On a very ordinary morning not long ago, Susan Gaynor gritted her teeth and struggled to climb into the shower. It had become so hard to maneuver her 281-pound body that she was winded as she finally relaxed in the hot water. I need to hurry, she thought, bending to grab a washcloth that had slipped to the floor.
Intense pain shot through her knees; she had to stand and brace herself. As the cloth swirled in the water near the drain, dread settled over the New York nurse. I might not be able to pick it up, she realized. Susan’s mind flooded with images of patients bedridden and unable to care for themselves because of their size. She imagined herself trapped in her bed…trapped in her body.
Susan felt shaken as she kissed her husband, Jeremy, goodbye and left for work that day. How did I end up here? she asked herself. For decades, she’d fought her weight fiercely with diets, pills, and workouts. But thoughts of food were constantly in her mind, creating a hunger she could never control for long.
Her weight had soared. She developed terrible arthritis and prediabetes; her blood pressure shot sky-high. Still, she ate. She’d have chips, a burrito, beer, flan — and go out for ice cream afterward. A normal weight seems impossible for me, she thought. But maybe I could get down to 200 pounds? Maybe that would be enough.
Desperate, Susan joined a weight-loss support group she’d heard about called TOPS. The idea was that other members would encourage her and help troubleshoot any plan she chose. New friends Melinda and Kathleen suggested she consider Bright Line Eating, so she started reading about it. The more she learned, the more she was stunned. This is why I overeat! she thought. And this is how I can stop.
How Bright Line Eating Changed Everything
Susan learned that a big part of Bright Line Eating was eating in a very similar way at every meal — repeating the same nutritious pattern day after day. Eventually, this pattern would become ingrained and automatic, so instead of endless decisions about what or how much to eat, she’d just do what she always did. The diet promised it would help silence constant thoughts of food.
To make it feel easier, she would also avoid any food with flour or sugar. The neuroscientist who wrote founded the diet explained that many of us are so sensitive to these highly processed modern ingredients that they actually damage brain pathways, leading to hunger that’s nearly impossible to satisfy. “No matter how much pizza or cake I have, I always want more,” Susan shared with her TOPS group. But could she go cold turkey? They urged her to take it one meal at a time.
Her first “bright” breakfast was oatmeal, berries, and cottage cheese. Lunch was tuna salad on cucumber slices and an apple. Dinner was chicken, veggies, and avocado. “I feel great,” she said to Jeremy that night. In the days that followed, she did have rough moments when she was hungry or full but still wanting more. Her TOPS friends urged her to sip hot tea and hang in there, vowing it got easier. They were right! In the next few weeks, Susan dropped 11.8 pounds. My face already looks slimmer, she thought, smiling at her reflection in the mirror. And my constant urge to eat is gone. This is working!
Bright Line Eating Success
As weeks became months, Susan’s meals didn’t change much. When she did add something new — like nut butter or flourless crackers — “if it reactivated the food chatter in my brain, I’d know to avoid it,” she recalls. “As long as I did, I was only hungry when it was time to eat.”
Pounds poured off. In nine months, she dipped under 200 pounds and kept right on going. She came off blood pressure meds, normalized her blood sugar and no longer needed arthritis meds or cortisone shots. “I even got rid of my sleep apnea and CPAP machine!”
Down 138 pounds in all, Susan still can’t quite believe it. “Bright Line does have rules that you always follow. I tried bending them a bit, but the food chatter returned. So I just follow the plan — and it’s actually so liberating. Everything about my eating is black-and-white so I can live the rest of my life in color,” says the 57-year-old. “I was overweight even as a kid. This is the first time in my entire life that I’m at a healthy weight!”
How Bright Line Shrinks Your Waist and Heals Your Brain
Created by University of Rochester’s Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D., the plan uses a simple, repeated eating pattern (example below) to neutralize brain signals that drive overeating. Follow it for a few weeks, “and it starts to become automatic,” notes Thompson, citing studies that suggest the less we think about food, the easier it is to make healthy choices. Fans of Bright Line Eating include Cleveland Clinic functional medicine expert Mark Hyman, M.D., and women’s health pioneer Christiane Northrup, M.D.
To make the approach easier, it eliminates sugar and flour. “These ingredients have been shown to overstimulate and damage the brain’s reward and motivation center, driving insatiable hunger,” she says. It’s the same process that leads to drug addiction, “but researchers estimate sugar and flour are more addictive.”
Avoiding them lets brain mechanisms heal, and we experience “significant and even total relief from cravings and constant thoughts of food.” The impact is so powerful, folks drop up to 30 pounds in 14 days; Thompson herself shrunk from a size 16 to a 4 and tens of thousands of Bright Liners are maintaining losses of 75, 100, 200 pounds or more!
The Bright Line Eating Plan
To get a feel for the approach Susan used, allow yourself 200 calories of protein per meal. At breakfast, add 100 calories of healthy starch and a piece of fruit. At lunch, add 100 calories of healthy fat, 2 cups of vegetables and a piece of fruit. At dinner, add 100 calories of fat, 1 cup of cooked veggies and 4 cups of salad. Skip any food with sugar or flour listed in the first three ingredients. As always, get a doctor’s okay to try any new plan.
Breakfast: 1⁄2 cup dry oatmeal or steelcut oats prepared with water; mix with 6 oz. yogurt or cottage cheese and top with 1⁄2 cup berries.
Lunch: 4 oz. no-sugar-added plant-based or chicken sausage, 2 cups veggies prepared with 1 Tbs. olive oil and seasoning; 1 piece fruit.
Dinner: 4 oz. burger, any variety, on grilled portobello mushroom cap “bun” with sugar-free condiments; side salad with 2 Tbs. sugar-free dressing.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.