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A keto Christmas with Dr Michael Mosley and Dr Clare Bailey

Michael Mosley and Clare Bailey. Photo: The Fast 800
Michael Mosley and Clare Bailey. Photo: The Fast 800

Husband and wife team, doctors Michael Mosley and Clare Bailey, are embarking on a live theatre tour, promoting their easy-to-grasp messages aimed at improving a nation’s health. Katie Jarvis chats to the two, while managing not to derail their long and happy marriage

I’m interviewing Dr Michael Mosley and Dr Clare Bailey, husband-and-wife team.

Health gurus.

The couple who (together and separately) are behind phenomena such as the 5:2 diet; the fast 800 diet; the ‘Just One Thing’ set of health initiatives.

Amazing stuff. Manageable stuff.

Stuff that’s got so many of us up off the sofa, feeling good that we’ve simply breathed through our noses (better memory; improved lung function; maybe even fights off infection). Or shuffling into the kitchen to cook tomatoes (helps heart, skin, and reduces the risk of cancer).

(Tbh, I’m going to skip the cold shower advice. Happy to inhale, and fry a cherry, but I have limits.)

Great British Life: Michael Mosley and Clare Bailey have worked on several books togetherMichael Mosley and Clare Bailey have worked on several books together

I’ve LOADS of well-researched, objective questions I genuinely want to ask.

I’m interested in the behavioural aspect of your work.

Do we need to change the language around food and health?

But – let’s be honest here – I am utterly fascinated by the thought of a household of two doctors who know what a plate of 800 calories looks like, in the same way the twins in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat could instantly count a pile of matches. (Not a good example, I know. But do read it – fabulous book.)

So, is home-life a constant potential guilt-trip?

‘I have a terrible weakness for chocolate. Clare is very good at spotting when I’m sneaking around, trying to…’

‘I can tell!’ she says. ‘I’m in the other room and I can hear this quiet rustling in the kitchen.’

‘Why not take it out of the wrapper as soon as you buy it?’ I suggest. (My contribution to Just One Thing.)

Great British Life: The Fast 800 Recipe BookThe Fast 800 Recipe Book

‘Well,’ Clare says to her husband. ‘You do ask me to do it. I wouldn’t if you didn’t ask.’

He sighs. ‘It’s these moments at 11 in the evening.’

They are, it has to be said, a hugely entertaining team.

‘We’ve been married for nearly… Is it 42 years?’

‘Something like that, yes.’

They already write books together. Bounce ideas off each other. And now they’re about to embark on their first ever joint theatre tour.

‘Clare’s going to be doing recipes. We’ll talk about some of the science and stuff around weight-loss, sleep, but also our personal experiences of it.’

‘And some of the mad things Mike gets up to…’

‘Because it’s a live show, it’s a great opportunity to take questions from the audience. Catch up afterwards; do selfies; chat. It should be fun; it should be interactive.’

Great British Life: Michael Mosley with Dr Clare BaileyMichael Mosley with Dr Clare Bailey

‘The doorbell has just gone,’ Clare says. ‘I’ll be right back.’

THESE TWO ARE phenomenally clever. Literally so. He has lived enough lives to make a cat envious – PPE at Oxford; a stint as an investment banker. Retrained as a doctor; joined the BBC producing science and history documentaries; then moved to the sharp end of the camera.

She a GP, particularly interested in diabetes and menopause issues, who has worked in some pretty tough environments.

But it’s also their messaging that’s genius.

They never dodge the elephant in the room.

Yet they don’t harangue it to lose weight, either.

Instead, between them, they’ve helped create bite-sized ways of achieving a feast of health gains. We mainly all know we need to eat less to lose weight; and scientific studies show that restricting calories can lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and reverse type 2 diabetes. (Michael being a living example: in 2014, he lost 9kg by intermittently fasting, thus banishing his own then-recently-diagnosed diabetes.)

But why does the 5:2 diet (calorie restriction two days a week; eating normally for five) gel with so many people where other regimens fail?

Why do we find it acceptable to do ‘Just One Thing’ to improve our health?

Ah, says Michael Mosley, behavioural science is a fascinating topic.

‘When it comes to adopting a healthy lifestyle, it isn’t just about being told stuff. Because, in a way, most of us know the stuff; it’s how you actually implement it into your life. And that is a huge component.

‘How do you stick to a healthy diet?

‘How do you stick to doing exercise?

‘And that’s something we’re both kind of pretty obsessed by.’

The message is one he’s long been promoting. (And one he delightfully demonstrated to me back in 2014 – in a crowded green room – by explaining you wouldn’t teach someone tennis by yelling, ‘Hit the ball REALLY HARD and REALLY ACCURATELY! And I’m going to keep screaming that at you until you do it, YOU STUPID, LOUSY BASTARD!’.’ More than one fellow coffee drinker ended up sponging things off their jumper.)

I get that, I say.

And it’s brilliant. But isn’t there room for going even further? For using the kind of reverse psychology (‘I’m going to be very cross if you eat that broccoli…’) we parents sometimes use with our kids?

 

Because, personally, with my on-going insomnia, I’m sick to death (possibly literally) of the ‘Get eight hours’ message. As if I’m perversely paying someone to rush into my bedroom every 40 minutes with a football rattle.

So is there room for going even further? For saying, ‘Look – just don’t give a stuff about it’.

‘I think you’re right. If you have a bad night’s sleep, you have a bad night’s sleep. Fine. Move on. I have a lot of bad nights’ sleep but I don’t agonise about it. There are a lot of books out there, unfortunately at the moment, basically telling you that, if you don’t get to sleep, your brain’s going to rot and you’re going to develop all sorts of things. So, ultimately, it’s more about acceptance; obviously building in as many things you can that will help you get a good night’s sleep. But, as you say, there is an element of self-defeating…’

‘About going for impossible goals,’ Clare adds.

‘Yeah. Exactly.’

And that’s far from the thin end of the ‘We don’t have any choice’ wedge. The day’s headlines have announced that the cost-of-living crisis means families aren’t eating as healthily.

Like the sleep thing, it’s far from what they want.

‘Quite a lot of that is down to having the right foods in your stores,’ Clare says. ‘People have been told to eat fresh food. But there’s almost no difference between fresh and tinned food – and frozen. Often vegetables and salads have been sitting on the shelves for ages.’

If there is a market selling cheap and genuinely fresh produce, go for it, she says.

‘But we have tins of pears; we have tins of peaches; we have spinach in the freezer so we can pull it out and use a microwave. Super-efficient and economical, and the food is just as good.’

Great British Life: Dr Clare Bailey with Dr Michael MosleyDr Clare Bailey with Dr Michael Mosley

Her recipes (she’s written cookbooks; but also has a fab Instagram: drclarebailey) are aimed at just that: easy, affordable foods to fling together after a hungry day at work.

‘People also underestimate how much money they spend on junk food,’ Michael says. ‘They don’t add it up – particularly takeaways are incredibly expensive. And you’re always being nudged to get more.’

Studies in Australia have shown that a healthy diet can be as cheap – if not cheaper – than an unhealthy diet (taking into account takeaways). As long as you know how to prepare food from scratch, of course.

But the two of them are understanding of the problem, too. That it’s far from a matter of simply putting the right stuff into a supermarket trolley.

‘If you’re on low income, you can’t afford to experiment. You can’t afford to try stuff which, it turns out, your kids hate; you hate. So again that’s part of what Clare’s been doing.

‘Her practice was in a pretty rough area. She’s given recipe books away and, on the whole, people are very receptive. Sometimes they like stuff; sometimes they don’t. But they find it easy to follow – and I think that’s critical.

‘So Clare in the show is going to be doing easy recipes, including how to make keto bread…’

‘But that’s top secret!

‘It can be done; and the cooking is fun. It’s few ingredients, where possible. I quite like doing demos. Partly, it’s like the old Tomorrow’s World, where you never quite know if it’s going to work – a bit of jeopardy.’

Here’s one I made earlier?

‘Well, actually, I think I’m going to go for that as well. I like saying that. Makes me feel a bit like Mary Berry.’

SO, LET’S LOOK FURTHER into this herd of elephants that have now stormed the room.

What about the sick elephant…

The NHS in crisis. No matter what we try to do ourselves, that is a very basic health problem.

‘There’s also a feeling that we’ve been here before, multiple times. I don’t know if this is spectacularly bad – it is in many ways – but in the 80s it was also pretty bad.’

‘They haven’t addressed the major issues of social care and so it all concertinas from that. And they haven’t looked after the medical staff professionals, who have been scapegoated multiple times – and morale is falling. All my contemporaries resigned in their 50s because they’d just had enough. That’s competent people, who love their jobs; love patients.’

All that training and knowledge lost…

‘I think the onus in that way is now, and has always in a way been, on us,’ Michael says. ‘It shouldn’t be but that’s how it is. We have to do things in our 40s, 50s and 60s which will ensure that we remain healthy into our 70s and 80s. And that’s I guess what the tour is about, what the books are about, what we’re all about.

‘It’s not about living forever. It’s: how do you stay healthy?’

Great British Life: Just One Thing: Michael Mosley is an advocate for the health benefits of taking the dog for a walk in the countrysideJust One Thing: Michael Mosley is an advocate for the health benefits of taking the dog for a walk in the countryside

So is Rishi Sunak right with that incremental ban on smoking?

‘I think it’s profoundly unhelpful,’ Michael says. ‘That’s what we see with drugs – it hasn’t stopped people taking them.’

A nudge, not a shove, is what’s needed. Shifting behaviour is far more effective than banning. Already, he says, cigarette smoking in the UK has changed – BUT because it’s more expensive, less accessible and less desirable.

Better the PM turn his attention to junk-food advertising before 9pm.

‘And if you could find ways to get rid of BOGOF [buy one get one free], which is always on junk food. No one’s suggesting we get rid of it on fish.’

THEY ARE GREAT EXAMPLES themselves. Sitting side by side on the settee (an array of books behind them), they look the picture of good health.

‘I’m a bit like a labrador and Clare’s more like a greyhound. I struggle to maintain a healthy weight, whereas Clare is very much the same weight and size and beauty as when I first met her in 1980.’

That must be annoying.

Great British Life: Dr Michael Mosley with Dr Clare BaileyDr Michael Mosley with Dr Clare Bailey

‘We come at it from quite different perspectives. So Clare kind of keeps an eye. I had a pretty terrible diet before I met Clare. It’s improved, over the years.’

So what’s their ‘Just One Thing’, then?

‘I would suspect having a mutually supportive partner,’ Michael Mosley says, lovingly.

‘You can’t say anything different, Clare,’ I point out.

‘Keto,’ she replies, seriously.

…Wait, what?

‘To have fun with and talk about things with and get you through the bad times,’ Michael continues, seemingly unabashed. ‘It’s also what the research clearly shows. Probably the most important thing.’

There’s an awkward pause until I sum up the courage.

‘Did you say ‘Keto’?’ I double-check with Clare.

She looks horrified.

‘I said, ‘Ditto!’’

Thank goodness. Far be it from me to stop a live theatre tour in its tracks.

Dr Michael Mosley and Dr Clare Bailey’s tour, Eat (Well), Sleep (Better), Live (Longer!), includes Warwick Arts Centre (February 14) and Cheltenham Town Hall (February 16). Tickets, on sale now, can be purchased via eatsleeplivetour.co.uk

Great British Life: Bite-sized keto Christmas puds, by Clare BaileyBite-sized keto Christmas puds, by Clare Bailey

Mosley-Bailey Christmas tips

When it comes to healthy eating, Christmas can be tricky. Let’s face it: We all want to enjoy it and, for most of us, that means drink and food… followed by (sometimes) weeks of regret.

How do Michael Mosley and Clare Bailey tackle it?

‘The main tip is: accept the fact that you’re not going to be on a diet over Christmas. Nobody is. You need to celebrate, enjoy friends and family, and make a big thing of it,’ Michael says.

‘Don’t beat yourself up,’ Clare adds. ‘Be kind to yourself. Say to yourself: It’s just a few days. Doesn’t matter.’ You just get back on the horse.’

‘If you’re endlessly beating yourself up, you’re just going to feel bad about yourself. And, if you feel bad about yourself, what you want to do is eat lots of food.’

(Plus, of course, there’s always January!)

Look out for healthy Christmas treats on Clare’s Instagram: drclarebailey – such as this mini Christmas pudding ‘power-ball’ recipe.

Bite-sized keto Christmas puds recipe by Dr Clare Bailey

Looking for easy healthy nibbles? These were our favourites last year and SO EASY too.

Christmas can be a struggle when it comes to social occasions. Like many of us, Michael finds it a particularly challenging time to stay on track, especially when surrounded by chocolate and mince pies.

This is a satisfying alternative, that has those essential Christmas flavours, but no added sugar. One that comes in small portions and doesn’t add another 500 calories!

These bite-sized Christmas puds are made from natural unprocessed ingredients and spices. And thanks to the nuts, seeds and ground almonds they are protein rich and high in fibre and nutrients. They make a nice healthy keto treat as the sugar from dates is bound in fibre, so it is released slowly keeping sugars down.

They don’t even need cooking – simply blitz and roll them together.

40 ground almonds

15g mixed seeds

70g diced soft pitted dates

30g cranberries (set aside 4 for decoration)

10g coconut oil

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg (optional)

1/4 tsp ground cloves (optional)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Zest of half a medium orange

1/4 tsp salt

15 finely Diced pecans or walnuts

Topping:

2 tsp Brandy/whisky or 1/2 tsp vanilla

25g Cream cheese

Instructions:

1. Blitz the main ingredients to a paste/dough leaving some texture adding the nuts halfway to retain texture.

2. Roll into a long sausage shape that spans a dinner plate. Cut into 8 pieces, the size of a whole walnut.

3. Roll them into a ball then press them a bit to flatten the base (so it looks like a tiny, upturned Christmas pud!) Place in the fridge to firm up.

4. Mix the brandy or vanilla into the cream cheese and place in the fridge for 20-30min it’s. When ready to eat, dollop the ‘brandy cream’ onto the mini Christmas pud, with a slither of cranberry for decoration.

Wishing you a very happy Christmas. And if you overindulge, don’t beat yourself up – simply do some extra ‘Fast’ days to get back on track!



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