How Your Before Photo is Keeping You Fat

What if it turns out your Before photos are stalling your Transformation, not igniting it?

Before Photos got You Chained Down?

In the quest for your shiny new lean, fit Transformed body, the Before photo is your catalyst—a less than pleasant reality check that is gets you moving.


Getting the image in your head of “what I look like” out of your head and “on paper” helps you get objective about the current “reality.” It’s powerful technique to awaken you to action.


It should, and often does, the trick of getting people moving towards change. But as with all the best laid plans, this one fails as often as it works. And when it does fail it’s an invisible trap that can keep you stuck in a vicious cycle, expending terrific effort for little to no results.

Hating Yourself Forward

When you first get a look at your before photo—the current and often painful reality—you may have a violent response. Awakened to what you’ve been successfully ignoring for years, it’s a natural and even healthy to get twisted mad, be revolted and find yourself saying, “This sucks and I’m done with it! NO more! Damn this!”

Getting pissed can be the appropriate and even necessary healthy response to a bad situation—and this is one of those cases. Get mad… Get good and mad and then get over it and get moving.

Imagine the sort of mad you’d feel if the boat you were in sinks in the middle of an ice cold lake. For a minute or two, while the craft plummets and about 10 seconds in the water you’d be mad as hell about the ass-puckering freezing water. Then you’d stop being mad and  start swimming your ass off.

Now, if your boat sunk like this and you sat there in the freezing water, getting madder and madder, focusing on the 100’s of ways this sucks and all the things you could have done “in the past” to prevent it you wind up cold and dead.

No amount of mad about where you are is going to change anything. Only you, aiming at the distant shore and the focus of survival is going to save you.

When the Before photo works to inspire action it’s because of how you view it—it’s all perspective. You could be 30-plus pounds overweight and look beyond the disappointment and say, “I see how I got here. I haven’t trained, I’ve been eating poorly and not taking care of myself.”

There’s no mystery here.

Don’t make it personal. When you recognize your actions—or lack there of—are to blame, not yourself, you retain the (accurate) belief that you can change what you are doing and change the outcome.

No excuses, knowing what got you here and that it’s not YOU who are broken; is empowerment and freedom.

On the other hand, the “stuck” group, for whom the before photos are paralyzing, do take it personal. They see the fault not with their actions but much deeper in their being.

Like the first group, they have a violent reaction to their before photos but something different happens. Rather than turning the “yuk” into a fuel for change, there’s something about the “before” photo that is disturbing and strangely familiar. And the before image is seen not “the situation” but “the self.”

These people tend to get madder, bringing more emotion to the struggle. But all the pain and emotion is aimed back at yourself—such that it’s not just your photo you’re mad but you that you are disgusted with.

“Being angry with yourself, emotionally hijacked and self condemning, with the hope of this initiating change is like screaming at a nickel to become a quarter.”

As a result a deep rift occurs. One part of you wants change, the other is sick of the negative internal talk making yourself “bad.” Your stuck in a self-defeating, draining cycle.

It Sucks

And yet, as much as it sucks this negative energy provides a strong short term boost of effort, keeping you trying to “hate yourself forward.” Which explains why these wonderful people will work as hard as anyone. They sweat, they show up, they struggle but the keep experiencing disappointment after disappointment.

This terrible trap is invisible. You seem to be doing all the right things but you’re the one of a few who are failing—you must be doing something is wrong.

Something is wrong all right. But the wrong is not in the effort, not even in motivation or discipline, nor even in your hormones or the wrong diet pill. The wrong is in your head.

You can’t get a fit body from a fat head.

[PLEASE share your story below: How have your before photos helped or hindered you? Have you dealt with negative self-talk?  How have you overcome it or struggled with it]

PART 2: What’s the Solution?

You Can’t Get Strong from a Position of Weakness

One of the fundamental errors I see people in fitness and all areas of life is in believing they can create strength from a position of weakness. If you hate where you’re at, and it’s personal, you’re not in Strength.

I’m sure you agree.

And hating yourself more to get motivated is not the answer. In fact, it’s the opposite of a solution.

Everything I teach, that I packed inside Strength for LIFE is about how to first get yourself in a position of Strength and then move forward from Strength to Strength.

In Part 2 of this series, From Struggling to Strength I will show you how to turn it all around, to exchange weakness for Strength—and how to move forward boldly, with confidence and clarity from a position of Strength.

How do you go from struggling to thriving—stop fighting yourself and start building your inner strength, confidence and lean body from the inside out?

I can tell you now the solution is both simple and wildly successful but it requires some specific structure, practice and guides. All which I will share so that may embrace the simple daily, weekly and monthly practices that can ignite your true and full strength.

 Stay tuned for PART 2 — after this post receives 25 comments.

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  1. Vincent Kelly November 10, 2015 at 12:07 am #

    I am one of the men who has struggled with my weight for almost my entire life (50 years). I have dieted, exercised, you name it. I have taken the “Before” picture, but have yet to take the “After”.

    I recently realized, about two weeks ago, the reason I was unable to reach my goal was due to my lack of self-love. I would purposely sabotage myself to avoid achieving my goal. Why? Because I didn’t think I deserved it. I wasn’t worth it. I would come close but never met it.

    I realized that it boils down to a choice of loving myself or hating myself. I have chosen to love myself. For those of you who understand what I am talking about, you get it. For those of you who don’t understand what I am saying, there is no way I can explain it to you.

    The bottom line is the transformation doesn’t begin with the body. The transformation needs, dare I say, MUST, begin with the mind. You need to choose to love your self. You need to understand you are worthy and have value. Once you do this, the body can begin the transformation process and will reach the goal with or without a before picture.

  2. Kirk August 28, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    I refused to take before photos. I have lost 100 pounds (260 to 160), dropped my body fat from 45% to 17% and am now lifting to finish the job. Sometimes I wish I had taken photos, but I didn’t want to see myself.

  3. Chris September 23, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Hi Shawn,

    I read this a while back when you posted it, I guess I needed to let this one set in for a bit. I think my idealist-ego just doesn’t want to admit to being associated with this sort of self-image. I never experience that kind of self-talk consciously.

    So I chose not to reply and take the opportunity. Shame and fear are masters of missed opportunity.

    Last week, business took me to New York. On my way out the door, I decided to toss my copy of your book in my carry-on.

    I walked the transformation path, and everything appeared to be a bona-fide transformation, the kind you don’t revert from. I understood the difference between making a change and truly transformating, at least I really thought I did. For me it was an inside-out process and I was living it. Unfortunately, what I thought would be the next step forward in my life didn’t turn out exactly what I thought it would be.

    I don’t regret that, or the two amazing young men-to-be in my life now. But, from the moment I started to succeed in making my transformation, I had also invited a destructive element into my life that would prove to be a series of hurdles I just could not take in stride. One after another, I kept falling down. I gave up and it wasn’t long before I was medicating myself out of misery with mind-numbing junk food.

    I compare the person I am today to the person who took each step in stride, sticking with healthy nutrition choices and habits, who was smart enough to make the time for the running meditation that helped so much before, who had a basic understanding of the ‘red-hot-marble’ without ever hearing about it and experienced some similar love of strength training and the focus that came with it.

    It’s amazing how much I understand, and yet still, how far from living that way that I am today. I now have all the excuses, I now waste so much time. I guide my sons in the right direction, but I’m not leading them there. I teach them integrity, but in the most fundamental way, I’m not living it. I’m not getting down on myself here, it’s just an honest assessment.

    Several attempts at getting back on the horse have proven to be false starts. And I can now think of nothing I dread more than the thought of taking another before picture. Despite my natural tendency to go it alone, my only real success came with the help of a community… Not sure what that means.

    A lot of people have seen my first attempt, I think I did well. But I’m a bit confused and disillusioned to think that what I believed was crossing over the point of no return wasn’t so. I don’t dismiss the value of what I’ve been through and what I have gained from it, but I’d like to be around a little longer to share more of it with my family, friends and community.

    Even right after my success, I wasn’t fond of the spotlight… perhaps that was because I was already tripping over so many hurdles. In any event, I can’t imagine anyone who knows me would say that humility would be the lesson I had to learn. But there it is.

    Owning it probably helps. But I’m still floating in the freezing water. And my two boys aren’t getting a good physical role model out of the deal.

    I have very little energy, motivation, comfort, discipline…

    I made it through something pretty ugly, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to start over, but… I can really relate to the feelings and thoughts you’ve described here.

    I love your shakes. A lot. I’ve enjoyed your podcasts and book on my trip, so for me I’ll snap a quick ‘before’ and not look at it, put my head down and get my butt to base camp. Here’s hoping I can get through it with the fire I have left, without having to start over too many times. Honestly, at my level of discomfort, I don’t have much choice. It would have been nice to be an example of turning around before hitting the bottom, but that isn’t the case.

    • shawn_phillips September 23, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

      Wow! Thank you for this courageous share!

      You can see your strength and resolve in this–in your authentic words.

      The thing we have to do, and I do mean “we” is find compassion for ourselves first. For without compassion for us we have none for others–for life.

      And in that state of compassion, accept where we are as the perfect place to be. I have a friend who often has to remind me that “the universe is always only trending towards good. So while it may look bleak, or worse, it’s only and all good.”

      We just can’t always see it. But if we just accept it without need to see, we are better off.

      Take the steps. Baby steps. I so agree about community. It’s in the groups of support where we can find our traction. And know it’s not all about “looking the after” part but looking and feeling better in a way that works.

      To Your Full Strength


  4. Missy McCurnin July 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    Hey Shawn,

    Our perspective of ourselves and our situations are such an integral part of this process and I TOTALLY relate to the attempts of “hating myself forward” and how it truly did not work!!!! … there was a time in my life that I wanted that “in my face” trainer, pointing out my weaknesses … no way to explain it other than to think that I’d find strength in the “criticism”??!?!? … I obviously learned that it was NOT constructive and I only ended up taking before pic after before pic!!!

    What changed?!?! … I found your brother’s Transformation Community … through interaction with others, I discovered those self-hating voices weren’t authentically mine, they were there from my situation and as I changed my actions, environment, and my mindset, I began to see my life change and that’s continued … I’ve also worked on giving others true and authentic compliments and then accepting compliments … at the beginning, I’d say “what if when I complimented someone they responded with ‘yeah right?!?!'” … so now, I say “thank you” and allow my heart and head to hear what is being said to and about me!

    Funny, what brought me to your page and eventually here today is working on getting my middle son to reach his physical potential … he’s going into his sophomore year and this coming season’s football conditioning began today … of course, he’s being bombarded by “advice” because he is a big boy with TONS of heart and potential … I had him take “before” pics today so that he could see where he is and we could work on goals together … I also bought him a journal to write some goals, prepare, plan, track progress, etc. and told him I’d look into what supplements would be the best for a kid (in my eyes he’s still a kid, even though he’s 6’2″and weighs 256)

    What I found here, so far, is an affirmation of what we’ve been discussing here at home and at church about our “perception” of others AND ourselves – on a Mission Trip that my 3 boys just attended, they discussed the following passage

    “John 8

    2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

    But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

    9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

    11 “No one, sir,” she said.

    “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.””

    They all immediately “got” the message of not condemning others and that in God’s eyes we are forgiven … but, what I found SO cool about it was that the boys went deeper and asked “how do you think the woman viewed herself when Jesus left?” … just as their youth pastor, I’m so impressed with the impact of this question … this woman had been caught in the act and been given forgiveness (up until now that’s always been the end of the lesson) … but these boys talked about their own “self-labels and perceptions” … it’s my hope, as a mom, to be able to build on this … so, while I’m sorry for the book I just wrote, I’m also so very grateful for the message you shared above and pray that I’m able to convey it properly as I help my boys move forward on their journey (they are 14, 16, & 18 years old)

    I holding the intention that my son’s before pics act as a catalyst for change.

    ~ Missy

    • shawn_phillips July 2, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

      Yeah Missy…

      Way to share it… all! Nice. Thank you for your contribution. I appreciate your passion and focus.


  5. George Arvanitis June 29, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Per Shawn “There’s no mystery here. Don’t make it personal. When you recognize your actions—or lack there of—are to blame, not yourself, you retain the (accurate) belief that you can change what you are doing and change the outcome.”

    Seriously true…once I changed my actions, I, my self started to enjoy the momentum of results. Gradually, and consistently, I came to crave clarity, intensity, simplicity and action.

    I think I am most pleased about the “don’t feel like it” days or the “day circumstances interfered days” when I either hit a snag or began to sabotage forward progress. This is common to all of us. It’s at this point that you can begin to attribute your impending sense of failure on yourself, or retain your choice to change your action. So what if the gym closed, I can grab these exercise bands, I can use the stairs in my building for 25 minutes instead, I can use my bodyweight and/or do isometrics. It’s a short distance to remove the BS in your mind. There is something to be said, for learning and knowing how and when to “flip the switch” from personalizing defeat (imposed by self, others or outside forces) and convert your energy into taking action.

    And here’s the nugget I have learned from the strength approach. Many of us have falsely assumed we needed to spend excessive time and energy to get and be fit. But, in fact I now spend less time than ever on fitness. But that time is focused, concentrated and intense. Great habits are now second nature and it feels wierd not to do the right actions. It’s the difference between cracking the whip or being under it. And the best part, life is a lot more fun and there’s a lot more amped up time to live, work and play hard. I think if we added energy/strength training into our current educationsl sytem’s P.E. courses and did a life fitness course we’d turn out enthused visionary students, game changers and increase our GPA and GDP as well.

    • shawn_phillips June 29, 2012 at 11:29 pm #


      Always a pleasure to hear from you. I want you to teach the next module on this!

      This is why / how we get better… the whole of us. It’s not about me. I is as I is but having wise, caring experienced people to share and learn from is what makes it all go.

      I get amped up just reading this. Stuff like this, “life is a lot more fun and there’s a lot more amped up time to live, work and play hard.”


      To Your Strength… FULL!


  6. chuck warner June 29, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Seems I have been working on my “before” photo for about 10 years now. I think I have accomplished a pretty good “before” picture at this point. Time to get working on the “after” now. Im starting tomorrow.

    • shawn_phillips June 29, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

      Rock on Chuck! Focus on the NEXT thing… the future is right on. The after, which is really the next.

      And why get to there? Because you said so! That’s why. We can feel great about ourselves / yourself now!

      “Focus on the good feeling, and it will grow and grow…” As Andy Taylor advised young Opie. (Yeah, I just dated myself!)


  7. Kathy Draper June 29, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    This was a wonderful blog Shawn. I am now 50. I have been ‘dieting’ since I was 12. I am working on body image and self esteem issues. I am working to forgive myself for the damage I have done to my body. Working to repair and get healthy. Working to stop comparing to others. I have given my before photos to much power. I have actually allowed them to make me believe I cannot make changes or at least the changes I want to make. Never going to be Jamie Eason but optimal health and fitness needs to be my goal. I think the beofre photos can tend to have us focus more on superficial.

    • shawn_phillips June 29, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

      Thanks Kathy!

      Always terrific to hear from you. Issues… we all got! Forgive-ness, for self, is a big job for us as well.

      You are not alone… and a whole lot of us ain’t gonna be Jamie Eason…and but, for all that we can project onto a vessel like that, it’s good to know it is just that, a projection. As they saying goes, “we all put our pants on, one leg at a time…” And yes, this applies even when you’re talking about ones who don’t wear pants, or much of anything.

      Best always!

  8. Eddie McThorn June 29, 2012 at 6:45 am #

    Interesting post. I really like the following quote

    “One of the fundamental errors I see people in fitness and all areas of life is in believing they can create strength from a position of weakness. If you hate where you’re at, and it’s personal, you’re not in Strength.”


    • shawn_phillips June 29, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

      Thanks for the reflection Eddie. Nice to hear this from you.

      Yes, I think I’ve still got some explaining to do for some, on what I mean about Strength and Weakness. But I’ll get there.

      See ya soon…

  9. John June 29, 2012 at 3:51 am #

    I have many great before photos but my transformation photo seems to be only on the horizon

  10. John June 29, 2012 at 3:48 am #

    I have many very good before pictures but my transformation seems to be consistently on the horizon.

  11. Jay June 28, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    Dude, leave me and my fat ass before/now pictures alone! Why can’t you just let me drown in my own cold water!!

    Ha! Kidding of course! Great point of view, and that’s where I am…constantly frustrated with where I am and what got me here. Thanks for a new perspective! Moving forward from here. Thanks for the motivation Shawn!

    • shawn_phillips June 29, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

      You bet funny man! Ha…

      Thanks for sharing!


  12. Brian June 28, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    About one year ago I read Strength For Life, and shortly thereafter started using Full Strength. These two actions changed my life. The before pictures are great motivation when the transformation is happening quickly. There comes a point where your focus must change from where you were to where you are going. Your post always make me think and increase my knowledge. I have left sickness and found real strength. Thanks for all of your hard work, it has greatly improved my life.

  13. George Arvanitis June 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm #


    Great post! So many times I found myself not finishing in prior years. Finally, after making some progress in my diet the end of last year I took on a Spring challenge. My roommate was hassling me about taking my before pictures which I intended to do. Then a girl I date did the same. After a few weeks it was becoming a daily question and like na interrogation. Did you take your picture? Did you weigh yourself to know if you are making progress? And at the time I realized that I have one of those complex perfectionist minds that sweats the details, and I knew that I had to be unconventional. So, I chose not to take the before photo and start seeing the after photo. I found a body that I thought realistically looked like mine could and pasted my head on it. And I focused on doing the right things, high quality whole foods in proper portions, full-strength, straight protein for last meal, complex carbs, healthy fats 4-5 meals spaced out and 5-6 intense workouts per week. This was the ticket. I focused on the factors, not the daiily scorecard. I started to see my clothes become looser and had to buy new clothes. I lost 3 pants sizes in 11 weeks and over 40 lbs. To tell you the truth. I was shocked. Though I knew I’d done well I did not even begin to think I made this kind of progress to burn fat and gain muscle to the tune of 40 pounds down on the scale. Three (3) weeks prior to my recent trip to Hawaii I bought a pair of swim trunks that I could not quite get in and by the time I got to Hawaii, they fit and by the time i left Hawaii they were comfortably loose. So, on the beach in Kauai with my special friend Kristina, I had her take my before pictures for the next cycle. My roommate with very little input from me, found a super nutritionist and is now on the most serious whole food, body cleansing, chemical free diet he’s ever known and joined a gym. Succes factors, execution, quick forgiveness when you miss, back at it with intensity… I know i could have lost 50 lbs off the scale in this time period, but I now have learned to celebrate simply living and investing in doing the right things and continual improvement. I have a ways to go, but it’s not about the photo, it’s about what you beleive and act on. This time I plan to do the photos, for the benefit of others, but first I had to give myself a break from my weakness to over analyze and it’s paid off huge! I am so thankful and seriously poised to give each day a strong investment. Thanks man! Good stuff! Break the mold in your mind and invent something worthwhile is what I say…

  14. Cindy June 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    Thanks for the very interesting perspective. It all makes perfect sense and shows why we sometimes self sabotage our efforts. Having good, or better yet great, self esteem is so important to success in anything we do in life. I want to accomplish better things in all areas of my life but I have taken the “stress” off myself for right now as I know that my ‘head’ & ‘heart’ just aren’t strong enough right now to make the necessary changes. Instead I am working on getting that strength within myself so when I do try I can be successful leading to better self esteem not worse by trying now and knowing I will fail. Your words put the understanding behind my current actions and feelings, so thank you.

  15. EL June 28, 2012 at 12:23 pm #


  16. Jay F. June 28, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    I have been working out for about 2 yrs. notice little change but pictures can’t help me I am totally blind.. I just want to be noticed since I can’t look at myself.. help me get noticed!

  17. Gordon Bell June 28, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    There is an axiom I find helpful. The degree to which we confront what is, is the degree to which things are simple. Conversely, the degree to which we do not confront, is the degree to which things get complicated.

    I began my pursuit of transformation at age 60. I was semi-successful. Now at age 73, I am finally making great headway and look and feel even younger all because I confronted what is. I confronted not only my picture and how I looked in the mirror, I confronted the knowledge that abounds everywhere. And, each time I grabbed the jiggly stuff and saw what I had left. Each week that gots smaller.

    Namely, 80+ percent is diet. It is all a matter of glycemic response. I reduced the sugars and the body let go of the toxins and the fat. And, it completely changed the cravings… they about totally disappeared.

    Now, I see a new before picture because, the goals have advanced. I can’t adequately express the joy of actually feeling and looking younger much less getting better involved in life, while I watch those who do not confront what is and ignore my progress because they do not confront REALITY!

    Our society throws temptations in our paths …that destroy us, while it takes some mental strength to see what is destructive and transform the mind. And, the more you work on the mind, the stronger it gets, like the muscles get from challenging them with resistance.

    That is what I observe and do my best to emulate in athletic champions. Why, I like to watch Tiger Woods, who has had it go both ways himself. And, I like to watch you Shawn!

  18. Jay June 28, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    I really liked this post. My before pictures motivated me in the early days, though they never made me mad. They just gave me a starting point and a reason to keep going when I didn’t feel like working out or making smart food choices.

    But now, 10+ years after significant weight loss and pretty complete body comp and lifestyle change, my before pictures simply mark my accomplishment. And occasionally get whipped out to prove to somebody that yes, I did used to be obese.

    • Pwrbldg June 28, 2012 at 8:14 am #

      Wow! Congrats to you Jay! Great share. Thanks for taking the time! Much appreciated.

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