Here’s the important part: Fatigue is one of the biggest causes of FAILURE on fat loss diets. Studies can actually predict when someone will fail in their fat loss attempts by how fatigued they are.
On that note, I’m really excited to share today’s guest with you…
Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson is a PhD in cognitive sciences and expert on the psychology of food addiction. She’s the founder of the weight loss program called Bright Line Eating, which is all about helping people who struggle with food addiction and sugar addiction behaviors that sabotage their weight loss. And she’s getting some absolutely phenomenal results helping people lose the weight and keep it off permanently. Susan is also a close friend of mine, so we wanted to have this discussion which is basically on a topic that intersects her expertise and mine — the link between weight loss and energy. Specifically, here’s what you’re going to learn in this episode:
- What some of the most common causes of fatigue are
- Why dieting can cause fatigue initially (but why losing excess body fat can powerfully increase your energy levels)
- What really happens when you start cutting calories (hint: it’s not just your “metabolism” — it’s something more important that most people have no idea about)
- The link between toxins, fat gain and fatigue
- The two biggest factors that sabotage your fat loss success (and how to avoid them)
This is a great conversation with Susan and I, probably unlike anything you’ve heard before on this subject. If you’re trying to lose fat, this show is a must-listen.
Download or listen on iTunes here
Listen to the podcast outside of iTunes here
Watch the interview here
Fatigue while dieting and how to fix it show notes
How Susan got involved in the realm of weight loss. (0:58)
What Bright Line Eating is, and who it is for. (8:41)
How delusion can cause you to sabotage your weight loss efforts (12:53)
What some of the most common causes of fatigue are (17:36)
Why weight loss causes fatigue when you are starting on a healthy lifestyle (19:11)
What actually happens when you start reducing fat (22:45)
What happens when you start cutting calories (24:29)
Why detox pills does not work (27:27)
Why you need to stick to your new diet for at least 90 days (30:55)
Why hunger and fatigue determines the success of your weight loss efforts (34:24)
Why Optifast shake diet is causing you to regain your weight (39:27)
How chronic inflammation suppresses energy levels (40:54)
How a healthy circadian rhythm is helping you regain your energy during weight loss (42:45)
What autophagy is, and how it impacts your energy levels (46:05)
How eating 20 oz of vegetables should be a part of your daily meal plan (46:37)
Why supplements are just not cutting it (49:11)
How to find out more about Susan Pierce Thompson and her work (50:07)
Fatigue while dieting? Here's why and how to fix it with Susan Pierce Thompson – Transcript
Ari Whitten: Hey everyone, I am here again with Dr. Susan Pierce Thompson who is one of my closest friends and it is my pleasure and honor to introduce you to her. We have a special interview plan for today. It’s going to be an interview and also a discussion because I asked her to come on to talk about energy which is an unusual thing. Her expertise is really in the realm of weight loss and helping people to achieve sustainable weight loss.
She has made a number of really fascinating observations around energy fluctuations during the weight loss period. We’ve had a bunch of really fascinating conversations on the subject, so I wanted to bring her on so that we could have this conversation and just get all this info out for everyone.
Welcome, Susan thank you for being here.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Thank you, Ari, great to be here with you.
How Susan got involved in the realm of weight loss.
Ari Whitten: Can you just talk a little about your background? I know that you are a professor, and you have a Ph.D. in brain and cognitive sciences, you’ve taught a number of different courses in university, in colleges.
Can you just talk a little bit about that, your educational background and scholarly background and now you are in the realm of weight loss. It’s kind of an interesting transition.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah, it was. I mean my personal background goes back further, but my Ph.D. is in brain and cognitive sciences and I didn’t study food in the brain in grad school, nor in my postdoc.
I was studying high levels of cognition language and inductive reasoning and things like that and how they develop over the time course of development. I liked it okay, I mean it was interesting I like anything that’s interesting but I didn’t have any personal hook to it.
Maybe for that reason maybe because my personal food addiction was alive and well during my graduate school years and I was mostly face down in a bowl of cookie dough, I didn’t publish a lot on it. My thesis was excellent and it ultimately got published in a top-tier journal, but I didn’t publish a lot of other stuff. When I graduated I wasn’t really fit for a job at Stanford or anything.
I went on and did a postdoc and it was the same story, at that point I had cleaned up my own food so I wasn’t distracted by my food addiction that much anymore. When I discovered I love, is teaching that’s what I discovered in grad school, I love teaching.
For the sake of prestige and my ego I was like, “No I really want to love research because that’s the only way you get a job at a really top school is to have a stellar publication record.”
But I just didn’t have it in me to do it, I didn’t like it that much. It was slow and tedious, and the questions you would ask were this small and it would take you four years to figure out this one little thing. When I taught I could like, you only had time in the classroom to cover the coolest of the coolest stuff, so here is this idea and that idea and I would just love it.
What I ended up doing, actually, was getting a job after my postdoc at a small liberal arts college and I loved it. That was just a really good fit for me, I would have stayed in the small liberal … High end like students who had gotten As, A minuses and B pluses in college, in high school and then didn’t want to go to the big kind of university they wanted a smaller experience, those were my students. I loved it.
I taught there and then I couldn’t land a job where I wanted to live at a small liberal arts college so I ended up at a community college. My husband got a job in Rochester, New York he didn’t want to move from there and there just weren’t any colleges with openings. I taught at the local community college and I got tenure there and that’s where my area of expertise shifted.
How the food addiction helped Susan find her passion
Parallel to my professional life I was, in my personal life, I’m a recovering drug addict and I was in 12 step programs for that for I mean it’s like going on 23 years now. I was also in 12 step food programs, I’m not anymore but I had 20 years where I was in 12 step food programs, multiple programs. Trying different ones and really seeing what worked and what didn’t work for people. I developed, I did lose all my excess weight ultimately in a 12 step food addiction program and I sponsored countless people in those programs.
I started that fellowship in Sydney, Australia back to Rochester and grew the fellowship there. I was probably spending and I’d run this by my husband he is not an exaggerator like I am, I think like 30 hours a week doing my 12 step food work. Not a trivial amount of time at all.
Ari Whitten: Wow.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah, and that’s on top of being a professor. What happened was I showed up at this community college and I was low man on the totem pole and they had an adjunct professor who had developed a course called; the psychology of eating and body image.
She had taught it twice before and it was August and she up and moved to Kansas. The class was full already; they already had students enrolled in the class it was starting in like two and a half weeks.
They knew that I did this food thing so I kind of talked about it; I don’t eat sugar, I whatever. So, they came knocking and they were like, “We need you to teach this course.” It wasn’t really a question it was like, “You know you’ve got this class to teach and it starts in three weeks. “
The professor left all her materials for me and I looked over her syllabus and I was like, “There is nothing on the neuroscience of the food addition here. Like that’s my...” I had already I had written papers on it in graduate school. It wasn’t my dissertation topic but it was certainly something that I knew a hell of a lot about and something that I had studied quite a bit about. Now having to teach it I was like, “Giddy up baby like we’re going and we’re going to put a unit on the neuroscience of food addiction right here.”
I pulled articles and I learned a lot from her curriculum, although she had a very different take on the whole. She was like an anorexia and bulimia counselor was her background. Like masters in counseling specializing in whatever, competent eating or something, whatever. She was like there are no bad foods but we had totally different opinions about food and everything.
Ari Whitten: Well I mean what an anorexic needs, is very different than what an overweight person needs.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Touché. Yeah, exactly fair enough, so I taught that course for six years. She moved back and I wouldn’t give it back to her.
Ari Whitten: Nice, did you have to fight her.
Susan Pierce Thompson: We didn’t speak in the hallways for a long time. I mean, we actually ended up, we ended up... it was a special topic so like not an official course, and we ended up making it an official part of the curriculum. We ended up having a little coming together of minds where I invited her into the process to help people.
Ari Whitten: That’s cool.
Susan Pierce Thompson: It ended up being okay, but, yeah.
Ari Whitten: Very nice. So this... so, because of your personal background dealing with food addiction that you developed that interest in it and you found your love of teaching, you developed this Ph.D. level education in brain and cognitive sciences. Then that translated into now teaching about food addiction and helping people to lose weight sustainably.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah, totally. There is another little piece to this which is I decided on my own and this is one of the cool things about teaching, I don’t know if there are any budding professors in the listening audience here.
One of the differences about teaching at a community college as compared with a really high-level university is you can morph your expertise if you want to. I decided to teach a course on positive psychology as well, again not something I’d studied at the undergrad or graduate level. I went to UPenn which is the world center of positive psychology, I took a course there on positive psychology got some expertise myself and then designed and taught a course on that.
That piece is... my program and in general and my thoughts about weight loss. They had everything to do with positive psychology, so a whole different way of living; it’s about habit formation, it’s about character strengths, it’s about gratitude.
A lot of the components of my program that actually have nothing to do with food, the science of right living of optimal living of flourishing we use in there too.
A lot of my course now actually has a lot of those academic components as well, which again was not something that I really studied for my graduate level work.
What Bright Line Eating is, and who it is for.
Ari Whitten: Right, and a part of your tag line after Bright Line Eating it’s happy thin and free right?
Susan Pierce Thompson: That’s right. So, happy, the happy part is like in a scientific way. I mean literally happier.
Ari Whitten: Very cool. For those who are unfamiliar with your work as far as the specifics of what you teach, can you talk, just give a brief overview of what Bright Line Eating is and what it’s all about?
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah, sure. So I’ll just say first of all that I don’t think it’s for everybody. It’s a program that I developed for my own wicked history with food addiction and my experience with 12 step programs for food addiction.
I developed a quiz called The Susceptibility Quiz which helps people know how susceptible their brain is to the pole of these addictive foods. On the low end is one and on the high end is 10, I’m a 10.
So, how susceptible is your brain?
Research shows that humans break down pretty much evenly along that continuum with one-third being low, and one-third being moderate, and one-third being high, rats breakdown that way as well. That doesn’t just apply to food addiction but to all forms of addiction.
A third of people are just not addictable they are just not, you can shoot them up with heroin all day long and at the first opportunity they will get off it and they will withdraw but they don’t care. They can’t wait to get off this stuff and they are not [inaudible] later.
Bright Line Eating is a program that takes a bright line approach to food.
A bright line approach to food is like; you are hooked on heroin you got to quit it, you are hooked on cigarettes you got to quit cigarettes. You got a weight problem and you are sort of you got the cravings and the insatiable thing going on, you might need to quit the addictive foods and people …
A bright line is just a clear boundary that you just are never going to cross. If someone goes into AA for alcohol they are going to throw up a bright line for alcohol.
A lot of people have assumed historically that you can’t use a bright-line approach to food because you have to eat to live, but you don’t have to eat doughnuts to live and a lot of the foods that we have in our food supply today are completely unnecessary. They are not necessary cut them out entirely instead of advocating for this approach of moderation.
Because like for some of us the one piece of pizza experiment just doesn’t ever go well, and we’re actually happier and freer if we just never try it and we are just like, “Yeah pizza is just off the menu.”
We grief that and I’m not saying that’s super easy I’m just saying it’s better than that then alternative of thinking it’s going to go okay and then you’ve eaten half the pizza or the whole pizza. Then you are dealing with those consequences and living in a body that you can’t stand to live in. It’s like which would you rather have.
I would rather not live with pizza in my life at all and get to live in a right sized body and feel really happy about myself every day. That is kind of a general approach.
Ari Whitten: For sure, and it’s interesting that we have that aversion to creating bright lines and being abstinent from partaking in certain foods. Me personally, in my writings on fat loss and as you know I’ve written a book on that as well, I got a lot of blowback about talking about eating all whole food than no processed foods and things like that.
A lot of people, really, they push back on that and they say, “You are advocating orthorexia and that’s very extreme and people can’t sustain that, and what about, can I have a cheat day? Can I have, can I do it some of the time? What if I do it 80% of the time?”
There are so much pushback and so many people who see it as so extreme that I have to say, I really took that to heart and I was like, “You know maybe it is a little too extreme. Maybe it isn’t doable for a lot of people,” and I softened my stance on that because of that.
What I really admire about you is you haven’t done that, you’ve basically said, “This is how it is, this is what you have to do no exceptions none of the time.”
Susan Pierce Thompson: I made my program based on it so it’s kind of hard to backpaddle on it [inaudible].
How delusion can cause you to sabotage your weight loss efforts
Ari Whitten: Yeah, and as we were just talking about before we started recording this, there is a lot of data around how people can delude themselves into thinking they are doing things that they are not actually doing.
Just really not having a good objective sort of clarity on what they are actually doing. It’s really easy for people to sneak in candy bars pretty regularly and then convince themselves that they are eating a perfect diet or to exercise once in a while and think that they are exercising five days a week really hard. And there are lots of different examples of that.
One of the things that I think makes your method so successful is that that really black and white, just you are either doing it or you are not. This is our rule there are no exceptions. By having that clarity and not letting more of a voice of moderation slip in where you are saying, “You can do it sometimes and it’s okay if you adhere 80% of the time,” or whatever. By having that clear boundary it allows people to not delude themselves and to really recognize it if they slip up, you know what I mean?
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah, I think it does mostly. That’s the idea, is that the bar is set, it’s high and it’s firm and you should always know where you are at with respect to the bar. As you know because that I know you watched this talk that I gave in New York City when I launched my book. There is actually some data that I have now that hints that it doesn’t, it’s not the nail in the coffin but it hints at the idea that people might still be deluding themselves in Bright Line Eating.
For example, I ask people, we have a research program we’ve got I don’t know how many let’s say 1,500 people in it now long term. Some of them are in my Bright Lifers group which is a paid program which people can partake in after my boot camp and some of them are not in Bright Lifers. They all did my boot camp which I, my core program so then some joined the after-program and some didn’t.
The people who didn’t with the same level of reported adherence to the bright lines are losing half as much weight as Bright Lifers, even though they report identical adherence to the bright lines.
It’s like well how is that possible like we are asking them on a regular basis, “Did you abstain from sugar how perfectly? Did you abstain from flour how perfectly? Did you weigh and measure your food how perfectly,” and they were reporting the exact same levels of adherence and they were losing half as much weight.
Ari Whitten: What do you attribute that to?
Susan Pierce Thompson: Delusion! I mean well we are asking them on a scale from one to four how perfect was it four being perfect and one being I was eating candy every day, so I attributed to the difference between what would they count as a two or a three. I think Bright Lifers are in a community where everybody is really doing it by and large and I think their standard of what counts as true adherence, is a higher standard.
Ari Whitten: Got you, very interesting.
Susan Pierce Thompson: The non-Bright Lifers have traded their scale of allowance down a little, so their four is not a Bright Lifer four, their three is not a Bright Lifer three.
Ari Whitten: Right interesting. Okay, so, first of all, I’ve seen some really interesting data that in this talk that you shared with me. It’s looking more and more like your methods are going to be, are going to turn out to, hopefully, if the research trends continue this way are going to turn out to be basically the most effective dietary approach to weight loss there is and that’s really cool.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah... No... I... [inaudible].
Ari Whitten: I guess a quick mention for anybody who is listening and has, who has taken the food susceptibility quiz or I guess I should say go take the food susceptibility quiz, find out if you are ranking highly on that. Then if you are, jump in on Susan’s program.
I want to shift gears right now from weight loss because we’ve talked about your background, we’ve talked about the whole weight loss thing and the approach to it.
I want to shift gears into energy and fatigue because I know there is a ton of people that have both issues, maybe they have fatigue and they are overweight. Then maybe they go on some weight loss approach, and they start to feel a crash in energy. There is some kind of interesting interplay between the whole losing weight and being overweight and energy levels.
Can you just talk a little bit about your observations around that whole interplay between those two things?
What some of the most common causes of fatigue are
Susan Pierce Thompson: Can I throw back at you real quick, because I have a question which is like being overweight makes someone have low energy, doesn’t it? I mean, certainly leptin resistance would make you feel sluggish, are there other reasons why if you are heavy you do not have very much energy?
I mean, it’s hard to carry around all that weight I’m thinking in simplistic terms though so …
Ari Whitten: I mean, there is a number of different potential mechanisms, one would be inflammation. Having large excessive fat on your body actually creates more inflammation, systemic inflammation and brain inflammation in the body.
One potential mechanism is that because there are clear links between inflammation and energy levels.
Another mechanism is blood sugar regulation and insulin resistance. If somebody is insulin resistant and usually that tracks pretty directly with being overweight, that leads to a whole bunch of problems just poor blood glucose regulations and fluctuations in blood glucose. Plus, the really high excess of blood sugar actually becomes toxic to the cell and to the mitochondria in particular. There is something called ceramides that can build up and really directly damage the mitochondria and the cells which are the energy generators.
Yeah, there is a whole bunch of mechanisms why somebody who is overweight would be fatigued. Then it’s kind of, this whole space is complex and almost paradoxical because you would think sometimes, then losing weight should give you more energy, and it kind of does but there is more to the story.
Sometimes people crash so …
What to expect when you are starting on a healthy lifestyle
Susan Pierce Thompson: Right, and I can pick up there because I have now worked with tens of thousands of people, literally tens of thousands of people and thousands of them are at a pretty close level.
I’ve now got and doing the Bright Line Eating boot camp which we’ve put 10,000 people through the boot camp and another 10,000 through the 14-day challenge just over the last two years. It’s given me a feeling in my bones for how things go, that before that I would work with a few hundred people over like 20 years. Now the numbers start to add up.
What it seems like is, a lot of people when they start to lose weight on my program feel pretty great and a lot of people feel really exhausted. I don’t have a sense... Note to self, tell Nancy, my director of research we got to start asking people about their energy levels, we are not actually asking them currently about energy levels sorry.
Writing on a post-it note here, ask Nancy to start tracking energy levels.
Which is really funny because I need to modify my nightly checklist sheet, which is how we have people keep track of their day in Bright Line Eating. To track my own energy levels. Because I have got hypothyroidism and I am starting to wonder what’s working, what’s not working, so I need to add that to my nightly checklist sheet too.
Anyway, without them tracking, without having clear data a lot of people report feeling exhausted so much so. I knew this would happen when I created my boot camp before I had put anyone through it, this was two and a half years ago. One of the earliest modules in videos and module one right away is what to expect in the weight loss phase and the main thing I talked about is expected to feel exhausted. I am mentally preparing people, like you are not going to feel good right away, like expect to go ”Ooh, like, wow!” And then I got through the reasons for it.
Some people don’t go through that and they are braced for it but it never happens to them, and they feel pretty fine. Other people experience it and then other people experience it and it’s even a little worse than they were braced for. Then they write in and they are like, “I really don’t feel okay, how long is this going to last?”
Generally what we tell people is by 90 days, it pretty much lifts this severe exhaustion. Generally speaking, as a matter of fact, I don’t think we’ve ever gotten anyone who has written in and is saying, “It didn’t lift for me.”
For me, my Hashimoto’s kicked in, so my fatigue personally when I lost my own weight because I used to be obese and now I’m slender. My fatigue lasted like six months but that was thyroid related and stuff.
We see people’s energy crash I mean that’s the short answer to it and then for almost everybody it lifts again by about 90 days, some people sooner than that. I would say between about two weeks in and 90 days in we see people’s energy coming up.
The energy crash in the first two, three days to a week we call that withdrawal. That’s for a lot of people they are actually they’ve got flu-like symptoms, they’ve got headaches, they are shaking and they had no idea that sugar and flour were drugs to that effect, but they are actually going through withdrawals and then the energy crash sets in. They got the double whammy coming.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. There is so much in what you just said, I want to go in there and pick it apart piece by piece.
I guess, the first part is when people sign up for your boot camp and you tell them to brace for this period of fatigue and then you list out the causes, what are those causes that actually cause the fatigue?
What actually happens when you start reducing fat
Susan Pierce Thompson: Sure, I say look a lot of things are going on here. First and foremost well I would say maybe three main causes I’ve never really counted them. First and foremost your fat cells have got to shrink now, remember you are not gaining or losing fat cells during the weight loss and weight gain cycle. You just got fat cells in there getting fatter, they are getting skinnier, they are getting fatter they are getting skinnier.
Meanwhile, they are storing toxins and that’s what these fat cells do, they store toxins. They are the storage dumps, the landfills of the body. When you lose weight those fat cells release their fat but they also release toxins into your blood stream, so you’ve now got this steady stream of toxins coming into your blood stream and that’s exhausting.
I also talk about how you are burning this fat now for part of your fuel and that might not be the cleanest most preferred energy source, your body might not love that so much.
Then I talk about how you probably, before Bright Line Eating were fueling a lot with caffeine and sugar during moments of fatigue. You would hit a rough patch during the day and you would go grab a cup of coffee with a bunch of sugar in it and it would get you through.
You probably have been pushing past your normal energy reserves for a long time and just using food and caffeine to push, push, push and now you are not going to use caffeine and sugar anymore.
Now your body is kind of like, “Yeah finally hello I’ve been freaking exhausted for a long time.” It’s like while you got nothing to like chemically get over on me and like we’re going to rest yo’.” I think there is some of that, like that like your body just finally demands the rest that it needs.
What happens when you start cutting calories
Then there is the fact that your body thinks that there is a famine because you’ve got weight loss setting in so your body is like, “Okay this is bad we haven’t had enough food to sustain our body weight now for days upon days upon weeks upon weeks. This famine is severe and it’s how are we not starve to death.” What it decides is that it’s going to lower its metabolism low enough that it can still carry on necessary functions but maybe not optimally.
It lowers your thyroid level, and now you’ve got some pseudo hypothyroidism going, and it starts to subsist on fewer calories essentially and that makes you tired. Your metabolism slows down literally because your body thinks it’s doing you a favor by saving your life because clearly, the food has run out.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah, so for lots of reasons you are like really tired.
Ari Whitten: Yeah for sure. It’s interesting because of the whole metabolism down regulation thing, I guess it’s worth pointing out to people that there is actually a center in the brain that is monitoring whether you have enough calories to deal with your normal daily expenditure. If you don’t then it starts to down regulate things.
We just talk about metabolism because it’s easier to talk about things in that way, but there is actually a couple of different pieces of that energy expenditure side of the equation that get down regulated. One is the resting metabolic rate, like your metabolism cropper.
Then the other part of it is actually NEAT which is stands for; non-exercise activity thermogenesis which is basically it has to do with the energy regulations circuits in the brain. Your physical sense of energy which, is kind of, it manifests mostly outside of our conscious awareness as our motivation to move, our compulsion to move our bodies.
Whether we’re sitting in a chair and you spontaneously fidgeting and we’re antsy, and you feel that kind of energy in your body or you just feel like laying down and sitting and you don’t want to stand up and walk around. You don’t want to fidget and you don’t want to get up and go for a walk or go do any exercise, you just want to sit there.
That actually accounts for hundreds of calories every day, so that there is a huge piece of that puzzle that eating less food and being in that state, down regulates your energy level as well as your metabolism as well as your desire to move. All these things are intertwined together.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah, totally. And I know about NEAT because I know you and I watch it through the day and it’s like yeah I do calls a lot. I’m on the phone a lot just for my work and stuff and sometimes, I feel like going for a walk and sometimes I feel like being thrown on a couch. I watch that desire to move fluctuate for sure.
Why detox pills does not work
Ari Whitten: Yeah for sure. Then the toxin issue is huge, and a lot of people don’t realize it but in order to detoxify your body it’s not just a simple matter of like taking some pills, some like colon cleanse pills or taking activated charcoal or something like that or bentonite clay.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Broccoli, did you watch that Michael Greger video on broccoli being the best detoxifier?
Ari Whitten: Yeah, so I did but there are certain compounds that can work to help stimulate detoxification, but there is another hugely important element to this which is as you pointed out these, the toxins actually are getting stored in our fat cells.
So, if a person never taps into those fat cells if they are just piling more fat on top of it, and they never actually enter a state of physiology where their body goes, “Whoa we need to access the stored fuel let’s burn that stored fat.” They open up the fat cells, release the fatty contents into the blood stream and then the fatty acids start to get burned for fuel. If that’s never happening those toxins stay locked in there.
Susan Pierce Thompson: For years, decades.
Ari Whitten: Yes, years or decades and it’s which in a way it sounds like a bad thing that they stay locked in there for that long, but in another sense, it’s actually a good thing. The body is trying to get them out of the blood stream so they are not constantly in circulation.
Susan Pierce Thompson: They are like in a closet, they are just all that shit that you put in a closet.
Ari Whitten: Yeah exactly. Yeah, so this is kind of a paradoxical thing because in order to lose, in order to detoxify, you have to lose the fat and actually you have to go through that process of liberating the fats and the toxins into the bloodstream where your body can then get rid of them.
In the process, you are almost retoxifying the system temporarily, by having now all those toxins re-released into your bloodstream. It’s a tricky thing and then all those toxins most of them are mitochondrial poison, so they shut down your mitochondrial energy generation in the cell and of course, you then have fatigue problems.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Got it. I was 16 Ari and I was in science class physics or chemistry I don’t remember which and I was losing weight I don’t remember. Maybe I had just started doing crystal meth, maybe that’s why I was losing weight, and I started tripping on acid in class and I hadn’t dropped acid in months. I mean I know what an acid trip feels like and I started tripping on acid and I was like, “Holy smokes.”
Somehow I knew the scientist in me was like it’s the weight loss, that stuff was in those cells and it’s now being released. I just in that moment I was like, “Okay then my fat is storing, it’s storing whatever chemicals I’ve put into my body and it’s going to give them back to me later.”
Ari Whitten: That’s crazy.
Susan Pierce Thompson: [inaudible] I got clean in 1994, for anyone who is wondering if I’m a druggie. I’ve been clean [crosstalk].
Ari Whitten: For anyone who was wondering if this was like two weeks ago that you were dropping acid in crystal meth.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Back in the day, I learned that lesson early on in a very pointed way I will never forget it.
Why you need to stick to your new diet for at least 90 days
Ari Whitten: We’ve talked, we’ve dissected some of the reasons for the crashing energy now. Then there is this other side of the equation which is what you’ve noticed in these people that you’ve worked with, tens of thousands of people that you’ve helped successfully lose weight. After let’s say 90 days or so energy starts to come back so why is that?
Susan Pierce Thompson: It’s staggered like it’s all, I would say that there is a lot more consistency in when the fatigue sets in than when it lifts. I would say it just starts lifting for people and why is that? I am spinning stories here Ari, I’m guessing it’s because maybe they’ve run out of toxins.
Now, here is the weird thing though, these people by and large are not done losing weight, they are not done losing weight. The toxin element of it doesn’t really make much sense to me. I’m guessing that those fat cells would have been pretty homogeneously distributed with toxins throughout. If the toxin explanation were the primary driver here I’m guessing that they should stay fatigued.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, I agree.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Here is another question mark for me, I’m guessing that their metabolic decrease. The slowness of their metabolism it hasn’t lifted yet, that mostly lifts when we refeed them and get them on a maintenance food plan where their calories have come up and their body now is trusting them again that there is no famine happening. I don’t think it’s that, they are not done losing weight they are still on the same weight loss food plan.
Maybe the body settles into it a little more it trusts like, “Okay it’s not actually that dire we’re not feeding them 500 calories a day, they’re getting on average 1,200 or 1,300 or something like that, so they are okay. Maybe it’s some of that, maybe it’s like their body just what I said before of like they are finally acclimated to not being on caffeine, not being on sugar and their body has gotten the rest that it needs.”
I mean, I will point out for people because I think this is an important piece to the puzzle. My program is the only program I know of that actively tells people to be sedentary during their weight loss body days, I tell them not to exercise.
My program is one of habit formation and habit formation takes a lot of bandwidth, a lot of willpower and I personally believe that exercise is going to tap them out and it’s going to sabotage their weight loss efforts. If they are exercising too they won’t dial in their food as cleanly as they need to. They’ll justify exceptions and it will ultimately sabotage the whole process.
My people, by and large, are sedentary and I have data showing that the more sedentary they are the more successful they are with the program and the more weight they do lose. Maybe they’ve finally gotten their rest and their body is like, “Okay I’m rested now.”
What do you think Ari, why do you think that people are starting to get their energy back? It’s got to be their mitochondria are healing right because they are feeding their bodies whole real food, that’s got to be it.
Ari Whitten: I think there is a number of mechanisms and obviously we don’t know for sure, but we know how weight loss can potentially affect certain physiological functions and that we can infer how it might impact energy levels based on that.
Susan Pierce Thompson: You need to know about circadian rhythm too that’s probably, yeah I just realized. Probably circadian rhythm.
Why hunger and fatigue determines the success of your weight loss efforts
Ari Whitten: There is a bunch of stuff going on here and I think we could probably for 30 minutes on just this. One thing I want to point out as a bigger picture context to this is just to zoom out, the very fact that these people are getting their energy back is a really important really good sign.
Because there is data showing that being low in energy levels, I mean being fatigued and feeling tired, feeling exhausted is actually a big predictor of diet failure, of not sticking to the diet which in turn causes weight regain. Diets only work as long as you stick to them, so that and hunger.
Feeling hungry and feeling fatigued, if somebody especially if there is a combination of hunger and fatigue, that is a sign that they are going to regain the weight. It is critical that you are using a method of weight loss that doesn’t make you hungry and fatigued all the time forever and ever. That eventually at a certain point the hunger lifts, the fatigue lifts and hopefully you even feel more satiated and more energetic. I get the sense that that’s happening with your people. Those …
Susan Pierce Thompson: Can I mention the hunger real quick because we do track hunger through the boot camp. On a scale, so we ask people on a scale from one to five how hungry are they with hungry being like five being really hungry. We ask them on a scale from one to five how distressed are they about that.
For example, we teach people, we have a whole training thing about hunger is not an emergency, it’s like you don’t have to eat because you are hungry wait until meal time and stay with it. It’s a grumbly little feeling in the stomach it’s actually not big of a deal, meditate into it, breathe into it.
Ari Whitten: Actually just real quick to interrupt I know you are interrupting me and now I’m interrupting your interruption. I know I’ve talked to several people who literally are terrified by the feeling of hunger. They haven’t been hungry since they were a teenager and actually felt that feeling. They are so used to just snacking mindlessly that they never actually let their bodies get to the point where it’s genuinely hungry and in need of fuel.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Eating preemptively, yeah I get people like that too. We talk about a lot of this stuff preemptively in the boot camp; we tell them how to handle hunger before they even get there. We tell them to expect to be tired long before they are tired. I think mentally that even helps, when they get tired they are not surprised they are like, “Oh yeah here it is bunny slippers.”
I just want to say for your listeners this is a segue and we’ll have to come back to our spot here. This is how Ari and I get, like when we first met which a little over a year ago we got on the phone and we talked about the science of fat loss for like two hours blah, blah, blah.
Ari Whitten: I think it was three, actually.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Well it was like an hour, and an hour the next day and then two days later it was like four hours or something. I think in a two days span we talked for eight hours on the phone, we did not talk about a single other subject other than the science of fat loss.
Ari Whitten: Then you called me the next day and you are like, “Look I got to get some work done I can’t be having three, four hour conservations.”
Susan Pierce Thompson: “I don’t want to talk to you anymore.” Anyway, Ari, and we almost never talked about anything but science, but we just can’t stop and Ari is like my guy he knows so much, he is the only person [crosstalk] …
Ari Whitten: Likewise.
Susan Pierce Thompson: ... anything. Ari what’s the end how does this work? All right did so you say my place what were we talking about? We were talking about …
Ari Whitten: You are tracking hunger in your people.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yes, and at the beginning of the boot camp on a scale from one to five it’s like three and by two or three weeks in it bottoms out at about 1.5 on average and stays at 1.5 on average and the distress meter goes down between one and one and a half, two boom. Yeah, my people are not hungry on average.
Ari Whitten: Those two things hunger and fatigue because they are such important predictors of diet failure and weight regain, I just want to point out to people that using a method of weight loss that doesn’t make you forever hungry and fatigued, is actually a sign that you’ve genuinely reset your body fat set point.
You haven’t just starved your body into temporary fat loss, but your hormones that are regulating hunger and energy levels have now reset to your new level of body fat. Your physiology and your hormones in your brain have accepted that as the new normal instead of fighting you through hunger and fatigue to get you to eat more and not move as much to return to your previous level of body fat.
I just I think it’s those two markers are just really important signs of lowering the body fat set point. I mean because it’s possible for somebody to just starve themselves and you can starve yourself and as long as you continue to starve yourself you’ll be emaciated.
Why Optifast shake diet is causing you to regain your weight
Susan Pierce Thompson: Well there is that paper from that guy from Australia I forget his name right, but on a 500 calorie the Optifast diet after 6 months people have lost a whole bunch of weight. Then for the next year and beyond they are, I don’t think it was beyond actually I think it was a year later their hormones all show the profile of starvation. Their bodies were demanding that they gain back their weight.
Of course, Optifast shake, 500 calories a day of Optifast shakes I looked up an Optifast shake Ari do you know what’s in an Optifast shake?
Ari Whitten: I don’t want to know.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah five of the top nine ingredients of sugar.
Ari Whitten: Nice.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Five of the top nine ingredients of sugar.
Ari Whitten: They have different kinds of sugar in there huh?
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah right sure, there is dextrose and maltodextrin and corn syrup and xylitol and it goes on and on I was like, “Are you kidding me.” This is like this is what hospitals have been using for the most obese of their patients like, “Just go on Optifast three shakes a day. You don’t have to eat food.”
Ari Whitten: It’s scientific, it’s got to be scientific if they are doing it in a hospital right?
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah brutal... So, anyway yeah. You can starve yourself but your body will change its hormonal profile to force you to gain back that weight, they will. The body doesn’t do that with Bright Line Eating.
Ari Whitten: For sure. I think there is a number of mechanisms I know you have to go real soon here so I’ll just try and …
Susan Pierce Thompson: I’m good I think I’ve got another …
Ari Whitten: Are you good?
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah. I’m good for 12 more minutes.
How chronic inflammation suppresses energy levels
Ari Whitten: Some of the mechanisms around why losing weight would impact energy levels, one we talked about just having large excesses of body fat causes systemic inflammation. Chronic inflammation and especially in the brain will suppress energy levels. It’s a key factor in suppressing an area of the hypothalamus that produces a neurotransmitter called orexin which is one of our primary wakefulness neurotransmitters.
As long as you have tons of inflammation in your body your body says lesser orexin.
Susan Pierce Thompson: That’s got to be critical because inflammation goes way down with Bright Line Eating. Just, boom.
How a healthy circadian rhythm is helping you regain your energy during weight loss
Ari Whitten: For sure, so that’s one thing that I’m sure is going on. Another thing is also with large excessive body fat you get insulin resistance and all the stuff I mentioned with blood sugar regulation. Which is another factor that impacts orexin but is also chronically high blood sugar plus build up of toxic byproducts like ceramides directly damages mitochondria.
When you are very overweight you are essentially, your blood that’s feeding all your cells is essentially chronically toxic to your cells on a small level. By losing that weight and allowing your body to regulate blood sugar properly you are removing that chronic burden of toxins on your mitochondria so that’s another factor.
We talked about the toxin aspect of it which as you mentioned and I agree with you that it can’t explain all of the effects because people still are releasing some toxins. Then what else, because …
Susan Pierce Thompson: Circadian rhythm.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, so as far as how you are eating and the feeding is [crosstalk].
Susan Pierce Thompson: Right, so Bright Line Eating three meals a day with nothing in between and you eat at meal time. What used to be tepid circadian rhythms because you are eating all over the place, you had a very short fasting window, you were probably eating your last bit of food at 11 p.m. and your first cream and sugar in your coffee at 6:30 in the morning and you got almost no time for fasting there.
Your circadian rhythm is gimpy …
Ari Whitten: Exactly.
Susan Pierce Thompson: ... because basically between the chronic feeding, overfeeding your body and the light exposure from your screens at night your body doesn’t really see much difference between night and day.
Ari Whitten: Exactly.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Why do we need a clear circadian rhythm? Now you start eating three meals a day, you stop eating after dinner, you don’t eat your first bite of anything until breakfast and now your body is like, “Oh day and night are actually different.” We are going to actually nice big circadian rhythms which mean we’re going to make you tired at night and sluggish at night and wakeful and alert in the morning.
People in Bright Line Eating start recording like, “Holy smokes it’s an hour and a half before my alarm and I’m alert and up and I just get up and hop out of bed. I feel awake like I’ve never felt awake,” and it’s circadian rhythm stuff, right?
Ari Whitten: For sure, so there are two things going on there, so one is circadian rhythm and I just want to zoom out because probably a lot of people listening to this don’t know what the hell circadian rhythm is.
Circadian rhythm is our 24-hour biological clock in our brains and it’s literally pretty much clock, a 24-hour clock in our brain. It’s a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus and it as much as that sounds like this weird abstract idea, we all experience this on a daily basis. This is the reason that when it gets light in the morning your body says, “It’s time to wake up,” and it’s the reason that when it gets dark at night at a certain time your body says, “I’m tired it’s time to go to bed.”
There is a whole symphony of different hormones and neurotransmitters that are being regulated by this clock in the brain and hormones that affect, hormones and neurotransmitters that affect energy levels, that affect metabolism, that affect hunger all sorts of things.
Then we, in turn, can affect that circadian clock by our environment. If we live in an environment where we’re not giving it the proper signals that it needs bright light during the day for example and then darkness and dim light during the night time period and avoidance of artificial light at night which we now have so much of in our modern world. If we don’t do those things we disrupt our circadian rhythm and light is the primary thing that sets and synchronizes the circadian rhythm.
Over the last five to 10 years there is all this new body of literature that’s come out that’s shown that nutrient timing, and foods we eat, and the timing of the foods we eat impacts our circadian rhythm as well. That’s what Susan is getting at when she is talking about how they structure the meals and the meal timing in Bright Line Eating.
Then the other aspect of this is also with proper feeding and fasting windows. Having an adequate fasting window at night you allow your body to go into what’s called autophagy.
What autophagy is, and how it impacts your energy levels
Susan Pierce Thompson: Autophagy.
Ari Whitten: Autophagy which basically allows your body, your immune system and your cells to clean up the damaged and dysfunctional cell components especially in the mitochondria. When you have very short fasting windows at night which the vast majority of people do, you don’t let your body do that cellular clean up adequately each night. Then you get a buildup of damaged cell parts and mitochondria and of course, that’s another way that we see fatigue.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah.
How eating 20oz of vegetables should be a part of your daily meal plan
Ari Whitten: Then the other, so I’ll mention one other mechanism that I think is going on here which is your program has people eating a crapload of vegetables.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah.
Ari Whitten: You are huge on that.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah, like 20 ounces of vegetables a day.
Ari Whitten: Most people I think they are like, “Are you sure I should be eating this much, really?”
Susan Pierce Thompson: Oh God, yeah we get so many people writing and I can’t eat all the food at night especially dinner like where there are so many vegetables. I can’t eat all this, there is too much chewing.
Ari Whitten: There are a couple of components there which is one, is phytonutrients and phytonutrients have a whole bunch of beneficial of the body; lowering inflammation, boosting mitochondrial function things like that. Then the other one is minerals, in particular, I mean vitamins and minerals but especially mineral content in vegetables. So many people are mineral deficient and you can get the symptom of fatigue just from one or two mineral deficiencies. Most people have those mineral deficiencies because most people aren’t eating nearly enough plant foods.
When you are getting people, on the one hand, there is portion limitations and stuff like that and you are having people weigh and measure their food, but on the other, you are having them eat massive amounts of vegetables.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah and I have them weigh their food because otherwise, they won’t eat enough vegetables. There are two reasons to use a digital food scale, well more than two there is at least three reasons.
One is to make sure you eat enough vegetables you won’t otherwise.
Two is to make sure you don’t eat too much of everything else, and...
Three is to quiet the saboteur in the brain that says, “I might not have gotten enough food here I need to go back for seconds.” That food insanity of like was it enough, was it not enough and just to get the peace that comes from that’s my meal it’s really over now moving on.
People always think that because I have people weigh and measure their food that it means that they got to eat tiny quantities I’m like, “Oh no honey.” I’m like …
Ari Whitten: I think when you are taking a lot of these people who have deficiencies in minerals and then you are having them eat these massive quantities of vegetables you are literally, it doesn’t happen overnight but over the process of 30 days, 60 days, 90 days.
You are literally flashing back in all of these minerals into their body so their cells are going, “Oh I have the proper minerals that will allow me to do the work I need to do and produce energy.” I think there is a whole bunch of mechanisms going on there.
Why supplements are just not cutting it
Susan Pierce Thompson: I just want to say because I can feel somebody out there thinking minerals like I could take minerals like multivitamin. I just want to say there is really good research that says you got to get that stuff from food.
You cannot just pop those things in a pill because it’s not just the mineral it’s the 200, 2,000 phytonutrients and phytochemicals that surround that mineral to go into the chemical reactions that actually make the cascade of effects happen. You can’t just isolate certain things and take them in pills.
It turns out you actually have to eat the food and there is a cool book on that called ”Whole” that describes how everything all fits together but just trust us on this you actually have to get it from food. I think vitamins in some ways serve people wrong by thinking well my diet is not so great, but at least I’m taking my vitamins or whatever.
Ari Whitten: 100%.
Susan Pierce Thompson: That doesn’t do it, you got to be eating the produce.
How to find out more about Susan Pierce Thompson and her work
Ari Whitten: Yeah for sure. I think we’re just about out of time here but what I want to do is for anyone that is struggling with their weight go to Susan’s site take The Susceptibility Quiz and find if you are susceptible to food addiction, what’s going on in your brain. Really get clarity on what the best method is going to be to help you lose fat sustainably and Susan do you want to add any thoughts on that?
Susan Pierce Thompson: Probably the easiest website for them to remember is foodfreedomquiz.com. If they just want to take the quiz, it’s also my website brightlineeating.com that’s B-R-I-G-H-T-L-I-N-E I’m sure you’ll have it in the show notes and stuff. If anyone is driving down the road or whatever and they want it in their head foodfreedomquiz.com will do it.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Yeah.
Ari Whitten: Well awesome thank you so much it was as always as our conversations always are it’s such a pleasure to talk with you. I think, I don’t think any conversation has been had really around this subject before so I think this is going to really help bring a lot of clarity to people who are worried about their energy levels and they also want to lose weight and just really understanding the big picture of this process so that they can do things the right way and know what to expect and know how to make sure that they get their energy back.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Perfect, thanks so much Ari such a pleasure.
Ari Whitten: Thank you, Susan. All right, bye.
Susan Pierce Thompson: Bye.