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A Funny Way To Lose Weight: Laugh It Off

By Don Oldenburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page D01

Weight loss is hardly a laughing matter here in the Obese Nation, where two-thirds of adults are overweight or worse. But the newest aha! breakthrough in the battle of the bulge just might prompt a snicker -- and maybe make you healthier.

One can lose weight by laughing.

Jacki Kwan leads a therapeutic humor program for residents of the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington in Rockville. At left, Katie Namrevo says she shed weight by laughing vigorously, and turned her strategy into a book. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

No joke.

Instead of yo-yo dieting, try ho-ho dieting.

Before guffawing at the notion that mirth reduces girth, be aware that purposeful laughing is gaining a following. Thousands of laugh clubs worldwide now invite people to, well, laugh out loud together. A hybrid branch of psychology called "laughter therapy" is finding its way into hospitals and nursing homes with mood-lifter activities. A new exercise movement called Laughtercising has created guidebooks and laugh-track CDs of nonstop hooting and howling to get the yuk-yuks started. Even scientists are examining the good laugh in clinical studies.

"When it comes to the weight-loss arena, I ask myself: Is laughter a gimmick or a gift?" says Katie Namrevo of Bellevue, Wash. "Some people don't take this seriously."

But she does. On the back cover of her book "Laugh It Off! Weight Loss for the Fun of It" is a "before" photo showing her as a frumpy 50-year-old and an "after" photo as a 54-year-old who says she laughed off 35 pounds. Included in the $29.95 book is a laugh-track CD to jump-start your weight-reduction hilarity.

Namrevo was a "stress eater" who had tried all the diets and pills, she says. They only added stress and she didn't lose an ounce.

One day, after watching a TV program on laughter therapy, she headed to the fridge to "medicate" and decided to try laughing instead. Loud, long and hard, like a lunatic.

Giving new meaning to the phrase "belly laugh," Namrevo says she found that laughing 30 seconds to five minutes as often as 10 times a day, she no longer craved food. She began losing weight and she had more energy and a desire to exercise. "Laughing is a happy and healthy thing to do," she says.

Which may mean it's only a matter of time before Robin Williams and Chris Rock join the ranks of fitness trainers.

Laughing exercises "will definitely become a part of all the fitness clubs and yoga centers," predicts Thomas Varkey, a business consultant who two years ago founded the Laughter for Life club in Boston. Members meet for 25 minutes twice a month for yoga-inspired roll-on-the-floor laugh-o-ramas.

Varkey's laughter club is one of about 1,000 in the United States and 3,000 worldwide. (Two in the Washington area cater to assisted-living and long-term-care facilities.) Most clubs are founded by "laughter leaders" trained and certified by either of two laughter-advocacy organizations, Laughter Club International, based in Bombay, India, or the World Laughter Tour, based in Gahanna, Ohio.

"It gives a lot of exercise to our body and a kind of well-being," says Varkey. "The well-being helps us not to eat too much. When we are depressed, we tend to eat more. Laughing is antidepressant medicine."

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