Competent Eating

Bright Line Eating™ is a system grounded in external, rather than internal regulation of food consumption.

There are plenty of programs out there that will say that you should listen to your body and trust what it’s telling you about what to eat and how much.

Bright Line Eating™ isn’t one of them.

My body tells me to eat ice cream.

Lots of it.

My body also tells me to overeat, almost every time I put the fork to my mouth.

Even when my belly is saying “I think I might be full,” my brain and mouth say, “I need more!”

And thus begins the internal war.

Unless, of course, I’ve pre-established an external referee to be the tie-breaking vote.

I’ve been doing Bright Line Eating™ for well over a decade, and even now, I can sit down to a right-sized meal, eat the whole thing, and think, “I could easily eat another.” And maybe yet another.

I have tried to go the way of intuitive eating, or as Ellyn Satter calls it, Competent Eating. I have tried to breathe deeply before each meal, eat every morsel slowly and mindfully, and let my body decide what and how much I should eat.

I have really, really tried it.

In fact, a little over three years ago, I was so fully Happy, Thin, and Free™, and I felt so incredibly well and balanced, that I decided to leave Bright Line Eating™ altogether and give Ellyn Satter’s Competent Eating model a real try. Ellyn Satter has crafted a model for feeding kids that, as a mother of three young girls, has absolutely saved my hide. I just love it. It’s called the Division of Responsibility, and it totally works.

So I started to think that maybe her method of adult eating would work for me, too.

I had reached a point in my life where I couldn’t fathom bingeing again. I’d been doing Bright Line Eating™ for nearly nine years, and had been following my food plan without a single deviation for nearly six years. My life was smooth sailing. The internal issues that had led me to overeat had long-since been worked through. My brain had been re-wired for eating the right foods in the right amounts and sane eating had become the new normal for me.

Surely, I must be cured.

I saw how I was feeding my daughters, and it seemed so balanced. So free-flowing. I wanted to be eating what they were eating, together, as a family. I didn’t want to keep doing this Bright Line Eating™ thing if it wasn’t necessary.

So I decided to try to become a Competent Eater.

I didn’t take the transition lightly.

I hired a life coach to help me plan my exit from Bright Line Eating™. I even found a Competent Eating specialist in my local area, a woman who had been personally trained by Ellyn Satter, and I hired her, too.

She came to my office one sunny day for our first lesson. She brought with her a box of Triscuits, and she walked me through a mindful eating lesson where it took me nearly fifteen minutes to eat one little Triscuit cracker. First I smelled it. Then I nibbled a corner. I rolled that little morsel around on my tongue and really decided if I liked it. I used all my senses.

It was kind of fun.

The next day I used that mindful eating exercise to eat my lunch.

It took over an hour.

By the end of it, I had decided I didn’t actually like baby carrots. They were too fibrous, almost like cardboard. I didn’t like almonds either. Too mealy and dry. But I liked pineapple.

I only ate half my lunch that day.

I took that as a huge “win” for Competent Eating. I could do this! My body WOULD give me signals about what it wanted! I COULD find my “stopping place” and eat the right amount of food and no more!

A few days later, I was mindfully eating two boxes of cookies.

I liked those.

Thus started one of the most illuminating lessons of my whole life.

The happiness, peace, and overflowing well-being I enjoy by virtue of doing Bright Line Eating™ is only mine on a One Day at a Time basis, so long as I keep doing all the things Bright Line Eating™ teaches me to do.

I cannot do Bright Line Eating™ for a stretch of time and then walk way and keep everything I’ve gained.

The gifts aren’t mine.

I don’t own them.

They’re on loan.

It may be a long-term loan, but it’s a loan nonetheless.

I think there are two main hurdles to being successful with Bright Line Eating™.

The first is to become willing to do it in the first place.

The second is to stay willing to keep doing it, one day at a time.

It’s so tempting to decide I’m cured and walk away from the medicine that’s keeping me healthy.

I don’t deny anyone their research.

You want to test it? Safe travels.

I’m glad I did my research.

And, for today, I know that Bright Line Eating™ is my path.

When I use these four simple Bright Lines to define my eating: no sugar, no flour, eating meals only, and bounding the quantities, and then I add a handful of tools and daily practices to support me in being successful with those Bright Lines, my whole life just WORKS.

I get to live Happy, Thin, and Free™.

And, just for today, that’s good enough for me.

With love,


P.S. –That Competent Eating specialist I hired gave me a battery of tests before we started working together, when I was in my last days of doing Bright Line Eating™ and was about to try to transition over to the Competent eating method. When I asked for my results, she stammered and hedged. She was reluctant to show them to me. According to the results of those tests, by doing Bright Line Eating™, I was a Competent Eater already.

With Bright Line Eating™, I already felt good about my food and my eating, enjoyed a variety of foods, trusted myself to eat the right amount for me, and made time to eat at regular intervals.

I guess for some of us, the only path to truly healthy, competent eating, is to rely on Bright Lines to get us there.


  1. Hal

    I started bright lines a few weeks ago at 291 lbs. I am now down to 269.

    Never in my adult life had I been able to clearly hear the voice that says “You’re full, time to stop.” Now I do. It speaks a little louder, I think and I find myself with the will to listen to it for the first time. When I am full, I stop, even if I haven’t finished my alotted bright line amounts.

    I look down at the amount of food I’ve eaten and I can’t believe I’m actually full. It feels puzzling some time to me, who was always looking at people who ate this little like they had three heads.

    Amazing changes to my body and mind in only 4 weeks.

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  2. Kathleen

    I have been following the food plan exactly and I feel like it is more food than I can eat. I need to force myself to eat it all sometimes. Am I doing something wrong?

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  3. Mercedes (from Argentina)

    Dear Susan,
    You are my treatment, you are my morning meditation, you are my twin soul in terms of eating. A soul that has made a great discovery, and is willing to share. I can´t thank you enough.


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  4. Tana

    I have forwarded this to my beloved son-i-lw who has been morbidly obese for a long time. He will have the bariatric surgery on Monday, and in the meantimes and for the long run I have forwarded this letter to him. I have head that many get fat again after this surgery. We will see.
    BUT he has lost some 60# in recent months preparing for this and is on an assigmed special milk-shake diet in preparation..for several weeks.
    I hope he will read your emails.
    Keep up the good work.

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  5. Linden Morris Delrio

    I bow down in so much gratitude to the many “researchers” out there. I offer much love and thanks. May I never need to head off on my own, to see if something else works, when BLEing literally changed my life and is working so very very well!

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  6. Sally

    My well thought out and sane attempt at Competent Eating several years ago came after meeting with nutritionist Evelyn Tribole, author of Intuitive Eating. I was practicing a Bright Line style of eating successfully at that time, but I wanted to be ‘normal’. Who doesn’t? Intuitive eating sounded so rational and so right, and I’m sure it is for many people, but I ‘intuited’ myself into a 30 pound weight gain in the blink of an eye. It has taken years for me to get back to what works, and I’ll be sticking with Bright Line Eating thank you very much!

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  7. Karen

    I just got out of surgery ~11 hours ago.

    I experienced nausea as I often due after surgery. Surely a saltine cracker and some juice the nurses were offering couldn’t hurt. Could it? I didn’t find out. I didn’t eat or drink anything they offered me, except ice chips. Even after one of the nurses told me to “go home and eat some ice cream”, as it would help my sore throat pain from the tube down my throat.

    I already know how ice cream helps my pain, in general. It covers it for a second, then the horrible obsessive behavior kicks in, only adding hurt to hurt.

    I’m still on alert as I know that post-op I tend to tell myself that I somehow deserve this great treat. Not this time. I deserve to be healthy and to keep moving toward my health goals! It’s not about vanity. It’s about kicking cancer’s butt and doing all in my power to make sure my body has a fighting chance to keep disease away. Knowing what I now know, I can’t go back to my old ways without lying to myself! BLE gave me that.

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  8. Eleanor

    Thanks Susan for your sharing.I truly believe that avoiding sugar and flour would make a big difference. I am starting by giving up sugar and cutting down gradually on flour which includes buns and breads of all kinds although I thought the sprouted grain bread was a healthy exchange for flour. Would flour include pasta?
    There are so many diets on the market and the timings of consuming them. Is the Paleo diet a healthy alternative?

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  9. Barbara Becker

    Susan, I have spent so many years trying to eat mindfully, intuitively, checking my hunger level, my fullness level, etc….. All this added up to a huge drop in my self esteem because I just could not control my eating using these techniques. One author ate chocolate chip cookies for a week until she never wanted them again. I don’t think that would ever happen for me.
    I also became hyper focused on seeing if I was hungry. I always was hungry. I think I was training myself to always be hungry because that meant I could eat.
    I have been maintaining my bright lines for about a month now. The changes in my life have been so very positive. I am no longer always tracking my hunger, and when I feel hungry, I just ignore it because I trust that I will have enough food at the appropriate time. What a relief. I’m tossing out all those books suggesting these methods. They are so not for me. The freedom that I am experiencing within BL boundaries is such a blessing.
    Thank you for this post. I have been thinking about this very topic. I’m glad to hear your experience with Competent Eating. I will file it away if ever my saboteur whispers in my ear that I am “cured”.

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    1. Karen

      Oh, Barbara! We are cut from the same cloth. If I could “eat when hungry, stop when satisfied”, I wouldn’t be here!

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  10. Barb Conte

    Hi Susan,

    Another great blog! It’s amazing how our minds can alter our realities, even when we really know what the real truth is! I am so afraid of the day my imagination tells me “you can have that now”. I am so afraid that I will have one (or 12) of everything that I have willfully chosen not to have today, that is outside the boundaries of my bright lines. And I’m afraid that I’ll not find my way back. Today, I choose to learn from your mistake, and not do any research!

    xo, Barb

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  11. Meg

    Spot on. Wonderfully clear and wonderfully written, too.
    Thank you, Susan.

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    What is Bright Line Eating?

    Marika Love, Director

    Reply ·
    1. Ajji

      I suggest you go to and download the free report. Doing that will take you from there.
      Very best wishes!
      Ajji (Grandma) (strong supporter and practitioner of BLE)

      Reply ·
  13. Ida

    I love how you differentiate between the internal war and the external referee. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but BLE is exactly that — an external tool that works for me. Thanks for your continued insights, Susan. They’re so helpful — especially when I feel the need to explain the way I eat to others.

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    1. Mimi Hanzel

      Susan I very much appreciate your openness and honesty. Thank you!

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  14. Dalia

    I had to breifly leave the BLE BC as my room mate needed help with unseen financial challenges. Not only that, but I was struggling with a stomach like flu that left me near my goal weight but also caused a Inner Ear Infection evoking constant dizziness. Sigh.. Will rejoin BLE BC later this year, there is no one out there with your knowledge or Determination Sunsan !! All though the stomach flu(?) knocked me off my pace, Am back & lighter ; beginning again !

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  15. Peter von York

    Ah, how very timely. Coming up on my four month anniversary. Sailing smoothly along within my Bright Lines. And the little whispers have begun. This is temporary. When you get to goal weight, you can ease up. Reading your cautionary tale has axed those thoughts. And so I continue, with a renewed commitment to doing exactly what works, ODAAT. Thanks!

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  16. Jan Deutsch

    Hi Susan,
    Been there done that. It wasn’t called Competent Eating – It was called Mindfulness Eating and taught by a social worker. I think you have to be less than a 5 on the susceptibility scale for that to work. I hope and pray that I do not go experimenting again. Bright Line Eating is something I can live with forever. Thanks Susan for another great blog.

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  17. Nat Denkin

    I have read that people included in the The National Weight Control Registry have to be always vigilant about their food and exercise. There appears to be no magic that once you get rid of your excess weight, you can be “normal” about food, you cannot. The need for external control where the internal control is defective may never decrease. By avoiding the worst problems and providing self healing mechanisms when we stray, BLE provides an effective way to be vigilant with extra support always available in reserve.

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  18. Carol

    I LOVED this article! I read it aloud to DH to give us both inspiration…I was laughing, and then had a sense of foreshadowing right before you “mindfully ate” the 2-boxes of cookies. I did “research” myself, yesterday, and felt badly…physically and emotionally. Your story, however, is illuminating and supporting and gives me the encouragement to definitely have a wonderful BLE Day today! When do I stop BLE?! Never! Or when I die. Whichever comes first. Lol.

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  19. Barbara Whitney

    I loved this. My favorite quote: “A few days later, I was mindfully eating two boxes of cookies.” LOL, that is so me. Also very interesting at the end, that you were already a competent eater with Brightline eating!

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  20. Edward Rafferty

    Thank you Susan for this truth. I have not strayed from my Bright lines YET! I do think sometimes that since I feel so good that maybe I over reacted and I’m “not that bad”. Sounds familiar. I have heard this many times “in the rooms”. Thank you for reminding me that if I could do this, I already would be doing the things that normal people can do on my own power……Grace, Peace and Love..Ed

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  21. Marianne Marsh

    There is no way I am going to test Competent Eating. I know it would not work for me. It’s so ironic that your first exercise was to eat one Trisciut. I liked Triscuits a lot. No, I didn’t just like Triscuits. I LOVED Triscuits, like a moth loves a flame. I will certainly get burned. If I ate one Triscuit now, the whole box would be gone in ten minutes flat. And then I’d be on to the next box. And the next. And the next……..

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