I'm 19, and for the past year I have been out of my parents' house (at last!). I'm realizing now that the years I spent with Mom and Dad were different than other people's. My parents weren't physically abusive, but they were mentally and emotionally abusive, and it has scarred me in some ways. Because I was never allowed to speak my mind, I shut down if anybody raises his or her voice to me.

When I was growing up, they used exercise as a punishment. If my brothers or I were late, it was 10 pushups. They also forced us to go through exercise programs. Naturally, as soon as I was free from them, I stopped exercising altogether.

I now realize I need to exercise again as I am technically obese, and I need to lose the weight while I'm still young. My problem is, I'm not motivated. I tell myself I'll go out and run, signed up for a gym - even got a running buddy. But I find myself making excuses and tricking myself out of going. What are some ways I can help myself mentally so I can get going on this ever-growing problem?

- Chubby in California

DEAR CHUBBY: Your parents may have meant well when they insisted that you and your siblings get involved in exercise programs, but they were wrong to use exercise as a punishment.

While I can see why you now view exercise that way, its benefits are more far-reaching than weight loss. Being physically active benefits your heart and brain, and in addition, can be an effective stress reducer. It doesn't necessarily have to be running. Perhaps tennis, bowling or dancing would be more enjoyable for you.

"Tricking" yourself can work two ways, but while I don't advise tricking yourself to make yourself get off the couch, I think the adage "the way to get out of a jam is not to get into one in the first place" applies here. Some suggestions:

When you get out of bed in the morning, have your exercise clothes already laid out. Instead of reading or listening to the news, put them on IMMEDIATELY. Then eat some protein to boost your energy, and go out and do what you need to do.

Don't expect to run a marathon immediately. Start slowly and remember that stamina isn't built overnight. Eventually, you will establish a routine - like brushing your teeth.

I won't lie to you. It takes discipline. But now that you have "escaped" from your parents, YOU have to be your OWN parent, so it's up to you not to let yourself be lazy.

P.S. When you're on your way out the door, thank your higher power that you are able to do exercise because many people are not so fortunate. And if you catch yourself slacking off after trying what I have suggested, then consider consulting a licensed mental health professional to overcome your aversion to exercise.