Precision Nutrition, why the photo contest?

Dear Precision Nutrition,

In short, love your content and your coaching, hate your photo contest

I know, I know. It’s advertising. It’s very effective advertising, I’m sure, but it seems so inconsistent with your own programming and the lessons you teach.

My email box is full these days is messages like this one from Precision Nutrition:

In the next week, I’m giving away $50,000 to the top women’s finalists
from our latest Precision Nutrition Coaching group. And I’m having a tough time choosing the winner. If you click this link below, you’ll be able to check out our top women’s finalists. You’ll also be able to vote for who gets the prize money.

Which woman do you think had the best transformation?

You can see some of the winners here.

First, judging results based on appearance is inconsistent with your messaging throughout the program that what matters is health, strength, and physical and emotional wellness.

Second, isn’t it all about habits not results? Or I have missed something?

Third, throughout the program we were coached not to compare ourselves to others. People progress towards their goals at different rates. It’s your own journey. But then it ends with a giant exercise in comparison.

Finally, I thought it was about lifetime lifestyle changes, not end of a year eyeballing. I liked the emphasis on internal versus external transformations and thought PN’s lean eating program was about the former, not the latter.

As a participant in your program the photo shoot felt like a high school beauty pageant and figure competition, neither of which I’ve ever had any interest in participating in.

And yes, there was lots of room to opt out but then it felt like the last months of the program excluded me. I was also amused and disturbed, alternately, by the discussions about how to get good after photos. Artificial tanning, really? Skin cancer anyone? Okay, then spray tan instead. But that’s very much not my thing. Exercise first to get good muscle definition? How to reduce water for better muscle definition? Again, not my thing.

Given that the “before” photos were mostly selfies done with cell phones and timers it’s no surprise how much better they look. As you know, under these conditions you could do same day before and after photos get pretty good results.

Image from Business Insider, Australian Personal Trainer Debunks Those Infuriating ‘Before And After’ Weight Loss Pictures.

Lean Eating photo shoot defenders say it’s not about six pack abs or sculpted quads. It’s about confidence, about a certain sparkle in the eye, about posture. But that’s not what it felt like to me. It felt like one more time that women’s bodies were being judged not on what they could do but on how they looked in a two piece bathing suit.

Look at the photos from January 2013. What do you think?

Here’s the company’s description of the photos: “A great feature of our Lean Eating Coaching Programs is the body transformation contest we run for men and women: every 6 months, we give big prize money away for the best body transformations in the program….Over the last week or so, the coaches and I have spent countless hours poring over physique photos, weight loss numbers, body composition data and participation records in order to choose a handful of finalists.”

In the end, I did get photos done though I didn’t enter the competition or share them widely. I actually loved the photo shoot experience. I did them with my friend and guest blogger Nat. See her post, On boudoir photos and plastic guitars. And I wrote about my photo shoot in my review of the Precision Nutrition program. I loved the photo shoot as a body affirming experience, not as getting “after” photos done.

I wrote, “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.)”

In short here are my beefs with the Lean Eating/Precision Nutrition photo shoots:  Yes, the winners get prizes but it’s also free advertising for the company. On balance, I imagine, it’s a good deal. But I fear that the bikini style photo competition misrepresents the tone of the company’s own materials which tend to be about intuitive eating, body acceptance, and focus on habits not outcomes. Results after a year also aren’t really relevant. What ought to matter is how people are faring two, five, ten years out. It’s also not about the best transformations. Your results may vary, as they say. Results not typical, etc. What people who care about results ought to know is what percentage lean eaters lose weight/body fat and keep it off. I’ve been thinking about this for while and the recent crop of “best transformations” photos got me thinking about it again. Months later it still feels wrong to me.

Tracy and I have both written about the near impossibility of keeping weight off. See Sam and Tracy Respond …. What would be very useful are stats on how well past participants do over time. To my mind that would be the real hallmark of success. I know that data is hard to get and track but in the meantime, just quit with the before and after photos. It’s not what you’re really about.

Thanks for listening,



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