I lost 20 pounds in six weeks on Chef AJ’s plant-based approach. Using her book I went from 184 pounds to 163 and then found Bright Lines Eating and lost another 12 pounds in 8 weeks. Then I went back to a plant-based diet and have continued to gradually clean up my diet and have kept my weight steady for the past year and a half.
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The distinction between food addiction and processed food addiction
The Bright Line eating system assumes that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is the “normal” diet and that only people with “special food addictions” have problems with a diet of mostly refined foods.
This mindset leads to a feeling of missing out and exclusion from the normal flow of life if you don’t eat refined and processed foods.
There really is no such thing as food addiction, but Processed food addiction does exist and is very powerful and probably affects most people who eat the Standard American Diet.
It may not be the only reason people are overweight and obese but is probably a significant reason for a lot of those of us who are.
Food addiction only happens with processed and highly concentrated foods depending upon how sensitive you are.
Addictive behaviors with food stem from eating processed foods
- Flour, including whole grain flour
- Refined Sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Vegetable oil including coconut oil, and olive oil
- Foods with a lot of salt added
- Dairy, especially cheese
- Dried concentrated foods like dates, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds
- Smoothies and juicing can also throw off the appetite and cause overeating and blood sugar issues. Any time you take out the fiber or break the fiber down too much, it throws off the absorption of the food
In her book Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin, and Free, Susan Pierce Thompson describes her lifelong addiction to processed foods. She has a food addiction spectrum quiz, that is really helpful.
Susan was a drug addict and used 12-step programs to get off drugs and alcohol and then turned to 12-step programs to finally beat food addiction. She considers herself to be off the charts as a food addict.
She was able to take off all of her weight, going from a size 24 to something tiny. (She looks like a size 2 or something now). She went on to finish college and got a doctorate in the psychology of eating.
Bright Line Eating has similarities to 12-step programs
Susan started Bright Line Eating using some of the principles of the 12-step programs but leaving behind some of the dogma.
She realized that there were useful things in the program but that not everyone wants to go to a 12-step addiction program.
Her book asks good questions. Why is it that otherwise intelligent people are having so much trouble losing weight and keeping it off?
Processed foods act like street drugs on your brain’s pleasure centers
Susan discovered through her research that flour and sugar act similarly to cocaine and heroin in the pleasure centers of the brain, causing us to become addicted and need more and more of these refined substances to feel normal.
When we are not eating processed foods, we feel terrible. This is the reason for constant cravings for junk food that some of us are fighting every day.
Is Bright Line Eating Bootcamp for you?
After reading the book, I signed up for the 8-week Bright Line Boot Camp. Susan is big on ritual and taking the time to really enter the program.
Before you dive into the program, you weigh and measure yourself, take photos and videos and visualize and meditate. Then you prepare for the boot camp by emptying the house of non-compliant foods.
Then you shop for new foods and weigh out and write out your first day of food the night before.
Then, and only then, you are ready to click the start button and go to the first module.
The actual eating program calls for tiny portions that are the same for everyone, no matter what your weight. This seems quite strange to me that all bodies are put on the exact same amount of food.
I did not follow this regime after trying it out for a few days and hating it.
Bright Line Eating on a plant-based diet
Instead, I adjusted the Bright Lines protocol. I stuck with my generous portions of Chef AJ’s recommended high fiber low-calorie plant foods and starchy grains, veggies, and legumes.
I did follow along with the three meals a day and no snacking, which I found helpful. Another useful habit to break was nibbling as I prepared food. Regulating eating times helped me be more conscious of what I was putting in my mouth.
After the Bright Line program was over, I switched to two meals a day and liked that even better.
I went on the Bright Lines Facebook group often over the course of 8 weeks and watched people freaking out and being very hungry on the new diet, while I was stuffed and satisfied and still losing weight with high-fiber plant meals free of oil, sugar, flour, and processed foods.
Bright Line allows oil and a lot of processed stuff. But it does remove some of the processed foods and really helps some people stop binging.
What is included in the Bright Line Boot Camp
The program is very generous with at least 8 videos in each weekly module on every detail of how to maneuver home, work, family, restaurants, and travel. There is a section about adding more food once you have gotten to your goal weight and more.
Some people will love the number of videos and all the details. It began to feel like too much obsession over food for me. I had to skip through a lot of the videos.
She went into great detail about the brain chemistry behind addiction to refined foods, which was helpful.
You might like the Bright Lines program if you want to hold onto meat, dairy, and oil, and salt, but be able to lose weight.
It is an excellent program for people who want to be able to keep eating meat and dairy and oil while cutting out sugar and flour and get a little healthier. For those who are low on the susceptibility scale, this might work fine.
Some people do really well on Bright Line Eating. They are successful in holding onto some of the SAD foods, like meat, eggs, dairy and oil, salt, and whole-grain packaged cereals.
Bright Line Boot Camp works with mainstream foods
Susan admits that this is not the healthiest diet. She is making the program available to the broadest number of people by keeping lunch meats, packaged, puffed-wheat cereals, sausage, and a lot of refined foods in the diet.
But to my way of thinking, this makes it harder not to binge on junk because these things are still too refined and trigger cravings in some people, so you end up in a struggle to keep the Bright Lines of no flour or sugar and deal with minuscule portions.
For me, it was simpler and better to just go “whole hog” and eat a whole-foods plant-based diet without flour, sugar, or oil and very low in salt.
The secret is you don’t miss processed food after a short withdrawal period of about 3 weeks.
Susan experimented with stopping her bright lines and gave intuitive eating a try
In the Bright Lines book, Susan describes how she decided to loosen things and try to be more natural and eat intuitively.
So she stopped weighing and monitoring her meals because she didn’t want her daughters to see her weighing her food and get the wrong idea about food and diet.
But she loosened the program to the point of eating anything she wanted, junk food, flour, and sugar instead of just learning to eyeball her healthy plant-based diet and sticking with the Bright Lines of no processed foods.
When you are trying to eat intuitively with processed foods, it is impossible for most people because these foods are designed to deceive us and cause us to overeat every time. And of course, this didn’t work for her either, and she went back to writing out each meal the night before and weighing everything.
Susan does not adhere to the calorie density idea. I find this puzzling because she has spent time at True North Health Center and has seen people eating large plates of low-calorie, high fiber veggies, and staying happy, thin, and free for life.
Fear and distrust of yourself with Bright Line Eating
Many “Bright Liners” do not seem to normalize or become able to feel when it is time to stop eating.
The Bright Line system is very mechanical. You decide on the amounts and foods you are going to eat the day before. Then you eat them at a specific time even if you are not hungry and you finish all of the food, even if you are full.
This seems fine at first to normalize disordered eating. And it removes the problem of will power because you have decided beforehand what to eat.
But eventually, you should be able to eat using your sense of hunger and fullness.
This can be done if you are eating whole foods. But for many people, this cannot be done while trying to keep a lot of processed foods in your diet if you are sensitive, which most humans are.
A food program should make life easier not more difficult
In the Bright Lines book, Susan describes how at one point, her husband threatened to leave because her 12-step food program was taking up so much of her time.
She has the 12-step mindset of intense ongoing programs for maintaining her sobriety with food. The program replaces the addiction. Though this can work for some people, it was not for me.
I find the plant-based whole food paradigm much simpler
Once you get used to eating a high fiber diet of low-fat produce, you don’t have to check in with people a million times a day to make sure you follow the ridged protocol, or second-guess yourself or weigh and measure everything the night before.
In the Bright Line model, you are always having to weigh food and monitor your behavior to sustain it even after you lose all the weight you want to lose and get your blood panels normalized.
Though some people can switch to the “one plate method,” she has designed instead of weighing food.
Calorie density is everything
Weighing is a good idea for a little while to get a sense of how much to eat. Half the plate would be heaped high with non-starchy veggies about one-quarter beans and one-quarter whole grains or squash or sweet potatoes for starch, with a tiny sprinkle of nuts or seeds or avocado on top if you choose, and a piece of fruit. That should do it 3 times a day.
Susan mentions in one of her videos that she could overeat on healthy things like roasted veggies. But 3 or 4 plates of non-starchy roasted veggies are only about 100 calories. So you should be eating heaps of them every day. Eating 2 or 3 pounds of produce a day is healthy for humans.
In one video in the Brightlines Bootcamp, Susan says that after you lose all the weight you want to lose, you tend to drift and continuously have to course correct.
She tells a story of how her fruit was getting bigger and bigger until she was eating an apple that was the size of her head.
People would stare at the amount she was eating. “When people start staring at what you are eating, and it looks like a lot of food, it is time to cut back,” she advised.
But this is not accurate if you are eating whole foods. If you are eating a low fat, whole-foods, plant-based diet, you should be eating what are considered to be huge portions.
Chef AJ tells a similar story in her book The Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss, with a different takeaway.
A student who was still quite obese was losing weight successfully and feeling great eating what would be considered “huge portions” at every meal.
Since she was eating mostly non-starchy fruits and veggies and high-fiber whole starches without oil or flour, or sugar or any rich foods, she was, of course, eating only a few hundred calories in those heaping plates. One day she brought her lunch to work and ate it openly.
A coworker came up to her table in the cafeteria and said, “See. This is why you are so fat. You eat too much food.” This was unfortunate because it made the student feel bad about herself and doubt herself again.
The only reason the coworker made the thoughtless comment about overeating was that she was uneducated about a diet of unprocessed foods.
I have found a valuable secret
While many dieters are weighing and rationing, and fighting cravings, those who follow a plant-based diet for a few months don’t worry about slipping up because the old foods no longer hold any power over you. Processed food doesn’t call to you.
You become numb to the voices of cheesecake and pasta. You would rather be happy, energized, and healthy than go back to those hollow foods that leave you feeling sick and dead.
As a person who was addicted to fast foods and the traditional SAD diet for over 50 years, I never would have believed this if it had not happened to me.
I used to be able to eat more sweets or bread at one sitting than anyone else. But no matter how much I ate, I never felt satisfied.
I felt overly full and would have to stop at a certain point, but this was not satisfying at all. And I was always thinking about food and trying to resist eating junk food again.
When you eat a plant-based diet, you actually enjoy the taste of the food more than eating refined foods after a short time.
Bright Line Bootcamp might be perfect for you. There are a lot of Brightliners who have lost all their weight rapidly and never cheated.
But a lot of people seem unsuited for it because they tend to think about food too much even after they lose the weight. Some people bring the food scale and weigh their food right at the restaurant.
Susan Pierce Thompson’s book, Bright Line Eating, is valuable because it uncovers the science behind food addiction. But unless you like a 12-step approach to food addiction, this might be a bit rigid for you.
People lose weight and keep the weight off by staying in her groups’ long term and doing daily support calls first thing in the morning for the rest of their lives.
Or you could Just go off processed foods cold turkey and see how you feel. Dr. Fuhrman suggests going “whole-hog,” so to speak, on 100 percent unprocessed food because, after just a few weeks, the taste buds change, and cravings subside.
WFPB diets do not limit the volume of food or have you weigh anything. You get to eat huge piles of non-starchy veggies because fiber fills you up and causes satiety throughout the day with very few calories.
With a high fiber diet, your appetite naturally controls itself. You learn to listen to your body and truly become happy, thin, and free.
The logic feels different between the two mindsets
When you are weighing your food and considering yourself a food addict, it feels like you have a disease. Anyone who eats enough refined foods are going to become sick and addicted eventually. Some people can do it longer than others without noticeable problems.
It all depends on how you look at it and what works for you. Keep trying different things until you find what makes sense for you.