Bright Line Eating Program

Bright Line Eating Program

This fall Pamela and I didn’t try out any new recipes during our week-long vacation retreat near Minneapolis.

We had a well-equipped kitchen where we prepared most of the twenty-odd meals we ate that week.  We enjoyed most of our meals there or packed them to take on the road.

This year, we were more concerned about what we did not eat, and balancing the quantities and proportions of the foods we did eat.

In October of 2015, I began following the food plan of the new Bright Line Eating program, brainchild of neuroscientist Susan Peirce Thompson of Rochester University, based on principles developed in Twelve Step food addiction programs over many decades.

I had been a repeat customer of Weight Watchers since 2012, losing the same fifteen pounds each spring and summer for three years, and then gaining it back during the following fall and winter.

When I heard about the Bright Line Eating of BLE, I knew they would help me to structure my food for success.  Since then, I have lost an additional fifteen pounds and kept all that weight off for more than a year.

A “bright line” rule or test is a legal term, meaning a clearly defined standard that leaves no room for varying interpretation, leading to predictable and consistent results.

Applied to eating, it means that I honor bright lines for sugar and flour.

I don’t eat them.

Through years of trial and error, I’ve discovered that these highly processed non-foods do not have a place in my diet.  They do not nourish or satisfy me, but rather trigger my highly susceptible brain to want more and more of them.  It is far better for me to avoid them completely, to draw a bright line excluding them from my life, my kitchen, my plate, my food plan.

I stopped eating gluten in 2006 after I discovered, with a two-week exclusion experiment, that taking gluten off my plate removed a whole array of unpleasant abdominal symptoms.

A few years later, I went on a 90-day grain fast and found a major reduction in inflammation in my joints and throughout my body.

I’ve been grain-free for several years already.

Two more bright lines complete the BLE food regimen:

1 no eating outside of meal times, and
2 weighing and measuring portions.

When I eliminated snacking between meals two years ago, I was surprised to learn how much I had been grazing throughout the day.  Any moment when I was awake, chances were good that I was eating, had just finished, or was about to enjoy a nutritious snack.

On the Bright Line Eating BLE food plan, I waited four to six hours between meals, and I was sometimes tempted to reach for a bite of something.

In those moments, I heard the voice of my long-dead mother saying to me, “Don’t eat that, Jane.  It will spoil your dinner.”  I realized that I was brought up with a bright line around meals.  Meals were times for us to gather as a family at the beginning and end of our busy days, share food, leisure, and our daily experiences and thoughts.

After dinner and cleanup, the kitchen was dark and closed until morning.  After-dinner hours were full of homework and school projects, reading, music, conversation, and games.

I wanted to reclaim that for myself, along with the many benefits of not eating between meals:  long stretches of time when I was not thinking about food, planning or preparing it, or cleaning up after eating it.

All of a sudden, with Bright Line Eating, I had more time for my work, my hobbies, my play, my friends, even time to rest.  By weighing and measuring my portions at meals, I drew clear boundaries around the amounts of food I ate, and made sure I was eating enough vegetables.

I was eating two and one-half pounds of fruits and vegetables every day, ample food to nourish my body and keep me feeling full and stable.  Even with these ample portions, I sometimes railed against the end of a meal.

With practice, I learned to appreciate the extra time my body had to process my food and empty before I began filling it again.  I slept better, I enjoyed the gift of extra discretionary time, I lost weight, and I kept it off.

In preparing for this trip, grocery shopping began via email before we left home.  I arrived at the airport several hours before Pamela, so I had time to drive to the nearby Trader Joe’s to stock up for our week’s meals.

Our separate shopping lists were surprisingly similar.  Added to the “do not eat” list this year were onions, tomatoes, garlic, and nuts, except for blanched almonds, due to Pamela’s concerns about inflammation suggested to her by her Ayurvedic endocrinologist.

To counteract the absence of these important flavor-givers, I packed several small bags of herbs and spices, including za’atar, a blend of Palestinian spices that adds flavor to chicken, fish, or vegetables.  Other bags held thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil, red chili flakes, and cinnamon.

Food preparation was not for any one meal, but rather to stock the kitchen with components that could be measured out and assembled into meals, or snacks for Pamela.

Each meal included one generously measured portion of protein, for example, four ounces of chicken or fish, two eggs, two ounces of cheese, nuts, or seeds, six ounces of beans, eight ounces of yogurt or milk, or some combination of the above.

Cooked vegetables, roasted, sautéed or steamed, were part of every lunch and dinner, plus a generous salad of raw vegetables at dinner.

Each meal also included a portion of healthy fat, such as avocado, olive oil, or butter.  For me, the fruit at the end of lunch and dinner is like dessert.

The natural sugar in fruit is permitted in Bright Line Eating because it is consumed with enough fiber to slow down its delivery to the body and brain.

All fruits have natural sugar, with apples and berries on the low end of the glycemic index, and grapes and bananas on the high end.  They all taste sweeter after removing processed sugar from the diet.

One night we made a pot of soup.  I was worried that the flavor would suffer without onions and tomatoes in the soup, but we experimented with sautéing some of the longer-cooking vegetables like carrots and parsnips with marjoram and thyme for several minutes, and then adding more delicate vegetables near the end of the cooking time.  It was so delicious.

Our vegetable choices were varied, with many colors, textures, flavors, shapes and sizes.  Some were sliced; others were quartered or grated, minced, cubed, julienned, or chopped.

During the week, following Bright Line Eating, we ate broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, fennel, radishes, celery, squash, corn, beets, jicama, green beans, sugar snap peas, and spinach.

This way of eating puts the emphasis on the quality of whole, nourishing foods, with the simplest possible preparations and the great privilege of sharing a meal with a beloved friend and colleague.

If you’re interested in hearing more about BLE or have any questions, please email and I’ll be happy to respond.

Vegetable Soup Squash with Spices