weighing in

Slimming World – the problem with weightloss clubs | Rosemary rants

April 12, 2017
Slimming World problem Two Darlings

Pic credit: Slimming World book via The Two Darlings

To categorise this opinion piece on Slimming World as a rant is possibly a little OTT, but I know that my readers thirst for my anger. So you can consider this clickbait of sorts. That being said, to the Slimming World dedicated among you, this may well seem like a totally outrageous attack on a church that deserves no such ire – in which case, y’know, consider it a rant.

A lil intro

There’s going to be a bit of jargon in this post that, to those of you who’ve never tried – or even read about – Slimming World, may seem confusing, so to break it down: on Slimming World, you’re essentially allowed as much fruit and veg (with a few exceptions) as you like, as well as carbs like pasta, rice and potatoes. The caveat is: one-third of every meal has to be made of “speed” food (basically, high-fibre, low-sugar and low-fat fruit and veg).

As well as all that, you get a certain number of syns per day. Quick Cliff’s Notes version: Syns are Slimming World’s way of measuring fat. The higher the fat in an item, the higher the number of “syns”.

Slimming World and me

There are very few diets I haven’t tried, which is a way of kind of setting my own scene. I am a woman who has been open to possible solutions for something I perceived to be a problem (that of being overweight). I’m trying, right now, very hard not to see “being overweight” as a problem that needs to be solved, but that’s something for another day – although, if you like the sound of that attitude, check out this piece on body positivity.

I first tried Weight Watchers when I was in secondary school; I joined my local group and learned that, at 12-odd stone, I was morbidly obese and should lose at least two stone. (Imagine how difficult it was to look back on that moment, two stone heavier at the age of 21.)

Slimming World came later; you can read all about my foray into Ireland’s fastest-growing slimming club here on stellar.ie. I’d heard stories of people who’d lost stones on Slimming World (“and kept it off!”) and I’ve always liked the idea of regular weigh-ins and supportive groups of women all trying to achieve the same thing.

To be clear: I accept that, for some people, it works

As I said above, I know that some people have had great “success” – at least if success is measured in terms of weight loss – with Slimming World. And, in week one, I was one of those people; I lost something like 9lbs and was named slimmer of the week. I went home with a plastic bag full of fruit and, er, two tins of mushy peas.

The mushy peas are actually a pretty good symbol, for me, of everything that is wrong with Slimming World. This sounds incredibly snobby – and I don’t mean to condescend to anyone – but, to my mind, Slimming World is an incredibly effective way of losing weight if you are someone who hasn’t got a clue about nutrition.

How many deadly syns?

I would sit, dumbfounded, in meetings while people would discuss how shocked they were that they could eat all the vegetables they liked! They would talk about bags of frozen peppers, bought in Iceland, that were so cheap and great for stir-fries! One woman waxed lyrical about chicken goujons she’d found in Tesco that were “very low in syns” and she put them in a wrap with loads of iceberg lettuce. “Even my four-year-old daughter loves them!”

There are more syns in an avocado than there are in a Curly Wurly (why do weightloss clubs love Curly Wurlys? I swear no one would eat those if Weight Watchers and Slimming World leaders didn’t go on about them as if they heralded the second coming of Christ).

There is no emphasis – at least not in my experience – on nutrition in Slimming World. Now I want to get this out of the way: the leader I had was so lovely and so encouraging, and I really believe she was doing an incredible job with the tools she had at her disposal.

But, to my mind, there is no effort made in the Slimming World universe to educate members about what they should be eating – and why. You’re never taught, for example, that there are such things as good fats and bad fats; there’s no chat about why, maybe you’d be better off choosing potatoes over pasta (just “yay! Slimming World lets you eat carbs!”).

In case it wasn’t obvious, I failed

It would, in a way, be more interesting to read an anti-Slimming World post from someone who’d lost a shitload of weight using their methods and still thought they were ill-advised, but I’m sorry – I’m not that champion.

I gave up on Slimming World after a couple of weeks because, quite frankly, a lot of it just didn’t make sense to me. I could essentially be eating a Mugshot (a vile cup of pasta-in-liquid) every day and still live within my “syns”, but if I made myself an incredibly nutritious chilli and topped it with high-fat (but also high-protein) cheese, I’d be f*cked.

My conclusion? Slimming World: not for me

Right now, what is for me is accepting and loving my body for the fact that it carries me around and lets me talk (the most important thing ever, obviously) and lift heavy weights. It’s not an object for me to “hone”, it’s a vessel for me to respect. When I did my health check at Charter Medical, I remember the doctor telling me, “Oh no – you should never hate your body; it holds your brain!”

Ultimately, I don’t think Slimming World helps anyone to love and respect their body, and to show that love and respect by fuelling it with nutritious food and cutting down on processed shit. If anything, it encourages the opposite.

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  • Reply Lisa April 12, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    I am on slimming world and I’m not here to give out but express my story, I’ve nearly lost 2 1/2 stone going from 11:11 to now 9:7 and for a 5″ girl I was big and what slimming world has thought me is to only allow myself the bad stuff to a certain extent with my 15 syns, and at the start I would yes use them on chocolate and all the shitty processed foods, I have now learnt portion control and have joined the gym, I was to anxious to ever go to the gym at the size I was. I now however have an interest in what I put into my body and am starting to introduce healthy fats and just not syn them, I will eventually probably give up slimming world but always remember what it thought me, portion control and when to draw the line but I do understand too its not for everyone

  • Reply Lyn B Worrall April 12, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Sing it!
    You are completely right. All of this.
    You missed something, maybe it’s not on your radar though; when you are overweight and you meet other women, at the schoolgate, the football pitch, the hairdressers, coffeemornings, etc, the conversations are all about ‘syns’ and points. Every damn time.
    All these great, intelligent, interesting, talented women and they are talking about weightloss, all the time, everywhere. It’s depressing.
    We need to move on. Move on the conversation. Move on the thinking. We owe it to ourselves.

  • Reply Cristine April 12, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    I can see how it won’t work for everyone but if you think of people who are morbidly obsess and/or have chronically unhealthy diets, it’s probably worth a try. My cousin has lost nearly 9stone in a year of SW. I think it’s a case if you have that much weight to lose in the first place, SW is prob worth a try. My cuz said she didn’t realise she could basically eat whatever she wanted (even if only a tiny bit of something terrible for you) and still lose all that weight. I have a stone or two to lose myself but I’d never go to SW. I know what I need to cut out of my diet.

  • Reply Emma April 12, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    My sw journey has been there for all to see lost 8 stone in a year and struggled. I’ve yo yod the last ten years and I’m sick of dieting and i took a step away from dieting culture which was a surprise to so many as I amassed thousands of followers who followed my “inspirational ” journey. I had to tell them creating a bad relationship and ibsessions with food and weight was far from inspirational.

    I’ve openly spoke out about the negative side of my sw journey to quite a bit of backlash because apparently we should only celebrate the positives but I’ll continue to do so everyday in the hope I help just one person realise how badly it is effecting them.

    You can find me on Instagram @itsyourgirlemsg and see for yourself I’m a girl after your own heart x

  • Reply Marian April 13, 2017 at 7:19 am

    Slimmimng world encourages people to use Speed foods which are vegetables and fruit to speed up weight loss, also you adapt the recipes to suit you, its called food optimising, you have to make it a way of life, its not a diet, it may not work for everyone but it works for thousands of people who have lost weight and kept it off. I was 12.2lb when I started May 2016 and weighed in at 9.13lb yesterday. My BMI is now in the healthy range. The problem today is that people won’t cook from scratch which is what you have to do, its cheaper too.

  • Reply Liv April 13, 2017 at 8:14 am

    I agree with your view on body positivity. On the other hand, I think it’s wrong to dismiss any type of diet. If someone is willing to lose weight then good for them. Who are we to judge!? For some people, weight loss is an incredibly daunting thing to think about but if someone is willing to lose the weight, gain a healthier lifestyle and benefits from the Slimming Worlds ethos then good for them! I completely understand your point about the way Slimming world views and actually, I wonder how many endorsments they do have from crappy food companies to promote their products, but if people are losing the weight then good for them. You’ve already said it; you lost 9lbs in one week. It’s sad that diets seem to be in constant conversation but at the same time, we should be encouraging people to lose weight rather than laughing at the way they go about it.

  • Reply Meredith April 13, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    SW don’t ‘talk about nutrition’ in the same way others do because it’s counter productive. It over complicates things. In SW, normal foods are organised into easily identifiable groups which have different energy densities i.e. calories per gram. Yes, the least energy dense foods are veg and fruit but you’re encouraged to cook with every day ingredients based on the groups’ order; mostly from the ‘speed list’ – the least energy dense; next the free foods, the middle ground which includes carbs like potatoes, rice and pasta etc and least amounts of the Syns, which are the most energy dense, and make new and interesting or old favourite dishes simply by following the guidelines on what to buy and how to cook it. The Syns you can eat per day are limited but they still give you enough of a ‘treat’ to make the plan ‘non-deprivational’ which encourages people to stay on the plan. Ultimately it’s the simple way to reduce calorific intake without counting them or needing a deep understanding of nutrition and you’re never left hungry. I’m one of those intelligent women who needed to lose weight for my health and it works for me (and for many others) and I don’t apologise for talking about it, if it might help people. Health is the priority and the rest is a bonus.

  • Reply Clare - My Tunbridge Wells April 13, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    I have been yo-yo dieting for years too and finally had good success with Weight Watchers combined with fitness and the realisation that my weight is my own responsibility.

    I tried SW and gained weight! I didn’t have a great deal to use and the idea of not having portion control with the carbs just didn’t sit well with me. I felt it was a bit of an ‘eat as much as you can’ attitude so long as it was particular types of foods and I don’t think that’s good in the long term personally.

    That said, SW does seem to be very effective especially for people who had quite a lot of weight to loose…

  • Reply Christine April 13, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Surely it’s down to the individual? I’m on SW and eat healthy nutritional meals. I cook using only fresh produce, white meat and fish

  • Reply Paula McLoughlin April 13, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    Rosemary, as always I was happy to see a new post on your blog. I usually find them thought provoking and often amusing but i honestly don’t see what is to be learned from reading this particular article.
    To be upfront i will say I’m a slimming world member. I’ve lost 4 tone 2 lbs in 7 months. I have done this by eating freshly cooked meals everyday. Cutting out the crap and exercising. The emphasis on exercise or body magic as its called to use the lingo is quite strong and its acknowledged with certificates at different levels. For any person to change their way of life and eating habits and ultimately that of the family around them has to be applauded or at the very least not mocked. I also document my sw lifestyle changes @slimwithpaula and enjoy motivating and finding motivation from many people each day. As a final comment i will add that I too love a hot chilli cooked with fresh,good quality meat and vegtables (some of which i grow myself) and enjoyed this very dish just yesterday and all syn free.

    Looking forward to your next blog post.

  • Reply Paula McLoughlin April 14, 2017 at 12:26 am

    Rosemary, as always i was happy to see a new post on your blog. I always find your topics thought provoking and often amusing, but but honestly I don’t see what is to be learned from this particular article.
    To be upfront i will say I’m a slimming world member. I’ve lost just over four stone in 7 months and I’ve achieved this by eating freshly cooked food and exercising.
    Among the many certificates I’ve earned along the way are four acknowledging my commitment to making exercise,or body magic to use the lingo, part of my new lifestyle.
    For somebody to change their way of life, their relationship with food and their health, is i feel something to be applauded and at the very least not mocked.
    I also document my slimmingworld journey @slimwithpaula and find real motivation from many other slimming world members and food enthusiasts everyday.
    I do agree with you that there is great enjoymeny to be found in eating a well prepared hot chilli cooked with fresh good quality ingredients and I enjoy this meal and many more like it everyday often with produce I’ve grown myself and best of all they’re all syn free.
    I don’t nor did i hate my body I just reached a point where i knew i needed to realistically look at the sustainability of my lifestyle.

    Looking forward to your next blog post.

  • Reply Duckie89 April 14, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Here’s my two cents worth… It is a life change, yes you are allowed processed food but at the end of the day slimming world is about choice. If you were to go into the nutritional value and good and bad fats and whatever else with people trying to lose weight, only a small percentage would stick to the plan. There are lots of people trying to lose weight and be healthy and are following all kinds of diets and plans and I think for a lot of us it works.. It doesn’t over complicate everything, it keeps it simple and provides you with a choice. We are all so busy these days that we need a lifestyle change like slimming world where we can eat healthily and get ourselves back to healthy weight and healthy mindset. For me it taught me how to make meals from scratch whilst keeping food high in fats and calories to a minimum. Yes you can have mug shots, these are convenience foods when life is passing you by and you cannot manage to make up a quick lunch, but you will see majority of sw members are cooking meals from scratch and not filling up on processed foods. And hey.. There’s nothing wrong with a treat like a curly wurly! You never feel deprived on sw as you do with other diets, because it’s s change in your everyday eating habits

  • Reply Jenny O'Keeffe April 20, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    This post is hilarious, mainly be cause it is spot on about slimming world and the people who attend having no clue about food. The other side of it though is that I am a proud slimming world member having lost 3 stone and counting. Probably the reason I think the plan works for me is because I DO know about nutrition (well the basics, as in I know that vegetables are very low in calories which is why we re encouraged to fill our plate with them, or that avocados aren’t bad for us but if we want to lose weight you have to limit your intake of them, good fats are good for us but we can still over consume on them). I’m always baffled by things people say in group about food and what they eat or why. But at the end of the day, I don’t judge my success on the plan by other peoples failures to understand. I just work away at it trying to make sensible choices. I do have to disagree with the closing statement in the piece though, there is a huge emphasis on making better food choices and cooking from scratch with fresh whole ingredients. Half of the people in my group claimed they didn’t cook/couldn’t cook before they joined and now are making meals at home for the family for most of the week. Many have claimed their partners or kids have lost weight just by changing their dinners as a result of one member of the family attending group. The ‘low-synned processed food’ options are available in every diet… take protein bars, full of sugar. I could take on a high fat diet but I’d never lose weight because I don’t work out enough. Everyone has their thing. you have to do what fits your lifestyle. I get that this isn’t your thing and it is a bit of a rant, but the problem with rants are that they are so one sided. And while I agree with a lot of what you say and think slimming world has a way to go about educating people about food or at least how the SW diet actually works, some people just want to eat food and lose weight, they don’t want to be educated. A lot of it is down to the individual’s mindset. If you took what you know about food and applied it to the plan, it would defo work for you. I’m not saying that you need it now, its just another way of looking at things.

  • Reply Michelle May 17, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    Totally agree with you Rosemary. I could never get my head around being actively encouraged to eat processed foods all the time. Mugshots, absolutely vile excuse for food & a huge push on Muller yogurt loaded with artificial sweeteners. The leader I had kept telling us to cut the fat off meat &she said she would give it to the dog or the kids!! Pushing the weight issues onto the rest of the family! I understand it works for a lot of people but it’s definitely not the weight loss group for me

  • Reply Charlie August 30, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    America didn’t get morbidly obese on fat, it got obese on processed foods and refined carbs particularly sugar. I can’t see how this diet in its most basic sense would work for anyone over a sustained period of time. Have we learned nothing from our olive oil swilling mediterranean cousins.

  • Reply Heather Gray August 31, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    Just because someone may know about good fats and bad fats. The value of an avocado in the nutritional sense does not mean that they eat an entirely healthy diet themselves, all the time. Slimming World As an organisation does a marvellous job helping people, such as me for instance, loose weight, and also keep it off. Food optimising is the key. Yes, you may choose to have a mug shot when busy perhaps. At other times you may decide to have some fruit as a snack. Variety in the diet is key. Most members are sensible enough to know exactly what a good choice is. That is not to say they always make one. I cannot see how Slimming World can improve on their methods. Also, l have never encountered a Consultant who made a huge push regarding Muller yogurts!

  • Reply JJ September 6, 2017 at 11:04 am

    I’m on the Slimming World diet and I’ve lost nearly 3 stone without buying a single Slimming World product and without using any processed food or any low-fat alternatives to things that naturally have fat in them like yoghurt and cheese. The ONLY exception to this is the fry-light spray which I do use.

    I switched from black tea with milk to herbal tea to save my “healthy extra A” for food. I spend all my Syns on proper food like avocados and cheese. The beauty of the Slimming World diet is that it is not overly prescriptive so you have a choice to adapt it within limits.

    I also allow myself time off, if I eat out or with friends one a week, I eat whatever is on the menu without fuss.

    I’m looking to lose weight at a healthy rate (for my starting weight) of between 1 and 2 lbs a week.

    I think that most of the criticisms of the Slimming World diet don’t relate to the diet itself but are better directed at individual consultants.

    My consultant is overweight, has no interest in exercise and rarely talks about “body magic” (Body magic = Slimming World for physical activity). She talks a lot about recipe ideas with various ingenious low-fat/sugar substitutions, which makes the diet sound much more labour intensive than it really is.

  • Reply Cathy Asser September 17, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Can someone tell me please how many sins are avocados as I cannot find it anywhere

  • Reply rachel taylor September 30, 2017 at 8:19 am

    I have been doing my own diet , by following good portion control and lots of veg fruit and water. I have cut down on alcohol cakes crisp biscuits. I found lots of my Friends were going to groups and getting to their target weight, only to be back at square one a year later having to pay out more money. I am doing mine on my own then I think I will keep it off better as I will of achieved it by my self not by other people helping me because when they are not around I know I would sip back like my friends. I have only been going for a few weeks and dew to ill health I can not exercise much but was 87.76 kg now in three weeks I am 77.71 kg so here’s to keep going

  • Reply Sj October 26, 2017 at 9:27 am

    I am Sorry that the plan has not worked for you. I started slimming world 3 weeks ago and I have already lost 9.5pounds. Now I weighted 10 stone 7.5 when I started and I am only 5 foot 1. So I was one stone overweight. I now only had 4.5pounds to lose to get to my right B.M.I however I want to be eight stone by choice so I am in the middle of my B.M.I.
    I feel out of all the diets this one is not something worth ranting about because unlike all unhealthy diets, such as the cambridge diet, slimming world is a lifeatyle change. Items such as mugshots and naked noodles are not encouraged for everyday use, they are for the days you generally do not have the time to sort food. This stops alot of women/men from making an worst decision such as Mcdonalds. I really feel that sometimes consultants do forget to explore when items like this should be used too. The big issue is some people will not stay to group whrn gaining too. Everyones bodies are different. My sister in laws are all stick thin and eat take out, crap foods and drink full fat everything. I was not too unhealthy but found myself mixing slimking world with protion control works well for myself.
    Btw I intend on staying and on getting pregnant in the future. I know many women who this helped. So ive bern super good this month reserching nurtition and have to say its not a consultations job to teach us that information. They should only have to encourage it. They do not make much from doing the groups.

  • Reply Jane Hackett May 9, 2018 at 11:52 pm

    Not sure why you’d be “fucked” to be honest having a chilli with cheese on top. If it was a sw chilli (which is lovely) and the cheese was your HE it would be free? I think sw teaches you how to eat and cook much more healthily!

  • Reply Nina Warren June 9, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    I don’t agree with your comment about sw encouraging you to eat processed foods, it doesn’t, at all! I agree that you’re not taught about the difference between potato carbs and pasta carbs but you are encouraged to cook from scratch and when you’re a terrible cook, like me, it gives you the confidence to try new things. I love the plan, it’s not a diet, it’s a positive lifestyle change. Just because you don’t know why you’re eating certain things you know they’re having a good effect on your weight loss. I’ve lost 28lb and I feel great.

    You didn’t really give it a shot if you only did it for two weeks, even the money back guarantee says 4! Also, you DID lose weight, so why the downer?

    Lots of love

  • Reply Wendy Pratt September 11, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    YES, this!! Long term dieter, repeated SW joining and leaving joining and leaving, was very successful and lost 2.5 stone there, but when i put it back on I just felt shame. We seem to live in a society where our bodies and our looks are problems to be fixed. I’m not a bloody problem, I’m a person. Have started to just eat a whole food diet with less booze, more exercise, less weighing myself. I’ve started to measure my success by how good I feel after a run, rather than how good I feel when a pound comes off. It feels much healthier, and although I’m still over weight, it’s coming off as a byproduct of me loving my body and wanting it to be fuelled well with good quality nutrition rich food. I used to despair at the fake food at SW (and WW but SW particularly bad). The basic food education was that low calorie foods fill you up so eat lots of them. Which…yes, it’s true, but what about nuts, seeds, avocados etc etc etc. I love food, Slimming clubs made me hate food and reaffirmed the feeling I already had that I had to be fixed, that i could be happy if I lost weight. I’m in rant mode because I hate the diet industry with a passion now.

  • Reply Ruth October 6, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    Slimming World is excellent and I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to lose weight. I lost 1 and a half stone in 4 months. It doesn’t do the shopping for you. It doesn’t do your cooking for you. You do this yourself. It has an excellent website.

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