I believe the more we are aware, understand and take action on health, the less we will see an increase in health problems including diabetes. According to Diabetes Australia, 280 Australians develop the disease every day. That’s one person every five minutes!
I have been following Dr Michael Mosley’s teachings (books and documentaries) for over a year now. I find his work fascinating, not to mention, entertaining! Dr Michael Moseley’s work promotes the importance of health and how to make significant, positive changes in our lives. He is probably best known for inventing the 5:2 diet and is the presenter of television programmes on biology and medicine – making over a dozen series for the BBC. He has won numerous awards including being named Medical Journalist of the Year by the British Medical Association and is in fact the world’s most famous guinea pig. Michael was recently in Sydney for a short period to promote his new book, “The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet”.
Maree and I were so thrilled to have had the recent opportunity to meet Michael and his lovely wife, Clare Bailey, at Sydney’s Shangri-La Hotel for a chat and photo session. Clare and Michael share the same passion for health – they met at medical school and both continue to inspire each other. Clare is a GP, parenting expert and founder of parentingmatters.co.uk. They now live in Buckinghamshire with their four children, aged 14 to 23.
Four years ago Michael found out he was a type 2 diabetic and didn’t want to go on medication (which is what lead him to invent the 5:2 diet). He soon discovered that type 2 diabetes could be reversed with intermittent fasting.
How is your health going now, four years down the track?
Extremely well, thank you. My blood glucose is fine, I am 12 stone (76kg) and I am in very good shape. I am on 6:1 now because I don’t need to lose any more weight and research shows you can maintain weight loss with 6:1. I have just had a small handful of nuts and plan to roam around outside later for more food. For breakfast I had smoked salmon and scrambled eggs which was quite nice and filling.
How is Australia looking?
Research I have seen suggests obesity and overweightness tends to be more focused in the inner suburbs rather than in places like Sydney. Obviously, similar problems there but it is part of a worldwide phenomenon.
Funnily enough, the research in the UK, and I suspect true of Australia as well, is that in higher income groups, the women are slimmer and the men are fatter. Being overweight seems to be associated with poverty and ignorance. That certainly isn’t the case. When you simply look at the statistics, what you find in the UK and US, is that women from higher income groups tend to be slimmer. There is a very clear relationship between income and slimness. In men, it’s not at all clear, in fact the group in the UK and Australia who are at the lowest rates of being overweight and obese are those on the lowest income. Probably because they do more physically demanding jobs.
How does Sydney’s lifestyle compare to the UK’s lifestyle?
A lot more outdoors isn’t it. The most incredibly, wonderful harbour out there. I took a ferry out to Manly the other evening. To have the ability to get on the ferry and only 20 minutes later, to be on a beach, and to be able to swim is incredible. I just love being by the sea and I wish London was by the sea. Equally, you have fabulous museums! The only thing (from my observations) Sydney lacks is a good public transport system.
Being optimistic can add up to seven years to your life, four years more than if a cure for cancer was found
Is nutrition focused enough on in medical schools?
Absolutely not. I was talking to a couple of Australian doctors the other evening. One of them said he had to look up the word ‘carbohydrate’ as he knew so little about it. During my years of training at medical school I was required to attend just one class on nutrition. My son is also at medical school and learning nothing on the topic. You learn some of the more exotic diseases and the deficiency diseases but what you don’t ever learn is what carbs do, what fats do, what protein does, what to say to an overweight patient who comes in and asks, what can I do about this?
Quitting sugar (and processed food) has been a hot topic in Australia, do you agree with this?
Yes, but I think it has to go wider. You have to find alternatives. First of all, giving up sugar is really hard speaking from personal experience. I love sugar. I love chocolate. But I am quite happy to not add sugar to anything. I don’t add sugar to my coffee but I do love sweet things. I have to leave them out of my house. If there is chocolate, I will eat it. But then again, you have to find other things to eat. It is not enough to say, give this thing up, you also have to find alternatives and that’s one of the reasons why in my book I bang on about the Mediterranean diet.
If you give everything up you will drive yourself mad, or collapse. You have to find other things to keep you satisfied. That’s why I am a fan of eggs for breakfast cause of the egg’s protein. Lots of olive oil, lots of lovely salads and occasionally give in to temptation and having a dessert. My general rule is to share my dessert with my wife because you don’t really need it, you just want that taste at the end of the meal.
We have a website called the thebloodsugardiet.com. Lots of Australians have recently joined and they’re all submitting lovely, healthy recipes. We have asked people to drop in recipes to help people and apparently they’re posting away and they’re delicious recipes.
Generally speaking, GPs love to prescribe medication, do you agree?
I think it is sad but completely true. In fact, in the UK you are paid as a doctor to prescribe drugs – not to help patients lose weight. If you help them lose weight then you’re practically losing money. Now I don’t think many family doctors are motivated by this and I have spoken to Australian doctors who have said they would never do that and always offer their advice.
This is more complex with patients who have a high blood sugar and nobody is doing anything about it at all. It’s an unintended consequence of a well-intended policy. That’s often the way in medicine, you start off wanting to do something and it turns into something else.
There is an interesting GP in North England who works in a deprived area. He has used many of the principles in this book. And his patients are largely working class but they understand how to change their diet, you’ve got some very simple principles. Just by putting these principles into practice he’s dropped the drug budget and the diabetes budget by $50,000 in one single year and he’s cut obesity rates.
My wife, Clare, works in a fairly deprived area as well and again, her patients do not have any problems with grasping the principles. She starts off by telling them that pretty well everything we’ve been telling you for the past 20 years is wrong – and at that point they listen.
Their attitude is quite moving, because when you say this to them, they often end up in tears as they’ve been struggling for years
Clare does the practical stuff, she engages with her patients.
What part does Mindfulness play in the Blood Sugar Diet?
Mindfulness is strongly associated with reaching for comfort food. When you’re stressed what happens is your cortisol levels go up and what you want to eat is muffins, etc. Things like carrots, they really don’t hit it. Most of the case studies in the book during stressful events have all responded to stress in that way. There are three pillars to this diet. One of them is calorie cutting, the second is stress management (which is a kind of mindfulness) and the third is exercise. Three elements you have to lose the weight, then you have to find the programme to keep the weight off. I have tried all kinds of things but I found the mindfulness by far the most effective.
A recent survey revealed that 83% of overweight and obese Australians struggle with emotional eating
Being optimistic can add up to seven years to your life, four years more than if a cure for cancer was found. The interesting thing about it is you can actually measure what happens after doing a mindfulness programme after six weeks. During my time filming, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy,’ they could actually see the changes in my brain. I became a happier optimist, it worked! And with no drugs or therapy I felt happier. It’s how you incorporate it into your life.
Breathing exercises are the beginning of it. The principle sounds really easy but it’s hard. If you sit down and you think about your breathing and not your thoughts, you immediately start thinking in 20 or 30 seconds about your love, your life, what you are going to have for breakfast, things that went wrong yesterday, your internal dialogue.
A good exercise can involve your daily cup of coffee, instead of being on your email, just feel the warmth of the cup of coffee in your hand, listen to the sounds going on around you. Disengage from the electronic world and your internal thoughts, and engage in being in the present. When you go for a walk, instead of looking at your shoes or being on your phone, actually stop and look at the view. Sydney, brilliant! The harbour! You watch faces go by and you live in that moment, it is surprisingly hard to do.
Try doing it for 10 minutes each morning. Have a go and see what you think.
What is the risk of diabetes amongst Indigenous Australians?
Indigenous Australians are about three times more likely to have diabetes than Caucasian Australians. In fact, pretty well any ethnic minority that is not Caucasian is at higher risk. They get it younger, more aggressively and at a much lower rate of BMI.
In the book, you can pull out the risk factors. It’s worth knowing what your risk factors are: age, weight and family history. If you’re not at high risk, I wouldn’t be too worried. If you wanted to do a relatively cheap test, you can buy one at a pharmacy for $15-$20 and you can check yourself whenever you feel like it. It’s a fasting glucose test and those monitors are very accurate. It’s only really if you find yourself in the pre-diabetes range which is anything above six but not yet seven millilitres per litre that you should be concerned and probably see your doctor. It’s more to do with waist size. Ideally, your waist should be half your height, so if you’re six feet tall that would be 36 inches, if it’s more than that you might start thinking. Abdominal fat is a driver of all things but it’s quite possible to be a bit overweight and not actually have a blood sugar problem. The other way around, it’s also very possible to be quite skinny and have a blood sugar problem which is slightly unpredictable. We all have our own personal fat threshold and it’s a mixture of different causes.
We banned all fizzy drinks and also fruit juices. I regard those as infusions of sugar
Tell us more about how you and Clare met…
So I met Clare while studying medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London. Her elective course sent her off to Peru to work with Save The Children. After several months I missed her so I flew to Lima, hired a canoe, spent some time in the jungle and in terrible Spanish made enquires on how to find her. Eventually I found her. I was so thrilled that I proposed in a jungle hut.
Clare, were you surprised when Michael came to find you?
Clare: I sort of expected it. He had to trek through the Amazon so it was very romantic and we were living in a village locally.
Where are the children now?
Back in the UK. I travel more now that the children are older with only one rule: no parties on the weekend when we’re not there! [Laughs.]
Did you and Clare adopt any particular parenting health strategies when raising your four children?
We banned all fizzy drinks and also fruit juices. I regard those as infusions of sugar. There was also a time when people thought that fruit juice and smoothies were terribly healthy but I must admit, I was always very suspicious of them. And when we went out for meals, we basically said, you can’t have any juice or smoothies but their cousins would have it and they would get quite resentful. But they turned out fine. So that was the easiest rule. Broadly, we didn’t get sugary breakfast cereals either. I am sure, now that they are grown up, they can do their own thing but we essentially tried to cut down the amount of sugary junk in the house.