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Welcome To The World Of Weight Loss

Vanessa Engle


In previous films I’ve directed for the BBC (Women and Money) I’ve explored the private monologues that run in people’s heads.

I’m curious to discover the deeper truths that our daily preoccupations reveal about us. So turning to the subject of our complicated relationship with food seemed like very fertile territory to me.

I wanted to make a warm-hearted film that told the story of people’s individual psychology in relation to what they eat.  

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My films often have a personal starting point and I’m as preoccupied as the next person with what I eat.

I’ve never been a member of a slimming club but I’m very aware that, like many women, I have a tyrannical voice in my head that dictates what I do or don’t feel entitled to eat.

The decision to make a film about slimming clubs was quite straightforward. It seemed the simplest way to find people with stories to tell about their relationship with food.

And as a filmmaker I knew the value of having a particular place or community in which to set a film.

(When I embarked on this film I’d just finished making Walking With Dogs, a film about people’s relationships with their dogs which was filmed in a single location - Hampstead Heath.)

This film is set in three different slimming clubs – Weight Watchers in Dulwich, south London, Slimming World in East Finchley, north London and Rosemary Conley Diet and Fitness in Epsom, Surrey.

I chose to feature three different clubs because I wasn’t setting out to assess one particular brand or product.

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What really struck me was the fact that all over the country thousands of people were scuttling into slimming clubs every week.

It was as though I’d happened upon a new religion and it seemed significant that the three groups I chose all held their meetings in churches.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the prevalence of religious language and the many similarities with religion that I came across – finding support in a communal environment, working to a shared set of rules and directives and confessing one's transgressions on a weekly basis.

In the course of researching this film many of the people I met used the same phrase. They all said that if they didn’t attend their slimming club regularly they were worried they would ‘balloon’.

I felt they were expressing a fear of their own appetites and a terror of losing control.

I’m not sure ultimately that this fear is actually about food, but clearly for many of us food has a profound and unconscious significance that means it’s rarely just straightforward fuel.

I hope the choice of people featured in the film reflects the great variety of factors that affect people’s eating habits and that those of you who watch the film will maybe find aspects of yourselves reflected in the programme.

Vanessa Engle is the producer and director of Welcome To The World Of Weight Loss.

Welcome To The World Of Weight Loss is on Wednesday, 21 August at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC Two HD.

More on Welcome To The World Of Weight Loss
The Guardian: Vanessa Engle: why a slimming documentary doesn't have to be heavy

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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