Bright Line Eating by Susan Peirce Thompson is an awesome book on a diet philosophy for life.
It provides a strong scientific explanation for addictive eating which I loved and it grounds its method on research.
- Normal diet plans don’t work for people with addictive hunger
- You win weight loss by changing your habits for life and sticking to exact measure
- Flour and sugar are addictive: you must give them up for ever
I was shocked to read that 99% of obese people who try to lose weight fail. And a vast majority of that 1% regains weight over the next years.
Bright Line Eating wants to change that for you, and it starts with good science:
Willpower and Ego Depletion
The author says that most diets fail because they rely to heavily on willpower. Most people, even healthy ones, think way too often about food.
And since our willpower part of the brain is especially sensitive to glucose, it’s right when blood sugar are at their lowest that we crave the most that we are the most defenseless.
The Insatiable Hunger
The insatiable type of addictive hunger comes with two traits:
- It’s unsatiable: eating more doesn’t placate hunger
- Comes with an urge to be sedentary
Leptin is the hormone which should tell our brain to stop eating because we are full. However some people can develop leptin resistance. When we are leptin resistance, insulin stops leptin at the hypothalamus and at the brain stem level.
And what do we usually eat in the westen world when we’re hungry? Exactly the type of sugar-laced food that make us even hungrier.
And it’s a type of hunger that is difficult to resist. The brain stem level is also called “the lizard brain” because it’s the older part of our brain.
The brain stems control all activities related to our survival, which can make overriding the “lizard hunger” an almost impossible task.
Cravings are different than insatiable hunger.
Cravings are what pushes people to drive to a specific place an hour away just to get a specific type of food -their “fix”-.
Similar to addict, says Susan Pierce Thompson, the food addict searches food not to get high, but to get normal -just for a little while at least-.
Typical of addiction, food thins out all the dopamine receptors in the brain, which makes us less sensitive to taste.
But you don’t need to be addicted to impair your dopamine receptors, eating enough flour and sugar will do the trick.
Yep, says the author, you should start looking at sugar and flour as drugs.
However, a less sensitive sense of taste is not the biggest issue. The biggest issue is that life in between bouts of eating is bleak.
Bright Line Eating keeps the analogy between food and drug with the susceptibility scale, which is an interesting quiz to test how likely it is for you to become addicted.
It’s been indeed my experience as well that some people just get hooked more than others.
This is important to know because diet plan based on moderation for people high in the addiction scale do NOT work.
Non Addicted Obesity
Not all overweight people are necessarily addicted though.
One can have a slower metabolism, be clueless about nutrition and keep snacking on junk food.
And not all skinny people are non-addictive personalities. Some of them can be high in the addictive scale but spend their whole life battling cravings.
They might abuse laxative or spend a whole life obsessing about food and struggling valiantly to resist.
Not a good way of living.
Is Addiction Learned or Genetic?
A lot of is genetic, but strong emotional traumas can also create it.
Often it happens to children, but can also happen in adults more rarely (that’s why many PTSD war veterans for example develop addiction).
Signal Tracker: The Dangerous Eating Cues
The author describes an experiment with rats that had food delivered together with a lever coming into the cage as a cue.
Later they started delivering the lever without the food.
As anyone who is familiar with Pavlov’s dog experiment would know, the rats expected the food when the lever was provided and ran to the dish.
What was unexpected though was that some rat didn’t run to the food, but ran to the lever. And started fondling, cuddling and enjoying the dopamine rush even without the food.
What does this mean for people?
Signal Tracker Have it Harder
Well, some people who signal tracker (loving the signal) instead of goal tracker will go through their days continuously being reminded of their addiction.
- the clocks signals 8pm and you start salivating
- office is empty and lunch breaks remind you of food
- the alarm goes off and breakfast comes to mind
- McDonal golden arches appear on the horizon and you dream of junk food
Addicted people who track signals will have a harder time to stop overeating because everything reminds them of food.
The Saboteur Voice
As we’ve also seen in Phantoms in the Brain Susan Pierce Thompson says that different parts of our brain all talk to us trying to pull us in different directions.
However, we believe that all of them represent us, that they are all “me”.
Turns out, it’s the left part of the brain that makes sense of the behaviors and impulses from different parts of the brain and assigns them a narrative which “makes sense”.
This is bad news for people high on the addictive scale who have broken previous diet commitment. because they will come to see themselves as “hopelessly obese”.
And over time that can lead to self-disgust and low self esteem.
The Solution: Bright Lines
The solution is not to reduce portions “more or less” or to “stop for a period”.
You must stop bad behavior for ever.
They must become part of who you are.
Repeated over time, you choices of food will become automatic, and you won’t need willpower anymore.
Your dopamine receptors in time will adjust again, and you will start to taste and enjoy vegetables as well and you don’t have crazy cravings anymore.
Here are the cardinal tenets of bright line dieting:
- No sugar and flour (for ever)
- Eliminate Artificial sweeteners
- No dried fruits, juices and smoothies
- Nuts and seeds only if you weren’t binge-eating on them
- Have 3 meals a day, no snacking in between
- Commit to your food: decide the evening before what you will eat and stick to it
- Stay consistent. Consistency is key
- Use a digital scale for quantities (eyeballing portion is an invite to the saboteur)
- No bites, licks and tastes while cooking
- No exercise (you’ll do it once your diet is automated, in the beginning it will only deplete your willpower)
- Coffee better not
- No alcohol
Emergency Action Plan
There will be times when it’s tough and you need to prepare for them.
Here’s what Bright Line Eating recommends:
- Social support (find a buddy to call, or use the Bright Line support system)
- Service (make it less about yourself and focus on others)
- Distract yourself
Learn to read the ingredients and to spot all derivatives of sugar and flour.
The rule here is that you need to read the list of ingredients in the product and if there’s no sugar or flour in the first three ingredients then it’s okay.
Sticking to The Plan
Bright Line Eating has lots of other tips and tools, like staying at Airbnb with its own kitchen and preparing your food to be on the road.
In case you fail once, you must:
- Go back to the plan ASAP
- Don’t isolate yourself but find social support
Real Life Applications
Give Bright Line a Try
I found this book awesome. And albeit I’m not an expert of nutrition and weight loss, form my point of view of psychology, sociology and habit forming performance, this is the book I would recommend to any food addict struggling with weight loss (and possibly also to non food-addict).
I find the tone in Bright Light Eating very marketing oriented.
The author says for example:
Thousands of people (..) used this method to lose collectively over 300,000 pounds
Collective loss says little from a scientific point of view though.
The average Boot Camper, in 8 weeks, loses 19 pounds. Many lose much more
Well, of course “many lose much more”, it’s an average number, hence it’s also true that “many lose much less”.
Also the success stories at the end of each single chapter made me feel it was a bit too marketing-style.
HOWEVER, this doesn’t have to be a con for the Bright Line Eating bootcamp: products are effective or ineffective independently of marketing.
Ego Depletion is Not Certain Science
The author places big emphasis on the phenomenon of ego depletion as championed by Roy Baumeister. However the model of ego depletion has been criticized and there is not yet consensun on whether or not it actually exists.
However the author makes valid points even if ego depletion didn’t turn out to be an important factor, it would still not take much away from this program.
Supports The China Study
The author got into plant eating after reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. I’m extremely surprised that the scientist she is didn’t go dig into the heavy -and valid, I believe- criticism that book garnered.
Bright Line Eating is eye opening when it comes to the psychology of (food) addiction. I could recognize the application of many key psychological tenets that I also apply here for social skills and dating.
The author leverages sound scientific research to back her cases.
Great Program for Addicts
This is not a great program for binge eaters who are hooked to food, but also for addicts who are not yet overweight.
Drug addicts can also learn a lot from this book.
The Bright Line Eating is not a book and program for the casual dieter who says to be on diet and then “casually” gives in at the second invite.
This is for people who are serious about weight loss and it’s especially suited people with addictive personalities
I absolutely love this book, it was eye opening for me not only on the topic of obesity and food addiction, but on psychology in general as well.