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Want to be healthy? Don't follow the crowd

Just because you're striving for health and fitness doesn't mean those around you are — even if they are constantly talking about weight and diets. As with so many other things, those who talk the most about weight often are doing the least about it. ¶ But it's hard to be the only person you know staying focused on health, given that our society has such high rates of obesity, eating disorders, sedentary behavior and an abundance of poor food choices. ¶ How do you eat well when others aren't doing the same? Try to focus on some areas that are notorious for tripping up even the best of intentions:

Thoughts and expectations

Imagine you're at lunch with your friends. As everyone's ordering chimichangas with cheese, you may think about how unfair it is that you have to be on a diet. From there, it's a short slide down the slippery slope to ordering whatever you want and vowing to start your diet again tomorrow.

What if you really listened to yourself instead of reaching for the automatic response?

Start listening for sabotaging thoughts that lead to compromising your goals. Try this script: "I don't want to eat all that colorless food that does nothing for me. It might taste good but I'm sure I can find something that tastes good and will keep me on track."

Defaulting to the "eat what you want'' response is not unusual at all. As we grow up, we get many of our beliefs about appropriate behavior from parents, teachers, peers and society. These can be subtle patterns that don't even get much conscious thought.

Maybe you believe that you must eat if everyone else is eating, even if you're not hungry. Or you may believe that if you invite friends over to your home, you must provide the usual array of fattening foods, even though you'd rather not eat them.

In both cases, if you follow your long-held expectations, you're setting yourself up to eat poorly.

Ask yourself if your expectations are based on beliefs that aren't logical and prevent success. If so, it's time to challenge them. Maybe you don't have to eat what everyone else is eating. Maybe you can even suggest different restaurants that have the kinds of healthy foods you want to eat.

Alcohol and inhibitions

Alcohol is part of many social gatherings. And most people know that calories from alcohol can get in the way of weight loss success.

But the bigger problem with alcohol is how it affects behavior. With alcohol in your system, intentions to eat with restraint at a social gathering can easily fly out the window.

You might not have drunk enough to have a hangover the next morning, but you'll hang your head in disappointment at the thought of what you ate the night before.

So, if you can stay away from alcohol altogether, do it. Otherwise, try to hold off until after dinner, and savor a single glass of wine on its own. Or be sure to drink a full glass of water in between adult beverages.

Consider what's more important to you, drinking or successfully managing your weight?

Placing priorities

The mind is controlled more by the thought of immediate rewards (the hot wings in front of you) than rewards that seem far away (a healthier and shapelier body a year from now). But we can combat the power of immediate temptations by using simple mind tricks.

Remind yourself of your priorities at every turn and in every way possible. Write yourself a new script and read it often, perhaps something like, "I want good, healthy flavors, textures and colors with my meal tonight. It makes no difference what others are eating. I want to feel satisfied, not stuffed, and I want to sleep comfortably. I really like eating better and each time I do, I'm heading towards that fit and healthy body I want to have throughout my life."

You can't always follow the crowd if you want to consistently follow a healthy route. Long after those hot wings and chimichangas are just greasy memories, you'll thank yourself for declaring independence.

Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Barriers to Weight Management." She can be reached through her website:

Want to be healthy? Don't follow the crowd 03/09/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 9, 2012 3:30am]
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