July 25, 2024

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Diet club users on their experiences: ‘I’ve turned my life around’ | Diets and dieting

Diet club users on their experiences: ‘I’ve turned my life around’ | Diets and dieting

You were sure you would stick to them this year. But, seven days into January, your resolve is weakening and those new year resolutions you made to eat more healthily, get fit and lose weight this year are in danger of falling by the wayside.

If you need some help to stay on track, one tried-and-tested method is to follow a weight management programme. These typically reward you for cutting down on junk food, encourage you to increase the amount of exercise you do, and motivate you to try new recipes that are low in fat or calories. Most also seek to help you reframe your relationship with food.

But which offer the best value? And how do the perks and benefits compare?

Get help from the NHS or your local council

First, it is important to note that a weight-loss programme doesn’t have to cost anything if you are overweight. Check your body mass index (BMI) to work this out.

If you have diabetes or high blood pressure and your BMI is greater than 30 (or 27.5 if you are from a black, Asian or other ethnic minority background), you can get free online access to a programme for 12 weeks via the NHS. Your GP or a local pharmacist will need to refer you. Their referrals will be triaged to determine the level of support people can access, from a digital-only plan to time with a “coach”, such as a dietician, who can offer more personalised support.

In your local area, the BMI eligibility criteria for support may be lower, and you may not need to have any medical conditions to qualify for free help from your local council.

For example, in locations including Essex, West Sussex, Derbyshire, Cambridgeshire, Haringey and Devon, you can currently join a local weight-loss programme if you are overweight – which typically means a BMI 0f more than 25 – even if you do not have any other medical conditions.

Google the name of your council and “weight loss” to see what is available where you live.

Even if you are not eligible for a funded place, the NHS offers various other free resources such as an online 12-week weight-management programme and the Weight Loss Plan app.

A fork with a tape measure
A weight-loss programme may not cost you anything. Photograph: Manusapon Kasosod/Getty Images

However, if you want individually tailored advice and one-to-one support from experts and peers, you may want to consider paying for a weight-loss programme yourself.

We decided to take an in-depth look at five programmes that meet the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines for a balanced and healthy lifestyle and are listed on the NHS website. These are GetSlim, Man v Fat, Second Nature, Slimming World and WW (Weight Watchers).

At the time of writing, the prices of these plans varied from £13 a month to £45 a month. There are special offers on, however, making the cheapest £4 a month now (with the right promotional code).

So what do people who have used these programmes say about them, and did they think they offered value for money?

For some, they say it is the support and accountability – where you meet up face to face with your coach and other dieters – that makes all the difference.

‘You don’t want to ever let your team down’

Man v Fat football summer tournament at St George’s Park, Burton upon Trent, in 2018
Man v Fat helps subscribers lose weight through playing football in community and small-sided teams. Photograph: Richard Blaxall/Man v Fat

“I tried eating more healthily and doing more exercise by myself but there were never any repercussions for not doing it,” says Dan Andrews-Oxlade, 43, who weighed 114kg (18st) and had a clinically obese BMI of 36.5 when he joined Man v Fat just over a year ago and started playing football on a team with other overweight men.

Every week that he and another player lost weight, their team scored a bonus goal on top of their goals on the pitch.

He loved the team spirit and camaraderie of their games. “You don’t want to ever let your team down and that, for me, is the main driver of Man v Fat. I won’t have that cake because if I do, I’m going to let my team down.”

To date he has lost 32kg (5st) – 28% of his body weight – and is on the verge of achieving a healthy BMI. His teammates, who are also dieting, support him alongside their coach whenever he struggles, offering tips and advice in their WhatsApp group. “They have my back.”

He also rediscovered the joy he had felt as a child playing for his school football team, and joined a gym to improve his fitness. “When I first got on a treadmill I couldn’t run for longer than two minutes – and I thought I was going to die.”

He now goes running five times a week and has run two half-marathons in the last seven months. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t have the fitness I’d gained through Man v Fat.”

The programme has cost him almost £400 so far, money he considers well spent. “Don’t tell them this but I’d pay twice as much.”

‘I didn’t have to weigh my food much or measure it’

Carolann Hicks, Slimming World’s woman of the year 2022.
Carolann Hicks was Slimming World’s woman of the year 2022. Photograph: Slimming World

Carolann Hicks, 41, says she liked how easy her diet was to follow. “I’ve got a family, and I didn’t want to be cooking different meals for me versus everybody else.”

She joined Slimming World in January 2020, when she weighed 146kg (23st) and her BMI was 53.

“I found I could make really small adjustments, like not having oil or using packet sauces, and buying leaner meat. I didn’t have to weigh my food much or measure it. On other diets I’d tried, that was such a chore.”

After losing 80kg (12st 9lb) over two and a half years, she has maintained her current healthy weight for the last six months.

Like Andrews-Oxlade, she feels she could not have done it without the support and tips she received from other members in her group, and says she will never forget the warm welcome she got at her first meeting.

“It was the emotional side of eating that I really struggled with. In the past I’ve felt very alone in trying to lose weight. But at Slimming World, everybody just gets it. I’ve made friends for life.”

She gradually achieved all her Body Magic awards through exercise, and last year she and other group members completed a couch-to-5km running programme together. Now she runs three times a week and has signed up for the London Marathon this year. “It’s been quite a journey,” she says. But all the way through, she adds, the programme encouraged her to set small, realistic goals. “My targets were always achievable.”

She recommends staying for the entire meeting every week, starting every day afresh, reading the magazine, listening to the podcast, trying the recipes and making the most of the app. “You’re paying for a service – use it all.”

She estimates her weight loss has cost her about £500, which she thinks is a bargain. “I’ve totally turned my life around.”

‘I didn’t pay anything – it was paid for by the NHS’

When Emma Grayson, 60, joined Second Nature last May, she weighed 17st and had a BMI of 34. She was referred to the programme, which usually costs at least £33 a month, online and joined for free. “I didn’t pay anything – it was paid for by the NHS.”

Emma Grayson after Second Nature
Emma Grayson started keeping a ‘gratitude journal’. Photograph: Emma Grayson

Medical conditions mean she is forced to eat a highly restricted diet, so having free access to a dietician via Second Nature was “life-changing. She worked out what I needed, which was a lot more protein than I was eating.”

Learning about weight gain through the app helped her to understand that she would often comfort-eat when she was stressed: “Weight gain is never just about eating too much. It’s about when you eat, why you eat, how you eat and your entire approach to food.”

She started keeping a “gratitude journal”, which she found very helpful, and would message a fellow member of the website when she needed support on stressful days.

Taking the dietician’s advice also meant she had more energy and started sleeping better, enabling her to spend a good hour walking every day. So far she has lost 22kg (3.5st).

“It was thrilling seeing the weight dropping off. And yet, I wasn’t hungry.”

‘I decided I was not going to cheat’

Clare Barasly, 67, whose only income is her state pension, found GetSlim a couple of days after the Christmas of 2021. “They had an offer on where you could have the first three months for £12, and I thought: ‘Well, that’s a bargain.’” At the time she weighed 100kg (15st 10lb) and her BMI was 34. “I was morbidly obese.”

Offered a choice of diets, she decided to follow a “fasting revolution” plan that restricted her calorie intake by different amounts each day, on a four-week cycle. “I thought that sounded good because I could alternate the days with lower amounts of calories with the days that allowed more.” She also started walking two miles a day.

A homemade pulled jackfruit barbecue sandwich.
Clare Barasly says: ‘Jackfruit has a texture similar to pulled pork when it’s cooked but it’s very low in calories.’ Photograph: bhofack2/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Just over a year later, she is still on the diet and has lost 32kg (5st 2lb) so far. “I stuck rigidly to the plan. I decided I was not going to cheat.”

She used some of the recipes on the GetSlim website but also did some research and came up with her own, substituting jackfruit for meat on her low-calorie days. “It has a texture similar to pulled pork when it’s cooked but it’s very low in calories.”

She found it helpful to be able to track the calories in her meals on the website, and healthy food choices started coming more naturally to her.

If she put on weight and tracked it on the website, an adviser would message her and guide her back on track.

Her BMI is now down to 23, and she frequently walks five miles a day. “It’s the first time I’ve been in a healthy weight range since before my daughter was born. She’s 38.”

‘I still get to have my treats – but in moderation’

For Chloe Wilson, 30, committing to paying about £80 for six months of premium WW (AKA Weight Watchers) membership motivated her to show up to the workshops every week and keep up with the plan. Knowing she would see her “really supportive” coach each week also made her take responsibility for her actions over the previous seven days.

Chloe Wilson after WW
Chloe Wilson chose WW because it says no food is off-limits. Photograph: Chloe Wilson

She weighed 108kg (17st) and had a BMI of 42 when she joined in April 2022. She chose WW because no food is off-limits, as long as she weighs, tracks and “pays” for it from her points budget. “I don’t feel restricted. I still get to have my treats – but in moderation.”

Being on the plan encouraged her to get fit, and she now exercises five or six times a week. So far she has lost 37kg (5st 12lb), and her WW membership has cost her about £130.

“If somebody had said to me last April: pay this amount of money and you’ll lose that amount of weight, I’d have snapped their hands off.”

Build your own weight-loss programme

The Let’s Get Cooking programme from the British Dietetic Association features lots of recipes, and you can filter them to show which ones have under 500 calories a portion.

Using the NHS Food Scanner app, you can scan barcodes to see how much sugar, saturated fat and salt is in your food and drink.