Kelly, a 19-year-old trainee nail technician from Kent, started skipping lunch for a vanilla shake about a year ago. She has what’s called a Slender Blend from Protein World, the company whose “beach body ready” adverts caused such controversy a few months ago. Sometimes she finds the 150-calorie drink too much so she halves the quantity to just a 200ml cup. Earlier this year she started taking Protein World pills alongside the shake to give her a little caffeine boost in the afternoon. Since she started, she tells me, her dress size has dropped from 12 to a six, with no side-effects that she’s willing to mention.
“I’ve tried shakes before,” she says, “but this one is far and away more effective than any other. It does actually properly fill me up and it means that if I do the shake once a day I don’t really have to watch what I eat the rest of the time. It’s the best thing I’ve done. It’s done so much for my body and my confidence.”
Kelly’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Protein World runs a weekly competition called Slender Sundays in which it encourages devotees to share their weight-loss success stories. Kelly’s Twitter feed, along with many other Slender Blend girls, is littered with photos of her tiny, near-naked frame embracing a hefty Protein World tub, gushing about how she is beating the bloat. Recently Kelly was victorious and received a month’s supply for her efforts.
Not so long ago, protein shakes such as these were the preserve of brawny bodybuilders, not slimmers such as Kelly. The powdered ingredients were sold in large plastic tubs from backstreet gyms, promising to help bulk up muscles after a workout. Usually they were made from whey protein, a by-product of cheese-making, but sometimes other slightly suspect ingredients found their way into those tubs – steroids such as nadrolone or testosterone, for example.
The products of the Surrey-based Protein World, on the other hand, comes in sophisticated neutral packaging which is, cleverly, entirely transparent. Its online shop spells out exactly what’s in it and what those things will do to your body. It has acquired 300,000 customers since its 2013 launch, 84 per cent of whom are women. Apart from an objectionable poster, what on earth has changed?