Bright Line Eating is relatively new. Like most new ventures, the early adopters tend to be experienced in the domain. In this case, many Bright Line Eaters are experienced dieters. Yoyo dieting is what we know. Swinging between faithfully applying dieting practices and then gaining it all back and then some. I’ve tried Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Dr Furhman, and plain old calorie counting with My Fitness Pal.
I got the idea to write this review for sceptics and to give people an idea of what BLE is. Especially if you’re familiar with other “diets”, you might be wondering what to expect. Because Bright Line Eating isn’t a diet at all, it’s a complete change for good.
- Slimming World/Weight Watchers v Bright Line Eating
- My Fitness Pal v Bright Line Eating
- Precision Nutrition v Bright Line Eating
My “dieting credentials”
I should first explain my previous diet experience. I don’t really talk about health much on my site. But this is a learning journal, and this is what I’m learning about now.
I’m good at dieting. With each new effort, I found that I was able to apply the concepts and lose weight, but there was no way to develop consistency. As time wore on, I struggled immensely.
It turns out, it doesn’t really matter which diet you choose! Researchers have known that all diets work (if you stick to them), and the differences between them are small. The best diet is one that you stick to. The problem is that people lose most of their weight in the first six months. They plateau and then regain over the next six months. I could see this played out over and over again in my own “dieting” experience.
I seem to be perfectly capable of disciplining myself enough to stick to a food plan to lose weight, but I never got to my right sized body, and at some point, I’d konk out and gain it all back – and then some.
I’m at the point now, (one stone released!) that I have reached with all the weight loss plans before. My next phase will show me if BLE is different.
What is Bright Line Eating?
In case you haven’t heard of it before, here’s the founder’s official explanation. Four bright lines: No flour, no sugar, regular mealtimes, measured meals.
Susan Pierce Thompson, who founded the program, says that for real transformation a diet would have to look radically different than other diets. Indeed, Bright Line Eating seemed quite extreme when I first heard about it. No sugar, no flour, three meals a day, perfectly measured quantities?? It sounded like it verged on disordered eating. But surely our culture of constant snacking and hyper processed food is disordered eating.
My friend Sharon was applying the practices, and I was asking for clarification, NO COOKIES EVER AGAIN? The thought of giving up buns, bagels, biscuits and bars for ever, for life filled me with dread. As Katie says on her Bright Kitchen blog: You will mourn food-centred rituals. Though now, on day 45, I can say that I’m coming over to realising those things are not treats, they are not nice.
Here’s a full explanation:
I’m going to lump Weight Watchers and Slimming World into the one thing: low-fat nightmares and horrible in my experience. My sister, on the other hand, lost four stone on Slimming World and loved it! She loved the community, the meals, the diet plans. And she was able to stick with it. Two years since her loss, and she has maintained her weight loss. Another friend lost loads of weight on Weight Watchers and has had no trouble keeping it off for years.
Their experiences were very different from mine. I was always, always painfully hungry on these diets. I lost 2 stone (30 lbs) on Slimming World but it was a waking nightmare. I not only gained back that and then some, I got some horrible habits in the process.
I never ate so much crap until I started Slimming World in particular. They push packaged food, including their own-brand and affiliate brands as well as sweeteners, and low-fat meals. They come in with packaged branded food, little packets of quick noodles- just add water! And these cardboard-like high fibre crackers. I also started eating “good for you” snack food, and started a crisp habit I never had before Slimming World. Started with “healthy crisps” but I just wanted the real thing.
I ate more fake sweetener in the time I lost on Slimming World than in my life combined. It’s so gross. Bright Line Eating doesn’t allow sweetener because the effect on the brain/insulin is the same as if you’d eaten sugar. Yay for science! See this short video on the Effects of Sugar on the BLE blog.
Slimming World gets you into daft concepts like “SYNS” (sounds like sin for a reason), where your most pleasurable foods feel like cheating. The guilt feelings were horrible. You weigh in public, which is supposed to be supportive, but isn’t. And no one talked about binging. I never binged before Slimming World.
- In BLE, there’s an emphasis on whole foods. So that rules out those silly packaged foods “Tesco Takeaway sticky jasmine rice” being a Free Food!
- There’s NO flour or sugar or sweeteners of any kind. So that rules out all those silly Muller Corners they push on SW.
- There are no exceptions like “Enjoy a Milky Way (5 Syns for a 21.5g bar)” or “A 300ml bottle of Carling is 5 Syns.” (as they say on their site, sample menu Day 4!)
- There’s no snacking, no “Free Food Snack – Nibble on a punnet of grapes.” With Bright Line Eating, you don’t nibble on a punnet of anything!
The big overall difference is the BLE emphasises no guilt and no bad feelings around food. Just rezoom (resume in BLE speak). Examine why and how, and give yourself permission to be human. There are no “sins” and “cheat days” and “being good” and all that crap. There are also no exceptions. No freebies.
There is no snacking on BLE. “Hunger is not a crisis” is one of my favourite mantras. BLE emphasises improving digestion with fasting between means and from your dinner time to breakfast time. My sleep was *instantly* improved. And over a few weeks, I wasn’t having horrible hunger pangs from sugar withdrawal. Oh! And when I did later break my bright lines, I could instantly see the ravenous cravings come right back. It was a horrible reminder of what my life was like before.
After Slimming World, MFP (My Fitness Pal) was a revelation. Someone trotted out the old “guy who lost weight eating McDonald’s” example, and I thought, hey cool! I can eat whatever I want as long as it’s within the calories allotted to me. Is a calorie just a calorie?
I adopted MFP to track my meals, and through that, I learned about “macros.” I also learned that fat wasn’t bad for you, in fact, a slightly higher fat proportion left me feeling more satisfied than on Slimming World. I was having cream in my coffee and losing weight. *sigh* so good.
You can follow absolutely any kind of diet on My Fitness Pal. Low carb, low fat, etc. It’s just a tracker. It doesn’t prescribe any method, except for calorie counting. it does have some funny features.
My Fitness Pal has an optional setting which tracks your activity and represents it as estimated calories burned. The calculation encourages people to eat back their exercise. For example the other day I walked 20k steps, and the app said I was up 421 calories. That adds X number of calories to your allotted calories for the day. You can turn this option off in MFP, but it does suggest that you can top up your regular diet with some extra calories and it would be “ok.”
BLE doesn’t allow for that. You don’t change your diet daily to adjust to activity levels. There’s no snacking and no exceptions. Susan gives some examples, such as the time she hiked Half Dome in Yosemite Park. In that case, she ate six meals that day.
It took an enormous amount of willpower to implement. My Fitness Pal NEVER became automatic or easy. It felt like it was getting more difficult. I was measuring AFTER prep, and struggling to calculate the proportions. I also started using things like “protein powder” to balance my macros. I was mixing it up in smoothies. More weird processed food habits!
I started to hate weighing my food. And eventually, I just stopped. I gained it all back and then some. My Fitness Pal didn’t work for me, but I still like to use it to track my weight.
The main differences with Bright Line Eating and straight-up calorie counting with My Fitness Pal is:
- Yes, you’re still weighing, but it’s so much easier to calculate and plan.
- The proportions of your macros are just worked out by design. Much easier! Protein, Veg/Fruit, Fat. Voila.
- Again, BLE emphasises whole foods, so you won’t see anyone talking about protein smoothies or supplements to balance macros.
- You build in automaticity with BLE. You plan your meals; everything is sorted out ahead of time. So, instead of feeling under more and more pressure, your mind becomes less obsessed with food thoughts.
- There’s no “eating back your exercise” option on Bright Line Eating.
Food wise, the big overall difference is you’re planning forward, instead of monitoring as you go. You build in habits for food planning so you are relieved of thoughts of food. So there’s no more -“Will I, won’t I?” dialogue happening.
And that is the main difference with plain old calorie counting and BLE. Susan knows the problems that people run into when they fall off the waggon. What helps when you have low willpower? Meditation/prayer, social contact, a change in your self-perception and most importantly automaticity.
With Bright Line Eating, there’s an emphasis on building in habits with a nightly checklist which tracks behaviours. Bright Line Eating is not just calories in, calories out.
Yes, you can use MFP to plan your meals in a Bright Line Eating way, but there’s nothing in MFP that will guide and support you in the way BLE can.
The before and after photos for Precision Nutrition are amazing. I got the sense it would be great for someone who wanted to be fitter, but maybe not so much for people who are going from obese to slim. I should say I am not a Precision Nutrition expert. I signed up for the emails, I bought the starter pack ($60 USD I think?) and tried to follow it on my own. It was a complete failure for me.
The biggest difference which affects all aspects of the program is that Precision Nutrition includes weight loss and exercise in the same program. You’re shaping your body at the same time you’re losing weight. You’re building in fitness habits at the same time you may be completely changing your diet. You adjust your meals with Precision Nutrition based on your activity levels (post-workout carb-heavy meals.)
In comparison, Bright Line Eating explicitly advocates to NOT exercise during the weight loss period. Unless you have depression/anxiety, or you were already doing it automatically. In the Weekly Vlog, Susan talks about how Exercise won’t make you thin. It sounds like when your body is ready, nearing your “right size”, you will get urges to be more active. Your body hormones will change. I’m looking forward to that, but for right now, especially in my first few weeks I felt wiped out as I was adjusting to Bright Line Eating.
Bright Line Eating advocates for wearing figurative “bunny slippers” during the weight loss period. Be gentle on yourself. Recognise you’re changing many many habits. Precision Nutrition seemed sort of badass, with all the HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and weight lifting, and whoah.
Next big difference is that portion control is very different when you compare the two. Precision Nutrition emphasises eye balling portion sizes. They have a guide which seems really easy to follow. A portion of protein is the size of your palm. Women get x1 and men get x2. Bigger palms? Bigger portion.
Bright Line Eating says this is where you can introduce uncertainty about your meals, and your “Saboteur” can argue that “Hmm, that wasn’t a full palm size, I’ll just have another wee slice.” With Bright Line Eating, you simply bust out the scales and measure. Men and women have different portion sizes. And as you come in for landing at your goal weight, you start to alter your portions. Everyone is on the same meal plan, same measures.
Bright Line Eating focuses on “automatizing” as Susan calls it. You want to take any guesswork and planning out completely. It’s amazing. I had the experience one morning (day 39) of automaticity. I’d written down I was going to have a different breakfast than normal. I started preparing it (involved chopping nuts) and then without thinking I had measured out and made my “standard breakfast” without even thinking about it. I saved the nuts for another meal, but it was so funny to see that I was on autopilot. You want to get to that point, so that you shut down the “will i/won’t i” conversation in your head. It’s pure magic.
There are some other differences regarding the meal plans. Bright Line Eating only includes grains for breakfast. Higher carbs gives you a boost of energy you need for the day. Out of curiosity, I’ve calculated calories, and breakfast is my highest calorie meal of the day. On the other hand, with the exercise included on Precision Nutrition, they have accounted for that in the meal planning. You eat your carbs in proportion to your activity levels.
Another difference is that Bright Line Eating emphasises whole foods, whereas Precision Nutrition includes recipes for things like protein smoothies. You do not drink smoothies on Bright Line Eating at all. This would give you too much of sugar hit, which is what you’re trying to avoid. When I was trying PN, one of the first habits you adopt is taking daily supplements. I spent lots of money on supposedly high-quality fish oil supplements, multivitamins, etc. This adds to the cost of PN considerably.
In comparison, you don’t augment your diet with supplements, franken-foods and processed foods on Bright Line Eating. The macros are calculated with each meal. Susan recommends supplements only in cases of deficiency or body imbalance. We get the nutrition we need from what we eat.
To recap, these are the main differences with Bright Line Eating and Precision Nutrition:
- Most importantly: With PN, exercise is built-in. Whereas, there’s no exercise on Bright Line Eating. You aren’t adjusting for after-exercise workouts. Think “Bunny Slippers.”
- Portion control: With Precision Nutrition, it’s quite variable. With Bright Line Eating, you measure everything and eliminate any guesswork.
- Bright Line Eating emphasises whole foods. No smoothies, no protein powders, no supplements.
I don’t think being a yo-yo dieter makes me an expert. This comparison is from my experience. And I’m relatively new to BLE (Day 45 today!) Of the diets I tried before, I probably liked My Fitness Pal the most, but I got the best results from Slimming World. However, I experienced the pure daily torture of constant cravings on both.
I’m following Bright Line Eating after listening to the book in June. In July, I did the 14 day challenge. I joined an unofficial Facebook group which has also been super helpful. Bright Line Eating has so far overall been lower cost than any diet plan I have done before. It’s more effective and it’s much more satisfying.
Bright Line Eating has also had a knock-on effect on other parts of my life. No other system had these fantastic knock on benefits:
- Improved sleep. Delicious, delicious sleep!!
- Released from cravings, when I stick to my bright lines.
- Saved money (about £50 a week not buying snacks, booze, etc.)
- Improved self-discipline, a sense of integrity, and more confidence.
I’ll write some more about the Bright Line Eating surprises in my next post.
Anyway, I’m so grateful to my friend Sharon for introducing it to me. I’d recommend if you’re unsure about investing the time into Bright Line Eating, try listening to the audiobook to start, or check out the blog on their site.