A slight exaggeration perhaps, but he’s been very busy. He’s presented a dozen TV series and written many books. We now have a blood sugar diet book, a fasting for health and longevity diet book, a weight loss diet book, exercise for managing all of the above, and now a gut health diet book.
But what is his advice? If he is just telling us yet again that we should be eating sensibly and getting some exercise, which we have been told many times, why is he generating so much interest?
Because his advice is different from, and in some cases directly contradicts, what we have been told before.
Hear this: you don’t have to eat breakfast.
We’ve been told for a long time that the key to health and a manageable waistline is to eat breakfast, ideally within about 30 minutes of rising. This was thought to “kick start” our metabolism and cause efficient fuel burning throughout the day. Not at all, apparently. Read on.
I’ve written before about the wonders of the microbiome, that colony of multiple varieties of beneficial bacteria that populate the lower reaches of our digestive tract. Some of the new science on this indicates that a decent interval between last evening’s meal and breakfast, or indeed between any meals, encourages the growth of specific bacteria in our gut that require plenty of time and space to busy themselves doing whatever it is they do down there, without having to do it against a constant tide of new food.
Further, a healthy population of these particular bacteria have a major influence on our tendency to deposit fat, or to burn it. Dr Mosley describes research which may be off-putting if you are about to enjoy something to eat while you read this; suffice it to say that when numbers of these bacteria were caused to be increased in the gut of overweight individuals, they lost weight without any change in quantity of food eaten.
But before we rush out and acquire a colony of these wonderful slimness-inducing bacteria, consider this. It has been noted that the eating habits of the “naturally” slim and the more cuddly are different, and it was thought that the slim were either satisfied with smaller meals or with fewer snacks, and that their slimness simply boiled down to consuming a lower daily calorie intake.
However I wonder if it is also possible that their eating habits involve longer intervals between meals and this in turn enables their gut to sustain greater numbers of the bacteria influencing fat deposition or breakdown. In short, slim people may be willing to let themselves get quite hungry at times, and ironically this “feeds” the bacteria that keep them so.
I would also point out that allowing yourself to get hungry sometimes is essential for the health of your digestive system, especially your liver. Intervals between food intake allow time for liver detoxification processes to proceed to conclusion, and for the digestive organs to rest before efficiently breaking down and utilising the next meal rather than storing it as fat.
And I have an ally; although she doesn’t refer to gut bacteria, Dr Karen Hitchcock writes in the June edition of her regular Monthly column that the research supporting the theory of “intermittent fasting” is “compelling”, and goes on to quote a bariatric (stomach stapling) surgeon when he says “We live in a toxic food environment. To stay lean you have to say ‘No thank you’, a lot”. (his emphasis).
We’re not talking extremes here of course; starvation isn’t good either, and if we weren’t meant to enjoy our food we wouldn’t have taste buds or eating pleasure centres in our brains. And clearly, pregnant women and people with diabetes or other health issues need to follow their medical advice.
But for most of us the evidence looks strong enough to suggest we try allowing longer intervals between some meals at least some days in the week. If we don’t like it at first, we can try imagining our liver stretching out full length on a couch with a good book, or those happy bacteria turning cartwheels in the space we have allowed them. And speaking of space, let’s see if we start to notice some appearing between our middle and the waistbands of our clothes.