Before getting into this post, I want to start with a little disclaimer. In this post I’m going to be discussing weight loss and calorie counting. I am aware these topics can be triggering for some people, so just wanted to mention this early on! Also, this is my experience. I know lots of people who enjoy Slimming World/Weight Watchers, and above all else, I will always be an advocate of doing what makes you happy and what works for you.
Having said that, I’ve also seen a lot of people who feel the same way about slimming clubs as I do, and my feelings on this subject are pretty strong. I tried Slimming World twice – both when I was pretty young – and I truly believe that these experiences were the building blocks for a really unhealthy and detrimental way of viewing food and weight loss.
So, let’s start from the beginning. Growing up, I never had much of an appetite, so never really struggled with my weight. When I had just turned 18, I decided I’d gained a few pounds that I wanted to lose.
The first time I went to Slimming World, I was welcomed with open arms. When I grimaced at my weight during that first ‘weigh-in’, I remember being told “don’t worry – this is the last time you’ll see it!” Now, for context, this is the size I was when I joined Slimming World…
I think we can probably all agree that Slimming World wasn’t really somewhere I needed to be.
Another disclaimer here: This post is definitely not a dig at Slimming World/Weight Watchers group leaders, as I know that people who choose to lead these groups are generally really lovely people who have achieved amazing things, and simply want to help others do the same. My issue is with the whole structure of slimming club methods at a higher level.
Anyway, on joining, you get bombarded with all the plans, rules and magical formulas. I was informed of and given a book containing a huge list of “free” foods (foods you can eat as much as you like of), a list of “A and B” options (you could have one of each of these every day) and another very long list of foods and their “syn” values.
Now, re. “syns”. However many times somebody says “PEOPLE THINK IT MEANS SINS BUT IT ACTUALLY MEANS SYNERGY SO IT’S FINE!!!” I will never be convinced that that name wasn’t consciously picked out to equate certain foods with being ‘sinful’. Nobody can overlook something that obvious, surely?
So, off I went on my journey. I basically lived off plain pasta because pasta was a ‘free’ food. I had absolutely NO CLUE about nutrition. The idea of eating pasta until I’m uncomfortably full every day, yet avoiding grated carrot because it contains “syns” and expecting to lose weight seems absolutely nonsensical to me now (because it is).
On a side note, the grated carrot rule was probably one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard in my life. If you SLICED your carrot, it contained no syns. If you grated the exact same amount, it did contain syns. Make it make sense please because I simply cannot.
Needless to say, Slimming World did not work out for me. I’d lose weight one week, and put it straight back on the next. My weight was literally just naturally fluctuating (as weight does) and I was attributing meaning to it because I had been brainwashed into believing this ‘magical formula’ worked. Worse, I had been brainwashed into believe that if this ‘magical formula’ didn’t work, it was my fault.
The whole ethos of Slimming World is that you can ‘eat whatever you like’ and still lose weight, and this is so untrue it’s honestly laughable to me. Knowing what I know now about basic nutrition, Slimming World allows you to eat unlimited carbs. Pasta, potatoes, etc, you’re unrestricted (weirdly, bread isn’t really allowed, though). However, eating fats is heavily discouraged, and subsequently, heavily ‘synned’. Despite the fact that fats like olive oil, butter and milk and perfectly healthy in moderation, they’re labelled with this umbrella term of being a ‘syn’ (or more often than not, multiple ‘syns’).
The notion of syns is so problematic, and led me to a strong mindset that certain foods were inherently ‘good’, and others were inherently ‘bad’, which I now know is not the case at all. Many people I know who have also been to Slimming World mention the feeling of having ‘ruined everything’ when you eat something containing a lot of ‘syns’. Rather than thinking “that was nice” and going on with your day, a cycle of negative emotions are triggered; “I’ve ruined my day”…”my progress will be destroyed”…”why do I even bother?”…”I’m never going to stick to this”…”I might as well binge now”. I experienced this a *lot* of times. Positioning certain foods as ‘off limits’ not only made them all the more tempting, but also led to feelings of immense guilt when I had the audacity to enjoy a food that wasn’t ‘free’.
Needless to say, I gave up on Slimming World, and eventually did gain quite a bit of weight. The Slimming World mentality stuck with me for a few years, and was really detrimental to my future weight loss efforts. I was obsessed with this notion that certain foods were ‘good’ and others were ‘bad’.
Unfortunately, once I educated myself on nutrition, this mindset still didn’t budge; I just shifted my focus to a different kind of ‘good’ food, and started eating a lot of ‘superfoods’ whilst cutting out dairy. My mindset was “these are good foods, therefore I will lose weight.” I still believed that quantity was irrelevant, so long as I was eating the right things.
After all, I had been taught that if a food was ‘good’, I could eat however much of it I wanted and would magically see the results I wanted.
What’s more, in making myself stick to foods I viewed as ‘good’ from a health perspective, I ended up eating a hell of a lot of food I simply didn’t like. This inevitably led to a lot of binge eating, because I never felt satisfied by what I ate.
The combination of having no concept of energy intake vs. output, combined with regular binges due to my negative relationship with ‘off-limit’ foods obviously didn’t do my weight loss any favours. On top of that, it made me miserable, and it made me feel like a failure.
It was only very recently that I consciously decided to overhaul my relationship with food and unpack this idea that foods are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. As I’ve mentioned in a few previous weight loss blog posts, I stripped it back to the basics of calorie tracking. And ultimately, removing that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ label from the foods I eat, and focusing solely on a calorie target is what allowed me to (finally) make real changes.
Being armed with a true (even basic) understanding of nutrition and energy will be more powerful than any magical formula that costs you £5 a week to access. Many people view calorie counting as restrictive, but I’ve found the opposite. Of course, calorie counting is risky if you have a tendency towards disordered eating, and isn’t suitable for everyone. But for me, tracking has been a powerful tool in allowing me to remove those deeply ingrained ideas that foods are inherently good or bad.
All food is good in its own way, whether that be from a nutritional or an enjoyment perspective. Letting go of those useless labels and blind faith has allowed me to lose the weight I wanted to, slowly and sustainably, and all whilst continuing to enjoy the food I love every single day.
Food to me is now all neutral – it’s just something to eat. Whether it’s a salad or a chocolate bar or a takeaway, it all has a place in my diet. Allowing myself to eat all of the foods I enjoy whilst tracking gives me the freedom to reach my goals, whilst also never depriving myself.
And interestingly, I always viewed myself as a person who had intense cravings. And when I say intense, I mean craving a Maccies to the point where I could NOT stop thinking about it until I had it. Now that I allow myself to eat food I love every day, my cravings are few and far between, which boosts my ability to progress even further.
Calorie tracking gets a bad rep. Can it be ‘obsessive’? Absolutely, but it doesn’t have to be. If you can train yourself to see it as a tool, rather than something to attach emotion to (which is hard, but worth it) it might just be able to provide you with the freedom you need.
Personally, I view my calorie target as guidance – some days I come under, some I go over. For me, I like to view it as more of a weekly target than a daily one. Appetite changes from day to day, and that’s fine. Special occasions happen and they are to be enjoyed, and the tracker goes out the window. It’s an everyday habit, but it’s one I can leave behind when I want to.
I’m very grateful to have now fully moved on from my Slimming World mentality, but it took me a hell of a long time to get to this point. I now feel both incredibly free, and also very in control of my own health and fitness.
Repeat after me:
NO food is ‘good’.
NO food is ‘bad’.
Fats are not ‘bad’, grated carrot is not ‘bad’ and ABSOLUTELY NO food is a ‘sin’ (sorry, sYn).
If you’re interested in learning more about calorie deficit/enjoying all foods whilst also making smart choices for your health and goals, I would highly recommend following both James Smith (@jamessmithpt) and Graeme Tomlinson (@thefitnesschef_) on Instagram!