In the online weight-loss world, before-and-after photos are commonplace. They can be a great way to track your progress, boost your motivation to push through ups and downs and share your success story with others on the same path.
Of course, like many other weight-loss tools, whether or not progress shots help or hurt your efforts depends on how you use them. Here, experts weigh in on the pros and cons of before and after photos.
SHOULD YOU TAKE BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS?
I recommend before and after photos because the scale doesn’t always accurately reflect how your body is changing, which can sometimes zap your motivation. Progress shots can encourage you to stick with it by showing you results over time.
My clients take before and after photos as a visual way to track their progress for a helpful motivation boost. Photos can help you recognize when you’re losing inches on your arms, legs, waist and face — even when the scale might not have changed much.
As a personal trainer, I always recommend multiple ways to track progress and let my clients choose what works best for them, from progress shots and body measurements to weigh-ins and blood pressure improvements. Week to week there may not be huge changes in your pictures, but when you start to compare your first picture to one six months later or a year later, it can be really inspiring.
I recommend tracking your progress by noticing how you feel, like how your joints ache or don’t and if you can comfortably take the stairs. This way, you’re motivated by the benefits that come with healthy lifestyle changes rather than just shedding pounds for a photo.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Progress shots help you track changes that aren’t necessarily evident otherwise. For example, as you gain muscle and lose visceral fat (abdominal fat that carries an increased risk for chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes), that change might be more apparent in a picture rather than on the scale. As you eat more nutrient-dense foods and less processed ones, your complexion may also become clearer, which can really stand out in photos.
Seeing changes in your body (like muscles you’ve never seen before) can be inspiring and encourage you to stick with your weight-loss program. Knowing you have to check in with a photo at the end of each week or month can also help keep your motivation up to eat healthily and show up for your workouts.
WHAT ARE THE DOWNSIDES?
If you have a history of disordered eating or body image issues, I wouldn’t recommend using this method for tracking progress, as it could potentially trigger negative feelings about your body image or self-worth.
Sometimes seeing a lack of progress in photos can make you feel bad about yourself and might even make you want to quit or trigger overeating. It’s important to focus on the process, not just the physical outcome of weight-loss in order to work toward a healthy lifestyle and keeping the weight off long-term.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While experts might be split on whether or not you should take progress shots, they do agree on one thing: Healthy weight loss is about becoming comfortable in your own body and making sustainable lifestyle changes for your long-term well-being. “As you strive to lose weight and get healthier, before and after photos can be a helpful way to see your progress, especially when the scale isn’t telling the whole story,” says Dr. Mittal.
Ogin agrees: “Progress shots can be a valuable tool in your weight-loss program. But they’re not the end-all-be-all, so see what works best for you and stick with it.” If you feel like before and after shots aren’t helping (or you’re becoming obsessive about them), try tracking your progress in other ways, like your step count, strength gains or healthy eating habits.
Finally, remember: Your health journey doesn’t end with your ‘after’ photo, and there’s so much more to celebrate. “If you’re adopting habits that support your health, you’ll feel better, sleep better, have more energy and you might find it’s time to buy some better-fitting clothes, too,” says Koskinen.