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Eight health lessons I learned from Dr Michael Mosley

Journalist Suzanne Baum shares the advice that helped her lose weight, sleep better and manage her anxiety

Dr Michael Mosley (pictured) had a big influence on journalist Suzanne Baum, who found his Intermittent Fasting method very effective. (Alamy/Supplied)
Dr Michael Mosley (pictured) had a big influence on journalist Suzanne Baum, who found his Intermittent Fasting method very effective. (Alamy/Supplied)

When I heard the news of Dr Michael Mosley’s passing, I was heartbroken. Not only had I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him through my job as a health and fitness editor, but his work has also impacted me personally. Thanks to his diet and lifestyle advice, I’ve lost a stone and a half in weight and learnt how to manage my sleep and anxiety.

Dr Mosley was of course famous for his intermittent fasting (IF) technique – a method where you only eat within a certain timeframe and then fast the rest of the time. I’ve been doing IF, also known as Time Restricted Eating, on and off for a few years – the approach was surprisingly easy and for me it worked. Having been slightly overweight, both as a child and in adulthood, I’ve always had to watch what I eat.

I was a yoyo dieter, jumping from WeightWatchers and Slimming World to Atkins and the Dukan Diet, but I’d always lose weight then put it all back on again. That was until June 2020, in lockdown, when I began following the IF way of eating. Although I spin, run and walk a lot – and had continued through lockdown – I had piled on the weight.

I was fascinated by the overnight fast he wrote about, where you go for 12 hours without eating. For example, you might finish dinner at 8pm, but you then avoid eating until 8am the following morning. (See the benefits outlined below.)

As I began to follow it, I realised it stopped me from reaching for the biscuit jar after dinner and that I felt a sense of clarity. My mind was so used to thinking, 'What can I eat next?' whereas with a restriction to my eating window, the 'food noise' stopped.

I then began to tweak it, by sometimes following a stricter window of 8:16 (for two or three days a week), starting my food intake at midday and ending it at 8pm, eating for eight hours and fasting for 16. I never felt hungry and the pounds have come off. In two years, I lost a stone and a half.

As a long-time fan of Dr Mosley’s, I've picked up a whole range of useful lifestyle advice from his books and podcasts. Below are the eight key health lessons I’ve learnt…

Journalist Suzanne Baum appeared on Sky News to share her experience of Intermittent Fasting. (Supplied)
Journalist Suzanne Baum appeared on Sky News to share her experience of Intermittent Fasting. (Supplied)

Dr Mosley’s rules of Time Restricted Eating (TRE) are simple – you try to eat most of your calories within a narrow time window such as within 12 hours (also known as 12:12).

"You can start doing TRE by simply having your evening meal a bit earlier and your breakfast a bit later (12:12). That way you extend your normal overnight fast (the time when you are asleep and not eating) by a few hours," Mosley explained in his book The Fast 800: How to Combine Rapid Weight Loss and Intermittent Fasting for Long-term Health (2018).

“Once you’ve got used to this you can move to the 14:10 or even, like Hugh Jackman, to the 16:8 (where you eat all your calories in an eight-hour window, such as between midday and 8pm, and fast for 16 hours),” he added.

I found the 12:12 surprisingly easy to do – with a daily calorie intake of around 1400 – and lost a tiny bit of weight, but it was when I did the 16:8 version that the results really showed.

This way of eating was easier than I imagined. It just meant cutting out breakfast, eating lunch at 12pm, then finishing my dinner eight hours later by 8pm. As long as I kept hydrated with water, I didn’t feel hungry. I still do this two or three days a week.

The benefits of Intermittent Fasting, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, include losing weight, burning fat more efficiently, reducing your type 2 diabetes risk, lowering blood pressure, improving heart health and better sleep.

Dr Mosley reversed his own type 2 diabetes diagnosis following the 5:2 diet for five weeks, getting both his blood sugar and body weight back into a healthy range.

Dr Michael Mosley, pictured in 2019 in Sweden while promoting his book. (Alamy)
Dr Michael Mosley, pictured in 2019 in Sweden while promoting his book. (Alamy)

When following Mosley’s diet, I tend to finish dinner by 8pm, so I have a few hours without eating before I go to bed. According to Mosley, an overnight fasting period "gives your body a chance to switch its priorities away from digestion and on to other important functions" such as cell renewal. “An extended overnight fast will also help your body switch from burning sugar to burning fat,” he wrote.

Dr Mosley’s advice also taught me the art of eating and drinking ‘mindfully’. His website states that ‘mindful alcohol and drinking in moderation is key to a healthy lifestyle’.

I tended to rush my meals and used to knock back a glass of wine in seconds but I’ve learnt to do it in mindful moderation. By making sure I’m aware of the tastes and textures I‘m putting in my mouth, it helps me to slow down and enjoy the experience. In doing so, I tend to eat less and have no need for that extra glass of wine.

I used to occasionally suffer from panic attacks but now if I feel anxious, I focus on my breath. On Dr Mosley’s Just One Thing podcast, he explains how slowing down and focusing on your breath can have a wide-reaching effect on your body and brain.

One of the breathing exercises he recommended is called ‘box breathing’ where you breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four and then exhale for four seconds. That instantly calms me.

Dr Michael Mosley's books changed the lives of millions of readers worldwide. (PA/Alamy)
Dr Michael Mosley's books changed the lives of millions of readers worldwide. (PA/Alamy)

I loved his idea to get a friend or loved one involved in your exercise routine.

“Doing a thing with a friend or loved one not only makes you feel accountable: it can also make it more fun,” he explained in his book Just One Thing: How Simple Changes Can Transform Your Life (2022) – easy but effective advice that I’ve followed by running with a friend once a week. Unlike cancelling a personal trainer, I would never let my friend down and our run is the highlight of my week.

As a mid-life woman going through menopause, sleep does not come easily for me. I either wake up in the night and can’t fall back to sleep or find myself unable to drift off until the crack of dawn. One of the best tips I took from Dr Mosley’s Radio 4 podcast series Sleep Well was to get up if I couldn’t sleep.

Normally, I’d be tossing and turning and getting myself into a state but by getting up I’m breaking that frustrating cycle.

"The goal is to avoid time spent lying there awake and 'not-sleeping' – so your brain re-associates the bed as a place of sleep," Mosley explained. "By getting up when you're not drifting off, and going to bed only when you are feeling truly sleepy, the negative association can be broken."

If I can’t sleep, then getting up does help stop me from getting into an agitated state and disturbing my husband. Instead, I force myself to get up and read downstairs for an hour and then manage to fall back asleep far easier than I used to.

I’m not joking, I do this fairly often! When I started going through the menopause last year and went on HRT, I became more aware of how important it is to keep my bones strong as I get older. And I’ll always remember in Dr Mosley’s podcast, his advice on why it is important to stand on one leg and "embrace the wobble" – to improve your balance and boost your core strength.

Dr Michael Mosley described HITT exercise as being 'incredibly time-efficient'. (Getty Images)
Dr Michael Mosley described HITT exercise as being 'incredibly time-efficient'. (Getty Images)

Until I re-read Dr Mosley’s Fast 800 book in lockdown, I never properly did HIIT – high-intensity interval training. Now, I swear by it at least once a week.

According to Dr Mosley, "HIIT is an incredibly time-efficient way of getting many of the major benefits of doing exercise."

If you do even just a few minutes a day, three days a week, he explained, “Within six weeks you should see improvements in your aerobic fitness level, your insulin sensitivity (and therefore your body’s ability to cope with sugar) and you should also begin to see some fat loss with better tone.”

I'll always be grateful for the influence Dr Mosley had on my life. My thoughts are now with his family, friends and colleagues.

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