I promise I'm not going to turn into one of those irritating, self-righteous dieting bores, but earlier this year I decided to join Slimming World, and there are a few things I wish I'd known before I turned up for my first meeting (and years ago when I started trying to lose weight by myself). So I thought I'd share them with you here.
It will involve a little of my own personal story, a little about SW, and a few FAQs that have been directed my way. Hopefully anyone wondering about signing up will find it useful. As for any other readers, I'm not trying to convince anyone to lose weight, that's your own decision, I'm simply here to share what I know. Promise.
The groupI'm not going to give everything away, but there are three basic food groups in SW: syns, free food and speed. Needless to say, the spelling of syns drives me mad and I do quietly giggle to myself whenever I hear someone say they've eaten a lot of speed. Snobbish whinges aside, if you can get the hang of those three things then you're on the path to success.
Meetings are weekly, beginning with a private weigh in and followed by a group meeting. These vary and no one has to stay after their weigh in – I certainly hadn't intended to go to more than the first couple – but the conversations about the advantages and disadvantages of certain foods and generally hearing other people's experiences have ended up being invaluable to me. I was also lucky enough to join a friendly, lively group that means the evening is a lot of fun to attend.
I admit, to begin with I would cringe when the group would randomly break into applause, but no one has to talk about their successes or struggles and it didn't take long for me to find myself wanting to clap everyone's achievements. I've also since realised I clap my hands at a lot of other activities, so this one shouldn't be any different.
To reiterate: This is not about fat shaming or humiliation, the group I go to is a really positive, supportive experience. The effort to follow the plan is yours alone, but the group means you're not going it alone.
It's not a diet it's a lifestyle choice
Frequently asked questions and comments
1. Surely you're intelligent enough to know what food you should or shouldn't eat to lose weight?
There's a *lot* of confusing dieting advice out there, so being given a plan to stick to – and a plan that empowers and educates me – has been an incredible help, both for food choices and for having the ability to say no to breaking my diet. It also means I can comfortably ignore the lectures and 'advice' people give me about not eating pasta, rice, any carbohydrates, bananas, soft fruit, milk, cheese, meat, alcohol, tea, coffee, anything that hasn't been liquidised, etc.
2. Isn't it full of fat people?
Honestly, what a stupid question. It's true, a fair few of us in the group are overweight, but next time you're out and about look around. We're an increasingly large society, you don't need to go to a slimming group to find fat people.
Size and weight are a personal thing for each of us. As mentioned at the start of this post, I know some truly stunning larger women. I've also met some painfully thin people. I personally am not happy with the weight or size I am. I've therefore chosen to change it and X person telling me I should or shouldn't lose weight is their unwanted opinion. I'll stop working to lose weight when I'm good and ready and that's all there is to it! *rant over*
4. Okay so you'll lose all that weight, but it won't be long until you put it back on again.
Well thanks for being so supportive! I generally direct these people back to the lifestyle choice comment and the fact this is a gradual process during which I'm re-evaluating my relationship with and understanding of food.
At some point in the not too distant future I'll hit target and won't need to continue losing weight, but then I'll be a Target Member and entitled to attend for no cost if I maintain my weight. I'll also begin to follow a different version of SW, which offers the advice of eating sensibly and uses the lessons I'm learning at the moment. My weight may fluctuate but I know the changes I'm making now are changes that are going to stick with me in the future.
5. What about loose skin?
This thought grossed me out for a while, and probably helped to hinder my previous attempts at weight loss, but SW is not about crash dieting and losing extreme amounts of weight in a short period. In total over the last three years I've lost around four stone, the first two took two years to go, the second two (I'm almost there) were during the six-ish months since I joined SW. My skin still fits me fine because I'm losing weight at a gradual, controlled rate and my body is taking the time to readjust.
6. But what about all that pasta you're eating?
Yes, pasta is technically labelled a free food, but nowhere in SW does it say "eat pasta all day, every day". Pasta is only really a free food if balanced out by 'speed', if eaten sensibly as part of the SW plan.
See my comment about sensible eating above. If all you're eating is fruit then you're really not following the plan correctly. That said, the SW guidance does mean I'm eating a lot more fruit. It's a great replacement for crisps, chocolate, crackers, rice cakes, Ryvita and any of the many other snacks I've previously turned to. It also means my digestive system works a heck of a lot better than it has done in years.
As someone who's previously tried calorie counting, I can see why people would think they've earned cake after taking part in exercise, but why sabotage your efforts? Exercise is a great way to improve your fitness and does a good job of complementing your chosen diet, it's not an excuse to eat cake.
9. Are you sure you're allowed that cake, biscuit or beer?
Yes, I am. SW isn't about giving up on the things we love, it's about balance and learning to make more considered food choices. Sometimes those food choices are a large slice of cake, others they're avocado or extra cheese.
Treats are called treats for a reason and just because it's a day ending in Y does not mean I need a treat. That said I can enjoy a treat if I do so sensibly. (It's that word again, SW really does encourage a lot of sensible, balanced eating).
Friends know I can be a horribly competitive person, but as with my experiences of ParkRun, I don't go to SW to compete against other people, I go to compete against myself. To get a lower number on the scales each week and to see my FitBit tracker tell me my percentage of fat content has got to a less horrific ratio. Yes I've loved being named Slimmer of the Week on the odd occasion, but everyone in the group has different targets and different lengths of time needed to get to them.
We're a team of people competing against ourselves, and – cheesy as it sounds – every one of us is winning at it.