Susan Peirce Thompson struggled for decades to lose weight. She tried everything, from diet books and rigid workout regimens to running a marathon. She even considered having a gastric bypass, an intensive surgery that can involve months of counselling and preparation.

Somewhere along the way, she found a 12-step program geared towards food addiction that set off a light bulb: the conventional rules about eating “everything in moderation” simply didn’t apply to her. She needed real rules – rigid ones.

Since then, Ms Thompson has made a career by speaking to people who’ve faced similar struggles. She advocates a radical approach to food that she calls Bright Line Eating. The programme isn’t for everyone, she cautioned. Instead, it’s geared specifically toward people who’ve grappled with their weight for years – those who find themselves engaged in a constant internal battle in which they berate themselves for eating more than they initially planned.

“For some people,” Ms Thompson said, “eating a little bit scratches the itch, but for others scratching makes it itchier. You indulge a little and then you need more”.

Ms Thompson found herself in this negative loop again and again as she was striving to lose weight. She’d tell herself she’d eat only one slice of pizza, for example and a few minutes later she’d find herself going back to the box for another piece, despite repeated attempts at stopping herself.

Years of work (and a bachelor’s and master’s degree in cognitive science) helped her find the tool she needed to achieve her goals: a set of bright, clearly defined lines.

“If you’re a two-pack-a-day smoker, you can’t just moderate. You need an unambiguous boundary against cigarettes that you don’t cross,” Ms Thompson said. “The same applies to foods for certain people.”

Foods that Thompson has a ‘bright line’ against

The Bright Line Eating approach is drastic and is not intended for everyone, Ms Thompson added.

But for her, it was the only thing that worked. By setting up hard boundaries against certain foods, particularly the kind that are easy to indulge in because they don’t fill us up, she finally felt capable of sticking to her promises and achieving her goals.

“For some people not eating any [of these kinds of foods] is a path to freedom. Just like the non-smoker, after they quit, they can eventually reach a point where they feel free,” Ms Thompson said.

The foods she avoids are many of the same ones that many registered dieticians told Business Insider are the easiest to overeat. Scientific studies in larger populations also suggest that these items are linked with weight gain in the general population, despite being widely available in grocery stores, restaurants and fast-food chains.

They include processed foods like granola bars and cereal as well as any sugar or flour-rich items. But sugar and flour can lurk in dozens of other foods that you may not suspect. Ketchup, barbecue sauce, yoghurt with fruit on the bottom and smoothies are all items that Ms Thompson advises some people cut out entirely. Others may need to simply watch their consumption of these foods, which are ubiquitous in the US.

“It’s really easy to think you’re not eating sugar and flour when you really are,” Ms Thompson said.

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