This week diet heavyweights Weight Watchers announced their decision to stop publishing ‘before and after’ photos across their media platforms. For many involved in a weightloss journey these pictures are inspiring and sometimes even necessary, but what of the potential damage they can cause? How integral are they to long-lasting progress?
Let’s start with the negative impact using images may have on the path to the perfect weight. Weight Watchers themselves have said that they believe that transformation photos ‘promote the idea of a short-term diet with an end date’ rather than a permanent change lifestyle change. More often than not someone trying to lose weight will choose a goal weight, reach it and then settle for something maybe a few pounds heavier – perfectly normal, healthy and realistic behaviour which keeping a permanent visual record of a weight less than attainable may negate.
Often when these pictures are posted on social media they are accompanied by a caption which, although meant well, can come off aggressive and extremely disheartening to others attempting to lose weight. Things like ‘your only competition is yourself’ and ‘I can’t believe this used to be me’ hardly cultivate a warm, fuzzy, self-love driven environment and for me personally are the complete opposite take on what a lifestyle change should be about. The ‘before’ image didn’t ‘used to’ be you – it IS you and I’m always nervous that the harder you may convince yourself otherwise, the harsher it will be on your wellbeing if you happen to have what you might see as a ‘regression’.
As always when discussing weight and fitness it’s easy to pigeonhole everyone new to the darkside as uninformed and less driven than those already well into the process. Let’s not forget that people are strong; people are willing; people WANT to lose weight and they want to lose weight sensibly. By dismissing before-and-after photos as degenerative to weight loss, to me it feels like Weight Watchers are assuming that all their members are susceptible and vulnerable when they are all more than determined to make changes and make them well. As long as you are making the correct choices and your health, both physical and mental, are your priorities, what’s the harm in reminding yourself about how far you’ve come? If the emphasis is on progress rather than looking back negatively at the size you once were, I myself have trouble seeing an issue. I often encourage my clients to photograph their progress, because their progress is what they are working towards – it’s why they’ve hired me and why they are making the effort. Losing weight is a long, hard and very often painful process, which can see people pushed to their limits in all kinds of ways. Some people lose half their body weight. Some people deal with injury, chronic illness and mental health issues during their battle to lose weight. Never mind an image – why not a whole album?