick Lowe of the Cranley Clinic in London points out that how we look after weight loss is also genetic. Sometimes, skinny equals stringy because it’s in our DNA.
“This is true for both men and women,” he says. “Some look really well with minimal fat deposition but others just look older. They do a lot of exercise and lose weight, and as part of that lose volume from their faces, and places like the back of their hands, which they don’t like.”
So is there any way of making face and body match? Dr Lowe suggests the latest generation of fillers can help above the neck, or non-invasive fat-reducing therapies for the body.
For clients who have dieted successfully, but are concerned about thin faces, Dr Lowe offers a new form of injectable to stimulate more collagen and plump up the skin called polycaprolactone (PCP).
“It’s longer-lasting – from 18 to 30 months – and needs fewer treatments to get that restored volume,” he says, though treatments start at $950.
For those who would rather diet less vigorously and use treatments for spot-fat reduction, Dr Lowe recommends a procedure developed by dermatologists from Harvard University that involves targeting and cooling fat cells until they crystallise and break down naturally.
“No matter how much exercise you do,” he says, “most of us can never completely lose the fat pads on our abdomens, under our chins, and on our lower backs. Often women come to me post-pregnancy, too.”
For these patients, he offers a therapy called CoolAdvantage; sessions last 35 minutes and prices start at $1300.
There is of course a cheaper (yet more valuable) alternative – learn to love yourself as you are.
Says Dr Schenker: “If you have weight on your thighs that you can’t shift through dieting, you may just have to learn to dress differently. The key to ageing well is being strong and healthy.”
The Telegraph, London
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