Why you can't read too much into before and after pictures....
You have seen the before and after pictures and you are excited. Kate dropped 5 stone and now has an eight pack. Jane has lost so much weight that she can fit into the jeans of her teenage daughter. Suneeta got rid of her bingo wings and became a supermodel. Suzanne went from podgy to ripped and now has a boyfriend for the first time in 20 years. You want that. You want that quick fix – that miracle cure. You want to be perfect, to feel better about yourself. So you go ahead and sign up to that juice fast, that detox, that keto-diet plan, that new lifestyle or that retreat. You decide to give up carbs/sugar/meat/grains/solid food and swallow some mystical supplements, give yourself coffee enemas and drink detox tea
…but of course, you decide that you are going to “start tomorrow” or “on Monday” and in the mean-time you snuggle up on the sofa with a few (/the whole packet of) biscuits, some popcorn, (several pieces of) cake and you might as well have some more pizza too…just “one last slice” before you “never eat pizza again”.
Sound familiar? Before and after pictures are very often used to sell diets, weight loss plans or supplements. Many people will look at these pictures and buy into the promise of quick and miraculous results. Many people will see the journeys that others have been on and want the same for themselves. But there are several reasons why you just can't read too much into before and after pictures:
1. You don't see what happened AFTER the "after" picture
Before and after pictures only capture two very specific moments in time. You don't get to see what happened before, in between or after these two moments in time. Very often people that go on very restrictive diets will then steadily gain back any weight they have lost after the diet is over (most regaining all of the weight within one year). You also don't see the pain and torment that someone may have faced in order to achieve the "after" results. Perhaps they isolated themselves for weeks, felt hungry and irritable and skipped lots of dinners/lunches with friends. A picture really doesn't give us much information and is often very carefully curated in order to sell a certain narrative/ product/ service.
2. Any diet works short-term, the problem is sticking to it long-term
The research on weight loss shows that many diets will work if you can stick to them. Low fat, low carb, calorie-counting etc. will all work short-term but can you really imagine yourself eating that way for the rest of your life? The issue with before and after pictures is that they just represent the fact that restricting your food intake will allow you to lose weight - BUT WE ALL KNOW THIS ALREADY. The big problem in the weight loss industry is that most people find it very difficult to sustain weight loss. This is often because restrictive diets are almost impossible to keep up for the long-term.
3. Even if we all ate and exercised the same, we would all look different
Before and after pictures often sell a particular diet or way of life. The narrative around the photos is often "if you do this too - you can also look like this". The problem, however, is that even if we all ate and exercised exactly the same, we would all look completely different. What works for one person when it comes to diet and nutrition, won't necessarily work for someone else. Our genetic make-up, hormonal profile, microbiome, and unique build all shape what may suit us and our unique body. This means that even if we followed what the person in the "before" picture did, it doesn't mean that we would necessarily end up looking like their "after" picture anyway.
4. Pictures don't capture the state of someone's mental health
Whilst you may see what someone has achieved physically in an "after" picture, you don't see how they are feeling emotionally or psychologically. Restrictive diets tend to have a negative impact on people's mood. Feeling hungry a lot of the time, skipping meals with friends, obsessing over every calorie can lead to low mood, stress and anxiety. When looking at an "after" picture it is important to remember that we don't know what psychological torment someone may have had to endure in order to achieve the results they are boasting.
5. Photos can be edited or filtered and posing/ angles can change appearance in a photo
Photos don't always represent reality. You could create pretty miraculous "before and after" pictures taken a few seconds apart, just by posing differently in the two pictures, using different lighting or using filters or editing tools.
Before and after pictures really are a bit of a scam. As humans, we are naturally impatient and so we want fast results. We see before and after pictures and just instinctively want to achieve the same quick results for ourselves. However, research indicates that the majority of people that lose weight on a quick-fix diet just regain that weight within a year (often plus more weight). Rather than staying on that constant rollercoaster of losing lots of weight and then regaining it all again, it is much more sustainable to try to understand what drives your food behaviours and to shift your mindset and habits around food.
If you would like some support to rebuild your relationship with food in a way that is likely to stick for the long-term, get in touch with us at email@example.com to book in a free consultation.
“The diet industry is making a lot of money selling us fad diets, nonfat foods full of chemicals, gym memberships, and pills while we lose a piece of our self-esteem every time we fail another diet or neglect to use the gym membership we could barely afford.” ― Portia de Rossi