Slimming World Diet Under the Spotlight
By Dietitian Juliette Kellow BSc RD
Slimming World is certainly a big name in the diet industry and with an almost 50-year history it has apparently stood the test of time. Margaret Miles-Bramwell created Slimming World and the original diet in 1969 and remains the chairman of the organisation today.
Decades on and Slimming World has around 4,500 consultants and over 16,000 groups in the UK. They’re impressive statistics and so it would seem the Slimming World diet certainly works. But just what does the Slimming World diet entail and can it help you keep the weight off afterwards? We delve deeper…
How Does The Slimming World Diet Work?
Slimming World is basically a slimming club that combines a unique diet plan with group support. To gain access to the diet, you need to become a member. You can also become a Slimming World online member and receive the diet information this way.
Tell Me About the Slimming World Diet?
Slimming World’s unique plan is called Slimming World Food Optimising. The theory behind the plan is simple – to lose weight you need to take in fewer calories than you use up. Slimming World Food Optimising achieves this reduction in calories by encouraging dieters to freely eat foods that are lower in calories but high in nutrients such as pasta, lean meat, rice, fish, fruit and veg, whilst limiting calorie-packed foods that are nutrient-poor such as biscuits and booze. This is essentially the same as the WLR Plan – it focuses on reducing calories and eating more healthy foods. However WLR does not set limits on any foods and instead encourages you to educate yourself on your food choices, rather than being told what to eat.
Because the focus is on eating mainly lower-calorie foods, Slimming World claims that its Food Optimising diet lets you eat as much 'free food' as you like. You only have to count Syns in restricted foods rather than counting the calories for everything you eat. This means there's less weighing and measuring. However, this lack of focus on how much you eat means that you are unlikely to learn about portion sizes and calories and could easily revert to your old ways of eating. All the information about Slimming World Food Optimising is provided in a book that’s part of the joining pack you receive when you become a member.
So How Does Slimming World Food Optimising Actually Work?
The diet has three steps:
Step 1 – Choose Free Foods
Slimming World provides detailed lists of foods that can be eaten in unlimited quantities. Fresh fruit and most veg are classified as Superfree Foods because they are so low in calories. Free Foods include lean meat, chicken, fish, potatoes, rice, pasta, grains, pulses, starchy veg, eggs, fat-free dairy products, Quorn and tofu. Within Free Foods, there are three choices available: the Extra Easy choice; the Green choice (sometimes known as a Green Day); or the Original choice (a Red Day). You can mix and match these choices from one day to another or simply stick to the same one all of the time.
Step 2 – Choose Healthy Extras
In addition to Superfree and Free Foods, you are allowed Healthy Extras every day. These vary according to whether you are following the Extra Easy, Green or Original plan.
Step 3 – Choose Syns
Syns is shorthand for synergy – Slimming World believes it’s the synergy between the three components of the plan, ie. Free Foods, Healthy Extras and Syns, that makes Food Optimising effective at enabling weight loss. Nevertheless, many of the Syns are effectively what other diet plans would call ‘treats'. But Syns also includes foods found in the Healthy Extras, allowing you to eat bigger portions of these foods if you want them.
Regardless of the plan you choose to follow, you are allowed five to 15 Syns a day. These include foods like biscuits , cakes, crisps, dressings, alcohol, ice cream, preserves, puddings, pizza, chocolate and sweets. The Syns value for some foods may vary depending on the plan you are following but as a guideline one Syn is equivalent to around 20 calories. In contrast, WLR doesn’t encourage you to associate any food with negativity. Instead you learn the benefits of certain types of foods as you go and learn to make healthy choices, with the odd treat thrown in.
What Can I Eat With the Slimming World Extra Easy Choice?
You start by filling a third of your plate with Superfree fruit and veg, then add unlimited amounts of foods from the following: beans, peas, lentils, bulgur wheat, couscous, potatoes, pasta, noodles, rice, eggs, Quark, fat-free cottage cheese, natural fromage frais and natural yoghurt, Quorn, tofu, lean meat, poultry, offal and fish. On top of this you choose one Healthy Extra from the A choices, which are mainly calcium-rich dairy products. For example, a choice is 350ml skimmed milk, 28g Cheddar or 42g mozzarella. Plus, you choose one Healthy Extra from the B choices, which tend to be higher in fibre and include wholegrain cereals, crispbreads and bread, dried, cooked and canned fruit, and filling soups. For example, a choice is one wholemeal pitta, two slices of wholemeal bread from a small loaf, 28g wholegrain cereal or 71g dried apricots. Then you have your Syns on top of this.
What Can I Eat With the Slimming World Green Choice?
The Green choice focuses on more carb-rich foods and less meat, so is a better choice for people who follow a vegetarian diet. Once again you start by choosing Superfree Foods and then add unlimited amounts of Green Free Foods, which include beans, peas, lentils, bulgur wheat, couscous, pasta, potatoes, noodles, rice, eggs, fat-free natural yoghurt, fromage frais and cottage cheese, Quorn and tofu. You choose one or two Healthy Extra A choices (low-fat dairy products) and two Healthy Extra B choices, the list of which is extended to include lean meat, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds and more cheeses. For example, a choice is 57g cooked beef, 71g cooked chicken, 142g cod, 28g Edam or 28g houmous. Syns are added on top of this.
Unlike WLR, you are restricted in what you eat, in the sense that you follow certain plans provided for you. This could limit your flexibility on the plan, especially if the diets don’t suit you.
Slimming World doesn’t educate you in calories which, when it comes to make healthy choices, is what really counts. If you decide to leave Slimming World, you may struggle to keep your weight off in the long-term without having learned about calories and portion sizes.
What Can I Eat With the Slimming World Original Choice?
The Original choice focuses on more lean protein-rich foods and fewer carb-rich foods. You start by filling up on Superfree Foods then add unlimited amounts of Red Free Foods, which include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, fat-free natural yoghurt, fromage frais and cottage cheese, Quorn and tofu. You choose one or two Healthy Extra A choices (low-fat dairy products) and two Healthy Extra B choices, the list of which is extended to include beans, lentils, wholewheat pasta and potatoes. For example, a choice is 142g baked beans, 100g cooked wholewheat pasta or a 227g baking potato (raw weight). Syns as always, are added to this.
Isn’t This a Version of Food Combining?
No. Food combining doesn’t allow carbohydrate- and protein-rich foods to be eaten in the same meal. Whichever plan you follow on the Food Optimising programme, you are still allowed to eat carbs and proteins in the same meal – it’s just that you might eat smaller amounts of one or the other in order to help you lose weight.
Does Slimming World Consider Exercise at All?
Yes. Slimming World has a programme called Body Magic that’s designed to encourage members to become more active. It focuses on encouraging members to do build up to 30 minutes of activity five times a week, which is in line with government advice. As well as receiving a booklet on Body Magic when you join, exercise advice is provided in the weekly group sessions. However, unlike WLR there are no calorie counts for exercise, so you don’t get to see the relationship between food and exercise.
You also receive weekly log sheets that enable you to set aims for the week, set daily and weekly goals, recognise danger areas and record your activity levels on a daily basis. As you become more active you receive, bronze, silver, gold and platinum recognition.
Is There Anything Else I Should Know About?
As well as Food Optimising and Body Magic, SlimmingWorld has devised a concept called IMAGE therapy, which stands for Individual Motivation and Group Experience. In reality, this refers to the group support that members can expect to get by attending weekly meetings. This is similar to the kind of support you’ll find on the WLR Message Boards and from the Helpteam, although obviously is usually only once weekly.
Like most support networks, the meetings aim to provide encouragement, inspiration, motivation, empowerment and positivity. Members share ideas, recipes and stories, are encouraged to make weekly commitments and plan ahead, and if necessary, consultants offer one-to-one-support throughout the week.
As meetings are weekly, support is not offered 24/7 as it is on WLR meaning there is not always a support group on hand when you need it. Whilst a group environment is motivating for some, it’s not for everyone.
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