Michael Mosley and Clare Mosley
As A culinary experience it wasn’t among his finest. More than three decades on, Dr Michael Mosley still recalls the first meal his mother-in-law cooked for him.
‘It was ox tongue. Revolting!’ he shudders. ‘I had to try to eat it without gagging. You could see the taste buds on it.’
Clare Bailey, his wife of 32 years, smiles serenely. ‘My mother was a very good cook,’ she counters. ‘I remember eating caviar on Melba toast with a tiny sliver of white onion when I was five. She made lots of stir-fries and curries . . .’
‘And offal!’ adds Michael.
‘And offal,’ agrees Clare. ‘I ate tripe as a child and enjoyed it. I’ve eaten the most weird and wonderful things, including a giant toad when I was on a medical trip to the Peruvian jungle.
‘The only thing I couldn’t stomach was a 100-year-old egg, a Chinese delicacy made by preserving eggs until they turn black. It smelt quite sulphurous — an acquired taste, I think.
‘My mother taught me to enjoy food; I was her sous chef doing lots of chopping and peeling. In my childhood we had a very varied menu and much of that diversity has just gone now.
‘People don’t have enough brain space to be adventurous, so they tend to live on sausages, mince, chicken and processed foods, and that doesn’t do your guts justice.’
Clare, a GP, explains that our guts are host to trillions of microbes that make up what’s called the microbiome. These tiny inhabitants produce hormones which influence our mood and immune systems — and our weight.
‘As a nation we’re boringly predictable in our tastes, and a limited diet has a negative effect on our gut health. Our microbiome thrives on variety,’ she says.
If Michael and Clare seem unduly preoccupied with gut health it is because their latest diet, The Ultimate Party Dress Diet, focuses on the many beneficial effects of eating to promote a healthy microbiome.
I lost two stone and the menopause is a breeze
LIN LOMBARDI, 54, is a mobile dog groomer. She lives in East London with her husband Mikey, 52.
I started 5:2 in 2012 after seeing a documentary about it on TV.
I’d always been quite a healthy eater, but my portions were too big and I snacked a lot.
The weight had crept on over the years — I was just over 11 st and a size 14.
Until then I’d only made half-hearted attempts to do anything about it, but I was interested in the other health benefits of 5:2 and the freedom of non-fast days made it really doable.
I think that people are nervous about not eating, but it’s genuinely not as big a deal as you think.
On fast days I just drink black coffee and water all day and then have a regular meal at 8pm.
The meal can be anything, but it’s usually based around protein and a good portion of salad or vegetables.
Fasting for two days of the week made me realise I didn’t need as much food on the non-fasting days as I thought I did.
Because of this, I think I was more careful with my portion sizes than I had been in the past. And it worked!
After four months I was back in size 10 jeans and have maintained that size, with my weight around 9 st.
As I’ve learned about the importance of a healthy gut, I’ve started to incorporate gut-friendly foods into my diet, too — sauerkraut is great on a fast day as you can have a lot of it! I also steer clear of processed foods and refined carbs.
But it’s not just weight loss — I don’t get colds any more and any cuts that I get seem to heal much quicker than before, too.
I also appear to be sailing through the menopause without the horrid hot flushes and symptoms that many of my friends are suffering.
This way of eating is so easy and so effective that I’m confident it will be something I will do for ever.
A free glossy magazine with today’s paper explains exactly how it works (find it in the bag with Weekend magazine).
It gives the first of a selection of Clare’s delicious recipes — none of them featuring offal or toad — designed to promote gut health and weight loss and help you lose up to a stone by Christmas.
The Mosleys’ diets have been a prodigious success story — so much so that when I mention to friends that I’m interviewing Michael they want to meet him, offer plaudits, or thank him for changing their lives.
Five years ago doctor-turned-TV-documentary-maker Michael famously brought us the ground-breaking 5:2 intermittent fasting diet. He and Clare then collaborated to produce The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet, a revolutionary approach to weight loss that lowers blood sugar levels and can also reverse and prevent type 2 diabetes.
Their latest diet builds on the scientific knowledge culled from both of these eating regimes, refining and developing it to produce simple, tempting — and sustainable — recipes that improve the range of good bacteria in the gut.
Every day next week in the Mail, Michael and Clare will be sharing these delicious recipes with you in exclusive, free four-page pullouts, along with tips that make sticking to the diet so easy. You could even drop at least a dress size by Christmas, and look and feel your best in your party dress.
How healthy our gut is and the range of bacteria it contains has a huge influence on our weight and health. That’s because these bacteria help us to process the food we eat — too many bad ones and the gut can become inflamed, meaning it works less efficiently.
‘There’s emerging information that the microbiome thrives when you’re not eating, as fasting enforces the gut lining,’ adds Michael. ‘So our latest diet has a 5:2 component which will speed up weight loss.
‘And the Mediterranean element of the other diets is echoed in this one, because of its beneficial effect on the gut. We’ve also introduced fermented food like sauerkraut, as well as seaweed.’
As you’d expect, Clare, with her sophisticated palate, adores seaweed. ‘I love its savoury/sweet flavour — the gut loves it, too, because it’s high in fibre and reduces blood sugars and inflammation.
‘I’d put it with virtually everything, but I experimented with it in a chicken stew and it was fishy . . .’
‘I didn’t like it in the stew at all!’ chimes Michael. ‘But it’s great with prawns and fish.’
Michael, along with the four Mosley children, Alex, 27, Jack, 25, Dan, 23 and Kate, 18, are enlisted to help test every recipe. ‘I made a chocolate kidney bean cake and tested it on Kate and her friends. Mistake,’ says Clare.
‘I probably shouldn’t have told them what was in it. But the aubergine chocolate cake (which features among our recipes) was a big hit.’
Clare, 56, and Michael, 60, have pooled their considerable knowledge to write the latest diet book. Michael researches and writes the science, while Clare devises the recipes from the kitchen of their rambling Buckinghamshire home.
She is reed-slim and stylish, her aura of Zen-like calm the perfect counterbalance to his fizzing, restless energy. He fields calls, taps out texts and bounces round with Tiggerish abandon while she seems enveloped in a bubble of serenity.
He is the creative force — a giddying vortex of original ideas — while she is the quiet facilitator, finding practical ways of implementing his plans. Both are the second of four children born to expat parents: Michael in India; Clare, the daughter of two doctors, in the Far East.
Their diverse approaches to food and diet are reflected in their personalities: Michael, who has a tendency to put on weight, has to be restrained from snacking by Clare. ‘It irritates her when I grab a handful of nuts before dinner,’ he says.
He also has a sweet tooth and a chocolate habit she’s constantly trying to sabotage. She squirrels away bars in untoward places so successfully that they often languish undetected for years.
‘I’m reluctant to say where I hide them or Michael will go hunting for them,’ she says. ‘But I can tell you I stashed some in the broom cupboard and it wasn’t until I cleaned it out that I discovered it, months past its sell-by date. There’s strong evidence that if treats are visible, on work surfaces or in the front of cupboards, people are more likely to be overweight because they’ll be tempted,’ she adds.
‘As Michael has a sweet tooth and a weakness for chocolate, I’ve started cooking him low-carb puddings that don’t give him the same sugar hit or the urge to just go on and on eating them.’
Clare is naturally slender: 8½ st and 5ft 6in. She has never dieted, ‘which can be annoying’, she says, ‘so I tend not to talk about it, as people will say: “She doesn’t understand how difficult it is”.
‘I never restrict myself, I have three meals a day and I eat until I’m sated, but I don’t have a sweet tooth and I never snack.’
‘But I do understand how hard dieting is,’ says Michael. ‘I find it really difficult to lose weight. I’m tempted by junk food and I can never buy a big bar of chocolate or I’ll eat it all in one go.’
Five years ago Michael — now just over 12 st — was 20 lb heavier. He resolved to lose weight for health reasons: he was developing type 2 diabetes, complications of which caused the death of his father Bill, a banker, at 74. None of the males in the Mosley family has lived beyond this age, but Michael is determined to be the first.
‘Dad had been on lots of crazy diets that were completely unsustainable,’ he recalls. ‘He’d lose weight then put it on again.’
And in those days it was fats, not carbohydrates and sugar, that were considered the dieter’s enemy: a universal misconception the Mosley diets have reversed.
‘Towards the end of his life Dad became confused and forgetful. He finally died of heart failure. You’re twice as likely to have a heart attack and Alzheimer’s if you have type 2 diabetes. At my father’s funeral his friends said how much I looked like him. It was nice but disquieting. I didn’t want to go down the same road as Dad.’
Michael evolved the Blood Sugar Diet as a result. He shed weight, his blood sugar levels returned to normal and — a welcome corollary for his family — he stopped snoring. ‘I can always tell if he’s put on weight. He snores full-on,’ laughs Clare.
‘The kids used to complain that they could hear me down the corridor,’ confirms Michael.
‘Snoring is strongly linked to fat round your gut and in your neck,’ continues Clare. ‘People with sleep apnoea often have big necks.’
The Mosleys josh and tease each other, often chipping in to elaborate on a point, and finish each other’s sentences, as long-married couples do. I wonder how their interest in our guts — the collective term for stomachs and intestines — began?
Michael traces it back to an Australian doctor, Barry Marshall, who discovered that the bacterium helicobacter pylori causes peptic ulcers, reversing decades of medical doctrine saying ulcers were caused by stress, spicy foods and too much acid.
Marshall made the discovery, which earned him a Nobel Prize, by swallowing the bacterium and developing an ulcer in days (which he cured with antibiotics).
His method of research intrigued Michael and gave birth to a fascination with guts and bacteria, and also to an interest in medical self-experimentation, which spawned a TV series.
I went from a size 22 to 14 and am doing a triathlon
JANE COCKER, 61, is a retired teacher. She lives in Whitstable, Kent, with her husband Ges.
We found the 5:2 diet when my husband was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last December. He weighed 17 st 11 lb and I was 16 st 5 lb and a size 22.
On fast days we often have rye bread with marmite and peanut butter in the morning, and the leanest proteins such as chicken or fish in the evening.
We avoid simple carbs such as pasta or bread, have sweet potato instead of potato, and use wholemeal flour.
Ges has lost more than 4st, and I’m 12 st 9 lb and fitting into size 14s! I never thought I’d be someone who said: ‘I’m going for a run’, but we’re training for a mini-triathlon. I just did a 5km parkrun and ran nearly all the way.
Before long Michael had swallowed a pill-sized camera of the type used by gastroenterologists and a rapt audience was watching with grim fascination as a huge screen at the Science Museum showed the contents of his stomach churning round.
‘It was very interesting. Not many people have seen their own guts in action,’ says Michael.
‘It was a bit murky. As if it was filmed from the bottom of the ocean,’ adds Clare.
‘There was another camera capturing the process of digestion,’ says Michael. ‘I’d had steak and chips and the steak hung around for quite a long time — much longer than the chips — which is one message of our book: carbs are not sustaining.’
Arguably, only another doctor could have married someone as fascinated with the workings of our bodies as Michael. I ask Clare what first attracted her to him.
‘When we studied anatomy, he was always the first to take his shirt off and allow his torso to be drawn on,’ she says. ‘He was happy to be a living specimen.’
So it was his rippling torso? ‘Absolutely!’ she laughs.
They share a sense of humour and, as medical students, produced Footlights-style reviews. ‘You know the sort of thing. We’d change the words of pop songs: “Save all your kidneys for me,” ’ Michael warbles.
Of Clare, he says: ‘She’s warm and open to new experiences, full of “Let’s do this!” She’s also practical, so she converts my ideas into something doable.
‘With our gut diet, the challenge is to improve the diversity of the gut bacteria, but while some foods are incredibly good for your gut if it’s normal, they might not be if it’s inflamed.’
So Clare was charged with the delicate job of sorting out the foods likely to agitate sensitive digestions.
For two days a week she works as a GP at a busy practice in Buckinghamshire and is an advocate, whenever possible, of improving health through lifestyle and diet rather than pharmaceuticals. As such, she has been able to see the impact of their latest eating plan on her patients’ health first-hand.
‘I have a few patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and they’ve been on the gut diet and tell me: “My symptoms are so much better now. The bloating has settled.” They feel full of energy. One patient had recurrent diarrhoea and colicky abdominal pains. She’d lost all her energy and motivation, and it had such an adverse impact on her mood.
‘Yet after she’d done phases one and two of the gut programme, in a few days she was feeling better than she had in ten years.
‘Gut health isn’t easy to track or measure — tests aren’t readily available on the NHS so evidence tends to be anecdotal — but a lot of my patients who’ve had troubling symptoms have followed the diet and said: “I feel great now.”’
How must it have been for the Mosley children, growing up in a home where chocolate was hidden and biscuits forbidden. Even the family dog — an endearing King Charles Spaniel called Tari — is on a gluten-free diet. (‘She nearly died of colitis,’ explains Clare. ‘It sounds slightly mad, but since she’s been gluten-free we’ve noticed such an improvement.’)
The three boys — Alex is a management consultant, Jack is studying medicine and Dan is doing a Masters in business — have flown the nest, but often convene for family meals. Only Kate, at sixth-form college, remains at home. All of them have inherited their mum’s slimness.
It turns out that Michael and Clare, sensible as they are, didn’t actually impose an eating regime of draconian strictness on their children.
‘When they were in their teens they ate quite a lot of junk,’ admits Michael.
Clare agrees. ‘You have to keep a balanced approach with teenagers or food becomes an issue,’ she says.
‘Of course they sometimes wanted a pizza, and they had one. But now they really enjoy varied and healthy food; it’s a shared pleasure, and that’s as much as we could hope for.’
In the years since they revolutionised our nation’s eating habits, the Mosleys, unstarry, likeable and accessible as they are, have attained celebrity status.
‘People often recognise Michael and stop to talk to him,’ says Clare. ‘They say the most lovely things, telling him that he’s transformed their lives.’
‘It’s good,’ says Michael. ‘You’re doing something that genuinely improves people’s health and makes a difference to how they look and feel, and that’s heartwarming.’