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You don't gain immunity from peer pressure when you graduate from high school. Studies have found that even adults feel the need to conform, and it's so automatic that it barely enters our conscious thought. Many of my patients report that fear of attracting attention or having to explain that they're dieting has led them to make food choices that are inconsistent with their goals.

I tell my would-be assertive dieters that weight and health goals have to take precedence over the reactions and feelings of others. When Adams senses her willpower wavering, she reminds herself about her family's history of diabetes and weight problems, both of which make her concerns about offending a friend seem insignificant. With those priorities in mind, she can trump her need to please others and politely decline.

Letting go of others' opinions has been another valuable technique for Bellows. Even though it makes her feel self-conscious, she'll typically eat only half of what she's served. "I've noticed that people overserve their guests, the same way restaurants do," Bellows says. She puts the fork down and resists eating more by telling herself, 'This doesn't work with my calorie count for the day; I'm just going to stop, and that's of primary importance.'

If you still feel as if saying no puts you in the spotlight, you're probably overestimating how much attention others are paying. I like to remind my patients that at social gatherings, most people—hosts included—are too busy socializing to see what other partygoers are eating. And even if someone does take notice, successful assertive dieters learn to shrug it off. Bellows' daughter, Anne, a project director in Los Angeles, maintains a "so what" attitude by reminding herself of the most important asset she brings to any social event: herself. "Coming to the party, having fun, and being me is what matters, not what I eat when I'm there."

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