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What do the majority of women’s fitness before and after photos have in common?
They’re all about weight loss—someone was “bigger” in the before photo, and they’re smaller (or at least leaner) in the after.
Not that there’s anything wrong with people wanting to lose weight to improve their health, feel more confident, or to look a certain way. As I always say, it’s your body, so do what you want with it.
Women, however, are led to believe that fat loss is the only goal they can have. The only reason to eat healthy is to lose weight; the only reason to work out is to burn fat. Their sole purpose for doing these things is to chase a smaller number on the bathroom scale.
Problems arise when women obsess over fat loss year after year, after year. Scrutinizing every food choice based on its ability to help them lose fat becomes exhausting. Making every workout a punishment for eating something “bad” or an attempt to whittle away parts of their body they dislike doesn’t provide lasting motivation.
Fat loss is a fine goal short-term, but if you know what it’s like to revolve every action in the gym and kitchen around losing fat for long stretches of time, you know how mentally exhausting, and defeating, it can be.
Or perhaps you just want to reap benefits from your workout and eating efforts that deliver something more meaningful than a smaller number on the scale–to make fat loss a byproduct of a more enjoyable focus.
This is why I’m not a fan of traditional “before and after” photos. Yes, it’s absolutely wonderful when people drop excess weight and keep it off long term, but there are additional benefits to be gained from changing your eating and workout habits for the better.
Health and fitness shouldn’t just about how you look in your “after”; it should be about how you feel and the lifestyle you’ve created to ensure you maintain the “after” well into the future.
Remarkable Before & Afters
I asked some of my coaching members and other women to share what fitness was to them before they approached training and nutrition the Lift Like a Girl way, and after they did so. What did they discover that was more valuable than losing weight or shrinking down?
Here’s what they had to say, and their experiences reveal incredible results you’d never see in a photo:
My before: Deafening self-doubt, chronic depression, and the never-ending cycle of binge eating and over exercising.
My after: Confident in my body and my choices regarding fitness and nutrition. Seeing exercise as an extra bonus in treating my depression. Now I don’t see “good food” or “bad food”—it’s just food and I can enjoy it!
Before: Convinced I would always be the chubby girl never below 200 pounds.
After: Convinced I will always be the badass, strong girl never above 200.
My personal “before” was being too afraid, self-conscious to go exercise in a gym. The mere though brought on anxiety.
My personal “after” is walking into that same gym like I own it…badass style.
Before: Too many different exercises and too many reps. Now: Mostly old school barbell training, fewer reps, focus on strength! Several years ago, at age 48, I could not even hold onto the bar; now at 54 I can do 5-6 dead hang pull-ups, no kipping.
Before, I was your typical unsporty kid. I hated most movement, felt it wasn’t for me.
After starting lifting, I’m constantly curious about what my body can accomplish. I genuinely love my body for what it can do, and I’m excited about what I’ll manage in the future. I feel more united with my body than I have just about ever. I feel like this is for me.
Before: I regularly confused quantity with quality. I set my goals vis-à-vis an arbitrary number (the number on the scale). I despaired of ever being truly and properly strong because “I didn’t have that kind of time.”
After: I focus on quality, as measured by the exactitude of my form and the slow progression of my sets. I set my goals based on a concept (strength) and a physical challenge (deadlift 1.5x my weight). I no longer despair of being strong. I am strong.
Before: Look at model in fitness magazine, set goal to look just like her, work out two hours a day. I actually felt happy when things were going my way, but the emotional swing when the scale didn’t go the way I needed it to, was unbearable. I felt like if I didn’t look a certain way as a trainer, no one would trust me, and my business would suffer. I felt like I didn’t have value if I didn’t have abs.
After: IDGAF. And I feel strong enough that I don’t have to. I have freedom from the bondage of trying to “live up” to others’ unreasonable, unrealistic, and unnecessary expectations. I have peace and joy even while eating a cooking or pumpkin-flavored treats this time of year. I no longer feel the need to apologize.
My personal before was thinking I had to be completely exhausted, lying on the floor, in a puddle of sweat after exercising, to have a good workout. I’m much kinder to myself now, with better results!
- Weighed and measured all my food to the gram
- Weighed myself daily, on two scales
- Watched my family eat while I abstained so that I could eat my food at home
- Compulsive exercise and undervalued recovery
- Food no longer controls me
- I have so much more time to enjoy life away from obsessive weighing and measuring
- I exercise to feel well and respect my limitations
- I work with my body, instead of against it
- I eat with my family
- Overall, I am so much more relaxed!
- I take many more rest days
- I sleep better
Before: Got winded walking up the hill to my home, struggled to get up off the floor, and high cholesterol.
After: More energy, confidence, and a much higher sense of self!
As I dove deeper into my own health, I found a woman I was really freaking proud to be. I learned how to communicate with, rather than dictate to, my body and started treating my health as an expansion rather than a never-ending (maddening) exercise in shrinking.
I guess I’m an inbetweener.
Before: Compulsive eating, no exercise, morbidly obese and unhappy.
Later: Compulsive dieting, excessive exercise, significant weight loss and unhappy.
Now: Balancing the art of eating and exercising for enjoyment without it tripping over into compulsion. Learning to look at my body for the amazing things it can do while living in a world where we are judged on the external.
I can’t say I’m “after” yet. After years I’m still battling to get relaxed around food, exercise and my body, but at least I now know what “healthy” actually looks like in terms of physical and mental goals.
My before is yo-yo dieting and struggling with boring exercises not sure if they did any good, and eventually gave up. My after is FINALLY finding something I LOVE doing (weight lifting/cycling) and counting calories only as a guide. Not a “good girl/bad girl” mind trap for me.
I dropped in to comment after re-reading the intro to the Beautiful Badass Mini Course, “the journey is the destination.” It hit me like a ton of bricks in reference to my other-than-health-fitness life. This isn’t something to get over, or finish, or wait out. No “after” for me. THIS IS IT! I embrace it NOW! I’m learning and growing and becoming. I’m not going to short change today rushing past it toward tomorrow. Thank you, Nia, every day, for perspective.
If you’re tired of always focusing on fat loss, then demand more. Choose other goals to focus on, and other great reasons for eating well and moving your body. See for yourself what can happen to your body, and mind, when you make getting strong a priority. Make health and fitness a process that enhances and fits into your life, not something that dominates it.
Want guidance creating your own remarkable before and after? Grab the new book Lift Like a Girl on Amazon.
Click here for the Kindle version.