“Before” and “After” pictures seem to be everywhere, especially as it relates to encouraging weight loss. Honestly, this strategy makes me cringe. Is this really helpful or necessary? Before you glaze over and stop reading because you are thinking, “what’s the problem…these images really motivate individuals to achieve the desired result”, I challenge you to consider what an individual’s “after” the “after” picture looks like? For example, regarding weight loss, it has been proposed that only 2 out of 10 people who achieve modest weight loss are able to sustain that weight loss for greater than one year (Wing and Phelan, 2005). For the remaining dieters, most gain all or more of their weight back within one to three years. Was it because the successful 20% had before and after images?
In fact, individuals consistently come to me expressing their frustration over losing tens or even hundreds of pounds using the latest diet trend, supplement, weight loss program, and bariatric surgery, only to regain all of which they have lost. It breaks my heart when I see folks who have made significant healthy behavior changes with eating and exercise, but still are not happy with their “after” picture and turn to the next diet trend to “lose that last 10 pounds”. So, is this approach really motivating and helpful? Perhaps in the short term. But, at the very least, these images don’t seem to encourage long-lasting success, and at the worse, this approach continues to feed into our culture’s obsession with achieving a certain “look” and even more disappointment when that “look” can’t be achieved or sustained. My question is what do you want your “after” the “after” picture to really look like? My hope is that each individual will consider their success to be measured by some of the following qualities, not just a picture.
1) Overall health. Improving health markers, such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar can happen when an individual participates in regular activity along with a balanced approach to nutrition. Many of these benefits are related to a slight decrease in weight, but can also occur with consistent lifestyle changes. An added benefit is decreasing the worry about these conditions.
2) Emotional well-being. Eating well, healthy activity and regular sleep can make a significant impact on your emotional state of mind. Although advertisements aim to convince us that weight loss alone will make us “happy”, the truth is that physical activity and eating well stimulates various brain chemicals that help us manage stress and emotions so we can feel more relaxed and peaceful.
3) Healthy eating behaviors. Many individuals work very hard to lose weight. Incorporating behaviors such as mindful eating, planning meals, cooking more, physical activity, and exploring new healthy foods are important and admirable. These intentional behaviors can result in more energy, sustainable weight control and a positive relationship with food, exercise, and weight. Sadly, too many miss the benefit of their accomplishments because of focusing on one thing – body size.
4) Decreased health care costs. These days, staying out of the doctor’s office due to disease and illness offers huge dividends. There is so much we can do to decrease disease risk with a healthy lifestyle. Much of this is a common sense, balanced approach to nutrition. My mantra is “eat to live” rather than a fear based approach to food and weight. Fear doesn’t help anyone, while accomplishing positive health changes with positive support can be enjoyable and fun!
5) Improved body image. Focusing on positive behavior change rather than the pressure of needing to change your “before” picture may help you feel better about your appearance, boost confidence, and improve self-esteem.
Whether or not you choose to employ “before” and “after” pictures as a motivational tool to accomplish your goals, my hope is that you will consider all the benefits of your hard work. Also, keep in mind that many people don’t like to see themselves in pictures. There are a number of psychological reasons for this, but in general, it may be more helpful to focus on something other than a picture.
“All my limitations are self-imposed, and my liberation can only come from true self-love.” ~ Max Robinson
Many of my clients ask a variety of questions about nutrition hoping to find out what is the “right” thing to eat. Bombarded by so much conflicting information from various sources, it seems increasingly confusing for people to figure out what or whom to believe about nutrition. So, how do you know what the “truth” is about the latest trends with gluten, sugar, carbs, dairy, fat, supplements, etc.?
Something I learned early on in my nutrition studies was that nutrition is a science. You may be thinking, “duh, I knew that!” But, what’s important here is accepting what that really means. Science is a body of knowledge based on systematic study that is continually evolving. Believing that science is “the truth” can be misleading because the progress of science is marked by the development of a continuously changing picture of reality. Many folks struggle with that concept because it demands that you are able to adjust constantly to integrate new information.
A great example of this fact was when I learned that the structure of ribosomal subunits of tRNA (important in protein synthesis) changed from the 1988 biochemistry textbook I first learned this information to when I was learning about this again in 2005 – and my old textbook was out dated!
Who would ever think scientists didn’t have this completely figured out? That was crazy to me –
something that I took for granted for “truth” actually was still unfolding – and probably still is.
I see this happen over and over again in the field of nutrition. For example, once we thought that people who wanted to avoid heart disease should reduce their saturated fat intake and increase their polyunsaturated fat intake to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Many dietary guidelines and sound nutrition advice was based on this “fact”. Then, it was to decrease total fat intake to reduce blood cholesterol (finding polyunsaturated fats were not“good” for you); and, then again today we have new information challenging what we believe about the relationship between fat and heart disease. These treasured “facts” about fat continue to change – and I see many people feeling uncomfortable and even resent trying to figure out what is “right”?
I have always loved learning about science, and especially nutrition. It is what I love about my job as a dietitian which continues to be about helping individuals navigate this evolving science of nutrition information. My training and experience has taught me that remaining open-minded toward other points of view is critical when discerning the recommendations scientists make about what we “should” and “shouldn’t”eat. In fact, I’ve discovered that it is quite common for scientists to have different ideas of reality even when interpreting the same findings.
So, how do you decide what recommendations are appropriate for you? That depends on you – your needs and your history with food, weight, and activity. Being curious and open about new ideas
is always important, while remaining cautious when someone declares “absolutes” regarding science may also be helpful. Remember, YOU know yourself better than any scientist or proclaimed nutrition “expert” and finding someone who can help you explore what is ideal for YOU will likely be your best formula for success.
Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian who specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, disease