OBESITY is a big problem, literally. Recent research has revealed that 67 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women in the UK are either overweight or obese. This puts the UK in the top five western European countries for obesity levels. In the North East, figures published by Public Health England show that on average more than two thirds of residents are overweight or obese. And worryingly one in nine North East children is obese when they start school – the second worst record of all the regions in England. Globally, almost one third of the world’s population is overweight and the UN says chronic complications of weight kill about 3.4 million adults across the world annually.

So how do you solve such a huge problem? According to Catterick-based therapist Debbie Holden dieting is not the answer. “If diets work then there would only be one in existence wouldn’t there?” she says. “Sometimes I meet people at dinners or events and they’ll say ‘I’ve found this great diet that’s really working for me’ and I’ll say ‘call me back in six months and tell me all about it. They never call back, because while they might have found a quick fix, they haven’t really addressed the problem so the weight goes straight back on.” It seems Debbie has a point. The diet industry is worth £2billion in the UK alone, and ten times that in America which has a well-documented obesity problem. And I’m sure we all know somebody who has tried every diet under the sun only to remain depressingly overweight despite living on celery smoothies for months on end. And do those poor souls who dedicate themselves to following fitness DVD regimes set by the likes of Kerry Katona and Davina McCall really emerge with the honed and toned Olympian physiques they so desire? I don’t think so; or at least I haven’t met one yet.

It seems that when it comes to weight loss the real battle is in the mind and not in the belly. That is the ethos behind a weight loss programme offered by Debbie Holden who first became interested in the workings of the human mind when she worked at a funeral parlour. “I was fascinated by the way that people reacted differently to grief,” she says. “Some would laugh and joke whilst others could barely talk. I decided that to help people better in my role I ought to do some counselling training.” Debbie duly completed a three-year counselling course but the world of hypnotherapy soon piqued her interest. It was the focus on solutions that most attracted her to hypnotherapy, she says, and it is there that she excelled in her studies; going on to set up her own practice and occasionally travelling to London to work for Paul McKenna. Now she runs her own weight-loss programme which she says guarantees results if her clients do as they’re asked.

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The programme is called Get Real, which is fitting as it is Debbie’s mission to cut through the crud and get to the crux of her clients’ weight problems. She says: “The first thing I want to know is what they have tried before. They will often say ‘I have tried everything’ and will reel off all the different types of weight loss programmes and diets they’ve used. The really interesting thing is that they’ll often say that one of them worked. So my question is; why are you here then? My aim is to burst their fantasy bubbles otherwise change isn’t going to happen.” The ‘fantasy bubbles’, as Debbie calls them, are the lies we tell ourselves and each other about how we see ourselves and our weight. It includes scenarios such as shopping at a store where you know the sizes are slighter larger than everywhere else so you can kid yourself you are slimmer than you really are. Or claiming that it’s genetics or being ‘big boned’ that keeps you spilling out of your trousers and tipping the top of the scales. “Friends and family will often reinforce these lies,” says Debbie. “I definitely won’t.”

From discovering the root causes of comfort eating through hypnotherapy and finding a healthier way of dealing with the cravings, to simpler methods such as using smaller plates or leaving some of your main if you want a desert, Debbie’s approach combines both in-depth analysis and good old fashioned common sense. “People need to think about the cost of their weight problem,” says Debbie. “Not just in terms of their health but also in life. I’ve had a client who didn’t put herself forward for promotion because she was so self-conscious about being six stone overweight. Think of what she’s missed out on financially. That is an extreme example but a lot of people do withdraw because they don’t feel comfortable in themselves. I’ve had a client who would never go on holiday with her family because she hated her body so much. Just think of all she’s missed out on. How sad is that?”

So although Debbie is certainly not claiming to be able to save the world from its growing weight problem, she is at least helping people across the region to lose the lies and the pounds that are holding them back from living their lives to the full.

• Debbie Holden is holding an open event at the Morton Park Business Training Centre, next to B&Q, at Morton Park, Darlington, on June 14 between 9.30am and 12.30pm and another at The Priory Street Centre, York on June 28. Tickets cost £25, contact debbie@debbieholden.com to book