Unless you’ve been walking around with a blindfold, it would be impossible to avoid the onslaught of promotions for Slimming World. The UK diet industry is worth an estimated £2bn a year, and January, which is staggering for an industry which affects the mental and physical well-being of people who might be vulnerable and suffering from self-esteem issues.
I grew up in the Rosemary Conley low-fat era, where fat was seen as the enemy and low-fat foods were highly promoted despite often being a chemical shit storm. Magazines would compare the bodies of celebrities, and Kate Moss famously told us that, and I quote “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
Growing up, I tried every diet on the market; the Atkins, South Beach Diet, Cabbage Soup Diet, Slim Fast etc. The only one which didn’t feel restrictive was one called Scottish Slimmer’s, which I guess was similar to Slimming World but without the negative food labels (syns) and it seemed quite sensible in its approach.
In Spring last year I decided to support a friend who had joined Slimming World. She had a lot of weight to lose and had social anxiety about group settings, so I decided to tag along to get a broader picture of how they operate and to improve my overall diet too which was all over the place after a relationship breakdown, emotional eating and running after two kids.
So how does it work?
You can either sign up via self-referral where you pay a weekly fee and a membership fee on your first week. After that you just pay the weekly £5.95 fee at the group. There is also a online only version which I think is £5 a week. There is an NHS referral which gives you access to Slimming World for free. I think it’s based on your BMI or if you have certain medical conditions and you can be referred by a GP.
During your first class you’ll have a one-to-one chat with the consultant who goes through everything and you are given all the materials for recipes and a guide. You are then asked what your target weight is and then weighed.
Something that I wanted to discuss was how I could make it work for me in terms of my personal needs. I had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, which was managed really well by adapting my diet, for example, not eating ‘naked’ carbs, making sure I was eating fats and protein alongside carbs. However, Slimming World is heavily carb based and fat usually has to be ‘synned.’ I also wanted to discuss emotional eating, but I found the consultant to be quite inexperienced in both and the advice was very vague.
You are allowed to schedule ‘holidays’ which are for weeks when you know you won’t be at group due to being away, and you can attend any class. So this works well if you work shifts and can’t attend the same day/time every week.
My friend and I both found the group setting very cliquey! In fact I remember sitting for 20 minutes waiting for the consultant to finish her conversation with another member about how her mum was, what she had posted on Facebook etc. It felt quite unprofessional, and to be honest, I just wanted to be in and out so I could get home to my kids. This isn’t a criticism of the consultant as she was really lovely, more the general set-up.
Most people seemed very friendly with each other and I noticed on my first week that there were a few old members who had re-joined after putting weight back on. The group setting is great in terms of accountability and for support. There was a range of ages from early 20s to people in their 70s, and a good mix of males and females.
I wasn’t sure what to expect for the weighing process but it was quite simple and not that daunting. You simply hand over your journal and step on the steps and are then told whether you’ve lost or gained. Your actual weight is never mentioned, just “gained 1lb or lost 2lb” and they then fill in your journal. It’s discreet, which is good, but there isn’t an opportunity to look at why you’ve gained, for example, period bloating, stress, bad sleep that week etc. So, say you’ve eaten really well all week, stayed on track, but you’re on your period…Well, that is going to mess your mindset up as you’re hormonal and now the sad step (scales) is telling you that you’ve somehow failed.” As someone who suffers from endometriosis related bloating it can be a hard pill to swallow, and I did have weeks were I felt shit when I maintained knowing that I would have lost had it not been for my bloating. I don’t weigh myself at home as I find doing body measurements or just going by how my clothes feel to be more accurate. Weighing is definitely not for me!
The food plan in itself was easy to do. It is called food optimising and you are given a large list of ‘free foods’ such as lean proteins, vegetables, pasta, most fruits. Then everything else is referred to as ‘syns.’ You are allocated a certain amount of syns a day. I think mine was 15, some people will be given a bigger allowance. There is a barcode scanner on the Slimming World which makes it really easy to keep track, and some members use this while doing their food shop to make sure that they are buying food/snacks that is allowed.
There is very little in the way of educating members on the importance of portion control, but the consultant was good at mentioning intuitive eating, so listening to your hunger signals and not eating more just because you can. The plan is easy for the whole family to follow, is cheap and you can get everything you need from Aldi.
If you just want to lose weight and have no other medical conditions then it’s probably a simple plan to follow. However, and this is what makes me question things. If you are diabetic, whether that’s type 2 or gestational, it’s quite hard to follow without going over your syns. A bowl of pasta (naked carb) made with cream and avocado (fats and protein to slow down the digestion of carbs and delay their absorption into the blood, to prevent spikes in glucose levels) would benefit me and keep my glucose levels steady (I checked on a few occasions to see the difference) however, the cream and avocado would have to be synned and likely take my to my syn level for the day, meaning I wouldn’t be allowed any snacks. Avocado’s are probably one of the healthiest and most nutrient-dense foods around, so this blows my mind.
Another thing to bear in mind is extra costs. Members are expected to bring something in for the ‘slimmer of the week’ hamper every week, for example, a tin of peaches or a pack of healthy chocolate. There are also raffles that you are encouraged to participate in and they did a jubilee party during group where you had to bring in food. This can all add up, so it’s something to keep in mind.
I’ve tried to be as honest about my experience without knocking the company. There are pro’s and I know lots of people who have done well on Slimming World. It’s easy to follow and I still use some of their recipes at home. However, from a mindset coach point of view, more needs to done in terms of educating members on the importance of checking in on their emotional well-being during the plan, something which I felt was non-existent.
Have you done Slimming World?