Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Dark Side of Slimming World & Healthier Snack Alternatives

Not Sponsored or Paid | Not Endorsed by Slimming World, I am a Paying Member


This is a wordy one, so sorry about that.

So, I've mentioned before that there's a side to Slimming World that I really dislike. Firstly, if you're not familiar with the plan, here's the basics on the Extra Easy plan:

*Meals must be 1/3 "speed" food - most vegetables or fruit. You can include as much "free" food as you want. "Free" foods don't have to be measured - these are your meats, carbs, and starchy veg/fruit. There are no recommended portion sizes.
*You are encouraged to use any spices, seasonings, or condiments you wish. Some branded spice blends contain extra sugar so these have a Syn value, but basically everything you'd find on a spice rack is fine. You can also use vinegar, worcestershire sauce, tabasco, soy, oyster sauce, stock cubes.
*You have one Healthy Extra A (dairy) and one Healthy Extra B (fibre) choice per day. You pick from a set list, they have to be weighed or measured.
*You also have up to 15 "Syns" to use daily on whatever you want that isn't included in the plan. So this is your snacks, your high calorie foods, alcohol, etc. 1 Syn = approx 20kcal.

At the core, I love all of the above. I love how it relies on cooking from scratch, I love how it promotes eating extra fruit and veg, and I enjoy making recipes from fresh ingredients. I know it works, I've seen it working, I know people who continue to have fantastic success with it. There are three people I really recommend you follow if you're on plan, because they all plan, cook from scratch, and really promote health over weight loss:

Tracey at Love of Living lost 52lbs in 52 weeks following the plan.
Nicola from The Naked Blondie has lost over 8.5 stone following the plan.
Lynne became a SW Consultant and hit target following the plan.

Actually one of my favourite no-bullshit bloggers Lorraine recently published a post on her experience with Slimming World and it makes for a great read if you've ever wondered what actually goes on at a group. My experience has been different because I don't go to group - I am an online member and we get absolutely zero support. None. Nada.

Binge, Baby, Binge
Slimming World isn't working for me. I've been paying (quite substantial amounts upfront, to be fair) for over a year now and I'm down nearly nothing. Why? I've learned nothing about control or moderation and I haven't been sticking to plan. I know it's not something that I would be able to continue long term - I know if I hit target I would gain it all back within months. I feel shame and I feel embarrassment whenever I have an "off day" and that's terrible. I'm not eating for health, I'm eating for fat loss. I'm having great meals and then using Syns on absolute shite because I can. My issue is and always has been binge eating, and the plan does absolutely nothing to discourage that. In fact, it's the opposite - "eat all the free foods you want!" "No weighing or counting, eat all you want" - technically, you're supposed to eat until you're full, but for those of us who have been treating food as a comfort thing since we were kids? I have no idea when I'm full. None. I could eat a dinner and then have another one two hours later. No concept of fullness. If I'm eating 2000kcal a day, that's still too much food regardless of whether it's salad (it's not salad) or potatoes or ham. I absolutely don't need freedom when it comes to food, I need moderation.

Technically, this is an on plan day:

Breakfast: Egg fried in Frylight, Extra Lean Bacon Medallions, Mushrooms, Tomato. Coffee using milk (HexA). Melon balls.

Mid-Morning: Coffee using rest of HexA allowance.

Lunch: Mugshot Pasta Cup, Chicken Salad with Low Fat Dressing (1 Syn).

Afternoon: Muller Light Yogurt, chopped apple/grapes/melon. Can of Diet Coke.

Dinner: SW Chips, mushrooms and onions, extra lean steak fried in Frylight.

Evening:  Packet of Bacon Fries (6 Syns), Can of Diet Coke, 2 x Alpen Light Cereal Bars (HexB), Freddo Bar (5 Syns).

Most people would look at that and grimace at the thought of eating that much food in a day - but I have an enormous appetite and could easily do that 7 days a week - and that's why I don't think Slimming World is the right plan for me anymore.

Do you get me? It's all 100% on plan, but I'm still eating shite. Plus, I used 12 Syns there so I'd probably be delighted with life that I hadn't used 15 that day. People say "I never use all my daily Syns" - but it's part of the plan and we are told that 5-15 Syns daily is fine so if I shouldn't be using them why are they there?  When I eat crap, I want more crap, and so the cycle continues. I'm learning nothing. I do not feel healthier. I've been overweight since I was a child - I was 13 stone at 13 - and this is not doing anything to teach me moderation or limits.

I know I'm shiting on here (I actually deleted 4 paragraphs of preaching) but I put all that food into My Fitness Pal to see what the story was. That is 100% an on plan day and very typical of the type of days I have - so here you go, here's the day in pictures and you can draw your own conclusions.

And finally, my stats (or macros, if you want) for the day. The limits were set by My Fitness Pal based on my current weight and activity levels.

So that's why I'm falling out of love with it - yes, it's a colossal amount of food. But it's all on plan. I'm eating less fat, but my sugar is MORE THAN DOUBLE what it should be (and even 55g is an extremely high limit). The sodium is grand - but I'd have added salt to my dinner.

I've finally realised that health, to me, is more important than weight. Hell, if it took me the whole of 2016 to learn that then I'm happy to have taken that year - when I think of goals, it's tied in to weight and size. "I want to be 11 stone". "I want to be a size 14". I said it yesterday - "I want to lose 5 stone". At the minute, I just really want to feel comfortable in my body, and I don't right now. I feel heavy and sluggish. I want to have normal blood pressure, I want to lower my risks of weight related diseases, and I want to be around for my boys. If I'm doing that at 11 stone or at 14 stone or whatever - I don't actually care. I just want to be healthy and to not worry about who would mind my kids if I died. I don't want to sit here feeling guilty because I went for a meal with my family and gained half a pound. It makes me feel like a bold child and it makes me feel ashamed. And, it makes me eat.


Ahh, the part you actually came to read. Right, over the past while, I've been seeking out healthier snack alternatives. Personally I try to fill up on massive meals so I don't snack, but in the event that I want something in the evening, this is what I like (I'm still a massive crisp addict, by the way, I just really try not to have them in the house because they're shite). For those who follow Slimming World, I've added the Syns.

*Syn Values obtained from Slimming World website where available, otherwise using the general 20kcal = 1 Syn rule*


No shit, Sherlock. BUT - how many times do we grab a boring pear or apple? There's a reason that Melon and Pineapple are sometimes sold together - they're yum. And cheap - a melon is €1.69-€1.99 in Tesco and a Pineapple is €1.29. Chop them up into fingers and keep them in the fridge in an airtight container, they'll keep for up to 5 days. 

Also delicious are clementines - they're yum, and they're a bargain at under €2 for a 1kg bag in Tesco or Super Valu.


They do really lovely flavours, with no crap ingredients. These are my favourites - The Sour Cream and Black Pepper (4 Syns per 20g) and Sweet and Salty (3 Syns per 14g bag). They also do a Peanut Butter and Almond one that's lovely.


Nutribombz are a company in the UK who provide a snack subscription service. They offer several flavours of "bombz" - ranging from Choccy Brownie to Salted Caramel, Maple Pecan to Peanut Butter. They've got a trial offer on the site - four of their most popular flavours for £4.99. They offer free post to the UK so I use Address Pal to have them delivered here. You can get the one-off trial box, or you can sign up for a subscription (weekly, bi-weekly or monthly) and select a group of favourite flavours for them to choose from. The first time I ordered, I got the trial box - this time, I picked my own flavours. These range from 3 Syns - 4.5 Syns, all calorie info and ingredients are on the site but for the most part they're date based with all natural ingredients. These aren't something you can binge on - I had two one evening and felt a bit sick. So they're great for a chocolate or sweet hit.

Rice Cakes and Peanut Butter

A simple, delicious, filling snack. Yes, peanut butter is high in calories and therefore Syns, but it's a good, natural food and one that's lovely to include in any diet. Top these with a chopped banana and you've a quick, yummy snack. These Kallo rice cakes are the wholegrain low fat ones, they're 1.5 Syns each. The Meridian crunchy peanut butter is 4.5 Syns per level tablespoon (high, but enough for two rice cakes and super healthy).

Ryvita and Avocado
You can use Ryvita as your Healthy Extra B option, you can have four of these Dark Rye ones. Otherwise, they are 1.5 Syns each. Avocado is one of my favourite ways to use up Syns - it's a massive 9.5 Syns per 100g of Avocado flesh, but well worth it and not something I obsess over assigning a Syn value to. Sprinkle some chilli flakes on top and you have a really filling snack that could do for lunch if you added some fruit or a hard boiled egg. 

Roasted Chickpeas

These are low calorie and not full of junk. They're hard, and a bag lasts ages - they're the perfect snack for a film. One bag contains 88kcal or 4.5 Syns. These would make a great alternative to crisps. I get them in Holland and Barrett, or they'd be fairly easy to make, just season and roast some chickpeas.

Coconut Curls

These are bloody delicious - they also come in a black pepper flavour. They're just dried coconut, really crunchy, with added seasoning. Again, I found them in Holland & Barrett. They're 5 Syns per 20g bag (either flavour).

I hope this didn't come across as too preachy. Because I've been moving away from Slimming World for a while, I've changed the name of my food instagram to sharonleavyeats. I'll still post meals (and most are still very SW friendly) I just won't be discussing Syns.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Liz Nugent - Lying in Wait (Blog Tour)

Not Paid or Sponsored


I'm delighted to be able to help with this blog tour - Liz Nugent's second novel, Lying in Wait, is released in paperback on January 12th. It has previously been available in trade paperback (the large one) and ebook format. Funnily enough, I've ended up with all three:

I received my e-copy as an advance copy from Netgalley back in May - It took me a while to get to it, but I read it in one sitting (one rainy June evening while eating Boursin and Ritz crackers, useless information fans). I adored it - I gave it five stars on Goodreads at the time - it contains one of my favourite lines of the year:

"We were not ordinarily a house that would take the Sunday World

In August, members of the Rick O'Shea Book Club convened at Dubray Books in Galway City. Coincidentally, I happened to be on holiday just outside the City at the time so there was no way I was going to miss it - I bought my large paperback copy on the night and had it signed by Liz, who was lovely.

Thanks to Kate for taking the photo of myself with Liz! 
Before Christmas, I was asked by Penguin if I would like to take part in the blog tour, and if I needed a copy of the book for review - initially I said I'd love to take part but I already owned a copy - then I discovered this:

I've never been quoted in a book before, so this was really exciting! I gratefully accepted the paperback copy and re-read it over Christmas.

Lying in Wait is a thriller/crime novel set in Dublin, in the 1980s. Lydia Fitzsimons has everything - a sprawling mansion, a wealthy husband with a good job, and a son, Laurence. Lydia also has a whole pile of trouble - trouble in the shape of Annie Doyle, a woman who changes the course of the Fitzsimons' lives forever.

It's a real page turner, told from a couple of different points of view. My personal favourite character is the son, Laurence. He is much more intelligent than his parents think, and at times he can be darkly, brilliantly witty. As I mentioned in my initial Goodreads review, I was genuinely torn between racing through this to see what happened, or slowing down so that it wouldn't end. I devoured it - and I enjoyed it just as much the second time around, noticing little details I hadn't noticed before.

Lydia is a truly complex character - she's an expert in self preservation, and I was left wondering if the woman was genuinely mad or just brilliantly clever (I'm leaning slightly more towards the former). She's one of the best female leads I've come across in ages.

This was one of my top ten books of 2016 - if you haven't read it I'd highly recommend it. With regard to the Gone Girl reference on the cover - it's much, much sharper than Gone Girl and a far better book all round.

Please do stop over at some of the other sites taking part in the tour - when I love a book I always like to see what other people think of it, or if they noticed anything I didn't notice. Here are all the details:

Lying in Wait has been chosen as one of the eight Spring 2017 choices in the much-loved Richard and Judy Book Club. I was delighted to see this news, because I've discovered really great books through that club and I hope that it will introduce more readers to Liz's writing.

Lying in Wait is available in trade paperback and eBook formats now from Amazon and all good book retailers. The smaller paperback version will be available from all good book retailers from January 12.