Bright Line Eating ® (http://brightlineeating.com) is a relatively new diet. It promises unparalleled long-term success rates and with a tag line of “Happy, Thin, and Free” it sounds promising. I eagerly sought out BLE, as I’ll refer to in it in the remainder of my post, in August 2017 when I needed to either lose weight or buy new pants. I shared that story here.
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The reviews available on BLE mostly fall into two different buckets. The pro-BLE reviews offer testimonials and affiliate discount links to participate in the bootcamp. They don’t often talk about the shadow sides of BLE.
The more critical BLE reviews I found are written by people who haven’t actually followed the diet themselves or who tried it, realized it wasn’t for them, and then moved on. Here’s a more critical review for you to check out.
There’s a perspective that is missing here though and it is one I hope to offer you in this review. I was successful on BLE. I followed it almost perfectly for 7 months. I lost 35ish pounds and successfully kept it off. As a woman in my 40’s, I was thrilled to be at a weight that I hadn’t seen since probably 7th grade. I was convinced BLE was the diet I needed and I tried as hard as I could to become an affiliate so that I could share my success and introduce others to it.
Over the course of about a week in March 2018, I abandoned BLE. I was thin but I was far from happy and definitely not free like that plan promised I would be.
As you read this review, keep in mind that I was 100% sold on BLE as my forever way of eating. It was the cumulative effect of the things I’ll write about here that led me to seek out a different source of food freedom even if it meant gaining back some of the weight I had lost.
I’ll repeat that again – I reached a point where peace was more important than pounds.
A Brief Summary of the Diet
The diet itself is really straight-forward and so I won’t spend much time talking about it here. In case, you don’t yet have the 4 bright lines memorized or this is your first exposure to them, here they are:
- No sweeteners of any kind. This includes sugar, artificial sweeteners, natural sweeteners and things like honey and maple syrup. If a sweetener is in the first 3 ingredients of a product, it’s a no-go.
- No flour of any kind. This includes almond flour, rice flour, whole wheat flour, and any other flour your might find. Similarly to the sweeteners, if the word flour is in the first 3 ingredients of a product, it’s not allowed.
- Eating only at meal times. Snacks between meals, after dinner, or before a meal starts are off-limits. In BLE speak, this includes BLT (bites, licks, and tastes) of food at any time including when you are trying to fine tune the seasoning of whatever you are cooking.
- Specified meal food groups and portion sizes. The BLE plan clearly outlines the food groups and quantities for each meal. It includes a road map for a lifetime of maintenance as well and what food groups to add back in and in what quantities.
If you enjoy reading books, the BLE book gives you enough information to start the diet and provides a pretty solid food list. If at the end of this review, you decide you want to give BLE a try, the book is a worthwhile investment.
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3 Ways I Benefited From BLE
There are three ways BLE really benefited me.
Not eating between meals and after dinner broke me of my tendency eat emotionally to offset challenging emotions.
The sheer amount of vegetables I was eating in a day helped me see a new way of structuring my food groups at meal time.
The low carb nature of the weight loss plan healed my insulin resistance and simultaneously eliminated my cravings when they were related to my blood sugar levels.
The term insulin resistance wasn’t familiar to me when I started BLE so here is an excerpt from the Joslin Diabetes Center website that explains what I think was happening in my body.
“ In many cases, the person may actually be producing more insulin than one might reasonably expect that person to need to convert the amount of food they’ve eaten at a meal into energy. Their pancreas is actually working overtime to produce more insulin because the body’s cells are resistant to the effects of insulin. Basically the cells, despite the presence of insulin in the bloodstream, don’t become unlocked and don’t let enough of the glucose in the blood into the cells.”
Applying that information to my own experience, I think I was eating enough food to fuel my body but my body wasn’t actually processing the glucose correctly. Since the cells need glucose to function, the end result was that my cells were hungry long before my stomach was actually empty. More simply, my blood sugar was all out of whack.
The fact that BLE healed my body of this insulin resistance is a really big deal.
I should say here that I never got a formal insulin resistance diagnosis. Even if I didn’t actually have it, I know my blood sugar levels stabalized as a result of following the BLE plan for as long as I did.
For the significance of the positives I outlined above, there are many more ways in which following the BLE plan fundamentally went against my values. I was so allured by the rapid weight loss that I didn’t see the signs until I was done with the diet.
I hope you benefit in some way from the stories that follow.
Compromsing My Values For BLE
Rushing Through Lunch
I was very rarely satisfied after eating a meal. During my 7 months on BLE, this lack of satisfaction manifested during my lunch break at work.
In the morning, I would have breakfast around 6am and pack my lunch for work. Come lunch time, I would usually be really hungry and ready to eat. I’d get everything out of my lunch box and I distinctly remember thinking I needed to eat quickly so that I could “get it over with” and move on to more important things.
I deeply value gratitude and it’s hard to be grateful for something you are trying to rush through to be done with it as quickly as possible.
Full But Not Satisfied
I often was also not satisfied at dinner time. We ate a lot of food at dinner. Most notable was the 10 oz of vegetables. I’ve heard this as a strategy for other diets as well. Namely, load up on vegetables so that you get full and stop eating.
As I mentioned above, eating more vegetables was a good outcome for me. There is a difference between being full and being satisfied. Even with this large amount of vegetables, I very rarely had that happily full feeling that comes from eating just the right amount of a really tasty meal. We did a great job of making our food tasty by using specialty seasonings and the meals were absolutely delicious most nights. They just didn’t “hit the spot” if that makes sense.
Time-Consuming Recipe Conversion
One thing you can do to potentially find more satisfaction with your meals is to try different recipes. Easily being able to do that was another thing that BLE took away from me.
If a recipe had different food group components we’d have to convert it to BLE portions and then measure out a serving size based on that. Even if 1 bowl of homemade soup or chili was more than sufficient for a serving, it would take 15 or more minutes to calculate the serving size just to stay within the plan’s guidelines.
I value flexibility and spontaneity and that was definitely not on the plan.
Honoring Rotten Commitments
I want to give another example of how flexibility and spontaneity weren’t allowed on the plan based upon my experiences in the unofficial BLE Facebook groups.
One of the tools that makes BLE possible is committing your food the night before by writing it down in a food journal. The idea is that you make your food decisions the night before you are faced with them. Then because all the decisions are made already, it will be easier to follow the plan.
In the Facebook groups this came up in conversations as illustrated in the following example. Fictitious Jane would lament that on Monday night she committed to eating salad during Tuesday’s dinner. Now it’s time for Tuesday’s dinner and she’s discovered that the salad is bad. What should she do?
Some responses from members in the group were to eat the bad salad anyway because it was already committed to. Others would say not to eat it but also not to substitute it with anything else. After all, an in the moment decision might lead Fictitious Jane astray!
It’s worth noting here that I saw this come up in the unofficial Facebook groups and I don’t actually know how what people in the paid bootcamps would have recommended.
Regardless, it gives you a sense for the type of conversations that were happening in the BLE diet community. There were more reasonable recommendations as well but they don’t stick out in my mind as I reflect back on my time in BLE.
I should clarify that committing specific foods the night before is seen as a tool and not a strict rule. There were plenty of people I came across who would simply commit to generic vegetables and call it good enough. This bad salad scenario wouldn’t have been a problem for them.
Same Everything, Different Day
Another thing that never completely sat right with me was that the food plan was the same every single day. Just like the cycles in our seasons and in our weather, things are constantly changing and I believe that includes our body’s needs.
Perhaps we need more energy to fight off that stupid cold and we’re hungrier than normal. Or maybe we forgot to take our anxiety meds for 2 days in row resulting in food tasting funny and having no appetite. (That happened to me in real life although it was after I stopped BLE.)
The issue of the food plan being the same every single day also came up in the Facebook groups. I distinctly remember one conversation where someone, let’s call her Jane again, was asking about what to do if she was full but still had food on her plate. Most of the responses from group members were that they would eat all the food regardless of fullness. Similarly, if Jane finished her food was still legitimately hungry, she should not have any more.
The idea was that there will be days that you eat more than your body needs and days when you eat less. The should balance out in the long run. I understand that logic, and I can even say I mostly agree with it. I think days of over or under eating should be the exception though rather than the rule. I value trust and think our bodies are amazing creations with needs and processes that I can never fully understand. The BLE commitment to the same daily food groups and amounts lead me to distrust and ignore my body’s signals.
Traveling Across Time Zones
Based upon my time on BLE, the focus was really on eating in such a way as to maintain a weight at any cost. The assumption was that maintaining a weight would lead to being happy and free.
One situation in which following the plan was more challenging was while traveling across time zones. The recommendation proposed on the plan is to eat your set amount of food but adjust it based upon the time zone of your travel.
For example, let’s say you fly non-stop from Philadelphia, PA to San Francisco, CA. You leave Philly at 7am and it’s a 6 hour flight so you land at 1pm Philly time, just in time for lunch. Except it’s not lunch time in San Francisco. It’s only 10am.
Remember that snacks aren’t allowed so you either need to wait for 2 long hours for lunch or eat earlier than your time zone would indicate. It’s doable, don’t get me wrong and I actually did something similar at least once.
Traveling is stressful enough already. I’d rather not also need to worry about when and where I’m going to eat so that I can stay on plan. I value adaptability but there’s a fine line between adapting in a way that causes more pain and discomfort and adapting in a way that honors the body’s time zone independent need for nourishment.
Happy Birthday to Me
Since I was just talking about time zones, I want to shift to talking about the passing of time for a moment. Specifically, I want to talk about my 40th birthday.
When I turned 40, I had been maintaining my weight loss on BLE for 2 months. I had invited my mother-in-law and my wife to go out to dinner with me at a tasty restaurant called True Food in the Western Philadelphia suburbs.
As far as menus are concerned, theirs is one of the healthiest I’ve seen because it’s based on the principles of an anti-inflammatory diet. In my mind, it was a really smart decision for a birthday dinner. I was comfortable with how I was going to handle my meal and I was even at peace with knowing I wasn’t going to have a birthday dessert. Not the end of the world.
The last time I had been there, I had ordered a tasty dish and I was looking forward to having it again and on my birthday even!
Well, my opinion about my choice changed pretty dramatically and ended up making for a depressing birthday dinner conversation.
See, my birthday came right around the time when the founder of BLE put out her weekly video blog on the topic of food neutrality. What I took away from it was this: If you don’t feel neutral about your food, then it’s a sign of your addiction and something to reign in.
As applied to my birthday dinner the implications were that I probably shouldn’t have a favorite restaurant and I certainly shouldn’t have a meal that I’m looking forward to eating there. Phrases like “favorite restaurant” and “looking forward to” are far from neutral.
I ended up spending a good portion of dinner trying not to feel bad about potentially feeding into my food issues.
All of the above examples of things that were out of alignment were really focused on myself and my individual experiences. There were things that happened which involved my outward focused values as well and I want to talk about them now.
I deeply value connection and community and there are 4 examples that come to mind for me of how BLE did not align with those values for me.
Navigating Pot Lucks
The first example is about church potlucks. I was the leader of my church’s Family Ministry Team and we did a monthly family potluck on the first Sunday of the month.
There is something to be said about busy families taking the time to prepare or buy a dish to share and then spending a part of their likely busy Sunday to have fellowship with other families. It was lovely.
When I was on BLE, I would bring my dish to share but not enjoy the food that others were offering. Instead, I’d return to my chair and get out my massive lunch box and eat my previously measured out food portions.
I realize it is ultimately not important what other people thought of this and, at the same time, it was awkward and uncomfortable. There was at least one instance where everyone else was already done, including the small kids who ate pretty darn slowly. I was still in the midst of eating my 10 oz of plain carrots and everyone else was ready to move on to the planned activity. Finishing what I had brought was important though because my adherence to the BLE rules depended upon it.
If I had continued to stay on the diet, there may have come a time when I would just opt out of the event all together rather that feel isolated from my community.
The second example of when BLE didn’t align with my values of community and connection has to do with large family events like weddings. Two specific instances come to mind which I handled differently.
I was invited to a bridal shower and decided to pack all of my lunch rather than eat any of the provided food. I remember eating my protein, cottage cheese, in the car before heading in and bringing the rest of my food into the party via plastic baggies in my purse. While everyone was up filling their plates, I served up my grapes, carrots, and crackers.
Fundamentally, there was nothing wrong with what I did and it really doesn’t matter what other people thought about it. It was awkward though.
There are events like this all the time in our lives and God knows it’s hard enough to be authentic and vulnerable in order to truly connect with people. This way of eating set me apart from those around me in a very isolating way.
After this experience, I decided to take a different approach when it was time for that wedding to occur. I received the RSVP card in the mail and reached out to the bride to see if the entree options would satisfy the no sweeteners and no flour rules. I figured I would focus on those rules and follow a one plate rule in lieu of measuring my portions.
Of course the bride didn’t know the recipes so I contacted the restaurant to inquire. I needed to find out if there was going to be flour or any sweetener in the main dishes. Am I gluten intolerant? No. I’m just trying to watch my weight and that tablespoon of flour that you are going to put in the sauce to thicken it might set me off.
Perhaps you can tell from my tone that I’m a bit bitter about some of the things I did to abide by the rules of BLE. In hindsight, many of them were dysfunctional. I spent way too much time trying to figure out my food when I should have been focused on celebrating with my loved ones.
The third example of BLE not aligning with my value of community and connection has to do with travel but is quite a bit different than the time zone stuff I mentioned above.
I love to travel and experience other cultures. It’s wonderful to travel abroad and I really appreciate the opportunity to visit local restaurants and taste how authentic <fill in the blank> cuisine tastes.
Shortly after I stopped BLE, I remember traveling to Mexico and tasting authentic Mexican food. It was heavenly. I’m glad I was no longer worrying about following the 4 bright lines at that point because I would have missed out on some delicious and authentic Mexican tacos, burritos, and chips with guac.
Closer to Home
The fourth, and last, example of BLE interfering with connection hits much closer to home. It actually hits IN my home because it has to do with my young son.
One of the reasons it was important to me to get my food stuff figured out is because I wanted to model healthy eating for my son. I figured that getting my weight under control would be a good thing for my son to see. I’m sure seeing us weighing our food portions before dinner wasn’t really the best example for him but the thing that really makes me sad is how it made it impossible for me to foster my son’s sense of curiosity and adventure around new tastes and textures.
I remember one morning, just after I quit BLE, when I made myself a breakfast bowl of chopped up apples, greek yogurt, peanut butter, and BLE compliant cereal. All of the ingredients were compliant by themselves but I didn’t measure them out. The breakfast bowl was heavenly and I thoroughly enjoyed this new combination of flavors and textures. My son noticed and wanted to try my concoction.
If I had still been following BLE, sharing a bite with him with have been a violation of 4th bright line because my portion size would have been off. Protecting every ounce of my breakfast bowl in order to stay on plan would have caused me to miss out on nuruturing my son’s healthy food relationship.
So Many Distractions!
So far, I’ve talked a bit about the plan, and things that BLE gave me and the things the BLE took from me. Before I conclude, I want to talk about the things that I think are getting more attention than they deserve. I think they are distractions and I’ll tell you why.
Distraction 1: Sugar Addiction
There are often alternate explanations to scientific studies and the findings that sugar is more addictive to rats than cocaine has alternate explanations as well. This article in the Guardian does a good job of outlining a different perspective.
Up to this point, I’ve done limited research on this but here are things I’ve come across which are worth noting.
– it seems like the rats were being deprived sugar except during the experiment. Bingeing on it, therefore, is not surprising.
– sugar has calories which means it is fuel for the rat. It makes sense that the rat would choose food over a drug.
If you want to read a bit more about my thoughts on sugar addiction, here a blog I wrote specifically about that.
Distraction 2: The Susceptibility Scale
I’m pretty sure I was 9 or a 10 when I took the BLE quiz initially. Everyone I know that’s taken it has also scored really high. You can take it for yourself here.
Anyone who has ever used food to cope with difficult emotions or difficult situations is likely to rate high. The claim is that a high score makes you more susceptible to food addiction. But what is a food addiction?
I confided in a recovering alcoholic whom I respect deeply and told him that I wasn’t sure I believed in food addiction any more. He pointed out to me that he recognizes that addictions are often just maladaptive coping mechanisms. In the case of the food addiction model, Instead of dealing with <fill in the blank>, I’d turn to food.
There are lots of ways to cope with things though! There are strategies to deal with stress. There are therapists to help us work through troubled childhoods. It isn’t easy work but perhaps even those of us who are 10 out of 10 on the susceptibility scale can learn some alternate strategies.
By itself though, different coping strategies wouldn’t be enough. Diet culture is all around us and we are always evaluating foods and behaviors as good or bad. Just like the restricted rats who would binge on the sugar when they only had access to it for a couple hours per day, humans can fall into that trap as well. And more significantly, many of us have been dieting so hard and for so long that our bodies are starving on some level and thus will crave the quick glucose fix the sugar provides.
My point is this – If you are willing to work on different coping strategies and to challenge diet thinking the susceptibility scale is just a measurement that things have been tough and you tend to turn to food. Signing up for BLE is not the only way out.
Distraction 3: The Diet Works
“Works” in this case is solely referring to weight loss. Even though there are people for whom it won’t work, let’s imagine for a moment that it would work for you.
Now, take the weight loss off the table for a moment. Imagine that following BLE would not result in weight loss. Would you still want to do it?
Besides wanting to lose weight, what do you want your life to feel like around food? What kinds of experiences do you want to have that may involve food? How would following BLE impact those experiences? What are you hoping will happen for you if you lose weight? How can you work towards that even at your current weight?
Distraction 4: The Food List is Long and There’s Bread!
Did you know that one of the most frequent BLE searches is for Ezekial Bread? Ezekial Bread is a sprouted grain bread and as such it is allowed on the plan. So many diets remove bread or carbs these days that a diet that includes bread seems like a dream come true.
The list of foods allowed on BLE is really long. It was one of the things that attracted me to the plan! In reality, my relationship with food is about more than just the food list. The weighing food portions and defined food groups with no variability every day is not made worthwhile just because there are a lot of foods to choose from.
Interestingly enough, when I stopped BLE, I avoided a lot of the things I talked about as my BLE Staples. I was sick of eating them every day is such regimented amounts. I wanted to eat something else! One of the things that I was avoiding was apples because I used to eat them daily. Unfortunately, that daily apple was helping me stay regular so avoiding them had undesirable impact on my digestion.
My point here is focus on how you will be interacting with the foods day in and day out rather than on a specific food being allowed on the plan.
Distraction 5: The Community Support
The diet rules are straightforward but they are challenging to follow given the realities of our lives. They are not shy about the fact that dieters are more likely to succeed when they enroll in the bootcamp. After the bootcamp is over, you’ll be invited to join the costly “Bright Lifers” group.
Community support is nice but is this the type of support you want?
The support is very weight focused. How do I lose weight? How do I maintain my weight? OMG I’ve gained weight!
You are so much more than just your weight. If you are going to be authentic and vulnerable in a community, try to find one where weight is hardly or never talked about. That would ultimately be more aligned with your desire to find peace around food since having peace will mean you think about food less.
When I was participating in the unofficial BLE Facebook groups, I once shared an article that I had read which questioned the sugar addiction model. Boy, was I put in my place! I was shut down for asking a critical question. One of the things I value most about myself is asking questions and digging deeper to get to the core of my truth. Any community in which I can’t do that is one in which I will never be able to be fully engaged.
My last point on the topic of community support is this: What happens if you get to a point when you no longer want to follow BLE? These Facebook groups are for BLE folks only so you’ll have 2 options. 1) stay in the group for the camaraderie but don’t really engage because you don’t follow the diet anymore and that’s the primary topic of conversation and 2) leave the group and the sense of community and friendships you developed that are mostly centered around having a common diet.
Both of those options sound pretty awful.
Distraction 6: The Long Term Success
The studies about long term success with keeping the weight loss off are definitely enticing. Realistically, these folks are mostly following the diet. If you don’t think you can be happy following the 4 lines indefinitely, you can’t look at the success of folks who follow it really closely.
Also worth noting is that folks are highly encouraged to register in this weight loss registry at the end of the bootcamp. We don’t know how many people start the bootcamp and then decide that it’s not for them and never make it to point of signing up for the registry.
My goal in writing all this was to offer you a perspective on BLE from someone who did the program and walked away.
If after reading my review, you’ve changed your mind about trying BLE, come over to my Facebook Group. There are a growing number of people in the group who are looking at alternatives to BLE. Many of us could talk with you about feeling addicted and breaking the cycle of dieting.
If you do decide to try it, please proceed cautiously and consider the following path forward:
If you want a bit more structure, do the 14 day challenge. It’s low cost and leaves out the community aspects. The BLE support groups can be a bit intoxicating and not necessarily good for maintaining a level head with an eye towards long term feasibility. Again, my Facebook group would welcome you and be a great community to support you as you work through the challenge on your own.
As a last resort, consider the bootcamp. If at some point you decide BLE isn’t for you, know that you are not broken. You can learn to trust yourself again and to stop dieting. Look me up if you get to that point. Or, even better join the Facebook group now to stay in touch and get support from non-BLE folks. We are all trying to figure out how to be healthy while simultaneously challenging diet culture.
I’d love to know what impact this review has had on your thinking about BLE. Let me know in the comments and I look forward to connecting with you!