Join a slimming group if you want to lose weight, say researchers

Gemma Waring noticed a lump in her breast which turned out to be cancer. She explained how joining a weight loss group was so vital. Catherine Scott reports.

Gemma Waring says joining a slimming group helped her lose weight and discover a lump in her breast
Gemma Waring says joining a slimming group helped her lose weight and discover a lump in her breast

New research reveals that people who are supported to lose weight in a group environment lose more weight than those who choose to lose weight alone – and they can also increase their mental toughness too.

The findings of the study, which was led by Dr Elizabeth Stamp, a lecturer at Loughborough University, come at a time when the UK population faces a spiralling obesity crisis and increased mental health challenges.

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And salon owner and mother of two Gemma Waring who lives near York is among those who benefitted from being a member of a slimming group –and she says losing weight saved her life.

Gemma had always been known as the 'large' one in her family

Gemma, 36, said: “I was only 27 when I discovered a lump in my breast. I knew instantly that it was serious as four other family members had been diagnosed with breast cancer in their 30s.

“Before losing weight I rarely checked my breasts but having lost 4.5st with Slimming World my bra size had dropped from a 40G to a 34D and I spotted the lump sooner than I might have.

“Within two weeks of finding the lump I was diagnosed with breast cancer – my Slimming World consultant was one of the first people I told, and even when I was having chemotherapy I still went to group whenever I felt well enough, just to see everyone.

“I under went three months of chemotherapy and then a double mastectomy.”

Gemma Waring is proof that joining a slimming group is the best way to lose weight

Gemma, who joined Pocklington Slimming World group, said: “My Slimming World consultant and fellow members are my friends and I knew I would feel safe and supported with them. I felt determined not to let breast cancer take away my new healthy habits.

“Slimming World had empowered me to take control and eat well, boosted my energy and helped me enjoy life to the full,” says Gemma, who has lost nearly five stone since joining the group.

“I initially joined as I was suffering with stomach indigestion and my blood pressure was extremely high.

“I’ve been overweight since I was a young teenager and I used to tell myself it was puppy fat, but I was always known as the ‘large’ one in my family.

“Since having children I was more aware of my weight, and I was so unhappy with the way I looked and felt and didn’t want to be known as the big mum when picking them up from school.

“I lost 6.5lbs in my first week and I was so excited.

“On week three my family went out for dinner, and as I was still getting used to Slimming World’s Food Optimising eating plan, I wasn’t sure what I could eat – this is when I decided I needed to make changes, lose weight for myself, and find out what I was capable of.

“I now plan what I’m going to eat during the week, and I always make an extra portion at tea, so I know I have something healthy and delicious for lunch the next day.

“I’ve gone from eating unhealthy takeaways in the evening to Slimming World diet coke chicken, chilli and curries. I’m eating more than I did before but I’m making all the healthy choices. I’m so busy at my salon Gemstones Nail and Beauty Aesthetics (in Market Weighton) but I make sure I take a packed lunch with me, and don’t rely on buying takeaway sandwich meals anymore. I have two children and before I lost weight I found it difficult to keep up with them – not now though.

“I used to drive everywhere and pick the nearest parking spot to my destination, but now I love walking, and whenever I get the chance, you’ll find me out with my little dog, Honey. My life has completely changed.

“When I first joined Slimming World, I wanted to be slimmer, happier and healthier. I didn’t even imagine back then that the support I got from my group to lose weight would one day save my life.”

Government figures suggest more than 40 per cent of adults in England gained weight during the pandemic, with the average gain being half a stone, while more than half of adults and over two-thirds of young people said their mental health got worse during lockdown.

Dr Stamp studied the role of mental toughness on health-related lifestyle behaviour change when completing her PhD at the University of Lincoln before moving to Loughborough.

She says: “The multi-level support to make lifestyle changes which the group provides is specifically designed to help members increase their commitment to their weight loss and the changes needed to ensure they achieve them.

“It supports them to feel in control of their choices and behaviours and feel more confident in their ability to make the changes even in situations where their commitment and motivation would otherwise be challenged (for example eating out, travelling, staying away from home, socialising etc).

“Helping members think about the challenges, make plans for when things may get in the way and develop strategies for these times, are all ways in which the group supports members to stick to their plans and successfully lose weight each week.”

Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Research and Scientific Affairs, at Slimming World, says: “The research shows the depth of understanding about the psychology of weight loss we have at Slimming World. It’s been at the heart of our method for more than five decades.

“In our groups we share techniques to empower and enable members to make their own behaviour changes through a variety of methods, including setting goals, making new decisions, developing skills to overcome barriers by facing, and seeking out challenges and taking back control, which are all linked to the principles of improving mental toughness.”