TV health guru Michael Mosley has vowed to overhaul an online diet plan after we found users could set potentially lethal weight-loss goals.
Dr Mosley hosted Channel 4 series Lose a Stone in 21 Days in which five overweight participants ate 800 calories a day for three weeks during lockdown.
It was slammed by eating disorder charity Beat, which saw a 50 per cent rise in calls after the first episode.
Dr Mosley told viewers the plan – known as the Fast 800 – was only suitable for those who were clinically overweight or obese.
But we found it was being sold online for £99 – and users at healthy weights were allowed to set “life-threatening” targets.
In response, he has pledged to:
- Ensure users cannot set goals which make them underweight.
- Look at providing links to NHS resources on mental health.
- Change a meal plan which totalled a miserly 673 calories on one day.
The doctor – a popular TV figure and famous for developing the 5:2 diet – boasted in a recent interview he was paid “silly money” to write a book about the Fast 800 regime.
We signed up, giving a reporter’s real weight and body mass index of 24. Between 20 and 25 is considered healthy.
Subscribers in this category were not warned that following the plan might be unsuitable as they are not overweight.
Users were asked to confirm they are not clinically underweight, breastfeeding, pregnant or a Type 1 diabetic.
A history of eating disorders was not flagged among the risks on the sign-up page.
Instead, users were told to read a medical disclaimer – buried in small print – which says the diet is not recommended for people who have an eating disorder, or a history or suspicion of one.
Shockingly, the website allowed our reporter to set a target weight of 6st – and a drop in BMI to 13.9. Anything under 18 can indicate an eating disorder and medics say 14 and below can signal a potentially fatal case of anorexia.
Eating disorder specialist Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma, of London’s Nightingale Hospital, said: “If your BMI drops below 14, we normally consider in-patient admission as this is life threatening.
“Your periods would stop. It would make bones very deficient and osteo-porosis could be a side-effect. It would also affect blood pressure and you’d have nutrient deficiency. You would not be able to focus or put any mental energy into work because we also need calories to burn in our cognitive efforts as well. The key concern is there isn’t a screening process at the start of the plan. Screening is crucial – not just by a computer.
“A human should work through these records. This would stop people with normal BMIs buying the plan, and an eating disorder would be picked up.”
We studied the low-carb meal plan for week one and found on four of the seven days the intake was fewer than 800 calories. One day it was just 673.
Users too busy to cook were encouraged to have a 200 calorie shake – available at £18.99 for a pack of 10.
On the show, last month, users were urged to strip cupboards of junk food.
Three out of five lost a stone or more but long-term progress is unknown. Caroline Price, Beat’s director of services, said: “The programme did not appear to look after mental health. However, it did have an alarming focus on weight, BMI and measurements.”
Beat acknowledged Dr Mosley’s response but added: “We still caution against restrictive diets, especially those vulnerable to an eating disorder.”
Channel 4 said: “The series examines the link between Covid-19 and the threat it poses to those who have a BMI in the obese or overweight categories. C4 were very careful in ensuring the series did not focus on body shaming or the ‘thin ideal’.
“Strict guidelines were in place. Health checks were undertaken on contributors and support is ongoing.”
Mosley: It can help
Dr Mosley told the Sunday Mirror:
The reason I created Fast 800, with a group of medics, is because eight years ago I discovered I had Type 2 diabetes, went on a diet, lost 9kg and returned my blood sugars to normal.
It worked because I drained the fat from my liver and pancreas. Prof Roy Taylor, of Newcastle University, later did a big trial testing rapid weight loss (800 cals a day for 12-20 weeks) in overweight patients with Type 2 diabetes. Results were impressive and the NHS plans to roll out the programme. Two other studies gave similar results, one showing sustainable weight loss of 9.5kg.
I want to help others do what I did, lose weight and keep disease at bay.
Fast 800 states who the diet is suited to. If your BMI is in the underweight category we explicitly state it is not for you. If changing diet, consult a health professional first. Of mental health, we will look at providing links to NHS resources.
I shed 3lb but the tiny meals and workouts made me dizzy
By Geraldine McKelvie
I tried the Fast 800 diet for a week – and it left me flagging.
At 5ft 5in and 10st 7lb, I have a BMI of 24 – within the healthy range.
My first meal was a blueberry and almond quinoa porridge – just 138 calories. It was made with just 15g of quinoa and I assumed I’d made a mistake.
But no, the portion size really was that small.
In fact, the meals were so miniscule I had to keep checking to make sure I hadn’t misread the amounts. Eating so few calories left me suffering dizzy spells, headaches and my concentration levels were poor.
Diet shakes are an option but all I could think of was how hungry I was.
By day three, I was drinking Diet Coke like it was water because the gas made me feel full without adding to my calorie tally.
When my boyfriend came home with a takeaway pizza, I had to leave the room to avoid temptation as just one slice would have been almost half of my daily total. I was also expected to do workouts. I enjoy exercise and have run three marathons but found this virtually impossible with so little fuel in my body.
One session – with push-ups, burpees and lifting weights – left me so light-headed I feared I might faint.
By the end of the week, I’d lost 3lb but I couldn’t wait to bin the quinoa and order a curry. The diet didn’t feel remotely sustainable. No way could I keep it up for 21 days.