The Truth About Transformations

You see them all over the internet, before and after pictures showing incredible transformations that seem quite impossible to achieve.  But are they possible, and if they are, why do so many people dismiss them as photo-shopped works of fancy.

This is going to frustrate quite a few of you, but please bear with me.  All diets work.

“You’re mad!” I hear you cry “Fad diets are rubbish and should never be attempted under any circumstances!”  and your reasoning is almost certainly sound; however, when you look at the base principle of all diets, they are purely designed to put you in a calorie deficit so that you can lose weight.  When you take each of the diets: High Fat Diet, Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers (or WW under its new branding), Slimming World, Slim Fast, Keto Diet, insert crazy new idea here, you will see that they are all trying to make you do one thing and one thing only: consume fewer calories than you burn.  And if you stick to the letter of the diet’s instructions, as well as the spirit in many cases, you will indeed lose weight.  Guaranteed.

If you are doing one of these diets and not losing weight, it is (I’m sorry to say) highly likely to be your own fault.  When a diet tells you that pasta is ‘no syns’ that should not be an invite for you to eat lots of it.  Advice like this is usually an attempt to train you to stop eating when you are full, not an invite to eat as much as you would like.  If a diet is followed, strictly by the letter and spirit of what is intended, you will lose weight.

The problem is, the weight that’s lost will not always be fat and you’ll almost certainly gain it all back again after rebounding back onto your old regime of calorie surplus.  And here’s where body transformations come in.

The market is flooded with personal trainers right now.  According to Insure4Sport, in January 2018 there were almost 14,000 personal trainers registered in the UK and in the short time between 2000 and 2011, the market had grown by over 75%.  When there are so many trainers to choose from, how do you pick which one is best for you?  Anecdotally I’ve found there to be 3 main reasons why a personal trainer is chosen:

  1. Familiarity.  A female who is obese, or overweight, will tend to choose a female personal trainer who has lost a significant amount of weight herself.  A male is more likely to choose another male, an elderly person is more likely to choose an older trainer, etc.  Familiarity brings comfort, and it brings expected empathy.  The problem with this is that you don’t need the personal trainer to be like you, you just need a trainer who can empathise and personalise their advice to get best results from you.  An ability to empathise is not defined by gender, age, or any other personal characteristic.
  2. How the personal trainer looks.  An overweight or flabby personal trainer damages his or her credibility in the eyes of the client.  If they are not able to train themselves, how are they going to train you?  But does a personal trainer need to be in shape to be able to train you?  Absolutely not.  But much like it’s hard to take advice from an obese health professional who smokes, taking advice from an overweight personal trainer is filled with doubt and cynicism.
  3. The personal trainer’s results.  The first thing many potential clients do, is ask to see what results the personal trainer has achieved in others.  In exactly the same way you might look to see the quality of a builder’s conservatory by other ones they’ve built, you look at other clients to see what physical changes they have made in their time with the trainer.  If they have made good progress, you’re more likely to have the confidence that they can do the same with you.

And it’s this last reason why so many personal trainers have before and after body transformation pictures.  They are a quick way to advertise how good they are compared to others and they ask you to judge them on previous results not how they look or how familiar you are with them.

You can’t go on any social media platform these days without seeing personal trainer adverts with some kind of hook line like “For a limited time only I am looking for 6 driven, hard working, dedicated people like you to undergo a 6 week body transformation process”  You think ‘wow this is a great offer’ they’re just compiling evidence to be used to secure future clients.  During that 6 weeks, you will be the most important person in that personal trainer’s world but as soon as those 6 weeks are over and they have your before and after pictures, many will never be heard from again.  Some personal trainers will even steal the transformation photos of other trainers and use them as their own, or even worse, create completely false before and after shots to make themselves seem more impressive.  Instagram is unfortunately full of con-artists pedalling awful products that promise a lot but delivers little, so they need to fake their before and after pictures.  It’s incredible how effective a slouched photo of someone first thing in the morning compared with the same person an hour later striking a tensed pose after doing a few push ups can be.

One of the key problems with 4, 6, or 12 week body transformations is that the focus is primarily based on getting the best possible results in the fastest possible time.  The emphasis is on physical changes that make the onlooker say WOW!  Very little is aimed at understanding how you came to be in the position you were when deciding to need a personal trainer, and why you developed the eating habits you did to become overweight in the first place.  To truly establish that baseline takes time, and that is not what a transformation is about.  It requires commitment and dedication from both the personal trainer and the client in order to establish psychological reasoning behind the weight gain and then work out methods to manage them in the long term.

But transformations aren’t all bad.  They can be exactly what you need to kick-start a new lifestyle, quickly and safely get to a starting point that you had never previously thought possible, and if you are genuinely just looking for a one time photo-shoot opportunity, then a transformation could be just the thing you need.  But the restrictions on diet, demands on your lifestyle, and lack of focus on psychological support mean that it will just be a quick fix; for every person who undergoes a body transformation that can sustain the results long term, there will be many more who simply go back to their old way of life and end up losing all of their previous results.

Read about my own 12 week body transformation and the photo that people thought was fake.


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