The embarrassment factor

The embarrassment factor
When you start a diet, the primary challenge is to lose weight, but there’s another challenge you might face ­ worrying about what other people will think of you. Will your friends laugh if you order the egg-white sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts? Will bullies tease you if they see you trying to jog around your neighborhood? Will the cashier at Burger King smirk if you order a salad with dressing on the side when you’re known for ordering the Triple Whopper and large fries? Don’t be embarrassed about your new behaviors. In fact, you should embrace them. Here are a few tips for avoiding embarrassment about adopting healthier behaviors.

Focus on Healthy Behaviors

The reality is that going on a weight-reduction program can be daunting. Just the thought of not getting to eat all those tasty, unhealthy foods ever again – well it doesn’t seem like fun.   Here’s a thought: What if you changed your thinking process entirely? Instead of focusing on lofty goals for losing weight, what about simply focusing your energies on increasing your healthy behaviors?  The concept of healthy behaviors will help you to avoid reaching for the unreachable.  Don’t worry about your BMI or your waist-to-hip ratio, your fitness quotient or any such thing.  Just focus on overall healthy eating and exercise goals.  That way when you have the occasional chip or piece of cake you will be less likely to feel shame or guilt – your overall behaviors will be solid, so it shouldn’t matter.  Make sure to think in advance about what common problems you might encounter that will cause you to slip up, and have a plan (e.g., exercise a few more minutes).

At the Gym

First time at the gym? It can be daunting. That’s for sure. Muscle-bound men and yoga instructors with perfect figures – it can be intimidating. Here are a few things you can do before you join the gym. Try it out first. Many fitness centers give you a trial period, so take advantage. Just make sure you read the fine print on the agreement before you sign anything. During your trial membership, pay attention to the details. How clean is the facility? Is the music too loud? Is most of the equipment in working order? Are new members offered a club orientation and instruction on how to use the equipment? Is there a fitness and health assessment? Make sure this is a place where you would enjoy spending time and that it is convenient to your home or office.

The Members Matter:

Check out who belongs to the club. You don't want to join a gym overrun with bodybuilders if that would intimidate (or distract) you. It also helps to have fellow members you would want as friends. Research has shown that most types of socialization increase happiness, which can result in the development of positive habits. If you're getting an effective workout and having a good time with your friends, that's a win-win situation.

The Staff:

Look to see if the club promotes its staff -- do they have a  “wall of fame” that lists the education and training of the people who are working on the premises?

If you can afford it, you might want to hire a personal trainer. What better way to get the lay of the land and feel completely at home in the gym than being with a person who lives and breathes the fitness center?  Trainers should be certified with one of the following: the National Academy of Sports Medicine (nasm.org), the American College of Sports Medicine (acsm.org) or the American Council on Exercise (acefitness.org). Personal trainers/fitness specialists should also have an educational background in exercise science, kinesiology, cardiac rehabilitation, biomechanics or adult physical education.

And if joining a gym is still too intimidating, you can always start at home. Try working out with a video. There are now thousands of workouts to choose from both online and as DVDs you can purchase or rent.   For example, check out collagevideo.com, which offers more than 700 online video previews to help you find one that’s right for your workout.  Take a look at the American Council on Exercise, which offers a free 12-week online fitness program.  See:  acefitness.org/article/3159/

At Restaurants

The most important message here is to NOT be shy. Don't refrain from asking questions or making special requests. If you didn't like a particular food -- say the Gorgonzola on a Cobb salad -- you'd have no problem asking your server to leave it off, so don't be shy about requesting healthy substitutions. Restaurants, especially the larger chains, want you to be satisfied because your business is important to them. Mentally rehearse your questions in advance! Don’t wait until you get there. Do it in front of the mirror if you have to or by phone beforehand.

Make sure to ask:
"How is this prepared?" even if it's called "light" on the menu.
"Is this fried? Can you make it baked, grilled, steamed or broiled without using much oil?"
"Can you prepare this without the cheese/sauce and/or can you serve the sauce on the side?"
"How many ounces/how large is this dish?"
"Can you make this without soy sauce or MSG?"

Make sure to call ahead.  I do that often. I take a look at the menu online (most are available) and  call to see how certain dishes are prepared.  I might also ask in advance if they can do a dish a certain way. I’ve even paid for the dish ahead of time with a credit card over the phone (especially if it’s not on the menu).  And I’ve asked if they can avoid making a fuss about my special request when I arrive.  I realize this seems like a lot of effort – and it is – but acknowledging that this is what it took for me to succeed made it that much easier and rewarding.

Another strategy I use is to keep going back to the four or so restaurants in the area that have or are willing to make several dishes I deem healthy. That way, the restaurant staff gets to know me and to expect my requests. Keep in mind, sticking to healthy behaviors often comes down to doing your best to make them the norm -- ­ what you’re comfortable with --­ not oddball choices, and that can take some time.

Family and Friends

Family members can influence your behavior and really put a damper on your diet. If your spouse doesn’t eat healthy, that can make it more difficult for you to eat right.

Don’t let your family throw you off track. Set up boundaries for yourself when dining out or eating at home. Keep track of your “difficult” family eating situations and think in advance about how you’re going to overcome them. Give yourself permission to eat different foods from the rest of the group and remain on track.  Also, remember to talk with your family and let them know that you want their help ­ not to police your eating, but to support your choice to eat healthy.

Watch Out For Food Pushers:

All of us know someone in the family or among our friends who is a food pusher. These are the people who are always telling you that you look great, and, in fact, "You're getting too thin." "How can one bite hurt?" they ask. Or, "It's a birthday party!" or "You have to at least have a taste." Or perhaps they keep telling you, "You're fine just the way you are," and "You don't need to lose weight."

Your so-called support group may not want to see you "suffer" through yet another diet. But they may also be trying to sabotage you because they are jealous of your newfound goals or because they feel guilty about not having chosen to pursue a healthier lifestyle.

Try to have an answer ready for these diet saboteurs. Mentally rehearse a few key phrases like, "Oh, no thanks. I couldn't eat another thing." Or even try the truth: "I'm dieting, and eating that piece of cake will throw me completely off track."  Again, don’t be ashamed of your new lifestyle – eventually you will get there if you stay focused and regularly make the healthy choice.

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CHARLES PLATKIN, Ph.D., M.P.H., is one of the country's leading nutrition and public health advocates, whose syndicated health, nutrition and fitness column, the Diet Detective appears in more than 100 daily newspapers nationally. Dr. Platkin is also the founder of DietDetective.com, which offers nutrition, food, and fitness information. Platkin is a health expert and blogger featured on Everydayhealth.com, Active.com and Fitnessmagazine.com. Additionally, Platkin is a Distinguished Lecturer at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York City.