Obesity around the world is an epidemic and 54% of Canadian’s are obese. Why? There really isn’t a single simple reason why. Certainly, excessive amounts of cheap, unhealthy food and sedentary lifestyles don’t help but there are so many factors that contribute to it. Biological, genetic, behavioral, social, cultural and environmental factors influence and contribute to excess caloric intake and inadequate physical activity. There are hundreds of diets out there but most people don’t experience sustained weight loss for any length of time. Unfortunately, the medical community knows very little about obesity and how to treat it successfully because there is no one solution appropriate for all.
Like many, I’ve been obese my entire life. I remember the first time I turned to food for comfort. I was around 6-7 years old and my family had recently moved to a small community. We moved at the end of the school year so I didn’t have a chance to make friends, we lived on the outskirts of town and had no kids close to play with, my parents work consumed them and I was left to my own devices. I was lonely and bored so I ate. This became the theme throughout my life. Food was my friend it provided comfort when I was lonely, sad or anxious, it was a reward for hard work, it was a way to unwind, it was how I showed my love, it was used to celebrate holidays, accomplishments and birthdays. It was a catalyst for connection with family and friends. My weight was my armour it protected me and shielded me from being vulnerable, it was another mask I carried.
I loathed my body and was desperate to be thin so I bought into many diets, pills, shakes, and exercise regimens in hopes it would work, intellectually knowing it wouldn’t. As a Healthcare professional, I was well aware of the health consequences of obesity and was embarrassed that I couldn’t get thin and be a better role model for my patients. When I saw patients with obesity and comorbid conditions I’d discuss weight loss with them superficially. I didn’t have any concrete strategies to assist them to succeed because personally I had never succeeded with it.
On July 21, 2017 I can across an acquaintance on Facebook who raved about a diet she had tried and how it helped her lose a significant amount of weight, desperate, I looked it up. I started reading with skepticism thinking this was another fad diet, but the science was compelling. For the first time in my life Bright Line Eating (BLE), the work of Susan Pierce Thompson explained why I wasn’t successful at losing weight and reassured me that I wasn’t a failure. I learned that my brain was different, why I can’t have a cheat day, why when I started a new diet and exercise regimen with enthusiasm at the same time I’d give up after 3 weeks and why I had strong cravings, hunger, and obsessive thoughts about food daily.
BLE explained that my brain was extremely susceptible to addictive substances (sugar and flour). I learned I’m a Food Addict/Compulsive Overeater which was a relief in one aspect but also difficult to accept.
To be honest I’m still trying to accept and surrender to that reality 16 months into this journey. I desperately want to be like everyone else and have moderation in my life. If I reflect on my life and family history I come by it honestly as alcoholism runs in my family. Besides overeating I show other signs of excess in my life such as being a workaholic and perfectionist these, however, are socially acceptable but this inability to have moderation is the key to addiction. Fortunately or unfortunately I didn’t have health consequences from my obesity, I didn’t suffer from diabetes or hypertension, it did make living life more difficult but I didn’t recognize that until I lost the weight. As for the consequences of being a workaholic and perfectionist I suffered greatly with poor self-worth, suffered from deep depression and anxiety which eventually lead to a major burnout but even having that happen I didn’t equate this having anything to do with my addiction, a rock bottom so to speak. As I reflect, learn and accept that I am a food addict/compulsive overeater all of this becomes crystal clear.
Susan Pierce Thompson has a Ph.D. in Brain and Cognitive Sciences and has spent her career researching and teaching the psychology of eating. Susan didn’t recreate the wheel with her program, BLE is based on a 12 step addiction model but what she has done is pair it with science and make the program less restrictive to appeal to a greater audience. The research that she presents shows how sugar and flour (ground white substances) light up the brain like cocaine does and how it creates constant cravings and insatiable hunger in susceptible individuals. She also explains that most people fail at dieting because of the following reasons:
They rely on willpower and we live in a world that quickly depletes that.
We believe moderation can work and that everyone deserves a cheat day ( this only works for people who are low on the susceptibility scale – check out http://www.brightlineeating.com to see what your susceptibility is).
We make exceptions constantly and don’t follow our meal plans because it’s someone’s birthday, it was a hard day at work, its a holiday or we just deserve it – essentially there is always some reason to make an exception.
We believe exercise will assist us in losing weight. Exercise is amazing for many things but it’s not proven to be helpful for weight loss and unless it’s a strong part of your routine already it will deplete your willpower.
We see a diet as just that a diet and not a long-term sustainable lifestyle change.
We don’t have a plan for maintenance after we lose our weight.
I first want to say that I don’t think BLE is meant for everyone but it is what has saved me. My journey with BLE hasn’t been perfect and there are days it is downright hard. It is hard for many reasons such as :
The world is full of sugar and flour and it is exhausting avoiding it.
Not all of my family and friends are supportive.
I have to learn to recognize and feel my emotions and not numb them with food.
I have to learn and experience the world in a new way and grieve the losses.
I have to make this lifestyle (my recovery) my first priority and it consumes a lot of time and energy.
I have to make my personal self-care my first priority above everything including my husband and daughter.
However, no matter how hard it is at times, there are days when it’s easy and the peace I get from not obsessing about food and feeling physically, emotionally and mentally well is invaluable. At this point in my BLE journey, it is less about food and more about healing the things that make me want to soothe myself with food. Learning to feel my emotions, show myself extreme self-compassion, reach out for support and be vulnerable, as well as letting go of perfection have been major lessons. Essentially I’m trying to unlearn 30 years of coping mechanisms and rewire my brain and that doesn’t happen overnight. Enjoying the journey and continuing to show up for myself when I fall has led me to losing my armour of 80 lbs and keep it off for the last 6 months. Losing my armour was one of the first steps in getting to know myself.
The benefits I`ve noticed from abstaining from sugar and flour and losing the weight have been numerous but here are a few:
I don’t struggle with depression and my anxiety is better managed.
I have a lot of energy and don’t get a 3 pm slump.
I don’t have brain fog anymore.
My skin is clearer.
I have more self-confidence.
I want to exercise and it is easy.
Being overweight is hard and losing weight is hard. Choose your hard. Unknown.