Jul 13, 2020
In Part 2 of our Bright Line Eating episode, I explore Susan
Peirce Thompson's grand claims that her weight loss program is "the
most effective in the world", and come to a very different
conclusion. I also chat with Dr Martina Zangger, who spent 2 years
as a "Bright Lifer" and has literally been to hell and back. Not
only is she thousands of dollars out of pocket, but she's had to
overcome a Bright Line induced eating disorder. And she is NOT
HAPPY! Diet culture constantly sells us the glossy testimonials,
but the ANTI-TESTIMONIAL is much more important. The only winner
here is the Bright Line Bank Account - you will not believe how
much cash Susan Peirce Thompson is raking in from selling
starvation. It's enough to run a small country, yet strangely,
Bright Line Eating can't even squeeze out any decent research? CW
for this episode, which has LOTS of explicit talk about eating
disordered practices, numbers, and extreme dieting.
to part two of our deep dive into Susan Peirce Thompson’s program
Bright Line Eating - if you missed the last episode, go back and
have a listen.
episode we talked about the rules of the Bright Line Eating
program, which is basically a monetised version of Food Addicts
talked about neuroscience with Dr Susan Aamodt, and how she found
some peace in the non-diet approach. Susan also gave us a great
overview of how our brains regulate body weight, and how the food
addiction model isn’t well supported by evidence.
we’re going to continue by looking at the alleged ‘research’ that
‘backs up’ Bright Line Eating, and then hear from Dr Martina
Zangger who nominated Bright Line for the Crappy awards and brought
this rant to us.
- And to
round things out - just how much money is this program making, and
where is it heading?
warning - there is some mention of numbers (weights) as we go
through some research.
Peirce Thompson is always talking about research in her book, her
emails and thousands of messages she sends out to program members
(and prospective members) - research that supposedly proves the
effectiveness of her program.
truth is that the research is much less shiny and sparkly than
Thompson makes out.
- On her
website - four publications are listed. Actually, only one of them
is a published paper. The other three are posters from conferences.
At conferences (for example, in the nutrition world) there are
lecture presentations, panels and then ‘poster presentations’.
Anyone from an Honours or Masters level student, a weight-loss
industry group can put up a poster - they’re not the same as a
published research paper. So, on her website there’s actually only
one published research paper.
it’s interesting - Thompson has been in academia for most of her
life, yet has so little in her name in terms of research
publications. It’s usually a requirement of being employed at an
academic institution, to be publishing often.
let’s look at that paper. It’s from the Journal of Nutrition & Weight
Loss, and the title is
‘Evaluation of a Commercial Telehealth Weight Loss and Management
Program’, published in 2018. Thompson is not one of the authors.
The paper overview evaluated her online eight week bootcamp, part
of her monetised program. The paper said that between October 2014
- March 2018 (roughly four years), 18,778 people enrolled in the
bootcamp. WOW - this program costs US $900 per person, and nearly
19,000 people have been through this program.
of these people agreed to participate in this ongoing research
study of the program, and then eight weeks later 5,374 people
completed the return survey. That’s a drop out rate of around 50%.
Remember - you’re just paid US $900 and you’ve dropped out after
they found out:
- Demographics - people buying this program are
mainly white, well off, older, female. 96% were college educated,
with an average age of 55. (Targeting menopausal women who are
feeling horrible about their bodies?)
weight at the start of the program (number warning) was 88.3kg, and
after the eight week bootcamp where participants are told to eat
three times a day only, with strictly weighed and measured food and
zero flour or sugar, average weight loss was 7.5kg.
not surprising - restricting yourself so much for eight weeks means
some weight loss isn’t surprising. But it does mean you’re paying
close to $200 AUD per kilo lost - and we know it’s only temporary
away from reading this paper is that it’s nothing new. Like so many
weight loss papers before it, it shows that when you starve you
lose weight. There’s no neurological research being undertaken
here, and no attempt to search for harm or screen people (such as
for eating disorder behaviours).
flimsy, pretty unimpressive.
this rather limp research to the grand claims she is making in her
book - “we believe this is the most successful weight loss program
on earth”. Any facts to back up that opinion?
an effort in the book to put some numbers in to back up her claims,
but she’s using pretty stinky tactics.
brags about the rate of weight loss on her program compared to
other weight loss programs such as Weight Watchers (WW) and Jenny
Craig. She cites research that on those other programs, that shows
that after two years people lost 8-10% of their starting weight.
Susan says that people lose 10% of their weight on her program, and
what she’s doing there is comparing weight loss over two years to
weight loss over eight weeks. Stopping research sooner to make your
program look more effective. The longer you follow people on these
research papers, the more weight they regain. Dodgy, sneaky, not a
you’re trying to peddle weight loss, the strongest evidence is not
in the short term result. It’s all about proving that your program
can “keep their weight off forever”, because that’s really what
everyone’s looking for - and we know that in all these programs
people overwhelmingly put the weight back on.
- So the
claims Susan is making are leaving us dumbfounded. There are claims
about the percentage of people in her program who have reached goal
weight, maintained, etc - with no actual research to back it up.
Are we talking about four people or one thousand - how many people
are in this research pool?
red flag - in the book, Susan admits that there are people in her
program with eating disorders, and people in her program who are
already ‘thin’ but doing the program to achieve a ‘goal
she’s saying that there’s a cohort of people who have lost 25% of
their body weight and are maintaining it, I’m really worried about
those people. They very well could be unwell and potentially have
eating disorders, but are being represented as success
three posters (not actual published research) are labelled as
‘research publications’ which is misleading.
- One is
a poster version of the published paper we just went through, and
there’s a description of the poster that talks about a completely
different, smaller sample of people. Perhaps because they’re
talking about a smaller group of people who do have a BMI of 25 or
above? Which means many of the people featured in the published
article were thin to begin with, which muddies the outcomes
Line Eating: An effective online program for sustained weight loss”
is the title of another of the posters. It’s a poster version of
the dodgy tactic Susan did in her book, where the sample isn’t
actually discussed (who are they? How many?). There’s no actual
statistical or experimental design given in this paper, nothing to
tell the reader about how the research is carried
are bar graphs presenting information but with no numbers to tell
us about the sample being represented. There’s a bar graph titles
‘decrease in body weight over time’ that has 10% body weight lost
at baseline - baseline? This poster is worlds apart from a peer
reviewed published paper. Shame on you, Susan, for trying to pass
this off as research.
don’t be fooled, if you hear that Bright Line Eating is research
based or evidence based. This is abominable - one weight loss
research paper that just backs up that weight loss occurs, but no
evidence of long term effects.
talk with Dr Martina Zangger!
is fired up about diet culture in general, but most particularly
fired up about the Bright Line Eating movement - an unconscionable
money-making scheme that encourages eating disorders and is
marketed brilliantly by a charismatic charming manipulator making
at least ten million dollars a year from her various
- Martina’s Crappys rant stuck with us, because
speaking from her own experience with the program made for a really
can’t just pay once for the eight week boot camp - there are follow
up programs! Most participants are women, between 40-70 years of
age, middle class and white. They’re spending about $3,000 AUD a
year on these programs that they become dependent on. You can’t
continue this program on your own, you’d just fall off the wagon -
it’s so controlled! So, if you’re very controlled, highly anxious,
perfectionistic, perhaps mentally unwell - yeah, maybe you could
sustain it on your own. It’s basically a restrictive eating
Martina was ‘succeeding’ in the program, she had an eating
disorder. She developed orthorexia and was close to anorexia, which
all developed during the program. It’s a really frightening
suggested some weird things. ‘Goal weight’ was a huge topic of
conversation - suggesting that we should go back to our ‘high
school weight’ when we were 15 or 16, ‘at our thinnest in our
teens’. So screwed up!
found the program through a long term friend. They’d both
‘struggled’ with food for a long time, and talked about things like
bingeing, being ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and this friend told Martina she
was going to start the Bright Line Eating (BLE) program. Martina
joined her, and after a week told her friend it was just too hard -
but her friend told her to keep going, that they’d try it for a
weight loss became really addictive - the rush of hopping on the
scale, seeing the numbers change, having to buy smaller clothes.
Martina feels embarrassed by how superficial it was, but it was
highly intoxicating. Louise doesn't think it’s superficial at all -
that pursuit of weight loss is really intense in an eating
rules were strict and restrictive - no flour or sugar, very little
felt the program gave her an illusion of control at a very
difficult time in her life - like she could set back the clock to
feel younger rather than an ‘old menopausal
- Martina’s mother was on a diet for 67 years of
her life, and taught her to diet when Martina was 12. So sad for
both of them. Martina was basically then trained as a
has very low self esteem as a young person, and felt that what she
looked like could give her the self esteem she was lacking. Martina
has a history of abuse in her childhood, and had feelings of being
different, not good enough, ‘damaged goods’. But dieting gave her a
feeling of being good at something.
dieting actually had a positive function at that time. Diet culture
is all about making people feel that their appearance is their
than think about the trauma you have experienced at the hands of
(often) men, you can think about dieting. Instead of having a
voice, you have dieting. It’s heartbreaking, and it makes sense.
It’s a way of coping and surviving.
- “It’s a
scientifically grounded program that teaches you a simple process
for getting your brain on board so you can finally live happy, thin
and free” - it’s so seductive, isn’t it?
Martina’s Crappys nomination, Louise signed up for BLE newsletters
and in one month has had 50 emails from BLE! It’s full of the
‘happy, thin and free’ message, and being in your ‘right sized’
body, or the ‘bright line’ body.
GREAT at the messaging - hitting every single marketing box, with
the credentials (professor of neuropsychology) to make it
is an academic with a PhD herself and so thought Susan must know
out the money side of things - the eight week book camp costs about
$1,200 AUD. Then you’re told “you can’t do this alone, you need our
support” and you can sign up for “bright lifers”, a one year
support program that costs about $700 AUD per year. Then there’s
another program for those people who fall off their ‘bright lines’,
maybe 60% of people? It’s called ‘reboot, resume’. Thousands of
women sign up for that because they feel ashamed that they can’t
keep their ‘bright line’. She’s making them pay for the relapse her
another program called ‘Bright Line Mind’, too.
- It all
rhymes, but it’s all bullshit!
says when you’re cooking, if you’re hungry, put some sticky tape
across your mouth so you’re not tempted to lick the spoon that
you’re stirring your food with. WHAT!?! It’s irresponsible, it’s
horrific - and she confidently says it to 50,000
people who fall off their ‘bright lines’, they don’t blame Susan -
they blame themselves. They sign up again and again, “I’ve been
very bad and I need to learn how to be good”. It’s diet
was able to keep her adherence to the program going without falling
off her ‘bright line’ - she was brought up with a lot of Swiss
discipline and put that all into being ‘good’ in the program. She
thinks she was one of the more successful people in the program
before deciding it was rubbish and walking away. For about two
years she was following the ‘bright lines’ 100%, maybe wavering a
little on quantities. Sometimes she would ‘cheat’ and put 10 grams
more oats into her muesli at breakfast - cheat! 10
weighing everything, every day. How do you do that and live your
have to pack all your food ahead of time, and only eat out at
certain places where you could get something
remembers eating an apple instead of joining in with her family
eating gelato (she loves gelato!). One day they were eating gelato
and Martina thought, “fuck this!” and had a double scoop of
chocolate gelato, and that was the beginning of the unravelling of
BLE for her. In spite of all that powerful, positive reinforcement
- things were not okay.
is so pleased she’s found the courage to walk away from it. She
wrote a letter to Susan describing her orthorexia and how the
program brought on her eating disorder, and never heard back. She
also wrote an email to her ‘house leaders’ who said they were ‘very
sorry’ and wished her well. That was all.
interest in how they might be doing harm.
six months, Martina put on all the weight she had lost over two
years. It was a very scary process, but she thought “no matter
what, I’m not going to diet. No matter how much weight I've gained,
I'm not going to restrict”. And now she feels the best she’s ever
felt - so much HAPPIER! She eats what she wants, trusts what her
mind or body tells her it wants, and is happier.
NOT thin, and free!
beginning time of gaining weight back was terrifying. Martina had
to pay for therapy (more money!) which was very helpful for her.
She learned some principles of Intuitive Eating, and allowed
herself binges - she had been so deprived that she would buy big
packets of treats and eat them all quickly because she was starving
for sugar. Now, she’ll eat any sweets she wants but isn’t needing
to binge - because they’re all allowed.
bingeing didn’t have an agenda - she wasn’t trying to get the
binging out of the way so she could get past it. The bingeing just
had to happen because she’d been so restricted.
- *I can
be smart, beautiful, have a loving heart, have a wise mind. I don’t
have to look emaciated to be worth something.*
remembers talking to her 87 year old mother the day before she was
scheduled to have back surgery, and how excited her mum was about
losing weight after the surgery. Martina’s mother died during that
surgery. Both Martina and her mum were victims of diet
such joy in food, in sharing food, in looking forward to dinner out
or the really special lunch you have in your lunch box!
is amazed that Martina has managed to get out of Bright Lines,
recover from the eating disorder that it caused, and found not just
peace with food but enjoyment.
lifted the BLE program from the FA and OA twelve-step programs,
based on the addiction model. Those FA/OA programs are free - and
yet she has monetised it and is making millions. It’s ethically
completely not okay.
gave a sense of community, like a big sister - loving, attentive,
‘I care about you, I love you”, but at the same time “give me your
money”. It’s so manipulative. You feel special, and it’s a
doesn’t blame herself, but others do - they call themselves
failures. It relies on the disempowerment of women and making them
you’ve been involved in BLE or anything like it and developed an
eating disorder, that’s because of the deprivation and restriction,
and normal responses to starvation.
warnings in any of the emails or program notes so far about
potential for developing eating disorders, and no accountability -
she doesn’t reply to emails where people talk about developing
eating disorders, about being ‘broken’, about needing to seek
generously offers up her email (in the resource notes) for anyone
who has undertaken Bright Line Eating and wants to have a chat or
converse via email about what they’re going through. You didn’t
fail, the diet failed.
you Martina, for your courage and honesty. That recovery was so
tough and our blood is boiling still about how Susan ignored
Martina’s email about her eating disorder.
- So, how
much cash is being raked in by BLE?
look at that research paper again - in US$, she’s profited just shy
of 17 MILLION DOLLARS in four years.
on All Fired Up we talk about how diet culture is a multimillion
dollar industry making money off weight cycling, but this is just
website that gives out BLE information said that her husband David
is the CEO of BLE. This website lists BLE as having 30 employees,
and a revenue of 5.8 million US dollars.
website says that in the first quarter of 2019, revenue was listed
as 6 million, and in the next two quarters it was 9 million. So, in
2019 this woman made 30 MILLION BUCKS. Link to this website in the
of just how many people that money represents, people who are
desperate for the ‘bright lines’. Susan says in her book that by
2040, she wants 1 million people at what she calls ‘goal weight’.
That’s $900 million in bootcamp sales!
- Something that’s struck Louise during this
research is just how much positive press there is about Susan out
there. There’s just no critical feedback - in fact, there seems to
be an absence of even just basic journalistic research to look at
her claims. People seem to be just swallowing her ideas and her
story - is it that she’s so compelling, or that she’s a
neuroscientist and we just don’t question it?
a particularly nauseating 2016 media piece about her, where the
journalist just gushed about how brave Susan was to leave her
academic position to do the BLE thing full time. Is it brave, or is
it capitalism? How brave is it to leave academia if you're earning
millions! The journalist says “as a scientist, I’m especially
heartened by Susan’s desire to use profits generated by Bright Line
Eating to fund research on weight loss, since objective data and
evidence based approaches are sorely lacking in the field”. Okay?
Is that true? In her book, she does talk about how she wants to do
more research to prove how BLE works, and talks about something
called the ‘Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss’. WTF is that?
It’s a ‘charitable’ foundation with a mission statement of
‘advancing the science of sustainable weight loss for everyone’,
claiming that they support study into neurological changes that
support weight loss. Since the establishment of the institute in
2016, Susan has made millions of dollars and there’s been no
research released. But they will accept donations!
hasn’t had any emails back after requesting confirmation of the
Institute's charitable status. It’s actually registered as a
‘non-compliant charity’ in the state of New Jersey, meaning it
hasn’t supplied enough information to charity
there you have it - the Bright Line Eating world of mass marketing,
dodgy diet claims, making a buttload of money off the agony of
everyday people like Martina, and being unresponsive to criticism.
- It’s so
low calorie, it WILL induce a state of physical starvation which
will induce a whole range of homeostatic drivers that will make you
preoccupied with food, with your whole body fighting to regain the
weight. You’ll be more sensitive to food cues, you'll experience a
heightened sense of need for those ‘banned’ foods which makes you
more likely to binge or compulsively eat due to the deprivation.
Enduring a chronic starvation state slows metabolism and affects
leptin, telling your brain you’re starving.
let’s not forget the serious risk of developing an eating
- It’s an
incredibly expensive program to white-knuckle you towards some
twisted illusion of ‘freedom’. Susan fails to tell people the
entire truth about brain-based weight regulation and defended
weight range. She is a neuroscientist but she has ignored the
effects of yoyo dieting and chronic restriction. People she’s
targeting are already primed to think that they’re food addicts,
and she’s blaming the palatability and ‘toxicity’ of food - when
really it’s the deprivation that’s causing these heightened
she’s making millions of dollars and running a non-compliant
charitable research institute!
is sick of programs like BLE running unchecked, without criticism -
it’s time for the anti-testimonial, like
- Get in
touch - let’s start reclaiming and shaking things up!
Martina Zangger’s email is email@example.com - please contact
her if you have also suffered as a result of the Bright Line Eating
- The research
publications section of the Bright Line Eating
- Link to
very gushy article on
Susan Peirce Thompson in 2016
website showing the incredible amount of money that Bright Line
Eating is making
Institute for Sustainable Weight
- Below is a screenshot of the 'noncompliant' status of the
Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss charity: