IT is that time of year again. A summer of holiday treats is over and beer garden drinks in the evening sun are all but a distant memory.

For many, thoughts are now turning to getting into shape and shredding a few pounds ahead of the run-up to Christmas, and all the calories that come with it.

Back in 1969, Margaret Miles-Bramwell was probably having similar thoughts, as she struggled with her own weight.

Out of disappointment with all the forms of support available, she founded Slimming World.

Nearly half a century later, more than 5,000 people in Darlington alone are signed up to the weight-loss support programme, with many, many more across the country.

Barbra Barker, who has spent years changing the lives of people in Darlington who want to lose weight and generally improve their health, said: “People think you have to give up all the foods you like and you can’t go out to a restaurant for six months, but that is simply not the case – it is not all about super foods.

“You can have chips, roast potatoes, even spaghetti bolognese. It is all about making little changes – such as using mince with five per cent fat rather than 20 per cent.

“You can even make a Slimming World Parmo, and it is much better than a takeaway.”

Obesity in the UK is at an all-time high, with two out of three adults classed as overweight or obese.

Even more worryingly, almost 60 per cent more children in their last year of primary school are classified as “severely obese” than in their first year, according to Public Health England figures for England and Wales.

One in 25 children in England aged ten or 11 are now classed as severely obese, and figures show the North-East has some of the worst records for obese children and excess weight in adults.

“It is all about attitude,” said Barbra. “In society, we are a lot busier now than we once were. If you go for a coffee, you have to walk past a counter full of cakes – there are no obvious options for people who want to eat healthily.

“When people go out for a few drinks on a night, they want a McDonalds the next morning, but you can make it yourself and even buy alternatives from a supermarket that can be ready in 30 seconds.”

IN an attempt to crackdown on childhood obesity, the Department of Health wants to make it a legal requirement to put calorie counts on menus.

But the Treasury has said small independent cafés and restaurants should be exempt from the move, as the increased costs could lead to job cuts at 26,000 small businesses.

Slimming World’s philosophy is based on Margaret’s belief that slimmers carry a double burden – the burden of weight itself as well as feelings of guilt and shame.

It is only by lifting both burdens and helping members to raise their self-esteem that they can help people.

“Confidentiality is very important,” said Barbra. “I was terrified and horrified people would judge me, but it is never like that.

“The weighing is done in private, and there is never any humiliation, it is a safe environment. As soon as someone new comes through the door, they are made to feel welcome.

“People get to eat normal foods, they get to set their own targets, and we are changing their lives.”

As well as sharing advice and experiences, members are given a pack which allows them to plan their meals, and there are also recipe books available with dishes that can be made quickly, easily and at low cost.

“You don’t know what it is in a ready meal and there can be so much extra salt and sugar,” said Barbra.

“It is not only cheaper to make things at home in bulk, but you also get complete control over what goes in it.

“It is all about preparation and doing a little bit of planning. You need a bit of time to shop for the food, but it is absolutely worth it.

“So many young people now understand and you will hear them say we don’t want that processed rubbish.”

Darlington Slimming World have groups at numerous locations across the borough.

n Anyone interested in signing up or finding out more information about Darlington Slimming World is asked to call Sally Dale on 07853-103838 or visit