Let’s talk about the nitty-gritty of what it’s really like to live Happy, Thin, and Free™ in the world of Bright Line Eating™.
It may seem all rainbows and puppy dogs on the outside.
And, truth be told, that’s not a watercolored advertising landscape.
The reality *is* pretty great.
After all, we get to lose all our excess weight, which is pretty darn tremendous in and of itself.
But while we’re at it, we develop a feeling of empowerment and self-control around food, regain a spring in our step, sleep better, think more clearly, get taken off medications, have better sex, feel better in our bodies, feel better about ourselves in general…
I’m sure many reading this blog could increase the list ad infinitum.
But there’s more to the Bright Line Eating™ way of life than all that.
On the inside there’s an important, and often quite challenging, layer of stuff churning beneath the surface.
That’s what I want to talk about today.
Not all the ways our relationship with food gets better, but all the ways our relationship with food remains unwell.
Because in my experience, in some ways, it does.
This underground reality lies hidden, even from us…until it’s not.
When it bubbles up to the level of conscious awareness and really reveals itself (a surfacing process that may actually take a while), we need to deal with it.
We need to deal with it swiftly, honestly, and bravely.
If we don’t, our whole program and everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve could be in jeopardy.
My “hidden layer of stuff” was uncovered exactly two weeks ago today, quite unceremoniously, by one of my Bright Line Eating™ clients, Roberta, who is now also one of my friends.
Roberta meant no harm.
And she caused no harm.
In fact, she helped me, because without her offhand remark my inner layer of muck probably would have stayed veiled to me for much longer.
Here’s what happened.
I was staying at her house.
That wasn’t the challenging part; that was the awesome part.
Turns out, Roberta lives in my dream house. A Frank Lloyd Wright-esque masterpiece wrapped high on a hill in California overlooking Happy Valley, with a babbling brook and a hot tub out on the point.
She and her dear husband (and two sweet dogs) made me feel so welcome and cared for, and I relaxed so deeply the moment I set foot on their property, that I cancelled my plans for the week and just stayed.
I stayed and lay in the sun and soaked in the hot tub.
I stayed and slept each night without an alarm set for morning.
I stayed and didn’t even leave the property for days upon days.
I just padded around in my flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers while my tank slowly filled back up.
All was going well.
It was mid-morning.
I walked down the hallway and found Roberta in the kitchen. We started chit-chatting about I-don’t-remember-what.
She asked me if I wanted some hot water with lemon.
Whether I went out right then to the Meyer lemon tree and picked some lemons or whether they were already on the counter previously-picked, I don’t recall.
What I do recall is that, as I made a cup of hot water with lemon, I added some salt (I add salt to everything, for medical reasons, long story) and we started chatting about lunch. Roberta does Bright Line Eating™, so the food at her house was super easy. There was a scale on the countertop and delicious, plant-based Bright-Line-friendly food in the fridge, already prepared and ready for me to dish up. She was leaving the house for the day so she pointed out options in the fridge for me to consider.
She grabbed the Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce, a condiment I’d told her I like, and set it out on the counter in case I wanted some with my lunch.
I commented that I doubted I’d want any for my lunch, but as I spoke, I grabbed it off the counter, took the cap off, and added a few drops to my lemon water.
I had made the lemon water too salty, and was thinking that the Chipotle flavor might mask the salt and salvage the concoction, thereby saving me from having to make a fresh cup.
As I focused on adding Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce to my salty-lemony water in the middle of that dead-zone time gap between breakfast and lunch, Roberta looked and me and exclaimed:
“Don’t you dare binge at my house!”
I looked up, stunned.
“BINGE at your HOUSE? Of course I won’t!” I said.
Her suggestion struck me as being totally out of the realm of my possible universe.
I was nowhere near a binge.
But even though I laughed and chuckled and consoled and pooh-poohed, her comment sunk deep.
And it got me thinking.
What kind of behavior was I demonstrating that would make her think that was even a possibility?
You’ve read this far, so you have at least some idea.
Making a hot beverage out of water, the juice of nearly a whole lemon, a bunch of salt, and some Tabasco sauce is…well…strange.
But that wasn’t all she’d observed.
When I first arrived at her house, I’d brought in a bag with a few apples—leftover fruit from my travels.
I pretty much always pack food with me when I travel, especially provisions for breakfast.
These were apples I had brought all the way from Rochester, New York, and they had survived two flights and a three-day conference to make it to Roberta’s house.
My stash had dwindled, but I still had three left.
And here’s the thing.
The apples were enormous.
They were so big that they prompted just about anyone and everyone to exclaim, “Look at those apples!” on contact.
The same way pretty much everyone used to say to me, “You want some coffee with that cream and sugar?”
In the middle of my first full day at Roberta’s house, I brought an apple out to the kitchen to have with my lunch.
And, of course, she said, “Look at that apple!”
She giggled. We talked. She threw it on the scale, just because she was curious. She didn’t tell me what it weighed and I didn’t ask.
In the world of Bright Line Eating™, an apple is an apple.
Aye, there’s the rub.
Yes, it’s true that, according to the Bright Line Eating™ Food Plan, the measurement for grab-fruit like apples, pears, oranges, or bananas is simply one piece, while the weight for berries, melon, or some other kind of fruit that isn’t a one-unit serving is six ounces.
So, technically, one apple is a serving, no matter how large.
But here’s the thing.
If I were ever to pick apples off someone’s tree and they were really super small, I would never have one tiny apple with my lunch. I would either have two apples (or three, if they were apricot-sized) or, more likely, I would cut them up and weigh six ounces.
More, I can handle.
Less, not so much.
Bananas, for instance, almost never come in at six ounces. Once they’re peeled, average-sized bananas weigh between three and four ounces, and really big bananas weigh about five ounces.
That’s why I figured out long ago that it’s best to always have six ounces of bananas and berries, never just one banana.
If all I’ve got are bananas, I’ll be ballsy and weigh six ounces of banana.
Even though it leaves an awkward leftover banana chunk on the counter with a tip-going-brown.
And it’s cumbersome and a tiny bit time consuming.
I claim that I’m all about efficiency in the kitchen, but the truth is that I’m only about efficiency if it doesn’t shortchange my food.
You see, the three most powerful sovereigns in the land of food addiction are:
SUGAR, FLOUR, and QUANTITIES.
In my world, sugar is King, quantities are Queen, and flour is the lonely Jack that lives in the guest house.
If the King is traveling in a faraway land for an extended period of time, the Jack marries the Queen and together they rule the kingdom.
Ancient history shows that I will definitely eat massive quantities of flour if I can’t have sugar.
That’s why, when people say they don’t have a problem with flour, I still encourage them to draw the Bright Line for flour anyway.
In the absence of sugar, odds are they’ll develop a problem with flour.
But in my world today, sugar and flour are no longer in the picture.
The King and Jack are both dead.
Have been for a long time.
The Bright Lines for sugar and flour killed them.
Took them out.
In fact, they’ve been dead for so long that no one in the kingdom fully remembers what it was like to live under their terrible rule.
By and large, the people feel free again.
The Queen, however, while definitely old and frail, still comes to the window sometimes to wave.
Her presence still holds power.
All that’s left of her is the ability to push around the happy, healthy people of the land…but she can still exert her will over them sometimes.
In other words, quantities don’t affect me anymore when it comes to the foods I no longer eat, but quantities can definitely be an issue with my Bright Line food if I’m not paying attention.
Now, 95% of the time I put my food on a digital food scale, so 95% of the time, the weak and withered Queen of Quantities is lying in bed feeling quite ill.
And I feel free.
Not a care in the world.
But once in a while she feels well enough to come out on the terrace and give some orders.
Like when I’m picking out fruit in the grocery store.
Or going to a restaurant.
Without my scale.
(I never bring my scale into a restaurant.)
The idea, when I go to a restaurant, is that I’m supposed to eyeball my portions and do an honest-to-goodness best-faith effort to assess what six ounces of fruit or four ounces of protein or six ounces of cooked vegetables would look like.
And that’s all I’m supposed to eat.
And, generally speaking, I do.
But here’s the thing.
Years ago, while weighing and measuring my food, I noticed something very strange.
Sometimes my six-point-oh ounces of cooked vegetables would look HUGE on the plate.
And sometimes my six-point-oh ounces of cooked vegetables would look TINY on the plate.
Same with all the categories of food—protein, salad, fruit, you name it.
Eventually, I started to see patterns.
Six ounces of steamed broccoli, especially steamed al-dente, takes up about two-thirds of a dinner-sized plate.
Enough to make someone say, “Look at all that broccoli!”
Six ounces of heavily-cooked stewed veggies, on the other hand, like a ratatouille, might look like only a little fist-full.
A regular-sized portion indeed.
Broccoli and juicy, stewed vegetables are definite cases of unusually big-looking and unusually small-looking veggies.
But it’s not always so easy to predict.
My scale often surprises me.
And that’s where, some years ago, this habit was borne in me of justifying my behavior in restaurants.
The thought process goes something like this.
Okay, the food has arrived.
Time to serve up your veggies.
There you go.
Now, look at the food, Susan. Really look at it.
Is that six ounces?
It looks like a lot.
But sometimes six ounces DOES look like a lot.
A WHOLE lot!
This could be six ounces.
You never know, sometimes it’s shocking how much food you get for six ounces.
I bet there’s some universe somewhere where this is six ounces.
Stop right there.
That is the question.
And the answer I usually prefer to settle on is that no one will ever know, because there wasn’t a scale there to weigh it.
But I know.
I know what my motives were.
My motives weren’t to have the right amount of food. My motives were to indulge in the largest amount of food that could possibly withstand the test of some justification.
And, as I walk out of the restaurant feeling too-full, this instance gets added, unconsciously, to the toxic stew that churns under the surface.
For a while, I go back to life-as-usual. And still feel pretty darn Happy, Thin, and Free™.
But if I’ve been picking exclamation-point sized fruit and rationalizing rather than assessing my portions in restaurants, odds are there are other things I’m doing with my food too.
And then someone, like Roberta, says something.
Or I, within my own mind and soul, simply yearn for a higher level of freedom, honesty, and integrity.
And it all bubbles up to the surface and I have to get it out.
So I grab my journal and make a list.
I scribble my list of half-truths and shady deals out onto the page and look at it.
While I’m at it, I write about the shame.
Shame that keeps me from wanting to admit to anyone that I still do this.
Shame that keeps me from the Sunlight of the Spirit.
Shame that keeps me isolated, fearing the judgment of other Bright Line Eaters who might see me as not having a strong grasp on this Bright Line Eating™ thing after all.
The shame even has a voice.
It spoke to me yesterday.
I was on the phone with my Platinum Coaching Group.
These are nearly a dozen folks with whom I’ve been working for a while now, and we were doing our quarterly review.
During this period, which I affectionately call the Hone Zone, I invite each Platinum Group Member to step into the circle, (not a real circle; we’re on a group conference call on the phone) one at a time, to discuss her progress and the overall trajectory of her Bright Line Eating™ journey.
On our call yesterday, because of the special once-in-a-while-only nature of the Hone Zone, we modified our initial check-in round to be quite global, rather than specific to that moment and that day. The round of brief one-sentence sharing went like this: “Right now, in my Bright Line Eating™ journey in general, I am feeling _________, and my ‘win’ for the past three months is _________.”
Sometimes I chime in and fill in the blanks regarding my own life after everyone else has gone, and sometimes I don’t.
Yesterday I didn’t.
Except in my mind.
Right in my mind’s ear, clear as a lecturer stepping up to the microphone, my inner shame said, “Right now, in my Bright Line Eating™ journey in general, I am feeling fraudulent.”
I heard it.
It jacked me up.
The red flag was waving high and clear.
It had been waving since Roberta’s comment.
I didn’t ignore it.
I took action.
I reached out to my person.
My external accountability person.
Her name is Diane.
Within half a day I had tracked her down and I was speaking with her on the phone, hashing it all out.
Exposing it to the light.
Getting her feedback.
There was the big fruit, and the portions in restaurants.
But there were other things too, like the doctor-recommended licorice I was taking in tablet form, for brain-fog-due-to-stress, and chewing (rather than gulping down) every morning and evening.
There’s no sweetener in it, but it’s pretty darn sweet.
I totally look forward to it.
And the fact that lately I’ve taken to eating the rind of my oranges.
All of it.
Blah, blah, blah.
The list was long but finite.
Things fell into three categories:
- I’m doing this and I need to stop. I’m ready to stop. I’m done.
(The licorice fell into this category. Totally dangerous. The brain fog and stress are gone anyway.)
- I’m doing this but I don’t want to stop, and I’m not even sure I should stop. Maybe I just need to claim this right now as what I do, and let go of imagining judgment from others.
(The big fruit fell into this category. Who cares if I have big fruit? Maybe some Bright Line Eaters will stand in judgment of me, but so what? That’s their judgment, not mine. I have often been in the habit of choosing medium-sized fruit, I just don’t happen to be in that habit right now. Do I really care? At the moment, I’m not sure I do. But I can reevaluate this later if I want to. I know others pride themselves on the size of their fruit as if it bears an inverse relationship with the size of their virtue. I don’t have to let that bother me. I can keep my eyes on my own plate on this one and lighten up.)
- I’m doing this, but I don’t think I can stop.
(The restaurant portions fall into this category. I would love for Diane to wave a magic wand and make me willing to let go of the habit of justifying that extra amount and just start accepting my honest best eyeball-guess…but I’m afraid that’s beyond her pay grade. Pray about it, was the best she could offer. And maybe that’s pretty good.)
This conversation with Diane happened just this morning, and to my delight and relief she gave me no grief or judgment at all, just reassurance and love.
She’s a fellow food addict who has been doing Bright Line Eating™ for a long, long time.
She knows what it’s like to have a brain like mine.
And, since I’ve been doing this for a while myself, so do I.
What it’s like is that the Queen never dies.
There’s always some tyrant ruling the kingdom, no matter how frail and apparently near death she is.
Living in her kingdom takes courage.
Courage to initiate the process of inventory, admission, and freedom.
This process will happen over, and over, and over again.
It needs to.
It never ends.
The journey is not a straight line, it’s a spiral.
A spiral of deepening awareness and surrender.
After the purging, typically there are long stretches of freedom.
When the good and happy people of the kingdom join arms and stand up for themselves to the Queen, she retreats back to her bed, weakened by the encounter, and often she’ll stay there for quite a while.
I feel reassured whenever I recruit my kindred to have that conversation.
It always goes well.
There is never the judgment that I fear.
And if you’re reading, dear Roberta, I had that conversation with Diane today, and I write this now, in service of the future in which I will never, EVER binge at your house.