Looking for the anti-South Beach Diet? You'd find it in Ocean City, where Rod Dulany can attest that it's hard to find low-carb anything. So does his family help by bringing healthy provisions when they visit from the Washington area?
Forget about it.
"Everyone wants to go out for pizza and pasta," says Dulany, 56, who directs the city's tennis program. The temptations -- and carbs -- mount as they drag him to the boardwalk for Thrasher's fries and Dolle's caramel popcorn.
The day Alda Lovett joined Weight Watchers, the Virginia nurse's husband brought home a big box of her favorite doughnuts and ate them in front of her.
Even with the increased awareness about nutrition and today's low-carb craze, some folks making self-improvement efforts are being challenged instead of cheered on by friends and family. And good, old-fashioned sabotage remains a popular strategy to stop someone's success.
"In my clinical experience about half of the patients I've worked with have reported that someone close to them would sabotage their weight loss efforts," says Laurie Friedman Donze, a clinical psychologist in Annapolis who specializes in diet issues.
After all, says Cynthia Sass, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, food is deeply entwined in our social lives, serving as an expression of love, a centerpiece of celebrations, and part of one's cultural upbringing. As a result, some friends and family let social priorities and even personal insecurities eclipse concern about loved ones' health.
Often, the prevailing attitude is: "Go diet somewhere else; when we're together, you should indulge."
Sabotage has taken on new forms in this health-conscious age. There is, for example, the "my diet is better than your diet" approach, Donze says, making it possible that "some people may be simultaneously encouraging and discouraging."
Other times, garden-variety skepticism and resistance to change come into play.
After slimming down, Lisa Wolin, 41, proudly showed her mother a pile of jeans she was donating to charity.
"Don't get rid of them," her mother cautioned. "You're just going to gain all that weight back."
The Germantown resident kept off the pounds and became a Weight Watchers leader who conducts classes at area workplaces.
Wolin and Donze can reel off a list of covertly and overtly unsupportive behaviors. The verbal arsenal includes: "Why are you on a diet? You don't need to lose weight!" "That diet won't work," and "You're no fun anymore."
Then there are the bolder efforts. Spouses who bring trigger food into the house, the way Lovett's husband did. Children who rebel against the change, forcing the dieter to prepare separate meals or give up altogether. Relatives who prepare favorite off-diet dishes then say, "I made this just for you," mixing temptation with guilt. Friends who ply dieters with junk food and pressure them to "splurge."
Why such resistance?
Sometimes it's misguided good intentions, diet specialists say. A parent might wrongly assume the vegetarian won't get enough vitamins. A friend might think it's helpful to reassure a dieter that she looks fine the way she is. And amid today's low-carb/low-fat wars, some reflexively condemn diets they oppose, forgetting that there's no "one size fits all" plan.
Jealousy can play a role. The diet/fitness convert starts looking more attractive, and worse, shows success in an endeavor at which the envious person failed.
"Change is scary!" emphasizes Sass, who is also a registered dietitian and co-author of the new book, "Your Diet Is Driving Me Crazy: When Food Conflicts Get in the Way of Your Love Life."
"If you and your significant other or best friend used to indulge together, and one changes, the whole routine is disrupted," Sass says.
A junk foodie fears losing a binge-buddy. Tradition-bound family members fret over the threat to food-centered rituals. A spouse worries that the newly fit-and-trim partner will pressure him or her to change -- or worse, abandon the relationship.
"This can lead to resentment and anger," says Sass. The resulting tension "is why many people aren't successful in sustaining lifestyle changes. Giving up is easier than fighting."
How can you overcome these challenges?
"Communication is key," she advises.
Sass isn't just speaking from professional experience. As a vegetarian married to a carnivore, she's got personal experience debating food issues.
It helps to discuss changes with family and friends before undertaking a health overhaul. Explain your goals -- to lose weight, improve health, feel better physically or spiritually -- and ask for specific kinds of support -- withholding criticism, not bringing temptations into the home or office cubicle.
Next, detach social activities from eating. For example, bond over bicycling instead of brunch. If you've begun a fitness regimen, forgo some days at the gym so that you can involve your partner. Go dancing, take a nature walk, hike through a museum.
For those food pushers who equate overfeeding with love, Sass suggests courteous, solid lines of defense: "I wish I could, but my doctor advised me to stick to my meal plan to control my blood sugar." "No thank you. When I'm too full I get sleepy, and I have to drive home."
And the timeless tool of flattery: "I'd love to -- but everything was so wonderful that I didn't leave room for dessert!"
What about those ardent diet debaters ever-ready to impose their views? If your companion takes low-carb vs. low-cal diet duels more seriously than the presidential race, or your favorite omnivore disses your vegetarian choice, Sass recommends that you "explain, don't preach" and "stick to the facts."
To avoid protracted debates, the nutrition expert suggests conveying the message: "For the sake of our relationship, let's agree not to try to convince each other we're right and to respect each other's point of view."
When dealing with those who prefer debate to resolution, remember that it takes two to tussle. And if refusing to get involved in a debate doesn't work, stronger action is needed, Donze says.
"If the critic or saboteur is a friend or co-worker who is unresponsive to open communication and direct requests, it may be prudent to limit contact," she says. And if someone consistently undermines your efforts at self-improvement, or encourages you to backslide into addictions, it might be time to cut the toxic bond.
Most relationships, however, can weather changes, she says, provided that both parties are willing to accept, if not embrace, each other's decisions.