Achieving optimal health and weight can seem like an impossible challenge. Whether you want to lose a substantial number of pounds, just a few, or simply maintain your weight while improving your vitality, there are boundless diet and lifestyle choices to support your goals. The vast array of choices can make it difficult to choose the best approach for you. Of the myriad diet choices out there, whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) approaches have proven benefits like lowering the risk of heart disease (1), cancer (2), dementia (3), and diabetes (4). However, there is some confusion over what constitutes a WFPB diet.
What is a whole-food, plant-based diet?
Whole-foods are natural foods that are whole, unrefined or minimally processed. Plant-based meals consist predominantly of plants (e.g., fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts) and may also include some meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy. Highly processed and refined foods are avoided on a whole-food, plant-based diet. It is a misconception that plant-based diets must exclude all meat and dairy. In a WFPB diet, meat and dairy take a backseat to plants at mealtime.
Anyone can eat a WFPB diet without following a strict plan. But sometimes transitioning to a WFPB lifestyle is easier with structure and support. Let me introduce two effective WFPB lifestyles for you to consider that you might not have heard about, the Primal Blueprint and Bright Line Eating. Both programs support weight loss and long-term health, but the programs approach eating and exercise in different ways. An overview of each program is presented, followed by a guide to help you decide if either plan is right for you.
The Primal Blueprint
Mark Sisson, a former professional athlete, founded the Primal Blueprint (PB) in 2009 (5). Set within the ancestral health movement, the PB is a diet and lifestyle program that promises a metabolic transformation in 21 days (6). According to his book, The 21-Day Total Body Transformation: A Complete Step-by-Step Gene Reprogramming Action Plan, eight key concepts comprise the foundation of the PB: 1) gene expression can be optimized through diet and physical activity, 2) the clues to optimal gene expression are found in evolution, 3) the body prefers fat as a fuel source, 4) 80% of body composition is determined by diet, 5) grains are unnecessary, 6) saturated fat and cholesterol are not inherently bad, 7) exercise is ineffective for weight management, and 8) regular and brief high-intensity workouts promote maximum fitness.
Foods to eat on PB
Certain foods and behaviors are eliminated on the PB plan including grains, sugars, sweetened beverages, industrial and polyunsaturated oils, legumes, all conventional dairy, chronic exercise, and sedentary patterns. Recommended whole-foods include vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, fowl, eggs, high-quality fats, and limited high-fat dairy products. There is an emphasis on buying organic, pastured, local, and sustainable food choices. Daily movement is prescribed, along with a few brief, intense workouts per week. Calming evening rituals are encouraged, such as strolling, reading, or socializing, along with minimizing exposure to artificial light.
There is no portion control on the PB. Instead of tracking macronutrient servings, followers are encouraged to adopt the 80/20 rule – make good food choices at least 80% of the time and only eat to satiety. The PB encourages followers to be spontaneous, explore new recipes, take play breaks, and connect with family and friends often. The PB motto is “Live Long and Drop Dead” which translates into “Enjoy life to the fullest, instead of enduring declining health for decades.”
Bright Line Eating
Susan Peirce Thompson, PhD, a psychology professor, founded Bright Line Eating in 2014 (7). Based on research in neuroscience, biology, and psychology, BLE claims breaking the addiction to sugar is the key to gaining a “right-sized” body (8). BLE provides both a plan for what to eat and also the structure to support changing dietary habits, such as strategies to overcome the willpower gap and other strategies heavily influenced by a 12-step addiction process model. According to her book, Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin & Free, four core principles guide BLE, known as “bright lines”: 1) no sugar, 2) no flour, 3) weigh and measure all food; and 4) eat only three times a day.
Foods to eat on BLE
On the BLE eating plan, all sources of sugar and all types of flour (e.g., wheat, rye, almond) are eliminated permanently. A list of appropriate foods and quantities are recommended for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All food is weighed to ensure the exact quantities of protein, grain, fruits, vegetables, and fats are consumed at each meal. Followers are recommended to buy the highest quality ingredients that can be afforded and to carefully read labels to avoid sugar in its many forms. Exercise is encouraged only after dietary changes are firmly entrenched.
Additional suggestions to support behavior change include making a nightly checklist of foods that will be consumed the next day, creating an action plan for dealing with challenging situations such as social occasions, and keeping a nightly gratitude journal. Absolute fidelity to watching every bite of food is recommended. A mental trick that followers use to stay on plan is reciting the mantra “not my food.” The BLE motto is to “live happy, thin, and free” which means freedom from thinking about food by surrendering completely to the plan.
|Founded||Mark Sisson, 2009||Susan Pierce Thompson, 2014|
|Motto||Live Long and Drop Dead||Live Happy, Thin, and Free|
|Model||Evolutionary model||Addiction model|
|Philosophical Approach||80/20 rule||Strict control, weigh all food|
|Dietary Recommendations||Whole foods, unrestricted fat||Whole foods, restricted fat|
|Food Restrictions||Grains, sugars, sweetened beverages, legumes, industrial and polyunsaturated oils, and conventional dairy||All forms of sugar and all types of flour|
|Portion Control and Food Tracking||No portion control or food tracking||Strict portion control and food tracking|
|Exercise Recommendations||Specific exercise regimen which includes daily movement and weekly brief, intense workouts.||No specific exercise regimen. Encourages focusing on controlling eating habits before pursuing exercise goals.|
|Lifestyle Supports||Encourages experimenting with recipes, making time for play, and having evening rituals to promote sleep.||Encourages meditation and gratitude journaling.|
|Challenges||• Restricts certain foods|
• Requires time-consuming meal preparation
• Potentially high food costs
|• Restricts certain foods
• Requires time-consuming meal preparation
• Requires a scale
• Requires strict adherence
• Difficult to eat out
|Advantages||• Flexible for eating out||• Less emphasis on expensive ingredients|
|Support Resources||Certified Primal Health Coaches||BLE Bootcamp|
No matter what type of diet and lifestyle plan you are looking for, to maximize success, you should consider your long-term health goals. Choose a plan that aligns with your values and meets your time and cost needs. Research shows there are seven features to look for in a weight loss program to increase success: 1) reasonable weight-loss expectations, sustainable over a long time; 2) matches your eating preferences and doesn’t leave you feeling deprived; 3) allows some of your favorite foods; 4) addresses eating and activity patterns; 5) tracks your weight; 6) tracks your eating and drinking behaviors; and 7) offers long-term accountability and support (9).
Which plan is right for you?
Consider the following statements. If the statement resonates with you, an “X” indicates which plan may be a good fit for you. If you have checked off at least five statements in a column, that program may be worth trying.
|Statement||Primal Blueprint||Bright Line Eating|
|I am committed to making a permanent lifestyle change||X||X|
|I believe I am a food addict||X|
|I can commit to a strict protocol||X|
|I want a lot of structure in eating habits||X|
|I want a lot of flexibility in eating habits||X|
|I can eliminate certain foods from my diet||X||X|
|I don’t mind spending time preparing meals||X||X|
|I am vegan or vegetarian||X|
|I can’t give up an occasional glass of wine||X|
|I prioritize eating organic, pastured, and sustainable food||X|
|I want a structured exercise plan||X|
|I want support from like-minded individuals||X||X|
My personal experience with each program
I have practiced both Primal Blueprint and Bright Line Eating programs and had success with each. Although these programs seem worlds apart, both were effective for weight loss and maintenance. I experienced more rapid weight loss with BLE but found it difficult to stay with it for more than a year. Exercise has never been a top priority for me, but the exercise component of PB helped me build strength I didn’t know I was capable of. Both programs provided an abundance of energy and vitality. Ultimately, I found the flexibility and philosophy of PB more suited to my beliefs and habits. What I practice now combines elements from both programs.
How to take action
Decide right now if you are ready to commit to adopting a WFPB diet. Focus on your reasons for making this lifestyle change and fully commit yourself to the program of your choice. Take a moment to think about the following questions: Why do you want to change your lifestyle? What type of changes do you want to make and how will you benefit? What type of program resonates with you and why? How can you overcome the inevitable challenges you will face? What type of support might you need and where can you find it?
If taking action sounds scary, remember, you don’t have to do it alone! Most people need help getting started. Many can benefit from hiring a coach. Coaches provide structure and serve as an accountability partner. Making meaningful and lasting lifestyle changes are worth the effort. I know you can do it!
I would love to hear about your journey, so please consider leaving a comment! And if you are looking for support to adopt a WFPB lifestyle, I am here for you. Use the contact form on the “About” page to request a free call to discuss how I can help.
By Jyenny Babcock
*Author is a Certified Primal Health Coach
- Satija, A., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Rimm, E. B., Spiegelman, D., Chiuve, S. E., Borgi, L., . . . Hu, F. B. (2016). Plant-based dietary patterns and incidence of Type 2 diabetes in US men and women: Results from three prospective cohort studies. PLoS Medicine, 13(6), e1002039. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002039
- Tantamango-Bartley, Y., Jaceldo-Siegl, K., Fan, J., & Fraser, G. (2013). Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 22(2), 286-294. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-12-1060
- Jiang, X., Huang, J., Song, D., Deng, R., Wei, J., & Zhang, Z. (2017). Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is related to a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and dementia: Meta-analysis. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 9(18), 1-11. doi:10.3389/fnagi.2017.00018
- Satija, A., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Spiegelman, D., Chiuve, S. E., Manson, J. E., Willett, W., . . . Hu, F. B. (2017). Healthful and unhealthful plant-based diets and the risk of coronary heart disease in U.S. Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 70(4), 411-422. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047
- Primal Blueprint. (n.d.). Meet Mark Sisson. Retrieved from https://www.primalblueprint.com/pages/about
- Sisson, M. (2011). The Primal Blueprint: 21-day total body transformation. Malibu, CA: Primal Nutrition, Inc.
- Bright Line Eating. (n.d.). Our story. Retrieved from https://brightlineeating.com/about-us/
- Peirce Thompson, S. (2017). Bright line eating: The science of living happy, thin, and free. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House
- Ross, K., & Krukowski, R. (n.d.). The 7 components of a successful weight loss plan. Retrieved from https://www.sbm.org/healthy-living/the-7-components-of-a-successful-weight-loss-plan