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Slimming club mentality

There’s no shame in a gain!

Many slimming club consultants

As a long term dieter I have frequented a slimming club or two. They were a big part of my life for many years. At any given time I thought that was the best plan ever. This was the one that was going to sort me out. This was the one that was the right way to eat. I was going to lose weight, be skinny, and stay that way forever! Needless to say here I am today, not on one of those plans and definitely not skinny.

A little while ago I was thinking about all the crazy things that slimming club consultants used to say that I bought in to while I was going to those clubs. The ‘fun’ little sayings, the competitive side of losing weight, the explanations and justifications for the food you ‘could’ or ‘couldn’t’ eat. Looking back it seems like madness but I’m not annoyed at myself for believing it all. It was part of the journey and everyone else seemed to be going along with it. Plus when you are desperate, which I feel I was, you believe anything. Maybe if the consultants had been more like Marjorie Dawes in Fat Fighters on Little Britain I might not have stuck around……… or maybe I would??

Did you watch the video? It’s very funny (and very out of date and I appreciate inappropriate at times) but if you went to a slimming club you’ll recognise aspects of it from the actual real-life groups. It’s scarily similar in places.

I did wonder whether anyone else had had the same experiences as me so I posted on social media to ask the question, and the responses came flooding in. Get yourself a cuppa and get comfy. It’s a long list!

Line up!

Let’s start with the very underpinning of the slimming club – the weighing (that is after you’ve been to the loo to get rid of every last drop of weight). You go in and pay your money. A fiver or thereabouts to have the pleasure of lining up like lemmings to hop on the scales at the end. You might be lucky and have someone at the weigh point who is friendly and discreet or you might get loud-mouthed Susan who can’t whisper to save her life. The loud is fine if you’ve lost weight that week but if you’ve gained you don’t want that broadcasting, even with an ‘awww, never mind’. Not to worry though because Karen is going to announce it in the group later. Sitting around, you have to discuss your result that week, share ‘how you did it’ if it’s a loss,  or ‘what went wrong’ if you gained. A sympathetic smile, and lots of suggestions from the group for how you can do better this week. More ideas that you won’t enjoy obviously. Tell me again why I was happy to do that? 

No shame in a gain

Apparently ‘there’s no shame in a weight gain’. This was meant to be positive to make you feel better about having a gain on the scales that week, but actually then you were expected to explain ‘what went wrong’ so there’s no feeling good in that. How about it’s just life Karen?! Nothing went wrong, I just lived life and didn’t just eat dust and air.

It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle

Oh that old chestnut. Apparently the diet was not a diet. This was a new way of eating. This was how life was going to be for the rest of time. I will spend my life eating ‘free foods’ (more on that in a mo) and counting points for the foods that aren’t free. Does that sound reasonable? Absolutely not. Does it sound like a diet?

feet standing on weighing scales

Absolutely yes. That’s because it is! Any eating habits where there is any form of restriction is a diet. Given that these plans ALL involve some kind of limiting of foods they are ALL diets. Show me the slimming club where you eat as much as you like of whatever you like, with no rules.

Constant counting

This brings me nicely on to this – the points system. No food in real life comes with a points system. They have calories, that is a fact. They have nutrients, that is also a fact. They do not have points. Why should you have to count the amounts of delicious, nutritious food you are eating? Except the branded stuff that they sell you, that’s good for you. Don’t have a cereal bar from Tesco, have our bars. The problem with these is that you’re so dissatisfied with the things you are ‘allowed’ to eat, and you don’t have any of the really nice stuff you want, that the bars and other food that they sell you taste reasonably good.

Free foods

The other end of the spectrum is the free foods. Have as much as you like. Potatoes, rice, pasta, fruit veg, certain yoghurts and snacks. Now I am totally on board with eating as much as you like of any food. The problem with this is that nothing in life is free, and the same applies to diet plans. Those free foods come with rules. You can have as much as you like, but only if you’ve first filled half of your plate with vegetables. You can have as much as you like, but only at ‘meal times’. These foods are free until your weight starts to plateau and then you’re told to reduce the amount of them that you are eating. Well are they free or not?? For the record, you can eat as much of these foods as you want, and any other foods you choose (unless you have intolerances/allergies/medical reasons why you shouldn’t). 

Plate with a sad face on a pink background, with a silver knife and fork

Tweaking

Whatever you do, don’t get creative with your free foods. Don’t be using them for any purposes other than what they should be used for (oh I know, sounds mental doesn’t it).

Unfortunately though this is what restriction does to you. It makes you find ways to cheat the system. It makes you bend the rules so that you can fill those holes that the restricted foods have left.

You try to make pizza bases from Smash, tortilla chips from baked lasagne sheets, couscous for breakfast instead of oats because you want to have bread at lunch time, and don’t even think about blitzing up or mashing a banana.

Smoothies? absolutely not! 

Swaps

What can I swap that delicious, nutritious, full fat, creamy Greek yoghurt for? Here’s a Muller Light. What can I swap wonderful cheese for? Have cottage cheese? What can I swap lovely fresh white bread for? Have a couple of Ryvita. What can I swap creamy vanilla ice cream for? Whip up a fruit yoghurt with some natural yoghurt and freeze that.

What is also not clear is that these swaps are often processed and lacking in the good stuff that our bodies need. Low fat or low calorie does not necessarily equal healthier. Look at the yoghurt example – the yoghurt that we swapped out is without a doubt more nutritious than the processed item that you are advised to have instead.

Oh please! Can you just eat? Eat what you want and what will satisfy you. I say this because if you make swaps and have a ‘healthier alternative’ the chances are that really you’re still going to want the real thing. Restriction ultimately leads to binging. Do yourself a favour and just have some of the food that you will love. You really shouldn’t eat things that you just don’t enjoy. 

Exercise

Exercise went one of two ways – you were either praised or discouraged, depending on your weight that week! If you’d had a good loss it was bound to be because you’d got some extra exercise in that week, but if you had a gain it was sure to be because you’d done some extra exercise that week. However, you earned certificates for this exercise so on the weeks you’d gained ‘because of the exercise’ you were still rewarded for it.

At some slimming clubs you get extra points for exercise you do, and are therefore having to earn your food. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you never have to earn your food. You are entitled to eat, and your amounts of exercise and food do not dictate each other.

Slimmer of the week

And while we’re on the certificates thread, let’s talk about Slimmer Of The Week and Slimmer Of The Month awards. If ever there was something so demotivating it was this. To qualify for the weekly award you had to have the biggest loss that week and you had to have lost weight the week before. Then each month the person who had lost the most weight got an award. But that is motivating I hear you say – sure, if you’re a person who can lose weight easily, if you have ‘a lot to lose’ and so it’s coming off quickly, if you’re new to the game and your body is reacting to it. What about those that have been doing it so long and their body is fighting back and saying no to the weight loss? What about the person who is struggling to put food on the table and so is eating what they can? What about the person who is just trying to do the best they can and is slowly losing a half pound a week? Are they not to be praised and celebrated too?

Holidays

Then comes the holidays. The summer holidays with the all inclusive, Christmas with all that food and drink. Easter with all those yummy eggs and lunches. Stay on plan though! I remember one Christmas going back to my slimming club the very next meeting and being sooooo pleased with my half pound loss. I’d had such a miserable food Christmas though. I’d restricted and missed out on things. For what, half a pound? I got Slimmer Of The Week though – winner! Looking back now it feels ridiculous that I would have done that but so many of us did it, I’ve heard from you.

Cheat days

These were heavily discouraged. Stay ‘on plan’ 100% of the time and you’re guaranteed to lose weight. But that’s not real life.

Easter chocolate bunny and eggs

Sometimes we just want to eat what we want to eat. Doing this should not be considered cheating. Cheating implies something bad has happened, and honouring your hungry and cravings is not bad.

What, no food?

What about the slimming clubs where you don’t actually get real food to eat? Oh yes, they exist don’t they. Not only do you have the issues mentioned so far but add to this that you don’t even get to eat. Before the advocates all jump on me for this one, I know you eat some food, but nowhere near what your body should have. How does it go – a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, then a lovely (incredibly low calorie) meal for dinner. Oh what a treat. These diets are even worse because they put you in a seriously low calorie deficit. ‘But you have to be in a deficit to lose weight don’t you?’. Technically, yes, but a sensible deficit. The problems with seriously restricting calories can be addressed in another blog post, but for now let’s stay focussed on the fact that you are being subjected to all of that stuff that makes diet culture and slimming clubs horrible plus you not even eating real food….. and you are paying a large amount of money for the privilege. Please remember, there is no substitute for real nutrients found in real food.

 

Resulting actions

As if those things listed so far weren’t bad enough, there were some comments that are quite frankly scary, sad, and infuriating all rolled into one. I don’t think they need any explanation from me………

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I knew someone who was told milk was the devil at her slimmers’ club and so she decided to stop eating breakfast so she could have an extra cup of milky coffee a day.

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I was told 1 banana a day ‘is probably too much banana’ at one group I went to. I also used to eat entire boxes of meringue nests and still remain on plan.

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One tip was to spread the butter on the smoother side of the crackerbread so you might save 10 cals? If I was that concerned over 10 cals I wouldn’t be eating the crackerbread.

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My nana had a fridge magnet from the group which told you what you could and couldn’t eat. I’ll always remember that!  It’s huge as well, covers the bottom of the fridge door! I said to her I wouldn’t be able to remember all this!

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I don’t like the fact that you are encouraged to get a summer body, who owns it in winter then?

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From the horrors of standing on the scales to the applaud for people who have restricted themselves the most and hence lost the most amount of weight. It’s sad really.

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I was told that I should avoid fruit as it was so full of sugar – by a lady who makes kombucha.

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“What happened/ went wrong?!” is the one I remember most.

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“If it swims it slims”, “drink to shrink” & “little pickers wear bigger knickers”

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‘I remember my mum being told Jaffa cakes were ok as they were low fat so she ate the whole pack. I did love that an exercise class was included so felt I was getting my money’s worth. Did weightwatchers… just to get weighed while doing Atkins for accountability. Hated their ‘don’t eat that bar of chocolate, eat our bar of chocolate’ mentality. Did one where I had my bloods taken and the plan was individualised ….yeh right? Can’t actually remember any of the weird stuff said tho. Too long ago thank god!’

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I remember being told I was too young to diet….I was 20. I was told that I could eat as much fruit and Muller light yoghurts I wanted as they were free from “sins” (full of sugar). I remember the whole class being about how you could “bend the rules” of the diet. Really unhealthy advice, no focus at all on health. Being weighed in front of everyone acted as an ‘incentive’ to basically starve yourself. So group humiliation………. scary stuff… oh and of course, fat makes you fat, anything low fat is healthy. Extra extra low fat spreads spray cooking oil…. just lots of processed food, but then it was the 90’s – (By the way, that’s still the advice 30 years on)

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a friend had a positive experience, lost weight and maintained this weight loss…… It did make her change some habits to healthier ones such as replacing carbs with wholegrain versions when possible. From what I’ve gathered, the rare session leader appears to actually have a clue about nutrition (not justifying they are qualified in any sense) where as others provide information which is dangerous to health. These instructors need to be monitored and it may be worth the company looking into the role being carried out by volunteers whom are second or third year student dietitians / nutritionists once they have learned the necessary information about healthy and sustainable weight loss!

I included this last one to give some balance, but giving a balanced view on this topic is near impossible. This was genuinely the only almost positive feedback that I received. It is absolutely well said. The consultants out there that take the time to do some actual nutritional training and be able to pass that on to their groups are like needles in a haystack. I’m happy to hear that someone has gained some positive habits from their time there. Sadly these members are few and far between. 

P.s Apologies to those who sent me comments on their experiences that I haven’t included. I had so many that it was tough to choose which to use. 

Final word

Have you heard enough to understand how bad these slimming clubs are yet? The mental damage that is done sticks with you for a lifetime. The habits learnt of how to restrict and how certain foods are good and bad become so ingrained that you will second guess your eating habits for a long time. It takes hard work and support to undo that damage, but it can be done.

I understand how for some people their slimming club can feel like a social event, somewhere you have likeminded friends, people who share your pain and frustrations about your weight. But that’s what it is, pain and frustration. Imagine a life where you weren’t constantly thinking about food, counting your allowances, worrying about weigh day on Tuesday because you dared to have a good night out with your friends at the weekend. Don’t be that person in your 50s or 60s, still sat in slimming club after literally decades of trying to lose weight. Choose to be happy instead.

Please, if you are still thinking that diets are fine and won’t do you any harm please re-read this post. If then you still believe it’s fine please email me and we’ll have a conversation. I’ll point you in the direction of real science, real studies, real people who had their body and mental health devastated by diets. If you’re on a plan now I’m sure you think you’re happy but I promise you the second you stop you’ll be so much happier. The second you realise that your body is able to regulate itself if you let it and that you will be able to eat well intuitively if you stop restriction you will feel a huge weight lifted. There is a massive community of people that can help and support you, proper healthcare professionals that are educated and know the real facts behind weight and health, and you won’t even have to pay £5 a week to access it!

Let’s show diet culture up for what it really is and encourage people to take part in a gentler, more relaxed, happier way of eating. 

‘You’ve convinced me. I’m done! What next?’

If you have just said that to yourself you do not know how happy that makes me. I’m so pleased and excited for you. I know you’re about to start a much happier and healthier way of life.

I know the prospect of giving up dieting is scary, it really is, but there are so many great resources out there to help you to do it.  Here are some of my very favourites. I promise they’re very friendly, an easy read, and not full of heavy jargon that will confuse you. Plus, isn’t the money spent on a book or two much better than £5 a week for the rest of time???

Don’t forget to follow me on social media though too. I’m all about sharing tips and motivation to keep you going. Anyway, back to the books……..

 

The F*ck It Diet

Caroline Dooner’s amazing and funny book on how to say ‘f*ck it’ and give up dieting. It’s full of information on why we diet, why it’s so damaging to our health, and how to tackle the thoughts and habits that come up as you are giving it up. Very compassionate and warm, and a giggle or two along the way. All science backed!

Intuitive Eating

Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch – the ladies who originally created intuitive eating and made it the incredible method that we use today. Kind and caring, a step by step guide to tackling the physical and the mental side of leaving diet culture behind. Just revised and re-released so this is brand new! A must read.

Body Positive Power

Megan Jayne Crabbe’s book on how to let go of your body hang ups and realise that whatever shape and size you are, you are wonderful. Megan brings her own struggles into the book, and shows you that no matter what your circumstances you can release negative relationships with food and learn to enjoy it. 

Please note:  This post is intended to be general information that applies to people who don’t have diagnosed medical conditions and are not pregnant, and any figures correct at the time of writing. As always, please see a registered professional before making changes to your diet⁠. 

The links to the books are affiliate links and I may earn a small commission if you buy them. The price to you however has not changed.

Thank you so much to all the people who took the time to write in with their comments when I asked for feedback. You never know, you might have just convinced someone to give diet culture the heave-ho forever and live a better life for it. Well done you 🙂