Putting mind over matter with Ground Zero.

I won't say what gym it was," says Lisa Buckner, "but the guys who signed me up promised to help me. After I signed up, I walked in the door at 268 [pounds] and no one looked like me. It was a freaky experience. No one would help me; they didn't know how to help me." Looking at a "before" picture of herself, Buckner says, almost wistfully, "That used to be me. That ol' girl is long gone now." In that ol' girl's place is a different Lisa Buckner, with 100 fewer pounds on her 5'6" frame and sporting certifications in personal training and spinning. The memories of that gym experience drove Buckner, who co-owns the Cooper-Young gym InsideOut with partner Donna Issac, to create Ground Zero, an "intensive weight loss training project," as she describes it, designed for those at least 40 pounds overweight. Though a person's ideal weight is personalized to fit body mass, musculature, age, and sex, the principles of the program remain the same: The weight has to come off, sure, but more importantly, a person must be willing to change his or her life in order to be healthy. Says Buckner, "I knew this had to be my life. I knew there was no way I could do this unless I made a lifestyle change." In the 30-day program, each participant is required to complete at least six hours of cardiovascular training a week, weight train at least twice a week, and attend a weekly meeting to discuss the program, individual progress and eating habits, and one's own personal hang-ups about weight. Leading those sessions, Buckner plays part motivator, part physiologist, part trainer, part philosopher, and guru. Buckner keeps the groups small (maximum of six) so she can create a highly personalized atmosphere for each participant. In the current group, there are four women, ages 18 to 38, toting water bottles every one. The topics members discuss vary greatly. One woman explains how she steered clear of the food spread at a party but drank red wine. Buckner responds by saying that the wine is just as caloric as the food. Then Buckner launches into a small diatribe pointed at another participant. "You've been living for someone else your entire life," Buckner complains, though she follows this with a warning. "As soon as you start to change, everyone [you know] is going to freak out." The members of the group keep up this sort of conversation, sharing histories and deeply personal issues about their weight gain and loss. They tell each other things they cannot tell friends or loved ones. While Buckner doesn't claim to be a psychologist, she is able to share her experiences firsthand with the group and help them face their own fat demons. Buckner is realistic about the actual weight loss goals of the program. "They will not lose 40 pounds in 30 days," she says. "They'll be lucky to lose 10. The whole deal for the 30-day time period is to give them enough time to develop habits, to give them enough information, and to meet with them enough times so they are educated about fitness and the emotional issues that go with being overweight. Because this is a lifestyle [change], they have to take off on their own after the 30 days. I can't hold their hands." During the program, Buckner is your typical nag. She calls the participants to check up on them, making sure progress is steady and that none misses a session. Her role also serves as a reality check for participants. In one instance, Buckner calls on one woman who was supposed to reveal an emotional secret that might be a key to her body issues. She told the secret to her best friend. "Isn't that a cop-out?" Buckner asks, and tells the participant to tell someone else, someone who would be more shaken by that secret. "Sometimes I get real put off by that whole 'big beautiful woman' thing because it's just an excuse," she says. "If you ask anybody on the face of the earth, 'If you had three wishes, would you want to be normal-sized?' I'd say everyone would." The Ground Zero brochure warns up front that "It's not for everyone," but it is for men too. This is Buckner's third Ground Zero group -- after running the program on an individual basis for the past two years -- and in that time, she has not had a single male attend the group sessions. "I'm trying my darndest to get them in here," Buckner admits. "But men don't like to talk about it." Buckner is confident, however, that Ground Zero can help men as well -- "if they told the truth."

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