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After having to buy a size 16 dress, Susannah vowed to lose weight.. so how did she get her best body ever?

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Before: Susannah Lyttle, 12st 10lbs

Before: Susannah Lyttle, 12st 10lbs

After: Susannah Lyttle, 10st 4lbs

After: Susannah Lyttle, 10st 4lbs

Colleen Quinn before and after

Colleen Quinn before and after

Before: Susannah Lyttle, 12st 10lbs

By joining the thousands of people going to Unislim, the longest running slimming organisation in Ireland. Maureen Coleman finds out its secret

For 40 years now Unislim has been at the forefront of the battle against the bulge. Founded in 1972 when Agnes McCourt decided she wanted to shift three stone after having a baby, the organisation has grown steadily over the years. What began life as a small group of friends motivating each other to lose weight has grown steadily over the years and now boasts a staggering one million members.

Unislim is the longest running slimming and health organisation in Ireland with hundreds of weekly meetings organised by a team of class leaders.

Over the years its healthy eating plan has evolved from an initial list of ‘prohibited foods’ to a scientifically proven Low-GI method of eating with its Food Maximizing plan. This effective, easy and enjoyable plan has helped hundreds of thousands of women lose weight and, equally importantly keep it off.

Now in its 40th year, Unislim is branching out into the rest of the UK over the coming months to share the secret of its success.

Fiona Gratzer, MD of Unislim, says: “We are so thrilled to be celebrating 40 years in business. It is a magnificent achievement and there is an incredible buzz and excitement in Unislim on this, our ruby anniversary.”

Unislim has spearheaded many innovative initiatives over its 40 years in business. In 2010 it launched Unislim Online, an alternative to attending classes which now helps women across Ireland reach their target weight. Last year Unislim’s new free iPhone app achieved over 22,000 downloads and reached No1 on iTunes.

On joining a weekly Unislim class, members receive a one-to-one confidential weigh-in, which is provided by the class leader.

This is then followed by a motivational talk and members get a chance to exchange ideas, enjoy support and feel inspired for the week ahead.

According to members, the Food Maximizing programme is simple to follow, with its vast array of Free Foods and revolutionary YUMz (treats).

Members can choose two YUMz per day (crisps, chocolate and cheese among others) while extra YUMz can also be earned through exercise. There is no counting, no fuss and no weighing of food and those who have lost weight through the programme swear by it as the best means of tackling weight loss. Its success is, perhaps, epitomised by the organisation's ambassador, Nicola Bleakley, who shed an amazing seven stone to be crowned Unislimmer of the Year in 2004. Eight years on and she's kept the weight off.

She says: “I owe Unislim for my happiness and my new lease of life because I wouldn’t be the person I am now without my weight loss. To be an inspiration to anyone is an honour and if my story changes one person’s life then it was worth telling.”

Susannah Lyttle, (23), Childminder

Class: from Newtownards

Starting Weight: 12st 10lbs

Current Weight: 10st 4lbs

Total Weight Loss: 2st 6lbs

Role model: Nicola Bleakley inspired Susannah

Every New Year's Eve I was one of those people who swore that I would exercise more, eat less and have a healthier lifestyle. But, as usual, after a few weeks of working out and dieting really hard, I’d fall back into old, bad habits.

My moment of truth was when I went looking for my graduation dress. I had to buy a size 16 (so it would fit my hips) and have it taken in on top. I knew then and there I had to do something.

It was only when I met Nicola Bleakley, who was the class leader in Newtownards at the time, and I struck up a friendship with her, that I decided to join Unislim.

She told me about all the weight she had lost and I thought, ‘If she can do it, so can I'. I decided to go to a class and I asked my mum if she would come with me.

We joined in July of last year and we haven’t looked back. I think what’s really worked for me is that I’ve learnt about portion sizes and how to manage my eating.

It's all about education. I've learned so much about healthy eating and the type of foods that I shouldn't be having. I'd tried other diets before but they never worked.

This doesn't even feel like a diet, it's just a change of lifestyle. I started getting into exercising and now it's something I do regularly.

The real test for me was when I travelled to New Zealand in January. I was away for three months and I was a little worried, but I stuck to the plan. I was so proud of myself when I got home as I'd only put on one pound the whole time I was away. I was delighted. These days I’m just so much more confident and happy.”

A typical day:

Breakfast: Wholemeal toast and egg or cereal.

Snack: Fruit or yoghurt

Lunch: Salad with chicken or ham and low fat dressing.

Snack: Fruit or |yoghurt.

Dinner: Meat, small portion of potatoes and lots of vegetables.

Margaret O'Donovan (18), Student, Skibereen Co Cork

Class: from Skibereen

Starting weight: 15st 7lbs

Current weight: 11st 7lbs

Total weight loss: 4st

It was a year before my 18th birthday and I was reading a magazine that featured Nicola Bleakley. She was quoted as saying ‘people used to say to me ‘you’ve got the most beautiful face’ and it was the most insulting thing ever’.

I burst into tears because people used to say that to me all the time. At that moment I knew I was going to change my life.

It took me a few months to work up the courage, but one evening the following May, my Mum told me that my neighbours Betty and Catherine were going along to the local Unislim class. I was so scared, but I went. There was a poster in the class that said you had to find the right time to change your life, and I knew that it was definitely my time.

Everyone at the class was so supportive and I learned alot about eating healthily. I stopped thinking of treats like biscuits as something that I should just get, and more like something that I earn.

Now, if I want to eat some ice cream, I make sure that I go for an extra walk to earn some extra YUMz.

My friends are all eating healthier, and we appreciate our treats now rather than just eating without thinking.

The Unislim Food Maximizing Plan has taught me about portion sizes and eating the right foods, and I am so much healthier as a result. I am so much happier now, and feel better in my own skin. Joining Unislim has changed my life, and I want to inspire other people my age to make the change and join their class.

I'm doing exams at the minute and have been quite stressed, but instead of picking at food like crisps, I'm eating yoghurts.

I haven't been able to exercise as much because of the studying but I'm being extra careful with my diet and once the exams are over I'll start exercising again.

A typical day:

Breakfast: 1 slice of toast, poached egg, beans

Snack: Yoghurt and a banana

Lunch: Pitta bread stuffed with chicken or ham and salad, and a bowl of soup

Snack: Fruit salad

Dinner: Chicken breast with potatoes and roasted vegetables.

Colleen Quinn, (30), Nurse, Newry, married to Graeme

Class: from Newry

Starting Weight: 14st 10lbs

Current Weight: 9st 8lbs

Total Weight Loss: 5st 2lbs

I joined Unislim in November 2010 after a friend asked me to be bridesmaid at her wedding. The other two bridesmaids were stunners and I couldn't bear to be the fat one.

At that stage I weighed 15 stone and wore a size 18. I'd been with Graeme around six years then and I guess the weight just crept up.

We'd be sitting in eating Chinese takeaways and drinking wine and I was eating large portion sizes to keep up with him. But he's tall and slim and can eat anything he wants.

Then Graeme asked me to marry him and I had another incentive to lose weight.

I remember when they weighed me at the first class I was in shock because I'd lost a stone and half before then through other diets but the pounds had piled back on.

I found the Unislim Food Maximising Plan easy to adapt to my lifestyle.

It just meant I had to plan well ahead for long shifts and night shifts.

But when the weight started coming off I felt great. I took up walking as well and having a dog certainly helped as I had a good excuse to get out of the house.

When my friend got married in September 2011 I was 9st 10lbs. And when my own wedding day came round in November last year I was at my lightest weight of 9st 7lbs. It was hard work, but so worth it.

I felt amazing on my wedding day and I've managed to stay at that weight. Graeme’s delighted for me.

I did this for myself and I'm so pleased I did. I went out and bought myself a whole new wardrobe as none of my old clothes fitted and that was such a great feeling.

A typical day

Breakfast: Porridge with |blueberries and natural yoghurt.

Snack: Oatcake with cottage cheese.

Lunch: Unislim home-made soup.

Snack: Fruit and yoghurt.

Dinner: Fish or chicken with fresh veg\[n.wolsey\]etables and baby boiled potatoes.

Nuala Atwell, (45), works in retail, is a Unislim teacher in Lisnaskea and married to David

Class: Brookeborough and Lisnaskea

Starting Weight: 14st 7lbs

Current Weight: 9st 7lbs

Total Weight Loss: 5 stone

I joined Unislim in 1988 after seeing photographs of myself from Christmas and thinking ‘is this what I've come to?'.

I knew there and then that I had to change and the New Year was a good time to do it. I was working as a machinist in a factory at the time, 8am to 5pm Monday to Thursdays, 8am to 1pm on Fridays. I would head into work without eating any breakfast and by 11am would have had two packets of crisps, I was so hungry. I was also eating stuff like sausages and scones and taking absolutely no exercise. I just felt so tired all the time.

The weight just crept up, so I joined my local Unislim class. Through the leader, Ann McGovern, I started learning about food and started taking regular exercise. It was a steady process for me.

Over two years I lost about a pound and a half per week and while that may seem slow to some people it was the best way for me to lose the weight and keep it off.

I started eating smaller portion sizes by serving my meals on smaller plates, and this really helped me. Whereas before I never seemed to feel full, on the Unislim Food Maximizing Plan I feel satisfied, and never hungry.

Unislim has changed my life in so many ways. I lost five stone and feel so much better about myself.

David says he always loved me no matter what my weight was but I feel so much happier in myself.

The best moment came when I tried on a skirt and it fell to my ankles. Clothes look so much better on me now.

I have recently trained as a Unislim leader, and I can’t wait to inspire people to lose weight.

A typical day:

Breakfast: Porridge with two passion fruits, fruit salad of melon, strawberry and pineapple and freshly squeezed orange juice

Snack: Yoghurt

Lunch: Tuna wrap with salad

Snack: Piece of fruit

Dinner: Chicken stir fry with brown rice

Join Unislim for just 40p

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Unislim is offering potential new members a special deal in the run-up to summer. You can join Unislim right now for only 40p, the same price as was charged in 1972. Visit www.unislim.com to find your nearest class or check out the ‘Unislim Clubs’ Facebook page for lots of great competitions and inspiration. The 40p offer to join is valid until June 17. Weekly class fee of £5.50 applies. for just 40p!

Classes are held in every county throughout Northern Ireland, including a walk-in class at Jury's Inn, Fisherwick Place, Belfast, every Thursday, 8am to 1pm, convenient for city centre office workers or shoppers. For contact details on any of the classes ring 028 302 63703 or log onto www.unislim.com. Also contact Unislim if you want to earn money, inspiring others to lose weight. Working hours to suit.

Belfast Telegraph