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Finding your balance; There's new hope for perennial dieters, says Mel Hunter, with a self-help programme that encourages us to reinvent our relationship with food.

How many times have your ears pricked up at the mention of a new way to lose weight? And how many times have you been sucked in by a leotard-clad lovely who promises to reveal the 'true you' in less time than it takes to make a cheese toastie?

Because of the ongoing obsession we have with our BMI index (that loosely translates as 'weight' for those of you still living in the last century) and the huge power the size of our rear-view exerts over our psychological well-being, the diet industry is big business with capital Bs.

We all want to be thinner, tauter, leaner and perkier but the problem is we don't want go through a huge amount of distress and pain to get there.

The other side is, of course, that we know yo-yo dieting is the equivalent of committing hara kiri in weight loss terms. As the new generation of Nike-clad lovelies are so fond of telling us, healthy eating should be for life not just after Christmas.

'As if,' we cry in unison, 'a life without chocolate fudge cake is no life at all.' Or at least we did until some bright spark, called Pete Cohen, came up with Lighten Up.

Lighten Up is all about getting people to take control of their lifestyle and eating habits in the long term, which should help them lose weight in the short term. It's not a slimming programme per se, it's more a lesson about food and the role it should play in our lives.

It was the brainchild of Pete Cohen, then a disgustingly motivated personal trainer, who saw the way the issue of weight was taking over people's lives.

He was horrified to discover that people didn't seem to enjoy getting fit and eating healthily (he'd obviously led a very sheltered life until then) and flexed his muscles to do something about it.

The result is an eight-week course which aims to help you take control of your lifestyle and eating habits and inspire you to include some exercise into your daily routine. It uses motivational techniques and give simple advice on exercise and nutrition.

Lighten Up, which is backed by Pete's good friend Sally Gunnell, has basked in a fair amount of glory in London, the only place up until now to run the courses. Thanks to an equally motivated nurse from Leamington Spa the rest of us can now get the chance to see what all the fuss is about.

Jo Hardy has been through gruelling training on fitness and nutrition. She was already a personal trainer and a nurse, working for the Transplant Service in the West Midlands.

The 34-year-old says Lighten Up works because it shows people how to live like someone who is already healthy and slim.

'They eat when they are hungry and then stop when they are full. We want people to see that it can be enjoyable.'

Part of the psychology behind it is that because our lives are so regimented, such as taking a lunch break at 1pm every day, we may have actually forgotten what the natural triggers to eat actually are.

Says Jo: 'Lighten Up is about changing lifestyles. One of the things we do is get people to keep a hunger scale - on a scale of one to 10, how hungry do you feel and when do you need to act on it?

'It is really just common sense. People know you have to eat less and exercise more. We want to show them how to do that. Crash diets rarely make you lose weight permanently. If you want to make permanent changes you have to continue to eat healthily after the eight weeks of the diet. That's just the start.'

So what does Lighten Up involve? Firstly, there are Lighten Up books to follow at home which tell you what Jo will tell you, but without that all important personal touch.

She is starting off by taking two eight-week courses in Solihull and Warwick and will advise people on how to adopt a healthier lifestyle by really listening to what their bodies are saying.

Food diaries are an integral part of the course as people learn when they feel hungry and when they are eating for other reasons. Jo also gives them nutritional and exercise advice but keeps leaping around in a leotard firmly out of the classroom.

Lighten Up claims that 66 per cent of people lose weight permanently by following its 'slimming from the head down' philosophy and although Jo has only just started instructing her first course - at the David Lloyd Centre in Solihull - she says personal experience has shown her the difference the Lighten Up philosophy can make.

'I was a yo-yo dieter. If I had a CV of dieting, I would have 17 years' experience. I went to a one-day Lighten Up workshop and it was 'halleluiah, this makes so much sense'.'

The fact is though, as a young woman I have wants and needs - and most of them involve chocolate.

Jo hits back: 'With Lighten Up, if someone says they want to eat a piece of chocolate cake that is fine. But maybe they can just eat a smaller piece.'

The backbone of the programme, says Jo, is healthy eating for a healthier lifestyle.

'There is so much pressure on people to be 'beautiful' and the problem is that people are very good at giving themselves a hard time. If some people treated their best friends like they treat themselves, they wouldn't have any friends.

'We just want people to put food back in its proper place - it is something we need, it is something we can enjoy, but it should not rule our life.'

Jo's first course at the David Lloyd Centre in Solihull has already begun. Bookings are now being taken for an eight-week course starting on October 26 at LA Fitness in Warwick. The course costs pounds 179. Phone 0845 603 3456 for details.
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Title Annotation:Health
Author:Hunter, Mel
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 14, 2000
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