eating · training

Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Program Review: Reflections on My Year of On-Line Coaching

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.


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.