Last year Sam posted her review of the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Program. You can read her review here. Now it’s my turn. I just completed the year-long program of on-line coaching last week. Like Sam, I have a mixed view of the program. I liked some aspects of it a lot. Others, like the photo contest, not so much. So here goes.
Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating program is an on-line coaching program that focuses on developing “healthy habits.” When you sign up, you are assigned a coach. It’s not one-on-one coaching. Each coach has a “team” of I’m not sure how many people. I would say there were more than a hundred in my group, though this information is not readily available.
For the year, you get a new habit to work on roughly every two weeks. For that two-week period, that’s the habit that you want to focus on. After the two weeks, that habit stays in play but you focus on a new habit. In that sense, it’s cumulative. By the end of the year there are quite a few habits that, with any luck, you’re practicing on a regular basis.
Every day you also get a new lesson to read. They take about 10 minutes or so to read and sometimes you’re asked to answer a few questions.
Finally, every day you are given a workout. You can follow their workout plan or do something else, but they do encourage clients to follow the prescribed workouts.
Each day, you can get a checkmark for each of these things — practicing the habit, completing the lesson, doing your workout. This is all recorded automatically in a progress log, so over time you can get a pretty good sense of how well you are working the program.
They make some bold claims about the program. The boldest claim is that it’s 100% guaranteed: “We coach you for 12 months, you get in the best shape of your life or it’s free.” I am not sure how many people, if any, have ever tried to collect back their money.
And I’m not sure what you need to do to prove that you’re not, in fact, in the best shape of your life. What measures are they using? In my case, I probably have a higher level of cardiovascular fitness than I’ve ever had and I’m pretty strong, but I don’t know that I’m in the best shape of my life. And if I am, it’s more because of the triathlon training than the PN program.
What I liked about the program:
1. The workouts. The workout schedule of three weight training workouts per week, active recovery, and interval training with one day off is reasonable and do-able. The workouts are varied and easy to do either at home (with some equipment or at the gym).
There are 11 “phases” over the course of the year, so the workouts don’t get boring. Most phases are 4 weeks long, with each week getting slightly more intense than the last. I was fairly consistent with the PN LE workouts for the first six months, until triathlon season hit.
When I was consistent with the workouts I definitely got stronger. I’ve printed them all of and will continue to use the suggested workouts even though the program is over.
2. The habit-based approach. I love that the program emphasizes healthy habits over dieting and food plans. It’s not that they don’t think people should plan their eating, but they don’t provide strict plans or encourage huge restrictions on what we eat. My favourite two habits were the “anchor habits” of eating slowly and stopping when 80% full. With these two habits in my back pocket I’ve got two simple strategies that help me navigate most eating situations and come out feeling comfortable.
3. The coach. I really liked Janet, my coach. She posted video messages to us pretty regularly, especially at the beginning, and she checked in with me at least once a week to see how things were going. Whenever I contacted her with a question or concern, she got back to me pretty quickly.
4. The support of my team members. We all stayed in touch through the Facebook group (private to our team) and the PN forums. There are a few people on the team whom I will definitely stay in touch with, and even though the program is over, my team’s Facebook group remains active and will continue.
There is something really powerful about the support of the team and the coach, working together to help everyone succeed. We also had a couple of team mentors, who were women who had gone through the program before and who played a special role in keeping us motivated.
5. The lessons. I learned a lot from the daily readings that were provided each morning. I made a point of downloading all of the material into folders sorted by week. I will revisit some of the material over the next year. If I want to, I can do it day by day from the very beginning all over again.
Lots of the lessons focused on internal change and getting in touch with yourself to understand what motivates you, what you need, what matters, what your goals are, and so forth. I’m a big fan of that sort of internal work. I like to reflect and answer questions, and I like to see how my thoughts about things evolve.
6. The food experiments. This is something that I didn’t expect to like but I enjoyed quite a bit. At about the halfway point of the program, we started to be assigned different food experiments on Thursdays. These ranged from plant-based eating to fasting, as well as a paleo day (which I blew off because, as a vegan, I wasn’t interested in eating nuts and seeds all day), and a sugar-free day. I liked the 24-hour fast and did it a couple of times. But just generally I liked the opportunity to move out of my comfort zone and try something I’d never thought to try before.
What I wasn’t so crazy about
1. The weekly measurements. Every Saturday we had to weigh ourselves and take quite a few measurements and enter those numbers onto the website. The idea was that it would help us gauge our progress. For me, it was an exercise in learning not to get too hung up on the numbers. But until PN I had set aside the scale for a whole year, so I was worried that it would trigger me and make me fixate on the number on the scale.
In the end, it didn’t do that, but it still wasn’t my favourite part of the program. I can report that I lost a little bit of weight (about 10 pounds). It all came off within the first four months and then I leveled off at the same weight and measurements after that.
2. The monthly photos. Another progress marker was monthly front, side, and back photos, in which you wore either a bikini or workout shorts and a sports bra. I opted for the workout gear. The photos got easier as I got more used to them, but I never did enjoy taking the photos and uploading them to the website. It’s true that I could see visible changes from the first month to a few months later. But somehow the focus on the visual didn’t do anything for me.
3. The clash between PN values and my triathlon goals. Now, this isn’t strictly their fault, but I don’t think they are explicit enough up front about just how difficult it is to do endurance training and PN at the same time.
When I mentioned that I was trying to fit in all of my training, my coach told me that for the program to work best, it should be the only training you’re doing. She sent me a post where they talk about the incompatibility of endurance training and strength training.
That may well be, but I honestly didn’t realize that at the time. Had I known, I might not have signed up for PN since I had very clear goals for my triathlon training over the summer and I wasn’t about to give them up. As a result, I was trying to juggle too much.
4. The photo contest. I hated the photo contest and blogged about my reasons just the other day. Mainly I feel as if it goes against the whole focus on habits and internal changes, it focuses on appearance in a way that I find really off-putting, and it gives PN a bunch of free advertising. For more about why I don’t like the photo contest, see here.
5. The habits that weren’t habits, namely: prepare for your photo shoot and recover from your photo shoot. Seriously? The last month of the program was pretty much a waste of time for me because I opted out of the photo shoot.
6. The cost. I actually thought the pre-sale price of $100 a month wasn’t too bad considering the extensive materials they provided, but for 2015 it has spiked up dramatically in cost. The pre-sale, which is going on now, gets you a $400 price reduction. But after that it’s $179 a month (this is from what a team member told me — I can’t see the price anywhere on the website right now). I also think that for that price, we should get some sort of resource, maybe a pdf with materials we can refer to later. Instead, we have a week of access to all of the on-line materials and then, boom, we are cut off. I get that they need to move on to the next group, but it’s not cheap and having some permanent materials would be a good thing.
So that’s my view of PN. I’m not sure if, on balance, I would recommend it. I think it really depends what you are looking for and what your goals are. If you’re serious about endurance training, I don’t think it’s a good match. If you are triggered by weighing and tracking measurements, that’s also an issue.
For someone who hasn’t got a solid workout program or schedule or who is bored with what they’re doing and wants to try something different, it’s a better fit because you can then dedicate yourself to the workouts as prescribed. The habits and lessons are extremely informative, so if you’re seeking solid and balanced information the program has lots to offer in that respect.
As for me, I feel that even though the program wasn’t really compatible with my endurance goals, I got stronger and I acquired a few solid habits that will serve me well. Despite losing a few pounds, I don’t feel much leaner though I guess I must be. This year they didn’t have us measure and record body fat percentage, so I don’t know for sure. I don’t know anyone on my team who is doing another round of coaching and it’s not something I myself would consider.
For 2015, I plan to keep practicing the habits that are working for me–especially slow eating to 80% full–and to focus on my training so I can have a strong triathlon season in the summer without trying to divide my attention between the PN LE program and the triathlon training schedule.