The Independent

London:

It is a surprisingly effective way to concentrate your mind on what’s on your plate. The enforced slow pace makes you really taste the food, rather than wolfing it down as many of us might tend to.This slippery exercise is one of the tools of Beyond Chocolate, a new course designed to help women to change their relationship with food. The course aims to free participants to enjoy everything they like, without the compulsion to overeat. The weight loss that is likely to result is meant to be a bonus, although ironically, for many participants it will be the carrot that gets them involved.

The current thinking among dieticians and nutritionists is that most diets are useless.

Eating no carbohydrate or stuffing yourself with fibre or insisting on pineapple at every meal simply isn’t sustainable. The boring but sensible message is that the only way to maintain a normal body weight is to make lifestyle changes that can accommodate healthy eating permanently.This is exactly the approach that Beyond Chocolate takes. It is the brainchild of Sophie Boss, 36. Sophie is not a nutritionist or a dietician. She has, however, struggled all her life with her weight, and over the years has tried every method of fat control that she could find, from slimming classes to meal replacement milk shakes to raw-food and grape-only diets. It was when she realised that none of them worked that she decided to devise her own plan. Sophie spent 18 months reading up not only on nutrition but also on the psychology of eating. She has distilled the best of everything she learned into her own philosophy.

The central plank of Sophie’s thinking is that you can eat any damn thing you like, be it chocolate, crisps, chips or cheese — in fact, it is good for you to eat what you want, because “forbidden foods” develop a powerful allure. This disappears when food is freely available, reasons Sophie. The trick, however, that let’s you achieve your natural, correct body weight is to eat only because you are hungry, and stop when you are full. Harder than it sounds, of course, and this is where the Beyond Chocolate tactics come in. This means forgetting about conventional mealtimes. As well as eating too quickly, there are other barriers to eating just enough, no more, no less. If you’re in a restaurant and what you really fancy is creme brulee, have it first, while you’re keenest, then go back to the other courses if you find you then want more to eat: never mind if the waiter raises his eyebrows when he brings the starter after the pudding.

Changing habits and behaviour, says Sophie, who is a qualified teacher and is training as a psychotherapist, is one of the hardest things you can do: and it takes time. Rather than offering rigid rules, her course offers guidelines and ideas for developing your own individual programme: what works for one person may not be so effective for another.