Slimming World Club Under the Spotlight
Reviewed By Juliette Kellow BSc RD
When you think about a slimming club, the Slimming World club is probably the first to mind.
The Slimming World club was created in 1969 by Margaret Miles-Bramwell who was struggling to lose weight herself. Margaret, still the chairman today, wanted to create the Slimming World club to offer the support she felt was lacking for people trying to shed the pounds. She wanted to devise a healthy eating plan and combine it with a support group – Slimming World club was born.
Around 300,000 people attend a Slimming World club each week but, what does attending a Slimming World club mean? Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD investigates.
Are Group Leaders Trained?
Group leaders, who are known as consultants, take a four-day course that includes training on Food Optimising, Image Therapy, Body Magic and SlimmingWorld on Referral (see below). They then take four diploma examinations that test their knowledge of how to run a group, how to motivate members, their understanding of Food Optimising, basic nutrition and food facts, and the role of exercise in weight management. A Foundation Diploma is then awarded.
Will Everyone at the Slimming World Club Know my Weight?
Slimming World promises your weight won’t be disclosed to other group members. Only your weight change is revealed each week.
Is There Support Available Outside of the Club?
Slimming World has a free website for SlimmingWorld members called LifelineOnline. It’s available to members 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and provides recipes, a personalised progress chart and an interactive food diary. You can also get support from Slimming World members who have agreed to be phone, text or email buddies to members from their group.
How is my Goal Weight Set?
You are allowed to choose your own target weight , which is referred to as your Personal Achievement Target. There’s no pressure to set a target weight within the healthy Body Mass Index range of 20-24.9. However, you are not allowed to set a target weight that’s below a BMI of 20.
What Happens When I’ve Reached my Goal?
You can continue to go to Slimming World Clubs for free providing you stay within 3lb of your target weight, regardless of what that is.
Can I Follow the Slimming World Diet Without Going to a Club?
Slimming World offers an online diet programme called bodyOptimise. When you first become a member, you need to complete questions that ask about your health and diet preferences and choose a target weight. You then have access to the Food Optimising plan, a Syns calculator, recipes and menu plans, a progress chart, an online food diary and activity programme.
How Much Weight can I Expect to Lose?
As the Slimming World diet is based on healthy eating, you can expect to lose, on average, 2lb a week. Exercising regularly will boost this weight loss.
Can Anyone Join?
In order to become a member, you must have at least 7lb to lose. People with diabetes may join but they must let their consultant know they have this condition. There is also a programme for children aged 11-15 years called Free2Go, which focuses on encouraging children to eat more healthily rather than on losing weight. This follows the basic principles of the Food Optimising plan – children fill up on Free Foods, add Healthy Extras and eat fewer fatty and sugary foods.
Children can attend SlimmingWorld clubs free of charge when they go with a paying adult or guardian, but they must have the approval of their GP or practice nurse by providing a signed consent form. Pregnant women and new mums can also attend. Slimming World has devised a programme for pregnant and breast-feeding women in conjunction with the Royal College of Midwives to help them manage their weight.
To be a member whilst you are pregnant, you need to have the signed consent of your midwife. For the online service, people with cancer, liver or kidney disease or an eating disorder are not allowed to join.
Are Health and Diet Experts Supportive of Slimming World?
SlimmingWorld works closely with experts and organisations in the obesity field and also funds research in the area of weight management. As a result, it has the support of many health professionals. In 2003, the Slimming World on Referral scheme was launched. This scheme, which is subsidised by Slimming World, means that GPs can ‘prescribe’ attendance at a Slimming World club for 12 weeks free of charge.
The scheme is currently offered by more than 50 Primary Care Trusts across England. However, many health organisations such as the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency are now focussing on encouraging us to better control our portion sizes. Therefore the idea of eating huge amounts of Free Foods – even though they are healthy – is likely to be in conflict with this.
How Much Does it Cost to Become a Member?
The one off joining fee is £10. You then pay £4.95 for each weekly meeting (£4.65 for senior citizens). Children aged 11-15 years old can attend for free if they come with a parent or guardian who is a member. Otherwise, the weekly fee is £3.95 plus the initial joining fee (they still must attend with an adult).
The online membership fee varies depending on the level of service you opt for. There are three levels of service. The Bronze membership costs £79.95 for a three-month subscription and includes three months online access. The Silver membership costs £84.95 and in addition includes seven issues of Slimming World magazine. And Gold membership costs £99.95 and includes Slimming World’s Food Optimising and Body Magic books as well as the standard Silver membership content. There are frequently offers available for both the group and online memberships.
What are the Pros?
Food Optimising basically encourages healthy eating by recommending lots of fruit and veg, healthy carbs, lean protein-rich foods, low-fat dairy products and smaller amounts of fatty and sugary foods. This means that whilst losing weight, members develop good eating habits they can follow for life – and will help to keep the weight off. There’s also no need to cook different meals for yourself – all the family can eat meals based on Slimming World’s Food Optimising plan.
The concept of Syns also works to educate slimmers on those foods that are higher in fat and sugar and so should be limited – but at the same time allows them in small amounts so they don’t feel deprived. It’s also good to see that exercise is considered to be an integral part of the programme.
And the Cons?
All of the Free Foods such as lean meat, chicken, fish, pasta, potatoes, rice, couscous, eggs and beans still contain calories. For example, with the Easy Extra choice, in theory you could eat a spaghetti Bolognese designed for four people providing it only included Free Food ingredients such as wholewheat pasta, lean mince, carrots, onions, mushrooms, canned tomatoes, tomato puree and stock. This could easily add up to 2,000+ calories (a large portion of wholemeal pasta contains 400 calories alone)! As a result, it’s possible to eat sufficiently large amounts of Free Foods to take in enough calories to cause weight maintenance or even weight gain rather than weight loss.
Though Food Optimising claims there’s not much measuring needed, you’ll still need a pair of accurate food scales as all the Healthy Extras and Syns are given in weighed amounts. Unfortunately, most of the weights aren’t in consumer-friendly amounts either, for example, 57g of cooked pork, 71g canned salmon or 113g chickpeas. You’ll need very accurate scales that measure to 1g to get this level of accuracy.
As a newcomer to the plan, the diet seems very complicated and incredibly daunting. You need to spend time working out exactly what you can eat freely and get to grips with the Extra Easy, Green and Original choices, together with the Healthy Extras and Syns. Fortunately, there’s a 7-day plan based on the Extra Easy choice to help you out.
I like the fact Food Optimising encourages a healthy, balanced diet and doesn’t ban any foods. However, whilst I support the concept of limiting fatty and sugary foods, I do think using the term Syns has a negative meaning within a plan that is otherwise very positive. Syns might stand for Synergy but the term still infers that certain foods are ‘sinful’ and therefore reinforces the idea that they are ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ for us. As a result, we are more likely to feel guilty when we’ve eaten them – something that contradicts Slimming World’s mission to promote guilt-free eating.
When it comes to the claim that you can eat as much as you like, for successful weight loss, it’s important not to take that to the extreme. Indeed, if some people did eat as much as they liked of the Free Foods, they could potentially end up gaining weight rather than losing it. This means you still need to exert some degree of control when it comes to serving sizes, no matter what the Slimming World literature says.
Like many health experts, I think it’s crucial that people start to have a better understanding of what constitutes a suitable portion size to help them control their weight. This includes portion sizes for foods like meat, pasta, rice and potatoes. For example, a suitable portion of meat should be about the size of a deck of cards, a portion of rice or pasta should be about the size of a tennis ball, and a potato should be about the size of a computer mouse. Slimming World does nothing to educate slimmers about the sort of portion sizes they should really be aiming for, potentially making it more difficult for slimmers to keep the weight off once they start to relax their diet a little more and include more ‘Syns’.
As for the foods that need to be weighed, I would prefer to see more household measures being used, or at least guidance on weighed portions to the nearest 10 grams. This is far more practical.
The online service is very comprehensive with plenty of good advice and some features. However, there isn’t much opportunity for online members to interact with each other, such as the provision of chat rooms, although comments from members are welcomed and posted at the end of features.
I like the fact that Slimming World as an organisation works with health professionals – the Referral Scheme is a great idea. Providing a plan that enables pregnant and breast-feeding mums to manage their weight is also a positive move as this is a time when weight problems often start for women. The children’s plan is also a fabulous idea considering so many teenagers are now overweight or obese – the only downside is the stigma attached of going to a ‘slimming club’.
No Magic Wand
All in all, there’s no magic behind the Slimming World diet. Ultimately, it’s a plan that helps you to reduce your calorie intake so that you shift those pounds. Whether or not you want group support to help you on your way is a personal thing – whilst some people benefit massively, others may shy away from the idea of talking about their weight problem with others.
In conclusion, as WLR members will already know, to shift those pounds you need to change your eating habits and focus on eating healthy, nutritious and lower-calorie foods whilst having fewer fatty and sugar foods. Slimming World’s Food Optimising plan has the potential to help you achieve this, providing you can get to grips with what you can and can’t eat and remember that Free Foods still contain calories and so shouldn’t be eaten in supersized amounts.