Automating Healthy Eating Habits For Superhuman Energy with Susan Peirce Thompson, PhD

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Content By: Ari Whitten and Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson

In this episode, I’m speaking with Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson, who is an adjunct associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. She’s president of the Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and founder and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions, a company dedicated to helping people achieve the vibrant health that accompanies permanent weight loss. We will talk about the best way to optimize healthy eating habits to support a healthy high-energy life. 

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Dr. Peirce Thompson and I discuss: 

  • 4 keys to permanent fat loss and busting weight loss plateaus
  • The #1 factor for fat gain and the single most important strategy for lasting fat loss
  • The secret to finding YOUR best ‘diet’…that will become an enjoyable lifestyle!
  • Simple rules outlining WHAT, WHEN, and HOW to eat to maximize fat loss
  • Understanding the true root causes of why we actually get fat in the first place
  • How to successfully develop new weight loss habits that stick, even if your ‘triggers’ stay the same
  • The blueprint for resetting your biology for easy and sustainable fat loss
  • 8 steps to lower your body’s toxic load and detox
  • 5 benefits of ‘high flux’ and 3 methods to naturally boost your metabolism and energy

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Transcript

Ari: Hey there. Welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m your host, Ari Whitten. And with me now is my good personal friend, Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson. One of my favorite people in the world, and she is an adjunct associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of

Rochester, a multiple-time New York Times bestselling author, New York Times bestselling author. And she specializes in the psychology and neuroscience of weight loss, willpower, and food addiction. She is the president of the Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and the founder and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions, a company dedicated to helping people achieve the vibrant health that accompanies permanent weight loss.

She and her team are on a mission to help 1 million people get into a right size body by 2030. I think you may have to up that number, my friend. I think you might be—— And we’re only in 2020. And in this talk, she is going to be talking all about automating healthy eating habits for superhuman energy and very much ties in and overlaps with weight loss. But the idea is how do you reprogram your brain to make healthy food choices and make that the automatic default option instead of unhealthy food choices that pull you away from health, that pull you away from weight loss, that pulls you away from energy. And this is her field of expertise. There’s nobody better at it than her.                      

And I’m super excited to get into this. So with that taken care of, take it away, my friend.

Why food is the linchpin in superhuman energy

Dr. Thompson: Thanks, Ari. First of all, it’s such an honor to be here. Yeah, you’re one of my favorite people in the world, too. And I so appreciate your work in the world, and it’s exciting to be here. So let’s talk about automating healthy eating habits for superhuman energy. I’ll talk about food addiction a little bit, but I’m also going to make this talk broader. What if your goal really is to just increase your energy and to make a healthy eating a nonissue—just wired in. Let’s get to it. The first point I want to make is that food really is the linchpin. Oh my gosh. If you want to be healthy and well and have superhuman energy, food is the linchpin. You cannot overstate its importance. It is the crux of the issue. And if you’re living where most of us live, there’s likely a gap between how you’re eating and how you think you should be eating—a gap of some sort.

Right now, if the gap is large, there are really big gains available, like really big gains in terms of increased energy, in terms of better health, in terms of a positive self-concept. I mean, all the way down from better self-esteem to better sex life, to better relationships, better appearance, disease prevention, and reversal. I mean, the gains that are available if you’re not eating right are enormous. And I also want to say if the gap is large, you actually have an opportunity to start feeling different like right away—within a day. Research shows that teenagers who eat vegetables today are happy tomorrow. It’s just immediate, the impact of good food today. It has a huge impact. The blood, for example, restores really quickly. Shockingly quickly how fast triglycerides can

come down, insulin sensitivity can come back on board, dopamine downregulation can reverse, and the cravings can start to go away.

If the gap is small, whether you’re like really close to feeling how you want to feel already, really close to looking how you want to look already, there’s a high probability that it’s dietary shifts that can help you to close that gap. A really high probability that whatever you have yet to achieve, whether it’s sort of getting rid of that little bit that you can pinch around your waist that you’re not thrilled with, or like, gosh, it would just be great if you had like strong energy for an extra hour or two in the day. Like, gosh, if I just didn’t poop it eight or nine o’clock, and I could just go a little longer or if I just want to be a little stronger, whatever it is, a very high probability that shifts in your diets can close that gap.

And one point I want to make is that there’s likely even more room for benefit than you think because we are naturally poor judges of how we’re doing with our diet. There’s really strong research on this. People are not good estimators of what they’re eating, of how much they’re eating, of sort of how off from ideal their diet is. There’s a whole line of research on just how the brain is sort of built to deceive us anyway in all kinds of ways and sort of spin stories about what we’re doing and how it’s okay or maybe just even conceal what we’re doing from us. So even if you’re coming into this talk thinking, I eat really well. I eat really well. My guess is that there’s more room for improvement than you think.

Ari: Yeah, I think that was really gently stated. I’m very familiar with a lot of the research on this subject. And I mean, there’s a whole body of research that relies on—— I forget the proper name for it, but basically like questionnaires that ask people to recall. Self-reporting what they’ve eaten in the previous several days. And there’s like a massive body of research that’s built on that. And it’s almost entirely worthless because of the research that we know that you’re referring to that shows that people are horrible recounters of what they’ve put into their bodies. They massively overestimate the quality of the food; they massively underestimate the quantity of the food. When you ask them to recall——

Dr. Thompson: Forget the whole bag of chips that they had on the couch. That doesn’t even make it to the survey.

Ari: I mean, there’s even studies that are like how many times do you eat every day? And they’re like, oh three, four times. And then when you actually like someone objectively counts, it’s like 12 times or 14 times. I mean, we’re just horrible at accurately assessing ourselves. So it’s so common for people to be like, yeah, I eat healthy. Of course, I eat healthy. And the reality is probably 80%, at least, of the people who think they eat healthy, don’t

Dr. Thompson: Yeah, totally. Now, I would argue. And I’m curious if you agree with this, Ari, that I don’t think knowledge is the issue. I really don’t. I think we know what to eat. Like it’s yeah, broccoli, yes. There it goes, no. Broccoli is yes. Pizza, no. I don’t think it’s a knowledge gap. I think it’s an execution gap.

Ari: Yeah. I think that’s like for sure, 90% of the equation is just like people know they shouldn’t be eating potato chips and ice cream and pizza. Nobody’s confused as to whether those things promote as good a health as blueberries and broccoli.

Dr. Thompson: Totally. And so, the issue is really fully implementing what we already know we should do with few to no exceptions. I’m not a big fan of the 80-20 rule. I think it works for some people. People who are genetically gifted. People who are super active. People who are young enough to kind of get away with it. Then I’m kind of like great, follow the 80-20 rule. I’m thinking that a lot of people are kind of not in that get out of jail free category, where the gap that remains between what they have in their life and what they wish they had in their life when it comes to their health, their energy, their well-being, their longevity, their body composition really has to do with whatever percentage of their diet is off. And so, I really aim to get people a lot closer than 80-20. And I’m going to talk about my approach to that in a little bit.

So the issue is that our food environment has really changed. Super changed from what we evolved to be well adapted to. Eating used to be an automatic function, really. And our food environment has changed. So eating is now anything, but it’s a bunch of emotional regulation. It’s entertainment. It has a lot to do with preference. Like, what do I feel like eating? You sit and look at a menu, and you’re thinking what sounds good? What would hit the spot right now? Not the most helpful approach, but that’s the approach that a lot of us are taking to our food right now.

And in our current food environment, food reward is very high meaning sweet food, heavily processed food, foods made out of what I would argue is like flour or processed starch, meat and umami-flavored things, salt, high fat, you put all those things together, and you’ve got high food reward, basically. All the flavorings and chemicals and stuff that they put in that also increase food reward. It’s basically like a measurement of like how much does the brain register that bite of food as an addictive hit as oh, yeah, baby. That’ll do. Like, give me more of that. As like the equivalent of pornography versus Tuesday night sex with your spouse. It’s sort of like that amped up hit to the brain.

And food variety is very high, which creates problems for stopping when you’ve had enough. Research shows that when there’s a lot of food variety available, you keep eating because really you get really satisfied with eating on a food by food basis. But if a new food becomes available, you’re like, oh yeah, no, I’ll have some of that, please. This is a point that Ari Whitten makes really well in his book Forever Fat Loss, which I highly recommend.

Ari: This guy sounds brilliant.

Dr. Thompson: He’s so good. It’s such a good book. Don’t throw a lot of balls to me, Ari. I’ll hit them.

Ari: That’s funny. Thank you for the shameless plug. I appreciate it.

The best way to overcome overeating

Dr. Thompson: You’re welcome. There’s another one coming, I think. So what this all done is it’s taken food out of the realm of automaticity and turned it into an endless stream of decisions. I believe one researcher actually studied this and found that the average person is making 211 food-related decisions every day, choice after choice after choice after choice after choice. Oh my gosh, our brains were not equipped to handle this. It’s a very different universe than simply stopping to refuel. And it leads us to fall into something I call the willpower gap. So basically, when, what, how, whether you’re going to eat is now a choice, you’re now activating a part of the brain that really never meant to get involved in our eating behavior in the first place. It’s called the anterior cingulate cortex.

And the problem with this part of the brain is it really is active or inactive irrespective of the force with which we want to be adhering to something. It’s active or inactive based on how fatigued it is, based on how much it’s recently been used. And the trouble is that this part of the brain is used in making decisions, is used—— So that’s like checking email. Do I reply now, later? Do I archive it? Do I reply all? Do I just give up, whatever? Like just going through a bucket of email is enough to completely take the anterior cingulate cortex offline for a little bit. So if your next move then is to decide what to eat, you’re sunk. Basically, the part of your brain that would rally your resistance to temptation is not available for you to use. Fifteen minutes of heavy use of this part of the brain will exhaust it completely, which means that we are vulnerable to the willpower gap potentially all day every day. 

Like at any given moment, the part of our brain that would reign in temptation may or may not be accessible, which brings up the sort of title of my talk, which is automating healthy eating for superhuman energy—automating. So let’s define automatic. What does it mean for something to be executed in an automatic way? I just pulled two definitions. I just Googled it. You could do this, too. Automatic, happening as a result of specific conditions, rules, or laws without a special decision being made. Definition two, done without conscious thought or intention, especially because of habit.

So this is what we want our food life to look like, I would argue. Now you may not. You may say, no, thank you. I prefer the entertainment pizza and ice cream version of a food life to which I say, well, first of all, you’re probably not watching this summit. And second, I say, I’m cool in the gang. Yo, I’m not in the convincing business seriously, and I’m not disingenuous about that. I think it’s actually, from my personal experience, I used to be obese, and food has been like the singular challenge of my life. And from what I’ve seen, helping all the people that I’ve helped this is a serious issue—the sort of challenge of living in our current food environment and deciding to swim upstream from it. It’s not a little thing.

So if you’re like, no, I’m not up for that, I don’t mind being exhausted and dying 10, 15, 20 years younger than I probably could, but I’d rather take my comfort while I can, to that I say, okay. Like you made your choice. But if you do want to close the gap between how you’re eating now and how you wish you were eating, I would argue that making the right food choices in advance and then automating the system is the only way to go. It’s like the way to get it done.

Ari: Yeah, I agree with you, 100%. I want to add one layer to this, which is just like a kink in human psychology and cognitive processes that really does us a massive disservice. And it is our ability to process cause and effect over long periods of time. And what I mean by that is some people will say, as you alluded to, like hey, I’d rather have the pleasure of eating what I want to eat. Eating my pizza and eating my ice cream and not having to constrain myself from eating the things I want to eat. And the pleasure I derive from that is greater than whatever consequences that I’m going to have. But I would argue if people suffered the consequences of those behaviors with the same level of immediacy, the same timeline that they derive pleasure from it——

Like if you put a bite of ice cream in your mouth, you instantly feel pleasure. If you instantly started to feel, and you could measure, or you could see your future in some way of the fact of how that’s increasing your risk of diabetes and obesity by this percentage, or it’s making you feel that immediately if we actually could cognitively process it, which most people can’t. But if you could, I would argue if you really understand that those food choices on a daily basis are going to lead to way poor energy levels, way poor mood, it’s going to lead to you having decades of your life dealing with lack of functionality and chronic pain and chronic diseases, that’s not pleasure. It’s not. Like you think that those choices are giving you pleasure and that’s the whole argument it’s based on. But the reality is you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of, or at least several decades, of suffering as a result of those decisions. And I think if people really understood that, they’d be a lot smarter about what choices they make on a daily basis.

Dr. Thompson: I completely agree. And I’m going to get to brain parts sort of toward the end. I’ve already alluded to the anterior cingulate cortex, but one of the interesting things is I’m an addiction expert and a former addict myself having been addicted to crack cocaine and crystal meth as a teenager. I feel sort of like I earned my right to weigh in on addiction here and there. And the thing is that the part of the brain, the nucleus accumbens that’s like urging us to eat these foods, it actually can’t see future consequences. Like it has no access to our goals even if we had such goals. We’re talking about the person who says that they don’t. But even if we did, that part of the brain can’t see it. It just sees that there’s a hit available, and it’s this big.

And so, there are little workarounds. So, for example, if you can set up a consequence that would actually be levied in the moment, which is possible, you can kind of trick that part of the brain to see it. So one thing you can do is you can go to stickk.com, S-T-I-C-K-K.com, and you can set up a commitment contract with yourself where let’s just say, if I eat ice cream I owe—— fill in reprehensible cause here. Political party you would never donate to, whatever that is, $50, and your credit card is already hanging in limbo. That $50 is there. And you’ve got like a referee, who’s got a way in that you stuck to it. So now what you’ve done is you’ve present weighted that consequence. Like the minute the bite of ice cream enters your mouth, you owe that political party $50. And the nucleus accumbens can see that. It can’t see I don’t want to be too fat to fit into my bridesmaid dress at the wedding in a month. It can’t see that. But it can see the present-day consequences. That’s just kind of interesting.

Ari: Yeah. That’s fascinating. And there’s research actually to support that. I know there’s quite a bit of research. I know you’ve dug into that a couple of years ago. I remember talking to you at one point about it, but there’s quite a bit of research showing that actually works, isn’t there?

Dr. Thompson: Oh yeah, totally. Like 35% are more likely to stick to something just by setting up that little contract, like yeah, totally. I still use it all the time. I will only drink one cup of black coffee in the morning, not a second one, boom commitment contract. What are my latest ones? Whatever, have the lights out by 9:30, whatever it is.

Ari: Hopefully, you haven’t donated thousands of dollars to parties that you—

Dr. Thompson: I think my ratio—— I think twice I’ve had to give money where I didn’t want to. And I think I’m like $100 on the other side. It’s a pretty strong ratio. So I like to talk about teeth brushing because it’s an example of an automatic habit that most of us have. Now, I just need to put a little parenthesis in here. I know about 5% of the population doesn’t actually routinely brush their teeth morning and night.

Ari: Is that true? I had no idea.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah, totally. And again, like you said, Ari, it’s like the thought going into that—the 5%—is like the resentment at the constraint. I don’t want to be beholden to doing this so regularly. So I’m just going to like let myself off the hook sometimes. But what they’ve actually done is they’ve signed themselves up for an eternal series of evenings of torture, where they’re about to go to bed and now wondering whether they’re about to brush their teeth and kind of debating in their mind. The 95% of us get it for free. Like we brush our teeth at night, 365 days a year, whether we’re traveling, whether we’re sick, whether we’re on a red-eye flight, whether we’re—— It doesn’t matter. The teeth get brushed somehow.

How does that happen? So effortlessly. I would argue we want to execute healthy eating like that. Like, yes, please. Perfect meal down the gullet. I didn’t have to think twice about it. I mean, it’s so funny because I’m a psychology of eating expert, and I’m actually not a big mindful eater support. I’m like I got three kids. I don’t have time to sit there and like hover my meal. Like the meal is got to get eaten, then I’m onto the next thing.

Let’s get the right food in the belly at the right time and get over it already. So what’s great about brushing teeth is from a brain perspective, there’s no decision being made here. Like this person’s not choosing to do it or not do it. They’re just doing it. The behavior is being triggered. It’s being queued. There’s no cognitive load to executing it. Think about all the things that you do every day with no cognitive load. Like you decide that it’s time to go to the grocery store, and you’re just in the car, putting it in reverse, backing out of your spot, whatever you’re doing. Like all these movements that are executed with zero thought, zero attentional sort of load, and you get it for free. And there’s this brilliant system hardwired into our brain to give us the things that we need to do day in and day out for free.

And we have through our glut of choices in our food environment and this sort of feeling that food needs to be in the zone of entertainment or soothing or whatever turned every food moment into a choice. It just doesn’t need to be that way. Like, you know what to eat. Just set up the system and then just eat that already. So let’s talk more about what needs to be automated for superhuman energy when it comes to food? What am I talking about automating? Because most people are feeling like, oh, geez, there’s a lot of confusing and contradictory information in the nutrition world.

Ari: Should I be carnivore or vegan?

Dr. Thompson: Yeah, exactly. I mean, to start with. And what’s the deal with coconut oil, anyway. And how much turmeric can you take before it’s ideal? So whatever. Actually, I would argue it’s pretty simple. It’s pretty simple. Don’t eat processed food; meaning don’t eat sugar or flour. I talk about sugar and flour because they’re actual like things you can wrap your mind around, but really, it’s a proxy for don’t eat processed food. If you’re never eating sugar or flour, you can’t be really eating much-processed food. So I talk a lot about the similarity from a neuroscience perspective of sugar and flour to drugs of abuse.

And if you look at the picture on this slide, sugar, and flour bear a striking resemblance to cocaine, just saying, and heroin. And really the process of taking food and turning it into a drug, taking anything and turning it into a drug is taking a plant, natural, healthy, fabulous plant that I’ve no issues with, whether it’s Poppy’s or Coca leaves or beets or corn or sugar cane or wheat or rye, whatever, you take not all of it. You just take the inner essence; you extract it from all the fiber and all the ancillary stuff. You take that inner essence; you extract it, and then you purify it. You refine it. You process it with heavy machinery until you get a fine powder.

And now you’ve taken a food, and you’ve turned it into a drug, or you’ve taken a plant, and you’ve turned it into a drug. It does not hit the brain or the body in the same way. Don’t eat that stuff. Don’t eat that stuff at all, and then eat tons and tons and tons and tons of vegetables. The rest I would argue as commentary. Ari, do you agree with me? The rest is commentary. Don’t eat processed food, eat tons of vegetables. Doesn’t matter what you do with the rest.

Ari: Yes. Well, I wouldn’t say doesn’t matter. I mean, I would just say the rest is far less important. But there’s definitely things that could be more or less beneficial to some degree, but yes.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah. Like if we’re going to talk about 80-20, that’s the 80-20.

Ari: 100%. I just said 100% in response to 80-20, yes. I can do math.

The three principles for automating healthy eating habits

Dr. Thompson: Totally. All right. So what are three principles for automating healthy eating habits? Three things. Number one is I want you to think about your meal timing and frequency in terms of what’s automatize-able in the first place. No one else talks about this. I’m the only place you’ll get this, but really the whole like meals and snacks thing is not very automatize-able. Every plan that I know out there is telling you to eat like six times a day. And I just want to say what are the odds you’re going to get that right, honestly? I recommend three meals a day. Can we just get breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast, you can hardwire into your morning routine. Lunch, thank goodness there’s still some sort of pause at midday where people are thinking, hey, what are we going to eat now?

That’s where you pull out your lunch tote. And you’re like, yeah, I got my meal right here. And then dinner gets hardwired into your evening routine, end of story. Every other occasion for food is a no, thank you, which is very automatize-able in and of itself. No, thank you. I don’t eat now. It’s not mealtime. I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, nothing in between. Imagine the alternative. I want you to deeply just really think about this. Your dentist informs you that you now need to brush your teeth six times a day and floss. Brush and floss, six times a day, three, four, five, six. Six months later, you go to your dentist. What are the odds that you like crushed it? Oh, yeah.

Ari: My odds are not good.

Dr. Thompson: Right. Even though there’s probably things you do through the day where you could think, well, if I could like attach teeth brushing into my mid-morning thing that I kind of do or my—— No, you’re not brushing and flossing six times a day. There’s no universe in which any of us automate that. And this is part of the issue is we’re thinking about consuming food way too many times in a day. It’s just not practical. And it’s not automatize-able. Now, a bonus benefit to just sticking with breakfast, lunch, and dinner is you’ll get this amazing fasting window for free, which Ari can tell you. He’s the expert I go to for this kind of information. Like what happens, Ari, to your system when you never eat after 6:00 p.m. and don’t start eating your next calories until 7:00 a.m., and you’ve got a 13-hour fasting window? It’s incredible

Ari: Many good things, yes. We can talk about all the things it ties into. It ties into autophagy, cellular recycling, mitophagy. It ties into circadian rhythm optimization and improved sleep, which has myriad beneficial results as a consequence of improving sleep and circadian rhythm. But yes, very good.

Dr. Thompson: Better body composition, weight loss, better energy. I mean, it’s just on and on. This is even eating crap the rest of the time. This is just if you don’t eat from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. and pick your window, but it’s like a nice long time. And the average person—I believe there’s research on this—is like consuming chips on the couch until 11:00 p.m., and then sticking sugar and cream in their coffee at 6:00 a.m. They’re barely getting an eight-hour fasting window on average.

Ari: Yes, very true. A large portion of people have like 14 to 16-hours of feeding window from their first bite of food to their last bite of food, which means on average, most people are putting food into their body almost from the moment they wake up to the moment they get in bed to sleep, which we know has many consequences. But just to clarify something. So there’s three meals a day. So you’re also suggesting, just for clarity, so no snacks and those three meals should take place inside of a specific window of time at specific times, correct?

Dr. Thompson: I’m a fan of eating meals at mealtime. I’m not a stickler for it. Do what gives you peace. And people have different rhythms and different work schedules and whatever. I mean, my next slide basically is like a little bonus fact that I throw in here. Just additional meals cued by specific behaviors are also automatize-able. So it’s very automatize-able to bookend your workout with an extra meal if you need one before or after a workout, or if you’re going to bike ride 50 miles, eating a meal in the middle of that bike ride is automatize-able. You’re just going to be cued to do it because, oh, look, I’ve been riding this bike for two hours and that’s the cue to sit and eat a few extra calories, or an extra meal after a red-eye flight, or an extra meal at the end of a night shift.

So there are other ways to automate eating, but you’re right, Ari. I personally recommend eat breakfast at breakfast time, lunch at lunchtime, and dinner at dinner time. One of the best reasons to do that is that the rhythms of society will help cue you for that. If you try to swim upstream from that, it’s fine as long as your own flow of life is robust enough to sort of carry you through 365 days a year. Most of us do best-eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Ari: And it also creates these very clear external time points in this case for when you should do something. So you’re not sort of relying on subjective internal cues of what you should eat and how much you should eat.

Dr. Thompson: That’s the whole point, exactly. It’s one of the reasons why teeth brushing is so automatic. Let’s say you’re perfect with brushing your teeth morning and night right now. Let’s just say you tried to do that late morning and right after dinner instead of right before bed. Just that tiny shift would likely throw off your execution of that habit dramatically. You would just forget to stop your day and brush your teeth mid-morning. So it’s very important to pick times that are wired into an already established routine— breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Set yourself up for success by planning out your food

Okay, principle two is to think about your food plan in terms of categories and quantities. This is opposed to say calories or macronutrients. To think instead in terms of categories of food, like I’m just going to throw up some categories from the Bright Line Eating meal plan, but it doesn’t have to come from that, but like a fruit is a category of food; vegetables, category of food; protein is a category of food. Now, this is not a macronutrient designation because, of course, vegetables like there’s calorie for calorie. There’s more protein in spinach than there is in steak—calorie for calorie. So I’m not talking about protein as a macronutrient. I’m talking about it as a category where you would sort of equate cheese or beef or hummus or nuts or legumes to be equivalent as things you could swap in or out of your meal plan because you’re thinking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I need a serving of food from that category.

Now, one thing this does is it helps reduce the food as entertainment or food as preference thing. When you’re thinking in terms of macronutrients or in terms of calories, it’s really tempting to find, for example, a packaged food bar or something that’s like processed crapola and to study it and go, oh, I bet this is really yummy. Let’s see what the—fill in the blank—calories or macronutrients or whatever are in this thing. Forget about the facts that it’s like made out of sugar and processed safflower oil. Like you’re just looking at, oh, it’s whatever. It’s keto; it’s paleo, it’s whatever. 

It’s like fill in your blank food fad, whatever that you’re adhering to. And suddenly this is like allowable or a little packet of processed, whatever. You’re like, oh, it’s a hundred calories. I’ve only had 1700 of my 1800 calories. So I’m now licensed to eat this little packet of crap. There are no packets of crap in the food categories. It’s like real food category, real food category, real food category. So the categories I recommend are fruit, vegetables, protein, starch or grain, and fat, end of story.

And you pick from those categories, and you assemble a food plan. Now, an additional psychological benefit to this, and I know people are eating—— In general, before COVID hit, people were eating half their calories outside the home. So it really matters how your brain orients to, for example, a menu. What happens psychologically when you’re scanning a menu? When you’re wired into eating categories and quantities of food, you look at a menu like this one; this is an Italian menu with appetizers, salad, soup, sides, pizza, calzones, Stromboli, subs and panini—cold and hot. And that’s what it’s got. I look at a menu like that, and I don’t even see the categories that are irrelevant to me. Literally, this is the way the brain works. When you’re focused on answering a question, which is where’s the salad, where’s the vegetable, where’s the protein that’s clean that I can eat and pizza and pasta, they don’t even answer that question. So they don’t appear. They literally don’t appear in my field of vision.

I’m looking through the salads. I’m looking at the sides, and in just a couple of short minutes, I’m noticing that a Greek salad looks good and a side of broccolini and maybe some sautéed mushrooms. And is there going to be enough protein on that salad? Maybe not, but they’ve got a little side. Like that’s all I’m thinking. I literally don’t see the other categories of food. It’s brilliant. So again, other types of ways to think about a food plan, like thinking about calories or macronutrients, leave you so vulnerable to the question of what do I feel like eating right now and what can I get away with in the sort of the game that I’m trying to play, and your brain will play those angles and try to get you the highest food reward value possible out of whatever categories are left.

So get into a rhythm with it. You get your food plan set, and then you get your flow of like the foods that you tend to pick. And I want to tell you it’s okay to be super-duper consistent with it. As a matter of fact, it is probably preferable.

I just want to remind folks, if you haven’t heard Ari talk about this already, it’s in his book, and it’s also in Steven Gaines’s book. Tribal societies on traditional diets, they eat very few foods. We evolved to eat very few foods. Ari talks about this on page 67 to 69 of Forever Fat Loss. This is the entire subject of chapter four of the hungry brain, which is a fabulous book by Steven Gaines. So, for example, the Khoisan people, the tribal people who live in the Kalahari desert, over 50% of their calories come from the Mongongo nuts, which is not uncommon at all. As a matter of fact, most tribal societies eat only a small subset of the available foods because most of the foods, frankly, aren’t worth it from a foraging perspective. You just don’t get enough calories out of them to make it worth it. So they stick with a few starchy foods, and they call it a day. It’s like that’s it.

Ari: The most extreme example that I ever recalled when I was doing the research to write that section of the book was the Turki Center tribe in Papua New Guinea, who eat a diet that is 94% carbohydrates. And it’s almost entirely composed of a specific kind of root vegetable that’s like a sweet potato that grows there. I mean, it’s literally almost their entire diet is that. And then maybe every once in a while, they kill an armadillo or a bird or whatever, and they consume that. But yeah, 94%.

Dr. Thompson: Shocking. And we’re not suggesting that you get 94% of your calories from a specific food, but I am here to tell you that if you narrow the foods that you eat a little bit, it would be fine for you. And I also want you to take a look because when—I don’t know about you—but when I’m in a junk food loop when I used to be in the past, there weren’t actually that many foods that I eat either. I’d go to Starbucks and eat pretty much the same thing. I’d go to whatever take out place and eat pretty much the same thing. If you’re going out to eat, my husband came up with this, David, protein produce.

That’s the rule of thumb. Just look at the menu, protein produce; that’s it. That’s all you eat when you’re out.

 

Setting up bright lines for your diet

The third principle for automating healthy eating is bright lines. So bright lines are clear, unambiguous boundaries that we never cross no matter what. It’s a legal term, actually. So a bright-line rule in the law is a clear, unambiguous standard that’s always applied in a certain situation, no wiggle room. And you go to AA; the bright line is you don’t drink. You quit smoking. The bright-line is you don’t smoke. We’re pretty comfortable with those bright lines in our society, especially the smoking one. That if you’re a two or threepack a day smoker, and you really want to get healthy, you got to quit smoking. There’s no ifs or buts about it.

But boy, do we get rigidity when people talk about bright lines with food? It starts to feel like eating disorder territory to us, even though, to be frank, these aren’t food groups. Like there is no need for anyone to eat a donut, but people will start to say, well, you have to eat to live. So you can’t go blocking off whole categories of food. And I’m like, where is the donut food group? You don’t have to eat donuts.

Ari: Yeah, where’s the research showing donuts are essential nutrients? I want to say on a personal note, of course, you know this, but to let everybody listening know, when we met, what was it? Four years ago, now?

Dr. Thompson: Four years ago. Four years and one month. I did read it in my fiveyear journal. I’m not like tracking. —four years and one month and 16 days, Ari.

Ari: And three hours.

Dr. Thompson: Wait, but let me just say. In the first week that Ari and I met, we accumulated eight to 10 hours of phone conversation. I think this was actually in the first four days. And in eight to 10 hours, our conversation never deviated from the subject of the science of fat loss. Neither of us had ever met anyone who had thought as deeply about this issue or knew anything about the research. And we had such different opinions that we kind of went—— We just got into the boxing ring, and we just kind of kept going. It’s like a lifetime of never even realizing that you were missing a sparring partner at your level. It was pretty ridiculous. Anyway, go on.

Ari: Absolutely. And thank you for saying that. So it was interesting on this point specifically of bright lines because your whole method is bright line eating. It’s very central to the whole concept.

Dr. Thompson: Pretty central.

Ari: As central as it gets, yeah. And yet, at the time, I had somewhat I would say a pretty big problem with it. And I was like this just feels really extreme to me to say complete abstinence in the way we treat alcohol or smoking or something like that just doesn’t feel right with food. And I am someone who I’ve been eating healthy for so long since I was a little kid, and I was raised eating healthy in a health-conscious family. And we indulged every now and then in some processed foods or some captain crunch or whatever.

And so, it just felt it didn’t quite match with me. And I was able to moderate to some degree to eat healthy 90% of the time and indulge 10% of the time. And so, I just felt like it was extreme. What I’ve since realized and in part through debating you and in part through seeing now over the years thousands of people who have gone through my program, who’ve gone through your program, there’s a lot of people who are not like me. There’s a lot of people who do not do the moderation thing very well at all. And when they try to moderate, they end up—— It just becomes a slippery slope. And then before they know it, a few weeks later they’re back to their old habits, and they haven’t been able to stick to their plan.

And there’s a whole bunch of people that that really need these bright lines in order to actually sustainably, automatically eat healthy. And I just want to acknowledge the fact that I was wrong at that time. And you have successfully convinced me of the necessity of this approach for a very large portion of people.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah. And I’m going to show some data here, as well. As you know, Ari, we have a research program going on in Bright Line Eating, and I’m going to show some data that I think really soon here that speak to the actual implementation of it. It’s not what you think. It has some very counterintuitive results when you actually just do it. So, first of all, let’s just say bright lines for what? I started trying to find a bright-line approach for my food long before I ever succeeded. So maybe it’s a moment where I can just tell like a 60-second version of my story. I already mentioned that I was a drug addict. So I wasn’t huge as a kid, but I was a little chunky. And by the time I was 13, I was really quite concerned about my weight.

And at 14, I started to do drugs, which escalated to hard drugs by the age of 16. I dropped out of high school. And at the end, I was a prostitute and smoking crack, like serious hardcore street drug addiction. And I got clean at the age of 20, which was a miracle. I haven’t had a drink or a drug since then—25 years into my sobriety journey. And oh, I packed on weight so fast. I knew I would, and I got fat fast, and I was obese by my mid-twenties. And when I was 21, just like a year after getting clean and sober, I marched myself down to a 12-step food program to try to handle my food the way my drug problem had just been magically—— It felt like magically lifted.

And what I came to was a challenge figuring out what bright lines is for food. Though, the term bright lines wasn’t being applied by anyone. That’s a subject of term that I brought to this field. And that’s not strictly true. I think the term bright line was being used a little bit around the perimeter of psychological research on willpower and temptation, a little bit, but I brought it into the sort of mainstream of food addiction treatment. So anyway, it wasn’t clear like which bright lines.

I wasn’t ready to give up sugar. I wasn’t even sure I needed to give up sugar. So bright lines for what? After eight years of messing around with different possibilities, I fell in with a group of people that weren’t eating sugar. They weren’t eating flour. They were eating only meals, three meals a day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and not snacking. And then they were weighing and measuring their food with a digital food scale, which I thought was crazy as well. I wasn’t willing to do that for years. I met some of these people five years before I became willing to actually try it. 

And when I actually tried it, it was stunning. Like I got free and into a slender right-sized body. I think at my heaviest, I was a size 24. I have no idea what weight that was. I wasn’t stepping on the scale then. More consistently, I was up to a size 16 and about 175 pounds. I’m now a size four and 112 to 114 pounds. I’m five foot three, super petite. So I went from obese to slender in six months implementing this way of eating. And I’ve been a size four for 17 years now, notwithstanding two pregnancies. And then back to right size right after that. Seventeen years, which is just unheard-of people. Don’t go from obese to slender and stay there for 17 years, typically unless they’re doing my program.

Ari: For anybody doing the math on the kids and pregnancies, she mentioned three kids earlier and two pregnancies. She has twins.

Dr. Thompson: Thank you, Ari.

Ari: Just in case people caught that because my brain actually went there and then I was like, oh yeah, she has twins.

Dr. Thompson: Right. So here’s the thing. Food addiction is real. I’m going to say it again because this is one of my missions in life is to get this through our collective awareness. Food addiction is real. It is still controversial in the general—I don’t know—scientific community, general community. There’s a reason for that. For decades and decades and decades and decades, eating disorder therapists, namely counselors, licensed clinical social workers, and eating disorder treatment psychologists of all ilk, have been educated that it’s really important that we not have any food rules. That someone who has an eating disorder needs to be immediately sort of indoctrinated into the old foods that are equally good and fine. And you can eat all foods freely and to try to get the eating disorder person as close to a normal eater as you can.

But I will tell you. Fast forward; I have a Ph.D. in brain and cognitive sciences and appointment in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. Food addiction is not controversial in the addiction science community in the neuroscience. It is not controversial at all. It’s unambiguous. And I’m going to show you some of the brain scans. It’s just on the scale. Like it’s just the same thing. Like food addiction is real. This is a normal brain with the dopamine response in the nucleus accumbens. These are the reward centers of the brain. And that’s what it needs to look like. If you’ve blown out your addiction centers with cocaine, those dopamine receptors have down-regulated. They’ve become less numerous and less responsive. So at rest, a dopamine response is puny. And if you’ve blown it out with food, it’s even worse.

Sugar and flour hit the brain as drugs, full stop. And this isn’t like just across one type of research. There’s like myriad types of research. You can look at, well, how much electric shock will someone withstand to get their next fix? Or if you expose someone to a high food reward diet, like just basically sausage and frosting, what happens when you try to reintroduce them to normal food? Well, they start that themselves is what happens. They don’t want to eat real food anymore. It’s just on and on and on. It’s like food addiction is real. It’s just unambiguous.

Ari: It’s partly a semantics issue. I mean, as far as the reason that people debate it, right? Isn’t there some aspect—— And I haven’t even looked at this literature in probably three years, but there’s some aspect of like how addiction is defined such that it’s like dependence on a specific chemical substance or something to that effect. And that specific definition doesn’t quite match with the idea of food addiction, but from a behavioral aspect and even from a neurological aspect, you can basically say they’re essentially the same thing. Is that accurate?

Dr. Thompson: Not quite. I think when you say it’s semantics, the whole addiction field is semantics. I mean, it’s really funny because, like the DSM-5, which is supposed to be in America, our Bible, it doesn’t even use the term addiction— substance use disorder. And the DSM-4 had even more cockamamie words for it. We won’t even use the word addiction, but then you take the textbooks derived from the DSM-5, and they just use the word addiction because they’re like, okay, we’re all just talking about addiction. So let’s just get over ourselves. So in that sense, yes, it’s a little bit semantics, but if you look at the criteria for substance use disorder, which is what addiction is in the DSM-5, and you just go down the line, it’s just obvious that food hits everyone.

I mean, it’s things like consuming more than you intended and for longer periods of time. Like not able to do activities anymore that you used to enjoy, not doing—— Well, when was the last time you saw a 400-pound person riding a bicycle in the park. I mean, it’s unambiguous. It’s like check, check, check, check. So I still really think, and the people who’ve written on this and published on this have proposed that the real hang-up is this decades-old, like really before the neuroscience of addiction had advanced to the conclusions that it’s strong now. 

This decades-old massive educational practice around eating disorders and the way people think about eating disorders and the incongruence between sort of meshing that with the reality of food addiction leaves us where we’re at, where everyone who studies addiction knows that food is addictive. Anyone who’s fucking hooked on chocolate knows. I mean, I’m going to show you the numbers. A third of the people watching this are like, oh, I know food is addictive because my brain won’t let me stop eating once I pick up a bag of chips or Oreos or whatever.

Ari: I was just eating some plantain chips. They’re actually like as far as chips go, these are very healthy. I mean, it’s two ingredients or three—plantains and coconut oil and salt.

Dr. Thompson: Sounds like crack cocaine to me.

Ari: So these chips plus a homemade pesto with Stachyose and hemp seed and some others—some basil and spinach and stuff like that. And I literally couldn’t stop. Like there was just something about the fattiness combined with the carbs and the fat and the salt of the chips and the crunchiness, too, which is an interesting other layer to the food reward factor—texture and crunch. I mean, literally, this was an hour ago before we started recording this where I’m like I literally cannot stop eating these. Like I am feeling no degree of satiety. I could literally go all day with this.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah. Well, and since you were so gracious, Ari, let me back up and say that when we first met, and we’re debating, I mean, I remember being parked in the parking lot of my college like needing to go in and teach a class, and you and I were still going toe to toe on this very issue. You were like, what about fat? Fat can be addictive? And I was like, no, sugar and flour, and I’ve come around. So the addictive foods aren’t just sugar and flour. I think what happens is when you take sugar and flour out completely, you get so much benefit that in practice, you’re able to sort of moderate the rest mostly. But who was saying this? It’s such a great saying. Oh, someone was saying, I don’t have a sweet tooth. I have a meat tooth. She’s like, you just can’t trust me to take the meat off the rotisserie chicken. It’s game over.

Ari: I have a peanut butter tooth. And apparently a pesto tooth as well.

Dr. Thompson: Totally. So here’s the thing though, and this is on my next slide is one could define addiction or say that one characteristic of addiction is that it’s a condition where small deviations in behavior have outsized negative consequences. So, for example, if you used to be a two-pack a day smoker, used to be, having just one cigarette is potentially a huge problem. Like that one cigarette, that first one, one could even say the first puff, is a turning point because once you start, it’s hard to stop. That’s one of the things about addiction. You get on a roll, and it’s hard to stop. Now, I do want to say—and there’s great research on this from all kinds of avenues—not every brain is equally susceptible and shockingly, I mean, to addiction at all. I mean, like to heroin.

Lots of people go home with Vicodin after back surgery with some sort of heavy narcotic drug. And they’ll take it to the point of building up a tolerance and to the point where when they stop, they’ll experience some withdrawal, still not hard. They’re off those pills as soon as the doctor says they can wean, or they’re thinking, oh, I’m hating this constipation. I can’t wait to get off these things. Other people not so easy to quit. Cigarettes are unambiguously addictive. And some people they smoke socially, and then they go to work the next day. They don’t think about having a cigarette. They had some over the weekend at a party and another one at a bar. And then they don’t even think of one until whenever. So here’s what the research shows.

There’s good research on this in rats and in humans as well. One-third of people are just not susceptible to addiction. They’re low on what I call the susceptibility scale. One-third are moderate, and one-third are high. And this has huge implications for eating behavior and for the type of solution or approach you should try. I tend to focus my life’s work on serving and protecting people who have brains who are really highly susceptible to food addiction. Those are the people that I’m mostly concerned with. And I take them the hardest cases and help them to lose weight and get the best results because I’m finally offering them a plan that is rigorous enough, that has enough structure, that has enough clarity. And it gets the addictive foods out of their brain.

So basically, another way to think about it is with no addiction in the mix, scratching the itch satisfies the itch. And then the brain doesn’t ask for more for a long time, or maybe if ever. That stimulus just may not come into the environment for a long time, so the brain doesn’t even remember it. With addiction in the mix, scratching the itch makes it itchier, and the brain hounds you for more at the next opportunity. Like when can I get more? When can I get more? And if it’s super-advanced addiction, that might be immediate. Like it just might kick up a cravings monster that just swallows you whole immediately.

If not, it could be like you think you’re fine, but then a few days later, boom, it’s saying, well, how about another jar of peanut butter, Ari? How about another. I don’t know how long it takes before it’s suggesting it again. You’re a seven on this susceptibility scale, right?

Ari: I’m pretty sure that happened yesterday. The two little Ari’s on either shoulder; one was like I think you’ve had enough peanut butter. The other one was like, come on, dude, there’s more peanut butter left in the jar. What are you doing putting it down?

Dr. Thompson: There you go. So a common belief, and this is probably what Ari believed when he first met me, is that sticking to bright lines will be hard, will lead to lots of cravings like a horrible forbidden fruit effect, will be unsustainable, and maybe even resemble some sort of form of torture.

Food addiction and weight loss

Ari: Yeah, for sure, this is exactly what I thought. And especially point number three, that it will be—— Well, point number one and three that it would be hard and unsustainable. And the reality is the opposite is that four of the people who are highly susceptible, this is the only thing that is sustainable.

Dr. Thompson: Right, exactly. It’s just easiest if I never tried the one cookie experiment or the one plantain chip. You described those things, and I’m like, I couldn’t eat those things, no way. I mean, I just know. I wasn’t kidding when I said it sounds like crack to me. Those would be so good. Like, yum, I got no business with a bag of plantain chips.

Ari: I have certain rules in my head where like after a hard workout, I can have portions of things like that, but it’s automatic. So I can have those plantain chips in my pantry, not touch them for days or weeks. And every once in a while, I can dig in after a hard workout and then forget about them.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah. And so, you’ve got like—— First of all, you’re pretty massive in terms of muscle. You’ve got more muscle mass than most people have. You’ve got a metabolism that’s better than what most people have. So if you’re concerned about like gaining a little bit of fat, you’ve got more wiggle room to play with. You just get more calories per day than most people do. And you also have a lot of habits around tons of healthy food. So you definitely got the 90-10 rule working in your favor, probably the 95-5 rule working in your favor.

Ari: I’m probably only like a three, four, maybe five at the most on the susceptibility scale. I’m probably a less addictive brain.

Dr. Thompson: I thought you took the quiz once, and you were a seven?

Ari: I think I have this—— I don’t know. Maybe I’m some kind of weird hybrid, but I have this element of me that like the plantain chips and the pesto that I just gave or the peanut butter example, once I start eating something, it’s very difficult for me to stop, but once I stop, I can maybe not have the same thing for weeks or months and not even think about it. Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, if you judge it based on one-time events or like what’s your worst day or like period of time, then I might be higher, but in general, I’m probably lower.

Dr. Thompson: Got you. So let’s take a look at a graph here. This shows changes in cravings, hunger, and distress around hunger and cravings over the eightweek Bright Line Eating Boot Camp. So people come into a program needing to lose weight, wanting freedom from food addiction, and this scale, by the way, I should have expanded it out, but I didn’t. It should go from one. It shouldn’t go down to zero. It’s from one to five is actually the scale. So people are coming in on average, scoring between two and two and a half on a scale from one to five in terms of their cravings, their hunger, and their distress from cravings and hunger. And over the eight weeks, it all just goes down. It doesn’t go up. It goes down their hunger. And we’re publishing this, Ari. I think we’re already accepted in a conference, and this is going to be our third paper coming out soon.

The cravings and the hunger piece because, over the same period of time, people are dropping a dramatic amount of weight—more weight than any eight-week program has ever published. Like 15 to 17 pounds on average during this period of time and their hunger is going down, and their cravings for foods that they’re not needing anymore are going down as well. And their peace and serenity with food is going up. So 88% say that their peace and serenity with food has gone up and another 7% say that it’s stayed the same. So 95% are registering no like challenges with feeling peaceful and serene about food. It’s amazing.

Ari: Beautiful.

Dr. Thompson: So the goal is, I would argue, if you want superhuman energy and all the things that come with eating right, the goal is that no matter how busy your life, no matter your emotional state, no matter what’s happening in your day, at certain times of the day, your meals just get eaten. The right food at the right time without you thinking about it. It’s the same way you get dressed at a certain time each day. Like it’s not even a question. When people say, I didn’t have time to pack my lunch. I just sort of think, well, you had time to put on your pants. No one ever goes Donald Ducking down the street. Like you, never forget your pants, never. I don’t leave the house without my lunch. I just don’t leave the house without my lunch.

And it’s simple, the same foods. For breakfast, I eat oatmeal, yogurt, blueberries, nuts, cinnamon, and ground flaxseeds every day. That’s what I eat for breakfast—weighed on a digital food scale. I eat categories and quantities of food. So if I’m out at a buffet, I can eat breakfast potatoes and eggs and a little bit of bacon and a side of fruit because that’s the same stuff. That’s protein, grain, or starch, and fruit. So I can do that, but if I’m home, I eat oatmeal, yogurt, blueberries, nuts, cinnamon, ground flaxseed, every day. So it’s just automatic, and when do I do that? Right after my workout ends. I’ve meditated. I’ve worked out and eaten this breakfast by 8 a.m., 10:00 a.m. every morning.

So how long will it take for your healthy eating to become automatic? This study was done in the European Journal of Social Psychology. They asked people to choose one new behavior to add to their life and report back about their experience. Did they do it? And did it feel automatic? And the automaticity was what the scientists were looking at. And the average time for a new behavior to become automatic, to feel automatic, was 66 days. There was a huge range, everywhere from 18 to 254 days, huge range. And I just want to point out that changing your eating is going to take a little more than adding one new behavior to your life. So I really recommend that people take three to four months and set them aside and just really focus on implementing a new way of eating.

I feel like I’m making it sound like my food is boring. I love my food. I just want to say I eat some of the best food, and anyone who eats with me is stunned by how much I eat and how yummy it looks. And I relish my eating. So I just want to say this isn’t like I’m bummed. It’s not like signing yourself up for a lifetime of boring food. Like all real food is one of these categories. The only thing that’s not in there is food that’s not food in the first place.

How the body reacts to fat loss

So let’s talk about energy in particular. I actually have some data. Ari, you haven’t seen these data yet. I have some data on energy. Yeah, so there could be a withdrawal period. It’s possible. If you start to burn fat, you can expect some tiredness coming from toxins that are leaching out of your fat cells. If you drop weight dramatically, your hypothalamus might shift, and that could affect your metabolism. Lowering thyroid hormone is one way that it does that. Different people experience different things, but I took a look again at— — I think in this cohort, it was 1,406 people who did the Bright Line Eating Boot Camp in 2018. I took a look at their data, and we didn’t really see huge evidence of even withdrawal affecting energy. There are some people I see who have an energy dip. If energy dips at all, it tends to come back after three to four weeks, but here’s the data, energy levels over time.

And at each timeline here, these numbers add up to a hundred percent. So at baseline, you can see that 49.5% of people were saying that they were already somewhat energetic. About half the sample was somewhat energetic, but a pretty large 34% of the sample were not very energetic. And we’ve got down here at the extremes about 7% or 8% of people were either not energetic at all or very energetic. And I just want to show you the very energetic category goes up dramatically in the first two weeks from about 7% up to 20% and then climbs from there steadily up to 25% by the end of the sample.

So we’re going from 7% of people, very energetic up to 25%, very energetic. Somewhat energetic climbs as well from about 50% up to 60%, and the not energetic categories go steadily down. So not very energetic goes from 34% steadily down to basically 12% and not energetic at all goes from 8.6% down to 3.1%. So basically, over the sample of people, this is not a small sample. This is like 1400 people. We see that changes in energy are relatively dramatic. The biggest changes happen in the first two weeks. And it’s in positive direction on average universally.

Ari: Yeah, this is super interesting to look at the micro trend of what happens initially, too because it looks like people who—— Especially the not very energetic people have this very clear decline initially in energy, and then it starts to go back up from there or flatten out. And so, it’s interesting that the people who are most fatigued are more likely to experience this initial dip, which is probably—— I mean, there’s probably many reasons for it, but you’re undoing all of these neurotransmitter imbalances and the food reward centers, the reward centers of the brain, being dysregulated, and they’re probably more insulin resistant. They’re going to be probably releasing more toxins. I mean, I’d be curious to see how that breaks down as far as——

Dr. Thompson: Wait a second. How are you reading this data? So you’re talking about the people who are not energetic at all like the—— Who would this be?

Ari: So, the people who are at baseline already somewhat energetic or very energetic had an uptake in their energy. It went up further, but the people who were already fatigued——

Dr. Thompson: No, you’re reading this wrong.

Ari: Okay, correct me.

Dr. Thompson: So, these are percentages of people in these buckets at this time period. This isn’t taking Joe Schmoe and tracing him over time. All you can tell from—— You can’t tell what you’re talking about from this. This isn’t within-subjects’ graph. This is just across subjects. How many people are in a certain bucket at a certain time?

Ari: I see. I thought it was tracking the same bucket overtime over the eight weeks. It’s tracking what percentage of people are in these different buckets over time? So it’s not the same. I was thinking it’s the same group of people over these eight weeks, but it’s tracking what proportion of people are transferring to the different lines.

Dr. Thompson: And so, they are not energetic at all. This doesn’t mean their energy is going down. So this is fewer and fewer people report that they’re in this state—fewer and fewer people, more and more and more people. So it’s just like on average it’s just universally good news. Like, on average, energy is going up essentially. On average, energy is going up.

Ari: Yeah. So the real way of reading it is the groups that were not very energetic to start with had—— The line goes down because a large portion of those people are being switched to the higher energy.

Dr. Thompson: To other categories, exactly.

Ari: Beautiful. That’s a much better way of reading it.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah, totally. I mean, we don’t know that each individual is improving here. But on average, across the whole sample, there’s just steady improvement and the most dramatic improvement, it really happens in the first two weeks. Most people are switching buckets out of low energy buckets into higher energy buckets in the first two weeks. And then it’s just steady gradual improvement from there. So that’s what our data show. And now keep in mind, this is what’s stunning about this. These people are losing huge amounts of weight. They are on a calorie-restricted food plan. It’s not an extremely low-calorie plan, which is 500 calories a day. That’s ludicrous.

Our plan it’s not a plan based on calories, but if you had to say what it is, it’s probably—— If you’re picking average foods, it’s probably 1100, 1200 calories a day for a woman and maybe 1500 calories a day for a man or 1400 calories a day for a man. It’s not very much food. And they’re losing gobs of weight. Just to remind you, their hunger is going down from baseline from day one when they were eating whatever, whenever.

Ari: Just explain that because for people who might not follow why someone could eat fewer calories and have less hunger.

Dr. Thompson: Because they’re just not used to eating so many vegetables. We get people writing and saying, I can’t eat all this food. This is ridiculous. I can’t eat all this food. When you stop eating super high-calorie density foods, and you start eating real food and only real food with a lot of vegetables to boot, it’s a lot of food. And one of the ways that the brain triggers satiety is from straight-up stomach stretching. Like, whoa, that was a lot of food you just put in me. Thanks. And so, you feel full.

Another way that satiety gets triggered is by a hormone called leptin, which is—— A lot of brains these days are resistant to leptin. It’s not even seeing it— the hormone that says that you’re full. It’s not seeing it because of inflammation, because of high triglycerides and insulin, high baseline insulin. Those are the three things that make you resistant to leptin and those correct pretty quickly during the Bright Line Eating Boot Camp. So suddenly, people are able to process and see the hormone that says, oh, you’re full now. So there’s all kinds of reasons why you start to feel satisfied when you eat when you do this kind of food plan.

Ari: Beautiful. Well, it doesn’t get much better than that—weight loss and greater energy. I mean, one of the big downsides of a lot of weight loss plans is that people experience lots of hunger and hunger—— And that’s one of the big reasons that stops them from actually adhering to the diet. So basically, you’ve found a hack into human biology that allows one to have a way of eating that leads to fat loss and doesn’t result in one of the major things that causes people to go back to their old habits. And for our purposes here, of course, we’re interested in energy, especially. So it’s wonderful to have an approach to weight loss that also increases energy levels.

Dr. Thompson: Totally. And you know the one challenge that I didn’t anticipate that I haven’t been able to find a solution for yet, the reason that bright line eating fails, most often—you’re going to laugh—but it’s that it gets too easy and people get cocky. And so, after a certain period of time doing it the way I teach them to do it, they think I got this now. And they drift away from what we call the mothership. And they just immerse themselves back in our normal food culture. 

And before you know it, they’re making exceptions, and the whole thing unravels, and they come back with their tail between their legs. And then it’s harder. The second time the brain gets really like, but you made an exception last time, and I kind of worked for a little bit. Can we have a little? I try. I like sound the alarm like if it’s easy, it’s because you’re doing it. It’s working. Don’t take it for granted. Remember how much you wanted to be in a right size body and free from your food cravings. But I can’t seem to find a way to convince that slice of people to not start juggling the crystal vase.

Ari: Well, the reality is, and this goes for weight loss and for energy and for health more broadly, it is the case that we live in the modern Western world that is almost perfectly designed for poor health, poor energy levels, and fat gain. And it’s designed into our environment, into the lifestyle that we’ve accepted as what is “normal”. And as a result of that, I mean, that’s why there’s nearly 80% of the population that’s either overweight or obese. It’s more common, way more common to be overweight or obese than it is to be normal body weight. And because we live in a world that’s perfectly suited that pushes us in that direction by default. So if you want to be healthy, if you want to be lean, and if you want to be energetic, it fundamentally involves making this decision to go against the grain of what is “normal” in our society. You have to be comfortable being a little bit different.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah, totally. Exactly. And so, something that people don’t expect is that structure is going to equal freedom. It really can produce so much freedom, and deep commitment leads to automaticity. You just decide you’re doing it day in, day out. You do it. It’s just like brushing your teeth. You just teach a little kid to brush their teeth morning and night, and you’re going to raise an adult who will do it forever and ever without even wanting to, trying to, no sticky note on the mirror, reminding them. It’s just going to happen.

I was going to get into the brain stuff here. I know we’ve been talking for a long time, but I’ll just really quickly—— Basically, when food is in the realm of choice and decision, you’re basically creating a loop that’s got to work effectively every time where your nucleus accumbens is like, oh, it’d be really nice to eat this. And this is the addictive center in the brain right here. And it’s thinking, oh, it’d be really nice to get a little something. That goes up to the prefrontal cortex for like a decision. If the anterior cingulate cortex, which is the red here, is blown out, then a response isn’t even forthcoming, basically, which is basically a green light. You might as well. And what you can do is just take that loop out of the equation and just have the basal ganglia run it all, which is basically like how you brush your teeth, or how you drive to work, or how you put on your pants every day. You don’t have to think about it at all. So we’ve come to the end here.

Now, I just want to summarize the behaviors that I recommend. First of all, learn what kind of brain you have. You might have a hunch about what kind of brain you have. You can take a quiz on my website, super easy, or just ask yourself, like do I have a lot of food cravings? Do I ever binge? Do I think about food more often than I wish I did or what I’ve eaten or not eaten, or whether I’m on my plan or off my plan, or how many miles, calories, pounds? If you’re thinking about all that stuff in annoying amount, you’re probably pretty highly addicted. If like Ari, once you start eating certain foods, you have a hard time stopping, that’s another sign. If you have a hard time feeling satisfied by a normal amount of food, that’s a sign. So learn what kind of brain you have.

Because it really matters. If you have a highly susceptible brain when it comes to food addiction, the run of the mill advice isn’t going to work for you. You’re going to need a much more structured plan, a much more potent solution. So then decide on your bright lines. I’ve told you what mine are. And maybe it’s just that you need to have no plantain chips or no jars of peanut butter in the house. Those might be your two bright lines. Decide what they are. The reason to have bright lines is that you front-loaded the decision making. Then you never have to make a decision about that again. Create a food plan with categories and quantities. If you want mine, it’s in my book, which you can get at the library for free.

Ari: Or Amazon.com.

Dr. Thompson: Amazon.com, there you go. But create a food plan with categories and quantities of food. Write down your food the night before, and then your job the next day is just to eat only and exactly that. Wash, rinse, repeat, that’s it. And if you need more support, get more support. If you’ve got a brain that’s an eight or a nine or a ten on the susceptibility scale, odds are you can’t do this by yourself, and that’s cool, There’s a road-map for you. But if you’re lower on the scale, you probably can. You can probably take some of these suggestions, think about your food in a different way. And instead of thinking, what do I need to be eating? Just accept you already know what you need to be eating. The question is, how do I automate eating that way?

Ari: Beautifully said, my friend. This is awesome. I absolutely love it. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with our listeners. I think this is just critically important information. I have a few brief things I want to sort of mention and comment on as far as the steps that Susan just went over. I think that the devil is in the details as far as doing these things consistently, knowing exactly what to do. So I really would encourage everybody to get the book, to go take the quiz on her website. By the way, what’s the domain for that?

Dr. Thompson: Brightlineeating, B-R-I-G-H-T-L-I-N-E-eating, Brightlineeating.com.

Ari: And the link to the quiz will be on the homepage, correct?

Dr. Thompson: Yeah, it’s right there.

Ari: Okay. So go take the quiz, get the book, whether you get it for free at the library or you buy it off amazon.com, but get it. It’s $10 for something that may very well be life-changing. And you have the specifics. You have the food plan. You have all of these details mapped out for you. So I really encourage everybody to do that. And in the Energy Blueprint community, we have literally, probably 2000 members who have gone through your program. I mean, I see it every day. I see testimonials of people raving about how it’s changed their lives. So I’ve seen this firsthand, and that’s why I’m such a big advocate of your work.

And then the last thing is number seven, I think is really—— Well, two more things actually. Number seven is really significant, which is get support. I think the community aspect of what you’re doing is a big part of the recipe for your success—the success of your work, and why it helps so many people. And the last point since you didn’t mention it, I’ll mention it for you is this actually works, and there’s like really good data to show that it works. And there’s good data to show that almost all other approaches do not work very well for weight loss. We have lots and lots of research showing that almost every weight loss program has like 95% rates of recidivism of people who stop eating that way and then regain the weight and go back to old habits. And you now have data of thousands of people who over many years who are still sticking with it and maintaining the weight loss. And that is amazing and cannot be overstated.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah, I mean, so probably my favorite data point is just this white paper that we put out a couple of years ago now. This publication in the American Journal of Public Health came out that looked at millions of people actually because it looked at the entire database of the entire UK because they have government healthcare and just everybody’s in the database. So it was really easy, and they just asked the question like what are the odds of someone who’s obese at 10.1 getting into a normal BMI within one year? And it was like one in 292 or so. This is really bad. Our numbers are 55 times better. One in five for all categories of obesity and one in three for someone who’s only class one obesity, which makes it realistic to lose all the weight in one year. One in three. And so, one in three sounds like, hey, only one in three. It’s like, well, better than one in 292.

Ari: It’s a lot better.

Dr. Thompson: And we also have now two-year data that are published showing that people who stay in Bright Lifers don’t we gain any weight. And actually, on average, nobody regains any weight. On average, there’s no weight regain after the Bright Line Eating Boot Camp. There’s continued weight loss up to six months. And then post six months, if they’re not still in Bright Lifers, meaning they’ve left the community, then there’s a little bit of slip, but not much, not even close back to losing any of their—— Regaining any of their boot camp weight. They just lose some of—— They regain some of the weight that they had lost after the boot camp. Some of it, but people who stay in Bright Lifers, on average, never regain any weight. They just stay. You just stay on average. It’s unbelievable. Like we’re years out now. It’s five years out from the first Bright Line Boot Camp. And there were only 44 people in that boot camp. And I still know some of them. They’re thin. It’s like five years ago.

Ari: Beautiful. Well, my friend, thank you so much again for sharing your wisdom. This has been awesome. So good. I absolutely love that. I’m sure everybody listening will love it, too. Go get the book. Do yourself a favor. Susan, thank you so much. Really a pleasure as always. And I look forward to our next chat.

Dr. Thompson: Thanks, Ari. So great.

Show Notes

Why food is the linchpin in superhuman energy (05:10)
The best way to overcome overeating (13:36)
The three principles for automating healthy eating habits (28:24)
Set yourself up for success by planning out your food (34:25)
Setting up bright lines for your diet (41:19)
Food addiction and weight loss (1:00:33)
How the body reacts to fat loss (1:07:30)

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