This April, multi-award-winning UK author and broadcaster Dr Michael Mosley will be presenting his live show, Your Body: An Evening of Discovery, at Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre in Aotea Square. The multidisciplined medic promises the audience a “journey of discovery” to reveal all about “that most miraculous, complex, and sometimes beautiful organism that is your body”. Verve sat down with him to get the lowdown on his show, and more, and began by asking what to expect from his antipodean tour.
“Well, some of the books are developments of previous books,” he says. “I’m just really fascinated by industry studies and am chatting to academics all of the time—I love it. I probably spend on average a year researching a topic, and then I write very fast. Covid-19 I wrote in about five or six weeks.”
His wife, Dr Claire Bailey, is also an author, with a range of healthy cookbooks to her name.
“What Claire does is far harder work as she has to come up with the recipes! Not only that but she has to work out the calories and so on as well. Then there’s her Instagram to keep up with.”
Are you taste tester-in-chief?
“I am one of the tasters, but she also has a professional tasting team. She’s an academic, and also loves food. She’s great at making something, and, if it doesn’t work, figuring out how to make it better, which is something I can’t do. I can tell you whether not I like a dish, but not how to make it better. Claire has that skill, and her books take a long time to write.”
Michael is perhaps most well-known for popularising the revolutionary 5:2 and Fast 800 diets, intermittent fasting programmes that afford a raft of health and weight-loss benefits.
“I started getting interested in intermittent fasting in 2012 when I was making a documentary for Horizon,” he says. “I had just discovered that I had type 2 diabetes and I came across research suggesting it would be a way to get rid of it without having to take medication. My blood sugars went back to normal after I’d lost 10 kilos. You assume that rapid weight loss must be terrible, yet there are signs that point in the opposite direction. I have lots of evidence and will present this stuff visually—it will be lots of fun and exciting.”
“What I’m going to be doing is celebrating the human body,” he says. “The weird, the wonderful, quixotic things that it does. I will be looking at some areas of the body, like the brain, the gut and the immune system, and we’re going to be using wonderful footage to tell you the story of your inner self. I’m also going to be looking at what happens when the body goes wrong. The things I’m especially going for are rapid weight loss and sleep. I recently wrote a book called Fast Asleep, it’s relatively recent that we’ve discovered just how much is matters for improving your immunity when it comes to disease like Covid-19, and also in making vaccines work.”
Earlier this year Michael, a Number One New York Times bestselling author, published another tome, Covid-19: All You Need To Know About Coronavirus, detailing the science of the disease and the “race for the vaccine”. Speaking to him before the encouraging news about a handful of vaccines, the author expresses confidence in a vaccine being ready by 2021—and notes the excellent progress made by his former university, Oxford.
“I’m super optimistic—and certainly hoping that there’s a vaccine by the time I come out to New Zealand!”
The doctor’s other books include The Fast Diet, The Fast 800 Diet, The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet and The Clever Gut Diet. He has executive-produced smash hit TV shows such as Supervolcano and Pompeii: The Last Day, working with the likes of John Cleese, Jeremy Clarkson and Sir David Attenborough. In recent years, Michael has spent more time in front of the camera, presenting a raft of BBC series including Medical Mavericks, Eat, Fast Live Longer, and Trust Me, I’m a Doctor. His media honours include a Royal Television Award and the British Medical Association’s Medical Journalist of the Year (Michael also writes for the Mail on Sunday, The Times and The Independent).
Such a prolific writer—among his many other endeavours—not to mention a wife and four kids, I wonder how he finds the time to fit it all in.
“You just want somewhere that you can close your eyes and go to sleep, and you need to train your bodies to do that. So, what I recommend is that people who are suffering seriously from insomnia should cut the amount of time they spend in bed.”
Do you find that the more people know about their bodies, the more likely they are to take better care of them?
“I would hope so. You kind of assume that your body will look after itself and that you can just continue doing things when you’re 40 that you could at 20, but that’s not the case. People are massively self-deluded and don’t realise how far they go down the track. Things like pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes are silent killers. We gain an average of about a half-a-kilo a year between our twenties and fifties, particularly with men, but also women, they put it on around their gut and their neck and start to snore. This disturbs not only their sleep, but that of their partner’s, and they feel tired all of the time.”
The science of sleep will play a crucial part in the doctor’s show. He points to a study that found that of the participants vaccinated against hepatitis B, those who slept badly were 16 times less likely to mount an antibody response than those who had a good night’s sleep: “That might matter further down the track with the Covid-19 vaccine.”
Michael, a recovering insomniac, has even developed a four-week programme to help “re-establish a healthy sleep pattern in record time”. He calls it “sleep restriction therapy” and it seems, on the surface, almost counter-intuitive.
“You don’t want to be lying in bed agonising, and you certainly don’t want to be there watching television,” he says. “You don’t want to be entertained—apart from sex—you just want somewhere that you can close your eyes and go to sleep, and you need to train your bodies to do that. So, what I recommend is that people who are suffering seriously from insomnia should cut the amount of time they spend in bed. They should only be in there when they’re tired. It’s an unbelievably effective method.”
I ask the doctor if he worries about the sheer scale of, often contrasting, health and wellness information out there, that can overwhelm the public, rather than inform.
“Absolutely, it can be very confusing. And, I guess, that’s one of my missions, to cut through the rubbish and try to clarify things based on evidence.”
Most of us tend to put a few extra pounds over the festive season, any tips for cutting back on the calories?
“Well, one of the things would be to have a look at all the things that you buy and calorie count. I’m not going to be scrooge—by all means have your turkey and your gravy, but maybe cut back on the Christmas pudding and maybe minimise the chocolates rather than mindlessly stuffing them into your mouth! Again, with the booze, try to alternate each drink with a glass of water because often it’s a habit of having something in your hand.”
It’s certainly easier said than done over the Christmas period though, Michael!
“I understand. But, particularly if you currently have weight issues, it would even be worth telling friends and relatives to not bring the chocolate. My wife and kids are well aware that I’m a chocoholic and so any chocolate comes into the house, which it often does, they quickly spirit away!”