That's the weigh to do it!

PUBLISHED: 11:15 29 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:50 04 May 2010

Sorry, Ben, those are the wrong kind of scales.

Sorry, Ben, those are the wrong kind of scales.

I DON T know how many of you have been put off the idea of attending slimming classes by Marjorie Dawes, the gloriously cringe-worthy Little Britain character. Her put-downs must surely leave any prospective attendees reaching for the Haagen-Dazs. Thankf

I DON'T know how many of you have been put off the idea of attending slimming classes by Marjorie Dawes, the gloriously cringe-worthy Little Britain character.

Her put-downs must surely leave any prospective attendees reaching for the Haagen-Dazs.

Thankfully, Ely's Slimming World class does not have a consultant voiced by Matt Lucas.

Firstly, I should explain how Slimming World works. The organisation was founded in 1969 by Margaret Miles-Branwell, who, according to SW's website, "remains the driving force behind the company to this day".

Let's be honest, with all the money she's earned she could probably afford liposuction, but you can't ignore the fact that her brainchild has had more than five million members attending groups, losing a total of 60 million pounds (llbs, that is, and not £s).

Ely's friendly group, which has more than 100 members, meets every Wednesday in the upstairs bar in the Paradise Centre. There are three sessions: 9.30am-11am, 6pm-7.30pm or 7.30pm-9pm.

Here's how it works. SW is all based around healthy eating. The staple of this is "free foods" - things like pasta, rice and grains, beans, lentils and pulses, very low fat dairy products and fresh or frozen food. You can eat as much of this as you like, in moderation.

In addition, there are "healthy extras," healthy foods which supplement your free food. You can eat a certain number of these each day, and a full list of what's available can be found in SW's literature when you join.

Finally, there are "syns". You can have between five and 15 of these each day. Each "syn" - so-called because SW's system works on food synergy - has a points value, but so long as you don't exceed 15, you're OK.

That's basically it. The person losing weight sets the target they want to reach - you don't have to be a stick-insect - and away you go. Your personal quest begins.

"You better turn up after the weigh-in," says Lesley Bales, SW's consultant for the Ely class.

The weigh-in? What is this, a boxing match? Slimming World, as promoted by Don King? Am I going to have to pay 15 quid and stay up til four in the morning to watch a dull, points-decided slugfest?

Thankfully not. I weigh 9st 3lbs, which for someone of my height (5ft 5ins) is a good, healthy weight. You'll all sleep easier now, I'm sure.

The class attracts a variety of people. The youngest is 17 and the oldest is 82. There's a smattering of men, but women are very much the majority sex.

Details of each person's gain or loss are given, together with what they want to have achieved by next week. There are rewards given for each half-stone lost, plus a reward for "slimmer of the week".

It's all exciting stuff. There's free tea, coffee or squash, plus a raffle, as you can stay for as long as you like. It's a social network as well as a slimming class, and many strong friendships have been forged through it.

Of course, the fact that it's chock-full of women means that it takes twice as long to get anything done, a discussion on weight coming as it does via a discourse on somebody's house move, holiday in Spain or the physical attributes of Robbie Williams (which you can find out more about in your own way).

Yet, for all my flippancy, there is a serious issue here. "There's a lot of pressure, particularly on young girls, to be thin," argues Lesley.

"Not everyone wants to be like Twiggy. We are all about healthy eating. We don't want people to reach the ideal body-weight for their height unless they particularly want to. We just want to help them reach their target weight."

Setting this yourself keeps off the pressure. As Lesley says: "We understand that when people go on holiday they will put on a few pounds - that's normal. We will talk about weight gain as well as weight loss but we do have a 'no humiliation' policy."

So, anyone thinking of attending Slimming World should not worry. There should be no stigma attached to wanting to lose weight but, unfortunately, society dictates that it will, most likely, always be there.

INFO: So, if you have to do it, you may as well do it and enjoy yourself. To find out about Slimming World, contact Lesley on 01353 661441. Lifetime membership is £10, which includes £4.25 for your first session. Thereafter, it's £4.25 for each session until you reach your target weight. And there's free squash. What more could you want?

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