I want to address something from an email I received this week. It said: “I hear you use the phrase ‘Is my food too sexy?’ Please explain this term! I have a feeling it will be very helpful as I am new to the eating plan, and am still feeling my way.”
What a great question! “Sexy food” is a term I use all the time, and it’s worth explaining. It breaks down into three dimensions: the reward value, the level of processing, and complexity.
First, the reward value. Generally, sugar, flour, fat, and salt are the elements that make foods more highly rewarding. Some foods on the Bright Line plan fall into that category. Cheese, for example, is highly rewarding. Nuts and nut butters are also sexy because of their reward value. They light up the brain. Sausage, too. Whole-fat yogurt can be highly rewarding, as well as coffee and caffeine.
Most of the highly rewarding foods have been eliminated from Bright Line Eating—all the highly processed foods and foods with sugar and flour.
Some foods have known addictive qualities, yet they’re allowed on the Bright Line Eating food plan. There are no Bright Line Eating Police, which means that you alone are responsible for noticing if a food is getting out of line; if you’re looking forward to that food too much, that’s important to notice. If so, consider taking it out of your plan for a while.
A note about salt: you need salt. If it becomes problematic, you might consider weighing and measuring it, and keep in mind that salt increases the reward value of the meal. The answer isn’t to eliminate it, however, it’s to keep an eye on it.
Next, processing. Some BLE foods are processed. Take rice cakes. I don’t recommend starting the day with rice cakes and peanut butter. That’s a highly rewarding food on top of a highly processed food. It’s a very sexy meal. Also lookalike foods like bean pasta and Ezekiel bread—they’re sexy foods.
Consider your food on a spectrum from simple to sexy. We’ve already eliminated most of the sexiest foods from your plan. But for someone who’s a 10 on the Food Addiction Susceptibility Scale and who really wants food freedom, keeping food to the simple side of the spectrum is the way to do that. There’s nuance here, though. If you’re a 6 on the scale and are doing BLE to lose weight and it’s working for you, the foods I’m talking about may be fine in weighed and measured quantities. But for the person whose food addiction tendencies are more severe and who is struggling, they will need to make their food simpler.
Third, we have complexity. Complexity refers to adding a lot of condiments and spices, plus a lot of different ingredients, and making your food more flavorful and more rewarding. Doing that slides a food up the spectrum in the direction of sexy.
Note that there’s a big difference between steamed butternut squash vs. butternut squash that has been sprayed with spray oil and roasted. The procedure makes the food sexier. Roasted vegetables are way sexier than steamed vegetables. Roasted vegetables may be fine for you. But if I need to add oil to my vegetables and am attached to it and do it regularly, it’s going to affect my weight and peace of mind. There’s a big difference between steamed squash versus roasted butternut squash versus roasted butternut squash sprinkled with nutmeg and pumpkin pie spice. Then you’re getting into the domain of a lookalike food, and that’s not conducive to mental peace.
This is what I mean about complexity: layering in different elements and aiming to create a whoosh in the brain. That’s problematic. Melted cheese can also be over the line. I never do that. It’s just addictive. If I eat cheese, I weigh two ounces and have it in chunks or string cheese.
One green vegetable, steamed: that’s the essence of simplicity. When you start adding oil, garlic, spices, or multiple vegetables—say in a stir fry—all of those things add to the complexity level. That’s not necessarily bad. But if you’re looking to simplify food, try eating whole foods, one food per category at a time, with the simplest preparation—and see what happens to your brain.
I find simple food delicious. And when I haven’t eaten between meals, my brain is so ready for that food it hits my taste buds just right.
The simpler I keep my food, the more likely the next meal will feel like enough. Simple food begets a brain that appreciates simple food. Sexy food begets a brain that needs sexy food. With each choice, we’re creating a brain that is either satisfied or needy.
Lightening up on sexy food is a favor to our future self. It will give us a brain that is delighted with simple food; that is peaceful and calm, and for whom simple food is truly enough.