Well, I've joined. This was three evenings ago, on Thursday. I began to adapt my food and drink regime to Slimming World guidance from breakfast on Friday, and it's now Sunday morning. Today is Day 3 of the twelve-week commitment I've paid for.
I have a plastic card with a chip that enables me to participate in any SW local group meeting anywhere around the country, so I can attend even when on holiday. Annoyingly - was it just an oversight, or do people have to wait a few days after joining? - I haven't yet got the PIN that will let me look at SW's online resources. I'll rectify that asap, by attending another group in advance of my regular one next Thursday evening. At the same time, I want to buy SW's book on regime-friendly home-made soups, because I'm missing my lunchtime soup, and dare not consume any of the 'unapproved' Waitrose ones languishing in my freezer without first checking online what they would 'cost' me in naughtiness points. More on that below.
So how does it work?
You can get a very good idea from SW's website (see http://www.slimmingworld.co.uk/) Basically you set up your own preferred individual food and drink regime, within certain parameters of course. Although copious advice and suggestions and friendly assistance are on offer, including all kinds of recipes, nobody tells you what you must do, nor in what timescale. You do have to set a personal weight-loss goal, and try your very best to stick to it; but the important thing is that you make steady progress, coming weekly to the group meetings for support and the all-important weigh-in, and generally enjoy the process, with jolly celebrations on the way.
Naturally, everyone who is overweight has fallen into some bad habits! The SW way is to steer you into making the right personal decisions and taking control, so that bad habits get replaced with good ones that will keep your weight in the healthy zone. All without a lot of calorie-counting and measuring-out of foodstuffs - although to begin with, when you are trying to set up a basic daily regime and having to look carefully at all the choices, a certain amount of figuring has to be done. (Further on, I'll relate what was involved in choosing between milk and cheese as the dairy component for an afternoon snack)
SW divides your food and drink intake into three areas.
Number One. Free foods. These are fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, fresh meat and fish, and many other kinds of fresh foodstuffs, with only a few exceptions that are not free. You can eat as much as you like of these, any time you like, without messing about with portion sizes and working out calories. They all have a low calorie count for the amount you are likely to consume without bursting. You are encouraged to indulge yourself as much as possible on these 'free foods'. They will of course mostly need some degree of cooking, although that's no issue at all with me.
Number Two. Healthy Extras. Each day you can make a choice of items (in rationed quantities) from an extensive two-part list, one from each part. I've chosen 250ml milk from one part, three Ryvita slices from the other. These can be consumed in one go, or spread through the day.
Number Three. Naughty foods, which are called Syns. There is no religious connotation here - these are just high fat or high-calorie foodstuffs that if freely eaten would lead to weight gain, not loss, and 'syn' is a snappy name for them. The syn list is very, very long. Each item of food or drink on the list has a point value. Each day you can use up anything from 5 to 15 points. It's a recognition that we all need a favourite treat or two to get us through the day. It's approved slippage; a safety-valve. Even if you need a full 15 points worth of Syns, you will stay focused on the main goal. You would get to that goal sooner if you did less synning, but hey.
The scheme is rational and reasonable, but you quickly see that you absolutely can't continue with the old ways. Something has to be given up so that your synning is kept in check. In my case, I particularly love dairy items - milk, butter and cheese - and saw with some initial dismay that I could have limited quantities of one of them, but not all three. I chose milk, and so it will be goodbye to butter and cheese as a regular thing.
The thing about cold milk (I have semi-skimmed) is that it's a refreshing drink full of good things, calcium in particular (which is especially important in older age). I used to consume well over pint of it every day - drunk cold in a glass, or a dash of it in tea, or poured over muesli. I can't do quite the same now. I can have 250ml of it (a decent cupful) as one of my syn-free Healthy Extras. That's my late-night drink. Anything more attracts syn points - half a point for a dash in tea, 5 points for a modest 200ml cupful. I'm having that 200ml as part of my routine afternoon snack. I could have chosen 5 points worth of cheddar cheese instead - that would be a decent lump weighing 25g. But there is more calcium in the 200ml cup of milk (I calculate 248mg of calcium) than the 25g of cheddar would give me (I calculate only 172mg of calcium). Calcium matters. So the milk has it.
I haven't had to delve into such underlying issues with all of my syn-selections, but you can see that a thing like calcium-content, or fibre content, could tip the balance where two equally-liked foodstuffs are concerned - in this case refreshing milk and tasty cheese!
You are required to keep a detailed food and drink record for the first four weeks, to satisfy SW's Money-Back Guarantee if there is no weight loss in that time. And you obviously do have to say what you ate and drank, so that a fair assessment can be made. They supply Food Diary forms, and I've been carefully filling in the daily sections. I think you hand them in week by week. But at the same time I've created and maintained a spreadsheet of my own invention, which not only records what I have eaten and drunk - as a journal - but allows me to plan ahead, and see the effect of swapping alternative foodstuffs in and out. Here's a sample, a screenshot off my laptop, of where I stand today. Things typed in bold have actually been consumed. Things in plain text are just planned. Click on the picture to enlarge it.
If I keep to plan, I will use 13.5 syn points today, leaving 1.5 spare. Tomorrow I'm going to abandon spreading marmalade on my slice of breakfast Ryvita - it was just too sour without butter - which saves a syn point.
As a matter of strategy, it would be good to reduce my syn points and give myself more headroom for 'naughty' stuff, such as alcohol, and meals eaten away from home. I'm not sure how to find more spare points at the moment, but as my consumption habits change I may see.
Thank goodness I had already weaned myself off sweet stuff, and wasn't drinking at home at all!
It must be clear that I'm planning this as a carefully thought-out campaign. My goal is to lose two and a half stone by the early summer of 2017, reducing my weight to around 12 stone 7 pounds (roughly 79kg). I should then (subject to being nearly eight years older!) enjoy looking like this:
As you can see, I had a waist then. May it return.
There's more I can do. SW encourage you to make exercising part of your life. So any new and sustained body movement will push the slimming-conscious food and drink regime along faster. And I expect to find that as weight comes off, I will feel much more inclined to take significant exercise, which will make me fitter. A snowball effect.