The crazy things diet clubs make us do
As a long term dieter I have frequented a few slimming clubs in my time. I went for years at a time.
At any given time I thought that was the best plan ever. This was the one that was going to sort me out. This was the one that was the right way to eat. I was going to lose weight, be skinny, and stay that way forever! Needless to say here I am today, not on one of those plans and definitely not skinny, and you know what, that’s perfectly fine by me.
A little while ago I was thinking about all the crazy things that consultants used to say that I bought in to while I was going to those clubs. The ‘fun’ little sayings, the competitive side of losing weight, the explanations and justifications for the food you ‘could’ or ‘couldn’t’ eat.
Looking back it seems like madness but I’m not annoyed at myself for believing it all. It was part of the journey and everyone else seemed to be going along with it. Plus when you are desperate, which I feel I was, you believe anything.
Maybe if the consultants had been more like Marjorie Dawes in Fat Fighters on Little Britain I might not have stuck around……… or maybe I would??
I did wonder whether anyone else had had the same experience, so I posted on social media to ask the question, and the responses came flooding in. Get yourself a cuppa and get comfy. It’s a long list!
TLDR: Have a listen to the podcast episode here instead
diet club Line up!
Let’s start with the very underpinning of the diet club – the weighing (that is after you’ve been to the loo to get rid of every last drop of weight). You go in and pay your money. A fiver or thereabouts to have the pleasure of lining up like lemmings to hop on the scales at the end.
You might be lucky and have someone at the weigh point who is friendly and discreet or you might get loud mouthed Susan who can’t whisper to save her life. The loud is fine if you’ve lost weight that week but if you’ve gained you don’t want that broadcasting, even with an ‘awww, never mind’.
Not to worry though because Gloria is going to announce it in the group later anyway. Sitting around, you have to discuss your result that week, share ‘how you did it’ if it’s a loss, or ‘what went wrong’ if you gained. A sympathetic smile, and lots of suggestions from the group for how you can do better this week. More ideas that you won’t enjoy obviously.
Tell me again why I was happy to do that?
There's 'no shame in a gain' at diet clubs
How ironic that these consultants churn out quotes like this one, when we know full well that there is ALOT of shame attached to the gain when you are at a diet club.
This was meant to be positive to make you feel better about having a gain on the scales that week, but actually then you were expected to explain ‘what went wrong’ so there’s no feeling good in that.
How about it’s just life Gloria?! Nothing went wrong, I just lived life and didn’t just eat dust and air.
It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle
Oh that old chestnut. Apparently the diet was not a diet. This was a new way of eating. This was how life was going to be for the rest of time. I will spend my life eating ‘free foods’ (more on that in a mo) and counting points for the foods that aren’t free.
Does that sound reasonable? Absolutely not. Does it sound like a diet? Absolutely yes. That’s because it is! Any eating habits where there is any form of restriction is a diet. Given that these plans ALL involve some kind of limiting of foods they are ALL diets.
Show me the club where you eat as much as you like of whatever you like, with no rules.
Constant counting & Free foods
This brings me nicely on to this – the points system.
No food in real life comes with a points system. They have calories, that is a fact. They have nutrients, that is also a fact. They do not have points. Why should you have to count the amounts of delicious, nutritious food you are eating?
Except the branded stuff that they sell you, that’s good for you. Don’t have a cereal bar from Tesco, have OUR bars. The problem with these is that you’re so dissatisfied with the things you are ‘allowed’ to eat, and you don’t have any of the really nice stuff you want, that the bars and other food that they sell you taste reasonably good.
The other end of the spectrum is the free foods. Have as much as you like. Potatoes, rice, pasta, fruit veg, certain yoghurts and snacks. Now I am totally on board with eating as much as you like of ANY food. The problem with this is that nothing in life is free, and the same applies to diet plans.
Those free foods come with rules. You can have as much as you like, but only if you’ve first filled half of your plate with vegetables. You can have as much as you like, but only at ‘meal times’.
These foods are free until your weight starts to plateau and then you’re told to reduce the amount of them that you are eating. Well are they free or not??
For the record, you CAN eat as much of these foods as you want, and any other foods you choose (unless you have intolerances/allergies/medical reasons why you shouldn’t).
Whatever you do, don’t get creative with your free foods. You may be bored stupid of the bland recipes but don’t be using the food for any purposes other than what they should be used for (oh I know, sounds mental doesn’t it).
Unfortunately though this is what restriction does to you. It makes you find ways to cheat the system. It makes you bend the rules so that you can fill those holes that the restricted foods have left.
You try to make pizza bases from Smash, tortilla chips from baked lasagne sheets, couscous for breakfast instead of oats because you want to have bread at lunch time, and don’t even think about blitzing up or mashing a banana.
Smoothies – absolutely not!
poor quality Swaps
What can I swap that delicious, nutritious, full fat, creamy Greek yoghurt for? Here’s a Muller Light.
What can I swap wonderful cheese for? Have cottage cheese?
What can I swap lovely fresh white bread for? Have a couple of Ryvita.
What can I swap creamy vanilla ice cream for? Whip up a fruit yoghurt with some natural yoghurt and freeze that.
What is also not clear is that these swaps are often processed and lacking in the good stuff that our bodies need. Low fat or low calorie does not necessarily equal healthier. Look at the yoghurt example – the yoghurt that we swapped out is without a doubt healthier than the processed item that you are advised to have instead.
Oh please! Can you just eat? Eat what you want and what will satisfy you. I say this because if you make swaps and have a ‘healthier alternative’ the chances are that really you’re still going to want the real thing. Restriction ultimately leads to binging. Do yourself a favour and just have some of the food that you will love. You really shouldn’t eat things that you just don’t enjoy.
Exercise went one of two ways – you were either praised or discouraged, depending on your weight that week!
If you’d had a good loss it was bound to be because you’d got some extra exercise in that week, but if you had a gain it was sure to be because you’d done some extra exercise that week. However, you earned certificates for this exercise so on the weeks you’d gained ‘because of the exercise’ you were still rewarded for it. On some plans you get extra points for exercise you do, and are therefore having to earn your food.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you never have to earn your food. You are entitled to eat, and your amounts of exercise and food do not dictate each other.
Slimmer of the week / month
And while we’re on the certificates thread, let’s talk about Slimmer Of The Week and Slimmer Of The Month awards. If ever there was something so demotivating it was this.
To qualify for the weekly award you had to have the biggest loss that week and you had to have lost weight the week before. Then each month the person who had lost the most weight got an award.
But that is motivating I hear you say – sure, if you’re a person who can lose weight easily, if you have ‘a lot to lose’ and so it’s coming off quickly, if you’re new to the game and your body is reacting to it.
What about those that have been doing it so long and their body is fighting back and saying no to the weight loss? What about the person who is struggling to put food on the table and so is eating what they can? What about the person who is just trying to do the best they can and is slowly losing a half pound a week?
Are they not to be praised and celebrated too?
holidays, christmas and cheat days
Then comes the holidays. The summer holidays with the all inclusive, Christmas with all that food and drink. Easter with all those yummy eggs and lunches. Stay on plan though!
I remember one Christmas going back to group the very next meeting and being sooooo pleased with my half pound loss. I’d had such a miserable food Christmas though. I’d restricted and missed out on things. For what, half a pound? I got Slimmer Of The Week though – winner!
Looking back now it feels ridiculous that I would have done that but so many of us did it, I’ve heard from you.
Cheat days were heavily discouraged. The message was very much to stay ‘on plan’ 100% of the time and you’re guaranteed to lose weight. But that’s not real life.
Sometimes we just want to eat what we want to eat. Doing this should not be considered cheating. Cheating implies something bad has happened, and honouring your hungry and cravings is not bad.
What, diet clubs with no food?
What about the clubs where you don’t actually get real food to eat? Oh yes, they exist don’t they. Not only do you have the issues mentioned so far but add to this that you don’t even get to eat.
Before the advocates all jump on me for this one, I know you eat SOME food, but nowhere near what your body should have. How does it go – a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, then a lovely (incredibly low calorie) meal for dinner. Oh what a treat.
These diets are even worse because they put you in a seriously low calorie deficit. ‘But you have to be in a deficit to lose weight don’t you?’. Technically, yes, but a sensible deficit.
The problems with seriously restricting calories can be addressed in another blog post, but for now let’s stay focussed on the fact that you are being subjected to all of that stuff that makes diet culture and slimming clubs horrible PLUS you not even eating real food….. and you are paying a large amount of money for the privilege.
Please remember, there is no substitute for real nutrients found in real food.
Have you heard enough to understand how bad these slimming clubs are yet?
The mental damage that is done sticks with you for a lifetime. The habits learnt of how to restrict and how certain foods are good and bad become so ingrained that you will second guess your eating habits for a long time.
It takes hard work and support to undo that damage, but it can be done.
I understand how for some people these clubs can feel like a social event, somewhere you have likeminded friends, people who share your pain and frustrations about your weight. But that’s what it is, pain and frustration.
Imagine a life where you weren’t constantly thinking about food, counting your allowances, worrying about weigh day on Tuesday because you dared to have a good night out with your friends at the weekend.
Don’t be that person in your 50s or 60s, still sat in slimming club after literally decades of trying to lose weight. Choose to be happy instead.
Please, if you are still thinking that diets are fine and won’t do you any harm please re-read this post. If then you still believe it’s fine please contact me and we’ll have a conversation. I’ll point you in the direction of real science, real studies, real people who had their body and mental health devastated by diets.
If you’re on a plan now I’m sure you think you’re happy but I promise you the second you stop you’ll be so much happier. The second you realise that your body is able to regulate itself if you let it and that you will be able to eat well intuitively if you stop restriction you will feel a huge weight lifted.
Let’s show diet culture up for what it really is and encourage people to take part in a gentler, more relaxed, happier way of eating.
P.s My apologies to those who sent me comments on their experiences that I haven’t included. I had so many that it was tough to choose which to use.