March 1, 2013

The Diet Detective: Eating better and working out? Stay on track with these tips

Focus on healthy behaviors, and don't let food pushers intimidate you

Rants, raves, reviews and resources for Dallas-Fort Worth parents

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

Here's a thought: 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 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.

The members matter

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.

The staff

Does the club promote its staff? Does it 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 through one of the following: the National Academy of Sports Medicine (, the American College of Sports Medicine ( or the American Council on Exercise ( 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, 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, 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:

At restaurants

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 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 a dish ahead of time with a credit card over the phone (especially if it's not on the menu). And I've asked if restaurants can avoid making a fuss about my special request when I arrive. This may seem like a lot of effort, 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 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 the norm, 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.

Don't let your family throw you off track. 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 to support your healthy choices.

Charles Platkin, Ph.D. is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of

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