When you are young it feels as if you can eat anything and not put on weight. But most of us gain about a pound a year from our mid-20s onwards.
That's what happened to me. From being a slim 11st at medical school my weight slowly crept up until, in my 50s, it had reached 13½st.
I didn't think of myself as being particularly overweight. It didn't occur to me that my love of chocolate was putting my health at risk.
But I am eternally grateful for the blood test I had in 2012 that revealed I had type 2 diabetes, and for the research that showed that I could get my blood sugar levels back to normal by losing weight. It gave me the jolt I needed.
When you are young it feels as if you can eat anything and not put on weight. But most of us gain about a pound a year from our mid-20s onwards [File photo]
These days, the science is even clearer. If you are very overweight, with a large stomach, then your risk of developing type 2 diabetes is 11 times greater than if you are slim.
That's because when we eat more than we need, fat gathers around the gut, clogging the liver and pancreas, stopping them from working properly.
Research has shown that by losing weight rapidly you can clear that abdominal fat and the organs start working normally again. Even if you are just a bit overweight there is a higher risk.
By losing 20lb eight years ago, I did put my diabetes into remission, as have thousands of others. That's why the NHS recommends diets for diabetics.
Now, with a possible winter resurgence of Covid-19 the importance of losing weight is stark. Research shows being significantly overweight increases the risk of complications if you get the virus, and having high blood sugar multiplies your risk.
This week, I have been telling the inspirational stories of the 30 volunteers on our Shape Up Britain weight-loss challenge.
On my Fast800 online plan they ate delicious meals from recipes like those in today's paper, which are packed with Mediterranean-style ingredients rich in protein and healthy fats. Because they are low in carbohydrates they keep you feeling full, while blood sugar levels stay on track.
I am delighted volunteers, like Jackie Frith, 51, a life coach from Sheffield, saw blood sugar levels drop after eight weeks on the Fast800 online plan.
And Dominic Havercroft, 37, a truck dealership branch manager, also from Sheffield, found his blood sugar levels had switched from prediabetic (borderline type 2) to normal.Covid and obesity
Losing weight is no longer about looking good or fitting into skinny jeans — it's about your health. Being overweight can mean raised blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes, which make you more prone to infection. High blood sugar unleashes destructive molecules which affect the body's defences.
Those with raised blood sugar tend to have damaged blood vessels. Covid-19 attacks the vessels which, if already damaged, can mean a heart attack or stroke.
Covid-19 also causes blood to clot, particularly in those with elevated blood sugar levels, which means those with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes are in the biggest trouble.
If you are overweight, your immune system will be much less effective, initially, at dealing with the virus and stopping it spreading. Later on, your immune system is more likely to over-react and damage healthy tissue.
But thankfully, it's not all bad news. Research by Professor Roy Taylor in Newcastle upon Tyne has shown the best way to return blood sugar levels to normal is by losing a lot of weight fast — and that's why I was able to reverse my diabetes in a few months.The magic number
Although sticking to 800 calories a day sounds hard, our recipes offer all the protein, fibre and essential nutrients you need to stay full and healthy.
You might think you will swiftly run out of energy but if you limit your daily intake to 800 calories, particularly if you avoid carbohydrates, it triggers beneficial metabolic changes.
Most of us have enough fuel (in the form of fat) to keep us going for months. Normally your body treats the fat like money in the bank which is only to be used when your blood sugar levels fall. But when you follow the Fast800 programme, your body starts looking for energy in the form of glucose stored in your muscles and liver, called glycogen.
As glycogen stores start to run low (ten-12 hours after your last meal), your body goes through a remarkable change, switching to fat-burning mode.
When this happens, fat is released from your stores and converted into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The process is called 'ketosis'. Your brain and body will use these for energy.
The longer you can avoid sugar and cut back on carbs the longer you should be able to preserve this fat-burning state.Cut down on carbs
Avoiding potatoes, bread, pasta, rice and noodles on 800-calorie 'fasting' days will speed up weight loss. Instead, pack your plate with vegetables.
They supply key vitamins and minerals and fight inflammation, a cause of disease.
Although breakfast cereals, cakes, sweets, biscuits and soft drinks are out, you can enjoy full-fat Greek yoghurt and the occasional glass of red wine.
Many volunteers used to have a diet full of sugar and refined carbs.
But the Fast800 plan has given them a healthier way to eat, banishing their carb addiction and sweet tooth.
Anna Powell, 46, who runs a sweet shop in Chudleigh in Devon, with husband Lee, says: 'I've swapped sweet snacks for nuts but mostly I don't snack at all.'
If your diet is peppered with refined carbohydrates, sweets and sugary treats, there's every chance you are caught in a loop of impossible-to-resist cravings.
One thing that happens is your body releases the hormone insulin in response to the sugar or carbohydrates you eat.
Insulin whips that excess sugar out of your blood so it can be stored as fat for future use, but this leaves your blood low in sugar and triggers cravings for more. Here's how to break that cycle:Cut down on sugar, treats, drinks and desserts. Minimise or avoid the starchy 'white stuff' — bread, pasta, potatoes and rice. Try quinoa, bulgur, whole rye, wholegrain barley, wild rice and buckwheat. Legumes, such as lentils and kidney beans, are healthy and filling too. Avoid most breakfast cereals as these are usually full of sugar. Switch low-fat sweetened yoghurts for plain full-fat yoghurt and add blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, or a sprinkling of nuts.
Jackie Frith, 51, is a spiritual life coach from Sheffield. She says:
Before lockdown I was a stone overweight. By the end, I'd put on another and was at my heaviest.
So when the Fast800 diet challenge came along, I signed up. But when I realised it was 800 cals a day, I didn't think I could do it. I soon realised, however, that the recipes mean you can have three small meals a day.
I used to eat cereal for breakfast. But now I'll have a herbal tea and an omelette, say, nearer midday. Lunch is at 3pm and dinner at 7pm. I've not been hungry between meals.
The plan does require discipline but it's worth it. My blood sugar levels went from a nearly 7 per cent risk of type 2 diabetes in ten years to 2 per cent. I'm thrilled at the weight loss and plan to lose 5lb more.
Jackie Frith, 51, is a spiritual life coach from Sheffield. She is pictured before her weight loss left and after losing weight right
Prep time: 8 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Calories per serving: 290
Serves: One2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil ¼ onion, diced ¼ red pepper, diced 50g bacon, about 1 small slice, diced 30g spinach leaves 1 large free-range egg 15g Cheddar, grated
Heat 1 tsp of the oil in a pan over a medium heat. Saute the onions for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the red pepper and bacon and stir-fry until cooked.
Turn off the heat and stir in the spinach until it has wilted into the mixture. Set the pan to one side.
In a bowl, beat the egg with a pinch of salt and pepper until combined. Heat the remaining oil in a small pan, add the beaten egg and swirl until the entire pan is coated.
As the egg sets, swirl again, and when the egg is almost cooked, flip over, sprinkle the cheese in the centre and cook for 1 minute. Slide the cooked egg onto a plate, add the bacon mixture and fold into a wrap. Enjoy!
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Calories per serving: 290
Serves: Two¼ head broccoli, cut into small florets (about 65g) 30g Cheddar, grated 30g Parmesan, grated 40g full-fat cottage cheese 4 large free-range eggs
Preheat the oven to 190c/170c fan/gas 5. Take a muffin pan and oil four of the wells, or place baking cases or baking paper in each.
Divide the broccoli among the four wells and top with the Cheddar and Parmesan.
In a bowl, whisk the cottage cheese with the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture evenly between the four muffin wells.
Then use a fork and gently 'stir' so that the broccoli-cheese-egg mixture is well combined.
Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until frittatas are set and beginning to brown. (They will puff up when they cook and settle down as they cool.)
Serve two frittatas per person with a crisp green salad.
Broccoli and Three Cheese Mini Frittatas
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 7 minutes
Calories per serving: 206
Servings: One120g sea bass, skin on (see tip) Sea salt 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil ½ lemon, cut into 2 wedges 100g spinach
Sprinkle the skin of the fish with sea salt and rub all over with olive oil. Place skin side down in a cold, non-stick frying pan.
Turn the heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes. Squeeze the juice from a lemon wedge over the flesh then cover the fillet with spinach and a scrunched sheet of wet baking paper.
Cook for 5 minutes (it does not need to be turned and gives the fish firm flesh and crispy skin). When the fillet is cooked through, remove the paper before serving atop the wilted spinach. Serve with the remaining lemon wedge.
Slimming tip: To beat chocolate cravings, savour one