I struggle with my weight, on a daily if not hourly basis.  This shouldn’t be a big surprise (See here, here and here for starters).  For me being fat is both mentally and physically painful, it weighs on both my sense of self perception and self esteem and on my muscles, bones and joints as I get slower and slower.  I feel like, in many ways, I am the person who has tried everything (and I mean everything) to lose weight.  When Meredith Atwood (“Meredith A.”) began eagerly promoting Meredith Vieceli (“Meredith V.”) and the success Meredith A. had with what became SWIM BIKE FUEL, I thought maybe I’m missing something and this it was worth a shot.  I signed up for the November 2015 edition of SWIM BIKE FUEL hoping for a bit of a miracle or at least something (anything) that might help improve my body composition.

Unfortunately, for me, there was no silver bullet. I sit here on December 14th in the exact same place as I was November 1st.  The program wasn’t for me as I had “been there and done that” for each of the principles espoused by Meredith V.  Just because it wasn’t for me doesn’t mean I think its a bad program or that it won’t work for others — I don’t (triple negative in that sentence).  For those individuals who already follow a low/no added sugar, no processed foods, no artificial sweeteners, lots of leafy green vegetables, fat is your friend diet and understand why these principles matter, there is likely very little to be learned from SWIM BIKE FUEL.  I know for me it was frustrating to receive a lesson each morning only discover it was something I already practiced.  The lessons started to serve as confirmation that my weight was my fault and there was/is nothing I can do about it.  That is my problem.  Setting aside my own mental and physical insecurities, I think was a lot of good in the program, but also some places that need improvement.  My guess is that with each edition the two Merediths will tighten it up and continue to improve.

Still fat after SWIM BIKE FUEL.

Still fat after SWIM BIKE FUEL.

The Good 

  • Each “lesson” arrives on a daily basis so there is no information overload.  For those seeing these topics and principles for the first time, this is incredibly helpful.
  • For most lessons there is a good explanation of the why and there are solid secondary sources if you want to learn more.  I previously read many of the secondary sources cited by Meredith V. and would strongly suggest Gary Taube’s Why We Are Fat for anyone considering the program.
  • The lessons themselves contain good information and move participants away from “low fat, low calorie” and chemically alternated to a more natural way of eating (e.g. eliminating processed foods).
  • Other than counting grams of sugar, the program looks to move its participants away from tracking and get them to focus on holistic health.
  • On the whole the program is incredibly body positive and is more about health than pounds.
  • Meredith V. does a fantastic job of responding to every comment / question posed of her in the private Facebook group set up for participants.  Seriously I have never seen such a responsive individual.  With over 100 women posting endless questions, Meredith V. hit them all.
  • The women in the group were lovely.  No fat shaming, no competition, just support.  Personally, I found it hard that others had success where I failed (continue to fail) but everyone was very supportive.
  • By offering this kind of program the two Merediths are helping to lower the barrier to entry to quality information about nutrition.  Like me, many of these women were raised on low fat / very low calories diets for weight loss.  They don’t work.  While I have my own (mostly hormonal issues), this type of program is both sustainable and works for lots of women.

The Needs Improvement

  • As part of the program we received 26 lessons ranging from consumption of water, to eliminating sugar to sleep and self care.  Not one of the lessons was about eating disorders.  I am not a doctor or a therapist but I am very familiar with symptoms of disordered eating and there were signs of it in the Facebook group.  Obviously its neither of Merediths’ job to diagnose an eating disorder but I think there should be a lesson or part of lesson letting people know the warning signs.
  • I disagree with lots of Meredith V.’s advice on sports nutrition (mostly I don’t think its a good idea to use high fiber, high fat products or products that contain sugar alcohols in race fueling).  If you’re looking for a race fueling plan, this is not the place to go.
  • Meredith V. is a nutritionist, not a registered dietitian.  This may seem like a fine point, but under the laws of most states only a registered dietitian can give prescriptive nutrition advice.  I think Meredith V. walks a fine line here.  When she gets a pointed question in the Facebook group, she answers it, but she may end up giving prescriptive nutrition advice in the process (e.g. eat 50 -100 grams per day of protein or eliminate dairy and alcohol from your diet).  Which leads to my final area for improvement . . .
  • Not knowing these women as individuals.  At one point in the program, I posted in the Facebook group about my frustrations with making no progress on body composition.  Meredith V. responded to my post telling me to eliminate dairy, alcohol and conventionally raised beef, add in whole soy and look into certain supplements.  I read that advice and froze.  I am an awesome eliminator.  It took me months to be able to eat fruit (too much fructose) and years to be able to have a glass of wine from time to time.  Because I was one of one hundred and fifty participants there is no way Meredith V. could have known that and known what a bad idea it is to recommend elimination to me.  While the group format allows both Merediths to bring the program to the masses, it also means that the person giving advice has no idea about your story both good and bad.

So, if you’re looking for a course in nutrition (either as a first timer or you feel you need a refresher) in a supportive group with a responsive group leader, SWIM BIKE FUEL is for you.  If you feel like you’ve tried anything and everything and are thinking maybe (just maybe) there’s something out there that you’re missing, SWIM BIKE FUEL isn’t going to provide that missing piece.

ETA — Meredith Atwood commented regarding my blog post on her Facebook page.  Here is her response:

As I posted elsewhere, I really don’t think Kelly’s analysis of the program is fair. I have written response after response to it, but I am not going to post it. I don’t want to get into it and taint the program and all the good it stands for and has done (90% of our exit surveys were positive.)

I will say that every one of her statements about what she didn’t like is misleading or inaccurate in some way. SBF has been reviewed, vetted and signed off by a RD. MV absolutely never recommended what Kelly said for sports nutrition. And KBG’s ideas in the FB group for sports nutrition? I would have been in the toilet for the entire race if I took her advice. A lesson on eating disorders? MV never doled out medical advice–despite that insinuation in the post. (To that end, why would she cover an eating disorder lesson?)

Anyway. I said don’t want to get into it –and here I am. I don’t like lawyering on FB. But I believe if you signed up already you’ll be happy with it. I certainly don’t think that you’re going to regret it.

We all spend so much money investing in the sport, I don’t think it’s off-base to invest in our health. If what you’re doing right now is not working, then what do you have to lose? It certainly is a program that will make you more mindful if you follow it and have an open heart. If you give up on day 10 and start sending messages about how it’s hopeless, I don’t think you’re going to get the results you want. If you have difficult medical conditions like Kelly – maybe it’s not your answer. At the same time, I have seen people with very big medical conditions be changed by this way of eating and being.

It is a fantastic program and I’m really proud to be a part of it. No apologies for any part of it here.

I stand by it.

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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / witsup.com writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05

8 Comments

Jen4Tri · December 14, 2015 at 5:21 pm

I was thinking about doing this for the month, but was not able to afford to at the time. With my restrictions and reading your review, I am glad that I didn’t do it.

    Julie · December 14, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    Jenn, I was hesitant at first and once I spoke to Meredith V and she told me that they have worked with people who have had WLS in the past I decided to sign up. I’m happy with my decision to join the group. I think it’s great for people who have had the surgery like us. Even though I lost the weight and haven’t regained since my surgery, thanks to exercise, my eating was not great and it was affecting my sports performance. This program really helped me with that. Meredith V also gave me great advice on sports nutrition during the race, which before SBF I was doing all wrong. Since the program I sleep better, feel better and my running swimming and biking had improved. More importantly I’m moreaware of what I eat and how it will affect my body. Which is what I need to do in order to continue to be success in my weight loss journey.

Runner Leana · December 14, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Thank you so much for your review Kelly. Like you, I see the amazing success Meredith A has had and I was curious as to what magic nuggets of wisdom the program would have to share. I didn’t sign up partially because of the price, but I had never considered the group aspect of this type of learning/counselling. You make a pretty great case about needing to understand the participants as individuals because I doubt that anyone would like for there to be triggers to disordered eating.

At the end of the day I chose to work with someone local who also races triathlon so would understand the rigors of training and how to optimally fuel for racing and training. I’m not a fan of elimination diets…yes I did Whole30 2 years ago and had some good success but long term I’m looking for a way to eat healthfully without eliminating entire food groups.

I’m sorry you didn’t have the success that you hoped for and that you are still searching for what will work for you and your body. All the best my friend!

Ann Beck · December 14, 2015 at 6:37 pm

I participated in the inaugural edition of Swim Bike Fuel in September, and I just wanted to provide some thoughts about my experience with the program. SBF is a group-based program with a lot of participants. MV is good at responding to everyone’s questions in the private FB group. When I asked her questions, I tried to provide as much background info about me so that I could get an individualized response. If you’re needing one-on-one, personalized attention, the group-based SBF program might not be your answer. But having priced and considered hiring a nutritionist/dietician in the past, the group-based SBF program is a more cost-effective approach. I have tried lots of programs in the past (all with varying degrees of success), and I would consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about nutrition and how to eat healthy. I found the program to be very informative. I loved the format (once-a-day lessons, supportive FB group, responsive leaders) and the way the information was packaged/delivered. Nothing about SBF was earth-shattering or new information to me. I approached each lesson with an open mind and really tried to take the lesson to heart. I was and continue to be very successful following most of the lessons (except sleep – with a 6 month old at home, sleep is elusive!) With respect to sports nutrition, SBF gives good parameters, but MV also cautioned that bioindividuality is key when it comes to sports nutrition. What works for someone might not work for others. After being on the SBF program for 2 months, I had a 15-minute half-marathon PR using many (but not all) of the sports nutrition concepts I learned in SBF. As with most everything, SBF is not a one-size-fits-all program. I tried to absorb each lesson and implement it in the best way I could given my individual needs/goals. I agree that SBF is not for everyone. I’m also confident that Meredith Vieceli and Meredith Atwood are constantly considering ways to improve and refine the program, which is why it is good for past participants to provide candid feedback (good and bad) about the program!

Allison C. · December 14, 2015 at 8:04 pm

I too was in the September group and I have to say that I had a completely different outcome and opinion on the program. I absolutely loved getting the daily lesson each day. Of course some days it included information that I already knew, but I kept an open mind and continued to learn new things — especially from all of the others in the group who were asking great questions and got immediate replies from Meredith V. I highly recommend Swim Bike Fuel for anyone wanting to learn more about living a healthy lifestyle, not looking for a magic bullet for an immediate fix. The daily lessons teach you how to make small changes each day that add up to a better and healthier lifestyle. I highly recommend it, but you need to have an open mind. Once you close your mind you quit learning anything new.

    Kelly Burns Gallagher · December 15, 2015 at 4:19 am

    Allison — Perhaps you didn’t see that I had lots of good things to say about the program, in addition to some specific suggestions for improving it. In fact many of your reasons for loving the program were reflected in my review including the fact that it focused on holistic health rather than pounds. I am happy for you that you had success, I didn’t. Just because I didn’t (then again I haven’t had success with anything most like due to hormonal issues related to PCOS) doesn’t mean that I didn’t “have an open mind” or that I “close[d] [my] mind and quit learning anything new.” The insinuation to the contrary is offensive and is exactly the opposite of what I experienced from the group generally.

    Further, let me clarify, when I say I was looking for a magic bullet, I was expressing my frustration that my body weight in no way corresponds or co-relates to my eating and exercise habits. As I said in my review, I think lots of women can benefit from the program unfortunately just not me.

Michelle, a.k.a.: Duckie · December 14, 2015 at 8:15 pm

I loved the program!! I learned a lot. i have completely changed how I eat. I feel better. I run faster. I have more energy. I am healthy!! It probably doesn’t work for everyone but I have to say that it has really helped me.
I have had gastric bypass in the past and have serious food issues. This program helped me re-frame my thinking and put me on the right path. I had started gaining weight.. I put 40 lbs back on of the 140 I had lost and I was freaking out! I
I have removed sugar from my diet and no longer crave the foods that literally made me sick. I cannot say enough about this program.
No program has a 100% success rate. However, if you take the information given and work it into your life you will not be sorry. The funny part is I still have to reread all of the material because I skimmed some of it. I can’t wait to see how much more successful I can and will be when I take in the information I have not yet read.

Brooke · January 7, 2016 at 3:15 pm

Thanks for the review Kelly I’ve been curious! I work out a lot but I haven’t had much success on the last 10-20 lbs I need to lose. Sounds like for the price the program is not for me!

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