I began doing Bright Line Eating in October of 2016, and after about two years strictly following the program, I decided to move away from the BLE mothership. But even though I am now exploring a different approach with food, I have no regrets about my time spent in BLE, and am grateful for the role that the program and community has had in my journey. Still, I do have some fairly major criticisms of the program, and in this article I’ll share my comprehensive Bright Line Eating review – both the wonderful lessons that I took away, my critiques, pros and cons, the reasons why I ultimately left, and what I’m doing now.
Why I Joined Bright Line Eating
When I stumbled upon Bright Line Eating, it felt like a beacon of hope and light. Like pretty much everyone, I arrived in adulthood with a strained relationship to my food, eating, weight, and body. Back in 2016, I was at my heaviest adult weight and struggling with compulsive and mindless overeating. I watched their “Food Freedom Video Series” and immediately bought into the “science-backed” story that my “food addiction” was to blame for my weight struggles. I quickly took on the belief that my brain was broken and simply wired for overeating, because that explanation made sense with my experience. In retrospect, I can see how blaming faulty wiring was also a nice way to alleviate guilt and shame about my eating behavior. It simplified the problem (food addiction) and had a clear solution: abstain from “triggering” foods and weigh and measure my food for the rest of my life. Easy, right?
What is Bright Line Eating?
If you’re not familiar with the program, it’s essentially a spin-off of 12-step programs for food addiction. Calling yourself a “bright line eater” means committing to four strict rules and striving to never break them:
- no eating sugar (including all sweeteners besides fruit)
- no eating flour (including alternative flours or processed grains)
- only eat during mealtimes without anything in between
- weigh and measure quantities of food according to a very specific food plan
This “solution” was easy enough to buy into when it was accompanied by the thrill of weight loss, and because I was instantly convinced that my struggles with overeating in the past meant I was a food addict and needed an extreme solution. So I fully surrendered to this way of eating.
The Initial Benefits of Bright Line Eating
When I began this highly structured way of eating, I can’t deny that I felt great. I immediately and easily lost a bunch of weight, developed awesome meal planning habits, learned how to cook vegetables, and quickly rose as a leader and recipe guru in the BLE community.
If you haven’t followed me for very long, you may not know that I originally started this food blog to share BLE-compliant “hacks” and delicious recipes broken down for their food plan. My blog was originally called “Katie’s Bright Kitchen” until I broke ties with the program and was asked to change my name due to trademark issues. But that’s a story for another day.
Looking back, there are many lessons and benefits that I learned in my first year of Bright Line Eating that I will be forever grateful for. Among them are:
Benefit #1: My blood sugar issues stabilized and I learned what normal hunger feels like.
Before Bright Line Eating, I used to experience overwhelming cravings, and urgent, all consuming hunger. I didn’t know that hunger was a sensation that could feel emotionally neutral or okay. It was mind blowing to experience cravings at an all-time low, and learn to experience hunger as a fleeting sensation that doesn’t always require immediate action. This was a really big deal for me. I suspect that removing the sugar and flour from my diet stabilized my blood sugars to the point where I could experience normal, non-stressful hunger sensations in my body. Meditation also helped me with this by teaching me to create pause and spaciousness around discomfort and to be able to choose rather than react.
Benefit #2: I completely changed my relationship with healthy food.
Maybe the most important lesson I learned from cutting processed foods out of my diet is that can get SO much more pleasure and satisfaction from deliciously prepared fruits, vegetables, fats, legumes, and whole grains than from heaps of sugar and flour. Seriously, scrambled eggs, fresh pesto, sautéd greens and mushrooms, and roasted potatoes… pure bliss. Way better than anything I used to overeat. A lovingly prepared and healthy meal tastes incredible, and I enjoy it so much more than when I used to mindlessly shovel a bowl of pasta into my mouth way beyond fullness. There’s no joy in that.
Benefit #3: I learned the power of being in a supportive community.
Bright Line Eating was the first coaching and personal growth container I’d ever experienced, and it was definitely transformational to be part of a community of people working on the same thing together. I learned that whenever I want to grow in some way, I need to surround myself with people committed to the same transformation. To this day, I still maintain near daily connection with the small support circle that I was encouraged to form while in Bright Line Eating (shout out to my Marco Polo besties). We support each other in exploring our relationships with food, furthering our career paths, making life decisions, handling relationships, facing fears, celebrating wins, folding laundry, all of it. I am so grateful to them every day for their guidance, love, and support.
Benefit #4: I loosened my attachment to highly processed foods.
Experiencing a period of super “clean” eating made me highly attuned to and aware of how my body feels when I’m eating a lot of highly processed foods. I developed a new standard for feeling healthy and well that makes me genuinely desire an abundance of whole real foods in my diet. These days, if I go for more than a few meals without eating a plate full of fruits and vegetables, I start to crave produce-heavy meals. After I’d left BLE, I went through a process of unlearning the idea that highly processed foods were “bad” and learned to enjoy them in moderation, but it was helpful to have a period of time when those foods weren’t in my system at all, just to know what that feels like.
Benefit #5: I developed better intuition about portion sizes.
Like many of us, I had gotten to adulthood without really learning what healthy eating habits look like. The messages I got about food from my family and culture growing up were messages about how the purpose of food was pleasure, comfort, and connection with other people, and nothing about how food can be used to nourish the body and promote health and well being. Putting my food on a digital food scale for a while was extremely instructive, not to make sure my portions were small enough, but to make sure that the quantities of healthful foods such as fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains were big enough. I don’t weigh or measure my food anymore, but these days I intuitively still eat portions similar to what I used to in Bright Line Eating, because it’s what my body loves.
Benefit #6: I learned how my food choices directly affect my physical, emotional, and mental well being.
While doing BLE I learned how the food that I put in my body is connected to my physical and emotional state. I have become finely tuned, and know what foods give me vitality and boundless energy, and which ones make me feel foggy, sluggish, and even emotionally unstable.
Benefit #7: I quickly and easily lost a bunch of weight.
If your goal is to lose weight quickly, the BLE food plan really works for that. It’s great for restricting caloric intake without feeling ravenous and deprived all the time, and I actually really enjoyed being on it (for a time). It was the first time I’d ever found weight loss to be easy, and I won’t pretend that the quick weight loss wasn’t thrilling, because it was. I think that it was significant and important to reach my arbitrary “goal weight” (which by the way turned out to be unsustainable for my body) simply so that I could realize that my life wasn’t really any different after I’d reached it, to see how easy it is to never feel satisfied with how my body looks, and to let go of the idea that my weight matters.
It’s also maybe worth mentioning here that you don’t need to join BLE to access their magical weight loss food plan, it’s the same one they use in Food Addicts Anonymous (although it’s not explicitly used for weight loss in that program) and it’s available for free online with just a quick google search. It’s also worth noting that I do believe that it’s possible to use the plan as a tool for weight loss without taking on all the disempowering messages about addiction and the “all-or-nothing” perfection mindset. I’ve used it very imperfectly (even as imperfectly as only following it for 2 meals a day while allowing snacking) and still lost weight. It’s really just a formalized version of a normal, healthy way of eating that any nutritionist would probably endorse, and it makes sense that it supports weight loss.
Why I Started Straying from Bright Line Eating
Despite all these wonderful benefits, at some point, all of it began to feel… off. I often found myself saying no to things I wanted to do because it was too hard to stick to my food plan. It felt like bright lines were making my world smaller. My way of eating was my top priority, sometimes at the expense of connection with others. Without the excitement of weight loss motivating all of it, I slowly began to realize that the strict eating rules and “food addict” story wasn’t serving me anymore. I began to see the undercurrent of fear, guilt, and shame around food that my program was built on, and that wasn’t a lifestyle I wanted for myself long term.
As I began losing confidence in the BLE rules, I started experimenting with my boundaries and it got harder and harder to stick to my bright lines. After feeling like I was “failing” at BLE for a while, I finally realized that people can’t stick to things that don’t align with their values or goals. Weight loss wasn’t a goal of mine anymore, so it didn’t make sense to keep eating that way. Deep down, I also didn’t believe that there was something inherently wrong with me, and ultimately I wasn’t willing to spend my life avoiding and being afraid of food. So, carefully and slowly, I set out on a journey to heal and master my relationship with food, and gradually reintroduced sugar and flour into my life. But it wasn’t easy. I had a lot of support, which I’ll share more about later in this post.
My Criticisms of Bright Line Eating
While I am hugely grateful for all the gifts and lessons of my time in Bright Line Eating, looking back from where I am now I also have some pretty major criticisms.
Criticism #1: Bright Line Eating’s hyper fixation on numbers, body size, and weight is crazy making.
At the end of the day, Bright Line Eating is a weight loss program. It takes only one glance at their instagram account, reading their tagline of “happy thin and free,” or a few moments in their facebook group to see the focus on pounds lost, before and after pictures, and people hell-bent on getting into their “right sized body.” For anybody trying to develop a peaceful relationship with their body in the long term, I’m pretty sure that a method fueled by a desire for control, desperation to change the body, and a restrictive way of eating isn’t the way to do it.
Since I reached my “goal weight” doing Bright Line Eating a few years ago, I’ve gained some of it back. And guess what? I feel more loving and peaceful about my larger body now than when I was at my “goal weight” as defined by Bright Line Eating. Even when I was fitting into my aspirational size 4 clothes, I still looked in the mirror and saw only flaws and things that I wanted to change. Now, at a size 10 or 12 or whatever (honestly I have no idea, I don’t care anymore) I genuinely feel kindness toward my body now, or at least neutrality. I’m also not ravenously hungry all the time (which was true when I was in a smaller body).
At this point, I would even argue that a hyper-focus on weight loss actually has the opposite effect – fueling mental chatter, the inner rebel, shame, guilt, and the roller coaster of restriction and overeating. A lesson I keep learning over and over is that when I stop trying to lose weight and focus instead on how I want to feel and eating more mindfully, I naturally eat less and start losing weight.I’m now of the mind that when we stop trying to control our bodies and enter into a kinder relationship with them, the weight thing naturally works itself out. I now define my goal weight to whatever weight serves my life, and that can fluctuate, along with whatever is happening in my life. I’m committed now to shifting the focus away from a fixation on weight and toward building a life I truly love. I’ve noticed that food and weight issues tend to be downstream of issues we’re having in other areas in our lives, or they are the result of not having ways of moving through challenging emotions such as fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame without turning to food.
Criticism #2: Bright Line Eating actively teaches people that they cannot trust themselves or their bodies.
Bright Line Eating takes away your authority about your own body and places it in the hands of an external authority to tell you exactly what, when, and how to eat. People call into BLE coaching calls to get permission to add a few ounces of vegetables to their food plan, to ask whether certain foods are “compliant”, or to get permission to eat a snack on a hiking trip if they get too hungry. The decisions made by these “BLE gods” feel arbitrary at times, and don’t really make a lot of sense. For example, it’s ok to eat pasta made with legumes but not grains. Smoothies and blended foods aren’t allowed, but mashed bananas are fine. When I found out that a serving of edamame was 4 oz instead of 6 oz, I was horrified and devastated that I’d unknowingly been “bad.” I felt immense guilt at drinking kombucha once in a while, eating an apple in the afternoon if I was ravenous, or eating a single square of dark chocolate on a special occasion, even though these things felt completely sane and healthy to me.
In retrospect, it is apparent to me the damage that this mindset caused, because it taught me to disassociate from my body and override hunger and fullness signals with advice like “drink water or distract yourself to get through the hunger pangs” or “eat the entire 14 ounces of vegetables even if you’re too full.” I grew increasingly frustrated from denying myself sane and sensible choices because the program “said so,” which is one of the reasons I eventually left.
Criticism #3: The “food addict” label is not a helpful framing for everyone in the program.
So many people have shared with me that they found the tools of BLE helpful but that they never connected with the food addiction thing. That was my experience too. The “science backed” label of food addict seems to make sense at first, but ultimately can become disempowering and a recipe for fear and shame. It’s just not everyone’s experience in the program. It feels a little extreme to many of us with a history of mild overeating and weight fluctuation to jump to the conclusion that we are addicts for whom “total abstinence” is the only option. But we still want to lose weight, so we take it on anyway.
Criticism #4: Bright Line Eating uses fear, guilt, and shame to try and change eating behaviors.
At first Bright Line Eating feels like a very positive and encouraging place (and it is if your goal is to lose weight and surrender completely to your “addict” diagnosis) but there is also an undercurrent of disempowering and punishing language disguised as support and encouragement. There is a constant focus on “rezooming” every time you “break” your bright lines, which feeds fear and anxiety about how if you fail, you will go “off the rails” and end up “in the ditch.” Bright Line Eating is the most extreme example I’ve seen (with the exception of its 12-step parent) of placing moral judgements on food and eating behaviors, citing questionable “science” about how sugar and flour are the same as heroin to justify why some foods are right and good, and others are wrong and bad. I spent years being afraid of holidays and social gatherings, terrified of what would happen if I ate one bite “off plan,” or worrying that the world would end if I blended a soup. That’s not food freedom, that’s food prison. Self-loathing and fear can motivate us to do things differently, but ultimately I think it’s a dirty fuel for behavior change.
Criticism #5: Bright Line Eating is a growth-oriented program with a fixed mindset around food.
Looking back, I find it strange and inconsistent that a coaching program that places such an emphasis on self awareness and personal growth has such black and white thinking around the issue of eating. The “susceptibility scale” that they use to “diagnose” how addicted to food you are is a very disempowering tool, because it ties us to a fixed story about how we are around food, creates a limiting belief about ourselves, and leaves no room to grow.
I disagree with the premise that how we used to behave means something important about what we are capable of in the future. We might have had certain habits or behaviors in the past, but that means nothing about how our behavior and patterns can change with new awareness and new tools on board. For example, yes, I used to have a bingey relationship with a basket of fries. Does that mean I can’t bring new awareness to that behavior and change my relationship with that food? No. I now have a very peaceful relationship with fries and can happily walk away after eating just a handful. But for years my beliefs about my “susceptibility score” stopped me from learning to enjoy “triggering” foods that I love in a sane way. For a consciousness raising program, they take a strangely unconscious approach to eating.
Criticism #6: It’s not bad to enjoy food.
There’s a saying in BLE that I really hate, which is “we keep our food black and white so we can live our lives in color.” Ugh. This “food should only be fuel” mentality makes me so sad. This idea completely erases the capacity of food to add richness, beauty, and joy to our lives. Food has the ability to give us fuel, nourishment, comfort, joy, happiness, connection with other humans, connection with other beings, connection with the earth, a path for spiritual growth and healing, pleasure, relief from emotional pain, entertainment, and so much more. Why oversimplify something so rich, beautiful, and nuanced?
The messaging in Bright Line Eating promotes a weird, puritanical relationship with pleasure. Food that is too enjoyable is painted as sinful in BLE, and many people have told to me that creating this kind of negative charge and judgement around certain foods caused new binging behaviors that they hadn’t seen before. It reminds me of that scene in Chocolat when the town mayor gives into temptation and goes on an unrestrained chocolate bender. Making something “bad” can have the unintended effect of making it all the more appealing.
How I Transitioned Away from Bright Line Eating
As I began losing confidence in the beliefs I’d taken on in BLE, I slowly began to loosen the structure around my eating with the daily support of three friends who were doing something similar. I practiced listening to my body, responding to hunger and fullness, using mindful eating techniques, working gently with negative body thoughts, and not believing every “should” or “shouldn’t” thought that entered in my head. I put the scale away, let go of the number, watched my body size fluctuate, and consciously chose not to freak out.
Slowly, I began cautiously deviating from my bright lines and finding a little discomfort, but none of the doomsday consequences I’d imagined. I gathered a small support group and we set our sights not just on maintenance but mastery. With lots of support and self-compassion on board, I gradually learned to trust myself again with my food choices. But it did take a while. And it was definitely scary.
My Conclusions About Bright Line Eating
Bright lines and a structured way eating can serve some people indefinitely as a long term lifestyle. I certainly benefited from it for a couple of years. But for others of us, bright lines may only be the beginning of a healing journey with our relationship to food, body, and weight. I eventually outgrew that identity, and I stopped believing that something about me was broken. I chose to adopt the belief instead that growth was possible, and that addressing the underlying issues with my relationship with food was a better approach.
There’s a zen proverb that a snake doesn’t know itself until it’s in a bamboo rod.
Cutting sugar and flour out of my diet and following a highly structured food plan for roughly two years was instructive. I learned a lot about myself during that time, like the snake in the bamboo rod. I learned when and why I look to food to meet emotional needs, and how different foods impact how I feel. The bamboo rod of BLE helped me learn that I love fruits and vegetables. I learned that what I eat for breakfast matters for my energy throughout the day. I learned that food is a source of joy and entertainment for me. I also learned that strict food rules make me feel isolated, disconnected, disempowered, and constrained, and so I eventually moved on. I want my eating to serve my life, rather than my life serving a way of eating.
I won’t deny that the hard reset and clear boundaries that BLE created in my life was helpful for losing weight and shifting my habits. Maybe the kind of life changes I made wouldn’t have been possible without the wall of fear preventing me from straying. But that wall of fear is only helpful as long as it’s intact. Once you start breaking through it and creating a habit of breaking the lines, then they lose their usefulness, because you can’t trust them to hold you anymore.
Would I recommend Bright Line Eating to someone? Honestly, no. Unless you are are suffering medical complications from obesity and are desperate for quick weight loss, I think the disempowering messaging of BLE does more harm than good. BLE offers an extreme solution that can be life-changing and transformational for those with extreme histories and behaviors with food. But I’m not one of those people, and neither are many other BLEers I talk to who are seeking more of a middle path. There are a lot of great things about Bright Line Eating, but ultimately I see it as a dead end for people who want to build a loving and trusting relationship with their bodies.
My Relationship With Food Today
Read more: I learn to eat like a bear
Today, I have finally learned to trust myself around food. I eat freely, and intuitively, and my work right now is about striking a balance between enjoying pleasurable foods and offering my body the same love and kindness I that would a dear friend.
Since I left BLE in 2019, I can say that I have truly arrived at peace and freedom with food. I eat however much I want of whatever foods I want at any time of day, and do not feel out of control when I eat more highly palatable processed foods. I give myself full permission to eat for satisfaction and nourishment, and I rarely find myself overeating. My kitchen is always stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen convenience foods, treats, snacks, and whatever else I want, and I actively practice not making any foods wrong or bad. My weight fluctuates within a normal, healthy range, and my mental energy is free to focus on other aspects of my life like my career as an elementary teacher, relationships, and my food blog side business.
It’s taken work, but I’ve been able to shed my stories about how I think I am around food, so that I can tap into my direct experience and my body’s wisdom to discover what is actually true for me. Through practicing mindfulness consistently, I have learned how to turn less and less towards food to avoid or fix emotional difficulty, and am confident in my ability to navigate swirly food and body moments more skillfully from a calm center.
It turns out that I’m not a food addict, and I can trust myself. I am the best authority about my own body and how I should eat, and I AM capable of maintaining a healthy adult weight, and living in a body that serves a joyful life without fixating on every bite of food I eat. If you want that too, I’m here to say that it’s possible!
If you want to hear more of my thoughts and reflections about my own food journey and my transition away from BLE, you can follow me on social media.
Are You Struggling to Stick to Bright Lines?
Not being able to stick to bright lines consistently might be a sign that you’re ready to explore how flexibility in your eating might serve your life. The tools that I have found to be the most valuable on my own journey have been the mindfulness practices I’ve learned over at Unified Mindfulness, and the neurolinguistic programming (NLP) tools I’ve learned from my good friend and food freedom coach Leslie Thornton (who is also an ex-BLEer). I highly recommend her program for anyone who is looking to break free from their obsession with food.
I have also gotten a lot out of the many great intuitive eating podcasts out there, and I also strongly resonate with the amazing work of Molly Larkin, Jenna Hollenstein, and Dr. Anita Johnston.
Is This Recipe Blog Still for Bright Line Eaters?
I know that I still have many readers who follow BLE. If that is you, please know that it is my goal to support you wherever you are on your own messy path, and I truly honor you and your unique, perfect, winding journey toward peaceful eating and self-love, even if that includes bright lines. Goodness knows I found them helpful for a time too.
Nowadays, I work hard to create recipes and content that is helpful to everyone, including BLEers. However, I am no longer permitted to share recipes explicitly labeled or broken down for their food plan, due to BLE’s new trademark rules. Within these constraints, I do my best to share delicious, sugar and flour free recipes, because I still pretty much eat that way and I love my BLE friendly meals! The only difference is now I just think of them as regular, healthy, delicious meals, and I don’t try to fit them perfectly to the BLE plan. I hope you still find something of value here.
I Want to Hear From You!
If you have spent time in Bright Line Eating, what have your experiences been? If you’re considering the program, did you find this Bright Line Eating review helpful? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]
With great love and respect,
Please see a more comprehensive list of Eat like a bear guidelines the most detailed and complete is Dennis Point Campground MD.