A review of Bright Line Eating

In my first post, I compared my experience of other diets with Bright Line Eating. In the next, I talked about the surprises I encountered with BLE.

Now, I want to review what it’s like in more detail. Probably people searching for info on a new “diet” will be looking for meal plans, or the “Bright Line Eating Food List.” You can follow any eating style with Bright Line Eating: dairy free, gluten free, vegan, omnivore. In fact, the founder doesn’t even claim that the basic food plan is intrinsically healthy. You can choose to eat Italian sausages, or you can choose to eat Tempeh.

The basis of the program is not just the food, and if you focus on that you’ll be missing the point of Bright Line Eating.

In this post, I’ll talk about the Bright Lines and meal planning so you can know what it’s like if you’re thinking about it.

  • The Four Bright Lines.
  • BLE is more than a diet – it is rewiring your brain.
  • Why there are no exceptions.
  • Breaking Bright Lines and Rezooming.
  • Meal Planning: What to do.
  • Meal Planning: What not to do.
  • Find your Automatic Breakfast.

The Four Bright Lines

There are four Bright Lines you do not cross in Bright Line Eating.

  • No Sugar includes no sweeteners and no dried fruit or smoothies.
  • No Flour includes wheat flour, rice flour, or whatever pulverised into such a fine powder that it spikes your insulin.
  • Meals means strict meal times. Usually three meal times for most people.
  • Quantities mean measured amounts in specific categories. Buy the book for the specifics! I liked the audiobook.

No sugar: I didn’t have a sugar sweet tooth as much as an addiction to flour. I didn’t take sugar in my coffee or tea. Though I did notice, I was used to having a biscuit with my tea in the afternoon. I had to cut out the tea and boom the craving was gone because the cue was gone. Probably most of my sugar intake was in alcohol before. And dark chocolate. The hardest thing for me is to give up beer. I love beer. Alcohol is sugar. And unfortunately, it gives rise to cravings for snacks also. Even “just one beer” would give me cravings. Sadly, it has to go.

No flour: This has been my main attraction. Bread, cereal, crackers, etc. This is where I experienced cravings. Funny enough, I don’t think I ever found cereal as a breakfast at ALL satisfying. I always had two bowls of cereal. Never one. One was just like, what is that? Toast was just something I ate WHENEVER. Same with crackers. All of my “snacks” were flour-based. I didn’t know how addictive they were until I started to eliminate them. The cravings I get for flour based snacks are so strong they hurt.

Meals: This was the first thing I was able to tackle. Having my husband’s support has been super helpful. We cut out the evening snack time, and we eat at regular times, AT THE TABLE. No more forgetting to eat lunch and wandering down to the kitchen like a ZOMBIE at 3 pm and eating crackers and cheese standing up at the counter. No more TV dinners!! And it instantly helped my sleep, as I mentioned in my previous post.

Quantities: I was amazed at the size of the portions. I could see others relate to this. They would find the dinners positively enormous. If they were like me, they used to have smaller dinners to justify some TV snacking. Measuring is so easy at home. Being able to calculate the quantities needed for our meals ahead of time means less chance of wasting produce. You know exactly what you need and don’t need anymore. Saving money is one of the first surprises I experienced with Bright Line Eating.

BLE is more than a diet – it’s how to get the controls away from auto-pilot

None of this would make sense to someone who didn’t have an addiction to sugar or flour. My husband didn’t understand why I have to not taste my food as I cook. My sister doesn’t understand why I have to weigh out everything I eat.

I was a sceptic too, that “food addiction” was even a thing. My friend Sharon, who got me into BLE, told me that certain drinks would signal strong cravings. It’s not that I didn’t believe her, but I didn’t understand it at all. Now, after tuning in more to my body, I know exactly what she means. For example, I recognised when I had a cup of tea, I would crave just… a little SOMETHING. Because I always had a biscuit with tea. I can have plain black coffee, no bother! So I cut out the tea. No more afternoon cravings, voila!

My husband is totally different from me. He never gets cravings for food. I would constantly get weird cravings for food, and I wouldn’t shut up about them until I got them. It would usually be something very very specific. Not just an ice-cream, but a special type of named brand. He could go to the shop, and stick to the list with no trouble. If I went grocery shopping, we’d easily spend more money because I’d be chucking all sorts of things “off-list” into the cart.

If you’re curious how susceptible you are you can take this quiz here. That also gets you on a mailing list with lots of good articles!

Most people know what is right or wrong to eat. The problem lies in bridging the knowledge-action gap. I love how Mel Robbins described it. Motivation is garbage, it’s never there when you need it. You have to grab the controls away from the auto-pilot to change your behaviour. 

Bright Line Eating is more than just these bright lines and the meal planning. You cannot grab the meal plan and go. There are also other tools such as tracking behaviours in the Nightly Checklist. (Side note: I use a bullet journal, and I’m tracking my 4 bright lines and 5 additional habits. Once I “automatise” some, I will add new ones.)

Based on studies related to habit formation and reducing stress, Bright Line Eating also incorporates:

  • Planning and committing to what you’re going to eat. No guesswork.
  • Meditation practices, inspirational readings.
  • Gratitude journal.
  • Tracking behaviours listed above and also things like sleep, checking in with your support network.

If you’re not doing those other practices, then I don’t see how you could be successful with Bright Line Eating. I suppose people have all kinds of ways they adopt BLE, but to me, this is what makes it special.

On the other hand, my husband isn’t following BLE at all, and he’s losing weight just eating what I’m eating for dinners, and cutting out sweeties and snacking. So, who knows!

Why are there no exceptions?? Not even just this once?

In other reviews of Bright Line Eating, people wondered ““Is a life of no sugar, no flour, and no snacks worth living?” (via Your Brilliance). And “The biggest issue with Dr. Thompson’s diet is that it is extremely rigid.” (via WeWeight). And nearly every Bright Line Eating review on Quora uses the word “strict.” When I think of “strict” my inner rebel revolts! When I first read about it, I think I also got pangs of fear, because I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to do it at all. It turns out being “strict” is very liberating!

I love Gretchen Rubin’s writing on building habits. In a post on the differences between moderation and abstention, she said it’s easier to give up altogether than try to negotiate moderation.

If I try to be moderate, I exhaust myself debating, “Today, tomorrow?” “Does this time ‘count’?” etc. If I never do something, it requires no self-control for me; if I do something sometimes, it requires enormous self-control. Gretchen Rubin: “Are you an Abstainer or a Moderator?”

And that is a great explanation. Susan, the founder of Bright Line Eating, said “exceptions” are where the Saboteur comes in. She doesn’t claim to have made this concept up, it turns out it’s consistent across recovering from other addictions.

The conscious part of your brain hears messages and arguments that sound rational! Researchers have uncovered that “consciousness” is distributed throughout the brain. (See more about Network Theory.) Unconsciously we’re getting signals from our addicted brains trying everything to get that freeking sugar into our mouths. It will do what it can to get its fix.

As she says, it sounds like our own voice. Yet the voice sounds similar across all addicted people and across addictions. It’s not that original!! These all sound very familiar to me:

  • This is a special time. To celebrate.
  • I’m under a lot of pressure, I just need this / I deserve this.
  • I just feel like it.
  • It won’t hurt, it’s just one ___ or just a little ____.
  • It’s OK no one’s watching.

These same excuses are used for any addiction.

The good news is, the more you practice abstention, the better you’ll get at it. The best thing I ever heard when I was quitting smoking is that: It gets easier to quit every time you try. You learn more about it, you can recognise the triggers, and you can learn to avoid them.

Watch these videos, where Susan explains it all in more depth!

Breaking Bad – Breaking Bright Lines and Rezooming

Susan Pierce Thompson says that the weight-loss period should be a brief period in your life. The weight loss is swift! I think the calories are surprisingly low, and I’ve seen people report very rapid weight-loss. I set some goals for myself, and I’m glad I’m meeting them, but it hasn’t been a straight road. Rezooming is one of the central practices you learn in Bright Line Eating. BLE is a system for life.

With BLE, I think of it like learning to ride a bike. You’re going to be wobbly, and you’ll need to course-correct. You will wobble off, brace yourself and start up again. To me, this feels different than on other weight-loss plans where you “cheat” and feel guilty. Instead, you learn that you’re re-training your brain. You’ll learn from your mistakes with the tools in the program.

I love this mantra from Bright Line Eating: You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be unstoppable. 

For my first 6 weeks, I lost at a rate of about 2lbs per week. My progress seems pretty slow compared to others on BLE. Why was my loss slow? Well if I check back to my notes, I can see for the first five weeks I had one, just one, 100% Bright Line Day per week. On week 6, I had a whopping three 100% BLE days, but I failed at the weekend when we had a special guest. We ate lots of NMFs and drank NMDs. It’s no wonder my weight loss was slow.

However, I’ve found BLE is very forgiving. Even when I do mess up now, I didn’t fall prey to the “What the hell” effect. In fact, I’m getting better at realigning myself and getting back on track quicker. There’s a brilliant Weekly Vlog about overcoming the What the Hell effect.

In that video, Susan mentions the 4 S’s to apply when you rezoom.

  • Speed. Act fast. “When you become aware you become responsible.” How quickly can you resume? You slipped up, but don’t let it derail your day.
  • Self-talk. Be self-loving with self-talk. “You had some sugar? That sugar/flour is going to be wrecking your head. Make sure you get rest.”
  • Social support. Rally the support. If there’s shame or judgement around breaking lines, then people won’t share. We all need to listen to each other. We can learn from each other when we share.
  • Seeking the lesson. How do you feel now? What would you do differently? Take the opportunity to learn from it.

Around day 17, my sister came to visit, and we drank copious amounts of NMDs (not my drinks) and “celebrated.” (See a Bright Line Eating glossary here.) The idea of giving up the food-related rituals made me sad. We celebrate so much through eating and drinking. We have to mourn the loss of these rituals, and I suppose I have yet to figure out how to replace them.

I see now that the whole week threw me off. I gained weight, back up to 210 and then slowly lost it again. And to top it off, I experienced cravings all over again. The cravings were just as strong as ever. But experiencing them again after have some tantalising days without cravings was stunning.

The next time I broke my lines, I broke them brazenly. I wrote it down ahead of time and had the NMF item. As I was eating it, I didn’t feel guilty. I just felt disappointed. It was not nearly as nice as I had expected. It was cloyingly sweet, and kind of fake tasting. I had some roasted squash a few days later, and I thought it tasted nicer. I was oohing and ahhing. It had so much flavour; it was sweet without being overly so.

Later that same day as we walked back to the train, I saw places I would have eaten in before, with greasy takeaways of brown food. And I said, “So glad, that’s not my food.” So glad I don’t have to eat that stuff anymore.

And for the rest of the evening, I didn’t chuck out all the plans. I was able to eat my Bright Line dinner after, and resist snacking when everyone else was.

We have to be able to continue to course-correct for the rest of our lives. I don’t expect I will be able to be 100% every day. I have to make sure to use these opportunities as a chance to get stronger. Rather than feeling defeated.

There are lots of useful tools in Bright Line Eating to help you rezoom (resume in BLE speak!) The emphasis is on changing your self-perception, so you begin to understand what led up to it, and how you felt as you crossed the Bright Lines. It’s a learning opportunity, rather than something to make you feel guilty.

This is another good video too, where she talks about the 4 s’s: Do we have to be perfect?

Bright Line Eating Meal Planning: What to do

Each Bright Line Day starts the night before. I found I was able to do my Nightly Checklist if I did it right after dinner. This is a more reliable cue than trying to do it before bed. Then I commit what I’m going to eat the next day. When I wake up, it’s just a matter of following the plan. And once a week, we plan out what we need in the house for the menu that week.

My husband and I were already into meal planning before I started Bright Line Eating. It was our Sunday morning ritual. We’d have a nice brunch and open up the cook books and plan the week’s meals. We’d factor in which nights we were busy, and who could cook which meal best.

The big difference now is that we can plan for max two meals, instead of having 3-4 meals. Meaning, we’re getting more of the same thing. But it’s so much easier. We’re cooking less over the week by putting a little more effort in all at once.

  • Breakfast: I have the same breakfast every morning, with variations. And I would be happy if it was my breakfast forever.
  • Lunch: A bed of lettuce, and veggie side dishes. Vegetarian protein such as cheese, beans, tofu, etc. And fruit.
  • Dinner: We have two-three planned dinners a week. Just because the food we can prep on Sunday won’t last that long. Similar to lunch: Bed of lettuce, and whatever the meal is.

Two tips:

  • For meals, break down the proteins, fat and veg. If you have a veg curry and serve it with some curried sesame tofu (fat and protein). This makes it easier to measure. Check out this article on Katie’s Bright Kitchen “Adapting Recipes for Bright Line Eating” for helpful advice.
  • Since I’m mainly eating “Salad meals” it’s nice to have a variety of cooked veg side dishes. They are relatively easy to prepare. I’ve also done meals based on a theme, so things sort of go together. Mezze week, for example, has a base of salad or dipping veg, with different dips like babaganoush and hummus.

This site “Measured Mom” has BLE recipes which look good. I tend to choose the options which start with a “salad base” and then you flavour with various roasted veg, protein, and fat (nuts or oils for dressing).

You can follow any kind of eating style on BLE. Gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, whatever. BLE specifies whole foods. As long as it’s real, natural food, you’re OK. You have to find what works for you. Apparently the caseins in cheese can be addictive, so if that sets you off on cravings, just ditch it. It’s best to reflect on how the food affects you and then you can adjust.

Bright Line Meal Planning: What NOT to do

Don’t over complicate meal planning. Right from the start, simplify.

I didn’t simplify! And I think that made BLE harder for me in the first weeks.

First, to say, my husband and I love love, love cooking. I looked at example meals people shared on #brightlinebites and thought: oh that’s boring. For example: some pale steamed lean chicken, with cut raw carrots and a little pile of undressed tomatoes. I wanted the sauces, the spices, the flavours of our usual meals. We did lots of math-ing, and figured out ways to make tasty sauces, slaws, stir fries, mezze, fajitas, etc, etc.! But it’s hard, and it’s complicated.

By day 22, I shocked myself by making a packed lunch that was a container of cut peppers, some fresh cherry tomatoes, and some cheese and an apple and I was oohing and ahh-ing over the taste of the veg, and enjoying eating “finger food.” Don’t laugh!

If you’re new, what you don’t know yet is that by cutting out sugar and flour, your taste does change.

When you simplify the meals it makes them easier to plan, shop for, buy, prepare and enjoy. And it also gets you in gear for the next phase of Bright Line Eating, when food moves from being a focus of your time. All this stops: “What will I eat? When will I eat? I’m hungry; it’s just 11, will I just have a snack? Hmm, it’s 3, I can’t wait til dinner. Oh TV time, let’s get the snacks out. Going out for the day? I must take some snacks with me, what if I’m hungry!” Etc, etc., ad Infinitum.

It just stops.

I saw this meal plan “5-Day Meal Plan with Grocery List and Recipes” (not recommended!) by Dr Becky and I would NOT recommend you try and follow that. She has a different breakfast each morning, different lunches, different dinners. It’s overly complicated. I’m not sure of the purpose behind the menu plan.

First, whoah, the list of ingredients is crazy. You’d spend so much money to buy all the groceries. I guess with an enormous American fridge you can fit them all, but they would go bad before you could finish them.

Secondly, start working on automaticity early. Automaticity will be the difference between you sitting in front of tempting options wondering “will I or won’t I?” versus you automatically making the right choices without needing to think about it.

Find your Automatic Breakfast

When I saw more experienced Bright Line Eaters showing their breakfasts, I was like: bo-ring! Someone wrote cheerily, “I have the same breakfast every day, and I look forward to it!” I thought, oh no, I’ll never have the same breakfast every day.

Ha ha!! I was so wrong. Now I have the same breakfast each morning, and I’m delighted. Why?

  • I don’t have to think about it.
  • I’ve been able to fine-tune the order in which I prep, so I can get it done more quickly.
  • It comes out perfectly measured and prepared. And integrity that makes me feel good.
  • It’s all my favourite things and has enough variety to keep me happy.
  • It’s got hot and cold, soft and crunch, savoury and sweet.

When nothing else was perfect, at least I was nailing breakfast. It was through breakfast that I got to feel the first tastes of freedom as promised in the Happy, Thin and Free catchphrase. Before I started BLE, I would have been reaching for a second bowl of cereal, and then feeling hungry at 11am. Cue “snack time” and a few crackers, or some cheese, or whatever. Then the rest of the day was just a back and forth of unsatisfying meals and then snacking. Starting with this breakfast sets the day up right.

What is this amazing breakfast?

This amazing breakfast might not be for everyone. I tried eating overnight oats, but it was like eating wallpaper paste (I must be doing it wrong!) I imagine that the menu plan for BLE is so flexible that everyone can find a breakfast that works for them.

I’ve tried other breakfasts, but I just love this. I wake up looking forward to it, and it makes me happy.

  • Served together: 1 oz oatmeal. Cooked in water. 2 oz nut milk. And either 1 egg scrambled, plopped on top. Or 1 oz nuts. In my food journal, I mark down the variations as Breakfast A (egg) or Breakfast B (nuts)
  • In another bowl: 2 oz yoghurt on 6 oz fruit.

As I mentioned, sticking to this breakfast, I had my first experience of automaticity. It was so funny! On Day 39, I had planned to have my “breakfast B” variation of this meal. That means swapping out the egg with a half portion of nuts. I measured out the nuts, chopped them and set them aside to put on later. By the time I was assembling breakfast, I realized I had the egg already cooked. I saved the nuts for later and chuckled to myself.

This is what it’s like to have a habit drive for you. It’s just automatic. Now instead of my auto-pilot making my breakfast and throwing off my day, my Bright Line Eating habits take care of it.

And that’s where I want to be with all of my eating habits. Over time, by surrendering to Bright Line Eating, I trust I will get there.

4 thoughts on “A review of Bright Line Eating

  1. Having just completed three months of dairy free, gluten-free eating, I related to some of your experiences. The flour compulsion is tough. Since so few restaurants have gluten free bread or desserts without gluten or dairy, it meant cutting back on sugar a lot. My next challenge however is to eliminate sugar. That is a tough one. I did all this because of my Rheumatoid Arthritis and it really made a difference in my inflammation. Really!! So good luck to you on this venture.

    • I’m sorry, I didn’t know you had RA. It’s amazing how it changing a diet can help.

      In this case, it’s not gluten free, but flour-free. So I can’t have rice flour or other alternatives which are gluten free either. It’s more to do with the insulin rather than the gluten. I’m curious if reducing sugar helps lower inflammation too.

  2. I love how you used the reference to Gretchen Rubin. I’m a Rebel and if I hadn’t listened to her Better Than Before audiobook several times, I probably never would have been open to trying a “strict” plan like BLE. There’s “freedom within a framework” using BLE. I’m free from certain choices but I still have so much freedom such as what sort of fruit to have tomorrow, etc. That’s not to mention the freedom to fit into an airplane seat, the freedom to shop in a “straight sized” store, the freedom to climb a flight of stairs without wheezing, and so much more!
    Obviously, I love BLE!

    • Rebels, unite!! Ha, so glad someone else understands. One of my goals is “freedom to fit into an airplane seat” – as you pointed out. Sure, these seats are only getting smaller and smaller! Life is hard enough, being this big isn’t helping.

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