What Slimming World Don’t Tell You About Their Programme

I received a phone call from a friend recently asking me about how to manage the mindfuckery she was experiencing from her 4 weeks at Slimmers World. Her dilemma? She was always hungry, for was at the forefront of her mind all the time. Eating something because she wanted to became an action riddled with guilt, sums and feeling pretty shitty about herself, her shape and her size.

Previously she had had an enviably sound relationship with her body and food. She ate intuitively without much thought. She ate healthy foods and enjoyed foods from all food groups. Being a vegetarian she naturally ate more veg than the average person. After 4 weeks at Slimming World and 1 week of gaining half a pound instead of losing and a lifetime of being at ease with food and her body began to unravel very quickly.

“I just feel like whatever personality I had before is disappearing because all I can think about and talk about is food and this sodding diet.” I think we all recognise this either in ourselves or others. We all know someone who is so entrenched and involved with their diet that it relentlessly dominates conversation. Slimming World seems to have spread through my local community like a bad contagion. Another friend after months of his diet now responds to “how are you?” with a summary of how her dieting and weight loss has been in the last week. She surely must have an emotional experience but if she’s so incredibly focused on her diet then maybe her diet is a convenient distraction from any difficulties she may be facing in her life.

This is a problem. This is a problem because much of the advocated behaviour by dieting programmes that is praised in those society deems in need of losing some weight is the same behaviours that are a concern in a diagnosed eating disorder. The difference? Merely that some people are big enough to be deemed suitable candidates to be losing weight. In these individuals dieting behaviour and weight loss is celebrated, congratulated and encouraged. Once they become “too thin” then the same behaviours are problematic. Additionally problematic is that our perception of “too thin” is very different to a medical definition. There are plenty of people praised daily for their thin stature when they are far below any threshold their health being hindered by a low weight status.

Thin people are praised and told how jealous they make others feel. Commonly they’re asked ‘what their secret is’. You don’t know. It could be genetic, they could have an illness stopping them from gaining weight, maybe they’re not eating enough to meet their energy needs. Sometimes they may even have an eating disorder which is being positively reenforced and encouraged by people around them. I got more compliments on my figure and looks when I had anorexia than I have ever received in my life. The difference is very stark and that is a scratch on the surface of what’s wrong with weight loss programmes, slimmers world and our current body shape ideals. Much of it is categorically pathological.

The rhetoric behind the programme is not all rainbows and sunshine as the marketing material would have you believe. If you want to sign up to a social support group to fuck you relationship with food and your body then great, Slimming World is the place for you. If you’d rather build the foundations for a positive relationship with food then there are other options including HEAS and a non-diet approach. Food is fuel. Food is for nourishing our bodies and minds. It is fun and enjoyable. It can be so much more than calories, “syns” and pounds lost or gained.

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To The Bone Behind The Mask: Inside Anorexia

*Trigger Warning* – If you are experiencing or have experienced an eating disorder this post may be triggering for you.

The song of the morning birds has just begun, she can see through the crack in the curtain that the morning dawn is about to break. Her partner remains still as the night, unaware of the creeping day ahead. Pushing and kicking the duvet between her legs she rolls over to try and grasp at another few moments of peaceful slumber, “why is it that she can’t stay awake during the day and can’t sleep at night?” Tucking her extra pillow between her jarring knees for padding she twists her body so the least of her jutting angles are bruised from the mattress.

The tranquillity of peace is unbeknownst to her. Her only peace is found when calorie limits are adhered to, when pounds drop or measurements shrink; and despite the constant battle with herself and others, these moments are few. The human body can only lose at such a rate, she can only muster the strength to push herself to such a limit, and below nothing, there is no less to eat. Of course, she does eat, just not every day, but what more can she do to please this need?

The ruminations never desist, they merely quieten in a moment of victory, a moment when she has “done well”; she has adhered to the strict regime set by her demon of X calories, less calories, less calories. The congratulatory prize is small, a minor victory – and after a while does not extend to the praise of those around her as it had done when she began losing weight. No longer is she cooed with, “oh you look so beautiful”, “oh don’t you look marvelous, look at her cheek bones and toned stomach” or, “I’m so jealous, how do you do it?” There is a fundamental issue with society here; she was never overweight in the first place and she was never fat despite repetitious hollers. Her stomach isn’t toned, it’s bordering concave; her legs aren’t sculpted; they’re weak, aching and bruised; her arms possess no strength, they’re minute and painfully angular; her face isn’t chiselled like a catwalk model, but gaunt, lifeless and exhausted.

Her complexion pales whilst she walks through town smelling the foods she can’t have, staring in the windows of restaurant chains and eyeing up menus that she can’t even dream of ordering from. The thought fills her with a fantastical excitement at how good it must taste, but the engulfing fear and dread of actually eating it is too much. She had once felt empowered by her ability to say ‘no’, to deny herself and to not need but now she needed, and she wanted so desperately to say ‘yes’. She had become powerless to her disorder.

Wandering into the supermarket she’d stalk the aisles. Picking up foods she felt intrigued by and looking at it closely through the packaging. Turning it over and looking at the calories and fat grams, 90% of what she picked up had been a far cry from what she was now “allowed”, but with each package the fascination grew: if only she could taste, feel and enjoy food: longing to let herself need, to find true enjoyment and to just eat. Each packet was sat back on the shelf for someone else, someone less greedy, and someone who deserved to eat it. Aisle after aisle: dairy, confectionery, foreign food, it all amazed her. To just read the labels and ingredients engaged every morsel of her obsession until the anxiety and pressure to actually buy something began to creep in and ruin her fun. Leaving with nothing, she tried to sneak out without raising suspicion with security. She hadn’t stolen anything, but didn’t want to be pulled over because who spends two hours in a supermarket looking at food to walk out seemingly empty handed? She was painfully aware that her behaviour would be deemed as unusual.

When she got home, her cupboards were filled with foods she could eat. Feigning enjoyment of these choices to herself she was convinced that water on cereal was delicious and how could anyone not like a bowl of lettuce and mustard? Her demon had tricked her, fooled her into thinking in new ways and instilling relentless rules of survival: cutting up food into the smallest pieces possible, chewing x amount of times each time, no eating after 7pm but no eating before 5pm either, always eat alone, measure everything, weigh ten times daily. It went on. It went on and on. She was governed by barking orders from this voice within.

She had to keep it a secret. She had to lie. She had to remember everything she ate for the last fortnight. She had to count how many items she had consumed. She had to count calories or every bite, medications and vitamins included. She had to walk here, there and everywhere that she could. She had to exercise. She had to listen, she had to comply, because if she didn’t she would be berated to a withering heap. “You’re a fat bitch!”, “You greedy cow”, “You’re a failure and disappointment.”

Once immersed within the health services she has only more people to hide from, to lie to, to fight against. She is a slave to her own game. It’s not working out so well now; she has lost her autonomy, her independence, and her freedom. Caged in a cell of constant torture she is a shell of who she used to be: no longer laughing, no longer energetic, sociable, fun or fulfilling her potential.

What started as a diet to save her from “fat” hollers, what had started as a method of ‘self-improvement’ is gradually destroying everything she was. What started as a means to control her inner turmoil and world has grasped at her every molecule and refuses to let go. Entrenched, she is obsessed and caught up in the relentless need to abscond from greed, to not need and to be less. The “oh you look so beautiful”, has turned into, ‘Is she OK?”, “She looks so unwell.”, “I don’t know why anyone would want to be that thin. It looks disgusting” but the truth is, in her eyes for as long as she is alive, she will always be fat. She will never be thin and never has been thin and that really, ‘thin’ has become irrelevant. All she ever wanted was a bit of control, and to feel a bit better.

– If you want more information or are affected by this story, something-fishy.org and B-eat are good organisations for help, support and more information.