How thin is too thin? Does someone who is already within their healthy weight range really need to lose more weight? Well, I guess that’s up to the individual, but I find it frustrating that transformation before and after photos are starting to include people who really don’t need to lose weight.
If you are the type of person who gets motivated by before and after photos that is fine. Many people get motivated by seeing amazing body changes and can use that as their own motivation to lose weight. What many people don’t realise is a four, six, eight or twelve week stint at your favourite gym is unlikely to result in any real long term change. This is for two reasons. One, the behaviour changes are too short term for most people to turn into long term habits and two, the behaviours undertaken during the challenges are extreme and are way outside what most people would normally do.
Examples of these extremes is exercising every day of the week and in some cases, two times a day and also following highly restrictive eating practices.
The reality is many people who enter these challenges are doing it because they want to live healthier lifestyles by eating better and being more active. But they may also be hoping to achieve a desirable body shape and size, a shape and size that may very well be unattainable and is based on the thin ideal.
Most people who go down this path and look great after the transformation won’t sustain it long term. It sets them up to eventually feel disappointed in themselves because the amount of change they have undergone is simply not sustainable and they will always be looking out for the next transformation challenge which will hopefully give them the tools to maintain an unrealistic body shape and size.
One of the biggest assumptions with peoples weight and shape is that an individual’s size determines their health. This attitude to body weight and size leads to weight stigma and the moralising and dehumanisation of people with larger bodies.
Jenny Cole, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, Manchester Metropolitan University, in her article from The Conversation, states ‘we know that exercise is good for physical health and research also shows that exercise can make us feel better about our body because it encourages us to see our body in terms of what it can do, rather than what it looks like. However, there is evidence that this benefit is not enjoyed by people whose motivation for exercise is to change their weight or shape.’
She further adds by saying that ‘focusing on weight, rather than health, leads to damaging weight stigma and for those people whose shape is closer to the before photo, which would be close to sixty percent of the population, may impact their self-esteem and body satisfaction. Using appearance as a motivation for weight loss can reduce the positive effects of exercise and can lead to negative impacts of mental health such as depression and eating habits which may lead to eating disorders.’
So am I saying no to body transformation challenges? No, of course not, but be aware of the underlying motivation for doing them. If you are heavily motivated by transforming your body shape in such a short period of time, there is a real chance of setting yourself up for failure in the long term. Use these transformation program as stepping stones to longer term healthy habits and behaviours which can be sustained, not short term efforts with no follow through.
Illustration by Lexi Keelan