Source: Weight Watchers; By Colleen Travers
Heads up: Your feet may get smaller when you lose weight—maybe even enough to change your shoe size. Read on for an expert guide to how weight loss affects your body below the ankles.
You might expect to buy jeans in a different size when you lose weight, but new sneakers? It turns out your hips and arms aren’t the only body parts that change shape as you shed pounds; your feet may take on a new size, too. Read on as experts explain how weight loss can make your feet smaller, and get the lowdown on other foot-related changes that can happen when you lose weight.
Do feet get smaller when you lose weight? In most cases, yes. While it may not be noticeable for everyone, weight loss does tend to result in smaller feet, says Lauren Wurster, DPM, a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association and a foot and ankle surgery specialist at Foot & Ankle Clinics of Arizona. Makes sense when you consider that weight loss reduces fat distribution all over the body, potentially affecting everything from breast size to skin appearance. “The overall bony structure of the feet doesn’t change, but the amount of soft tissue decreases,” Dr. Wurster says. Plus, as a person loses weight, pressure on feet comes down, too, which can reduce spreading and swelling, Dr. Wurster continues. The result? Your shoes may feel looser than they used to.
Can weight loss change your shoe size? Sometimes weight loss can shrink feet enough to change a person’s shoe size—good to know when planning out your style budget. In one 12-month study published in 2017, volunteers who lost 50 to 100 pounds (through sleeve gastrectomy) saw their shoe sizes decrease by one full number on average. And don’t be surprised if you have to drop from, say, an EE width to a D width—your feet’s side-to-side measurements may decrease with weight loss, as well. You can credit reduced pressure on your paws for that: The foot’s tendons and ligaments stretch in response to weight from the rest of the body, says Rebecca Pruthi, DPM, a foot surgeon at Foot Care of Manhattan in New York City. Losing weight reduces some of that pressure, so the foot doesn’t fan out as much, Dr. Pruthi continues.
Other ways weight loss might affect feet In addition to reducing the size of feet, losing weight can affect how feet function while a person is standing and moving. Here are two common changes that can occur:
Improved biomechanics: Weight-related stress on feet can increase the risk of pain and injury by flattening arches and leading to over-pronation, a rolling in of ankles when walking or running, Dr. Pruthi says. Losing weight may improve overpronation and arch form—and help reduce injury risk.
Reduced-force footstrikes: Your feet and ankles absorb a force equivalent to approximately 120% of your body weight with each step, Dr. Wurster says. (Make that 275% of your weight if you run!) That may be why research suggests there’s a direct correlation between weight and chronic heel discomfort. One study published in the journal Gait & Posture found that a 10% decrease in body weight results in a significant reduction in force on the sole of the foot, which may decrease foot pain.
Other factors that may affect foot size Changes in weight aren’t the only reasons you may notice your feet growing or shrinking. Here are three additional reasons foot size may change:
Pregnancy: When a person is expecting, the body increases production of the hormones relaxin and progesterone, which loosen ligaments and relax joints to help the pelvis widen for childbirth, Dr. Wurster says. “This also relaxes the foot ligaments, causing arches to lower and leading to a larger foot,” she explains.
Aging: Over time, feet can spread as ligaments in the foot naturally become more lax, Dr. Pruthi says. Fat pads on the balls of the foot and heel may also thin with age, decreasing the foot’s overall width and depth.
Certain medical conditions: Diseases such as arthritis may alter the structure of bones in your feet, affecting their shape and size. “Arthritis can lead to irregular bony growths—called osteophytes—and changes in the foot position, including arch collapse,” Dr. Wurster says. If you experience pain, skin changes, swelling, or other foot-related forms of discomfort, see a foot specialist or your regular healthcare provider to figure out what’s up.
The upshot: Smaller feet may result from weight loss If you’ve recently lost weight and your feet look and feel smaller than they used to, it’s not your imagination. A reduced amount of overall body fat, plus a reduction in weight-related mechanical foot pressure, may result in your feet noticeably narrowing or shortening. Just bear in mind that if you develop new foot issues, particularly pain or sudden swelling, it’s best to see a podiatrist. A doctor can rule out other possible health concerns—and ensure the only thing your feet need is a new set of kicks.
-- Colleen Travers is a freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness, and fitness. -- This article was reviewed for accuracy in June 2021 by Christi Smith, MS, CSCS, associate manager for science translation at WW. The WW Science Team is a dedicated group of experts who ensure all our solutions are rooted in the best possible research.