Raise your hand if you eat three meals a day, with no snacks in between.
Yeah, my hand isn’t up, either.
I snack all day long instead of having proper meals. I used to think that was a good thing. Keeps my metabolism revved up and so forth.
But, according to weight loss expert Susan Pierce Thompson, I’m setting myself up for disaster.
Thompson is the author of the New York Times bestseller Bright Line Eating. She’s not just another diet book author. She’s a professor of psychology with a Ph.D. in cognitive science and—more importantly—an addictive eater herself. She was dieting by the age of 12 and using drugs to control her weight by 16.
Thompson knows what it’s like to feel unable to control your relationship with food. And she vehemently denies it has anything to do with willpower.
Overeating is not a character flaw.
You’re not a bad person because you can’t turn down food.
All those times you’ve tried to lose the weight, only to get it back? You probably thought it was you.
You got angry with yourself for quitting. Ashamed of the way food could still tempt you. You looked at those before and after pictures in advertisements for the latest diet fad and hated yourself for not being able to do it while those women clearly could.
And you had it all wrong.
You see, playing the game the way the diet experts want you to play it sets you up for failure.
There’s no way you can win through calorie-counting and exercise.
The research is clear on that. A British study found fewer than 10% of dieters lose significant amounts of weight, and those who do almost always put it back on within a year.
Dr. Rebecca Hardy from the Medical Research Council explains:
“Once people become overweight, they continue relentlessly upwards. They hardly ever go back down.”
Diets don’t work. So what does?
Thompson found her first real success with weight loss through a strict 12-step program. She needed those rules, because she couldn’t trust herself to eat appropriately on her own. Left to her own devices, she’d eat and eat and eat some more, because eating only made her hungrier.
And that was the first clue.
Most of us feel satiated after eating a meal. We know that it takes 20 minutes after a meal until the stomach feels pleasantly full.
But it doesn’t work that way for addicts.
For certain people, eating only intensifies the cravings. A handful of potato chips doesn’t make the urge go away. It feeds it, until you’ve eaten the whole bag and are casting about for more.
Alcoholics can empathize. An alcoholic can’t stop after just one drink. One drink leads to the next, until there’s no more alcohol left.
You cannot treat an addiction with a call to consume everything in moderation. There is no such thing as moderation for an addict.
Thompson’s breakthrough came when she began treating her compulsion to eat as an addiction. And addictions don’t start in the stomach.
They start in the brain.
We can’t trust ourselves to know when to stop eating. The satiety switch—the switch in your brain that tells you you’re full—is broken. (Thompson goes into the science of this in great detail in her book.)
So the only permanent weight loss solution is a program that does all the thinking for you. It takes all the decision-making out of it. It requires absolutely no willpower at all.
That’s what “Bright Lines” are all about.
To treat food addiction, you’re got set clear boundaries, which Thompson calls “bright lines.” These are boundaries you just don’t cross, no matter what.
Her Bright Lines are strict—no sugar, no flour, 3 squares a day with no snacks, and strict portion control—but they work.
Follow the Bright Lines consistently for the rest of your life, and you’ve got a fighting chance of living “happy, thin and free.”
The program has some vocal fans, including John Robbins, author of the classic Diet for a New America. In his introduction to Thompson’s book, he writes:
“People in Susan’s programs lose 2 ½ times more weight, and they do so 7 times faster than people in the country’s most popular weight loss program.”
Sounds great, but…
Is a life of no sugar, no flour, and no snacks worth living?
If you’re addicted to food, absolutely. It might be your only chance of freeing yourself from food’s pull. Thompson offers a free food addiction quiz to tell if your brain is blocking you from losing weight.
But if you’re one of those people who can take or leave food, then moderation might work for you. You might be one of the lucky few who can trust yourself to make healthy food choices.
Although I’m impressed by Thompson’s argument for 3 square meals a day—snacking actually works against your metabolism, and consistent mealtimes improves insulin sensitivity—I find that I think less about food when I just grab enough to keep me going.
That’s the opposite of most people’s experience. Thompson explains:
“It’s eating all day long that keeps people thinking about food, obsessed with eating, and feeling hungry again after putting food in their mouths.”
If that sounds like you, I urge you to check out Bright Line Eating. If nothing else, you’ll understand what’s really keeping you from losing that weight.
And it’s NOT your lack of willpower.