Michael Mosley: How the presenter changed lives

Michael Mosley: How the presenter changed lives

26 minutes agoBy David Sillito, Media correspondentBBC

It is not an exaggeration to say Dr Michael Mosley transformed people’s lives.

For those who feared the growing waistline bulge over a straining belt was just an inevitable and depressing part of life, his cheerful, experimental approach to better health offered a solution that seemed to work for many.

Tributes are now pouring in for the TV, radio presenter and author, who over two decades produced programmes and books that were watched, listened to and read by millions of people.

And among them are many who have spoken about how he inspired them to change their lives.

For publisher Emma Waring his Fast 800 recipes taught her how to eat “in a way that allowed me to lose weight while still enjoying satisfying and delicious food”.

Reacting to his death, she wrote: “I am >6.5 stone lighter and healthier for life thanks to him. Sad, sad news.”

Some studies have questioned this approach to weight loss, but Labour’s former deputy leader, Tom Watson, said Mosley was “a hero to me” – after he lost more than seven stone (44kg) and was able to stop taking drugs to regulate his type 2 diabetes.

“It’s hard to describe how upset I am by this news,” he wrote on Sunday. “Through courageous, science-based journalism, Michael Mosley has helped thousands of people get well and healthy. I’m one of them.”

There are many others who have taken inspiration from his work.

For instance, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch took up his 5:2 diet to slim down for his role in the BBC series Sherlock.

Author Jeanette Winterson wrote about the transformative effects of fasting on cholesterol, joint pain and general well being after being inspired by him.

And when I met Mosley one day for a quick interview at a public event I was struck by the queue of people near him waiting to say thank you.

Reversing diabetes with diet

It had all grown out of Mosley’s own life experience, a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in 2012.

It led to him looking to see what the latest health science could offer as a solution, trying it out and then telling the world.

“I wrote the Blood Sugar Diet because I was diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic,” he said.

“I was not particularly overweight, weighing about 86kgs and I didn’t look particularly fat, but that was because a lot of the fat I was carrying was internal. I was a TOFI, Thin on the Outside, Fat Inside.’

In a TV interview in 2020 he said he managed to reverse his diabetes in 2012, and eight years later “I am the same weight I was then, and my blood sugars are entirely normal”.

The heart of his programme for weight loss was fasting.

For two days each week he encouraged reducing food intake down to around 800 calories a day.

However, his Blood Sugar Diet and 5:2 Diet also introduced a swathe of the population to a rapidly developing area of medical research that was beginning to question some of the assumptions of healthy eating.

After years of being told that fat was the enemy, blame was shifting to sugar, carbohydrates and our increasingly processed and narrowing range of foodstuffs.

Michael Mosley becomes lunch for a leech

Trust Me I’m a Doctor

It was an unexpected burst of fame for a man who only started producing TV science programmes after switching careers from banking and medicine.

One of his ideas as a producer was the programme Trust Me I’m a Doctor presented by Dr Phil Hammond, who paid tribute to a friend and colleague who he says was far more than just a lifestyle guru.

“As well as talk about lifestyle measures you could take, he wanted to challenge the medical establishment. He wanted to talk about huge inequalities in health care,” he told BBC News.

He was, he says, someone who had had a real impact.

“I think his legacy will live on. Anyone who met him will always smile because he was such a loving, kind, generous person that had a slightly infectious and impish laugh. So, I’m really sad. But I’m also really proud and lucky to have had him in my life.”

Ulcer Wars

It was an episode of the BBC’s Horizon, Ulcer Wars in 1994 about the search for a cure for ulcers, that inspired Michael Mosley’s gung-ho enthusiasm for self-experimentation.

In the programme, he featured Dr Barry Marshall who had infected himself with an ulcer to prove they were caused by an infection rather than stress.

“I discovered that almost all the great medical discoveries were made by self-experimenters, whether it was vaccines, anaesthetics or whatever.”

Dr Marshall had identified and grown a species of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori and had become convinced that it was responsible for the majority of cases of gastric cancer and gastric ulcers.

The discovery transformed the treatment of ulcers and set Mosley on the career path that would make him famous.

He switched from producer to presenter and began a string of TV self-experiments. He infested himself with a tapeworm, chomped on the world’s hottest chillis and endured a televised colonoscopy.

This was fun to watch, gonzo science, but always informed by a strong desire to reveal research that could actually improve people’s lives.

Gonzo Science

A chronic insomniac, his work on sleep reflected a growing body of work showing how important sleep was to every part of our health.

His dietary advice about diabetes was rooted in the work of people such as Professor Roy Taylor at Newcastle University and his diabetes reversal trial, who was co-author of the eight-Week Blood Sugar Diet.

One of Mosley’s final programmes was with Professor Tim Spector, who is an evangelist for the importance of gut health and the microbiome – the body’s microbes – in maintaining good health.

Many of us have long known exercise, nuts, oily fish and more green vegetables and less processed food in our diet would be a good thing.

Michael Mosley had a rare talent for getting people to actually try it.

Additional reporting by Noor Nanji.


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