body image · diets · sports nutrition

Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program: A Year in Review

For a more recent account of the PN experience, see Tracy’s 2014 review here.

Since January 2013, I’ve been enrolled in the Lean Eating for women program run by Precision Nutrition. Many people have asked how it’s going and whether I’d recommend the program.

I’ve had a lot of email about this aspect of the “fittest by fifty” challenge. More than anything else, actually. Since this is feedback I’m sharing with the people at Precision Nutrition I’m happy to share it here too and not just to the people who reach out and ask.

That’s one life lesson from teaching. If three or four people ask me something, I know dozens more want to know too but are too shy to ask. I also try, as a professor, to be fair. Some people ask for what they want, extensions, usually, but I try not to privilege the bold and brave.

It actually fascinates me the extent to which posts about weight, body image issues, and dieting out perform posts on fitness and athletic performance here on the blog. That says something, I think.

Would I recommend Lean Eating? That depends on your goals and your background, I think. Read on and decide for yourself.

Here’s the program I did, the Lean Eating Coaching Program For Women, and here’s what I loved and what I didn’t love so much, in keeping with my six things theme. (See Six things in one place.)

Here’s what Lean Eating says:

We’ve helped thousands of women get in the best shape of their lives; scroll down to view some of the photos and read their stories. Most were so focused on caring for others that they stopped taking time to care for themselves. And that’s where we come in. Our coaches are part nutritionist, part scientist, part caring friend. With a little personal trainer and personal concierge built in. Together, we find what works for you, and then hold you accountable and help you be consistent. You work with a coach for 12 months, entirely online, and we ensure you get healthier, fitter and happier with your body than you ever thought possible.

I knew going in that the program wasn’t a perfect fit. I take my athletic performance goals more seriously than  body composition goals. I do want to get leaner (see Fat, fit, and why I want to be leaner anyway) even though I’m not focused on my appearance. By and large, I’m happy with the way I look now. (See Loving the body you’ve got: Body positivity and queer community.) I care much more about getting to the right weight for the race wheels on my road bike (under 170 lbs, for what it’s worth) and not getting dropped on hills than I care about fitting into the latest fashions (die skinny jeans, die) or about looking good in a bikini, according to standards I explicitly reject. I know this makes me not your typical candidate for a fat loss program.

My reaction to my first set of bikini photos, front, back, and side view? (Lean Eating has you take monthly photos.) Wow, I look pretty good in a two piece bathing suit for a nearly fifty year old professor with 3 kids! I’m smiling in the first set and smiling in the last and frankly, I don’t look that different. Yes, I have thick thighs (no thigh gap here, never was, never will be)  and solid calves and yes, I have belly rolls and stretch marks. But I tend to see my history written on my body through those marks and scars and think about my wonderful kids and my years spent riding a bike and feel good even about what others see as imperfections. That fits in with my general life view, the glass is always half full.

I look like me, and I like me, so it’s all good.

I do look different in the photos a professional photographer took, but hey, she’s a pro. And she’s not using my smart phone propped up on a bookshelf in timer mode.  Besides the pricey real camera, she’s also got on her side: make up, talent, good lighting, flattering poses and postures, and a great attitude. See Nat’s take on our experience, On boudoir photos and plastic guitars (Guest post). So much fun. I highly recommend it as a body affirming experience. Don’t wait til you’re thin. (In fact, don’t ever put things off til you’re thin. You might never be thin, so what? Is that so scary? Go now.)

Sam photo black and white
Photo credit: Ruth Less,

So how did this square peg fit in?

Here’s the six things I loved:

1. It’s online. I’m an online kinda person, as you might have guessed. I’m introverted and quiet in person but I’m pretty free and open on the internet. Make of that what you will, this aspect of the program worked well for me. It’s no great effort for me to check in with the website everyday and keep up with forums and the unofficial Facebook group. It’s just part of what I do. I’m comfortable meeting people this way and I can point them to various resources (like this blog!) to get to know me better. For example, want to hear my experience with Weight Watchers? Read I hate you Weight Watchers.

2. The coaches. Super timely one on one interaction when that’s required and lots of engagement. I felt I was understood by my coach and that I didn’t have to keep explaining things. Now, I like coaching and I respond well to it and I knew that going in. Not everyone does. I know that the experience of nutrition counseling differs. Your mileage may vary, YMMV, as they say. (See my pro nutrition counseling post here and Tracy’s post on why sports nutrition counseling isn’t for her here.) I’ve done nutrition counseling before and I can’t tell you the number of times I’d have to repeat that I don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat meat and don’t eat fast food. This coach remembered. Now she might have the info in front of her and outsourced that memory to a computer but that’s fine by me. I also felt like my history and my values made sense to her. I’m a teacher too and I notice when I make connections with students, and coach Krista and I connected.

3. Facebook group: The group of women in my cohort in the same coaching group, Team Switch, who were active on Facebook started a Facebook group. That group more than anything felt like my peer group in this experience. We were geographically separate, some in the US, in Canada, in the UK, in Germany….but I loved the interaction. We shared photos of food, recipes, sought advice from one another, and generally had a good time. I even met my lean eating buddy from Germany when she visited Ontario and we bonded over what we’d learned. Unlike the forums, this worked well on my phone and so while the forums are the official PN communication tool, the Facebook group worked better for me.

4. Supported my goal of slow sustainable weight loss: I didn’t want to lose weight fast. Been there, done that. I was much more interested in slow, sustainable changes and I got lots of support for that goal. There was lots of reassurance that baby steps were still steps in the right direction. I didn’t feel pushed at all. (Read Why slow and steady wns the weight loss race at Livestrong.) I lost about 12 lbs over the course of the year but I also have gained a bunch of new muscle so I’m pretty sure my fat/lean ratio looks better than it did. I’ll measure that in the bod pod sometime soon to confirm.

5. The materials. The daily readings were helpful, informative with just the right amount of research and footnotes and things to think about. I loved the emphasis on habits, rather than outcomes. I talk about Lean Eating’s habit based approach here and another blogger talks about Precision Nutrition’s five habits for eating here.

6.  Strong emphasis on internal change: There was a lot of emphasis on changing your mind, and as much focus on your attitudes as there was a changing your body. This is kind of an exercise in meeting in the middle. Change attitudes to food and the way you look, change your body a bit, and that’s the transformation. You hear this in the words of the coaches when they praise lean eating clients for increased self confidence and getting to know and love their true selves. Pictures are praised not just for outcomes in terms of size and shape but also for the new attitude they portray. So there are few movie star bodies at the end of lean eating, mostly modest changes, but there’s lots of counseling about body acceptance and loving the body you have. And it’s true that many of the women seem like very different people the inside and out.

Is this bait and switch? Advertise weight and fat loss and offer up a program that’s big on not judging? I’ve thought lots about this and I think that change and acceptance go together.

Here’s six things I could do without:

1. For a program, that’s all online I was surprised there wasn’t a smart phone app for the lean eating forums. I’m on the run lots of the day and I often wanted to check in but needed to wait until I got back to a full size grown up computer, but that’s when I work for real. I have a habit of saving the real computers for actual work, research and writing, and using my phone for Facebook etc and normally I’d slot LE into the latter but without a phone app, it had to compete for work time. Sometimes that meant I was disciplined about work and skipped a day and I kept thinking, since I’ve got lots of down time with my smart phone, waiting for kids, that it didn’t have to be that way.

2. The price. Advance registration is $99 to register and then $99 a month thereafter. That’s a lot out of my personal wellness budget! It’s more if you don’t get on the pre-sale list.

3. Weekly weigh ins and measurements, and monthly photos. Again, there’s lots of counseling around weighing and measuring (“you are more than just a number”) but still, it felt a bit much. Personally I would have done better without all the weighing and measuring.

4. I signed up for the nutrition counseling but there were also planned workouts. Instead, I stuck with the physical activities I love. I wasn’t going. to swap rowing, riding, Aikido, CrossFit for workouts on my own. The fitness stuff was not useful to me and as a result I felt that I was paying for stuff I didn’t use. It also meant I couldn’t connect with others about the workouts. I knew that going in but it bothered me more than i thought it would.

5. Very mixed crowd. Different places, different goals. The idea was one habit at a time but some people were already on pretty restrictive diet plans, following rules that weren’t lean eating habits. Others were second or third time through the lean eating program and they were still following all the advanced habits while reconnecting with the beginning ones. And still others had disordered eating habits from years ago. Some were new to exercise, others were aspiring fitness models.

6. Competition at the end. I don’t like before and after pics and judging the best transformation. Some people came to enjoy it but I’m really not a fan of thinking of life in terms of “before” and “after.” See here for this year’s contest finalists.

Oh a bonus beef, the lean eating materials aren’t searchable. Some people printed up each day’s reading and assignment and put them in binders. That’s not my usual thing but I wish I’d done that too. The only option is manually scrolling back through a day at a time on the calendar.

And I missed the big precision nutrition get together. By the time the dates were announced I was committed to an academic conference that conflicted. That’s my life.

I’d also love it if they had an alumni program for graduates

Where am I now?

I’m keen to try continuing the habits without the coaching. But I’d like a book, or an electronic version of the materials, to help me along. Given that I could have printed up the materials at the time it seems a reasonable request. I understand that they have proprietary interests in the coaching materials but the program wasn’t inexpensive and I could been organized and saved them as I went, if I’d known. (If you’re a LE alumni who was organized, and did save them, let me know!)

Other people in my group are going to continue on to a second year. Some people are going it alone and staying active in our Facebook group.

I’m not totally decided either way.


32 thoughts on “Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program: A Year in Review

  1. This is a great review. Despite our conversations and much of what you’ve said that might indicate that it’s not the right program for me, I am actually seriously considering it for this year. I am on the presale list. The focus on habits and lean nutrition is attractive to me. I feel as if intuitive eating has helped my attitude a lot, but I also feel ready to combine ‘eat when I’m hungry, stop when satisfied’ with further habits that will promote (gasp) a different body composition that (I believe) will support better performance in all my activities from yoga to running, swimming, and cycling. I do consider it an experiment, but I feel ready for a change and I like coaching. And if it works on attitude, body acceptance is still a huge challenge for me. If that’s even part of the attitude then that’s another positive. If they can coach healthier attitudes to tracking weight and measurements then I’m willing to try that too. So thanks for this comprehensive review.

    1. Sounds good. But I am curious about getting back on the scale every week. Will that be okay?

      1. I guess we will see. I’m hoping that with the attitude coaching I can learn to do it with a more neutral and less judgmental attitude.

  2. Thanks, Sam, for the very thoughtful post. I share a lot of your concerns about canned and conventional weight-loss/fitness programs. I’ve also seen a sports nutritionist (Nancy Clark, who is about the best there is and happens to live near me; check out her food guide for cyclists at, but I have not been able to find the support I want for mapping my own eating/fitness course. I’ll put together some thoughts and a 6-item wish list and send them to you.

    If I don’t get a chance to do this again this year (will be busy with holiday madness and fun), a big thanks to you and Tracy for this blog. It stimulates my thinking and writing, and supports so many people– we are grateful for this outlet and looking forward to more installments in 2014!


  3. I think this was an excellent analysis of our year and the program.
    My advice for someone concerned about weighing and measuring is do it monthly and just put in the same numbers for the weeks in between.
    There is way too much focus on this in the program.
    Also, while we had a fantastic and responsive coach, each coach has hundreds of lean eaters (I’m assuming all teams are in the 200-300 range). So personalized contact might not quite be what you get.
    But for $99 a month I felt I got a personal trainer, nutrition guide and therapist. Worth every penny!

  4. Hi 🙂 I was also on team SWITCH last year. I’m curious if you found anyone who was organized enough to print out the lessons.

  5. I signed up for this year’s group and I’m happy that I was able to find your unbiased review about the program as it made my decision to sign up easier. I’ll also be printing out each days materials because of your review. Thanks for the insider information!

  6. This is a great review of the program. After trying many different ways to lose weight and improve my health, I think I may try PN. It seems like it would be more of a lifestyle change than another fad diet.
    I’m kind of debating on whether I should do the self paced program or if I should do the coaching version. It seems like both offer access to coaching online for a year. Anyone know what the difference is and why I should chose one over the other?

  7. Hi Sam, thank you for this review. It was the first comprehensive and honest one I could find. Have you heard of any alternative programs out there similar to PN? I need more flexibility and higher personal contact with a coach. Thanks!

    1. Some of the PN coaches also have their own coaching businesses. That might be your best bet. Former PN employees also are teaching using similar methods and ideas. I don’t have any names to recommend though. Anyone?

  8. Hi Sam, Do you still follow this or pars of PN? Would you continue to endorse since you wrote your review? Many thanks in advance 😊

    1. Yes, I still like the habit based approach. A group of us kept going after the PN year ended and that was nice. I’ve still got reservations but there’s lots to like.

  9. I’m curious how many coaches there are through PN? Isn’t the market getting saturated? Do you get to choose your coach?

    1. I don’t know how many coaches there. I do know that you don’t get to choose your own coach.

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