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*

 

Comments

  1. Linden Morris Delrio

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this Blog Susan! It just says it all! Can we engrave it somewhere? 🙂

    Reply ·
  2. Lynn

    Susan your integrity moves me no end. I love this blog too. You are like a concert virtuoso who knows that their excellent performance depends on diligently practicing their scales every single day. Hats off to you and thank you so much.

    Reply ·
    1. Susan Mast

      Wonderful blog. Just what you and we all need. It is wonderful that you feel so supported. We all need and want that. BLE community gives us that.

      Reply ·
  3. Michelle Berkovitz

    I really appreciated your insight about how we use a different part of our brains when we make food choices the day before instead of in the moment. Always loving the science behind what we do! I find it helps me do what I need to do.

    Reply ·
  4. Ajji

    Hello, Everyone!
    So, Susan announces me! I am Ajji, (“Grandma”,) Susan’s mother.
    Dee-lighted to be starting a Boot Camp soon.
    And I have been privileged to be reading your stories and comments.
    Much love.

    Reply ·
    1. Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.

      Yay mom! “Outed” at last!

      Yes, everyone, this is my mother, Mariah Perkins, affectionately known by my three kids as “Ajji” (“Aaah-gee”) which means “grandma” in some language from India whose name I always manage to forget.

      She’ll be joining the next Boot Camp so those in the online BLE community will be getting to know her quite well, I’m sure.

      xoxox
      Sudie
      (That’s her nickname for me. Which I really shouldn’t have told you. Sigh.)

      Reply ·
  5. Lynda Hahn

    A wonderful, so very insightful blog, especially as an early morning read. Thanks for your thruthiness 😉 xxxx

    Reply ·
  6. Charlene Earl

    Loved this blog post Susan! It’s always motivating to me to hear the science behind why our brains do what they do. It helps me know that I can be in charge of Happy, Thin & Free!

    Reply ·
  7. Jan

    Susan, thank you. By using science you are helping us to remove the shame of thinking we are weak willed and lazy. What a weight (pun intended) off our shoulders.

    Reply ·
  8. Pat

    I’m here my friendxoxoxoxo Pat

    Reply ·
    1. Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.

      Back atcha, Pat. xoxox

      Reply ·
  9. Lorna

    Bing, bing, bing!! A light went on this morning as I read your account of eating heavier foods while under stress or sleep deprivation. I could relate to wanting a veggie burger instead of beans for my protein or butternut squash instead of broccoli when I was feeling emotionally on the rocks. I always made a BLE choice but I still looked for a more comforting food within my bright lines. NOW I know why and for some reason the knowing why make it seem so much less personal and more just a matter of fact. NOW, I have yet another tool to manage my addictive brain cells. I never took any recreational drugs when I was young and it was the “in” thing to do because I didn’t want to do anything that could change my brain. I stop drinking alcohol for the same reason but I never new until now that I used food to change my state of mind. I’ve often said food was my drug of choice but it wasn’t until this morning reading your blog that I actually got it! Wow, I’m in awe! I feel so blessed to finally understand that I’m in partnership with my brain. Armed this new understanding I can watch for those telltale signs of stress and fatigue and be extra vigilant in my choice of food and activity. SO GOOD!!!

    Reply ·
  10. Donovan

    Your vulnerability really connects, Susan!

    I love the back to basics focus you highlight here. It reminds me of last year in the NBA finals when a reporter asked Gregg Popovich why they lost the game. The coach said they didn’t pass enough. Digging for more, the reporter asked how they would stop the mighty Lebron James and the Miami Heat in the next game. Coach said: “Pass more.”

    The reporter didn’t like the focus on fundamentals and asked to coach to elaborate. Popovich respectfully pointed out (getting a little exasperated) that the question was already COMPLETELY answered. The Spurs went on to win the championship that seemed destined for Lebron’s Miami Heat 4 games to 1. They passed the ball about 100 times more per game than the Heat. Back to basics! It works.

    Reply ·
  11. Robin

    Susan,
    I love reading your blog posts. Even though Bright Lines is not for me right now (just learned I am hypothyroid and have celiac as well as very low cortisol) I commend you for being so open and honest. Your authenticity and your sharing your life’s trials and tribulations is truly inspiring to those of us who struggle with “food.”

    One thing that I have learned from my studies is that “Your’e not perfect & that’s perfect . Not being perfect can be our greatest ally…there is no shadow without light.” (Marilena Minucci/Quantum Coaching-her own personal reflection and that of Depak Chopra).

    Reply ·
    1. Barbara

      What is it about hypothyroid and low cortisol that makes BLE unadvisable? I have slightly low thyroid which is fine with supplemental hormone, and my cortisol is borderline low.

      Reply ·
  12. Francine Posa

    Thank you for showing me I am human, I don’t always make the lesser better food choices! The hope I feel here, the fun, love, acceptance and insight is priceless!
    And I didn’t have Boot Camp to jumpstart
    BLE. Everyone here just graciously rolls up their sleeves and jumps right in for our greater good. Soooo blessed!
    Much love to all as we go into Memorial Day remembering the true meaning of this holiday. Much gratitude!

    Reply ·
  13. /Rita Goebert

    Reading your blog was like holding up a mirror to myself. My scale read 3 pounds higher Friday.
    I immediately looked back to see that beef had creeped back via three restaurant choices, as did bananas because we had too many ripen at one time. I’d gotten less sleep, and began to wake up tired, and to need a nap that I did not always take. Add to that, deep concerns for several special people in my life, and a friend in Hospice. Your blog confirmed what I instinctively had concluded. By Tuesday, to get back my peace of mind I checked and was down 2.2 pounds. Four days of careful choices made that difference. I too am back to journaling my food choices so I can chart them, if this issue is not resolved to my satisfaction. I continue to pray for you and all those folks who need to hear the message you have to share. It truly has been a blessing in my life.

    Reply ·
  14. Pam

    Susan, I’m new to your blog and the Brightline eating ideas but I have to say you have more believability to me when you are not perfect and have struggles! Seeing how you use your knowledge to identify how you were pushing your limits (and yes I am guessing we have all pushed food limits!) and then again used knowledge to troubleshoot and work to make a correction is invaluable. Thank you so much.

    Reply ·
  15. Davina

    Thank you ,Susan, for yet another great blog. Very enlightening. I have been very poor sleeper since living in a war zone in Middle East when my daughter was a baby–always ready to lift the baby and run to safety. This has never left me though that was many years ago—now I know why I choose the heavier foods! Maybe now I can stop losing weight at snail rate.

    Reply ·
    1. Peg

      Davina (beautiful name!) –
      My heart aches at the image of you sleeping light to be able to run, “babe in arms.”
      I pray that when that memory approaches, you will invite it to come in – then tell it you don’t need it any more – and gently invite it to leave! It might work!
      Good sleep and good eating to you!
      Peg

      Reply ·
  16. heidi weisher

    LOVED this article 🙂 I MUST always go back to basics, and I get lost, but I will not give up and will go back…success is not a straight line up, so no lost HOPE 🙂

    Reply ·
  17. Carol Henry

    Hi Susan
    My reaction to your blog is similar to all above. I admire you so much for you willingness to be vulnerable even when you worry about your credibility. Nice lesson that it actually increases the credibility! I didn’t make the connection about heavy foods. It explains a lot. I’m going to make that distinction better now! Gracias mi Amiga!!

    Reply ·
  18. Racheld

    Are there guidelines to modify the program while pregnant? I just ordered your book! Thanks!

    Reply ·
  19. Anne St Pierre

    Thanks Susan. I would love to do the boot camp but it is financially not possible. I will make the most of your book and what I gain here. Thank you for your generosity.

    Reply ·
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