When you start a diet, the primary challenge is to lose weight. But there's another challenge you might face — worrying about what others will think.
Will your friends laugh if you order the egg-white sandwich at Dunkin' Donuts?
Don't be embarrassed about your new behaviors. In fact, embrace them. Here are a few tips for avoiding diet embarrassment.
Focus on healthy behaviors
What if instead of focusing on lofty weight-loss goals, you focused on simply increasing your healthy behaviors? The concept of healthy behaviors will help you to avoid reaching for the unreachable.
Don't worry about your BMI, your fitness quotient or any such thing. Just focus on healthy eating and exercise goals. That way, when you have the occasional chip or piece of cake, you won't feel shame or guilt — your overall behaviors will be solid, so it shouldn't matter.
At the gym
First time at the gym? Muscle-bound men and yoga instructors with perfect figures 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 before you sign anything. During your trial, pay attention to the details.
•Check out who belongs. 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 socialization increases happiness, which can result in developing positive habits. If you're getting a workout and having a good time with friends, that's a win-win.
•Does the club promote its staff? Do they have a “wall of fame” listing the training of the people who work there?
•If you can afford it, you might consider hiring a personal trainer to help you get started and feel comfortable. Trainers should be certified with one of the following: the National Academy of Sports Medicine ( www.nasm.org), the American College of Sports Medicine ( www.acsm.org) or the American Council on Exercise ( www.acefitness.org). Fitness specialists should also have an educational background in exercise science, kinesiology, cardiac rehab, biomechanics or adult physical education.
•If joining a gym is still too intimidating, you can always start at home with a workout video. There are thousands of workouts to choose from online and on DVDs you can rent or purchase. Check out www.collagevideo.com, which offers more than 700 online video previews to help you find the one that's right for you. Take a look at the American Council on Exercise, which offers a free 12-week online fitness program. See: www.acefitness.org/article/3159/.
The most important message here is to not be shy about 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 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, or call ahead.
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 is this dish?”
•“Can you make this without soy sauce or MSG?”
I 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.
This may seem 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 will make several dishes I deem healthy. That way, the restaurant staff gets to know me and to expect my requests. Sticking to healthy behaviors often comes down to making them what you're comfortable with, and that can take some time.
Family and friends
Family members can influence your behavior and really hamper your diet. If your spouse doesn't eat healthy, that can make it 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 something different from the rest of the group. Also, remember to talk with your family; let them know that you want their help not to police your eating, but to support your healthy choices.
Watch out for food pushers
All of us know someone who is a food pusher. They tell 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.”
Have an answer ready for these diet saboteurs. Rehearse a few key phrases like, “Oh, no thanks. I couldn't eat another thing.” Or try the truth: “I'm dieting, and eating that piece of cake will throw me 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.
Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of www.DietDetective.com.