Book Review: Bright Line Eating by Susan Peirce Thompson, PhD
I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with food. I’ve changed my whole life with cannabis, reconnected with my sense of self-worth, and am committed to my health and wellbeing, but I still often feel like I’m not in control with food. I read Intuitive Eating earlier this year, and was so sure it would be the answer for me. It helped me notice and reject diet culture, and see the importance os body awareness and rebuilding trust with your body. Its an amazing plan, but as I began the process of making peace with food and eating what I was really craving, I found it too hard to stop. I gained back every pound I’d lost. I just need that structure. I finally stepped on a scale for the first time in nearly a year, and I’m back at my heaviest. It’s maddening.
When I started studying to be a cannabis coach, I learned a lot about the brain. The way we are and the things we do are caused by events happening in the brain, and we can change them.
I’ve learned about neurotransmitters and the types of behaviors they cause. If you haven’t, listen to The Life Coach School podcast episode #239 Neurotransmitters. Brooke Castillo explains neurotransmitters in a really simple, digestible way. She mentions specifically how sugar and flour affect dopamine levels.
Then I came across the book, Bright Line Eating. It’s like the missing piece I needed to find to help me understand my own issues with food. It’s an eating plan for those of us who are really susceptible to food addiction. This plan is very scientific and makes a lot of sense to me. To understand how it works, we need to understand what’s happening in the brain.
The premise is this: our brains have not evolved to handle the modern diet. Specifically the super proceed foods, flour and sugar.
These foods wreak havoc in two, super-destructive ways.
The author likens the process of resisting this response to the following:
Imagine you run up 10 flights of stairs. You may decide to breathe slowly the whole time, and you will succeed at first. But after a while your body will take over and you’ll breathe the way your body needs you to. This is the same as resisting your body’s hunger. And all this is caused by too much insulin which blocks the hormone Leptin.
So, you have too much hunger.
You also have overpowering cravings. This has to do with a different part of the brain, the nucleus accumbens. This is the seat of pleasure, reward, and motivation. Food and sex release dopamine, which activate this part of the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that encourages us to seek rewards. It encouraged early humans to hunt for food for survival. When an early human found a concentrated or calorie-dense food source (like berries), their brains would take notice and remember to seek it out again. But those concentrated foods have become more concentrated, widely available (heck, hard to avoid, really), and addictive in modern times. The constant stimulation caused by these concentrated foods causes the brain to downregulate and remove dopamine receptors. It means you don't feel the reward anymore, so you need to add more and more stimulation. It looks a lot like drug addiction. Addicts don't use to feel great, they use to feel normal. The reward becomes not feeling bad. The in-between is craving. Sound familiar?
The flour and sugar we eat so much of today is refined and concentrated. The author likens it to other concentrated white powders: cocaine and heroin. Coca leaves give you a lift, but they aren't addictive. But when you refine the plant down into a powder you end up with cocaine, which is addictive.
So these super-concentrated foods are flooding our brains with dopamine, encouraging us to seek food all the time. This causes our brain to down-regulate the dopamine receptors, which creates a cycle of always wanting food and never being satisfied. In the book she describes a pattern noticed by doctors who treat eating disorders. Their overweight patients report feeling hungry when they sit down to eat, feeling slightly less hungry half way through, but then they get hungrier as they continue to eat and are as hungry as they were when they sat down at the end of the meal.
The answer? Completely cut out those concentrated, calorie-dense foods and your brain will heal. You won't be subjected to irresistible cravings, you will lose weight, many people feel their moods stabilize. As a person who has struggled with binge eating since the mid 2000’s and depression all my life, this is a big deal.
Some interesting facts:
Of the obese who try to lose weight, 99% fail. Most who succeed in losing weight will end up gaining it back. The average dieter makes 4 or 5 new attempts each year. It could not be more clear that dieting doesn’t work. We can't just will ourselves thin. Why?
The same part of the brain that controls willpower also governs our ability to focus, make choices, and regulate our emotions, and these resources are finite. When you’re tired, and you’ve made 10,000 decisions, and you’re trying not to lose your shit on your kids, you are using this part of the brain. It's called the anterior cingulate cortex, the seat of rational decision making. This area of the brain is also particularly affected by changes in blood sugar. It doesn’t work well without enough glucose. So when the day draws to an end and we’re tired and have low blood sugar, we won't make good decisions. It’s not willpower, its your brain.
The plan is more specific than just cutting out flour and sugar. It’s a totally regulated plan that you do not break from. That’s why its called bright lines. The bright lines are boundaries. It’s a commitment. But, if you could be free from food addiction forever, wouldn’t you do almost anything? I would.
I don't follow the plan to the letter, at least not yet. I simply cut out sweeteners of all kinds, most flour, and use a calorie-counting app to stay accountable.So far I’m two weeks in and I feel fantastic! I have tons of energy and almost no cravings at all. I feel in control for the first time in a long time. If at some point this isn't easy to maintain I might commit to the Bright Lines eating plan as written. The science seems really solid.
Have you read or followed Bright Line Eating? Let us know what you thought in the comments!
I am Jessica DaCosta, I'm a proud cannabis enthusiast, advocate, and mom of two.