It’s Britain’s largest weight-loss organisation but, despite having 300,000 members nationwide, Slimming World still battles against the stigma attached with attending a ‘slimming club’. Nik Brear decided to put the myths under the microscope and find out what really happens in these sessions held every night in venues all over the country...
I’ll be the first to admit, I was one of those people who rolled their eyes when I came across Slimming World adverts tacked up in church halls and community centres.
I had a mental image of women in ill-fitting tracksuits sitting in a dimly-lit hall, sobbing into bags of crisps over their lack of willpower.
It’s an unfair stereotype and, as I’ve discovered in the last two months, one that couldn’t be further from reality.
It’s been seven weeks since I stepped into my first Slimming World session to be greeted by the friendly face of consultant Christine Melhuish.
Christine has worked for Slimming World Barnsley for nine years and it is her job to take nervous newcomers through the plan, expertly breaking down misconceptions as she goes.
And Christine knows exactly what those misconceptions are because her head was filled with the same ones when she first joined the club as a member 10 years ago.
“I’d been moaning about my weight for a while when my friend suggested Slimming World, and I wasn’t keen,” admitted the 48-year-old.
“I kept putting her off, then finally my husband said, ‘You’re always complaining none of your clothes fit, you’ve tried every diet going, why not give it a go? If it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost anything.’
“My reaction was: ‘Oh God, he thinks I’m fat!’,” she laughed.
“But I did go the next week and I’m so glad. It’s the best thing I ever did.”
Nothing’s off-limits - that’s the first ‘pro’ Christine shares.
“If we ban it, you’ll crave it,” she said simply. “There’s no need to ban anything from your life. We’re all adults here, this is about learning healthy moderations.”
And as someone who could barely throw a spaghetti bolognese together straight from the jar, I’m amazed at how my cooking skills have grown in the last few weeks.
Because here comes ‘pro’ number two - no branded meals, bars or drinks that guarantee ‘you will lose weight...if you buy and use our products.’
That’s right, Slimming World’s food rule is simply ‘cook fresh’ - and I’ve gone from takeaways, microwave meals and oven chips to cooking healthy curries, lasagne, chilli, fish pie, pasta, mashed potatoes and even burgers and chips, all from scratch.
And they’re delicious. Because what we lovingly refer to as ‘Slimming World recieps,’ are in fact just healthy versions of your favourites using fresh ingredients, all lean, without oil.
I’ve filled up on meat, fish, potatoes, rice and pasta and watched in wonder as 11lbs have dropped off.
I feel great - and am still having enough red wine and Mars bars to keep me sane.
My boyfriend, an innocent-bystander in my Slimming World experiment, has lost a stone without even trying, simply by eating what I’m eating.
Because what the sessions really do is teach you to think about what you’re putting into your body.
And, far from the ‘support group speak’ I’d feared, the group members chat to one another in much the same way my friends and I do - comparing ‘problem areas,’ exchanging tips and receipes and spurring one another on. And these are normal women of every shape and size ranging from very curvy to relatively petite.
All of this makes me assess where my narrow-minded preconceptions began. After all, in a time where many of us pay membership to attend a gym and focus on exercise, what’s so wrong with attending a weekly session that helps us to keep our nutrition in check?
After all, the hard and fast rule when it comes to nutrition vs exercise is the 80/20 rule. The health and weight of your body is apparently governed 20 per cent by the exercise you do and 80 per cent by what you put into it, so it’s an important issue to address. And our nation’s soaring obesity rates should be enough to stop any eye-rolling on the matter.
Nova Trew, aged 58, joined Slimming World in 2012 and has already lost one stone four pounds.
“I’ve been on hundreds of diets but this is the only thing that’s ever worked for me,” said Nova, of Thurlstone, who works as a Tina Turner tribute act. “The weekly session keeps you motivated and makes you think twice about over-indulging. It’s changed my life - I’ll never go back.”
Jane Senior, 46, of Barnsley, lost over two stone, four-and-a-half pounds, in 20 weeks.
She said: “This works for me and I like the fact the scales and the group are there every week to keep me on track.
“I like how freeing the food is too, as we still eat takeaways and have meals out. It’s just about healthier choices and everything in moderation.”
The plan includes a few basic food rules - including monitoring your daily intake of milk, cheese and bread.
Luckily, for those who can’t resist extras, there are built in ‘syn’ values attached to every item of food, and a daily allowance of five to 15 daily syns to help you keep your diet in check.
Christine, who dropped three stone before becoming a full time Slimming World consultant, said: “I have the best job in the world, helping people gain control of their lives and lose weight the healthy way.
“I see people change in front of my eyes.”
And Christine adds that bad times are expected. “We all struggle at times,” she said.
“But that’s where the support of your ‘gang’ gets you through.”
To find out more, visit www.slimmingworld.com