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Slimming World - Not so much a diet as a lifestyle change
Member Name: Hishyeness
Advantages: Steady, sustainable weight loss, excellent support, great value for money
Disadvantages: Needs dedication and will power
Slimming World has changed my life. That's not a flippant, wishful statement - it's a fundamental truth. The temptation is to turn this into a personal testimony of what Slimming World has done for me, and having lost over four (4) stone already after five (5) months of attending, and winning my group's 2009 Man of the Year award, you could probably forgive me for it. That said, this is a review site, so I will try and keep it as matter of fact as possible, whilst sharing my personal experience with you.
A SIMPLE TRUTH
Slimming World (SW) is less about diet and more about lifestyle change. In truth, there is little mystery about the "science" of Food Optimising (not to be confused with "Food Combining" which is a theory that certain combinations of food accelerate weight loss, whilst others inhibit it). The mechanics of losing weight are simple, and have not changed throughout the course of human existence.
The simple and stark truth - i.e. if you eat more than you burn off, you're going to gain weight, and vice versa - is often lost in clever marketing gimmicks and "lose weight quick" schemes, whose perpetrators are forever encouraged by the willingness of the gullible, uninformed and sometimes plain lazy to believe that the basic rules of science and nature can be short-circuited. So what makes SW different? Succinctly put, this message - this simple truth about weight loss - is at the heart of everything it does, and it is constantly reinforced at every available opportunity.
THE MAIN EATING PLANS
SW has three main plans that you can follow on any given day. Original (or Red), Green and Extra Easy (there are a couple of others, including one called "Mix to Match" but it doesn't seem very popular). You are encouraged to try them all, and more detail on each follows below. Some members stick to one (such as Red) for the whole week between meetings, others, like me, tend to do a couple of days of each - it depends on where you are and how much flexibility and variety you need to keep you interested and "on plan".
+ FREE FOODS
On all three plans, you are encouraged to load up on what they call "Free" foods. These (on all plans) are fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, tofu, Quorn and very low fat or fat free dairy products (e.g. yoghurt, quark, fromage frais, crème fraiche). In addition, on Red days, all meat, poultry and most fish is free, and on Green days, potatoes, pasta, pulses, and rice are free.
In theory, this means you can eat as much of all of these "Free" foods as you like, but that's where a lot of people lose sight of the basic truth of eating - if you take in more calories than you burn, you won't lose weight - in fact you will gain it. That brings me to rule number one on SW - "everything in moderation".
+ SUPER SPEED FOODS
Some foods - mostly fruit, vegetables and fish - are identified as super speed foods (ex. strawberries and spinach) which help speed up weight loss. It's not that they have any magical properties, it's because they have relatively high density in relation to the calories they provide (in other words, they are low calorie foods that fill you up and keep you full for longer, which means you eat less).
+ HEALTHY EXTRAS
In addition to Free foods, you are encouraged to take what they call "Healthy Extras". On Green and Red you are allowed two "Healthy Extra A" foods (dairy products like milk and cheese) in controlled amounts and two "Healthy Extra B" foods (on Green days, these are things that are typically "Free" on a Red day, such as lean meats and fish, whereas on a Red day, it's what is typically free on Green, such as pasta, potatoes and pulses. Healthy extras also include bread (whole-wheat), cereal bars and crisp breads).
Extra Easy is a new plan which allows you to have anything that is Free on a Red or Green day (i.e. you could have pasta and lean mince in a Spaghetti Bolognese) but you have to sacrifice one Healthy Extra A and one Healthy Extra B.
On top of all this, you are given a target of 5 to 15 "Syns" per day to use for whatever you like - as a treat - or to add flavour. For example, I use my Syns for things like ketchup (1 Syn per tablespoon) and the occasional Caramel Rice Cake (2.5 Syns) while my wife would indulge in a 2 finger Kit Kat (7 Syns) or small packet of Cadbury's Chocolate Buttons (4 Syns per bag).
WHY DOES IT WORK?
The reason it works is because your diet is rich in fruit and vegetables, complex carbohydrates and starches and very low in fat, sugar and wheat products. This is because most of these products are restricted to measured Healthy Extras or Syns. For instance, for breakfast, I will typically have 28 grams of cereal (Shreddies, Weetabix or Bran Flakes, but many others are OK) as a Healthy Extra B, with up to 250ml of Semi-skimmed Milk as a Healthy Extra A, topped with sliced fresh strawberries, raspberries and blueberries (or whatever is in season).
At weekends, on Extra Easy, I will have two poached eggs, baked beans, dry fried mushrooms, lean bacon (trimmed), and grilled tomato, all of which is free, two slices of toast (Healthy Extra B) plus 2 Tesco Healthy Living sausages (1.5 Syns each) and a tablespoon of ketchup (1 Syn). Who says you can't eat well and lose weight?
The biggest thing to remember is that there is almost no added fat in cooking - I use Fry Light instead of oil, and if I use oil, it is in measured quantity (olive oil adds flavour whereas many other oils are flavourless).
To be fair, the plan initially sounds quite complicated, but it gets easier after a few weeks once you get to grips with it, and, after a couple of months it becomes second nature. Most consultants are happy to give you their number to call them during the week in case you need guidance or advice in between weekly group sessions.
WHAT DO I DO DIFFERENT?
What changes did I have to make to make it work? Firstly, I prepare a lot more food in advance and tend to plan out my week's menu with my wife (who has also lost a stone and a half on SW). This means our shopping tends to more targeted, so while what we buy is more expensive, we're not spending as much as we used to on other stuff and we waste MUCH less. Instead of our vegetable drawer and fruit bowl turning into a compost heap every week, it actually gets used so fast I need to top up every couple of days.
This also allows us to follow the second rule of SW - "variety" - make sure you have enough variety in your diet to avoid getting bored or stuck in a rut. If you plan in advance and prepare stuff in advance, the temptation to pick, or to make something quick and easy after a tiring day at work is much reduced. Mostly we've had to accept that the way we ate and what we ate was not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. As such, success at SW is as much down to a change in attitude and lifestyle as it is down to a "diet".
Another key to SW is that if you fall off the wagon, you are encouraged to write it off and get back on the next day ("Flexible Syns"), the theory being that there are seven days and 21 meals in a week, so going off the rails for one meal or for a day, won't cost you if you are disciplined about starting afresh the next day.
One of the most cathartic things we did was to take a critical look at the contents of our larder, freezer and fridge and either throw away - or else give to charity - everything we knew would not work for us. On one level, watching the goodies - like tubes of Pringles, ready-made Indian, pasta and cook-in sauces, biscuits, fruit sections in syrup - was a bit of a wrench, but we were determined to make a completely fresh start, so it all HAD to go.
Whilst it is entirely possible to lose all your intended weight without doing any serious exercise, its obviously going to speed up your weight loss if you do. the key thing to remember here is that this does not automatically involve going to a gym, or going swimming at the local pool - it can be achieved and managed by doing the little things that add up.
For instance, I make it a point to: (a) park in the lower car park at work and walk up the stairs to the 1st floor office; (b) go to my local Tesco on foot to do top up shops; (c) walk around to see people rather than e-mail them; and get off a bus stop or tube station early to get a bit of extra walking in. SW supports this with their "Body Magic" programme, which encourages regular, moderate exercise in conjunction with the meal plans. You are awarded certificates and stickers on production of a self-certified exercise log showing frequency and type of activity over the course of several weeks.
PREGNANCY & SPECIAL CONDITIONS
My wife recently discovered "we" were pregnant, and I am a Type 2 diabetic. SW caters (and provides excellent support for) both special conditions. I was provided with a special leaflet explaining what the plan meant for me as a diabetic. In fact, I am happy to report that my blood sugar control (extremely important to prevent long-term complications from the disease) has never been better since I started SW. I went from being on a cocktail of seven pills and on the verge of having to self-inject insulin, to being completely pill-free with my sugars wholly controlled by diet and exercise. As you can imagine, my GP and practice nurse are over the moon.
My wife was asked to get confirmation from her midwife and consultant that they were happy for her to continue on the plan during her pregnancy. A full briefing was provided for my wife to present to her care team, and on reading it, they were only too happy to endorse her continued participation. She has continued to lose a small amounts of weight for the first trimester of her pregnancy, and has never been healthier.
SW believes (and this is medically supported) that a ten percent (10%) reduction in body weight has tremendous health benefits, and, as such, they make it a point to celebrate your achievement of this target. Once you hit your "Club 10" you are given a certificate and a sticker for your book, and if you manage to maintain that weight (or lose more hopefully) for ten (10) weeks, you are given a free week as a reward.
GROUP SESSIONS & IMAGE THERAPY
The core part of the SW experience is the weekly group sessions. You pay around £10 to join and get a joiners pack that includes your personal progress book, information on the plans, and template food diaries which new joiners fill out for four weeks so the consultant can ensure they are doing things properly. After four weeks, its up to you whether you keep doing it. Attending group also gives you access to the password for the Lifestyle Online site run by SW, where you can track your progress, check on new additions to Healthy Extras, check Syns on branded and generic products, get recipe ideas from other members and read success stories.
You then pay £4.50 a week to get weighed. All of your progress is recorded electronically on a credit card sized card. You get six "holidays" a year, which, if taken, must be notified to the consultant in advance so you are not charged. Otherwise, no shows are charged if they fail to attend. The exception is "shift workers" (i.e. those who may have to work late) who get a free pass as long as they call to notify of it.
However, provided you have your member's card, you are entitled to attend any class - anywhere - nationally, if you cannot make your own weekly group. This is a godsend for those (like me) who travel a fair bit, and I have scoped out - and attended - groups in Rugby, Slough and Central London when working late at the office has meant missing our 5:30pm meetings.
In addition, members can buy a "countdown", which gives you twelve (12) weeks session fees for the price of ten (10), provided you pay in advance AND attend every session ("holidays" as described above excepted). These package are sold in order to encourage members to commit to weekly attendance to help their weight loss, although there is obviously a money-saving angle to them as well. You can get a mini-countdown which gives you six (6) weeks for the price of five (5).
It should be noted that most consultants accept cash and cheque only - I don't think any have the facility to accept credit or debit cards. This holds true for all purchases of books, bars and magazines as well as the session fees. If you miss too many sessions, some consultants will allow you to pay a new joining fee, rather than insist on you paying backdated non-attendance fees. Again, the emphasis is on encouraging your attendance rather than fleecing you of your hard-earned.
+ GROUP SIZE
Groups are on average around 20 to 40 members in size (sometimes bigger). Weighing is done discreetly, no one's weight is ever advertised, but you will be asked to share how you have done during the week (in terms of pounds gained or lost - not actual weight).
Members bring a Free food (usually fruit or canned goods) to place in a communal basket, which is then awarded to the Slimmer of the Week (the person who has lost the most weight over that week - provided he/she has lost or maintained the previous week). There is also a Slimmer of the Month certificate, and you get stickers and certificates for each half stone you lose. You are also awarded a certificate when you manage to lose 10% of your starting body weight and keep it off for ten weeks (Club 10). Sticker-collecting gets addictive after a while and can be a good motivator for some people (i.e. me!). Most weeks there is also a raffle - with prizes depending on the consultant (typically M&S vouchers, free weeks and such).
+ GROUP FORMAT
The format of the sessions depends on your consultant, but will generally start with a short talk, followed by any awards for weight loss milestones, followed by going around the room to hear what people have managed to do, share tips and tricks, then Slimmer of the Week/Month and then maybe a raffle before going home. The whole session usually takes between an hour and an hour and a half, depending on group size, from arrival and weigh-in, to leaving.
Recipe books and other stuff (like the delicious SW Hi Life cereal bars) are available for order as well as discounted copies of the proprietary SW magazine. Every now and again, the group has a "taster" when everyone is encouraged to bring in something "on plan" they have made.
Thoroughly recommended if you are looking for a long term, common sense, healthy and sustainable strategy for losing weight. The experience will be different for everyone, but for me the highlights are:
=> varied and interesting plans in which nothing is forbidden;
=> sustainable changes to diet that will give me the best possible chance to maintain the weight loss once it is achieved;
=> friendly people, helpful consultants, and a generally positive and encouraging environment in which you are not castigated for any failure; and
=> excellent value for money - who can put a price on the health benefit of losing weight?
© Hishyeness 2009 - Previously published under the same username on Ciao.co.uk
Summary: An excellent way to lose weight in a structured, positive environment
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