- By 2050, 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% children are expected to be obese, but do slimming clubs really provide the answer to the UK's expanding waistline?
- Some say they're perfect for keeping you on track with a supportive and easy to follow method for dropping the pounds.
- Others liken them to "straitjackets" which give people unrealistic expectations of weight loss - we investigate.
Hundreds of thousands of people meet in community and church halls each week with one common goal, to lose weight, but do these pricey clubs truly help in accomplishing this?
There is no denying that the UK is in the grips of an obesity epidemic. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2050, 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children will be obese.
This predication is compounded by the fact that each year, since 2007, the number of GP referrals to commercial slimmings clubs in a bid to control the UKs growing waistline increases.
But are these clubs really the answer?
A little bit of history...
Slimming clubs have been around since the late 1960’s when New York housewife Jean Nidetch began sharing her weight loss secrets with other housewives.
After seeing the positive results amongst her peers, Jean licensed her speeches and trained group leaders in her techniques.
Soon, what began as a weekly meeting of housewives, quickly evolved into the global weight loss phenomenon called Weight Watchers.
Since then, similar clubs have appeared on the weight loss scene all of which promising the same thing albeit through slightly different means.
For instance, Weight Watchers relies heavily on weigh-ins and the ProPoints system where you can eat all foods provided they fit into your custom daily points values.
Slimming World has the three-step method in which you choose free-foods, healthy extras and then “Syns” to create an overall healthy balance or synergy. They also have the weekly weigh-ins.
All of the afore actively encourage exercise and, when you break each system down, operate essentially under the same rule of thumb – to lose weight you must consume fewer calories than you burn.
So, if the simple theory of weight loss is essentially the same for each club, why then do so many people rely on them to achieve weight loss?
This “why” can be answered through the many positives slimming clubs can provide…
These clubs offer a safe and supportive environment for slimmers where a sense of community and comradery help spur them on in achieving their goal weights.
Instead of diets being seen as a chore, something they must do to be happy, they are looked upon as social events often making people happier knowing they are not alone.
They also hold people accountable for their actions through weigh-ins, and if someone doesn’t meet their weekly goal they discuss why and offer advice in how to meet the following week’s target.
Not to mention the fact people pay for this service, which in itself is an incentive.
Importantly, slimming clubs offer people a structure through weekly meetings and weigh-ins as well as encouraging followers to keep food diaries so they can actually see what they eat in a week.
What is interesting, however, is slimming clubs don’t think of themselves as advocating the idea of dieting.
They like to believe they promote an overall healthier lifestyle by teaching people about portion control, what to eat and when, the importance of daily exercise and that it’s ok to have that slice of chocolate cake if you want it!
According to the literature, these clubs are not about restriction; they are about overall control.
Despite their best intentions for teaching people about the value of food in a bid to curb overeating, it is still doable.
How? Each system is ever so slightly flawed where you can effectively overeat on the good stuff.
You don’t have to count the calories of these free-foods then, on top of this, you have a set number of extras AND a set number of “Syns” for each day.
So, say you made a homemade spaghetti Bolognese with only Free-Food ingredients – wholewheat pasta, lean mince, veg, tomatoes, tomato puree and stock.
A large portion could easily reach close to 1000 calories (one portion of wholewheat pasta contains 400 calories)! Eat enough of the free-food and you could eat well above the recommended daily calorie intake.
One must also consider the credentials of the leaders of these clubs. While they may have undergone a four-day course to train – that’s all they’ve done.
They are not nutritionists, they are not dieticians and their knowledge is limited to the club they lead.
It can also be argued that they overcomplicate the whole idea of weight loss. Yes, it’s about balance, but why have so many complicated ideas and rules to follow when the crux of weight loss is eat less, move more?
Finally, there is a reason why slimming clubs have been around for over 50 years. They are designed to hook people in.
At the end of the day, the slimming club world is a multi-million, if not multi-billion pound business, which teaches people the basic fundamentals of weight loss through fancy and expensive techniques.
It is often the case that slimmers who meet their target weight quit the clubs only to find themselves back in a year or two (sometimes less) because the weight has crept back on, and so the process begins again.
Speak to advocates or opponents of slimming clubs and you will hear compelling arguments from each, but in a society where a huge amount of self value and worth is placed on how we look, are slimming clubs really the best option?
In 2012, author and psychotherapist Susie Orbach likened them to “straitjackets” locking members into a cycle of unrealistic expectations.
Whereas followers will shout from the roof tops that they give the lasting tools for continued success.
Study after study has been conducted with convincing results for and against, but maybe it’s our obsession with weight that must be addressed.
Why do we place such value on numbers on a scale? Surely overall health and well-being is more important.
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