It’s nearly impossible to scroll through social media these days without the inevitable “before and after” weight loss transformation popping up.
So what are these before and after pictures about? Are they celebrating a true, positive change in health? Or are they doing more harm than good?
In this blog post, I will be sharing my thoughts as an Intuitive Eating dietitian on before and after pictures and how they can affect your body image.
Interested in how to improve your body image? Check out this article on five steps you can take to a positive body image this summer!
A dietitian’s take on before & after pictures.
Before and after pictures classically show a human in a larger body next to a picture of that same human in a smaller body.
They tell a story of someone whose body has visibly changed over a certain period of time. Sometimes we are told more details about what that person did to change their body, and sometimes it’s a mystery.
Either way, these posts receive A LOT of attention. And I mean A LOT. Comments, “likes”, shares, messages…you name it. People are fascinated and intrigued by changing bodies. Period.
Weight loss is revered; the thinner body receives praise and admiration.
The comments read things like “you look AMAZING!”, “tell me your secret!”, and “I’m so proud of you!”.
Naturally, the owner of the “after” body feels great. People are noticing their hard work and dedication to losing weight, eating cleaner, or becoming a healthier version of themselves.
But WAIT. What’s going on behind this transformation?
Does that person actually feel healthier and happier?
A single side-by-side comparison cannot possibly show the full story. From research and personal experience, there is most likely a lot of negative behaviors and thoughts happening in that person’s life in order to lose weight.
We know that intentional weight loss is usually paralleled by disordered eating patterns and obsessive behaviors related to food and exercise. But no one talks about this.
No one opens up about the things they had to miss out on in order to lose weight. Or the mental battles they had to fight each time they ate. Or the degrading self-talk that happened (and still happens) when they missed a workout or ate dessert when they weren’t supposed to.
No one talks about the rebound binge eating that results from food restriction. Or the fact that they can’t eat a meal without calculating the calories or macros in their head anymore. The serious toll dieting took on their mental health.
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People are rarely open about what happens AFTER the “before & after”.
Time and time again, research has come to the conclusion that diets don’t work. Simple and straight-forward. Before and after comparisons show a brief moment in time. Eventually, one-third to two-thirds of dieters will regain MORE weight than what they had lost dieting. The diet industry is a liar at best and an extremely pervasive, money-hungry manipulator at worst.
These before and after pictures? Diet culture loves those. Because it’s selling the message that weight loss can happen with dieting, which means more money for them.
But no one is sharing their story of gaining the weight back because THAT would not receive the same praise and admiration. THAT would be shameful and embarrassing. THAT would mean they failed, that they have no willpower, or that something is inherently wrong with them. This narrative needs to change.
In addition, before and after pictures reinforce the notion that thinner equals better. It adds to the pressure we feel as a society to fit an ideal body image.
But think about it – who decides what the ideal body looks like? Who is profiting from these insecurities?
One answer – diet culture.
Weight and health are two different things.
Before the jealousy bug creeps in when you come across the next before and after picture, I hope you remember this post. I hope you remember that what you eat does not determine your self-worth.
I hope you know that your weight is not a reflection of your health. I hope you believe that you are more than just a body.
You can focus on health-promoting behaviors without turning them into an unhealthy obsession focused solely on weight loss.
If you want to learn how to approach health using intuitive eating, anti-diet, Health at Every Size principles, schedule a free 15-minute discovery call with me today.