3 Reasons Before and After Photos can slow fat loss

Here’s a controversial question: If you took a ‘before’ photo, or if you have a good reference, and you are taking progress photos, or comparing your current state to your reference picture, is it truly helping you gauge your progress and reach your goals? I know a lot of people love checking their before and afters as they go, but there’s a few reasons why this could actually be holding you back from reaching your goal.

Reason 1 - Fat loss from places you can’t see

It’s true that we hold a lot of our excess fat close to our skin. The wobbly thighs, the belly that the cat loves to knead, and the hips that your jeans love a little less than they used to – they’re all places where fat gain and loss is visibly obvious. But what about those other places that we can’t see? Many people, perhaps you included, store fat not only under the skin, but also internally, around vital organs and in other places. This is where an MRI scan can show what scales and photos cannot. In a recent study, of the people who were rated in the healthy range of BMI (20-25), 45% of women, and 60% of men actually had unhealthy levels of internal fat.

What this means to you is that if you’re following a healthy eating plan, like the slow carb diet, and if you’re doing some exercise, like walking, or running, kettlebell swings or weights training, that you could be losing fat from places you just can’t see. In one week, you could lose 1 or 2 pounds of internal fat, and gain 1 or 2 pounds of muscle. That is obviously a fantastic change in your body, however when it comes time to weigh in, and compare photos, you might not see any difference on the scales, or visually – which could actually lead to you deciding that what you’re doing isn’t working.

The key here is that if you are following a healthy program of eating and exercising, don’t believe that it’s not going to change something for the better.. you might just be looking in the wrong places for evidence.

Reason 2- Skin doesn’t shrink overnight

This is particularly important for people who are losing a larger amount of weight, over a longer period. Skin stretches and grows to accommodate what’s underneath it. Once some of that is removed, it takes time for the skin to adjust. So, if there’s fat being lost, the skin will shrink, but it takes time.

For those who have 5 pounds to drop, most likely skin will shrink back fairly quickly. For those on the road to losing 50 pounds or more, the results could take months.

Though there is no definitive answer on this, many bodybuilding experts recommend competitors hold a lower body fat percentage for around 2 months before competition, which suggests that they believe maximum skin shrink effects aren’t achieved any faster than this.

The profound impact this can have on fat loss is in the ‘meaning’ derived from using visual comparisons – if your skin is 1-3 months behind your fat loss, you could lose fat for 3 months, decide that it’s not working as you hoped, then change what you’re doing, or stop trying, and gain fat back again over the next month, before the skin even had a chance to reveal the true fat loss you achieved. If you want to see the truth of your results, maintain that lower weight and body fat for at least 2 months before you make any decisions about whether or not the system you used actually worked.

Reason 3 - Counting progress made, not what’s left may slow you down

This is less physical, and more mental, but just as important.

Studies have shown that when we start counting how far we’ve come, from where we started, on our way to our goal, we actually start to slack off, and expect to coast to our finish line. Compare this with thinking about how much further we have remaining, and with this thinking we continue to work just as hard as when we started, and actually achieve the result we are looking for. If you compare your current look, to your old look, you might feel like you’ve already achieved enough, and even if that’s not the case, the brain won’t feel as motivated to continue to devote resources to your body change project.

For you, you might find that when you lose the first 10 pounds, things start looking incredibly different, and that pressure is taken away. The danger here is if you combine that lack of pressure, with focussing on what you have already achieved (the 10 lbs lost) – this will most likely lead to more ‘cheats’ during the week, or perhaps a more relaxed attitude to keeping up with workouts or physical exercise. Also, once we feel we’ve made a good start, it is common to then think about making a good start on another project, rather than keeping focussed on this important one, which leads to our efforts being diluted across too many obligations.

So what’s the best way to avoid this? Focus on your goal, and don’t spend too long comparing your current state to your before photo and weight. Remember how important the body change was when you started, and do everything you can to keep it that important.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that before and after photos are bad, but simply that taking a before photo is great, if it’s left alone until you have hit your goal. Likewise, with progress photos, and final ‘after’ photos. This applies to looking in the mirror, too, as it’s the same ‘how far have I come’ thinking that can derail future efforts. Focus on where you’re going and how much further you have to go, and you’ll hit your goals, and probably surpass them in the long term.

References: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18594089/ns/health-fitness/t/thin-people-can-be-fat-inside/

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/06/how_to_become_a_great_finisher.html

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9 Responses to 3 Reasons Before and After Photos can slow fat loss

  • Jason says:

    I think this is a good post to illustrate that you can’t just rely on one method to decide how much progress you’re making. It’s a combination that will tell you the whole picture. On top of that, often the thing you should pay the most attention to is how you feel. Your body lets you know how progress is going. :)

    -j

    • Luke says:

      Good point Jason! It can be tough to reach a point, mentally, where we can honestly and accurately actually listen to our bodies. But once you do, it’s all about how you feel – you can tell what nutrients you’re lacking, and when it’s a good time for exercise, or for rest.
      Cheers! Luke

  • Kendra says:

    Luke, this posting could not have come at a better time! I was feeling a little disheartened not seeing results as I would like, so thank you for this cause it will help to respur my motivation to continue this lifestyle/health change.

    • Luke says:

      Hi Kendra,
      I’m so glad that’s the case! Thanks very much for leaving your comment, and all the very best with your journey.
      Luke

  • Pingback: Why I Won’t Be Stepping On The Scale (for the next 30 days) | Personal Influence

  • Graham B. says:

    Great topic Luke!

    These altered eating plans (the word “diet” has become meaningless, as everyone who is able to eat food is on a “diet”) should benefit everyone who takes it on.

    I believe the key is to not focus on the short term , but make the “altered eating plan” your regular ongoing “eating plan”.

    But it needs to go hand in hand with occasional high intensity exercise to create a “calories in/energy expended” balance which best mirrors our direct genetic links to
    the hunter/gatherers we as so close to.

    Cheers

    • Luke says:

      Hey Graham, thanks for your comment!
      I think you’re right – altered eating plan, simply altered from the ‘default’ that we’re presented with by companies who want to make a profit from our eating habits, and don’t have our health interests in their radar.
      Occasional high intensity exercise is another key, I agree with that.
      Great to hear from you!
      Luke

  • Tammie says:

    I am glad I went back to read this, I was a bit sad as I am not noticing the results as much as I thought I would. I am at 8 weeks, down 10 lbs and 20 inches but I still feel like I should be able to see more.. I realize that I need to step up my exercise as so far it is only a walk here and there… I find it quite easy to stick to the eating plan as I feel satisfied from meal to meal and feel that the cheat days are getting harder to do, as the foods on those days makes me feel crappy.

    I am going to continue as I have a lot of weight and fat to lose and a healthy life to gain.

    Tammie

    • Luke says:

      Hey Tammie,

      Incorporating some more planned exercise activities, on a regular schedule, is a great idea. Some exercise is a great way to keep the fat coming off. You have already achieved fantastic results, and I think you’ll keep it up and see more results come!

      All the best,
      Luke

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