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Do you have a sincere desire to become more fit and healthy in 2012, but the idea of exercising outdoors or in a public gym brings you to a dead stop?

Many people who are self-conscious about their size or fitness level find it uncomfortable or even distressing to exercise in public. Maybe they believe that others are looking at them critically. They might think they don't fit in with fit people. They may even fear someone is going to say something insulting to them.

It's common to put off walking around the neighborhood or joining a gym, thinking, "When I lose weight I'll get out there and start training."

Invariably, that day never comes. Few people can manage their weight without incorporating exercise. Most likely more weight is gained and more precious health is compromised.

Because of society's bias when it comes to weight, it's understandable why many people have such fear of exercising in public. Yet most of the beliefs that keep people from moving forward with their fitness are just that - beliefs. Here are some points that are closer to the truth:

- More often than not, people are too concerned about themselves to worry about those around them. In fact, the person whose opinion you fear may herself worry about what others are thinking about her. More likely, however, she's thinking about other things entirely.

- You are not a mind reader. So you could be completely wrong in your beliefs about what others think, yet you're allowing those beliefs to rule your life.

- It's not other people's thoughts that make us feel bad, it's our own. It's important to realize that it's your own thinking that's in your way, not the thinking of others.

- Even if you were openly ridiculed early in life because of weight, that experience does not have to rule your life any longer. It was unacceptable for anyone to mock you as a child; it's equally unacceptable for you to keep ridiculing yourself. Everyone has the right to pursue health and happiness, so it's important to treat yourself the way you wish to be treated by others.

As a young psychologist, I worked with a very large patient whom I will never forget - not because of his size, but because of his determination. We not only worked on his fitness by walking together, we worked on his thinking about exercising in public.

He wanted to participate in an organized 5K run, but he didn't want to wait until he was thin. Instead, he decided to train and run it at whatever weight he was on the day of the race.

He was larger than most of the runners. There was no getting around the fact that people would look at him: Race spectators are there to watch the runners.

We jogged and walked for the entire 5K, and we did attract attention.

But it was all positive. Everyone was cheering him on and, in the end, he got his picture in the paper, a ribbon, and a huge amount of pride in himself. Mostly, he felt pride for not letting the thoughts of others keep him from doing what he wanted to do with his life.

So, if worrying about what others think of you is keeping you from being as active as you wish to be, explore your thoughts and beliefs and work at turning them around so that they no longer get in your way. Focus on your goal, be proud of yourself for working on it, and enjoy every minute of it. Let others take care of themselves.

Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached through her website,, or at (813) 240-9557.