The damn photo contest again (Sam and Tracy vent)

Something more recent blog readers may not know is that before we turned 50, Sam and I each took at turn at the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Program. We both came away with mixed feelings. Some of the info was helpful and the focus on “healthy habits” matched a lot of what we already thought. But we both absolutely despise the photo contest. And since we are former clients, we each get an email encouraging us to vote on the best “transformation” every six months (every six months they have a new group commit to a year of coaching). That happened this week. And we started venting to each other all over again. Now we are going to vent about it to whoever wants to read on…


What I hate most about the Precision Nutrition photo competition is the dishonesty.

In the very early 1980s my very best friend wanted to be in our town’s beauty pageant but she didn’t want to take part in the bathing suit competition. They tried to reassure her that it wasn’t about looking good in a bikini. Instead, it was about showing that you took good care of your body and that you had confidence in a bathing suit. She argued back. We were both budding feminists. Isn’t it easier to have confidence if you look great in a bikini? How do you know who is taking care of their body? All you see is them in a bikini? But they were having none of it. She took part and refused to wear a bathing suit. She lost gracefully in a beautiful beach caftan. I miss you Leeanne!

The PN photo competition is the same. I asked about it when I was enrolled in the program. I said it didn’t seem to match all of their material on health and wellness. Why the focus on appearance? Like the beauty pageant, they said it was really about confidence and well-being. You could tell from the contestant’s posture that they were happier. You could tell from the glow of their skin that they were healthier. It’s an inner transformation contest!

Except what we are judging is the exterior. And this idea that you read things off a person’s body is pernicious. Like people who think they can tell you’re lazy by looking at your weight. Or worse, in children’s stories, that we can tell that you’re evil because you’re ugly. Or in the worst of children’s stories that your soul is deformed because your body is disabled.

So if you’re judging bodies, judge bodies. That’s not my thing. But be honest about it. Don’t say you’re judging health, wellness, or confidence.


I don’t love dishonesty either. The whole idea of judging someone’s “transformation,” whether inner or outer, makes me really uncomfortable. And like Sam says, if you’re only going by the before and after photo, then it’s totally based on the body transformation.

If you wanted to judge something more, then how about asking them to write an essay? Or do a Q&A?

I look at the photos and I just feel really sad for the women in them. A year of working on healthy habits and it comes down to this? A photo to put beside your “before” photo so we can see and judge how you’ve changed. It’s excruciating to look at grown women posing in swimsuits or workout gear, under a headline that tells you for each how many inches and pounds she lost, so they can be scored in a contest.

It feels demeaning in all the ways a beauty pageant is demeaning. Surely we are more than our bodies? And surely we ought not be judged for our bodies, on the basis of whether someone finds them pleasing or approves of our physical transformation?

When I did it they spent an entire month trying to get us to have a professional photo shoot. Of course they would. The photo contest is probably one of their biggest ways to bring in new clients, and the better the pictures the better the (free) advertising. I quite resented that part too–the many arguments they gave to encourage everyone (when we are already paying a lot) to get professional “swimsuit” pics so they can use them in their advertising. For sure no matter who you are the amateur selfie smartphone “before” picture will not be as good as a professional “after” shot taken in a studio by an actual photographer with an actual camera. That would be true even if the “before” was taken just minutes before the “after”!

I hated the photo contest when I did PN, and I still think it’s the worst part of the entire year.


When Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program Lost Me

I’m coming to the end of Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating for Women coaching program. It ends next week.  But they lost me just over a month ago.  I blogged about my decision not to go for the professional photo shoot.  And Sam blogged about the whole photo thing in her post “Precision Nutrition, Why the Photo Contest?”

This week the photo contest started. See the before and after pics of the 61 women’s finalists here. The women in the pics look happy and confident, which is great. I even know a couple of them from my team, every member of whom I hold in the highest esteem.

But I can’t bring myself to vote.

As Sam said in her open letter to Precision Nutrition:

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.

I echo pretty much all of that.  What I loved most about the program was that the messaging was about shifting the focus to internal changes. So judging “the winners” on the basis of photos is just not consistent with that.  Would I rather no one get prize money?  I’m not sure. Sometimes I think that unless they can reward people for internalizing the healthy habits and learning to shift their attention to more meaningful measures than a photo can reveal then they should just not have a contest at all.

But the contest just started last week. So why did they lose me over a month ago?

The Precision Nutrition Lean Eating program is all about developing healthy habits. Every two weeks, we were given a new habit to work on. They were things like “eat slowly” and “eat to 80% full” and then later “eat lean protein with every meal” and “make smart carb choices.”  There were tons of different healthy habits.

Each day, at the end of the day, we had to check of three things. 1. Did I do the workout? 2. Did I read the assignment? and 3. Did I practice the healthy habit?

Back in the summer, one of the assignments was to schedule our final photo shoot, with a professional if possible (because professional “after” pics always look better–see my cynical view of this assignment here). We were to schedule it for Saturday, November 22nd.

So two weeks prior to that, guess what the “healthy habit” was, for two whole weeks?  “Prepare for the final photo shoot.” Yep. For two whole weeks the healthy habit we were supposed to focus our attention on (while of course keeping the others in place) was to prepare for the final photo shoot.

Not planning a final photo shoot, I couldn’t really prep for one. I did, however, plan to put together a photo book of my race history since the fittest by 50 challenge began. And planning that was kind of rewarding, but I somehow started to feel detached from the program.

Then November 22nd came and went.  Next up: “Recover from final photo shoot week.” Two weeks of that took me into December. I didn’t have a photo shoot, so I had nothing to recover from.  Again, I slipped a bit away from PN’s Lean Nutrition program.  I focused on my own most challenging habits, eating slowly and to 80% full.

Finally, just recently, we got over our month of focusing on the photo shoot and got to a habit that means something to me: Pay it forward.  Here, we are sharing our experience with those who might benefit from it.

I love this idea.  It’s much more inspiring than a focus on photos and external appearances. In many ways, paying it forward is what Sam and I try to do on the blog regularly by suggesting that there may be a different way to do this thing. Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating program gets some of it right. But by making the photo shoot and contest the big finale, it ended on a fizzle for me, not with a bang.

On a positive note: I have already moved on, so the separation won’t be such a big deal.