The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #176 - Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.
Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester and an expert in the psychology of eating. She is President of the Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and the Founder and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions, a company dedicated to helping people achieve the health and vibrancy that accompany permanent weight loss. Her program utilizes cutting-edge research to explain how the brain blocks weight loss and every day she teaches people how to undo that damage so they can live Happy, Thin, and Free.
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Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin and Free
Rezoom: The Powerful Reframe to End the Crash-and-Burn Cycle of Food Addiction
13:00 - susan's personal story
20:30 - from one addiction to another
23:00 - moment of insight
26:50 - defining addiction
28:30 - why society doesn't think food can be addicting?
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41:00 - what would treatment look like?
44:04 - intuitive eating
46:00 - dopamine levels in people who dont become addicted
47:40 - brightline eating approach and remission
51:20 - raising kids and their food habits
54:00 - the division of responsibility - ellyn satter
55:00 - the genetics of addiction
57:00 - exercise addiction
57:45 - go vs. no go pathway
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1:07:00 - the context around consuming addicting foods
1:10:20 - how do you refrain relapse?
1:19:20 - implementing parts work
1:20:30 - rezoom reframe
1:22:30 - how should you define success?
1:27:15 - using fasting as a boundary
1:32:00 - the catalyst to writing rezoom
Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends, welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I am about to have. Here's the backstory on today's conversation. Quite a while ago, I was looking up this book, came out in 2017, and I think I read it in probably 2018. But there is a very well-known book called Bright Line Eating the Science of Living Happy, Thin and Free. It was a New York Times bestseller. I read it, like I said, around the time that it came out it really resonated with me because it spoke to a theme that personally works for me, which is the idea in the-- well, I guess really in anything but particularly in the dieting world, freedom that comes through bright line. Freedom comes through boundaries and having a system and rules and regulations and how that ultimately can really, really work for people, and it doesn't have to be restrictive. And it really is the way I personally live my life when it comes to diet and food and all of that. So, I had been dying to interview the author on this show.
And then more recently, she released a new book called Rezoom: The Powerful Reframe to End the Crash-and-Burn Cycle of Food Addiction. And the publisher actually reached out to book her on the show. And I was so excited because I'd been dying to interview her. So, it was an immediate yes even before reading the book. And then I read the book. And okay, I am so excited because basically, this book talks about something that I think is so important but is not addressed that much in the whole world of books and literature and resources that help people with dieting and food addiction and things like that. It's a lot of concepts that we will go into in this episode but basically, the issue of when you are following a food plan that works for you, the constant worry and anxiety you have about "falling off the wagon," and losing your progress or losing your success and then on top of that, if you do, "fall off the wagon," and we can talk about it through even as a wagon. But if you do that, how to get back on? How to rezoom, how to reframe everything? I just think this is such a valuable conversation. I can't wait to dive deep into it. I have so many questions, but I am here with Susan Peirce Thompson, the author of those books. Susan, thank you so much for being here.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Thanks, Melanie. It's great to be here with you.
Melanie Avalon: I'll just give the credentials to the audience so they are a little bit more familiar if they're not. You have a Ph.D., and you're an adjunct associate professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. Which right before this, I don't know why I think that was in the UK, that is in New York. You're also the president of Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and the founder and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions and the author of these books. To start things off, I actually am really curious how much my audience has read your books, but something I really love in your books is just how much detail you go into about your personal story and journey with everything. I think there's so many pieces that even with me things that I relate to. Could you tell listeners a little bit about your personal journey and what originally led you to Bright Line Eating and then also the things that happened that made you realize the need for this second book, or this other book? You have another book in between like a workshop type of--?
Susan Peirce Thompson: Actually, yeah, the second book is a cookbook and then Rezoom is the third book. Yep, and I'm working on my fourth book right now.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, congratulations.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Yeah, okay, so, yeah, my personal story. I think like most people who are deep in a field of professional endeavor, I came to it really organically and honestly. It's my background. Not just with the food though, really, my background started with drug addiction. So, I could honestly say that food addiction preceded drug addiction but it wasn't fully formed yet. Food addiction was there in nascent form when I was a kid. But when I was 14, I found drugs and that came on fast and furious. I graduated from the usual high school weed and pot experimentation that then by sophomore year, I was doing a lot of psychedelics and ecstasy. And by junior year, I was doing a lot of crystal meth, snorting a lot of speed. When I found speed, I was so into it because I already was, I guess distressed about how much I focused on food how much my need to eat in ways that felt unhelpful, unhealthy, just too much focus on food. Yeah, it was already bothersome. And so, when I found speed and I didn't need to focus on food anymore, because speed totally takes away your appetite and your focus on food, that was just a revelation to me, and I was super into it. I did speed for a couple of years really to the depths of drug-induced psychosis, I dropped out of high school, crystal meth basically. I use the term speed and crystal meth interchangeably. I don't know if there's any molecular difference, but it's basically snorting white powder of amphetamine, basically. Yeah, I just burned my life to the ground with that.
And then, as a high school dropout, I floundered for quite a while. I did quit speed finally with the help of my dad. Didn't do any sort of program or rehab just quit and never went back to it, thank God. But then, I was really only clean for a brief time and then I found cocaine, and then I learned to freebase cocaine, and then I was smoking crack off the street. At some point, along the way, I started to prostitute with an agency and started to make a lot of money doing that. And then, at the age of 19 and 20, I was just doing drugs and and living on the streets basically, and that's what I was doing.
When I was 20 years old, I had a moment of clarity in the crack house that I used to smoke all the time. It was just one of these moments that you just can't explain. There wasn't anything that remarkable about it, except that I had been living in such a state of numbness and non-consciousness for so long. I hadn't really ever chosen the life that I was living. It was just this long series of creeping nonchoices where one thing just sort of begat the next and there I was.
In that moment, it was a Tuesday morning, and August of 1994, it was actually August 9th, 1994. And I had been smoking crack all weekend, long, day, after day, after day after day, day into night, day into night, day into night nonstop. I had a shaved head, I had a blonde wig on my head, I was just 20 years old, I just turned 20, about six weeks prior to that. And I wasn't smoking crack rocks at the time, I was just sitting there staring at the wall, and there was a couple kicking heroin off to my left. They were twitching, like fish on the deck of a boat that are out of the water, they're like twitching. And I was just sitting there suddenly I was just awake, like alert, like really present. And I just looked around this room and looked at myself, and my life just opened up in front of my eyes. Kind of where I've been, and the expectations I had when I was a little kid doing really well in school thinking I'd go to Harvard someday. And there I was, a high school dropout, years since I'd been in school, just, doing nothing with my life.
And I suddenly had this knowing that was so deep. And it said, "If I don't get up, and get out of here this second, this is all I'm ever going to be." And I could see or feel or intuit I guess that if I didn't leave, right that moment, my future would be a long succession of cleaning up and then relapsing, cleaning up and then relapsing, cleaning up and then relapsing, prostitution, drugs, cleaning up relapsing on into infinity. Not that I was going to die, I was just going to keep living in those cycles. And I just knew it. I stood up and I grabbed my coat and I walked out the door.
Melanie, I didn't have any knowledge of addiction at the time, I didn't have any tools for really changing my life. And so, what happened next is the real miracle. Later that night, I had a date, a first date with a guy now this wasn't for money. This was an actual date, like normal people have dates, with this really cute guy that I met at a gas station at 3 in the morning a few nights prior. He picked me up at this gas station. He was driving this old beat-up pickup truck. And we'd exchanged numbers. Now, he knew that I was a call girl. He used to drive for a call girl. So, he saw my pager, and he saw how I was dressed. And it was the middle of the night and I was answering a page. This was 1994, I had a cell phone, no one had cell phones in 1994. But I was making a lot of money as a call girl. He was sober at the time, but he was an active sex addict. So, he was clean and sober off drugs and alcohol, but he was active in his sex addiction.
And so, he picked me up and we exchanged numbers. We'd been talking on the phone in the interim and we had our first date that night. He took me to a meeting like a 12-step meeting for drug and alcohol recovery that night. Now, this meeting had hundreds of people at it, it was like the place to be. And it was just where he liked to go on a Tuesday night. This meeting was called Tuesday Downtown in San Francisco. And we were going to go out afterward. But he took me to this meeting. He didn't go thinking of me, he went thinking of himself, but I got into this meeting, and I got a 24-hour coin. And I've been clean and sober since that night, that was 28 years ago. That experience right there is the turning point of my whole life. It's really through the 12 steps and meetings and recovery and so forth that I got introduced to addiction and recovery and the kind of brain that I have. People didn't talk about it in those terms, but I came to learn I have a very addictive brain.
What happened after I got clean was immediately my food addiction took off and I gained a lot of weight, which I knew I would because when I quit speed, I gained a lot of weight as well. I knew that when I quit smoking crack, that I would gain a lot of weight which happened. My life got better. I started doing well academically. I went to San Jose City College and got straight A's and transferred to UC Berkeley and got straight A's and got 4.0's and spoke at the graduation at UC Berkeley and majored in cognitive science, I started studying the mind and the brain. Meanwhile, my food addiction was raging. So, I was writing papers, eating snacks, like a box of brown sugar would be a snack that I would eat as I was writing a college paper.
And so, I was gaining and gaining and gaining weight, fighting it, trying to go to the gym, I started going to 12-step meetings for food. But food is trickier. So, depending on what meetings you go to, you may or may not get any clarity about what to eat or not eat or what your bright lines for food should be, what the equivalent of the first drink is, which the alcoholic knows whether they're taking the first drink or not. But the food addict doesn't always know whether they're taking the first bite or not. It's actually really tricky. So, I started going to 12-step meetings for food. Went to graduate school, five years later had my Ph.D. in Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Did a postdoc in Sydney, Australia. It was about eight years later that I finally found food recovery in the form that I have it today where I don't eat sugar, I don't eat flour, I weigh and measure my food. So, I was 28 before I lost my excess weight. By the time of my mid-20s, I had clinical obesity, my weight climbed up that much. And now, I'm a US size 4 in women's sizes. I'm slender today, and I have been for gosh, what's it been now? 18 years, 19 years.
Anyway, I started studying the mind and the brain and I got really interested in food and food addiction. Now how I came to the academic study of food addiction is another story. But I should take a breath there, and at least just pause. That's my backstory of drug and alcohol and food addiction and recovery essentially.
Melanie Avalon: It's like reading a novel. It's a page-turner. Okay, I have so many questions already. So, you study the brain and cognitive science. I was just thinking because you were talking about that epiphany moment you had where you realized that was going to be your life. People have these moments of insight where they make drastic changes thereafter, from an evolutionary perspective in the brain, what would lead to that? Because presumably, the actions that we're doing at any time, I'm guessing, I feel like everything we're doing is a survival mechanism. So, what do you think is the survival mechanism behind a moment of insight?
Susan Peirce Thompson: That's a great question. We teach insights in introductory psychology. The main takeaway of what we teach is, well, first of all, it's a thing. It exists, the eureka moment. What's the story of the guy that gets in the bathtub? He has been trying to figure out how to figure out the volume of a misshapen object or something like that and he gets in his bathtub and the water goes up by a little bit. It jumps out of the bathtub, shouting, "Eureka." And the idea is he had this moment of insight where you could use water displacement to figure out the volume of a misshapen, three-dimensional object. Well, what we know, and we've studied this with chimpanzees and with humans and so forth, giving people problems to work on and so forth, and moments of insight happen, but the interesting thing is that they don't come out of the blue. They come after someone's been noodling on a problem for quite a while. And all of that precursor work matters. It folds into the moment of insight. So, I guess I must have been-- and I'm not answering your question, and I know that.
Melanie Avalon: No, you actually are. I was like, "This is what I was actually wondering." Yes.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Yeah. And so, I must have been thinking about my state and my condition. And I know that prior to that my dad, who had been so instrumental in helping me get off crystal meth, had been confronting me about my crack smoking. He'd discovered that I was smoking crack. He'd also discovered that I was prostituting myself and he'd been trying to work with me to get me to quit. And I'd been telling him, "Frankly, I don't think I can, Dad. It's got me. I don't think I can quit." And there was a moment I remember, we were at a cafe together, and he got me to throw out my crack pipe, I had a really fancy accoutrement of smoking crack, there's a specific lighter, a specific pipe, a specific little baggie to hold it all in and whatever and I had thrown it all out in the garbage. I remember I just went and bought other stuff, like I still had the stuff to smoke with. But I remember, all that to say I guess the moment of clarity didn't come out of the blue, I'd been sort of thinking about quitting, I'd been imagining if I could quit. And so, all of that was sort of leading up to the big moment where I just decided to get out of there. But again, the 12-step meeting was what made it work. I ended up becoming a real-- two meetings a day, got a sponsor, worked the steps. It's really the recovery community that ended up saving my life. On my own, I probably would have stayed dry for two or three weeks and then I would have picked up a beer thinking that was innocuous, because at the time, that wasn't really my issue and I would have been right back to it, for sure.
Melanie Avalon: That ties into a large topic in the book, and something that will probably be very valuable to discuss and so, that's defining some words. This concept of addiction, you go into this deep in the book, and it's honestly-- I was shocked reading how society views addiction, particularly when it comes to food, and how it's just not a thing. You go through the 11 criteria for addiction, which all of them you can apply to food just very clearly, maybe we can go through some of them.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Sure. Some of them are so obvious that it's ridiculous. Like failure to cut back, repeated attempts to cut back on your use without lasting success. And it's sort of like "Uh, hello, multibillion-dollar diet industry." Some of them are just so obvious. Or continued use despite harm where it's all the people are getting leg amputations because of their diabetes, of the people who get a leg amputated because of type 2 diabetes, 55% of them will have their second leg amputated after two years. As if we can't point to that and say, "Oh, my gosh. Continued use despite harmful consequences." Could you have a more clear example? So, yes, food hits all of the categories, and then some.
Melanie Avalon: Like time spent acquiring, I think about how many people will go to get their food and go out of their way to get these things. And the shocking moment, every now and then there are moments and I can like remember when I hear it because I was listening to the audiobook-- Oh, which by the way, listeners, Susan, actually narrates audiobooks. My mouth dropped open, because you went through the criteria. And I was like, "Yeah, so food can pretty much fit all of these." And then, you said it only requires two of those to qualify as an addiction for anything else that you're applying it to. Why do you think society doesn't view food as an addiction?
Susan Peirce Thompson: Yeah, I think there's two big reasons. One is a fancy, hoity-toity, academic, historical reason. And one is just a gut-level human reason. I'll just do the gut-level human reason first, and that's that the people who decide these things have food addictions themselves, a lot of them, and don't want to face it. I hadn't really thought that that was likely in the mix until I had a conversation. I don't know that he would want me to make public this particular thing he said. I won't say who it was in particular, but it was an individual's a gentleman who has a lot of academic degrees to his name and even like being the past president of the most major addiction society in the United States. Okay, so big time addiction expert.
And I was talking with him at a conference recently. It was actually the first international conference on food addiction, which was just held recently in the UK, and he was one of the keynote speakers. I asked him point blank, whether he thought that the upcoming application of food addiction to the DSM was going to be accepted. We both think it's probably not yet, that it's going to be accepted sometime in the next 10 years probably, but maybe not this round. There is a petition that's going into-- the DSM for the listeners who don't know is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And so, it's the catalog that has schizophrenia, and depression and anxiety and substance use disorder, and so forth. And there's a petition going in right now with a list of 400 research, peer-reviewed journal articles, in substantiation to say, "Hey, food addiction should be in there." I said, "Do you think it's going to make it in?", and he said, "Probably not." He said he was privy to the committee's deliberations when sex addiction was petitioned to get in which is still not in there, by the way, which should be. And he said he knows someone on the committee, this is why I didn't want to say his name, he knows someone on the committee who has a full-blown sex addiction and who argued, vehemently that this should not be included. And he said, frankly, these committees are human beings, and my research shows that probably one-third of people have a food addiction that's strong enough that it could be classified, as highly food addicted, about 20% of the population have an extreme food addiction, like diagnostically severe food addiction 20%. But probably two-thirds of society have enough food addiction on board that if they try to do something like lose some excess weight, it's going to stop them from being successful. Two-thirds of society. This is not a trivial problem, and so enough of the committee are going to see food addiction in themselves that it's going to be problematic.
Now, interestingly, the people who don't have it are also going to have a problem where they're going to be like, "What are you talking about, I eat cookies and pizza all the time, chocolate chips all the time, and I don't have a problem." Then, they're going to think it's not addictive because they're missing a very basic nuanced point, which is that food addiction exists on a continuum, and there are some people who are simply not susceptible. They're not susceptible to any addiction, it turns out, research shows, which is a fascinating thing. Note to the audience, when you hear people say, "Everyone's addicted to something," they're wrong. About one-third of people are not susceptible to addiction at all. Now, that's not to say that they don't have bad habits, but addiction goes beyond a bad habit. Addiction is using when you don't want to be using anymore. You've been trying to cut back or stop altogether, and you cannot stop, despite all the harmful consequences, despite your best efforts. That's addiction.
Anyway, that's the mundane reason I think that food addiction is not accepted in society because the powers that be, some of them have it and they are in denial to some extent and don't want to accept the label for everyone. The other reason has to do with a very specific and very powerful and important quirk of history, which is that starting in the 1970s, when the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa came on the scene, treatment approaches started to develop for those disorders. And without any knowledge of the brain, because we didn't have a sophisticated neuroscience of eating disorders or food or food addiction yet, that would emerge later, without any knowledge of the brain, the best guess on how to treat these disorders was to try to get these folks to eat like normal eaters eat. Which is to say eat everything in moderation, don't worry about it too much, don't have big rules about what you can and can't eat, because people with anorexia and bulimia nervosa are famous for sort of having these food rules. Like the anorexic might only eat 300 calories a day or only eat two bites of food at a time. I mean, there can be, a whole list of whatever rules/
So, going into treatment, these folks would immediately be forced to abandon their food rules and start to eat all foods including foods like cupcakes and cookies and chips and ice cream and all the foods including desserts multiple times a day, eating all foods, no rules. That's the deal. All foods in moderation, no bad foods. And so, what happened is that mode of treatment wove its way into psychological lore like, "This is the way it's done." And people with master's degrees and counseling psychology, clinical psychology, master's in social work, eating disorders, treatment, addiction treatment, all of these folks who were trained to treat people with eating disorders developed the impression from their academic studies that it's bad to have food rules, that the only healthy way to eat is to eat everything in moderation.
Now, meanwhile, over on the side here, the study of the brain has galloped ahead and to people who study the brain, food addiction is not controversial. You can point to it on a brain scan, and you can just say, "Look, there's the nucleus accumbens. There's where the dopamine receptors have been blown out by eating all this ultra-processed food. Look at how that looks exactly like the brain of a cocaine addict. Exactly like the brain of a heroin addict. Exactly like the brain of a late-stage alcoholic." And food addiction is unequivocal. I mean, it's just not controversial, that ultra-processed foods hit the addiction centers in the brain, just like drugs of abuse, period, full stop. It's obvious. So, food addiction is just real. It's just a fact.
But you still have all of these people saying food addiction is controversial, I think because as soon as you accept food addiction, then you have to say, "Well, what would treatment look like?" And now some sort of abstinence comes into the mix, and now you've got these food rules that look frighteningly like the rules of the anorexic or the bulimic. "I don't eat sugar, I don't eat flour, I weigh and measure my food," which turns out to be the prescription for someone who's got a late-stage food addiction, and there you go. Look around, when you see the people saying it's controversial, they come from that background, the sort of eating disorders treatment, which is often right hand in hand with the intuitive eating approach. And not to say that that's bad, or that that's not a helpful treatment for certain kinds of things. It's just not a helpful treatment for food addiction. And food addiction is not anorexia, it's not bulimia, they're different. So, that's the historical origin of the resistance to food addiction as a concept. But it's just a matter of time. I think people in society generally, if they're paying attention, they know food addiction is real. It's just pretty obvious. So, yeah.
Melanie Avalon: I would love to be in that meeting when they present and hear the arguments on both sides. I would love to hear the side of why they think it's not an addiction.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Yeah, me too. Well, we got an answer back from the ICD. So, the DSM is only the handbook of choice in the United States pretty much. Worldwide, it's the ICD, which is put out by the World Health Organization. And our petition to the-- I say I. I wasn't one of the authors of the petition, but I'm in the community of professionals who are in support of this. And the petition to the ICD was rejected. This was just a year ago or so. There were a lot of reasons. One is, I think, potentially fair, which is that more research needs to be done. Now, not on that food addiction is real, but really on what recovery looks like, like evidence-based recovery is not well studied yet. I've actually published, the lion's share of the work on it, which is to say just a few studies. There aren't many on what recovery looks like. And so, when you're talking about medical diagnoses and treatments, okay, they have a fair point that we need more research on the treatment side. And it's hard to get research on treatment when treatment modalities are expensive and aren't covered by insurance because we don't have a disease diagnostic category yet. So, it's a little bit of a chicken and an egg problem.
Melanie Avalon: I find it really interesting that you can diagnose based on not eating, but you can't diagnose based on eating, like with anorexia. Yeah, I know more factors go into anorexia than just the not eating part of it.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Yeah. Well, that's some of what they said actually. In the ICD rejection, some of it was, "What here is not covered by other diagnoses?" And so, they're talking about binge eating disorder, for example, which I think does share a lot of features of food addiction. So does bulimia. As a matter of fact, one-- actually, Gerhardt and her colleagues published a study showing that patients with active bulimia nervosa, 100% of the time qualify for food addiction. Once they're in remission, only 30% of them qualify for continued food addiction. So, the ICD was in part saying, "We already have diagnoses for eating disorders." One of the differentiators though is someone with a food addiction not necessarily an eating disorder would find peace through abstinence from processed foods, which isn't necessarily what someone would experience if they don't have a food addiction.
Melanie Avalon: I'm really fascinated by that stat you said about a third of people not actually having addictions. So, is it those? And you touched on that, and you also touched on the hot topic word of intuitive eating. Is it those people who don't have addictions who can safely do intuitive eating and then to people who have addictions, if the addiction relates to food, is intuitive eating probably always not going to pan out so well?
Susan Peirce Thompson: Yeah, pretty much. Generalizations tend not to work, because there's always exceptions at the margin but if you're going to paint with a broad brush, I would say that's going to come out to be a nice picture. Yeah, pretty much, pretty much. So, just to restate, a third of people don't have susceptibility to addiction at all. And I mean, literally, they're not going to get hooked on cigarettes, they're not going to get hooked on caffeine, they're not going to get hooked on heroin. Even if you shoot them up with heroin every six hours, every day, they're not going to get hooked on it. You could say, "Well, that's ridiculous. Heroin is physiologically addictive. Of course, they are." And what I mean is, yeah, they'll develop tolerance. And if you stop shooting them up with heroin, they'll go through withdrawal. But they'll be grateful to get off it and they won't go looking for another hit. It's so weird, but it's true.
We send people home with-- not we, I'm not a physician, but they send people home with heavy opiate prescriptions after surgeries after back surgery. Some people have to take opiates every four to six hours for months and years. And then when it's time to wean off, some people are just happy to wean off, easy. Which is like, "What?" There are people who don't need their morning cup of coffee, like they'll have it or not, like they'll have it most mornings. And it's like, "What?" Or they'll have a cigarette at a concert, maybe another one, and then they won't even think about cigarettes for another few months. It's just bizarre, but it's true. They're not addictable. But most people are somewhat addictable, and then a third of people are highly addictable. So, yeah.
Melanie Avalon: Their dopamine levels, are they different from people who have addiction issues?
Susan Peirce Thompson: Interesting question. I don't know if the research on this is in that way. I don't know if that's been studied. Actually, I literally don't know of a study that shows that. What I do know is that their brains orient differently toward the cues that predict the rewards, which is an interesting thing. So, when a reward comes, they just focus on the reward, and they're like "Oh, that's nice." The addictable brain is really keyed into all the preceding cues that predicted that reward and gets sucked in, develops an affinity, an affection, an appreciation, a draw toward the cue that predicts that reward, which sucks it into a certain environment. It draws it toward a certain context. Suddenly, they're picking up the substance again, or engaging in the process if it's a behavioral addiction. And so, it's the brain that focuses on all the environmental or tangible cues that predict rewards, that predict the hit that's coming, that gets trapped in the flytrap, if you will. The brain's sort of just like "Oh, look, a hit. Wee, that was good. Thanks." They don't get stuck in the flytrap. So, it's a differential wiring of the brain around the cues. And so, the addictive brain has heightened cue sensitivity, whereas the nonaddictive brain does not.
Melanie Avalon: That's what I was wondering. That makes sense. When people implement a system, I guess, an abstinence-based system that works for them for their food addiction, maybe we can briefly discuss the Bright Line Eating approach, is that remission? Is that a cure? How easily can somebody just fall back into their old ways?
Susan Peirce Thompson: Yeah, great question. Okay, so it's not a cure. Remission is a great word. You can put the disease in remission, and you can put the active manifestation of the food addiction or whatever addiction into remission. But once you've been addicted, you always have the brain of an addict. In particular, your brain has already wired up once to the cues that predict those particular rewards, and that wiring up process takes time. It takes a lot of instances within a specific domain, a domain like food, shopping, gambling, sex, or whatever. It takes a lot of experience to wire up an addiction. Addictions don't wire up like, boom, on the first use. And then, once the brain has gone through that wiring up process that's laid a lot of fiber tracks in the brain and they still exist, unfortunately. I teach people to think of them as dry riverbeds. So, you could ask, "Well, how long does it take to build a habit? How long does it take to develop an addiction?" And the answer is, "Well, it's like water running over dry land. How long does it take to groove a river? Well, the longer the water flows, the deeper the riverbed gets." And when you stop the water flowing in the river, you still have a dry riverbed, and you will always have a dry riverbed. Now, it might become grown in with shrubs, and leaves and branches and just detritus and stuff just from lack of use. But if you start putting water down that riverbed at all in any volume, those leaves and branches are going to just wash away, and you will very quickly have a rushing river again.
Now, the thing about relapse is it's the parts of us, and I'm assuming we're going to start talking about parts at some point, it's the parts of us that have a freakout around the breaking of abstinence that can accelerate the flareup of a relapse so that it literally can be that in a nanosecond, you're back to as bad as ever. But even without hyperperfectionistic parts and massive addictive indulger jump parts of us jumping in to accelerate the relapse, the brain never forgets. It's just the reality. We've done studies on people who learned French for the first year and a half of their lives, and then were whisked away to Thailand or whatever. Then, they learned French again at the age of 80 and they still learned it super-fast compared to someone who had never been exposed to French at all. The brain just doesn't forget once it's learned something, that learning is there and dormant in the brain from then on. So, that's the neural substrate of the "once an alcoholic always an alcoholic adage," it really is true. And it just has to do with the way neural wiring works.
Melanie Avalon: That makes me wonder, just the role of-- I think often-- and maybe there's a little bit of a tangent, but often in society, people might think with kids, let them eat things while they're kids, and then when they're adults, they can make better choices. But it's like maybe you shouldn't expose kids to that at all and then let them make choices once they're adults, or does it not matter when you start? If you've never been exposed to addictive foods and have that experience, then could that happen as an adult later, I suppose?
Susan Peirce Thompson: It can happen at any age. But as a parent of three kids, I got to tell you raising kids to eat anything [laughs] in our society, is about the worst nightmare that I can imagine. Really trying to figure out how to feed your kids in this society, if you're conscientious, is really, really hard. Unless you live in a commune somewhere, in a compound in the woods somewhere, and all that everyone's eating is just pure, whole real healthy food, and there just isn't any other option. But if you're living in society, and kids are going to birthday parties, they're going to restaurants that are going to food gatherings at a religious place or a school or whatever, the challenge is you're faced with your kid's brain comparing whatever food you're serving at home to what they're getting out there. And they know the difference. They know that at some point they're going to notice, "Hey, the food we eat, there's nothing to eat in this house." And even my kids will say there's nothing to eat in our house even though they eat so much crap from my perspective. They're eating food in my house that I would never eat, most of it And yet, their perspective is there's nothing good to eat in our house because the gap still between what we eat in our house and what they're getting out there in the world is so enormous. It's just torture trying to feed kids in this society. It really is.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I don't have kids and I don't know if I ever will, but that's actually a primary reason I don't want those. I don't want the responsibility of dealing with that. It just seems like a lot to deal with. So, I applaud you.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Well, really quick just on this and then we can close out this topic. Ironically, the saving grace of feeding kids comes from someone who is an ardent staunch disbeliever in food addiction, God bless her. But she's got a method for feeding kids that I've used all the way through, and it's saved me pretty well. I don't know, my kids are 14, 14, and 11, still a little too early to tell, who knows, if they'll end up scot-free or totally saddled with food addiction, I have no idea. But this method has really worked, and so I just want to mention it for any listeners, it's called the Division of Responsibility, and it's by a woman named Ellyn Satter. And then I'll spell that because you can get her stuff on her website, and she's got some really good books, Ellyn, E-L-L-Y-N, Satter, S-A-T-T-E-R. She doesn't believe in food addiction, and she teaches a moderation-based approach, which for kids, I think is the right way, I don't think either extreme is going to be good for kids. Let them eat everything or only feed them kale and tofu, I don't think either approach is going to be effective like some middle road is what's needed for kids. Her method lays out the clear rules of what to focus on, what to let go, and how to structure it, and it's brilliant. It's called the Division of Responsibility by Ellyn Satter, I highly recommend it.
Melanie Avalon: Thank you, I know that will help a lot of people. So, we'll put links to that in the show notes. Actually, one last question about the kids' actual addictions themselves. So, both the potential to be addicted to anything at all versus not, and then if you are addicted, what you're specifically addicted to, is any of that genetic?
Susan Peirce Thompson: Okay, the propensity for addiction or the susceptibility to addiction is highly genetic. Not entirely genetic, but highly genetic. There's also an environmental component. For example, in the lab, you take baby rats born to a nonaddictable mother and a nonaddictable father, that litter of rats will be nonaddictable baby rats. But then if you raise them in abusive, horrible conditions, some percentage of them will end up being addictable. So, you can just extrapolate that to human beings and imagine or surmise that even without addiction in your family tree, if there's some significant amount of trauma, so you can look at an ACE score, adverse childhood experiences and guess that if your ACE score is pretty high, you might have a susceptibility to addiction, even if you don't have a lot of addiction in your family. But generally speaking, you can get a sense of addictability just by looking at how much addiction runs in your family. And so, we're not just talking about alcoholism and drug addiction, but look for smoking, look for obesity, look for any known addictions. And yes, it's pretty well, genetic.
Melanie Avalon: The rat thing reminds me, I've interviewed Dr. Anna Lembke, for her book, Dopamine Nation. Did you know that a lot of the rodent studies that we've done for things like metabolic health and exercise and things like that might be a little bit misleading or skewed because they've realized that rats can be addicted to the running wheels? So, we think we're testing the rat exercising, but really, there could be an addiction aspect in play, and so the findings of a lot of studies might be slightly misinterpreted. I thought that was fascinating. Just a little fun fact. [chuckles]
Susan Peirce Thompson: Exercise addiction is a thing, people come into Bright Line Eating, and I've got unusual guidelines around exercise, but some of it is, a lot of people come in really hooked on exercise, or at least mentally thinking of it in really unhelpful ways. Thinking of it as a weight control mechanism, as opposed to, "I'm exercising for my mood," "I'm exercising for my bones," and so forth. But anyway, that's interesting. No, I didn't know that. Thank you for sharing that with me, that's interesting.
Melanie Avalon: So, going back to what we're talking about with-- What are you calling them? Not troughs, riverbeds. So, this potential to fill that backup at any time, like it's already there, it's ready and waiting. You talk in your book about the go versus the no go pathway. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that. Basically, the idea of having restrictions or rules or boundaries, and not letting things in. And then, why is it that if we do flip-- I think people might have experienced this where they're on a diet, they think they're doing well or maybe they're white-knuckling it or maybe they're not, but in any case, they stop if for whatever reason and then it's not like you just stop it.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Yeah, the floodgates are open all of a sudden.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. Is there something happening in the brain that's making that happen?
Susan Peirce Thompson: Well, it's actually one of my goals to find the neural instantiation of that. I hypothesize in my book that it might be the go-no-go pathways. But through reading Stephan Guyenet's fabulous book, The Hungry Brain, he talks about the basal ganglia, and its role in helping us decide what we do next, basically, which is a really interesting problem. If you think about the literally infinite number of possible things that we could do next, every moment, I mean, right now, you could stand up and do a jumping jack, you could sit down and do a situp. You could pick your nose, you could spin around three times, you could yell, "Zebras." Yeah, there's literally an infinite number of things you could do. Probably for you and I, Melanie, any of the things I just mentioned were not on the array of options. I'm just going to sit here and keep talking to you and try to keep my mouth the right distance from the microphone, And so, there's just this interesting problem of what's allowing the relatively narrow suite of options to come on to the table for selection at any given moment? Like what appears on that table for you to select this, that or that? And it's a pretty narrow selection suite at any given moment, because basically, what we're talking about is eating any number of the infinite number of things that one could eat, "I could drive here and buy this. I could go home and make that I could order this off this app," or there's so many things that we could do.
And when we're in that state of successful protection, restraint, whatever you want to call it, we're in the no-go state of the brain, driving to that convenience store and buying that food ordering this thing off this app, they're often not even coming up onto the table as options. It's not like we're batting them down with a stick. It's like it's not even occurring to us. This is what I call food neutrality. This is what a lot of people in 12-step programs call neutrality where you're in a state of neutrality, safe and protected. It's not even occurring to you to do it, which is the desired state. Because frankly, resisting temptation nonstop 24/7 is too exhausting, and it's a hellish way to live frankly. No one would sign up for that. And I promise you, it's not what it feels once your brain is somewhat healed. You're not feeling like that.
On the other hand, once you break the streak of abstinence, suddenly, all at once, all these options are coming up on the table. And not only that, it's like they're not just there, but they're getting preferential treatment. And Stephan Guyenet talks about this part of the basal ganglia being like the bouncer that lets certain people in through the velvet rope at the nightclub. He's scanning the crowd and letting certain ones in. And it's like how does-- So, there's some sort of inhibitory process that suppresses, I'm imagining, all these options when you're in this precious state of mental recovery. And when you're not in that state, suddenly, not only do they become options, but they're given preferential treatment and in the extreme, you can't say no. You actually can't not do it. So, it doesn't just flip. It's sort of like magnets. When you take two fridge magnets, and when you're in the brain-protected state, it's almost as if the magnets are flipped around where they repel each other, they actively repel each other. I don't think I could eat a donut right now. Even if I had the vague thought to, I couldn't really do it. I don't eat sugar and flour and I have a really strong mental identity around that. It would be like the most vegetarian Buddhists just would not eat a bite of steak, like you just couldn't.
Melanie Avalon: I'm the same way. [chuckles]
Susan Peirce Thompson: [chuckles] You couldn't get them to eat a bite of steak. But if had a pint of ice cream last night, now those donuts wouldn't have a chance. I'd be gobbling them up for sure. Anyway, yeah, there is the neuroscience behind all that. It's a fascinating, fascinating area to really uncover.
Melanie Avalon: It's so interesting because going back to the identity and everything like you just talked about with the flour and sugar, I'm the same way with the flour and sugar and I'm the same way in that-- I have a really strong identity surrounding it, I know it makes me feel good. I know it works for me. It would be so hard to just eat a donut and then not eat like anything else. That would be honestly one of the hardest things I can think of to do. And the only way I actually had to do it sort of a few months ago because I had to eat this-- There's this company called Zoe, I don't know if you've heard of them, they measure metabolic health. You eat these special muffins that have specific percentages of sugar, carbs, fat, and protein, but it measures how you process fat versus sugar. And you wear a continuous glucose monitor and everything and you have to eat a muffin and then wait, like four hours, and then like eat another muffin. I did that and was miserable. And the only way I was able to do it though was because there was such a strong protective boundary like I literally couldn't eat. I was wearing the CGM. I was like doing it for science. But I've just been really fascinated by like-- I have this really strong identity. But I really feel I could only do that in that very controlled situation.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Well, isn't that an interesting thing, because I have found that medicine. if someone believes that they're taking sugar for medicine, it doesn't hit their brain the way it would if they were deliberately eating sugar to get a hit off the sugar. For example, no one gets triggered by the colonoscopy prep. It's loaded with sugar, and it's gross, granted, but nobody gets triggered by it. And if it were just the physiology with no psychology involved, giving this bolus of sugar should absolutely have an impact on their ability to keep to their bright lines or their abstinence or whatever downstream but nobody gets triggered by the colonoscopy prep. So, I definitely think that your cognitive awareness of, "I'm doing this for science," in this context within this setting, definitely plays a role and a lot of learning is actually context specific like that. So, it makes sense that the brain would have been able to form some sort of subgroup or subtype where this instance was cordoned off and deemed separate, special, specific, and didn't apply to your identity or to your choices thereafter.
Melanie Avalon: Something else interesting I learned from doing that muffin experiment was-- because this was when I was hosting with my cohost, Gin Stephens, on The Intermittent Fasting Podcast. And a lot of people do these muffins and they're not-- they're basically just like sugar and flour, but they're not "good muffins" because they have to be this special science thing. They're not made to be really addictive or palatable or anything like that. And so, people moan and moan about how awful the muff-- so many people were talking about how the muffins were so hard to eat, and they could barely eat the rest of the muffin. And before doing it, I was telling Gin on the show, I was like, "I think this muffin is going to taste amazing to me. It's probably going to be the best thing I've ever had." And she was like, "No, you'll see. It doesn't taste that good." I was like, "You just wait." I ate that muffin. It was literally like the heavens opened, it was like singing because it was the first time I'd had sugar and flour in over a decade. And then what's interesting, I polled the audience after. I asked people, did they like the muffins or did they not, and did they normally eat processed foods, or did they not. And the correlation was so strong. So basically, people who ate processed foods normally thought that the muffins were-- yeah, but if people just ate whole foods, they taste amazing. So, I think it's powerful.
But going back to the concept of the floodgates opening and everything that can seem very scary. [laughs] This idea that we might be on this plan and feel like it's working, but maybe we're just one bite away from all hell breaking loose. So, how do we reframe that? Which is basically the topic of your book, Rezoom.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Yeah, totally. Well, it has to do with a lot of nuance, Melanie. On the one hand, I really think that it's okay to have an abstinence-based approach. Like to just say sugar doesn't work for me, I don't eat sugar. Categorically, I don't eat sugar. But as soon as you do that, it does set up a perfectionistic mindset and a potential trap, where if you have any sugar, now it's licensing all the sugar, all the sugar. And so, one of the ways out of that-- Well, one of the ways I think you have established in your muffin experience, which is identity. You need to have an identity that's so strong, and a why that's bigger than a diet or anything like that. If you do what you do for a reason, then that's very core, central, and driven. Then, you'll be brought back eventually to need to solve that problem because it just won't be sufficient to go back-- It won't work to go back to, "I eat all the muffins all the time. I eat all the junk food all the time."
But then how do you do it? Well, this is where part work comes in because the part of you that wants to just eat everything with no holds barred isn't really you. It's a part of you that we could call a food indulger part. And now I'm talking in IFS language. So, it's probably worth pausing for a moment to introduce your listener to Internal Family Systems if they don't already know what that is. So, internal family systems is an evidence-based branch of psychology that was founded in the early 1980s by a guy named Richard Schwartz, who's an academic, he's now on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. And at the time, he was at the University of Chicago. Internal family systems is actually one form of doing parts work and a long history of parts perspectives. It goes all the way back to ancient Egypt. It's in the Bible. It was talked about by Freud, Nietzsche, and Carl Jung. We can go all the way, parts' perspectives, go all the way back through time as far as written record exists.
But the idea here is that the human psyche in its healthy state-- I'm not talking about dissociative identity disorder or multiple personality disorder, I'm talking about every one of us, every one of us. The human psyche is not fundamentally unified behind one set of motives and one way of seeing things. The human psyche is actually made up of parts of us that think different ways. And this is why it's possible to want to eat a donut and not want to eat a donut in the same moment. You can want and not want at the same time. Give me any attractive person or any good-looking food or anything, and I can want it and not want it at the same time. That's because I'm made up of different parts. So, the food indulger part is a part that comes in to assuage distress, whether it's stress, or hurt, or wounding overwhelm, or what have you, boredom.
When we look at how that part is trying to help us, now we start to get somewhere. That part is probably a younger part, it probably developed some time ago when we needed soothing and comforting and distracting and numbing in our lives. And that part helped us by turning to food, and it worked. And that part had developed a strategy that was really helpful. And it keeps using that strategy and suggesting it as a way to provide relief, whatever it is to provide excitement to provide something to do, to provide entertainment to provide, yeah, stress relief comfort, whatever it is. So, that part probably got more extreme when it was put at odds with a food-controlling part.
Here's where the anorexic and bulimic treatment providers are onto something. What they say is basically you can't imagine yourself abstaining from something perfectly, that's not realistic. And it creates eating disorder tendencies and it sets you up to want it more. So, what they're talking about there has some merit and what they're saying is basically, if you hand your life over to the food controller that's going to try to make your food just so, you're going to pit that food controller against a food indulger part and make that food indulger part more extreme. And now you've got a war, you've got a polarization between the food controller and the food indulger. And this, by the way, is the work of, I have to mention my colleague, Everett Considine, who's an internal family systems practitioner extraordinaire, and he's done a lot of cutting-edge work on internal family systems' perspective as it applies to food and eating.
So, basically, the way out of that war is what you're asking. How do we reframe, how do we solve the issue? The reality is that ultimately, living your life from a food controller perspective isn't going to work either. It'll work in the sense that it'll get your excess weight off, it'll handle your food problem, but it's a rigid and fear-based way to live as well. And what you want to do is you want to run a self-led program. Self-led meaning your highest self, which is who you're being when you're calm, clear, compassionate, connected, confident, courageous, curious, creative. Those are the C's of the highest self in internal family systems. When you stay in that place, for example, if you've just eaten this muffin for science, can you stay calm? Can you stay confident in your identity as someone who doesn't eat sugar and flour? And can you be curious, like "Okay, I just ate this muffin? This is interesting. I had a reason for it"? Can you be creative in terms of thinking about ways that you could get yourself some more support after that, for example, or ways you could think about this event in a nonthreatening way? Can you be compassionate toward yourself and say, "Hey, I just made a choice that was actually really self-empowering, because I really want the data that's going to come out of what I just learned." Did you learn cool stuff, Melanie, from eating that muffin?
Melanie Avalon: I did. I learned it was pretty intuitive with what I was thinking that I process that better than sugar.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Interesting. Yeah. So, when you return to your highest self, you can circumvent a lot of the panic and polarization between the food indulger part and the food controller part. And you can keep your food indulger part from spinning out and exacerbating whatever neural circuitry might be there which frankly underlyingly isn't that strong. I know the addiction piece of a cigarette, cigarette withdrawal is actually really minor. People aren't going back and back and back to cigarettes, because they're dying from cigarette withdrawal. Cigarette withdrawal is minor. It's a mental game. Cigarette addiction is so fierce because the opportunities to smoke are so numerous and the cues in the environment that trigger you to want another cigarette are so voluminous because you used to smoke practically all throughout the day. So, it's a mental game. I could go into it more but I've been talking about this for a long time already, but there's more in the book, Rezoom, if you want to learn more about these parts, and there's some writing exercises you can do and some inventories you can take to see which parts sort of are dominant in you. And yeah, it's helpful stuff.
Melanie Avalon: Literally, listeners, get the book like just get it right now, because there's so much information, and we're just barely even skimming the surface on it. A question about implementing that part's work. We just talked about the muffin example but presumably-- I'm just laughing because I'm thinking about so many interviews, I've heard-- like intuitive eating type interviews where they'll say that you need to work on being able to eat these things that you struggle with in moderation, so you need to like work on that. Practically implementing the parts work, how much of it is working in the mindset when you have not fallen off of your plan? And then, how much of it is required to work on? Do you have to fall off the plan to work on it?
Susan Peirce Thompson: Yeah, great question. What I recommend if someone is on a plan and doesn't want to fall off the plan and wants to inoculate themselves against relapse, because I do believe, decades of unbroken adherence to a plan are absolutely possible, like you don't need to fall off. The best way to do that is, and I talk about this in the book, it's called the Rezoom Reframe and there's three components of it. If we're talking about a food program here, it's food, actions, support, FAS. The three components have a lot to them. With food, it's like the specifics of what your food plan is, how you keep those borders and boundaries sharp and clean, the lines between what you eat and don't eat really clean. Habits like writing down your food the night before is just a really great one. Packing your lunch before you leave, food prep, and all those sorts of things. The actions have to do with the morning routine and evening routine. And then, the support has to do with not doing it alone, like being a part of a community of people so that your identity stays really robust and you have a lot of support to help bolster the natural weathering and erosion that happens to your identity as you live in the world and you withstand these comments from people about how, "This is so extreme and you can't live like this forever," and all these non-thinking comments from people who probably have nothing like your background or experience with food and what they're saying is just not relevant to your experience but it wears nonetheless, wears on us.
So, food, action, support. What you do is you set up a strong program, and then you have a system for inventorying yourself so that you notice if you're slipping. Because the reality is you're going slip, but you will slip in little ways before you slip in big ways. And if you are noticing that in advance, you will know the relapse is coming long before it happens. And that means you can absolutely get back into your upswing, your Rezoom phase before you ever crash down into what I call the danger and destruction zone where you're actually eating the actual donuts. You have mentally eaten the donut in some way, shape, or form long before the donut is in your mouth. And if you can notice that it's coming, you don't ever need to actually relapse.
Melanie Avalon: I love the whole concept, especially the book cover. It's like a graph and everything. And you talk about like waves and signs and curves. It's just a really nice analogy. How do we define success here? Is successful when you don't have anxiety and worry about relapsing but you might fall off and then if you do, you get back on? Or is success the amount of times that you fall off? How do we know how we're doing?
Susan Peirce Thompson: Yeah, great question. I think it's specific to the individual. Something that I talk about is the food addiction susceptibility scale, because being a food addict or not is not actually a binary. So, it's not like you're a food addict or not. It's more like, well, to what degree do you have food addiction already wired into your brain. And so, I've got a quiz that I give people and it spits out a number from 1 to 10. One being low, meaning not a food addict at all, and probably not susceptible to addiction at all. 10 being really far advanced food addiction.
Melanie Avalon: I got a 10.
Susan Peirce Thompson: You got a 10. You took the quiz, you got a 10. There you go. There you go. And this is why not eating sugar flour at all for a decade now serves you. It's the way to go. This is an empowered, empowering, self-caring choice for you. This is not extreme. It's sort of like when people say that's extreme, I sort of think, "Well, open heart surgery is extreme. Having a leg amputated from diabetes is extreme." What's the moderate amount of cyanide for a human being? None. The word 'moderation' needs to factor in the two entities involved. The moderate amount of sugar for Melanie or for Susan is none because we are entities that just explode into all kinds of unhelpful stuff. It's poison to us. It's not food, it's poison.
Anyway, back to your question, how do you define success? If you're a 10, on that scale, then yes, success is probably going to be defined by years and years and years of unbroken abstinence, unbroken, squeaky, clean bright lines, however, you want to phrase it. For the listener, a bright line is just a clear boundary that you just don't cross. So, it's for an alcoholic in recovery, not drinking is the bright line. No alcohol, a bright line for alcohol. And so, Melanie's is no sugar, or flour for over 10 years. So, if you're a 10, then that kind of perfection is actually what you're going for. And anyone who thinks that that's not feasible, it's sort of, well, people quit smoking, and don't have a cigarette perfectly for years and decades until they die. It's absolutely doable, Yes, you have to eat to live, but you do not have to eat donuts to live. And you cannot eat donuts perfectly one day at a time for the rest of your life, you really can. I get that there's sugar and flour and lots of things, but actually, there's just gazillion of things to eat that don't have sugar and flour in them. And if you just look at the Bright Line Eating Food Plan, it's like every whole real food is on the plan, every one, there's so much food to eat.
So, if you're 10 success is going to be, never breaking your bright lines. But if you're a 6, then success might absolutely be resuming quickly when you deviate with minimal mental distress over it. And staying in an ebb and flow where your weight is in your sort of bright body range, like your desired-- we talk about a bright body and bright line eating because we found that there aren't good words to talk about body size in our messed-up society.
Melanie Avalon: You cannot win. [chuckles]
Susan Peirce Thompson: You cannot win. So, it's like whatever is comfy for you. But ideally, I think we can all agree that having a weight that fluctuates so much that you're having to buy a whole new wardrobe of clothes on the regular is suboptimal, like just financially or just whatever. So, at least staying steady in a range that you feel comfortable in is what we're aiming for. So, if you're a 6, you might define success that way where your weight is stable, you're not having to buy new clothes, you feel good in your body, your health is solid. You're staying with your plan enough to get the results that you want, which is relative peace, and you get back on track quickly if you have any lapses.
Melanie Avalon: This deviates a little bit from the Bright Line Eating approach. But I've personally found intermittent fasting to be the lines that really work for me, and that I think work for a lot of our listeners as far as having the times that you eat and don't eat. And honestly, we talked about a lot, I think the hardest part, once you make it part of your identity, and what's you're doing it, the scientific benefits of fat adaption, things like that, but it really is just existing in society and dealing with this theme that we've talked about all throughout the episode of this idea that sticking to these rules and boundaries can be healthy. So, I'm just really hoping for more of a reframe there for people.
Susan Peirce Thompson: And, Melanie, how do you define intermittent fasting? If someone switches their breakfast, lunch, and dinner up so that they have breakfast, and they start eating at 9:00 am, they have lunch at noon, they eat dinner at 4:00, and they're done eating at 4:30. And then they don't eat again until 9:00 am. What do you call that intermittent fasting? Are you talking really more like 24 hours of fasting?
Melanie Avalon: Oh, yeah, I would definitely call that intermittent fasting, because that'd be like, what, 10,11 12, 1, 2, 3, 4. That'd be like a seven-and-a-half, eight-ish hour eating window. Because there's a lot of different definitions, and a lot of ways to do it, I typically look at it as either counting the actual hours that you're eating. And usually, it's, around the minimum, usually like a 16 hours fasting, 8-hour eating window, sometimes a little bit longer or a shorter eating window. And then, some people just do it by a meal approach. I just eat dinner every night, but I don't count the hours or anything like that. But I just have so much freedom. It's something that I try to experiment with. I've been doing it for so long, and it was working so well, but I was like, "Maybe I need to be not eating this way." And I tried different eating windows, it was like what we were talking about earlier, I just lost control. I found the approach that really works for me, and I think people who intermittent fasting resonates with, I think they can find the window that works for them, but I do think it's very personal for people.
Well, this has been so amazing. I have so many other questions, but listeners will have to definitely get your books. Again, Bright Line Eating. What's the cookbook title called?
Susan Peirce Thompson: The Official Bright Line Eating Cookbook: Weight Loss Made Simple.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome, put links in the show notes, and then of course, Rezoom: The Powerful Reframe to End the Crash and Burn cycle of Food Addiction. I cannot thank you enough for your work. It is changing so many people's lives. Oh, just one really last a quick question because you talk in Rezoom about how-- was it the catalyst for the book? When you had your own falling off of the wagon, and then you publicly talked about it on social media, was that what led up to this book specifically?
Susan Peirce Thompson: I became a psychology professor and I taught psychology and neuroscience and brain and cognitive sciences at colleges and universities around the world. I ended up getting tenure as a psychology professor and ended up teaching by a fluke, really, there was another professor who developed the course. And then, she upped and moved to Kansas when her mom got sick. And so, this course was left needing a professor. I just started at this college, and they were like, "We need a professor to teach this course." And it was called The Psychology of Eating and Body Image. So, I got thrust into teaching this course and I was already doing my own-- I'd already lost my weight. I was already not eating sugar, not eating flour. And I had done every project I could possibly do that had a free choice like in grad school, studying things like bulimia, the science of caffeine addiction, all these topics on food and addiction, and all sorts of stuff. And so, I started teaching a unit on the neuroscience of food addiction.
The second moment that I just want to talk about is as powerful for me as the moment when I just knew I had to get out of that crack house. I had a moment in my morning meditation. And this was January 26th 2014, I had a moment in my morning meditation where I heard this booming mandate to write a book called Bright Line Eating. And the meditation session went on-- because I've been meditating for half an hour every morning for almost 20 years. And in this morning's meditation session, I could feel the world's need for this book that would explain what's going on in the brain when people can't get their food under control. They can't solve the food problem. They can solve every other problem in their life but the weight problem, the food problem, they can't solve it. And at that point, I knew what was going on in the brain and I could explain it, and so I started looking to write this book and that's where the Bright Line Eating movement came out.
Now, I was bright myself then and I stayed bright for another year, a year and a half. Bright Line Eating exploded so fast that-- at this time I was a tenured psychology professor. I was teaching four or five college courses every semester. I had three little children, I believe they were five, five, and two years old. And I was the Assistant Chair of the Psychology Department. I was now trying to write a book. And now, this global movement explodes and suddenly I've got people saying, "Okay, I love your work, but how do I eat out? How do I feed my kids? How do I travel? How do I navigate restaurants? How do I know if I'm a food addict? Do you have a quiz I can take blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." And so, I started helping them.
And now suddenly, I'm traveling for work and all these things are happening-- Bright Line Eating got so big, so fast, I had to hand back tenure, and I now have an appointment at the University of Rochester but I'm not active there much doing anything. I'm still doing Bright Line Eating full time. And I ended up losing my bright lines in 2015 at a baby shower. Not on sugar or flour, just on quantities. It was like cheese and salami. It was like a platter of cheese and salami, and I just kept going back. More cheese, more salami, more cheese, more salami. And at some point, I noticed that I have just eaten-- "This is enough. Enough now with the cheese and salami." And the food indulgent part of me didn't care. It was just like "No, no, I just want more." So, I just kept eating. Just the cheese and salami, more cheese, more salami. Just the sheer quantity of that was like just too much for me to call it a regular meal.
And I remember sitting out in the parking lot after that baby shower going, "Okay, what do I do now? Because sticking to my bright lines of sugar, flour, meals, and quantities, and this was a quantity break, it's so part of my identity and what I do for a living and every week, I was putting out a video blog, I have a vlog that I've been doing every week for like seven or eight years now. And I had to rethink my worth. Was my worth leading the Bright Line Eating movement tied to being perfect with my food? Was my value as an expert tied to being able to do it in an unbroken way for all these years? What happened was, I then was thrust into a period of time that lasted a little over four years, where I periodically broke my bright lines, and not just on quantities, but I started eating sugar and flour periodically as well, periodically for four years, as I was leading the Bright Line Eating movement and teaching people to not eat sugar and not eat flour and all that.
The cognitive dissonance in my head was pretty extreme. I ended up just being honest about it really, the whole time. I didn't pretend that I was being perfect with my food, I was honest not just a little bit, but regularly about the fact that I was back to struggling with my food. And there were stretches when my food was intact and bright and it was good. But the effort of all that was immense, and what happened was, I was still going on video every week. So, I couldn't gain weight. I really couldn't gain weight. And I did manage to stay a size for all those years, there were definitely certain stretches of time where my clothes were a little tight, but I was able to get back on my food plan and bring it back down. What I learned in that pressurized laboratory, I think if I well-- I don't think I'm pretty sure I know that if I hadn't been leading Bright Line Eating and if I didn't have the pressure to have to get on camera every week, I would have gained a lot of weight, for sure. I would have had longer stretches where I would have just let my food go, and I would have gained weight.
I was not controlling my body size through bulimia or any other compensatory measures. I was just getting healthy again with my eating periodically and then falling off the wagon and getting back on. And so, I had to get back on track really fast. Can you see it? Like I couldn't eat whatever, whenever for longer than a day or two or three, and then I had to get back on track. So, I had these artificial pressures, if you will, that forced me to get back on track. The reason I was eating addictively was because the food addiction monster was alive and awake. It was again, the table of options. Eating something was my new go-to option for when I was stressed and my life was mega stressful. My kids through this time were growing from suddenly I had two 10-year-olds and a 7-year-old. I guess the last time I ate addictively or ate sugar and flour was probably around them. Now, they're 14, 14, and 11 but I put the food down again about four years ago. And so, it was that pressurized laboratory that helped me to develop more compassion for myself, helped me to see that relapse doesn't have to be an emergency even as we know that it's not what we want to do. It's not licensing it. But it's saying, even if you eat, you still need to be able to come home to yourself, care for yourself and get back on track as quickly as possible. And hold that you also don't want to do it because it doesn't serve you. So, holding all of that at the same time is what I had to learn how to do.
Melanie Avalon: Talk about baptism by fire, that's incredible. It's perfect because the very last question that I ask every single episode of the show, and it's because I realize more and more the importance of mindset, which is just encapsulated in this book about the mindset to have surrounding this whole thing that people struggle with. So, thank you so much for what you're doing for people struggling with this. The question that I ask is, what is something that you're grateful for?
Susan Peirce Thompson: Oh, my gosh, I'm so grateful for so much, I can't even stand it. My heart bursts with gratitude. I am grateful for my husband. I'm grateful for my sweet kids. I'm grateful for the way my youngest curls up with me every day, and we play nurdle, which is like these little math games. I'm grateful for Bright Line Eating. I'm grateful for freedom from food obsession. I'm really, really grateful that eating something is not typically what comes up on that table of options. When I'm stressed or life gets lifey, I do not have a brain today that suggests that I go get something to eat over it. And I'm really grateful for that.
I'm grateful for the Bright Line Eating team. I have a couple of dozen amazing employees who love the people that we serve so much. And I'm grateful for just thousands upon thousands of people from every country on planet earth who are being served by Bright Line Eating right now and the community that we have online together, and how we just have this exquisite climate of an environment together of love and support and encouragement and wisdom and grace, and just we lean into each other so much and I'm so appreciative of that. And I'm grateful for what I get to do for work, just helping people with something that I've struggled with so terribly much in my life and just helping them break free, it's such a gift and such a privilege and an honor truly.
Melanie Avalon: That is so incredible. Well, thank you so much. I just cannot reiterate enough how profound your work is. I just am so appreciative that you've literally experienced all of this. And it's not just you telling your story but the science behind it and then the actionable steps that people can actually take and then, like you've mentioned, and listeners now know, working with thousands of people and people, changing their lives from your work. So, thank you so much, and thank you for coming on the show. For your fourth book, I'd love to bring you back in the future. Is that of interest?
Susan Peirce Thompson: I would love that. Melanie, it's just been delightful talking with you. Thank you so much and I'll come back anytime.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome, we'll enjoy the rest of your day and I will talk to you later.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Thank you. Okay.
Melanie Avalon: Bye.
Susan Peirce Thompson: Bye.
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