Foil Your Friendly Diet Foes

7 strategies to help your diet survive temptations from not-so-supportive friends and loved ones

By Leanna Skarnulis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

You've decided to turn over a new leaf and you're telling everyone about it. You announce proudly that you're committed to your new diet and exercise routines. Your best friend catches your enthusiasm, and suggests you take an aerobics class together.

But not everyone is so supportive. During the family dinner, your mother keeps pressuring you to have some of her homemade desserts, which have always been your weakness. When you ask her to stop, she says you shouldn't deprive yourself.

You can almost hear the buttons being pushed. Something about announcing your intentions to start making healthy choices about diet and exercise seems to bring out both the best and the worst in family members and friends.

You can almost hear the buttons being pushed. Something about announcing your intentions to start making healthy choices about diet and exercise seems to bring out both the best and the worst in family members and friends.

As a nutrition specialist for Kaiser Permanente Department of Health Education Services, Bob Wilson has heard it all. He's also lived it: He's lost 250 pounds and kept it off for 30 years.

"Support for positive changes increases the likelihood of it happening," he says. "But people have an image of us, and some will resist our changing."

Some friends and family members, he says, may fear that if you change your habits, YOU will change. Or your new healthy ways may make them feel guilty about their own fitness foibles. Further, food sometimes helps to define relationships with the friend you meet for lattes on weekend mornings, the spouse who shares chips with you on the couch, the mother whose goodies you've always had a soft spot for.

So what should we do to gain the support we need? Here are some tips from Wilson and other experts.

1. Don't make food the focus

First off, Wilson advises renegotiating relationships that revolve around food.

"My grandmother used to fry a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs for me, give me half-gallons of ice cream, and we'd go to all-you-can-eat restaurants together," he tells WebMD. "When I told her I was committed to losing weight, I suggested exploring new ways we could connect.

We found that we both like gardening and going for walks, so that's what we did. She became willing to show that she loved me without using food."

2. Look for support in the right places

Further, experts say, you shouldn't set yourself up by looking for support in the wrong places. Remember that people do things for their own reasons, not for your reasons.

Maybe you have a mental image of your spouse going for walks with you in the evening, like other couples you've seen. He has a right to say "No," and you have a right to do what will make you fit. Walk with a neighbor, take an aerobics class or hire a personal trainer.

The same strategy applies to diet. Wouldn't it be sublime if co-workers swore off Krispy Kremes and walked a half hour at lunch, the kids begged you to buy broccoli at the store, and your mother offered nothing but kind encouragement?

Give up the fantasy. Instead, hook up with a friend who's as ready to change as you are and become diet buddies. Find a role model who's successfully lost weight and can help you past the rough spots. Enroll in a "Healthy Cooking" class. You've already made a huge step by joining WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. Be sure to check out our community for support and inspiration. You might consider professional help, as well, say a weight management clinic or counselor. The point is to build a support system that enables you to become your own best support.

3. Foil Your Fitness Foes

Another key to dealing with lack of support is to know your temptations, such as going out to eat with friends, and develop a strategy to deal with them.

"Friends may pressure you to make bad choices," says Joseph Quatrochi, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Human Performance, Sport and Leisure Studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver. "Make a couple of decisions in advance."

One of these decisions is to select foods based on their preparation: for example, broiled or baked instead of fried. The other is not to clean your plate. "Often, you can take home one-third to one-half of a meal," Quatrochi tells WebMD.

This advice seems particularly pertinent when you consider the findings of a recent study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That research found portion sizes have ballooned anywhere from 23% to 60% over the past 20 years -- not just in fast food places, but in restaurants, packaged snacks, and even our homes.

4. Keep it quiet