Black and White, Meet Gray

October 13, 2010

This perhaps doesn’t  apply to us all….but it applies to nearly every woman that sits across the desk from me at my office. Black or white. On or off. All or nothing. I want results and I want them now. Much of the time we are either turned on 110%, giving our all on a plan or we are feeling out of control and way off track. We go, go, go; restrict, restrict, restrict; exercise, exercise, exercise – this usually gives some quick results, which we love! But then….then we hit the wall, often landing head first in a pint of ice cream. This radical on and off mentality sets us up for the dreaded – yet oh so popular – yo-yo dieting. We work our tails off – literally – and lose 10 pounds only to gain back 15.  By the time we come to and realize we’ve not only hit the wall, but bounced back off it farther than where we started in the first place, the guilt sets in, followed by a bit of panic. We rush out to buy a new workout DVD, hire a new trainer, or end up at Barnes and Noble rifling through the heaped table of weight loss books – all promising the latest and greatest in fat loss. We’re feeling anxious, even a little desperate to get back on track – usually blaming the last regimen we tried, thinking it failed us. Perhaps it’s not a flawed nutrition plan or an ineffective workout regimen, but maybe it’s our harsh black and white palette that’s messing us up. Rather than on and off like a light bulb, think of your health and fitness as being on a dimmer switch. A dimmer can be turned up or down depending on your goals and state of mind, and it doesn’t ever have to be ON or OFF.  This is the gray between black and white. Some of you may have mastered the art of gray and know how to use your dimmer switch. You’ve found a middle ground that keeps you on track to your body comp goals over the long haul – for the rest of us, life is colored starkly in black or white and we swing abruptly between them. When we are on, we are way on – but when we are off, we can get way off. We over exercise and end up injured or exhausted. We restrict our “treat foods” so much that we end up binging on them.  We view a single cookie as a sin, but end up eating the whole bag eventually. And then comes the guilt…which can bring on even more binges or just more bad feelings. This black and white attitude is not only bad for us emotionally, it seriously wreaks havoc on our hormones. Strict dieting, especially followed by a binge, sends a very mixed message to hormones like leptin that regulate hunger, and hormones like insulin that regulate fat storage. And let’s not forget our sex hormones – progesterone often wanes during strict dieting causing our periods to get light or stop all together. Cortisol is yet another hormone that gets perturbed when we strictly diet or over-exercise. A rising cortisol can cause us to stall or “hit a plateau”. If you’re already burnt out from stress or a past history of yo-yo dieting, a very restrictive phase can really affect blood sugar causing you to have serious carb cravings or it can give a wicked case of insomnia (Remember, cortisol breaks down stored fuel to raise blood sugar between meal and during the night. When your adrenals are sluggish your cortisol reserves can be low, meaning you have to rely on adrenaline to keep your blood sugar stable while you sleep. If you need a burst of adrenaline during the night guess what? You wake up and have a hard time going back to sleep.)   Shades of Gray Gray is a mix of black and white.  Gray means better hormonal balance, less anxiety, less feelings of restriction and less guilt from falling off the wagon –  what it doesn’t mean is no results.  When I first meet with a patient and we discuss their goals I often ask them how important this is to them, what their level of commitment is and how soon they want results.  They typically respond with: “It’s a 10 of 10 – or even a 12 or 10! I want all you’ve got – diet, exercise, supplements – everything and I want results NOW!” How many times have we jumped on board with a new book or a new plan and did great for a few months? Seriously, how many times???? If it’s more than once then what you did wasn’t sustainable and didn’t  give you lasting results.  It’s not to say that that particular plan was full of poor advice or that it didn’t work – but perhaps you went into the plan 110% and “blacked out”, so to say, and next ended up all “white washed” and totally off the wagon and most likely back to many of your old habits. You’re not alone. Even my youngest patients, even 20 year old women, have tried at least one diet in the past and yet here we all are again – looking for the next, best way to shed pounds. Learn to Use Your Dimmer Switch Don’t black out. Pick a plan and incorporate 1-3 habits per week. Master them and then move on – trying to do everything at once is usually too overwhelming. For example, start eating a protein based breakfast everyday or figure out how to order out a healthy lunch. Or even drink more water. Don’t white wash. When you get off track it doesn’t have to be a total disaster! You are one meal away, one workout away, even one positive thought about your body away from being back on plan. So you ate the bagel, don’t have it with a side of guilt and self defeat – have it with some lox to balance out the insulin response and get right back on track. Guilt is optional in the gray zone.  Life will happen, you won’t be perfect everyday – but self correcting and not letting the guilt set in will help keep a bad meal or even a bad day from turning to weeks or months off plan. Sometimes your gray will be darker than other times, you’ll be move motivated and supported and find it easier to make progress. When it lightens up, don’t panic and don’t feel guilty – if you are ready to get back on track, go for it. If you aren’t, find the gray zone that feels maintainable for now rather than holding on so tight to the idea that you have to be perfectly on plan that you lose your grip and drift away. Know when you have the stamina to turn up the heat.  When you are ready for a big push towards your goal, be sure you are feeling healthy, injury free and supported before you jump in. If you struggle with stamina on a plan, know when it’s a good time to start. Maybe planning to lose 20 pounds between Halloween and Christmas isn’t feasible for you, but losing 10 pounds and having 12 new habits by the New Year might be.  BETTER Body Thoughts: Ugh! I ate ______ , I might as well just start again next week! BETTER: Ok, I ate _____ and that was a temptation for me because _______.  One off plan food doesn’t make or break anything – a week of plan will so I’m recommitted as of RIGHT NOW. I wasn’t perfect this week, I missed workouts and didn’t eat well; this will never work so why bother. BETTER: I did do _______ and _______ this week and I’ll continue to do those and include ______ next week. Doing something for my health is better than nothing – good habits build upon themselves.  For example: I did get 3 workouts (but aimed for 6) and I got plenty of sleep this week. Next week I will schedule my workouts in like appointments to be sure they happen and I will drink more water.

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