Left: 11st 7 (March 2013 – before Slimming World) | Right: 9 stone 7 (August 2013 – 2 stone down) | Notice the loss of boobs haha!
I joined Slimming World during my first year of uni. I’d spent the whole summer getting over a break-up – eating and drinking and eating some more. Then, starting uni, my life became a cocktail of drunken pizzas, hungover fried breakfasts in the campus cafe, afternoon ‘why not’ bottles of wine and cheap vodka energy concoctions at Oceana Wednesdays. We had a Co-op on campus so evening Phish Food runs were frequent – not forgetting the laundry room over the road that had a vending machine full of choccy goodness (I swear I did study in amongst all of this eating/drinking 😂)…But I didn’t even spare the implications of this lifestyle a second thought until I looked at myself in the mirror one day and thought blimey.
Not only did I feel terribly conscious of the weight I’d gained but I was sluggish and tired all of the time. My poor body! I was literally fuelling it with rubbish and I certainly felt it. My lifestyle desperately needed to change. My Auntie had lost nearly 2 stone on Slimming World that year so my nan suggested I join my local group – 7 months later I was 3 stone down, 7lbs below my initial ‘target’ weight, Miss Slinky 2013 and my group’s Slimmer of the Year!
Honestly, I can’t fault the plan for that transformation because it seriously worked for me. I loved still being able to eat chocolate, ‘unlimited’ pasta and 5 vodkas on a night out. It taught me how to cook everything from scratch, add veg to everything and make my own sauces (I used to ALWAYS use packets of flavoured mixes/jars of Dolmio or curry sauce). I still eat Slimming World style meals for lunch/dinner most days. But there are a few things that aren’t so great about the plan and really left me with long term problems after the weight had shifted.
SW works by limiting certain foods, so you have to measure your dairy, fibre and ‘syns’. Syns are anything that doesn’t fit in to the fibre, dairy, ‘free food’ (pasta, meat, rice, fish etc) or ‘speed food’ (certain fruit and veg) categories – so mostly, your treats. On the plan, your syns are the magical golden nuggets of food you look forward to ALL day. You live for them. I remember I used to wake up thinking omg YES – a new day, 15 whole new syns to enjoy! That’s the key – you only get 15 to spend. 1 syn = about 20 calories. So a Freddo (105 cals) is 5 syns. That means you can eat 3 Freddos in a day but absolutely no other foods that don’t fit in the categories mentioned above!
So if you have sugar in your tea, mayo/ketchup with meals, coffee shop coffees…you’ll have to count these as your syns. As you can imagine, syns end up being pretty sparse when you take in to account the normal foods you intake daily. This is where the plan can install some unhealthy habits because if I’ve got limited syns, am I going to choose a Dairy Milk (12 syns) or an avocado (14.5 syns)? A plain rice cake with 1 tbsp of peanut butter (total 5 syns) or a hot chocolate with marshmallows (‘Options’ hot choc 2 syns/1 syn per marshmallow)?
The same goes for ‘free’ foods on the plan. These are foods you can have an unlimited amount of and include pasta, rice, meat, fish, müller lights, mug shots and noodles (amongst other things). Apologies to the residents of Brighton who had a hard time buying müller lights from their local Asda because safe to say I was stocking upppp and eating at least 2 a day because they were ‘allowed’ and totally yum. Not to mention FULL of sugar and doing absolutely nothing for my appetite because *news flash* a measly little ‘skinny cappuccino’ yoghurt is not likely to fill you up!! Also, putting the words ‘unlimited’ and ‘pasta/rice’ together for me = seconds, maybe even thirds for dinner. Well it did…It doesn’t now because I actually listen to my hunger cues but I didn’t know how to back then.
All moaning aside, the plan obviously works. But the sort of eating it promotes isn’t one that encourages long-term sustainability, overall good health and most importantly, a healthy relationship with food.
Once I got to my target, I lowered it by half a stone, which I soon reached. But I didn’t feel good about my body…I was a size XS/S and I still wasn’t happy!! That year, my grandparents came over from France to stay with us for Christmas – the last time they’d seen me I was 3 stone heavier… My nan said I looked too thin and I mustn’t lose any more weight! A few years later, my best friend told me that she remembers seeing a photo I’d posted at my lowest weight and feeling incredibly sad because I’d become so tiny.
I didn’t see the person in the mirror that they were seeing. I was getting a lot of comments about my weight loss but I still felt ‘big’ – like I was in my old body. So my first lack of aftercare moan is that there’s no support or mention of the body dysmorphia that losing so much weight so quickly can cause. I know I wasn’t the only one to experience this, so why wasn’t this part of the aftercare – post-target advice? It seemed that once you hit target it was hooray you must be happy now, cya later skinny !!
Anyway, after numerous concerns from various people, I stopped going to the weigh-ins for a while in an attempt to stop obsessing over the scale and begin to learn what my new body needed. Moving back home after uni though, I put back on some of the weight. Naturally, I wasn’t eating completely to plan anymore so I rejoined a SW near me. Thing is, because I was smaller than most people in the group and smaller than my new consultant (who hadn’t seen my journey – didn’t know I’d been Miss Slinky or Greatest Loser) people didn’t take me seriously. I didn’t have anywhere near the support I had at my old group.
So I was stuck in this cycle of wanting to lose weight, feeling obsessed by the scale and by food in general – not knowing how to maintain my new body without having to obsess, plan everything, measure everything and refuse meals out with friends. I also gave up alcohol for about 4 months when I first joined – how did I introduce drinking back in to my life now that my lifestyle was changing? My mindset toward food was very much warped and based on numbers instead of hunger/intuition.
I had no support in terms of learning to live normally again – that’s the thing, they want you to just be forever ‘on plan’ for the rest of your life. But who wants to live like that? Your life becomes about numbers and measures and ‘good food/bad food’. The feeling of losing weight at a weekly weigh-in equals that of an adrenaline rush. So week on week you strive for that feeling and it becomes addictive – seeing the numbers go down is addictive.
I always had an issue with my body image but I can see now that this was the start of a full blown eating disorder. It wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I realised how bad I was and managed to get help. Maybe I’m an anomaly in the system – maybe there IS a great support process for target members or people showing signs of dysmorphia when they reach their goals…but I certainly didn’t see that side of things. If you have, I’d love to hear about your experience!
To end this super long post, I want to make clear that I’m not knocking the plan. But I would hesitate before recommending it to someone. The years of trying to re-program my mind to not ‘count’ every mouthful, to not work out the syn values of something before I’d consider eating it, to lose the food guilt and eat intuitively – to eat AVOCADOS for gods sake without feeling like I was going to put on weight (!!!)…I just don’t know if it was worth it. And I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through the mental agony of it.
My advice? Listen to your body – it knows what it needs. Move more. Everything in moderation. Eat foods that nourish your mind and body. Feel happy when you eat! Just make choices that make you feel good and the rest will follow.
Love, Siân x
Ps. Jas – this one was for you xxxx