One of Dr Michael Mosley’s chief mantras for life is to wear a belt. He is pictured with wife Dr Claire Bailey
One of Dr Michael Mosley’s chief mantras for life is to wear a belt.
In the battle to control his own waistline and keep diabetes (and worse) at bay — and it is a battle, it seems, for him as much as for the rest of us — a belt is his ally.
‘If I have put on a few pounds I will be able to tell on the belt before I step on the scales,’ he says.
His wife, Dr Clare Bailey, who is also a doctor (a GP, so she’s on the obesity frontline) begs to differ. She doesn’t think he needs a belt or a set of scales. He just needs a bed companion with ears.
‘If Michael has put on weight, I can tell because he will start snoring,’ she says.
‘At his heaviest, he used to be the most terrible snorer. The house would shake. We live opposite a pub and he’d make more noise than the barrels going out.
‘When he lost weight, his snoring stopped. Now, if it sneaks up, he will start to snore again. It’s the first indication that his BMI (body mass index) has started to creep up.’
But trying to contain the nation’s waistline is no longer just a matter of vanity — or a peaceful night’s sleep.
The war on obesity is at the point where the Government has announced that some 5,000 overweight adults who are suffering from type 2 diabetes will be put on an 800-calorie ‘soup and shakes’ diet after trials found that half of those who went on the strict regime (previously dismissed as unhealthy) saw their condition go into remission.
With latest research showing those with type 2 diabetes have twice the risk of dying if they contract Covid, it’s time to act. Fast.
And no one is more emphatic about the benefits than author and broadcaster Dr Mosley — the man who popularised the 5:2 Fast Diet, and reversed his own diabetes through diet, not drugs.
Some 20,000 of his fans have lost weight through his online programmes, and his books have sold millions.
When he began making programmes about his low-carb, low-calorie approach, he faced criticism from within the medical community. So does he feel vindicated? He’s certainly thrilled that the approach he has been advocating for eight years is now being embraced at the highest levels.
‘Covid has given it an added impulse, and clearly that is what has got Boris Johnson interested. I’m kind of optimistic that now the pressure is coming from No 10, change will actually happen.
‘It’s all very well-meaning, this stuff coming from the Department of Health, but unless you have strong political will behind it, will it happen? But now that Boris has had his own brush with death, I think he has recognised what needs to be done. It’s personal — and often that’s the way.
‘I see it. My wife sees it every day — something will happen, a health scare or warning, and propel someone to want to change.’
Next week, Dr Mosley will join the Mail as a regular Saturday columnist, bringing his message — and methods — to our readers every week.
As well as sharing his take on all the latest medical research, his easy-to-follow advice and warmly engaging style really could transform your life.
This will be a weekly doctor’s appointment you can’t afford to miss — not least because his knowledge is so often based on personal experience.
That’s particularly true of the special series he has devised to launch our ‘Good Health for Life’ next Saturday.
Over the course of the coming weeks, we’ll show you how you can boost your immunity, dramatically cut your risk of cancer and heart disease, help reverse type 2 diabetes, and — crucially — improve your chances of beating Covid-19, should you fall victim to a ‘second wave’ infection.
And to start it off, Dr Mosley has revised and improved the Fast 800 diet that helped him to slim down dramatically — with mouthwatering new recipes that can help you get in shape.
So what else is in store? Well, some tough love, it seems.
In conversation, Dr Mosley is very direct and — while sympathetic to the challenges of losing that spare tyre (he’s been there — he had to lose 21lb to reverse his type 2 diabetes) — he doesn’t accept any excuses.
‘Unfortunately, while it is possible to be obese and be healthy, it’s very unlikely. And over time, it’s very, very unlikely. It massively increases your risk of diabetes. It doubles your risk with Covid.
‘We simply did not evolve to carry this much weight. So while I understand where the body positive movement is coming from, I just think they are wrong. It flies in the face of what the science tells us, which is that if you are a man and your waist is more than 37 in — 32in for a woman — then you should do something about it.
‘Unfortunately, the British seem to be very good at self-denial. For a documentary, we went out on the street and asked people to estimate their waist size, before we measured it. They were out by something like 5in or 6 in. With one guy, it was 12in.
‘I think people do not recognise the issues. And they don’t recognise them in their children. A lot of children are obese or overweight and it has become normalised.
‘My snoring is a good example of ignoring the signs. Neither I nor my wife made the link — even though, with hindsight, it was blindingly obvious that my weight was creeping up.’
Clare agrees: ‘Michael carried it well, you might say, around the middle — but that’s the danger.’
They really are the most extraordinary couple: quite different in personality, but with a combined skill set and life experience which they have dovetailed to create a publishing and broadcasting sensation.
They met at medical school when Michael was 23 and Clare was 18.
While Clare had always wanted to be a doctor, Michael ‘flip-flopped’, first studying PPE at Oxford, then going into banking — as his father had done — before studying medicine.
He went on to specialise in psychiatry. But while Clare took to GP work like the proverbial duck to water, Michael struggled, finding it hard to make a difference.
He cites psychiatry as one of the ‘Cinderella’ sectors of the NHS, consistently lacking in funding.
A chance arose for him to do some TV work, and — aware that there were areas of exciting new medical research that weren’t making it into the mainstream domain — he saw an opportunity.
His medical friends told him he should seize it. ‘I talked it through with Clare and her view was that I should do it. I could always go back to psychiatry. I planned to, actually.’
Would he be a household name without Clare? Possibly not. She was the one who suggested he take a look at the work of diabetes expert Professor Roy Taylor, for instance.
‘She said: ‘You should read this. It is fascinating.’ ‘ And that led to perhaps his biggest career success.
With latest research showing those with type 2 diabetes have twice the risk of dying if they contract Covid, it’s time to act. Fast. And no one is more emphatic about the benefits than author and broadcaster Dr Mosley — the man who popularised the 5:2 Fast Diet, and reversed his own diabetes through diet, not drugs
Funnily enough, things have ‘rather come full circle’. One of Michael’s current obsessions is with the relatively new field of ‘psychobiotics’, which involves looking at how diet impacts on mental health.
He is fascinated with why fans of his diets, who have lost a considerable amount of weight following his advice, have been reporting improved mental health as well as physical health.
‘Yes, when you lose weight you can feel better, but is it more than that?’ he says. ‘The latest research is that what you eat can directly impact. It’s an area that is quite new and exciting.’
Michael spent 20 years behind the scenes making TV programmes, but when he moved into presenting, the idea of using himself as a guinea pig came very much to the fore. Over the years, he has subjected his own body to all manner of experiments.
He has ingested tapeworm, put a needle through his hand on air, been exposed to tear-gas, been bitten by leeches and taken the ‘truth serum’ sodium thiopental — all in the name of research to find out what works, and also, what doesn’t.
(Clare may well consider that the programme which involved him keeping samples of his own poo in the family freezer was a step too far, mind.)
For one show, about flu, he had a blood sample tested against a databank containing samples of all the great pandemics of the 20th century. Guess what? He’d had them all. His mother had always told him he’d had avian flu as a baby (he was born in India, and the family later lived in Hong Kong).
‘The blood tests revealed that, yes, I had been exposed to it, but I was protected, probably by her antibodies and so I made a full recovery. And then I got Hong Kong flu. Then I got Russian flu when I was at Oxford University. And I think more recently I also got exposed to swine flu, although I didn’t have any symptoms.’
He believes his blood may now suggest that he’s also had Covid-19 (more of this later).
‘I suspect quite a lot of us are exposed to these bugs and we have no symptoms and don’t even know it. But unless you have had an antibody test, you won’t know.’
But it was discovering his blood sugar level was through the roof, to the point where he had type 2 diabetes, that changed his life both privately and professionally.
He was horrified to discover that he was on the same path as his father, who had a host of obesity-related conditions. Bill Mosley died aged just 74.
It was the fear of dying young, too, that spurred Michael into taking control of his own waistline.
‘He was significantly overweight for much of his adult life and never found a way to crack it. He developed heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and that led to other complications.
‘I think it’s a terrific shame. And I can’t help feeling that if I had known what I know now, I might have been able to help him a bit more.’
Would he have listened, though? This is the problem every medical professional — and politician — is facing.
‘Ah well, the honest answer is, I don’t know. I hope he might have, but you never know with your parents. Parents tend to think of their children as children, whatever age they are.’
His mother, Joan (whose genes he hopes to have inherited), is still hale and hearty at 91. Does she follow his advice, eating cauliflower rice?
He laughs. ‘No. She’s more . . . traditional. She does eat a broadly healthy diet. But I think at the age of 91, she’s not going to be converting.’
You can see the evidence-gatherer in him trying to make sense of why his mother is still here, and his father isn’t.
‘She’s remained slim through all of her life. She walks. She lives by the seaside, which I’m sure is good.’
He has also married someone with the slim gene, if such a thing exists. Clare is naturally slender, always has been, and follows a healthy diet out of choice rather than duty.
‘She simply doesn’t have a sweet tooth,’ he admits. ‘She won’t seek out biscuits or chocolate, and while she may have a muffin if we are out for a coffee, she’ll happily leave half of it.’
Does this baffle him? Well, no — he cites research about how what you eat in the first five years of your life has significant impact on your grown-up tastes and Clare’s family never had sweet treats. He did, and has ‘a very sweet tooth’.
‘If I have one piece of chocolate, I want the whole bar, whatever size that bar is.’ Consequently, they don’t have junk food in the house and Michael confides that he’s gone to extraordinary lengths to keep temptation at bay.
‘I’ve even told our newsagent not to sell me chocolate,’ he says.
Clare is keen to point out that the way the Mosleys eat at home — with lots of fruit and vegetables; keeping an eye on the carb intake; very little sugar — isn’t extreme.
‘We are not food Nazis,’ she says. But they did ban their four children — now aged from 21 to 30 — from having fizzy drinks.
‘They all went through a period in their teens when they wanted junk food and had it, but now they eat healthily.’
The entire family has been through the mill with the Covid crisis (although it’s characteristic that Michael has worked through it, even recording his voiceovers in Clare’s wardrobe which became a makeshift sound booth).
They both suspect they had Covid in March, as did two of their sons. Jack, 28, a doctor, contracted it in Preston, Lancs, where he was working.
‘He had the cough, the fever, the loss of smell and taste. Thankfully, he got it before he started work on the Covid ward, which we were very glad about because hopefully he had some antibodies by the time he started there,’ Michael says.
Dan, 26, had been working as a management consultant in Australia, but came home and then developed symptoms.
‘Some of his flatmates tested positive, so we implemented all the precautions. He ate separately. We had masks in the house, but unfortunately there had been a short time after he arrived when we didn’t know, so we had been hugging him. For both of our sons, the loss of smell and taste has been quite long-term. Dan is still spraying everything he eats with chilli and pepper.’
The couple are worried about how the Covid crisis will impact on their children’s generation. Dan is looking for a job in the UK, reveals Michael.
‘He has been applying for a couple of months and people just say: ‘Hey, talk to us later because this is a tough old time.’ I feel for people in their early 20s, because this is not a great time to be looking for a job.’
His own work continues apace. He is appalled at the Covid crisis, yet professionally thrilled at the flurry of research which is happening. He says our best hope is the Oxford vaccine, which will one day be seen as a ‘way in which British science has done us proud’.
‘We’ve learned so much in such a short time and this is going to be a good thing for the future because these infectious diseases are out there. It is not just one, there are lots of others.’
The science will march on, he insists. Our job is to listen to it. But back to his belt — and ours.
He says we can come down a notch or two together. ‘It’s not easy, I know that, but it’s vital.’