body image · fitness · tbt

The damn photo contest again (Sam and Tracy vent) #tbt

Yesterday the voting for the best women’s Precision Nutrition “transformation” started. I know this because during our fitness challenge I did the program (in 2014) and though there was lots to like, I absolutely despised (and wasn’t a part of) the photo contest. Sam isn’t a big fan of that either. Last year we ranted about it. Here’s our rant. I only want to add, “It is 2019–surely we can find better ways to evaluate progress than a photo contest of women in swimsuits.” (Tracy)


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.


Why I Don’t Want to Be a Precision Nutrition VIP (But the Temptation Is There Anyway)

Just to be clear: I am not signing up for Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program again.  Like any program, they have a lot of repeat customers. A few women from my team have been struggling to stay on track and, coming on seven months since our year ended, have either signed up or are considering signing up for the year of coaching that starts later this month.

As former clients, we were all sent a special offer — a VIP offer, no less. Instead of the regular price of $229 US if you pay monthly ($2199 US if you pay all at once), former clients are offered the special price of $137 US monthly ($1319 US if you pay all at once).

I have nothing against PN LE (other than that I despise the photo contest, which is their big promotional campaign that goes against everything they teach all year about what’s important, but anyway–see my post “When Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program Lost Me”). As I said in my review of my PN LE year, I learned a lot and developed some good habits. But I’m faltering a bit, feeling not on top of the habits.

And I’m not the only one. Lots of my “team” feel that way. And that’s what makes the offer so tempting. Something about paying the money provides an incentive to stay on track. Just having the knowledge isn’t enough.

In this respect, though I had high hopes for PN LE, it’s not so different from any other program or plan or (dare I say) diet. The info is good, the habits are great if you practice them, but it’s hard to practice them alone. And they know that. Like Weight Watchers and its Lifetime Membership status, PN LE’s VIP category counts on your needing them in order to succeed in the long run. It’s a huge frustration that they don’t publish any longterm results. They just play up the “after” pics of the people who are in the final two months of their PN LE year.

And the VIP price is a full $37 US (almost $50 CDN) more per month than I was paying when I signed up for $100 per month in January 2014. The “regular” price of $229 per month is unbelievable. It’s just not sustainable to pay that kind of money to “stay on track.” When does it end?

What makes me think that if I do it again I’ll be able to go it alone after that if I can’t do it this time around? Am I going to have to sign up for PN LE (and pay the ever-rising price) every time I feel as if I’m struggling? And what, exactly, am I struggling with? I don’t even know sometimes. The whole idea of intuitive eating? Keeping on top of the habits and the workouts? Life and the various challenges it throws my way?

So no thanks. It’s a tempting offer (because it’s so tempting to think that this time it will be different). The allure of leanness, as advertised in the “after” photos (that the clients are encouraged to have done by professional photographers, providing free advertising for PN’s recruitment purposes), can draw in the desperate (a feeling I am all too familiar with). But I don’t want to be pay a monthly fee for the rest of my life to to keep me on point.

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.



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.



Why I’m Not Getting “After” Pics

I’m coming to the end of the nutrition program I started back in January.  A few months ago, I stopped naming the program in my posts because I felt they didn’t deserve any free advertising from me. It’s not that it’s not a worthy program, but I don’t need to give them shout outs all the time either.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to come right out and say it: Precision Nutrition.  Come January, when the program ends, I’ll write a full review like Sam did last year in her post Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program: A Year in Review.

Today I want to blog about the “after” pics.  The program is based on the idea that we do our best to internalize “lean eating” habits when we work on one habit at a time. It’s a great approach that can work well. We focus on one habit at a time for two weeks at a time. Things like eating slowly, eating to 80% full, eating lean protein with every meal, you get the picture.

But for the past two week’s the habit hasn’t been like that. It’s been: prepare for your final photo shoot. And every time I think of that habit, my back goes up.

I’ve spent the entire year and longer doing everything I can to get away from the idea that appearance is the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. And you know what? I’m seeing some results in that department – internal results. I blogged about them just the other day. So if I’m seeking an internal change, why would I want to do a final photo shoot?

Well, there could be some reasons. A lot of women in my group find the idea of a final photo shoot to be kind of empowering. It’s a way of celebrating their awesomeness.  Most everyone has seen some physical changes over the past year.  And I’d say most aren’t where they wish they were. So the photo shoot of where I am today could be a way of practicing acceptance. I can see that. But it’s not going to be my way.

The other thing that irks me is the role the “before” and “after” pics play in PN’s marketing strategy.  They’re a huge part of it.  Every month, they ask for updated pictures of the standard “front, side, back” variety.  They don’t share them unless you give them permission to share them.  But if you want to have a shot at the prize money for the best transformation, then you need to agree to share them (obviously).

How does the contest work? Well, people get to vote on the finalists’ transformations as captured in the “before” and the “after” pictures.  I’ll get to the voting part in a minute.

So way back in the summer, they encouraged everyone to book an appointment for November 22nd with a professional photographer to take their final “front, side, back” series and whatever else they wanted to make them feel good about themselves. That last part is fine. But why oh why would I want to pay a professional to take my front-side-back pics?

I wouldn’t.

So I didn’t sign up. But they really try to tell you it would be better.

I agree — it would be better for them if everyone had the pictures. The transformations look that much more dramatic when you’ve got a “before” picture taken at home with your iPhone beside an “after” picture taken by a professional in a properly lit studio with the right equipment.  And then we sign the pictures over to PN and presto: free marketing.

And I object to the idea of a contest at all. Makes me think of beauty pageants and bikini contests and judging people based on their appearance.

It’s not just me who wants to discount appearance. All year they’ve been sending us lessons that focused on the internal changes — the habits, the energy, the new way of thinking about yourself and who you are. All good stuff. I’ve enjoyed so many of the assignments and the workouts and the habits. I love my team, my coach, the changes I’ve made.

But now we’re being asked to throw our pictures — of us in workout gear or bikinis — into a contest so that people can vote on how good our transformation has been in comparison to the transformation of others.  I feel icky just thinking about it. The very idea seems to run counter to all of the messaging all year.  For more on the contest, see Sam’s post Precision Nutrition: Why the Photo Contest?

And of course, don’t we all know that “before” and “after” pics are a scam. Lately I’ve seen more than one example of someone whose before and after shots were taken just a few minutes or hours apart. Like this one.

For me, it hasn’t been the most dramatic physical change of the century anyway. But that’s not why I don’t plan to participate in the photo shoot and the contest. And for those who are choosing to take part, that’s their choice and I hope they get something positive out of it even if I’m skeptical of having “Prepare for your final photo shoot” as a PN “habit” worthy of two weeks!

Here’s what I’m doing:

I’m going to get a photo book made that depicts my race history over the past two years, from that first 5K to the Olympic distance triathlons and the half marathon.  Those are the photos that make me smile when I look at them.

First 5K:

First 5K, with Sam, October 2012.
First 5K, with Sam, October 2012.


Half marathon:

At the finish line of my first half marathon with Anita, October 2014.
At the finish line of my first half marathon, with Anita, October 2014.

Those moments when I finished something I never thought I could do–I just can’t replicate those in a photographer’s studio no matter how talented the photographer is and how good the lighting may be.  The finish line photos are the only “after” shots I’m interested in!

body image · diets · eating · health · motivation · weight loss

“Healthy stuff is still healthy, it just doesn’t make you thin”

Yesterday Sam posted about the CBC report with latest “news” about obesity research: “Obesity research confirms, longterm weight-loss almost impossible.”  This is hardly news. We’ve said this many times.  It’s one of the most controversial claims you can make that’s fully supported by research.

I responded last summer with the post “If Diets Don’t Work, Then What?”   There I promoted the benefits, mostly in terms of mental health, of the intuitive eating approach.  I didn’t lose weight when I embraced intuitive eating. But I did lose a debilitating obsession with food and weight.  That more than made up for it.

And yet, after a year of intuitive eating, I still chose to pursue the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Program for Women. Knowing what I know, it may seem like an odd choice. Why, when all the advertising surrounding the program is about body transformation, would I want to do it? I blogged about it in the post “Why I’m trying PN “Lean Eating” after a year of intuitive eating.”  There, I said my main reason had to do with tweaking my nutritional habits:

One of the principles of Intuitive Eating–the last principle, in fact, because it is so loaded for so many chronic dieters–is “Honor your health with gentle nutrition.”  I don’t want to exaggerate. It’s not as if I’m living on junk food and soda pop or anything like that.  But I do feel as if I’ve not quite mastered nutrition since I became vegan just over three years ago. And while I’ve been focusing on a more intuitive approach to eating, nutrition hasn’t been the main guiding principle in my choices.

And truth be told, I’m ready for a change.  From what Sam has told me about the Lean Eating program and from everything I’ve read, it’s not a diet and it can be compatible with an intuitive eating approach to food. So let’s just say that this year, I’m honoring my health with the re-introduction of gentle nutrition.  Nothing extreme will work for me.

And so far, it’s been doing that really well.  What I didn’t know ahead of time is just how compatible with intuitive eating the PN approach in the Lean Eating program actually is. If you could just embrace the two “anchor habits” of eating slowly and stopping at 80% full, you would be a fairly successful intuitive eater. And a whole lot more comfortable after meals.

So I’m engaging in some healthy behaviors and developing some healthy habits. And since they do ask for weight and measurements on a regular basis, I can report that I have dropped a few pounds along the way. But I am not deluding myself this time. The real test of any program is not to be found by comparing the “before” with the “immediately after.” Not at all. Check back a year after. Or two years after. What about five years after?

As Sam reported yesterday, PN doesn’t track that sort of thing at all. No follow-up means no data to report.  With the stats for any program as they are, it’s not surprising no one wants to track the long term results. And the fact that lots of people do PN multiple times is evidence that despite its focus on healthy habits, the results are not likely to be sustainable for the majority of people.  If they were, they would be more enthusiastic about follow-ups and reporting the longer term outcomes for their clients.

The quote from the CBC article that I liked the most, is the one that I put in the title today. Pyschologist Traci Mann, who ran an eating lab at the University of Minnesota for 20 years, says: “Healthy stuff is still healthy, it just doesn’t make you thin.”

As Sam did yesterday, I’m concerned about people who put thinness as their primary goal for engaging in activity or for making balanced nutritional choices.  That’s not the only reason to make those choices. As the research shows, it’s not even a good reason.

I do wonder whether I will keep these “healthy habits” over time.  Does the weight come back on inevitably, or is it because habits slide? “Researchers are divided about why weight gain seems to be irreversible, probably a combination of biological and social forces. ‘The fundamental reason,’ [obesity researcher Tim] Caulfield says, ‘is that we are very efficient biological machines. We evolved not to lose weight. We evolved to keep on as much weight as we possibly can.'”

Okay, so as Sam asked yesterday: liberating or depressing?  For me, it’s helping me a lot to keep any weight loss that I might be experiencing in PN LE in perspective. Thankfully it’s not my primary goal, and even more thankfully the weighing and measuring has not fostered a new obsession. In fact, I have found myself quite capable of adopting the recommended attitude of “get ’em and forget ’em” towards the weekly updates.

I used to feel more hopeful about a different outcome, namely a change not in weight but in body composition. But now I think that aspirations of that nature are just another breeding ground for false hope.

When I reflect on what has been most amazing so far about the “fittest by 50 challenge” that Sam and I are on, for me it comes down to two things:

1. becoming adept at intuitive eating, to the point where I no longer obsess about food.  I repeat: I NO LONGER OBSESS ABOUT FOOD!

2. how much I am enjoying the activities I’m pursuing these days. I’m all geared up for my first triathlon of the season on the weekend and I couldn’t be more excited.  Weight loss and even body composition just aren’t factoring into that picture.

I also have an expanded conception of health that includes my mental health.  I feel more grounded, more at peace with who I am, much healthier in my relationship and attitude towards food, activity, and my body.  I’ve still got a bit of a way to go with respect to body image, but I am further than I was last summer when I wrote this post.

I too fall into the “liberating” camp.  Knowing the facts should also liberate us from stigmatizing fat bodies and making moralized judgments about body fat (on ourselves and others). In moral philosophy we have this principle that says “ought implies can.” It means that you can’t be under an obligation to do anything that is impossible.  If we say you “ought to” then it means you should be able to.

And the stats on long term maintenance of lost weight don’t support the “can.” Therefore, they call seriously into question the “ought.”

At the same time, that doesn’t mean we need to give up on making choices that make us feel better. But making thinness the primary motive is a set-up for feeling much, much worse.




Dear Chocolate, I Don’t Love You Anymore

Squares of dark chocolate piled haphazardly on top of one another.
Squares of dark chocolate piled haphazardly on top of one another.

Dear Chocolate,

There’s no easy way for me to put this: I just don’t love you anymore. It’s nothing that you did. Not at all.

We used to spend a lot of time together.  I used to get together with you every day. You had that special place in the kitchen, handy, accessible, always there for me. I could feel my mouth watering when I pulled back that gold wrapper on the 70% cocoa dark chocolate bar at the back of the snack drawer.

When the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating lesson a couple of months ago suggested that you might be a “red light food,” I defended you (and still do — you’re definitely not something I would banish from my life).  I said I needed you and felt comfortable with the amount of time we spent together. As you know, I believe food is beyond good and evil.

I didn’t even notice that we were drifting apart. But it kind of happened like this.  The Lean Eating program started nudging me in the direction of what they call “healthy habits.”  Lots of them had to do with making sure I was including things in every meal–lean protein, veggies, smart carbs (like quinoa and steel cut oatmeal).

They also recommended that I eat slowly and that I stop when I was 80% full.  The theory was that in time, if I followed these habits, I’d experience “food displacement.”  What that means, roughly, is that trying to fit in all the healthy habits every time I ate would change the sorts of things that I turned to regularly.

I could tack you on to the end of a meal, but usually by then I’m already 80% full (that’s my most challenging habit).  Stand-alone snacks without greens or protein just aren’t a big part of my repertoire anymore.  And in that late-afternoon slump I feel better if I have a mixed greens salad with tofu or chickpeas than a few squares of dark chocolate (sorry).

I didn’t consciously seek to send you to the sidelines.  Remember how the triple chocolate cake at Veg Out used to be my absolute favorite thing on their menu?  Well, the other night I went there and didn’t even order dessert (not even to go, which is what I did in the early days of eating to 80% full–just packed up a piece of cake to eat later). Why not? I just knew I wouldn’t get around to eating it.

I feel a little bit sad that we’ve parted ways in such a low-drama kind of way. Like I said, you’ve not been banished.  I’ve just found other things that make me happier these days.  I had no idea food displacement could have this affect on our relationship.  Not that I would have done anything differently, mind you.

I’m kind of relieved that I can easily get through a day, a week, a month without feeling that hold you used to have over me, especially after a meal.   It’s nothing personal and I have nothing against you.  I just don’t need you as much as I thought I did. Thanks for being there for all those years.  I’ll keep in touch but it’s just not going to be the same anymore.

Take care of yourself. I know that lots of people still love you as much as I once did.




eating · fitness

Teeny Tiny Habits, One at a Time

HabitsWe’ve blogged about habits before (Sam’s post here and another here and here), and about doing less (my post here).  I’ve known about small changes leading to big things for quite a long while now.  But since starting the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Program last month, I’ve really made the link between habits and doing less.

It’s the tiny habit that wins the day. Why? Because it’s more likely to stick.  That’s why the Pomodoro Technique has always worked so well for me when it comes to tackling projects that I procrastinate on.  I can get into the habit of spending just 25 minutes on an important project.  I am so grateful to Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, for pointing me in the direction of that technique and for her wise emphasis on small, do-able changes.

The PN Lean Eating program, as Sam described so well in her review post, focuses on healthy habits, one at a time.  Last month, for the first two weeks of the program, we were encouraged to come up with our own “5 minute action.”  This is any positive change that would take no more than five minutes. If it only takes five minutes, it’s easy to accomplish because, face it, who doesn’t have five minutes?

My five minute action that first two weeks was to meditate for at least five minutes after I arrived at work each day, before I started working. When I get to the office, I plug in the kettle for my tea, turn off the overhead light, set my Insight Timer for 5-10 minutes, and meditate.  Going into silence before I get down to my daily tasks has created a buffer between my commute and my workday that grounds me.

Now, we are working on the habit of slow eating.  I have never been a slow eater. In fact, if I eat with people, I’m almost always one of the first to finish.  Even though I’ve had the slow eating advice zillions of times through my various diets and eating plans, I’ve never done it for a sustained period of time. I think the reason is that it always came along with a suite of other changes, not on its own.

But this time, it’s literally the ONLY habit that I need to work on for this two week period. And you know what?  Since I started practicing this habit last week, I’ve been the last one to finish every single time I’ve had a meal with people. And when I eat by myself, I’ve added at least 5-10 minutes to each meal.  What felt odd and unnatural at first is now, after just 9 days, becoming my default way of eating.  Scarfing down my food is no longer appealing to me.

It’s a small change, and right now it’s the only change. I can handle it because I can focus on it without the distraction of having to juggle a raft of other changes at the same time.

Leo Babauta has a wonderful website called Zen Habits.  He has an excellent post about “The Four Habits that Form Habits.” Number one on the list is to “start exceedingly small.” As he puts it, “make it so easy that you can’t say no.” Instead of starting a whole new workout program, commit to doing three push-ups.  Instead of overhauling your entire diet, practice eating slowly.

Whether you want to follow Sark in calling these small steps “micro-movements”(download overview available here) or PN in calling them “5 minute actions,” whether they seem like changes that are too small to make a difference, the fact is, this approach to change works.

Doing less than you think you should and working on establishing just one habit at a time is a winning combo. It’s taken me from fast eater to slow eater in less than two weeks.

If you have any stories or experience with teeny tiny habits, one at a time, please share them in the comments. Now—time for my five minute meditation!

eating · sports nutrition · training

Why I’m Trying PN “Lean Eating” after a Year of Intuitive Eating

fresh-fruits-and-vegetables1On Monday, after long discussions with Sam about her experience with Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program, I started my one-year commitment to the program.  If you’re not familiar with it, see Sam’s detailed review here.

I’ve been doing and enjoying Intuitive Eating for a year. When I started the Intuitive Eating approach, I was obsessed with food and weight, weighing myself daily, gaining instead of losing, and generally feeling crappy about myself after years and years of the diet roller coaster.  I didn’t think I could handle one more climb to the top of that hill even if the “wheeeeee!” of going down felt great.

The Intuitive Eating solution was to stop focusing on weight–no more weigh-ins (read about that here).  It felt very nurturing to me, and much more in line with my feminist principles than the obsessive focus on seeing a certain number on the scale.  The central principles of honoring my hunger and respecting my body really altered my attitude and refocused my attention.  Self-awareness increased.

And yet, over the course of that same year, I’ve become more interested in triathlon. I’m training harder to prep for the summer season, with regular swimming workouts, three-times a week running, and on-going resistance training in addition to my yoga practice.  And that’s not even fitting cycling into the equation (it’ll be back in the spring).  And though I have gone on record saying that to me, sports nutrition counseling is like dieting in disguise, I feel as if it’s time for me to make some changes.

One of the principles of Intuitive Eating–the last principle, in fact, because it is so loaded for so many chronic dieters–is “Honor your health with gentle nutrition.”  I don’t want to exaggerate. It’s not as if I’m living on junk food and soda pop or anything like that.  But I do feel as if I’ve not quite mastered nutrition since I became vegan just over three years ago. And while I’ve been focusing on a more intuitive approach to eating, nutrition hasn’t been the main guiding principle in my choices.

And truth be told, I’m ready for a change.  From what Sam has told me about the Lean Eating program and from everything I’ve read, it’s not a diet and it can be compatible with an intuitive eating approach to food. So let’s just say that this year, I’m honoring my health with the re-introduction of gentle nutrition.  Nothing extreme will work for me.

One of the things I like most about the Precision Nutrition approach is the focus on healthy habits.  In week one, we’re not even changing anything about eating. We’re just committing to a schedule of working out and active recovery, and adding one “five-minute action” to our day. It can be anything. Mine is at least five minutes of meditation before I sit down to work each day.

Sam has blogged about habits. Habits work well because they’re things you can do without having to think too much. At first you need to be hyper-conscious, but after a time, they become a part of life.  This kind of approach strikes me as entirely compatible and consistent with Intuitive Eating.

I like the sense of community, support, and camaraderie I’m experiencing already on the PN Lean Eating forums. So far, I’m liking my coach (Janet) a lot too, as well as the mentors in my group, who are helping to orient us newbies.

What am I most worried about? Though we haven’t started yet, I know that tracking progress is an important element of the program.  They want weekly weight. body fat, and body measurements, and I think it’s monthly photos.

After a year of staying away from this kind of tracking, I’m going in with a new attitude: that it’s just information. If I can maintain a neutral attitude to that information, I’ll be happy about that.

Of course, I could skip that part. But I have made a commitment to do the program “as directed” for at least the first three months. If I’m struggling with any aspect of it, I’ll approach the coach, the mentors, or the group through the forums. There are quite a few women (over a hundred) in my group, so I’m sure I’ll be able to find some like-minded people along the way.

I’m also kind of excited this time about learning to eat in a way that supports my activities better, and also, to be perfectly honest, about the prospect of getting leaner and stronger as I go into the home stretch of the fittest by fifty challenge and prep for a summer of triathlons and 10K races.