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The Truth About Transformation Photos

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Saw this a while ago and, thanks to the onslaught of popular weight loss bloggers having their photos stolen by scumbag diet pill pushers, I’m feeling the need to reiterate how untrustworthy many of these companies truly are.

The reasons these programs become so popular is because they are presented and marketed very well. These marketing campaigns use testimonials and before-and-after transformation photos. Before I claim it’s all bullshit, I want to make it clear that there are definitely some very impressive, genuine physical transformations out there. What I do take issue with are the transformations that are manipulated with Photoshop, professional lighting, postures to degrade or enhance their look, pro tans, sucking in or pushing out a bloated belly or flexing muscles vs. not flexing to obtain an optimal look.

In my opinion, these photos are selling false or exaggerated promises of what 90 days, etc., of their program can achieve. Long-lasting results take years of consistency, hard work and dedication. Results that happen quickly are often temporary, and this is another factor that needs to be taken into account when looking at these transformations. Did the individual cut calories to starvation levels or cut out entire food groups to reach a very low body fat percentage for the photo shoot, only to rebound a few days or weeks later? This must be considered when setting your goals and expectations based on someone’s program.

I decided to take my own transformation photos to see what was possible with just a few easy tweaks. About six months ago I was around 185 pounds and about 16 percent body fat. I was feeling particularly bloated on the day, so I asked my girlfriend to take a before shot. I then shaved my head, face and chest and prepared for the after shot, which was about an hour after I took the before shot. I did a few push ups and chin ups, tweaked my bedroom lighting, sucked in, tightened my abs and BOOM! We got our after shot.


As you can see, I’m no bodybuilder, but I had enough muscle on me to catch some shadows from the all-important overhead lighting.
Just a few weeks ago I took another series of photos in an attempt to be a little more deceptive. I wanted to show a series of progressions that look like a few months of hard work and dieting. I’m about 200 pounds and 19 percent body fat in this photo series. This took under an hour to produce.


What’s my point? Don’t try to look like anyone you see in a transformation photo. Be inspired, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t see yourself the way you see those models. Being tricked into eating low-calorie diets and doing endless cardio is a recipe for fat gain, especially in the long term. [source]

The ability to watch an infomercial or see an Internet ad and be dazzled by a pair of “before” and “after” shots requires a significant amount of mental gymnastics:

  • the assumption that those particular “before” and “after” shots were taken of someone who actually used the product in question;
  • the assumption that the “before” shot was taken first, and the “after” shot was taken second;
  • the assumption that the “before” shot isn’t photoshopped;
  • the assumption that the “after” shot isn’t photoshopped;
  • the assumption that the product is the sole cause of the weight loss success (remember, most – if not allweight loss products require you to “also eat better and exercise” in conjunction with use of the product)
  • the suspension of reality – okay, so you’ve lost the weight, now think about the future – how are you going to keep it off?
  • in the case of Internet ads, the assumption that the person in the picture even consented to having their photo included in the ad

And, really, that point about low-calorie diets and fat gain…. y’all gotta listen. You just have to. “Fat gain” is basically fancy speak for what we know as “yo-yo dieting.” Maybe that needs to be another blog post.

In short, like Andrew says, it’s perfectly fine to regard an exceptional pair of photos as exceptional… but letting it affect the way you look at your own weight loss, your own goals, your own timeline or your own needs? Just start looking at this as “not enough information.” A before and after photo is “not enough information” to make you change the way you operate or plan your own weight loss. It’s “not enough information” to compel you to make a purchase. Keep your cash in your pocket, and be a more conscious consumer. These photos – and the scumbag companies that use them – will never go away, but if they insist on sticking around, they can do so without your money.

Talk to me, #bgg2wlarmy! Who’s fallen prey to this foolishness? What happened? What’s the most ridiculous ad claim you’ve ever seen? Let’s hear it!

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Bee October 14, 2013 - 7:40 PM

For me this is particularly relevant right now .For the past 6 weeks I have been working out to T25 ,and I have not lost any weight! Seriously! I have lost a few cm’s and I see some lines forming (I have a sideline on my abs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)but I have not lost weight according to the scale.Now ,if my expectations were linked to the ad’s that I have seen for T25 ,I would have probably stopped the program already.I would have given up,seeing it as another thing that doesn’t work,and I would have more than likely have moved on to the NEXT thing. Luckily,I love the program and to me it is more important to be seeing some changes ,no matter how slow and it has only motivated me more to check what I am putting in my mouth ,as there must be other reasons for the lack of weight loss.

LA Red October 17, 2013 - 5:44 PM

I was up really late one night and saw the commercial for T25. I almost bought just because of the before and after. My motivation has completely left me so I’m looking for some inspiration. That night, I thought I had found it…lol. I posted about it on Fb and my fellow insomniacs talked some sense into me.

Tina October 15, 2013 - 9:50 AM

That’s so funny how I read this post yesterday, and then today, while looking up how to do a bent-over barbell row, I came across this video. It talks about the same thing, only the guy does it in a matter of seconds. Pretty wild! Also, gives me some ideas on how to make my before and after photos more dramatic! (I kid, I kid.)


Kami October 15, 2013 - 12:24 PM

During my path on this fitness journey it must be personal to me. I must remind my self not to follow these low calories diet and be fooled by pictures. In the past, I have learned yo – yo dieting wreaks havoc on the body. It does not work for long term.

My goal is to make my own changes that are unique to my own body with a slow and steady pace. Now I have been making progress.

Bethany October 17, 2013 - 4:35 PM

Bee, also make sure you are eating ENOUGH. When you work out regularly you have to up the calories a bit for the fat burning to kick in. More protein, less fat… you get it.

Bee October 18, 2013 - 8:00 PM

Betheny, I was speaking to my friend yesterday about my frustration and she asked me what I was eating. I told her what a day looks like for me in terms of food, I am not getting in enough protein and my calorie intake is lower than 1500 (unintentional),trying my best to correct that at the moment ,as I have added two/three days of weight training ,and know I need the extra protein .

Loretta November 16, 2013 - 2:33 AM

Ain’t that some mess!

I have gotten so other than this site and one or two others I am done with the whole thing. I had a admin get huffy with me because I wanted to know more information about the before and afters that were being posted. It takes TIME and much EFFORT to lose weight, it is the process, the in between that is important not the before and after…at least to me. So I pretty much reject all the okie doke lose weight now scams.

Sheri July 4, 2014 - 9:45 PM

This is so informing. I’m a sucker for those before and after pics and this has totally changed my view.

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