PN is a professional soccer player in her early 30s. She’s been a soccer mom for the last few years, and now she’s a mom of 5. She’s married and stays home with her husband and children. Her job is to organize and take care of her family. She’s always busy cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, cleaning the house, and she’s always tired from all the stuff she has to do. (It’s always easier to be a mom in a society where everyone has no idea what it’s like, but there are millions of people out there like PN that exist.)

A decade ago, when I was a stay at home mother, PN was a personal trainer who helped me lose weight and get healthy. Today, he’s a full time personal trainer and author of Eat, Sweat, Love: A day in the life of PN. The book chronicles his day to day life as he trains clients, works on his book and watches his son grow up.

A copy of the book Essential Conversations. Rubbermaid 1 liter plastic bottle. Half a kilo of mixed raw nuts. A jar of fresh blueberries. A folder of squirrels and green stuff. Ooh – a ballpoint pen! And a bright red apple.

This is the bag that was waiting for me at the annual team meeting in Toronto.

I was warned one way or another. A few days earlier, Dr. John Berardi (JB) had delivered a clear and effective message. We would be locked in a room with about twenty other muscular men. In a couple of hours.

But don’t worry: We received four macronutrient balanced meals prepared by professional chef – and Lean Eating customer – David Greensmith of Essential Meal Delivery. Each meal for men will contain 750 calories. And each of the women has 500 calories.

What’s on the agenda? Actions? The goal?

JB tells us not to go too far. Besides, we all want to talk about the real thing – who uses dairy (I don’t), who complains like a diva if even one grain of gluten touches her bowl (me), and who takes the vegan option (Ryan, of course).

It is said that the army marches on its stomach. Our food packages, neatly arranged and labeled with our names like adult versions of kindergarten lunchboxes, fill a corner of the room. Clearly, this is not a business meeting. We’re going to conquer Napoleon.

It is good that we all have the strength to carry our suitcases full of food. No lollipops, no binders to roll around in. Put your money where your mouth is, ladies and gentlemen. In the case of FN, proper nutrition is the biggest challenge.

A healthy, NP-approved salad – delicious!

Find your contacts

You can always tell when people are tense on their necks. I was told that the sternocleidomastoid muscle is a focal point for androgen receptors. If I want to find a group of fit people, I look for muscular necks that sit on collars.

Amidst the sea of flabby waves and downy chins characteristic of a sedentary population, the necks of the physically fit stand out like graceful periscopes. If I’m stuck, I might as well look for techno guru Alaina Hardy’s pink hair.

We found ourselves in the grand lobby of the Royal York Hotel and gathered around a little sheepishly. As we worked remotely, scattered across North America (and elsewhere, depending on who wants to bring a laptop to the beach), many of us met in person for the first time.

I admire Coach Chuck Dertinger because he is a colossus of agriculture. I can’t imagine he was skinny, weighing in at six feet and 45 pounds. (He now weighs almost 250 pounds).

Some people suffer from jet lag. Writer Nate Greene stopped on his way back to Montana from England. He yawns warmly and smiles at S2B coach Paul Valiulis. Coach Kate Kline of Arizona blinks in her sleep but tries to keep a straight face. Like Nate, she’s one of the newcomers and wants to make a good impression.

Tomorrow or not, we are committed. Everyone dropped everything to come fly a few weeks early. We got up early in the cool morning of Toronto to come together as a team, celebrate our success and decide how to make our programs and services (like the Lean Eating and From Skinny to Skinny coaching programs) even more amazing.

The lobby of the Royal York Hotel, where we met.

Input

JB and PN CEO Phil Caravaggio have a slight penchant for drama. Phil, in particular, wore Italian tails for the occasion. (Years ago, the first version of the PN system described our individual meal plans as a custom suit. It’s easy to see where this idea came from).

We are not allowed into the meeting room until a camera crew consisting of cameraman Alex Cimino and photographer Jason Grensey is ready to film our entrance. As a wedding planner, JB wants our special day to be perfect.

We’re receiving our signal. Krista Schaus, a seasoned professional in the field of physical development, enters the room like a red carpet. Technology guru Stu Houston, researcher Dr Helen Collias and customer service rep Lindsay Yeoh are used to working behind the scenes and on the scenes, so they do their best to pretend they don’t notice the paparazzi.

Erin Weiss-Trainer, LE trainer – and mother of three young children – whispers to me: I work at home in my pajamas! It seems to be the only good thing I can wear!

Meanwhile, I forgot the camera because I’m looking for my bag of food.

The meal begins

A wave of food washed over the room like a gentle but persistent tide. The S2B boys immediately open their first lunch and pounce on the plastic trays like brave but determined hyenas. An hour later, the thinly-fed male coaches nonchalantly refueled. Finally, after another hour, the women begin to properly distribute their salads. At this point, of course, the S2B guys are already looking forward to their next round.

JB and Phil announce the good news with a cracking sound: LE and S2B were a resounding success. We have changed thousands of lives and bodies.

Surprisingly, according to JB, adherence to our body transformation programs is significantly higher than adherence to prescription drugs.

In other words: If we tell PN to exercise and eat right, you are more likely to do so than if your doctor tells you to: Take this pill for heart disease every day. Yes, we can make you toil and sweat for an hour a day, while the pharmaceutical companies can make you swallow a pill that can save your life for ten seconds a day.

With his tailored suit for Daddy Warbucks, Phil is drinking champagne. We’re happy. In moderation.

The PN team talks about life change – champagne in perspective.

What is our secret?

A truism in social work and counseling is that you can’t change people’s behavior by telling them what to do. You change behavior by building relationships.

Most of the factual information offered can be found anywhere for free. But if information alone changed lives, the Internet would have made us all millionaires by now.

No, what we propose is simpler and yet deeper: meaningful, caring and compassionate human connections in the service of personal transformation.

A figurative translation of the word sensei, or teacher, is someone who has already walked the path. We have all been on the road to change at one time or another. We all live on the path of the NP.

But we also work remotely, with each Sensei coach sitting behind his or her computer screen and somehow inspiring hundreds of men and women to love themselves enough to start exercising and give up pizza and donuts.

How do we build relationships with customers we may never meet in person? And how is it possible that we work as a team with colleagues who are complete technical strangers to us?

At the meeting, we brainstorm. How can we build better relationships? How can we help more clients change their lives?

Not only do we communicate regularly through email and forums, but we also like to call our clients from time to time to give them a name. JB, who is passionate about organization and productivity, believes he can make these conversations more efficient – and increase their impact – while maintaining our unique and caring human approach.

After all, he thought, the lovely Lindsay and Amanda Graydon of customer service walked around all day with their belongings, guided stray ducks through the check-in process, and shared smiles with satisfied customers praising their new Gourmet Nutrition items or their sexy new figure. Somehow the two ladies, always in a good mood, manage to cheer up the phone lines in five minutes.

JB and the team share new coaching ideas – and talk about gender differences.

JB suggests setting aside ten thoughtful and well-structured minutes on the phone for each coaching call. The important thing, he says, is that these calls are targeted. Talking for hours about what’s new doesn’t help anyone. Taking a few minutes for real coaching can change the world.

The men’s coaches nod and note this sentence. The trainers snort, then laugh openly. We know what’s up, Susie. is an invitation to open a can of juicy misogynist worms, and we love it.

Whether it’s body image issues, relationship problems, hating your job, finding the energy to exercise after being up all night behind a pubescent four-year-old, or the best way to cook chicken, female LE coaches in particular are an inescapable source of delicious, heart-wrenching, and encouraging conversation.

It would be like calling your older sister if she were a high school football coach. After chatting with one of the LE women, you’ll want to clean out your wardrobe, congratulate and hug each other, and then lift the dumbbells off the floor while humming I Am Woman Hear Me Roar.

JB admits that there may be minor gender differences in communication parameters. We agreed to keep quiet and leave it at that.

Activity time

Second half of Day 1. We leave the hotel and head to Bang Fitness, PN’s unofficial headquarters in Toronto. With a sadistic chuckle, owner Geoff Girwitz promised the team a training session.

On the way to the gym, Ryan stops for a moment. I saw some people outside. I haven’t had lunch yet, he says. He lowers his lanky stature so that his soft blue eyes meet those of the homeless man sitting precariously on a milk crate outside the hotel. Would you like that? Ryan offers his beautiful and precious food. The homeless man’s eyes smiled. It was probably the first healthy meal he had eaten in weeks.

Once in the gym, Geoff (who also developed the Lean Eating workout) starts us off with two metabolic conditioning programs. The S2B boys are completely exhausted. Phil’s turning green. Krista beats us all. Ryan and Jason patiently withstood the onslaught. Chuck rides his bike with a broken arm (he vaguely explains the cause) and sighs.

Then the S2B boys get down on the ground. Paul and Krista are comparing biceps. The professional grappler Alaina and I get on the mat and wrestle for another half hour. We have about two hours for dinner.

Coach Jason and the rest of the team recover between rounds.

Evening 1. We are in Benihana, all 17 of us gathered around a steaming hot grill. The S2B guys ordered the biggest and sweetest steaks on the menu, plus extra lobster. Vegan Ryan didn’t budge. He unanimously accepts the rice and vegetables and politely returns the first portion because it was prepared with butter. He sits in a corner between Roland, Paul and Chuck and triangulates a series of muscular, carnivorous male mandibles.

Cut and divide the cooking ashes. The cook stacks the onion slices in the shape of a small pyramid and then pours water over them so that steam forms in the middle, like a small onion volcano. I look at Helen’s face through the bars. She discovered the physics of the event.

Coach Roland is a silverback, a veteran who has seen it all and done it all. He told me earlier that he was feeling a little down because he hasn’t been able to do as much at the gym lately. Injured. I ask what happened, expect the usual mundane concerns like tennis elbow or solitaire on the go. He shrugged.

Fighting. Bull ride. I’ve broken just about everything.

We are talking about the perfection of imperfection. How being aware of your flaws, your body, your life challenges and your history makes you a better coach. As trainers we are wabi-sabi, the beauty and depth of impermanence and imperfection.

Evening 2. As a local hostess and foodie, I’m responsible for making sure we visit all the amazing restaurants in Toronto. We made food for Ryan, the best vegan food in town. I now promise to broaden the culinary horizons of the trainers. I book Addis Ababa, an Ethiopian restaurant.

Most guys are late. On the way to the restaurant, the S2B boys got hungry and stopped at Subway for a bite to eat. On the way to the restaurant.

Ethiopian cuisine is new to most of the attendees. The S2B boys love the primitive nature of eating with their hands. Jason, who spent a year in cooking school, is fascinated.

Chuck orders a double portion of spicy meat. The waitress raises an arched eyebrow. Yeah, a double. When it is brought in, Chuck notices that it is very hot. It doesn’t matter. He’s dedicated to his work. As he likes to say, growing up is a struggle and his weapons are knife and fork… or in this case, his powerful paws. He leans back in his chair and gets to work.

It’s not so bad, Jason says with his laconic East Coast manner.

Enjoy a delicious lobster at Benihana

PN: Bumblebee

The drone has baffled aviation engineers. With its fluffy body and relatively small wings, a bumblebee should not be able to fly. And yet this is the case.

Like the flight of the bumblebee, many well-meaning and intelligent MBAs tell me that the NP should not exist.

We are a remote company with no office (unless you count places like espresso bars, the spacious couch in Phil’s flat or JB’s farmhouse where people occasionally meet for a useful sleigh ride in the winter). And we have a diverse team of people from all walks of life.

Stu is a professional video game champion. Jason is a former teacher. Krista was a police officer. Phil greeted IBM with a birdie. Helen, JB and I are PhDs, academic exceptions. Lindsay is an advocate for epilepsy research. In her spare time, Alaina beats people up.

We’re like Charlie’s Angels: brilliant, loyal and outrageous. How, the well-meaning MBAs will say, do we get along?

Moreover, our deep enthusiasm for this work must be impossible. Reality should be turning us into cynical bastards by now. The two-day meeting would be an ordeal of bland sandwiches and existential hatred.

And yet here we are, with shining eyes, eating spinach and full of energy for our work. We drank the Kool-Aid (without sugar) and now offer it as a sacrament for PN.

A secret? There is nothing better than finding smart, dedicated and caring people, giving them a task they are passionate about, then letting them walk the line and letting them do their job. It’s like being at a zoo where the keepers are constantly throwing out cookies and fresh fish.

Phil says that when he hires people, he doesn’t care about their resumes. In fact, he doesn’t even look at her. Instead, it forces them to solve problems. There are two kinds of people in the world, he says. Those who do the work and those who don’t.

After the second day, Ryan and I meet up with Tiffany Clay, a former weightlifter and yoga teacher, who has promised us a yoga class. Under Tiffany’s guidance we relax, loosen our spine and allow our bodies to process the good – the impossibility of our existence.

Bonus: Behind the scenes of the shoot

Want to see what really happens when the NP team meets, eats and trains?  If so, watch this video (duration 2 minutes and 30 seconds).

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