If there is one thing more common in January than embarking on a diet, it’s the deluge of advice available. So, apart from a Masters in Public Health from Harvard University, what does TV doctor Xand van Tulleken bring to the table that hasn’t been chewed over before?
“My most important qualification in this context is that I’ve lost a substantial amount of weight — and kept it off,” says Dr Xand, aged 38 (the elder-by-seven-minutes twin of fellow TV presenter Dr Chris). “I ate my way from 12-and-a-half stone to 19 stone during a very stressful 2009, but I’ve weighed less than 13 stone since 2012.”
His approachable brand of constructive support emphasises that we find it difficult to lose weight precisely because it is difficult, not because we’re feeble. So while lots of us despair when junk food makes us crave more of the stuff, Dr Xand counters by saying that junk food is cynically, scientifically designed to get us hooked. We beat ourselves up about a lack of willpower, but that’s not actually the problem at all. Good to know.
“I’m a parent and I’m greedy,” acknowledges Dr Xand. “I’ve been unemployed, worked night shifts, travelled a lot and held a desk job. I’m as easily seduced by a fad diet and as prone to getting fat as anyone else. We need to cheer on people who are trying to lose weight. I don’t believe it’s easy, and I don’t believe it’s your fault. But I do believe anyone can do it.”
Like many who have lost significant weight, Dr Xand is used to being asked how he did it — always in the expectation of a one-sentence answer.
“In fact it is less about meal plans than developing a particular mindset, built around the establishment of personal ground rules. Most diets lay down a formula and instruct you to follow it — famously, the 5:2 does this. But the 5:2 works for just 30 per cent of the people who try it. For the other 70 per cent, it’s just another diet that they’ve failed on.
“No diet works for everyone. So interrogate your own life by keeping a food diary of what you eat and when — to understand what you need to change.”
Dr Xand van Tulleken has a Channel 4 show called How To Lose Weight Well
Xand’s top diet advice
Junk junk food “If you eat a packet of crisps and a chocolate bar, an hour later you’ll be hungrier than if you’d eaten nothing. So throw it away. All biscuits, chocolate bars and so on in your house — bin them.”
Slash processed foods “That means as few ingredients as possible on the packet, because every ingredient is added in order to make you eat more.”
Fill up on vegetables “I defy most people to eat large amounts of unadorned veg. So make them delicious by covering them with salt or fat. Otherwise you won’t look forward to them, and you’ll go back to eating rubbish.”
Check the calories “Use an app — myfitnesspal.com is really good, and they don’t pay me to say so. There are loads of others if you prefer.”
Love your scales “I get on every morning. But I’m up for whatever works. If you’re best guided by the fit of your clothes, do it. Just keep regular track.”
Avoid bad diet advice
Vitamins “The idea that lots of vitamins will strengthen your hair/bones/immune system has an appealing logic. But your car runs just as well when the petrol tank is half-full as when it’s full. You can get the vitamins you need from food.”
Blenders “Books that say blending is great are written by people selling blenders, or who love blending for no good reason. The nutritional benefits of ‘juice’ are vastly outweighed by the sugar, the lack of fibre and the expense. It won’t make you thin and it will make someone else rich.”
How to Lose Weight Well airs on Channel 4 and is also available on All4