IDF career soldiers are saying goodbye to oily foods and oversized bellies thanks to a new intensive fitness program. "It's a project based on a totally new perception, and it's being led by the IDF's Chief of General Staff [Lt.-Cmdr. Gabi Ashkenazi]," Lt.-Col. Ashi Almog said on Sunday. Almog is head of the army's Quality of Life Department, and the architect of a program aimed getting career army personnel back in shape. "It is no secret that obesity is a plague, resulting in lost days, medical bills and conditions like diabetes," he said. The poor fitness of many career soldiers prompted Almog to put together a plan whereby soldiers undergo three aerobic training sessions a week and take on an entirely new diet. Two of the sessions involve a qualified trainer leading units on a jog, swim, or bicycle ride, while in the third session, soldiers work out at home. As part of the program, trained nutritionists and dieticians advise army chefs and soldiers on how to improve eating habits and distribute advisory menus to soldiers during health workshops. In addition, all soldiers undergo tests to determine their BMI, glucose and cholesterol levels. "Eight months ago, we had eight units involved in the program. The project was then marketed by the head of the IDF's Personnel Department, and grew to include 21 units. Today, 46 units comprised of 2,500 soldiers are involved," Almog added. The fitness trainers are specialists on how to get people aged 30 to 50 into shape. "They are very friendly, and they are not out to test anyone. The message to the soldiers is: This is for you. The army is investing in you," Almog said. One soldier who took up the cause is St.-Sgt. Maj. Yossi Elikim, who went from 124 kg. to 89 kg. in six months. "The change was very fast," he said, smiling. In addition to taking up jogging, Elikim has replaced candy and fruit juice with vegetables, light bread and water. "It's very interesting to see how quickly the body responds," he said. "And it was incredible to learn about how much trash we put into our body." Elikim said his wife now went jogging with him, and that he had passed on his newly-learned health tips to his three children. The program is based on funding from the savings of army units. "We have to raise the money from the units themselves. Every commander we speak to recognizes the wonderful opportunity and wants to join," said Almog. Almog said other army health programs include a weekly running group for army officers - 450 have so far joined - and an smoking cessation program for all soldiers who wish to quit.