How do you feel when you see someones before and after body transformation pictures? Is it inspiring you to make your own health changes? Or, s it just making you feel like that’ll never be you, or that you aren’t already enough just as you are?
Despite being a health coach, I can sometimes sit on either side of this conversation, so I find this an interesting topic.
I have seen my fair share of body transformation pictures, they litter my social media feeds, they were just part of normal practice to help clients track progress but also as an effective way to market my services to others. I have shared clients’ transformations on my pages, I have taken pictures of myself to track my progress, I have been a part of this.
But could they be contributing to people living with body dissatisfaction and are damaging to mental health?
Comparison is the thief of joy — Theodore Roosevelt
Not only do they cause self-comparison which we have all heard the above quote, comparing yourself to others will never lead you to happiness. But these transformation pictures can also be incredibly misleading. Good lighting, flexed muscles v’s relaxed. Some transformations can be seen by just adjusting posture and a quick flex, better lighting and voila! There is now a growing body of social media accounts that are exposing these tips and tricks to show that what we see on social media is not even a true reflection of real bodies.
Is body dissatisfaction always a bad thing?
I feel I have a pretty solid mindset about my body and my health now, but it has taken a lot of work to be able to look at a picture of someone’s transformation without it making me feel like shit about myself.
There have also been times when that feeling of dissatisfaction with the way that I look, has also been the kick up the backside that I have needed to recognise that I don’t feel that great either. This is a very individual thing and for me a little bit of body dissatisfaction can be incredibly motivating. Not from a place of self-hatred, but from a space of knowing I want and deserve better for myself.
I have learned to listen to my mental chatter when I am triggered by something. To evaluate whether the thought is the truth, and if that thought is actually serving or supporting me. If not then I get to change my thinking.
But this is work I have done over many years and why I now always choose a mindful approach to health and wellness which I believe is not only key to lasting success, but also happiness along the path of your wellness journey.
A new study from Asics has shown that 80% of people say they are demotivated to workout after seeing transformation pictures and that 48% of people feel insecure about their bodies after seeing such pictures.
While this finding is interesting, these are staggeringly high numbers. I can’t find the data from the actual study and so can’t comment on how the study was carried out or find if there are any other conclusions we can take from this work.
Yet still, it brings up some interesting points that I think we should all take forward on our health and wellbeing journey.
How Do We Move Forward In A Positive Way?
Do we now also need to stop complimenting people on how they look after weight loss? Does this just reinforce the notion that you are worthy because you have lost weight?
Or is it a compliment, because we know that when we move towards a healthy weight, it does feel damn good and shouldn’t we be able to receive compliments because we know we also feel better in ourselves?
Finding The Balance
I have been in the trenches of diet culture, trying to make myself smaller to feel accepted in the world of being a fitness instructor and also to fit into society, to feel good enough in myself and my own body. I’m done with that shit and happier being in a bigger body but also knowing who I am and having some fun and flexibility in my life.
I have also seen the flip side where people use the excuse of body positivity and self-love as a reason to overeat and disregard their health, (I may have dipped my toe into that area also). I think it’s a balance that we all need to be mindful of and approach wellness and health in a way that is also supportive to our mental health too.
The truth is that people will have different experiences and backgrounds with health and fitness work and transformations and that guides their responses to these images.
From the extremes of disordered eating to a response that just leads to a negative spiral mentally.
Whatever it is for you, know that your emotional response to anything you see is valid, but you can also learn to use that emotional response as your guide for doing better.
If before and after pictures trigger you negatively then be sure to remove them from your social media feeds when you see them. Stop allowing triggering things to show up in your feed. Though we are often bound by algorithms you still have a big influence on what shows up there by just removing more of the things that you don’t want to see.
Acknowledge and take ownership of the way that things make you feel, consider what you can do about that to move forward and also work through those negative triggers so you can make more sense of them
If you find that you feel motivated by taking your own progress pictures, then keep on doing it. There is a reason a lot of coaches still share them and that’s because of the positive feedback they get from the client. Their posture is better, they can see body shape changes that may not show up on the scale and they are often looking a lot happier in the second picture too.
You can keep on using them if that’s what you choose, you are allowed to feel proud of yourself.
Here are some principles I like to align with even at the moments when I have a wobble of self doubt or even consider beating myself up about my own body, these may help you find this balance with your own health journey.
- Working on your health should always be more focused on how you feel, not just the way you look.
- Your body does not define your worth, even if you post your body transformations online, all the likes in the world mean nothing if you don’t like and value yourself.
- The highest form of self-care is in taking care of your health. To move your body, to eat healthy nourishing foods because your body deserves to have the best and so do you.
- Results will take time. No diet or exercise programme will make you happy and healthy if it’s not something you can sustain for the long term.
- Stress is the number one cause of ill health and weight gain. It not only affects our immune system, our mental health but is the biggest cause of overeating and unhappiness. Focus on stress management, and then health and weight management become a lot easier to achieve.
- Any health journey should support movement, and good nutrition but also be supportive to your mental health with all of these elements focused on feeling good first and foremost.
The health and fitness industry is evolving and that’s a good thing, you get to be mindful of how you can best use it to your advantage and not your detriment. You are the one that’s in control, remember that.