I am a sugar addict. I have never admitted it to myself until very recently, although I’ve always known. Other close family members have struggled with alcohol addiction, and I’ve always felt relief that that particular addiction missed me. “Oh thank goodness I don’t have the addiction gene,” I smugly reassured myself. What I didn’t see was so obvious; sugar ruled my life. I can do anything I put my mind to (I’m part terrier) and I’ve been successful at lots of things, but I could never control myself around sugar. There are people who can do things in moderation. I’m not one of them. If I buy a cupcake, I will eat a cupcake. If I buy 10 cupcakes, I will eat 10 cupcakes. I do not trust myself with sugar anymore than an alcoholic or a drug addict trusts themselves to behave around their own ‘poison.’ To me, sugar is a poison. I obsess about it, I plan around it, I regret it, I obsess more, I have more, I regret it even more… on and on it goes. Thinking about sugar takes up far too much real estate in my brain.
I am a girl who eats organic chocolate ice cream for breakfast, and then goes for a run. I even did this when I ran track at University, as any of my roommates will remember. They will also remember my Peppermint Patty and Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll habit!
I am a girl who looks at the dessert menu first, and then decides what to eat for dinner in a restaurant. In fact, I sometimes order dessert as my main course.
I am a girl who came home from school and made cookie dough to eat, drank maple syrup straight from the bottle, or ate spoonfuls of jam straight from the jar.
I am a girl with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the desserts on offer in every country. I’m almost more interested interested in the sweets than the architecture when I travel.
When I met my best friend Lisa for the first time in an Amsterdam coffee shop 16 years ago, we sat down, introduced ourselves to each other, and ordered cappuccinos. She said, “Shall we have a look at the desserts?” I said, “I am a sugar whore. OF COURSE we’re having a dessert!” She has never let me forget this was my second sentence to her, right after “Hi, my name is Lisa; nice to meet you.” Sugar has always been such a big part of my identity. In fact, I feel like I lost my bearings for a little while when I gave it up four months ago. If I’m not the More Is More woman who thinks the best part of being a grown-up is that you can have dessert any time you like, then who am I? I have always been THE sugar specialist; I know where to get the best madeleines in Paris, the best banana pudding in New York, the best pancakes in Atlanta, or the most authentic pastel de nata in London. Saying a permanent goodbye to sugar brought up a LOT for me to deal with… especially anxiety. I’ve never considered myself an anxious person at all. Take away my sugar though, and I become one fast!
You may remember I wrote about using the Indian herbs Ashwaganda and Rhodiola Rosea to try and address my sugar cravings in this post last summer. Those two herbs loosened sugar’s grip on my throat just enough to make me want to go further. I felt so much better without as much sugar, but I still had it every day. I honestly didn’t think I could, or would even want to give up sugar entirely (carrot cake! dark chocolate! anzac biscuits! pancakes! coconut cake! lemon drizzle cake! ANY cake!). Then, I went on holiday this summer and saw my sister in law, Jeanne. We have always had very similar body types, and we are both obsessed with health and nutrition, but we also both have a real sweet tooth (which is French for a serious sugar addiction). Mine is much worse than hers. When I saw her, she literally glowed with health. Glowed. She was so lean and gorgeous. I had lost a few pounds from the Ashwaganda and Rhodiola Rosea curbing my sugar cravings, but nothing like her. We went on a hike together and she talked about this new eating regime (I never ever use the word ‘diet’; it makes me want to go and eat an entire cake out of sheer rebellion) she had discovered called Bright Line Eating. She had cut out sugar and flour entirely. Just like cocaine and heroin, sugar and flour are highly refined, addictive, plant-based substances that provide a hit to the dopamine receptors in our brains. If you are genetically wired for addiction (like I am) once you are hooked, you cannot ‘unhook’ unless you create new neural pathways… and the way to create new neural pathways is repetition and routine. Bright Line Eating gives you the tools to create new neural pathways through routines that literally heal your brain from food addiction. I waited until I’d been Bright Line Eating for over 100 days before I posted here about it. I wanted to test it out for myself, to see if it worked over time. And it did.
After my hike with Jeanne, I went straight back to my laptop and signed up to try the 14 Day Challenge provided on the Bright Line Eating website (I’ll provide links below, just finish reading first!). I also read through parts of the Bright Line Eating book Jeanne brought with her. It made so much sense to both my head and my guts that I wanted to start immediately. I knew that this was exactly what I had been looking for, but I was scared to get my hopes up just in case I failed. I had never been able to trust myself around sugar before, so why now?
Bright Line Eating relies on four bright lines which you do not cross in order to heal your brain from addiction to food (for me, it is only sugar that is a problem). The first bright line is no sugar. That means no maple syrup, no stevia, no saccharine, no dried fruits, no coconut nectar, no anything sweet added to your food or drink. Ever. The second bright line is no flour. That means no coconut flour, no rice flour, no stoneground flour, no bread, no batter, no breaded anything. The third bright line is there is no snacking between meals; you eat exactly 3 meals per day. No exceptions. There has been a lot of research to show that the six small meals a day advice is nonsense; it just turns us into grazers and keeps food on the brain; fine if you are normal, not fine if you have an addiction-prone brain like I do. The fourth bright line is that you weigh what you’re eating. This is the one people are the most resistant to, but you know what? I’ve been on a failed ‘diet’ for my entire life and I’ve always been counting or measuring something (calories, fat grams, protein, carbs, whatever). If I was any good at listening to my body and eating only what it needs, I wouldn’t need to worry about all of this in the first place! When it comes to sugar, I don’t have any kind of compass or notion of what is normal. I eat sugary food until I can’t eat any more, and then I’ll eat it again when I don’t feel sick from it. That’s addiction. According to the statistics, one third of s are genetically wired for addiction. One third of us have the ability to become addicted under the right circumstances. The last third of the population is immune to addiction and thinks the other two thirds of us are completely nuts! If I look at obesity in America, where sugar and flour feature SO heavily in the diet, it certainly seems to support the evidence that at least two thirds of us are overweight because our brains are literally addicted to the sugar and flour found in nearly everything we eat.
So, in a nutshell, those are the 4 bright lines that allowed me to lose 30+ pounds in the last 111 days, one day at a time. Of course in my particular case, it was going cold turkey on sugar that made such a difference. You might be driven by different foods than I am. I haven’t gone into detail about the specific tools used in Bright Line Eating because it is too much to cover in one introductory post. I will make this point though– you do have to plan what you are going to eat. Relying on my own spur of the moment judgement around sugar is what got me here in the first place. I can rationalise just about anything I want to. My favourite new obnoxious Bright Line Eating mantra is “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!”
If any of what I say in this post rings true with you, I would really encourage you to try the 14 day challenge (link below). This is without a doubt, the best $29 I have EVER spent on anything in my entire life. Choose a time, maybe now before the holidays start, where you know you have 14 days to create solid new habits in your life (and new pathways in your brain). I chose a time with no birthdays, no holidays, and no houseguests… just a clear stretch of 14 days in my diary where I could focus on maintaining my bright lines with no temptations, no exceptions, and no distractions. I wanted to set myself up to succeed. Once you have the momentum from a few days of success, it is so much easier to keep on going. Just to be clear, I am not getting paid to promote this, I don’t have any affiliation with Bright Line Eating, I am just full of gratitude that I have been able to change my life (and also my brain and my ass!) and that I’ve been given tools to do it that WORK. I want to share my experience in case it helps you, or someone you know. Not a day goes by that I do not thank my sister in law (silently or via email) for introducing me to Bright Line Eating to address my sugar, and in turn my weight, issues.
Part of what makes the 14 Day Challenge so effective, is that Susan Pierce Thompson PhD, the founder of Bright Line Eating, emails out a video to you each morning of the challenge. She is warm, smart, encouraging, and gives you a LOT of science and statistical data to teach you about the changes taking place in your brain and body. She is the magical key to the program, in my opinion. She seemed to say exactly what I needed to hear each day that I did the challenge and at each stage of my journey. I genuinely adore her, her approach, her attitude, her intellect, her refreshing honesty, and the life experience she has to back it up. Watch this short typical video from her to see exactly what I mean. Susan has been addicted to crack, alcohol, heroin, crystal meth, and sugar/flour; she says sugar and flour were the hardest for her to kick. After quitting school and sinking into drugs (to replace her food addiction) and then back into food addiction (once she quit the drugs), Susan got her life back on track and became so fascinated by how addiction works in the brain that she got a PhD in Cognitive Science. She became a psychology professor specialising in food addiction before eventually launching Bright Line Eating. Her personal story will blow your mind; I won’t ruin it for you in case you decide to buy her New York Times bestselling book, which I highly recommend (UK Amazon link here) (US Amazon link here) or do the 14 Day Challenge that I did. There is a susceptibility quiz on the Challenge link above (see here for how she developed it), to evaluate on a scale of 1 to 10 how susceptible to addiction your brain is. I, unsurprisingly, am a 10 out of 10, which is why her method works so well for me. I eat out of addiction to sugar itself… not because stress or depression or boredom drives me to it. After the 14 day challenge, I was so shocked at how much progress I made and how much peace I finally had around my endless sugar cravings, that I decided to do the subsequent 8 week program called Boot Camp. It is a more in-depth version of the 14-day challenge, but the challenge gives you a very thorough idea of how everything works. You basically get more online support in the Boot Camp. The most useful support for me has been a private Facebook page where other people are learning the same thing at the same time, and there are seasoned Bright Line staff on hand to answer all the tricky questions that come up. Also on the Facebook page, I found three people in my time zone (coincidentally, a doctor, a nurse, and a nurse practitioner) to set up a Mastermind group with. Any time I am struggling, I text them to tell them what I’m freaking out about; they know me well enough by now to know what to say to get me on track. They are invaluable to me. Just like any recovery program, you need support from people who understand your struggle, who have some perspective and who probably aren’t having a bad day on exactly the same day that you are. I introduced Bright Line Eating to one of my best friends in London and she is also having spectacular results. She and I have been a great source of support for each other, through good days, bad days, vacations, and those few negative moments where you just want to throw in the towel and eat cake (which Susan and the world of psychology refer to as the ‘What The Hell Effect’). Neither my friend nor Jeanne did the Boot Camp that I did; they simply put into permanent practice what they learned in the 14 day Challenge and in the book. Their sugar addiction probably isn’t as extreme as mine is either, though.
Image courtesy of Hummingbird Bakery
If you are someone who can do things in moderation, then Bright Line Eating is probably not for you. If you are someone like me who eats super healthy most of the time (hemp seeds, lentils, quinoa, kale), and then eats an entire coconut cake in two days (raises hand), then this IS for you. I often say in terms of food, I’m 75% Gwyneth Paltrow and 25% Betty Crocker! If you spend an unhealthy portion of your life thinking about and subsequently regretting what you eat, I encourage you to try the challenge. I fully appreciate how crazy I must sound to people who have a normal relationship with sugar (or food). That’s ok. We’re all crazy, just not in the same places. I’m insanely addicted to sugar, and I am weepingly grateful that I have found a way to get peace around it and finally have control over it. I cannot believe how productive and organised I have become in my day-to-day life now that I don’t waste a disproportionate amount of time obsessing about food with sugar in it.
When I see people who haven’t seen me since I lost the 30+ pounds, do you know what they notice first? My skin. They all say, ‘OMG your skin is glowing, you look amazing”. After we talk about that, then they notice I have lost weight. That was what I noticed first about my sister in law too; her skin was glowing. Then I noticed how lean and healthy she looked. That’s what you’ll see in Susan’s videos too. She’s in her forties; LOOK at her SKIN! Her YouTube channel is here (these videos are different from the ones you get in the 14 Day Challenge or the Boot Camp). I love watching her videos because they keep my head in the game, which is important if you’re doing this for the long haul.
One thing I’d be wondering right now if I were you is, what do you eat? Here is what I had today:
Breakfast: oatmeal, a banana, almond milk, ground flax seeds, and cinnamon
Lunch: spiralised zucchini/courgette noodles, parmesan cheese, garlic olive oil, and a piece of fruit
Dinner: Ratatouille, a piece of fish, a gigantic salad with homemade dressing
Sticking to only my Bright Line meals creates routine in my life (just like brushing my teeth) so that my mind doesn’t have to worry about what I have/have not/will/might/shouldn’t have/should have eaten. The motto of Bright Line Eating is Happy, Thin, and Free. I rolled my eyes when I first read it on the book cover; I thought the marketing people should go back to the drawing board on that strap line. Now that I’ve been doing this for a few months, I think it is apt. I AM happy. I AM free. And I’m working on the thin part. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I know how to get there. I have the tools to do it. I’m not on a “diet.” I’m not in a rush. This is how I eat now. It isn’t going to change; I’ll get there when I get there. I genuinely have peace. I have some days where I fall off the wagon, but I just get right back up and resume my journey. I take it one day at a time. I don’t worry about the future– what I may or may not eat at Christmas, if I’ll ever eat ice cream again, or what could happen if someone brings me a plate of brownies. I can only focus on getting today right, and sticking to my four bright lines TODAY.
I’m going to stop now, but I promise to address some of the topics here that deserve their own future posts. If there is anything you want comment on or ask, please do in the comments below or email me lisa@thesequinist(dot)com if you’d rather have a private chat. I’m very happy to help you if I can, because I myself have been helped. Also, have a look at the Bright Line Eating website if you want to snoop a little more.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, once again to my sister in law, Jeanne, for introducing me to Bright Line Eating. And thank you, thank you, thank you, to Susan Pierce Thompson and the Bright Line Eating team for the amazing work that you do. Every cell of my body feels gratitude to all of you.
Linking to: notdressedaslamb,