Food and medicine are the great passions of my life. Both my parents were doctors and my mother, a superb cook and renowned child psychiatrist, taught me the joys of experimenting with food and flavours.
She was also a believer in the impact of good food on mental health.
I followed in my parents’ footsteps, training at the Royal Free Hospital in London. There I met my husband, Michael Mosley, who has surprised me by becoming a television presenter, health guru and the 5:2 diet’s creator!
In Saturday’s Weekend magazine, Michael outlined the principles of his New 5:2 programme and the Fast 800. We also shared delicious low-calorie recipes from the new Fast 800 Recipe Book I’ve written with food expert Justine Pattison.
We’re following it up this week with more advice and mouthwatering recipes in the Daily Mail every day.
If Michael’s career path surprised me, what amazes me now, is how little we learned at medical school and in my subsequent GP training, about the impact of diet on health.
We knew of the importance of ‘life-style advice’ but mostly did what we were trained to do — prescribe medication, and in increasing quantities. When I qualified, in the 1980s, the standard advice was that a low-fat diet was the way to lose weight.
The fact that this encouraged patients to eat more carbs, often in the form of sweet, starchy, highly-processed foods, didn’t seem to matter. After all, everyone ‘knew’ the only real way to get fat was by eating fat.
We now know that advice was wrong.
Eating a low-fat diet can mean you miss out on healthy natural fats, which not only make food taste better and keep you feeling full for longer, but also provides nutrients and vitamins. I was skinny when young so was lucky enough never to have to diet — in fact I kept eating full-fat cheese in the hope it might give me some curves.
However, we didn’t have puddings at home usually so I’ve never had a sweet tooth.
There were also no snacks between meals. Looking back, I realise I was lucky to inherit healthy eating habits from my parents.
When Michael found he had type 2 diabetes it was a wake-up call. I was astonished as he didn’t look overweight.
But I just accepted the established medical view that this was a lifelong condition to manage, not cure. I supported his quest to improve his condition with diet but was stunned by the results.
After he reversed his diabetes by losing a lot of weight fast on the 5:2 diet, we both became obsessed with studying the impact of food on health. As a keen cook, I was interested in finding new ways to enjoy the ingredients that we were discovering were so good for us.
Recent research has led to major developments in our understanding of the best ways to achieve weight loss, improve or reverse type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, strokes, dementia and cancer.
And it points to many answers lying within our own kitchens.
For me, as a GP, this has been an incredibly exciting time, sharing science-backed diet and lifestyle advice with patients who are motivated because they can see the difference it makes.
I’ve had patients coming up to me in the waiting room who’ve been following our diets saying, ‘Hello Dr Bailey. You don’t recognise me do you?’ They had lost so much weight that I initially didn’t.
It’s so rewarding to hear about patients changing lifelong eating habits to turn their health around. Unexpected benefits appear as they shed their weight, too. Some start running — and even enjoy it! Blood pressure drops and eczema improves, as does arthritis.
Our new Fast 800 Recipe Book is designed to help you put Michael’s pioneering diets into practice at home.
It’s been a joy to work with Justine Pattison on assembling this inspiring collection of recipes. You’ll find dishes for all occasions, plus treats and shakes and soups for when you’re on the move.
The recipes are also tailored to support your microbiome — the community of trillions of microbes living in your gut that produce crucial substances that have a beneficial impact on your digestion and mood, and can help reduce cellular inflammation and the risk of cancer.
In particular, look out for recipes containing lentils, chickpeas, onions, oats, chicory, leeks and even seaweed — as all have been shown to have a powerful positive effect on gut health.
For your 800-calorie fast days, there are numerous calorie-counted meals for you to choose from, as well as tips for adapting them for non-fast days.
Many patients tell me they love the flexibility of the Fast 800, with its mix of more manageable fasting days and lowish-carb Mediterranean-style food. They say it is the first diet they have been able to stick to and they are genuinely surprised they no longer feel hungry all the time.
Adopting a dramatically different way of eating takes time and effort, particularly in the early weeks.
So we’ve put together some useful advice on how to use and adapt our delicious low-calorie recipes so that you enjoy your food, feel satisfied — and reap all the weight loss and health benefits of the Fast 800 diet.
Eating enough protein is very important on the Fast 800. It is needed to build and repair bones, muscle and cartilage, as well as to make enzymes and hormones, and support a healthy immune system. It also makes meals more filling. We recommend eating 45-60g daily.
Protein content varies from food to food. For instance, a 120g chicken breast contains 38g protein, 120g of salmon 28g, a medium egg 8g, 75g of feta cheese has 11g, 125g of puy lentils contain 12g of protein and 30g of walnuts have 4g.
This means it’s harder for vegetarians to reach daily protein targets on 800 calories so they may need to increase to 900 calories to ensure they get enough.
Here are some simple calorie-counted ideas to help you boost the protein content of a dish. They are particularly useful if you haven’t got time to cook a full recipe and just have a plate of vegetables or you want something tasty and filling to scatter on a soup or salad.
MEAT & FISH
DAIRY & EGG
1 egg, boiled or poached (78 cals)
EAT YOUR GREENS
Greens and non-starchy vegetables are an important part of the Fast 800 and we ask you to eat these freely, filling half your plate with them at each meal.
Steam, boil or microwave them, and then try some of our ideas to make them taste even better. We have listed minimal-calorie options here, for when you are at your 800 calorie limit.
Leafy green and non-starchy vegetables you do not need to calorie count include: cabbage, spring greens, chard, kale, pak choi, cavolo nero and spinach; green beans, mange tout, sliced courgette, broccoli or peppers; salad leaves of all colours.
JAZZ UP YOUR MEALS