Back To Basics

Three days ago I sat in the searing sun and ate a feast.

I was on the outside deck of Aladdins overlooking the Erie Canal in Pittsford, New York.

Aladdins is a Mediterranean restaurant. My favorite.

I was alone.

The feast was a Bright Line meal, but barely.

There was no sugar, no flour, and I was eating dinner at dinner time.

Check, check, and check.

But the quantities were questionable.  Even though it was almost entirely vegetables.

I don’t weigh and measure my food in restaurants, so it was hard to say exactly, but I do know that I left feeling very full. Probably because some things were quite oily.

But I ordered that food. Nobody brought it to me by mistake. I’ve been there a gazillion times. I know how it comes.

The next day my weight was up to 115.8 pounds.

(My typical range these days is around 112 or 113. I’m a shade over 5’3.)

This was the capstone meal of a several-day tear of eating pretty much only heavy choices.

Heavy choices are Bright Line foods that pack maximum caloric punch for their category.

You don’t have to go out to eat to do this (though is helps).

You can weigh and measure your food and still push the boundaries.

For example, one vegetable serving could be six ounces of zucchini, at 29 calories, or six ounces of peas, at 131 calories.

Peas are a heavy choice.

So are corn, parsnips, and butternut squash.

For protein there’s cashew milk, at 25 calories per serving, or whole cashews, at 360 calories per serving.

A fourteen-fold difference.

You get the idea.

The really interesting thing is that you don’t have to know all this to play the game.

Your brain will do it for you.

It knows what the high-calorie-density foods are.

And it will drive you to seek them out when you are stressed or sleep deprived.

Stress, whether chronic or acute, actually rewires the prefrontal cortex, the seat of decision making and impulse control. Suddenly, your choices will be all wonky and you won’t even know why.

“Social stress impairs our ability to maintain attention and disrupts communication between several parts of our brain (C. Liston et al., “Psychosocial Stress Reversibly Disrupts Prefrontal Processing and Attentional Control,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 106, no. 3 January 20, 2009). Even a brief burst of stress can cause a rapid and dramatic loss of our PFC’s (pre-frontal cortex) ability to think. if that stress goes on much longer, it can start to cause architectural changes in the prefrontal dendrites, the branches that reach off of our neurons to communicate with other brain cells (A. F. Arnsten, “Stress Signalling Pathways that impair prefrontal Cortex Structure and Function,” Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10, no. 6, June 2009). the PFC is our strongest ally in the fight against cravings and our saboteur—but unfortunately, it is also the brain regions most sensitive to stress.” — The Hunger Fix, by Pam Peeke, MD

A healthy prefrontal cortex is crucial for maintaining the Bright Lines.

I got some serious first-hand exposure to this when I sustained a major head trauma in 2005 and lost nearly all use of my prefrontal cortex for a few weeks. That’s a really interesting story, actually. I’ll save it for another blog.

Anyway, I wasn’t more stressed than usual this past week, but I was definitely running on low-grade sleep deprivation.

As we’ve all heard in the media over the past few years, sleep deprivation leads to weight gain, primarily by driving people to select heavier food choices.

I’ve been averaging about six hours of sleep each night (the key word here is “averaging,” which means, of course, that sometime nights I’m not even getting that much). I need to average more like seven or eight hours a night to function optimally.

I can hear all you die-hard blog readers saying, Oh dear Susan, don’t you know? Sunset is a Sign.

Touché, my loves, touché.

So. As I sat there, making my way through my meal, squinting and turning my chair to new angles to move the sun’s sizzle to different sides of my face, I felt all kinds of things.

Shameful.

Adrift.

Out of control.

I was on the safe side of the Bright Lines, barely, but I FELT like I had crossed the Bright Lines.

I haven’t felt that way in years.

Literally.

As the meal wrapped up, I surveyed my situation, and right then, I decided.

I’m going back to basics.

I made a phone call to a Bright Line friend and told her all about it.

It was official.

Immediately, I felt safe and protected again.

Happy.

Hopeful.

Solid.

The light switch flipped, as I knew it would, and all was well in the world again.

I processed all this the next day with my amazing Life Coach Clive Prout. He gave me feedback I didn’t expect.

This all sounds like really good news to me, he said.

I was stunned.

Really? I said.

Well, yes. First of all, your Bright Lines held. You stretched them perhaps, but they didn’t break. That shows that they’re meaningful to you, even without the protective umbrella of the 12-step program you just left.

And it sounds to me like you feel really solid in the structure you have within Bright Line Eating™. It’s enough to hold you and keep you safe, even under heavily pressurized circumstances like chronic sleep deprivation.

Well, yeah. I guess.

I hadn’t been looking at it that way, and I hadn’t expected him to see it that way.

Given my public role in this new endeavor, whenever my eating isn’t perfect it’s hard for me to imagine that others are going to respond with anything but nervousness and an immediate downgrade of my credibility.

Maybe it’s silly for me to expect this reaction, but nonetheless, I do.

But I can’t let that stop me from being honest.

As much as I am committed to growing the Bright Line Eating™ movement, and fitting myself to be a worthy leader of it, I’m even more committed to participating in it with the same authenticity, rigor, and openness that I hope others will bring.

And you all keep surprising me, just like Clive did. You keep loving me anyway.

As I love you anyway.

How does that saying go?

I’m not okay.

You’re not okay.

And that’s okay.

I love that.

So.

I’m going back to basics.

Which raises the question: What are the basics?

Well, first and foremost, for me, the basics are to write down my food the night before and commit what I’m going to eat in advance.

That’s one of the cornerstone habits of Bright Line Eating™.

I started doing that exactly twelve years ago.

May 23, 2003 was my first day of Bright Line Eating™, so my twelve year anniversary is this week.

For years, every night I wrote down exactly what I was going to eat the next day, and every morning as the sun rose I called my sponsor and committed it to her.

Eventually, I stopped committing my food to a sponsor, as my once-daily calls shrank to five days a week, three days a week, and then only one day a week, but I never stopped writing down my food in advance.

Until I got pregnant with twins.

In early 2008, eight weeks pregnant and nearly five years into my Bright Line Eating™ journey, I found myself standing next to the fridge with pen in hand, staring at a blank page in my little food journal, and wanting to puke.

I was so nauseous with the ineptly named “morning sickness” that even the thought of what I might have to eat the next day made me want to retch.

I stood there and tried to consider.

Would stewed tomatoes go down okay for a vegetable?

Could I stomach plain, uncooked tofu for a protein?

It was hard to tell.

I needed bland, bland, bland, but right at that moment, it all sounded awful.

At meal time, my system would frequently do a full-on switcheroo on me and suddenly the food I had committed to eat was EXACTLY what was going to make me puke at that that precise moment, and I’d find myself calling my sponsor and making a change on the spot.

Eventually, she and I decided that committing it in advance was just pointless.

So I stopped.

And I just never started again.

At that point in my life, with twin babies and a full-time career as a professor, I didn’t have time to obsess about food anymore, so it didn’t really matter.

I was fine.

When meal time came, I put together the most convenient meal I could with foods that fit the structure of my food plan. I weighed and measured every morsel, I ate it, and that was that.

Now, fast forward seven years, and the ground underneath me is shifting again.

I’m stretched in ways I’ve just never been stretched before.

Finals week.

Of my last semester.

This business.

A growing team of eight people to train, motivate, and manage. (Though I have to say, they’re so awesome they need hardly any motivating and hardly any managing. But still, I have to set the agenda and all roads lead through me.)

You’ve heard all this before. I’m like a broken record. I’m busy, yadda yadda yadda.

But what’s happening because of this, I’ve realized, is that my brain is taking over my food choices again.

Food selection behaviors that were once totally neutral from years of training and automaticity are now shifting into dangerous territory.

Thank goodness I know the brain science behind this so I can spot it before it’s too late.

When we select our food in advance, like the night before, we are choosing with an entirely different part of the brain. We’re not deciding what to eat NOW, we’re deciding what to eat LATER, and this makes it an issue of judgment and forethought. The prefrontal cortex is in control and considerations like which foods in the fridge need to be eaten up, which foods will be easiest to cook, and which foods will round out the variety in our diet for maximal health can take center stage.

In contrast, when we make food choices in the moment, we CAN choose with our prefrontal cortex, but if that area of the brain is compromised, say, by stress or lack of sleep (or both), we’re more likely to be driven by deeper subcortical areas of the brain that govern reward and addiction.

Studies show that under these conditions, high-calorie-density foods become far more attractive.

Oil. Sugar. Junk food.

Thank goodness I don’t eat those last two.

But in a pinch, I guess, oil will do.

So says my nucleus accumbens.

And hence, there’s me, sitting in the blinding sun on the deck at Aladdins and eating tourlou, their incredibly delectable (and very oily) dish of eggplant, tomatoes, and garbanzo beans for my dinner and wondering why I suddenly feel out of control.

But no worries, mate.

Back to basics.

Every night, since that night, I have written down my food in my little food journal.

And I have the perfect little food journal, too. My husband just gave it to me for Mother’s Day.

Today is Day 3 of back to basics. Day 790 since I last broke the Bright Lines. And 4,166 total accumulated days of glorious Bright Line Eating™ since I started on May 23rd twelve years ago.

I am loving committing my food again.

I’m not committing it to a sponsor, obviously, since I’m not in a 12-step food program anymore.

Nope, I’m not committing it to one person, but I am committing it to 254 people, in our online Bright Line Eating™ support community.

Even better.

My peeps.

Our online community ROCKS.

It’s the most supportive, loving space I’ve ever been privileged to experience.

Mostly, the community is populated with previous Bright Line Eating™ Boot Camp graduates, from either the Boot Camp that ended just a few weeks ago or the original Boot Camp that started in October of last year.

In just a few days, registration is going to open for the next Bright Line Eating™ Boot Camp. (If you’re not on my email list, join at www.HappyThinAndFree.com to get notifications.)

My mom is going to register.

I hope you will, too.

The Boot Camps are a blast.

And once you’ve been through one, you will always have a Blueprint for going Back to Basics.

Forever and ever.

So precious.

With love,

Susan

P.S. – The day after I decided to go Back to Basics, my weight plummeted right back down to 112.4 pounds. That’s a 3.4 pound loss in one day. Although much of it was probably water weight, it’s still amazing to me how much my body knows when I’m serious. When I apply the tools of Bright Line Eating™, food and weight become a non-issue in my life. And that’s all I ever wanted in the first place. Life is too full and rich to be stuck on what I’m eating and what I weigh. I’m over it. And I want you to be, too.  *kiss*