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Before and After Photos…

September 6, 2009

I was reading in a leisure report that the number one reason that people cite for selecting a diet program is before and after pictures.  Apparently just about ever diet program on earth is aware and has these ubiquitous pictures.  Mind you that was last years number one reason.  I am willing to bet that the current number one reason is the word Abs somewhere in the diet, but that is a subject for tomorrow’s blog post.

I have always been aware that before and after pictures are very easy to fake.  They used to be quite fuzzy and blurry and you could never be sure that the person in the before pictures was the same person in the after picture.  Of course with the improvements in technology, the imagesclearly had to get better.  With better technology though, the methods to fake the shots have gotten better as well.

Even knowing that most of the pictures are faked in one way or another, I was surprised to hear of some of the methods employed to get before and after pictures.  Like everyone in my generation, and judging from the sheer volume of people signing up for the most ridiculous and corrupt diet plans out there, everyone in this generation too, I expect some kernel of honesty in advertising.  After all, they can’t out and out lie can they?

Well they can, they will and they do.  I always thought it was the line in the diet ad that said, ‘”Participants also exercised regularly, and ate a reduced-calorie diet.” that allowed them to say whatever they wanted.  After all, if you exercise regularly and you eat a calorie reduced diet you are going to lose weight, whatever the crappy diet plan or exercise machine you put in the middle of that is.  Apparently though, it is the line “Results not typical” that opens up the door to the lying.  There is a funny article about the Federal Trade Commision and the changes that they want to make to that line here.

So what are the scams involved with before and after pictures:

  1. The after picture before and vice versa.  When fit people get injured or forced to take a break from their significant physical output, they tend to put on weight and they do this very quickly.  Because, for most of us, weight gain is slow and we aren’t used to quick weight gain a reasonably believable before and after picture can be generated by taking a picture at the time of reduced activity, and then one two or three months later, when the person has put on 30 or 40 pounds.  Switch the order of the two photos and you have effectively created the illusion of weight loss.
  2. Fit Person Gets Healthy.  This one is my favorite.  It didn’t dawn on me, because, like number #1, It involves fit people and I am not one of the fit people, so I wasn’t aware people could do this.  After fit people get sick, or pregnant, or injured, they of course get fat.  The thing is, as soon as they get well again, they drop the weight like you wouldn’t believe.  They would drop this weight no matter what they were doing.  So, find a fit person who is out of commission and has bulked up and you have a before and after picture just waiting to happen.  Give them some stupid exercise device and you have your before and after photos.
  3. Swap.  This was the one of my youth.  The people in the before and after photos are just good look-alikes (sometimes not so good).  Many times nowadays, they don’t photograph the face of the person so it would be impossible to know if the two people are the same, but odds are they aren’t.
  4. See yourself slimmer…  There is a fantastic article here about the world of digital thinning scams.  It is absolutely amazing how far most of these scam sites go and how good a job they do.  With a website that digitally slims photos for anyone for $40, really it is just too easy to pull this off.  For an extra ten bucks they will take out wrinkles, spots, shine, red eye and bags and strangely enough for $8 more they will send you a tape measurer?!?!!
  5. Look your worst/look your best.  This isn’t so much of a scam as good photography planning.  How you stand, how you stick out your gut, etc, how you do all of this and more to make yourself look fat, tired and pale in your before picture and how you do it all differently in your after photo can make you look 20 to 30 pounds different.  There is a cute little article here that tells you how to make your own before and after photo on the same day.  Give it a shot and see how different you look and then decide if you will ever believe a before and after shot again.
  6. The Ab Circle Pro Scam: “It’s hard to believe that this was me, just a short time ago at over 200 pounds”.  Of course what she isn’t saying is that she lost all of that weight before the exercise device was even invented.  In fact, the writing above the video ‘success story’ says, ‘From Fat to Fit! Celebrity Jennifer Nicole Lee lost over 80 lbs. & uses the Ab Circle Pro!’.  So the scam here is the loose connection the claims have to truth.  There are no lies, but if you read the text quickly (or without examining it like a lawyer cross examining a criminal) you will certainly get the wrong idea.  In fact only one of the ‘success stories’ from this slick infomercial actually says the person lost weight using the Ab Circle Pro…  Only one!!  I can go online and find hundreds of affiliates who claim that they lost weight using the Ab Circle Pro, some even before the product arrived…
  7. Someone will get fit doing anything.  People are odd.  There is always someone who will use the item or diet obsessively and lose weight.  Think of Jared here.  The guy lost weight going to a fast food restaurant every day.  He went to the same restaurant and ate the same thing every day.  The guy is clearly odd.  He lost weight and Subway can now sell themselves as the ‘healthy’ fast food joint, even though many places, including McDonald’s have very healthy choices.  McDonald’s gets ‘Supersize me’ and Subway gets Jared…  So no matter how ridiculous it sounds, someone will lose weight doing it, the problem is, it probably won’t be you if it is a questionable diet plan.  If they get before and after photos, you have a legitimate claim for your diet program.

So there are many of the before and after scams.  I would love to hear others, just tell me about them in the comments sections.  Otherwise, seriously, don’t believe before and after pictures.  Never again.  They are remarkably compelling, but they always employ the techniques above.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2009 4:20 am

    Ha, I remember the Cybergenics “before” and “after’s” in the early nineties. We all used to stand around in the gym, scratching our heads trying to work out how they managed to look SO much better in such a short period of time! Surely they weren’t pulling the wool over our eyes, were they?!

    We all used to comment how different they looked facially as well as bodily. We wrongly believed that someone, somewhere, would be regulating the claims of these manufacturers to protect us, the consumers. Many of my mates were suckered into parting with a LOT of cash in the vain hope of a more muscular physique. It’s plain wrong and shouldn’t be allowed!

    • YouAreNotAFitPerson permalink*
      September 9, 2009 10:45 pm

      I agree! The problem is the scammers are ahead of the regulators. As well, greed from every corner, from journalists who need stories, to stores that need products, to unscrupulous con artists, the messages are so varied and confusing that the public honestly can’t tell what is true and what isn’t. This is amplified by the fact that nobody cares about the people who are buying the ridiculous claims. Everybody should be up in arms about these scams. Everybody who has a voice should be telling everyone about how wrong these scams are. They should be linking to reputable sites and retweeting and reposting legitimate debunkings, thus pushing them higher in google standings. Only then will people stop buying. I must say that we, the people own the internet and must regulate it and protect people from the dark sides of it.

  2. September 10, 2009 3:53 pm

    Hear hear! Couldn’t agree more! Far too much dis-information these days. Millions of different “weight loss” products on the market and yet, historically, we have never been fatter! Pills and potions ain’t gonna fix it. Neither is an ab blaster, nor any other money-making gimmick.

    Fast food should be outlawed, scrupulous “sport supplement” companies should be forced to refund everyone who bought into their lies. The governments need to take action, to legislate the free-roaming fitness industry and investigate every single one of their scandalous claims. Obesity is an epidemic that is slowly and silently claiming the lives of thousands more people each and every year. It has got to stop.

    Rant over!

  3. Nicole Ferreira permalink
    March 9, 2010 11:37 pm

    I always laugh at the TV when the “Results Not Typical” post appears in the commercial. It always reminds me of the drug commercials that say the particular drug is so amazing, yet has ALL of these side effects ….

  4. Sarah permalink
    September 15, 2012 8:02 pm

    I will admit it, I am a sucker for before and after photos even though I am aware of all the scamming that goes on with them. Case and point… I just found your blog about 10min ago and this is the first post I read in full and I found it because I was looking for your before and after (I feel like I’ve been caught red-handed). The truth is, people want visual “proof” and it sucks that people do this type of scamming to make a buck because now everybody always doubts the photos, even those that are completely real.

    • YouAreNotAFitPerson permalink*
      September 15, 2012 10:11 pm

      Lol… I know exactly what you mean. It is our pursuit of evidence, but the problem is, there is little believable evidence in this arena. I actually had a couple of shots taken of me when I was about half way through my weight loss. I wasn’t going to because I had already lost about 20 pounds and I was bummed that I hadn’t taken any pictures before. In any case, I just came across this shot recently and I am going to take a matching current shot, so I will post these when I do. I hope they will help. On a further note though, my weight loss has been successful because I have found ways to make fitness work in my life. I have a gym across the street from work that does crossfit which I love, I have continued to do different events, cycling, swimming, running, triathlon, etc, and I now play an organized adult team sport. All of these things coupled with learning to eat less have helped to make weight loss work. I have been under 165 pounds for the last 2 months, and I doubt I have another 5 pounds in me. We shall see though, as I am training for a marathon later this year! To think I did my first 5k 5 years ago. I have been under 180 pounds for the last 4 or 5 years. How is weight loss going for you?

      • Sarah permalink
        September 16, 2012 8:40 am

        Congrats on all your success! Weight loss actually isn’t a huge concern of mine (I have some to lose, but not a lot). I am more focused on being healthy, and I have made leaps and bounds in that arena over the last year.

      • YouAreNotAFitPerson permalink*
        September 16, 2012 10:56 pm

        Well done! Health is everything! What has been successful for you?

  5. Sarah permalink
    September 17, 2012 9:34 am

    Knowledge 🙂
    I stopped counting calories and paying attention to (most of) the numbers on a nutrition label. Instead, I started paying attention to ingredients. Or better yet, began eating more foods that had no need for an ingredients list. Also, had a light bulb moment when I finally understood that eating healthy is not just about what you are avoiding, but also making sure you are consuming the good stuff. This has meant a lot more protein, a lot more veggies, and a conscious effort to get in enough saturated fats.

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