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Slimming clubs: bad for your bank balance and do they even work?

We’re facing an epidemic – one that sadly can’t be alleviated with a double jab.

After 18 months of being at home with easy access to the fridge, but precious little to gyms, sports clubs or even the benefits of the “I’m-so-late” power-walking commute, it’s little wonder we’ve piled on the pounds.

One YouGov study reckons 46 per cent of us have gained weight during the Covid pandemic, with more than one in ten now packing an extra 11 pounds (around 5 kgs).

We cite a lack of exercise as the main reason, closely followed by eating too much in general and eating more unhealthy foods.

Now, with some serious implications for our overall health, not least when it comes to Covid, we’re trying to do something about it.

By March this year the UK government had announced a £100m fund to “support children, adults and families achieve and maintain a healthier weight”.

But many of us had already started to take matters into our own hands, not least by signing up in our droves to the ever-present slimming club – and we are paying through the nose for it.

People give the slimming clubs the credit when we lose weight, but when we gain it back, we blame ourselves. This means many of us rejoin the programme so we drop the pounds – and the cash

What’s in a name, or a subscription fee...

Designed as a more consistent way of achieving a calorie deficit (which leads to weight loss) than your bog-standard calorie counter or exercise tracker, each slimming club applies a slightly different approach.

But all slimming clubs use some form of tested strategy on diet and exercise, weekly targets and the all-important group and personal support - both face-to-face and online.

Those clubs that didn’t have a strong digital presence before the pandemic certainly upped their game in 2020.

With household names including WeightWatchers, Slimming World and Rosemary Conley topping the charts for decades, evidence suggests that you will lose weight if you stick religiously to the rules and - the real key it seems - keep attending, and paying, for the meetings.

But some have come under fire for promoting a guilt-based attitude that could seriously damage our relationship with food, while others do little to discourage so-called ‘calorie-cutting cults’ that could lead to significant and dangerous health issues, including deficiency-based illnesses.

What’s more, the business model is designed to keep you as a member – and paying the weekly fees.

It’s the perfect business model. People give the slimming clubs the credit when we lose weight, but when we gain it back, we blame ourselves. This means many of us rejoin the programme so we drop the pounds – and the cash.

This can become a cycle that lasts many years.

To be clear, the NHS recommends that anyone with a BMI of more than 25 should consider actions that would lead to gradual and controlled weight loss of between 1 and two pounds (0.5kg - 1 kg) a week.

Do you even need a slimming club to lose weight?

Less weight, less money?

And then there’s the cost.

With annual memberships easily topping £250 or more the customer expectation is that membership gives you insider knowledge on food, as well as the ready-made cheerleading squad.

But that’s simply not the case.

Research by the British Nutrition Foundation, for example, found that a test group of female adults following the Slimming World dietary approach were consuming a diet “that more closely meets UK dietary guidelines when compared with the average UK adult female population.”

In other words, they were just eating better than the typical British woman, meeting the recommendations for fat, salt, calcium and those all-important five-a-day (though not for fibre, free sugars or oil-rich fish).

Studies suggest this programme does support weight loss but only by doing the kind of sensible eating we should all be doing at home, and not paying extra for.

The British Nutrition Foundation report said the Slimming World approach “reflects many of the main messages in the UK's Eatwell Guide and generally accepted healthy eating advice.”

The EatWell Guide is the NHS’s completely free explainer on healthy eating, which sets out “how much of what we eat overall should come from each food group to achieve a healthy balanced diet.”

So do you even need a slimming club to lose weight?

Behavioural experts suggest a DIY version that brings together real-life friends and family could tick the same psychological boxes as a costly slimming club

Why pay at all?

The NHS now has its own, free, weight loss plan, developed in collaboration with the British Dietetics Association, that mirrors many of the slimming club benefits, including personal targets, progress trackers and challenges, as well as information and education resources around diet and exercise to help keep the weight off long-term.

Behavioural experts suggest a DIY version that brings together real-life friends and family on platforms like WhatsApp or Facebook could tick the same psychological boxes, especially if members are all taking part in the NHS or similar plan.

Get the right group of friends together sharing a similar plan and you could have all be benefits of a slimming club for free.

With the weight loss plan available as an app in its own right, the NHS also recommends the standalone One You Easy Meals app, provided by Public Health England for free. Its features include calorie-counted meal ideas, ingredients reminders and recipes.

There are lots of options out there. Make sure you think twice before signing up to anything – and do your maths carefully.

All about the science

There’s also the Exi app, which creates a bespoke 12-week exercise plan based on the user’s inputted health information.

Finally, you could opt for Second Nature, also created in partnership with the NHS, and with ongoing research focused collaborations with prominent medical and science colleges.

Claiming that nine out of every ten users have lost weight using the service, it focuses on the science behind our food, diet and psychological choices with a free bespoke plan and the option to pay £10 a week for personal support from a qualified health coach.

There are lots of options out there. Make sure you think twice before signing up to anything – and do your maths carefully.

Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.

3 things to do
right now

1

Compare the key benefits, costs and success rates of the slimming clubs or apps you’re considering. Remember a healthy weight loss target is a maximum of 2lbs or 1kg a week.

2

Don’t forget the free Public Health England and NHS options – you might be surprised.

3

Whichever tool, plan or strategy you pick, ensure you can afford to stick with it. You don't want money worries on top of weight worries.

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