Spring is when we usually begin to shed our winter pounds. Everywhere I turn, I find people dieting, getting ready to look their best for the summer.

And just as it’s important to make smart choices about the food you eat, it’s important to choose what kind of people you surround yourself with, and let yourself be influenced by.

You can think of this as you would an Atkin's diet, which values an abundant consumption of proteins, a moderate consumption of good carbs, such as whole grains, and a reduction in bad carbs, such as white breads and sodas.

In the spirit of spring, you should start to think not only about how to make your body look its best, but how to make your sense of self more healthy, both in and out of work.

People Proteins
We can easily identify who our people proteins are. These are the people who, by being supportive of our ambitions, bring out the best in us. They help us grow personally and professionally-our mentors, best friends, spouses and partners, and our children.

People proteins strengthen our confidence, and give us the energy boost we need in times of great stress and uncertainty. This is incredibly important now, as our nation's economy continues to sour, and our worries grow heavier.

My suggestion is that you spend time with those people who keep your spirit strong, who remain optimistic and open to the possibilities of the future. These are the people who inspire you to become a better person or to pursue your dreams.

History is full of these people proteins, people who have managed to transform their challenges into rich, world changing opportunities. If you've never explored the lives of Helen Keller, Gandhi, Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, now would be the time to do so. Each of them overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles, only to lead profound and inspiring lives.

People proteins, though they may seem hidden, are just as abundant at your work. For cooperatives, members and employees are an obvious source of people proteins. These are the people who provide you with insight and a renewed sense of purpose. If you're feeling weighted with all the doom and gloom of newspaper headlines, take a moment to talk to your members and find out what makes them want to he part of your cooperative. Ask your colleagues why they like coming to work every day.

Good-Carb People
The good carbs may be the trickiest to identify. These are the friends and associates who though generally helpful and good to be around, are best experienced in small doses.

Some of these good-carb folks can be your colleagues who provide useful support at work but who don't share your professional drive. These can also be people who are able to effectively do their jobs, but, because of personal reasons, don't get along with you.

Sometimes these are the people at work who process your payroll or stock the shelves at your cooperative, folks you rely on, It's important, in these cases, to maintain a good relationship with them. The smooth running of your cooperative depends on it.

Good-carb people can also be those in your life who care about you, make you laugh and who are willing to lend their ears to your concerns, but whose bad habits you'd rather not adopt.

You can’'t and shouldn't get rid of all the good carbs, since they may be in many ways valuable. But, in many instances, you have to be careful not to spend too much time with them or rely on them too heavily for the most important levels of support

The Bad-Carb Crowd
These people are easy to recognize. Bad carbs are those toxic people who waste our time, drain our energy, attack our self-esteem or have no respect for themselves or others. Bad carbs are often unhappy unless we've signed up to be part of their pity party. Misery is the only company they can keep.

You may have a family member who falls into this category-that cousin who always chases the life out of a room by entering it, or even a sibling who never wants to grow up. Because you can’t choose your family, however, it may be best to minimize your time spent with these toxic family members.

Other "bad carbs" can include toxic co-workers. Have you ever worked with someone who never has a kind word to say about anyone? Do you have staff at your co-op who spend a majority of their time complaining about their work conditions? (These people, in fact, often spend more time complaining about work than they spend actually working.)

Bad carbs are also those who demonstrate a lack of respect for others, regarding people as objects of manipulation and coercion. You know you're in the presence of this type of bad carb when you feel your energy slipping away or uncalm until long after the person is gone from the room.

The thing to remember here is that you always have a choice. You can let yourself get upset by these people who, unable to see positive sides of others, devalue those around them, or you can choose to not get caught up in this negative spiral.

How to Lose the Dead Weight—The Personal Integrity Diet
If you can go on a low-carb diet to lose weight, why not do the same with the people you surround yourself with? Go on an integrity diet to strengthen your life with more proteins, and reduce your interaction with the bad carbs.
While it's not always easy to give up the bad carbs in your life, you can do it with a bit of willpower. In the end, you'll feel stronger with the support of people who encourage you, rather than those who devalue you.

To get you started on your integrity diet, try the following:
• Make a list of the people you come in contact with most often.
• Divide them into proteins, good carbs and bad carbs.
• Make an effort to strengthen your relationship with the proteins-the people who inspire you, energize you and make you happy
• Enjoy the good carbs in moderation.
• A Minimize your time with the bad carbs or avoid them altogether.

Eliminating carbs from your personal interactions may not be easy or pleasant, but the positive results in your life will appear as quickly as the pounds will shed when you say goodbye to white bread, french fries and cupcakes. And just think of what you can do with all that new and inspired energy?

Jim Jenkins, NCBA’s XCooperative Coach, Cooperative Journal, March/April 2009