Slimming Clubs - Yay or Nay?

confidence mindful eating mindset self-love Apr 02, 2018

So, Weight Watchers has been in the press recently due to the announcement that they are going to offer 6-week free memberships to teenagers aged 13-17 firstly in the US and Australia.  Ah, that’s kind of them may be your first reaction, but is it really?


Weight Watchers state “our goal is to help those who need healthy habits to develop them at this critical life-stage.”  There followed a backlash on twitter using #wakeupweightwatchers. This IS a critical life-stage for teenagers – they are growing and developing emotionally and physically and yes, it is important to instil healthy habits in terms of eating patterns and quality but in a way that encourages body acceptance and self-worth not deprivation and restriction.  Just feed them good food and sensible portions, most of the time and the body will tend to regulate itself.  There is so much exposure today on what is the “ideal” body shape is, that even the fact of the name Weight Watchers can instil a feeling of shame.  Rebecca Scritchfield in The Sydney Morning Herald states “it will not only affect those who participate but also every other teen who is exposed to the message that some bodies are “problems”.”  A solution needs to NOT have it’s starting point as “your body is a problem”.

the problem with dieting

The whole concept of dieting, and especially starting when so young, is problematic.  In 2016 the American Academy of Paediatrics stated that dieting, defined as calorie restriction with the goal of weight loss was a risk factor for the development of both eating disorders and obesity.  Researchers found that dieting was associated with binge eating and linked to a two-fold increased risk of becoming overweight.  Dieting is also the most important predictor of developing an eating disorder.  The National Centre for Eating Disorders stated, “although not all dieters develop eating disorders, these disorders are invariably preceded by diets.”

Calorie counting, points counting, allocation of daily syns allowance are not normal ways of eating – it can lead to disordered eating habits. 

In my own experience with Weight Watchers I can remember eating just because I had points left for the day not even thinking about whether I was hungry.  Getting home from weigh in and eating whatever I wanted and too much of it because I had a week to go before getting on the scales again!  I can honestly say I had never binged until I joined Slimming World in 1993 – not to the extent where I made myself sick, but to the extent where I would eat and then hide the evidence due to feeling ashamed.  Typing that has just bought those feelings of shame and embarrassment back even though that is something I haven’t done in around 20 years.  Even the language, sins, invokes feelings of guilt and shame – forgive me for I have sinned!  There was another time when I was “slimmer of the week” for losing 5lbs – I had told the consultant that it was because I had a stomach bug and was not a realistic loss, but I was still given that accolade.  I tended to go all or nothing – so I would either stick rigidly to plan or go completely off the rails – leading to further feelings of failure and inevitably not succeeding in the losing weight department either.

The most successful episode of a weight loss group I had was with Weight Watchers online – there were some great support groups on the board and we did celebrate NSV’s – non-scale victories – but still my mindset was one of being obsessed with how many points I had left for the day; how many I could carry over for the weekend etc.  It was not until I worked (with support) on my relationship with food and adopted a more habit-based approach to losing weight that I had any maintainable success.  I needed to start accepting me as I was, stop associating food with guilt and develop the habits a “normal” eater would have – something I’m still working on.

Taryn Brumfitt of the Body Image Movement states that the diet culture promotes shame and fear, misery and disappointment and I have to say I agree.  The power the number on the scale used to have to affect my whole day looking back was ludicrous.  It didn’t demean my value as a person, but it used to make me feel like it did, it would make me either feel like a success or failure. I just wanted to shrink and be invisible and felt like I was constantly being judged.  This spilled over into many aspects of my life, I didn’t become a recluse but certainly would not want to be the centre of attention and try to remain in the background (unless I’d had a couple of glasses of wine that is!).

putting food on a pedestal

Now no food is forbidden, Jill Coleman says that once you forbid a food you put it on a pedestal and that is so true – if you’re not “allowed” something, that tends to be what you crave.  Yes I don’t have chocolate just generally lying about the house, cause I know I find it hard to eat that without scoffing it all down but you can bet your bottom dollar I had an Easter Egg for Easter Sunday – what I did notice is that this year is the first time I remember not just eating it to get it out of the way.  I’ve still got the egg itself left and having a little bit here and there guilt free. It’s all about awareness, learning hunger cues and satisfaction cues which sounds simple enough but something so many of us have lost.  Moving for enjoyment, (in a non-judgemental atmosphere – another problem is the self-consciousness many teenagers feel about exercising in front of others), eating nourishing foods that you like because of how they make you feel and enjoying what you eat are the important things.

an alternative approach to slimming clubs

Some groups have been established providing an alternative approach.  Nutriri has been set up by Helen James and is currently offering a free mindful eating course.  Helen describes the role of the course as “for finding ease around food and ease around ourselves.  Designed non-judgementally for all body shapes.  The course itself shows how we are growing a U.K. wide network of body positive safe spaces to explore a non-diet compassionate approach.”    There is also a Facebook group “The Diet-Free Lifestyle Experiment run by Alvin Nurse of Ascendance Health and Fitness which is about health, fitness and fat loss but escaping from the fad diets prevalent everywhere today.  I literally read yesterday about a group called The Anti Diet Riot Club who have just had their inaugural meeting in London but can also be found on Facebook.

hopes for the future

My hope is that the message these types of groups are striving to share will become the prevalent message.  The support that can be gained from a group situation is immense but let us do it from a positive viewpoint and not one of shame.  So, for me, slimming clubs in the traditional sense, are not somewhere I will venture again.  Obviously, this is based on my own experiences on and off from 1992 – 2008.  My primary concern with dieting at a young age is that it will lead to a lifetime of yoyo dieting and self-esteem issues, as it did me.  We need to move away from an obsession with the numbers, remove the shame and judgement and teach our young people to celebrate themselves from a place of positivity and acceptance.

Have you ever been a member of a slimming club? What was your experience? Let me know.


Useful Resources:

Nutriri Mindful Eating Course

Jill Coleman

Kelsey Miller – Big Girl: How I gave up dieting & got a life – a memoir

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