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Secret slimmers: survey reveals more than half of dieters have tried to lose weight ‘in secret’

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Slimming World

7 min read Partner content

57% of dieters admit they have kept their weight loss attempts under wraps over fears of being judged or failing.

New research, led by the UK’s largest weight-loss organisation Slimming World, has revealed over half (57%) of slimmers have dieted ‘in secret’ – many because of fears of being judged or failing1.

Secret slimmers cited a range of reasons for an undercover or solitary approach including fears of being judged for being overweight (31%), being embarrassed about needing to lose weight (32%), being scared people might make fun of them (29%) and not knowing what else to do (24%).

The study of 2,000 adults who are trying to slim down found that even of those who are open about losing weight, 83% have embarked on a weight loss attempt on their own.

However, the findings reveal that going it alone isn’t an easy or sure-fire route to weight-loss success. Over a quarter of secret slimmers say they struggle to feel motivated (28%) and a similar number (27%) agree it’s easy to go off track as no-one would know. Of those who had previously attempted to lose weight in secret, 38% would now tell everyone about future weight loss attempts, with another 32% happy to share with anyone who asked if they were trying to slim.

Those solo slimmers aged 18-24 are most likely to diet in secret (81%), while men who are secretly dieting are more likely than women (44% vs 34%) to eat or drink unhealthily in front of others, such as accepting sweets, cakes and biscuits in the office, to keep up appearances.

Despite this, of all those who are dieting or trying to lose weight, 37% value the camaraderie of losing weight with a group and how you can motivate each other. And 34% feel the accountability that comes hand in hand with losing weight with others would keep them on track. 

The research reveals the number of people who are likely to be secretly trying to lose weight this New Year using approaches including ditching takeaways (30%), researching weight loss methods online (34%), cutting out carbs (32%) and joining a gym (30%). 

Dr Jacquie Lavin, Special Advisor on the Science of Weight Management at Slimming World, says: “Worries about our weight and the decision to start a weight loss journey can feel deeply personal, so it’s natural to think that a private approach might be best. And for lots of people the idea of admitting you need help or joining a group can be daunting. Losing weight isn’t easy, though, and going it alone is especially hard. Slimming World members say that it’s the shared motivation, plus feeling valued, cared for and understood, which act as a powerful and positive incentive to lose weight, and to keep going if you’re struggling. This is often missing from weight loss attempts that we embark on alone and it’s what makes joining a Slimming World group so effective.

“Making the decision to lose weight and improve your health is a positive step and absolutely not something people should ever feel embarrassed about. These findings show people should embrace the encouragement and support of losing weight with others, even if that means stepping out of their comfort zones. They’ll be sure of a warm welcome at a Slimming World group.”

In the survey, conducted by OnePoll, seeing the success of other slimmers was revealed as a benefit of trying to lose weight as part of a group for a third (33%) of respondents.

The research also polled members of Slimming World’s 7,700 community weight loss groups and online programme2. Prior to joining Slimming World, 46% said they’d embarked on weight loss attempts without telling anyone, and more than half of these (59%) agreed they struggled to motivate themselves when solo dieting. Nearly half (45%) of these secret dieters say they’ve stopped a weight loss attempt on their own in the past as they struggled to resist temptation and 46% because they didn’t stick to their plans. 

When comparing their weight loss methods, 87% of members who’d tried to lose weight in secret before joining their local group said they’d been more successful losing weight as a member of Slimming World. Some 8 in 10 (80%) say a benefit of losing weight with other people is that you’re all on the same journey and can understand each other's goals, while 75% of members attributed their success to the effects of seeing the plan work.

Dr Jacquie says: “The power of the peer support members give one another is what sets Slimming World apart. Members become part of a community, which helps them to realise that they’re not alone in the challenges they face. That’s combined with a personalised approach which helps every member discover more about themselves as a slimmer, identify their own pitfalls and danger zones, and create plans to overcome them. As well as following the healthy eating plan which enables you to still eat the foods you love and become more active at your own pace, members are encouraged to dig deep into what motivates them, and to set realistic weekly goals to help them achieve their weight loss targets. 

“The accountability of attending a weekly group is also key. In this survey, 90% of these members said the private weekly weigh-in was a key factor in helping them lose weight successfully, while for 81% it’s the eating plan and for 73% it’s the support from other members.”

The findings echo research of 1.1m slimmers which found that regularly attending a group helps people to lose weight, with members who attend at least 75% of Slimming World group sessions losing more weight, achieving on average a 7.7% weight loss (1st 1lb) in their first three months and a 14% weight loss (or 2st 3lbs) on average over the course of a year3.

Slimming World member Sophie Ratcliffe, who has lost 11st since joining her local group in Hayle, Cornwall, says: “In the past I’d tried to lose weight but with no real structure in place. I wouldn’t tell anyone and would start counting calories or cutting out carbs because I thought it would be easier that way than making a big fuss about trying to slim and then not being successful. Ironically though, because of that it never worked.

“When I joined my local Slimming World group, it took a lot to walk through the doors because I thought I would be judged, but everyone was really friendly and welcoming. I expected it to be restrictive and prescriptive – I thought I’d be weighed in front of the whole group, told what to eat and given a weight I should be. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was weighed privately, my weight was confidential and I chose my own target weight. I found Slimming World’s Food Optimising eating plan was flexible enough to fit around my life and the things I enjoyed eating so I never felt hungry and being in a group of people, who were all like me, from the same place as me, made me realise I wasn’t alone and I started to feel like if they could do it, so could I. And, this time, with the support of a group I did! I always wanted to feel in control of my weight and now I finally am, and doing it with Slimming World was much easier than doing it on my own.”

[1] Data relates to a nationally representative sample of 2,000 UK adults currently dieting/trying to lose weight surveyed between 2nd and 8th December 2022

[2] A self-selecting sample of 2,459 Slimming World members were polled via Slimming World’s member website between 2nd and 8th December 2022

[3] Toon J, Bennett SE, Avery A, Roberts KE, Holloway L, Pallister C, Lavin J (2019). Levels of engagement: a predictor of long-term weight loss in over 1 million adults attending a community weight management programme Obesity Facts: The European Journal of Obesity. 12 (1), p176

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