Do You Syn?

Welcome to the amazing world of the diet club. Where all of your ‘body goals’ will come to fruition. Beautiful. However, the reality of a dieters mindset is slightly different to the smiley faces of the Weight Watchers adverts…

  1. Have I been “good” enough to turn up to this week’s meeting? – “ooh shit we went out for Brenda’s birthday and I had 2 pieces of cake so maybe not.”
  2. Can I be arsed to sit in a freezing village hall wearing the thinnest and lightest clothes possible to beat the scales? – “surely I won’t look conspicuous wearing a t-shirt and shorts in the middle of winter?”
  3. OK, I’m going to go do this, but just for the weigh in or do I stay for the whole meeting and put up with bullshit small talk, recipe sharing and “I’ve been sooooooo off-plan this week” chat from your fellow dieters?
  4. And finally, explaining to the leader why I’ve not lost weight, only maintained – apparently “maybe, Karen, I just haven’t been for a shit yet today” is not an acceptable answer.

Yes, some people will have lovely, life enhancing experiences by using slimming clubs like Weight Watchers or Slimming World. But 9 times out of 10 I hear “it works for me I’ve lost 5lbs. Sure, I’ve done it 5 times and I’ve put all the weight back on, but that’s only because [insert excuse here]”.


The truth is that not many people can sustain the diet being sold to them. But being able to stick to the diet club plan wouldn’t really make good business sense for the corporations that sell them. Far less money is made should the client lose weight and keep it off forever. What does make good business sense is to sell a programme that has great immediate success, but is ultimately likely to fail. But what would be even better is to have the clients blame themselves for the failure (rather than the unsustainable nature of the diet), so that they can re-enrol a few months later.

Even the CEO of Weight Watchers in their 2001 business plan says “its members have demonstrated a consistent pattern of repeat enrolment over a number of years”. You’re a fucking bellend! But maybe that’s why I’m not a millionaire and they are. Damn you, morals!

The vast majority of people just can’t stick to the plan (if Oprah with a personal chef can’t keep it up, then it isn’t looking good for you either). So let’s deep-dive into all the reasons you’d be better off not following the crowd and seeing the slimming clubs for the Synful companies that they are.

THE PLAN: The slimming club diet is basically a calorie restriction diet. And if you reduce the calories that an overweight person eats, they will lose weight. It’s science. But as calorie counting is free, they wouldn’t make money simply asking you to track your food intake. To make real cash they need to sell you a “system”. Rather than teaching you to count calories you are instead required to count Points or Syns. THIS IS CALORIE COUNTING – but less accurate and without ever having to teach you the science of weight loss. If slimming clubs can keep you in the dark you have to rely on them forever, “mwah ha ha” (that’s an evil laugh in case you didn’t realise). It would be like your driving instructor never showing you that the car has a brake. You can’t pass a test if you don’t realise that the car only stops because the instructor is using their own brake pedal.

OK, so a Points or Syn value is assigned to any food which has a high calorie content (high fat and high sugar foods). And you can only eat a certain number of Points per day. There’s no magic in telling people to eat less calorie dense food. But there is some kind of dark sorcery if you imply that a pint of lager (11 Syns) is healthier than an avocado (14 Syns). Or that eating a chemical shit storm of reduced-fat and no-sugar ready meals is a better choice than the whole food alternative.

As well as your assigned Points for the day you can also eat as much Free Food as you like. This is food which contains zero calories. Wait… What? There is food that has no calories so you don’t have to track it? Of course there fucking isn’t! I love that slimming clubs encourage folks to eat loads of fruit and veg by putting them on the free food list. But if a person has a problem with overeating the last thing I would tell them is that they can eat as much pasta as they want. I hate to tell you Slimming World, but my meal of scrambled eggs and bacon isn’t zero calories. It has about 250. And too much of that eggy goodness is going to make me fat!

So the plan… yeah, good idea (eat less shit food, and more fruit and veg), bad execution!

THE LEADERS: If I’m looking for a new bespoke table I’d go and see a carpenter. For financial advice, maybe a bank. For nutrition advice, it would be a dietitian or fitness professional. I would not go to see Karen who holds her meetings in the church hall to solve any of these problems.

Both Weight Watchers and Slimming World are very cagey in their promotional material about exactly what training their meeting leaders get. And I probably would be too. For a company who specialise is providing dietary advice, they say very little about what nutrition training their leaders receive. They are, however, more than happy to tell us about the intense training given so that leaders can promote the sponsored products and conduct their meetings.

Unfortunately, not being an expert in what they do doesn’t really work out too well when people are having problems sticking to the plan, or worse still, when they plateau and stop losing weight. This really shits up the leaders when they have to come with solutions for when the plan stops working. Best piece of advice… just stick to the plan, but harder! If the answer to problem isn’t in the leader’s manual then they pretty much just have anecdotal advice and Google to fall back on.

Bless Karen though, she isn’t making a lot of money from her £5 entrance fees, but have no fear, there is way that she can earn some extra cash. By selling some “awesome” diet products. OK, I’m sorry but what kind of healthy eating company promotes good nutrition by selling ready made microwave meals and snack bars? Oh yeah, the ones who don’t mind selling their corporate souls to make a quick buck.

THE PSYCHOLOGY: This leads us to our final “what the… how the… are you even serious…” sub title. But the one that I reckon is the most important. See, we all know what we should be doing to get healthy or skinnier or stronger. It’s putting it into practise that’s the tough bit. Most of us overeat either because our mindset isn’t right, or we have simply learned to ignore our hunger and fullness cues. Every weight loss professional’s job should be to help their clients work out why they can’t maintain a healthy energy balance. Sort out the psychology and the rest is easy.

Do diet clubs step up to this plate? Fuck no! I’d even go so far as to say that they actively encourage an unhealthy attitude towards food. Calling food good and bad is just plain wrong. Food does not have Syns. An avocado doesn’t go to confession every Sunday to ask for forgiveness for containing so much healthy fat. All food is on a scale of how many useful nutrients it provides. A pint is not bad, it is just less nutritious than a chicken breast is.

Telling people that they can eat more Points by exercising is ridiculous. Stop telling people that they have “earned” food by moving more. Exercise can help to create a calorie deficit. It does not give you a pass to treat yourself. If you want a doughnut just fucking eat one, you don’t need to earn it.

And perhaps worst of all is the unhealthy obsessing over your weight. Your gravitational pull does not define your success. Gaining weight but having a breakthrough into why you self-sabotage is success. Maintaining weight but having a week where you have enough energy to play with your kids is success. The feeling of shame when you stand on the scales is a huge failure that can set you up to feel shit. Weighing yourself once a week will not tell you how much fat you have lost. You may have put on some muscle mass, you may be carrying more water then the week before, you may even just be at a different stage of your menstrual cycle. But does Karen tell you this? Like fuck she does. She tells you to diet harder next week.

So please, for the love of [insert chosen deity here] stop giving your money to a company that demonstrates year after year that they are hiding the key facts that will help you achieve your goals. They prey on your biggest insecurities and set you up to fail so that they can make more money.

Instead, try finding a person who will teach you everything you need to know about energy balance, setting yourself up for psychological success, and what to do to keep yourself active and healthy. Maybe someone like me! I promise to teach you enough that you never need to hire me again. Follow me on Facebook for some awesome advice, with not a Karen in sight.

Stay weird, people.


(The Anti-Fitness Trainer)

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