This March, Susan’s first book, Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin & Free, arrived in bookstores.
Here’s what she had to say:
Susan, in Bright Line Eating, you argue that the reason so many people struggle with their weight is that the human brain blocks weight loss. How so?
The human brain was designed to keep us stable in a right-sized body. But modern processed foods and the modern pace of life have hijacked various systems in the brain, and the result is that now, in the present-day environment, the brain does indeed block weight loss.
Here’s how: willpower is a finite resource in the brain. And it doesn’t just help us resist temptations or persevere in the face of challenges – it helps us do all kinds of things, like make decisions (e.g., checking email, going shopping), regulate our emotions (e.g., having kids, being in traffic), and regulate our task performance (e.g., working in Excel, giving a presentation).
After a brief period of time doing any of these things, if we start to think it might be a good time to get something to eat, we’re likely to fall into the Willpower Gap.
This is why so many of us order out for pizza or take-out on a Friday night after a long week, irrespective of how sincere we were when we pledged that this time we would stick with our diet until we lost all our excess weight.
In our modern society, the Willpower Gap is waiting for us, nearly always. Most plans of eating implicitly ask you to rely on your willpower to stick with the plan over the long term. The truth about your brain is that that will never work. You need a plan of eating that assumes you have no willpower at all (because, at any given moment, you may not), and works anyway.
To avoid relying on willpower, you suggest people adopt 4 “bright lines” into their eating habits. What are they?
Bright lines are clear, unambiguous boundaries that you don’t cross, no matter what–similar to how a smoker who wants to quit and get healthy throws up a bright line for cigarettes. The four bright lines I recommend are:
- No added sugar or artificial sweeteners
- No flour of any kind
- Eating only at meals–no snacking or grazing
- Bounding quantities of food, both to make sure you get enough vegetables, and to make sure you don’t eat too much of everything else.
What’s one thing everyone reading this can do right now to improve their chances of maintaining a healthy weight?
To really bridge the Willpower Gap, start writing down what you’re going to eat for the day in a little journal, ideally right after dinner the night before. Do it religiously until it becomes a habit. The next day, your job is to eat only and exactly that, no matter what. Make sure there’s no sugar or flour in your food plan for the day, and, ideally, stick with three meals a day, because three meals are much more automatizable than five or six.
Within a few weeks these habits will be automatic, and eating the right things, and not the wrong things, will start to be as easy as brushing your teeth.
(From original interview by Ron Friedman)