We've all seen them before. Whether in magazines or television ads, we are constantly bombarded with images of weight loss champions chronicling their month-long evolution from "flabby to fab."
Many of the images can immediately be called into question -- even with picture evidence, losing 40 pounds in three days is beyond ludicrous. But others dance around truthfulness, making weight loss inspiration find difficult to decipher.
Fed up with the manipulative practices used to enhance photos of weight loss results -- like using Photoshop, professional lighting and tricky poses that exaggerate the arms or tightness of abdominal muscles -- California-based personal trainer Andrew Dixon decided to create his own series of transformation photos to show the ease of creating fitness illusions.
"In my opinion, these photos are selling false or exaggerated promises of what 90 days, etc., of their program can achieve," he said in his blog post on the experiment. "Long-lasting results take years of consistency, hard work and dedication. Results that happen quickly are often temporary, and this is another factor that needs to be taken into account when looking at these transformations."
Citing the need to inform people of the facts they should consider when setting their weight loss goals and expectations, the certfied trainer for 11 years took a series of photos to prove just how aware consumers should be when encountering these types of ads.
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In the first photo set, taken about six months ago, Dixon says he weighed about 185 pounds and had 16 percent body fat. His girlfriend snapped his "before" photo on the day he says he "was feeling particularly bloated."
Dixon then shaved his hair, face and chest for the "after" shot, which he took about an hour later. He completed some push ups and chin ups, adjusted his bedroom lighting and sucked in his abs for the dramatic photo.
"As you can see, I'm no bodybuilder, but I had enough muscle on me to catch some shadows from the all-important overhead lighting," said Dixon.
Placed side-by-side, the two photos look similar to those used in weight loss ads. The only difference is that instead of promises that customers can obtain these spectacular results in a range of days or months, Dixon made the change happen in just an hour. In another series of "progression" photos, Dixon shows how he can be "a little more deceptive," snapping photos that appear to show his transformation over numerous months. He says the pictures took less than an hour to produce.
Dixon says he simply wants to encourage people to adopt realistic dietary and exercise goals that are not based on the people they see in transformation photos.
"Forget about the quick transformations and focus on a life of healthy eating, well-managed stress levels, quality sleep and plenty of movement," he said. "Spend time with people who have similar goals and values and take time to appreciate yourself the way you are right now."
And unsurprisingly, his biggest secret to healthy living comes from within, not the weight room.
"Don't beat yourself up if you eat a cookie, just enjoy that cookie and everything else life has to offer," he said.
"Don't waste any more energy trying to compete with everyone else. It's all smoke and mirrors."