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How to lose 40 lbs & 20% fat


PN member “Cynergy” was the clear winner at the end of 2009’s Lean Eating contest – showing that she knew how to stuff a wild bikini – and how to walk away with our top prize of $10,000.

In case you  missed her before/after pics, check ’em out:


In today’s article, she tells her story of losing 40 lbs and 20% body fat during the program, changing her habits and her life along the way.  If you’re interested in a body transformation of your own, there are some great words of wisdom here.

Rock bottom

I never had a weight problem before a freak “metabolic event” at the age of 36.  Because of this, I  didn’t have a clue what healthy eating was or that I couldn’t get what I needed from TV dinners.  Sad, I know, but true.

You see, at 36, I had a pregnancy that was unsuccessful.  Unfortunately, my luteinizing hormone (LH), one of the hormones associated with pregnancy, continued to rise over the months following my miscarriage.

The result?  I gained 30 pounds in three months.  Unfortunately, once the hormones went back to normal, I was well into a metabolic syndrome that helped me continue to gain another 40 or so pounds during the following year.

Needless to say, I was in total shock.  My whole life came to a screeching halt.  Suddenly, and quite uncharacteristically, I was not capable of any kind of success.  Professionally, in relationships, or otherwise, you name it.  I was depressed and in constant pain.

For a time, I thought that maybe this is what happens to everyone and I should just accept it, give up on my dreams and expectations, and learn how to live, doped up on anti-depressants, without a whole lot of happiness.  I mean, it seemed hopeless.  I couldn’t find even a small remnant of my true self.  Not one seed of what I was!  And  I wasn’t about to believe that Jenny Craig could fix what was so broken about me at that point.

Some hope

At some point, I started with the PN System. With the PN binder by my side, I made attempts to change my habits. I had some, albeit very limited, success.

By now I had worked myself up to nearly 220 lbs (from about 140lbs).  And I was in such a precarious ‘starvation’ mode.  So the changes I was able to make came pretty slowly.

Now, I was seeing evidence that the principles would work for me (bringing me down to the mid 190s).  But they didn’t seem to be working in that grand, astounding way I really wanted them to.  I mean, my journey to 220 lbs was spectacular and rapid.  So I guess I expected my adventure back down to my goal weight to be the same.

It wasn’t.  And, as is the case for anyone like me who suffers from high expectations, I was disappointed with reality.  However, I pressed on.

The email from Precision Nutrition

In May of 2009, I spent an entire weekend mapping out my plan to get very serious about my goals. I decided that I would treat my transformation like it was my job – being totally committed to the measures I would need to take to achieve success.

And for me, it was a time of acceptance that ‘seeking comfort’ had no place in my plan, that pain and struggle might be a daily occurrence, but most of all, that the results would be worth every price I would pay along the way.

It was a string of moments that composed my absolute resolve to live a life that is worthy of me and stop pretending that it was ok to be something I was never meant to be.

The very next day, I received an email from PN announcing the new class of Lean Eating. It was destiny.

And this time, LE had a huge payout – $10K – so it literally became the ‘job’ I had created for myself.  I had myself a 6-month assignment to use my body as an experiment and see what it was truly capable of.  And my boss was John Berardi.  Awesome!

Baby steps

It was painfully difficult from the beginning.

I sent my coach a personal message after completing the first workout, asking her if it was normal to fall down on the ground crying during the dynamic warm-up.  To tell you the truth, I don’t know if I burst into tears because the movements were so hard or if it was because I was watching myself in the mirror – the sight of myself, a former US Marine, attempting and failing a simple set of rear lunges.

I honestly could not recognize myself in that mirror and it scared me to death. I felt like a fraud, a criminal that had cheated myself out of a kick-ass life, and I was not sure I would ever be able to restore it.

The moment of choice

Then I got angry.  It’s like Dr. Berardi says in this video (about 3 minutes in).  You reach the point of no return.  And you finally decide to act decisively.  To take one, purposeful, meaningful action.

For me, I was pissed off that I had sacrificed so much, living my life as an imposter.  So I proceeded to reject anything that wasn’t going to contribute to my success.  I would ask myself (100 times a day if necessary):

“Is what I am doing/thinking/feeling right now in this moment contributing to my success or my failure?”

If the answer wasn’t success-bound, I would start to feel that anger again.  But instead of it being defeating, I’d take some kind of powerful action or make some kind of decision to reject the negative thought or feeling, and I’d chose something different.

Some days, it was exhausting, not to mention completely distracting.   But I soon found that it was much easier to get through the day if I simply made success-bound decisions to begin with.

The two Cynthias

Because of my new-found attitude – one that squashed the negative or backwards – and one that championed the positive of forwards, I found progress coming surprisingly quickly and consistently.  Personally, I think I attribute this to two personalities that emerged in me during the course of the program.

The first personality I saw in myself was a small child – stubborn, needy, and a little dense.  I found myself having tantrums and moments of immaturity.  In fact, I allowed them.

However, the second personality would right the ship.  This one was more of a parental figure.  And this parent-like Cynthia would figuratively wipe my tears, pat me on the butt, and push me back in the game.

Really, it was like growing up all over again. Certain times of the day, the caretaker would emerge and find ways to make life a little easier for the student.  Whether it was preparing food, packing gym bags, buying supplements in advance, making lists, downloading workout music, asking questions in the forum.

For the rest of the day, I could just be that misguided student, following the instructions and doing what I was told to do – but feeling supported by that other, protective part of myself that I trusted had my best interest at heart.

Then my motivation waned

Just like Dr. Berardi said in the video I shared above, motivation always wanes.  And the best part: that’s ok.  It always does.  It certainly did for me.  I reached a point somewhere in the middle of the program when I needed to gain a “reason” to work out. It wasn’t enough to get in the gym because I wanted to lose fat.

I needed training to be about more than that – I needed to feel as though I was working toward a higher goal — competitive skills, mastery, fun.  Something meaningful.

So there was a time when getting motivated to workout in the gym became really difficult and it took some introspection to determine what my unique inner drive was going to be, what my new training identity was going to be about.

But before I figured it out, I needed some help.  And what kept me going, who kept me going, was my awesome coach, Erin Weiss-Trainor.   Oh yea, and the prospect of winning the contest helped too!

My new motivation

At some point, everyone needs to find a new motivation beyond fat loss.  And there will be lots of valid motivations.  Mine – I wanted to be bad-ass.

Truth is, I realized that I simply want success more than I want to be comfortable.  So, during the program, I routinely asked myself, “Do you want to be badass or do you want to be comfortable?” The answer is always the same and it drives all my decisions.

Of course, every day isn’t going to be a total success.  And there are times, even now, when I really blow it. But I always come back to what I can do now to increase my bad-ass quotient.  And now that I have a taste of it, I want a big enough piece to share with everyone else.

One important lesson learned

Interestingly, and this was huge for me, as my body fat came down, my carb requirements actually increased!  I know, hard to believe.  Especially with the carb phobia that most women share.

However, for me, I simply could not keep my starchy carb content low without sacrificing precious energy needed to pull me through the workouts and recovery.

So I had to deviate a little bit from the standard plan and start to add some grains and fruit back into my “Anytime” meals.  Amazingly, I was a lot happier and progress continued.  I’m glad I discovered this when I did, or I might have given up.

Folks, if you feel like your brain is melting in the first ten minutes of a workout, you don’t have enough carbs. This is my new rule.  But make sure you’re choosing the right ones, in the right amounts, at the right times.  (Another valuable lesson learned from the Lean Eating coaching program).

Before and after – A handy guide to my experience

My mindset – before and after
I believed that my days of youth and beauty were behind me. For an “unknown” (notice the denial) reason, I had gained weight and acquired dozens of weight-related maladies and was now among the victims of middle-age.I believed that since I had never been athletic before that I had missed my chance to play sports or survive an aerobics class – it was too late to become anything other than what I had ultimately become. I know the reasons why I gained weight and take full responsibility for them. I also now see that this was a temporary condition, not one that I was destined to endure forever.Now that I am leaner, I recognize myself, my face, in the mirror. I see the young, beautiful girl I had always been. Several people have recently guessed my age as early thirties (I’m going on 42).I look back and acknowledge that I have been very athletic in my life and that athleticism is actually a birthright to every human being (that’s me).

Now I call upon my innate strengths to play tennis, row with a sweep-rowing team, take yoga and dance classes and lift weights regularly. When my tennis season ended, I cried. Me, crying about sports. Weird. Wonderful.

My enjoyment of food – before and after
I believed that I could not enjoy healthy food.I thought that each meal had to be a form of entertainment, some demonstration of excitement, grandeur, or celebration – and that meant impressive portions, explosions of sweet and salty flavors, complex recipe formulations or just an overall pacifying effect (ie. movie theatre popcorn).I did not conceive of a way of life that could be remotely satisfying and sustainable without this kind of eating – a phenomenon akin to using alcohol or smoking cigarettes. I couldn’t imagine another way and these harmful behaviors would continue. The only foods I really enjoy are fresh, whole foods.Meals do not have to be a “circus” in order to be enjoyable and satisfying. Now, after a significant detox from processed foods, salt and sugar, I can feel the immediate effects of fresh produce on my energy levels and mood. I can feel the satiating effects of lean meats, beans and nuts.Now, I eat to feel more, not feel less. I look forward to each opportunity to feed my body what it needs to carry me through my new life.
My cooking and shopping – before and after
I saw myself as a bad cook. I believed that I lacked the skills to cook anything of redeeming quality in the kitchen. I saw cooking as complex and time-consuming and something to be avoided, if possible. I kept rows of canned soup and boxes of frozen meals on hand. I never bought fresh vegetables or fruit because they would always go bad before I would eat/cook them.Grocery shopping was tortuous. I never knew what I would buy at the store before I went. I would find myself wandering aimlessly around the aisles, conflicted that I could not find anything good to eat that did not require cooking.I often came home with 2 different kinds of bread, a bag of candy, a frozen pizza, a bottle of gourmet soda, cheese and crackers. I never planned my meals, so this punishing trip to the store would occur 3-4 times each week. Cooking is easy. I am surprised at how simple and quick cooking meals can be. I prepare many elements of my recipes on Sundays – so preparing dinner on Wednesday is as easy as grabbing 2-3 things from the fridge and freezer, defrosting in the microwave, assembling on a tray or in a sauté pan, 10 minutes later and dinner is served.There are few cans in my cupboard and my chest freezer in the garage is empty and listed for sale on Craigslist. Everything in my kitchen freezer has been prepared and put there in the last ten days.I shop twice each week – once at a discount grocery and once at a natural food store. My grocery list is comprehensive of everything I might need (my top four favorite proteins, veggies, allowable carbs, for instance) and I circle only the things I may run out of – but the list template never changes. My trips to the market take only 20 minutes, I venture into an aisle only to buy coffee, spices and housekeeping items.

I plan every meal for the week and rely on what I prepare on Sundays to feed me every meal I might need. I pack a cooler each morning before work and find the chore of carrying three meals around with me a small price in exchange for feeling taken-care-of all day.

When I begin to feel bored with my routine meals, I pull out Gourmet Nutrition or look to the PN member forums and select a couple of recipes to try. I integrate them into a week to see how they serve me. And, when in doubt, I can make a pizza out of just about anything (it’s my new super-power).

My eating habits – before and after
I believed that the path to weight loss was through reduction in meals. Each time that I would acknowledge the need to lose weight, I would convince myself to skip meals – sometimes every meal.“Only eat when hungry” was my motto. So, I would wait until I was starving and then eat myself into a coma – and never being prepared for that hungry moment, I turned to restaurants and fast food to help me refill. I eat 4-5 times each day. Meals are not an overwhelming proposition anymore. A typical meal, when prepared in advance, will only take 10 minutes to consume. The portions are small, but the macros are significant. I have let go of hunger as a benchmark for eating, but have adopted fullness as a cue for stopping eating. So, I always eat my planned meals, whether I feel hungry or not.But, I pay attention to how full I feel and how fast I feel fullness. Sometimes I feel full quicker, and I have let it be ok to leave a portion of my meal behind when this happens. I never feel a compulsion to binge on foods, because I never feel desperate or restricted. This has greatly reduced the passive stress in my daily routine – the kind of stress one carries around despite the lack of obvious sources of stress (aka, insanity).
My knowledge of my body – before and after
The way a human body survives in the world was a complete mystery to me.I lived in utter ignorance about what human cells require to continue flourishing. I had no concept of macronutrients or body chemistry. I could not name a single muscle in the human body, except maybe gluteus maximus (thanks to middle school days when those were naughty words).I resented my mother’s insistence that I take a vitamin every morning and harbored this resentment into adulthood (among other resentments related to wearing a hat in the winter, forbidding me to shave my legs or wear gobs of makeup, making me clean house and other essential life skills). Such things were an obvious waste of time and money. I am keenly aware that there are minimum requirements for keeping this body moving around in the world.I have discovered how amino acids are the precursors to all kinds of beneficial neurotransmitters and hormonal precursors (aka, the anti-insanity).I see now that probiotics and a variety of fresh vegetables can provide an array of vitamins and minerals necessary to power an adequate immune response (so I am rarely sick).

I have learned the importance of carbs in fueling various levels of physical and mental activity.

I know how to better respond to my body’s need for water, oxygen and sleep.

I know which muscles I am using when I perform a certain movement in the gym. And, I can actually spell gluteus maximus. I think I may have turned into a human physiology geek.

My identity – before and after
I had an overall sense that I could not be the person I really wanted to be.I labored to define the kind of person I wanted to be with, never recognizing that the resulting list of qualities were really describing the person I wanted to be myself. I would look at this list and think, “This man, if he exists, will not want to be with someone like me.”I felt that I was undesirable and destined to be alone – I felt unhappy in my own presence; not the kind of person I wanted to hang out with. I have turned into the person on my “list”. So, I no longer feel strongly compelled to find this other person outside of myself. I hope to meet other people with similar qualities and interests, but I am so satisfied with the path of my life and the influence of my spirit on the world, that I no longer feel the need to be saved by some kind of hero.I can sit quietly in a room by myself and feel completely happy with the person I am in that moment. I feel as though I have important work to do, now that I am whole and vibrant and happy.I have learned that I suffer from high expectations – for myself and others. I have accepted that this is probably not going to change, but that I must find ways to avoid or recover from disappointment. I can have an unreasonable expectation of myself, as long as when I do not reach the standard, I can instantly be grateful for the things I have already achieved and feel that I am right where I am supposed to be in the journey toward those ultimate goals.

I can also expect great things from others, as long as I am willing to instantly accept what they offer as the best that they can do in that moment. I can silently send a message to myself or another person that says, “Your best is good enough.”

My exercise and fitness – before and after
My attempts at exercise left me feeling unskilled and inadequate. Even after months of personal training to learn how to lift free weights, I suffered so much to gain a mastery of movement I would often give up.I lacked the endurance to make it through a 45 minute exercise routine. I suffered from strains and overwhelming DOMS. I was so inconsistent in my training that I could never progress to greater loads or increased intensity.So, I became frustrated and bored with repeating the same courses of training over and over again. I felt too fat and unskilled to seek a workout partner and found myself alone and undirected most of the time. I have discovered the importance of consuming adequate carbohydrates to power intense exercise. Having
slowly increased my consumption of carbs around workout time, I have started to gain more strength and endurance – thus I have begun to experience the thrill of progression.I have strengthened connective tissues and have very little joint pain from my activities. My training has become more consistent and I have committed myself to team sporting activities that keep me interested and engaged in continuous improvement.With tremendous changes in my body composition, participating in sports is much easier and more fun for me. I feel a sense of belonging at the gym and am less afraid to connect with others when I need a boost in motivation or assistance with reaching the next level on a certain movement.This is the area where I lacked the most confidence and I keep my eye on it as the one element of my fitness that can easily be undermined if I let my confidence wane. Being well-fed is the foundation – being brave and fiercely persistent is the labor that builds a body beyond the dream that inspired it.

My new routine

When I get up, I take a dose of amino acid supplements and I go straight for the coffee. I make coffee with half Italian roast and half Teeccino and a teaspoon of cinnamon. I ice it down in a shaker bottle and add a scoop of chocolate protein powder.

After my blood pressure gets into gear, I eat a small breakfast, usually a hard-boiled egg and a veggie shake (tomato, spinach, onion, greens+ and carrot juice). If I have a morning workout, I also have a piece of Ezekiel bread with nut butter (there’s that carb timing thing again!)

I love a good salad for lunch, so I grab a combination of veggies I picked up from the farmers market (spinach, cabbage, broccoli, sprouts, onions, tomatos, etc.), and some farm fresh feta. I make my own salad dressing from balsamic, olive oil and a variety of herbs/spices.

My favorite snacks are almonds, raisins, cottage cheese (sometimes mixed with dill to make a dip for bell pepper strips), yogurt with blueberries and flax, and jerky. I try to keep this stuff around at all times.

Dinner is where I get my meat, so it’s bison burgers, tuna burgers, pork chops, pizza toppings made with ground turkey, etc. and more veggies like broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and the like.

Here are some additional notes:

  • The only things I drink are coffee/tea, water, and lemonade made with organic lemon juice and stevia.
  • I carry my meals and snacks around in a cooler everywhere I go… it’s part of my superhero persona now.
  • I get my workouts from lifting, playing tennis and rowing.

As I’ve gotten so interested in the human body, I’ve even gone as far as signing up for the Precision Nutrition Certification Program.  Indeed, I’m studying the art of coaching and the science of nutrition!  My goal is to hep other people transform their lives the way I did through PN.

Advice for others

There are a lot of programs out there that can help you lose weight. And, no matter which one you pick, you’re going to have to make an investment in it.  There’s no short-cutting reality.  You’re going to have to commit to learning new behaviors, and practicing the heck out of them.

So, if you are finally ready to have what you want, then all you have to do is pick the program that can deliver the best results and get started.  For what it’s worth, Lean Eating is what I chose.  The program helped me tremendously.  It consistently delivers awe-inspiring results.  So I’m a believer and a supporter.

Here’s how I benefited:

  • I learned how to exercise
  • I learned how to supplement
  • I learned how to address my injuries and limitations
  • I connected with a peer group
  • I figured out how to measure my results and successes
  • I finally began creating habits and routines that I could sustain
  • I built a spirit of willingness
  • I created an enthusiasm around your health and longevity

You probably won’t find a single program in existence that provides this kind of holistic approach to body composition change other than the Lean Eating Program.

Bonus tips

Here are some additional lessons I learned along the way:

Keep your expectations focused on the present and near future, because being too concerned with the end result is going to make you crazy.

Celebrate every baby step you make, as you make them (they grow up so fast, don’t they?).

Try everything at least once. If you feel you need to individualize after that, then go ahead. But, give yourself the opportunity to attempt every task, every exercise, every routine, every habit. Don’t be intimidated by the things you think you cannot do — do them anyway.

Ask every question. Someone else has the same question, I promise.

Don’t get frustrated with technology. Be happy with what works, report what doesn’t, and then go take some fish oil and get over it.

Don’t attempt to eat fewer carbs than what is recommended – or you won’t make it through the workouts without crying (believe me, I know all about this one). Less is definitely not more, in this case.

Six months absolutely flies by in a flash – don’t waste a single moment. Stay involved and keep up with progressing.

If you feel like dropping out, email your coach and talk it through. Don’t disappear. You deserve (and have paid for) the extra help it takes to keep you in the game, and you’re going to get that help just by asking for it.

Start a savings account right at the beginning of the program. Contribute to that account every week, no matter what. You are going to need new underwear, new jeans, new gym clothes, a new swimsuit and probably a new hairstyle. And, if you’re a girl, you’ll probably need new bras and maybe a new boyfriend too (but they don’t cost much).


Want help becoming the healthiest, fittest, strongest version of you?

Most people know that regular movement, eating well, sleep, and stress management are important for looking and feeling better. Yet they need help applying that knowledge in the context of their busy, sometimes stressful lives.

Over the past 18 years, we’ve used the Precision Nutrition Coaching method to help over 100,000 clients lose fat, get stronger, and improve their physical and mental health… for the long-term… no matter what challenges they’re dealing with.

It’s also why we work with health, fitness, and wellness professionals (through our Level 1 and Level 2 Certification programs) to teach them how to coach their own clients through the same challenges.

Interested in Precision Nutrition Coaching? Join the presale list now. You'll get a free gift today, save up to 54%, and have the chance to secure a spot 24 hours early.

We’ll be opening up spots in our next Precision Nutrition Coaching on Tuesday, July 16th, 2024.

If you're interested in coaching and want to find out more, join the presale list below. Being on the list gives you three special advantages.

  • You’ll pay less than everyone else. Join the presale list and you’ll save up to 54% off the general public price.
  • You’re more likely to get a spot. To give clients the personal care and attention they deserve, we only open up the program twice a year. By joining the presale list you’ll get the opportunity to register 24 hours before everyone else, increasing your chances of getting in.
  • You’ll get a free gift—plus an inside look at the program. When you join the presale list today, we’ll send you a free 35-page ebook: Your Best Nutrition Starts Here—a complete guide to building a health plan for your body, goals, and lifestyle (no calorie-counting or restrictive dieting required). Plus, you'll get our new Enrollment Packet, giving you an inside look at the PN Coaching program, complete with stories from past clients who’ve overcome huge obstacles and achieved the transformation of their dreams, and more.

If you’re ready to change your body, and your life, with help from the world’s best coaches, this is your chance.

[Note: If your health and fitness are already sorted out, but you’re interested in helping others, check out our Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification program].