Author Archives: rozwatkins

Dogs and Christmas Eating

I remember going for a walk with my parents and their two dogs a few years ago – before they attempted any proper training of said dogs. We were strolling down a grassy hillside enjoying a rare dry, sunny day in Wales when we sighted potential disaster ahead. The area was usually deserted but on this fateful day a family, with three children, were having a picnic.   They had a neat white cloth, a bottle of wine, bottles of lemonade, heaps of precisely cut sandwiches  and a large cream cake.    Dad made a comment along the lines of, “That family have got an impressive picnic!”

Ben and Sammy, the young Labradors, clearly had the same thought. They came thundering up from behind us and headed for the picnic at full gallop. Dad screamed dire threats but they ignored everything – they had the scent of sausage rolls in their nostrils. Dad took off after them like a racehorse out of the stalls, but the dogs were faster. They hurled themselves into the centre of the picnic in a frenzy. It was so awful we felt like abandoning the dogs and just running away. By the time we managed to rugby-tackle and remove the dogs, the picnic was no more.

That was when Mum and Dad realised it might be a good idea to train their dogs.

Dogs have their own agenda. They pull on the lead, chase cats, sleep on the cream sofa, hoover food off worktops and of course invite themselves to picnics. They don’t engage in these behaviours because they are trying to be “dominant” or leader of the pack – they just do whatever seems most compelling in the moment.

Until they are trained, dogs respond to cues from the environment – smells, sheep, cats, other dogs, food on the counter-top, etc. Once trained (and this can all be done using positive reinforcement based methods) they respond to our cues and start to be less in thrall to their environment.

You’re probably thinking, “What on earth is she whittering on about this time, and has it got ANYTHING to do with weight loss?” Well, our unconscious mind is a bit like an animal, and it’s not necessarily a well trained one! It sometimes takes charge of our eating behaviour, which is why we can’t always control it.

You want your brain to tell you to eat in response to just one cue – hunger. That’s it. However, in reality, it will respond to all kinds of environmental cues, cleverly set up by food companies and society, and accidentally set up by you. Just as a dog will respond to the scent of a squirrel (or a picnic), we are primed to respond to “eating cues” whether they be internal (e.g “I feel bad therefore I must eat to feel better”) or environmental (e.g. “I am in the cinema therefore I eat popcorn”).

Christmas time is absolutely stuffed full of “eating cues”. But you can make it easier for yourself by manipulating some of the environmental cues in your favour. Just as you wouldn’t take an untrained dog in a field of sheep, try to avoid the cues which make most people over-eat without even being consciously aware that they’re doing it:

  • Large plates and large serving utensils make most of us over-eat.
  • Stubby rather than tall glasses cause most people to pour and drink more.
  • Large bags of food tend to make us eat more. Dish out a serving rather than eating from the bag.
  • Tempting food within reach will get eaten whether we’re hungry or not. Put leftovers away and don’t have a box of Quality Street within reach while you’re watching TV!
  • Eating while watching TV makes us stuff 40% more food down. Better to eat at a table if possible.
  • Variety tends to make us eat more. Be aware of this and ask yourself if you are really still hungry. You can always try different foods later.
  • Smaller “fun size” foods tend to make us eat more in total.
  • “Diet” or “low fat” foods tend to make us eat more in total. If you’re going to indulge, do it properly and steer clear of things like Elmlea and low fat options.

By manipulating a few of these things, you will naturally eat less without feeling at all deprived.

But most of all, enjoy it! If you have a “diet mentality”, you are likely to feel that all bets are off over Christmas and you might as well scarf food down yourself until you feel physically sick. So, avoid this kind of thinking. Stop eating as soon as you stop enjoying your food, and remember the diet doesn’t start tomorrow so you can have more lovely food later and you don’t have to eat it all today!

Have a great time over the holiday period!

Saturated fat – could so many experts really be wrong?

Unfortunately, it’s been a while since the last blog post-  on top of all the usual stuff, I’ve been a bit distracted by discovering that we have some damp issues in our holiday cottages which require a wincingly expensive fix.  I’ve realised that the people who should know about damp in old buildings (our surveyor and his ilk, or so I thought) actually don’t, and you can get better advice from a few pamphlets on the internet than from a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I don’t really know why I’m so surprised, given the advice you’ll get on weight loss from your family doctor, but still, it was a bit of a shock.

If you are about to buy an old building (i.e. one with solid walls), be really careful who does the survey, and have a look at this website –

Anyway, my unfortunate close encounter with the ill-advised bodges of mainstream “damp specialists” got me thinking about how often the standard advice that you get from so called specialists is actually rubbish.  I couldn’t help but notice the parallels with mainstream dietary advice.

Although people seem generally more cynical about government advice since the whole financial meltdown thing, I’m still generally greeted with a look of astonishment when I say that it is OK to eat butter.  The idea that saturated fat clogs your arteries is so much a part of our belief system that even I find it hard to eat double cream without picturing gungy globules building up on my artery walls (Rest assured I do still eat the cream!)

You wouldn’t think that we could be told something by so many scientists and government officials and it be wrong!? Surely?

I would argue that it’s perfectly possible that mainstream advice is often wrong, and I think this is a function of human nature and the way that science inevitably progresses, although in some cases there just might be commercial interests involved (did anyone mention statins?)

I studied History and Philosophy of Science at uni (as a welcome break from my mind-numbing engineering degree) and at the time I was naively surprised by how positively unscientific science is.  I had imagined objective, bearded folk in white coats carrying out experiments and diligently analysing the results to find the “truth”.  Of course, it’s not like that – you need a theory first before you can devise an experiment to test it. And then, once you have your nice theory, you start to get just a little bit fond of it and want it to be true, results be damned.

In my coaching training, I learned that we see the world through our own “filters”.  What we see is hugely influenced by what we already believe. It’s not really “seeing is believing” at all, but “believing is seeing”.  If you’re looking for basketball passes, you won’t see gorillas – some of you will know what I mean!

Scientists are primed to see the results that confirm their pet theories, and any data which doesn’t fit tends to be ignored. Often this isn’t a problem because you’ll have other scientists with conflicting theories and in the end the best one wins.

However, what about when a whole scientific community has bought into a belief that is wrong? This is normal and part of science. We thought the sun went round the earth for literally centuries after the detailed star data suggested the opposite.  It was simply not conceivable that the earth went round the sun, so the data had to be manipulated in the most bizarre ways to fit the “known truth”.  Anyone who dared to suggest different would risk being locked up by the church and certainly called a lunatic (possibly posthumously).  Even when you take religion out of the equation, the established scientific community has a huge investment in the status quo because if it changes, suddenly they’re not experts any more.

So, any experiments that don’t fit the popular hypothesis tend to be ignored and those that do are published and cited. For example, from Wikipedia: “a meta-analysis of cholesterol-lowering trials found that trials that were supportive of the lipid hypothesis were cited almost six times as often as those that were not, and although there was a similar number of trials unsupportive of the hypothesis, none of them were cited after 1970, some of the supportive reviews also exclude and ignore certain trials which were less favorable to the hypothesis; this meta-analysis, considering the less-cited trials, found that mortality was not decreased by lowering cholesterol, and that the lowering of cholesterol was unlikely to prevent coronary heart disease.”

This pattern of the “wrong results” being ignored can go on for decades, reinforcing a hypothesis regardless of whether it is right or wrong.

Eventually, when the evidence just becomes too overwhelming to ignore, you get what’s called a “paradigm shift” and a new theory becomes dominant. Old scientists die off and new ones come along who accept the alternative way of thinking.

I believe we are at the beginning of a paradigm shift in relation to saturated fats and health. The established theory just isn’t working.  We’ve done what we were told – reduced saturated fat, increased unsaturated fat, started to eat more “heart healthy grains” and we’re getting fat and ill.   Countless studies have failed to confirm a link between saturated fat and increased mortality. I won’t go into all the evidence here, but it is well explained in this blog post:

Things are starting to change and recently I’ve noticed the even the Daily Mail (bless them) have been publishing articles questioning the dogma.  And luckily, we have the internet! Although there is a lot of rubbish on it, there are also some extremely competent people scrutinising the evidence and actually reading the scientific papers.

Of course, weight is about much more than whether you eat fat or sugar. But saturated fat makes you feel good and it fills you up. It’s hard to get your emotional eating under control if you are still trying to eat a low fat, sugary  breakfast like Special K and having cereal bars, etc for snacks.   Skimmed milk has lost its vitamins and had artificial ones put back in, which can’t be properly absorbed because they are fat-soluble. Your body craves the goodness in fat and if you don’t get that goodness it will make you want to eat more of everything.  If you eat real, unprocessed foods, you are giving yourself a much, much better chance to feel good, stop obsessing about food and be able to get on with your life.

Please do your own research and make your own mind up. There is so much information that I can’t be sure my take on it is right – you need to decide for yourself. If you google “lipid hypothesis”, you’ll find plenty of information.

As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is the government advice on saturated fats right or wrong?  NHS advice on saturated fat

Recognising genuine hunger

In my programme I encourage you to eat only when you’re hungry. Sounds simple but as you probably know, this is actually quite a tricky instruction.

The more I work in this area, the more I realise just how complicated it is to eat when hungry, particularly in a society which surrounds us with appetising food and bombards us with exhortations to eat.

I have written previously about research showing that our hunger hormones are affected by our beliefs. So, if you think you’ve had the “low fat” milkshake, your brain may “tell” you to be hungry, even though you’ve actually had enough to eat. So, are you hungry or not? You may feel hungry and (because of the hormones) you are biochemically hungry, but do you really need to eat? Probably not!

I’ve also blogged about research on rats where they were “trained” to eat a certain food when a coloured light was flashed. Initially they were fed the specific food (when hungry) in the presence of the light. After a while, they would eat that food in the presence of the light, even if they had just eaten their fill. They were not strictly speaking “hungry” at all, but something was motivating them to eat. We can’t be sure what it felt like to the rats, but it looks like a human craving.

Research in people has shown similar results – food becomes paired with “cues” such as having a cup of tea, passing a certain shop, getting on the train, going to the cinema, etc. and after a while you eat in response to the cue rather than “genuine” hunger. You may not even be consciously aware of the cue (in fact you almost certainly aren’t).  The urge to eat in response to one of these cues might feel like hunger or it might feel more like a craving. The cue may affect the hormones that make you hungry, so it is very hard to tell if you are “genuinely” hungry or not.

I’ve also noticed a tendency of people on my programme to eat “just in case”.  It’s as if there may be a famine around the corner and the next meal is uncertain. I think this comes from a combination of previous dieting, pressure to eat-up in childhood and just a general human tendency to err on the side of caution where hunger is concerned! (My friends and I picked up a dose of this attitude when travelling, even though it was totally unjustified since you can actually get food in foreign countries! )

I’ve realised that my advice to  “eat when you are hungry” can even make this pre-emptive eating worse. I want you to eat when you’re genuinely hungry, but sometimes it’s very hard to tell, and the cues we’ve talked about above can make you feel kind-of-hungry.  If you train your brain to expect to get fed in response to every little twinge, you will probably end up over-eating.

So what’s the answer?

There clearly isn’t a simple answer. I have to say that those clients who listen to the hypnotherapy CD regularly do seem to get the urge to eat less.  It’s clear that the unconscious mind is hugely influential in all this, and the hypnotherapy CD talks directly to it.  (It even worked on me – after I recorded the CD I found I couldn’t over-eat even if I wanted to! It was as if I hypnotised myself while recording it)

My suggestions:

  • Play around with letting yourself get a bit hungrier, just as an experiment.  Often it’s not so bad, and you may realise that you are consistently eating just a bit too soon. (All the advice on having to eat breakfast, etc, is being questioned at the moment.) 
  • Notice your “trained eating cues”.  Are there things that advertisers, your parents or just life circumstances have trained you into taking as a cue to eat? You may even feel “hungry” in response to these cues.  See if you can wait a while before you eat, rather than responding in drooling Pavlovian style.  This will start to “untrain” the response.
  • Notice if you feel the urge to eat a specific food. If you fancy something in particular (and wouldn’t want to eat something solid or boring) you may be responding to a cue that isn’t really hunger. If you’re genuinely hungry, you should be happy to eat pretty much anything edible!
  • Start to observe how things like portion size, plate size, company, room temperature, alcohol, etc affect how much you eat. If you can manipulate your environment to make it easier not to over-eat, why not do it?
  • Beware of foods high in sugar, particularly if they also contain salt and fat (and this includes most junk food). These foods seem to have a special effect on the brain which makes them very good training aids for the food companies! Your brain finds them rewarding even when you’re not hungry.

The book “The End of Overeating” by David Kessler includes more information on this research.




Tribal Wives

I have recently watched a few of these programs where a workaholic woman from London spends a month with a tribe in some remote jungle in Indonesia or Africa.

The woman gets a very different perspective on life, and the tribeswomen get to have a good laugh about the fact that she’s 38 and not married yet!

One thing that strikes (and bothers) me is the number of tribes in which women undergo some form of ritual mutilation such as teeth sharpening. In many cases, the mutilation must be extremely painful. In some cases, men are also mutilated but these mutilations tend to be of the “short sharp shock” type from which the men recover, whereas women often have things inflicted on them which will affect them for the rest of their lives.

For women, the mutilation is often about being “beautiful” and acceptable for marriage.

Of course such mutilation has happened in many societies over the years, from corsets in Victorian times to the horror of foot binding in China.

These “customs” often render women less strong and capable and more compliant and dependent on men than they would otherwise be, as explained with regard to foot binding:

“During the 1100s the governor Chu Hsi criticized the wornen of Fujian Province for being unchaste and enjoying too much freedom, and ordered them to bind their feet to the extreme. The tiny footed women would then no longer be free to leave the household as they pleased, or engage in the sexual freedoms enjoyed by men.”

One of the strangest aspects of these mutilations is the way the women accept and even embrace them because they are brought up to think of them as natural, normal and necessary. In fact older women often inflict these horrors upon their children and grandchildren.

Foot binding seems to us to be obviously horrific and abusive. But could something similar be going on in our culture?

How many women in our culture want to look like this?

skinny woman How many girls starve themselves because they want to be “slim and beautiful”? How many women wake up thinking about what they are going to eat, obsess about food all day and go to bed vowing to be “good” the next day? What could they achieve if that energy was put into other endeavours?

The woman is this picture may be naturally this shape (although her breasts don’t look very natural!) or she may have an eating disorder. She’s almost certainly airbrushed. Is wanting to look like this really so different from wanting 3 inch long feet?

Will future cultures look back at our culture and its obsession with slimness and marvel at the insanity of it just as we do about foot binding?

Does the devil in your mind really doom you to diet failure?

One of my clients, Kate, called me the other day in a bit of a dither. She had just had a terrible binge, in which she felt completely out of control with her eating. She said she had been eating like her labrador and, having seen said labrador dining, I knew this was serious. Kate wanted to understand what had gone wrong, because before this incident she had been very successful with the enlighten programme weight loss course and had not binged for a long time.

We talked about what Kate had eaten that day (same as normal), whether she was upset or angry about anything (no), whether she had let herself get very hungry (no), whether she had stopped listening to the hypnotherapy CD (no). Nothing seemed to have changed and we were about to give up, when she said: “I did read this thing in the Daily Mail about dieting… I don’t suppose that could have triggered anything…” Whilst I am not a great fan of the Daily Mail, I haven’t previously held it responsible for eating binges.

Kate had read an article in the Daily Mail called: “How the devil in our mind dooms us to diet failure”. The article said that there is a little “devil” inside us that wants to eat chips and chocolate and a little “angel” that fights with the devil to make us eat good stuff (all very Old Testament). Some of us have stronger angels than others and those people are better at choosing Celery Surprise in preference to steak and chips.

Kate had read this article and had jokingly told her husband about her “devil”. Then suddenly, she got an irrestable urge to eat (and eat, and eat, at high speed).

After a bit more reflection and a conversation with her unconscious mind (using a technique which she learned on our home study course), it turned out that the part of Kate responsible for her eating didn’t like being called a devil and had had a bit of a tantrum. Once she acknowledged that it was not a devil and was actually on her side, things went back to normal.

It’s true that there are some areas in life where there is a conflict between the hedonistic part of you which would rather sit and watch “Britain’s Got Talent” and the responsible part that knows you’ve got work to do. However, your relationship with food doesn’t need to be like that.

When things are working well, you should feel the urge to eat healthy foods and enjoy just small quantities of things like chocolate or junk food. I think it goes wrong for so many people when they start eating foods full of sugar and chemicals (and this includes some “healthy” low fat breakfast cereals and snack bars) because our bodies and brains can’t cope with the addictive nature of these foods. The other big problem is when we make certain foods “bad”, causing them to take on a tantalising “forbidden fruit” quality.

It is possible to get to a point where food is a pleasure not a battle. Perhaps Kate’s unconscious mind was reminding her that if you choose to go into battle with your body and your unconscious mind, you’ll probably lose.

As I thought whilst trying to get my friend’s very unwilling horse onto a horse box yesterday, if you’re going to pick a fight, it’s not a good idea to pick one with someone bigger and stronger than you!

10 Things You Need to Know about Losing Weight?

For years, mainstream doctors have been saying:

  • To lose weight you just need to eat less and do more; if you get hungry, tough – you have to resist it;
  • A calorie is a calorie is a calorie – it doesn’t matter where it comes from;
  • You must reduce fat especially saturated fat if you want to lose weight;
  • Exercise is good for you but it doesn’t actually “burn” very many calories;
  • Cereal and skimmed milk is a good breakfast (being low in calories and fat).

However, when I ask my clients to record what they eat and notice how it makes them feel afterwards (e.g. do they get hungry again very quickly or crave sweet foods later) and when I encourage them to eat what they really feel like, they notice that:

  • Allowing themselves to get very hungry backfires because they can then no longer control what they eat;
  • It makes a huge difference where their calories come from in terms of how the food makes them feel and how much they eat at the next meal;
  • They seem to be able to eat full fat dairy (in reasonable moderation) and still lose weight;
  • Exercise makes a big difference to the amount of weight they lose;
  • If they eat a protein breakfast such as eggs (free range please!) they don’t get hungry mid morning and don’t crave chocolate;

Now, lo and behold, “scientists” have shown that my clients were right. In the programme “10 things you need to know about losing weight” on Wednesday, it was confirmed that:

  • If you get too hungry, you can’t control yourself – your unconscious mind takes over;If you eat protein, it does keep you going much longer;
  • The calcium in dairy stops you absorbing as much fat;
  • Exercise increases your metabolic rate for a long time after you finish exercising;
  • It’s good to eat eggs for breakfast.

The sad thing is that for years, doctors have been giving people bad advice. And yet, if people are encouraged to respect themselves and listen to their own bodies, they actually work these things out for themselves!

Intermittent Fasting

As I may have mentioned before, my Dad has never been one for moderation. When we were children, he read a book by John Yudkin called “Pure, White and Deadly” and this resulted in all sugar-containing items from our cupboards being hurled onto the back lawn “for the birds”. He then read about fibre and suddenly, instead of the bug-eaten apples from our tree turning into apple pie or apple crumble, they were stewed, with added bran – yum! The real low point was when they were stewed (with added bran) IN THEIR SKINS!

So recently when he announced that he would now only be eating every other day, I wasn’t particularly surprised. “It was on Horizon and in New Scientist” he said. “Stops you getting dementia and makes you live longer.” (He didn’t need to lose weight, having obsessively walked a minimum of 10,000 steps in the hills each day for the last 900 plus days.) However, when several of my sensible friends – who are much less prone to wild enthusiasms – also went onto this regime, I thought I’d better do some research!

So, what is intermittent fasting? Basically it is any regime that involves periods where you eat what you like and periods where you eat nothing or very little. There are lots of different ways of doing this, but in the popular 5:2 approach, you restrict calories severely (to 500 for women and 600 for men) on two days a week and eat what you like on the other five. Recently it has been suggested that intermittent fasting can help with weight loss, insulin function (diabetes, heart disease) and even dementia and cancer.

So – is it a good idea?

The New Scientist article and the Horizon programme were very positive about intermittent fasting. However, most of the research has been carried out on males (many of them rats, but far more male humans than female!) The research on women is less clear cut and the effects of fasting appear to be very different between men and women.

If you google “intermittent fasting women” there is some useful information including a very detailed blog post by Stefani Ruper. If you just want a summary, see below for my take on it.


There seems to be some evidence that “grazing” (especially on carbs) is not a good idea as your body is constantly having to release insulin. Fasting gives your body a break from this and there is some evidence that it improves insulin function (although the evidence is clearer for men than women.)

Intuitive eating programmes like mine encourage you to eat when hungry and not get over-hungry. However some people who are very afraid of getting hungry may interpret this as “don’t ever let yourself get hungry” and end up eating even when not hungry, to avoid getting too hungry (pre-emptive eating!)

For these people, intermittent fasting can sometimes help them to realise that they can get hungry and they won’t actually die!

Intermittent fasting may help you remember what it is like to be genuinely hungry – this is something you need to know!

Some people find it easier to eat a rigidly defined small amount some days and what they like other days than to eat moderately all the time. It can remove the constant thoughts of food that many people have, as there is no “shall I or shan’t I?” decision to be made. So, it may be an easier way to lose weight than permanent moderation. It can be a way to reduce food intake without feeling you are “dieting” because you know you can always eat lots tomorrow!
It can be an effective way to lose weight, but it really needs to be a long term lifestyle choice, otherwise it is just another diet and you’ll put the weight back on when you stop.


If you aren’t overweight (and particularly if you haven’t gone through the menopause), I don’t think the research at this stage supports using intermittent fasting for health reasons (e.g. to prevent dementia or generally prolong life.)

Fasting may make you feel very alert and energised. However if this translates into not being able to sleep, you may feel good short term but actually be technically stressed. Long term you may compromise your adrenal glands.
Some women actually gain weight when they start fasting. I assume the body interprets this as a stressor/ indicator of famine to come and finds a way to put on weight.

If you have a history of eating disorders, I wouldn’t recommend it. It is easy to get obsessive and go “just a bit longer”.

It may push you back into the “diet mentality” where your brain and/or body assumes food is scarce and urges you to eat more and store more fat.

As with all eating approaches, there is no right answer. You just have to experiment. Looking into IF has caused me to experiment with eating breakfast later if I’m not hungry first thing. Previously I thought I needed to eat something before mucking out the horses or I’d feel weak. But (especially if I eat low carb the day before) I can wait till 10am or even later some mornings before I’m hungry. If I had an early supper the night before, that is actually quite a long time without food. Some people find that having an “eating window” of say 10am to 6pm gives them the benefits of a fast without getting too hungry.

So, the bottom line seems to be – listen to your body! Intermittent fasting MAY help you lose weight, get more in touch with what it really feels like to be hungry, lose a fear of hunger and/or stop obsessing about food. However, it may have the opposite effect! And it could make you ill if you overdo it and don’t listen to your body, particularly if you are already thin.

One thing I would take from the positive research on IF is that it is perfectly safe to let go of any belief that you “need” to eat breakfast or three meals a day, or indeed any other dictate that makes you eat when you’re not hungry! Whatever you try, approach it with a spirit of exploration as to what works for your body, and be gentle on yourself (i.e. remember those Enlighten Programme principles!)


I had to take notice when the third person in three days mentioned MS type symptoms that had disappeared on giving up diet drinks.

I knew that diet drinks could have weird effects on appetite and weight, but MS? Surely not!

So, I decided to do a bit of research about aspartame, and it caused my bottles of tonic water (not slimline but they still contain aspartame) to go straight into the bin.

Firstly, the story of the approval of aspartame is a shocker.

The compound was discovered in the late 1960s by a company called G.D. Searle. Searle carried out various tests to check its toxicity. Unfortunately, it was found out later by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that Searle had faked many of the results. They had done some quite shocking things like removing tumours from live animals to conceal toxic effects.

As another example, there was a 46-week toxicity study of hamsters where G.D. Searle had taken blood from healthy animals at the 26th week and claimed that the tests had actually been performed at the 38th week. Many of the animals from which G.D. Searle claimed had blood drawn from were actually dead at the 38th week.

In 1980 The Public Board Of Inquiry voted unanimously to reject the use of aspartame until additional studies on aspartame’s potential to cause brain tumors could be done. The PBOI was particularly concerned about an experiment where rats received aspartame and a much higher percentage of animals in the aspartame group developed tumors than in the control group.

However, Searle weren’t going to accept this. In 1977, they had appointed Donald Rumsfeld as their president. According to a former G.D. Searle salesperson, Patty Wood- Allott, in 1981 Donald Rumsfeld told his salesforce that, if necessary, “he would call in all his markers and that no matter what, he would see to it that aspartame would be approved that year.”

On July 18, 1981 aspartame was approved for use in dry foods by FDA Commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr. overruling the Public Board of Inquiry. Intially it was still regarded as dangerous in drinks, but it eventually got approval despite the fact that independent tests linked it with brain tumours, mood disorders, siezures, “paradoxical effects on appetite” and about 80 other symptoms from the mild to the deadly.

The United Press reported on October 12, 1987 that more than 10 federal officials involved in the NutraSweet decision took jobs in the private sector linked to the aspartame industry. Basically people in public office who supported aspartame were rewarded with high paying jobs in the industry once they left public office.

Having read this, I was no longer very surprised about the MS symptoms. I also found out that the incidence of MS in young women is rising rapidly and that it now affects four times as many women as men (whereas it used to affect twice as many women). We know who drinks the most Diet Coke, don’t we?

Aspartame is also reported to be particularly dangerous for children.

I have found out quite a lot more that is really too detailed to go into here but please do comment or get in touch if you have any questions or personal experiences.

Bear in mind that aspartame may be called Nutrasweet, Equal, Candarel or E951.

This post has been moved from another blog, so the comments below have just been copied over.

Showing 9 comments


I have two brief and interesting stories about Nutrasweet , both involving my sister who was an avid fan of aspartame.
She used to date a chemical engineer who worked with the company who produced Nutrasweet and he wouldn’t touch anything containing aspartame with a ten foot pole! But that didn’t raise any alarm bells for her, and she continued to drink a minimum of three diet Cokes a day, and add sweeteners to her breakfast cereal and hot beverages.
She began to notice “tingling” sensations in her legs and feet, and weakness on one side of her body. An MRI was done which showed some “white spots ” on the brain, which her physician stated could be very early signs of MS,but not to worry as the MRI was very sensitive and detected things much earlier than symptoms would appear!
These sensations in her lower limbs would come and go, and over the course of a few years did progress to the point of intermittent weakness on one side of her body which was worse on arising (in the morning).
By chance, an office email was sent to her which described symptoms that she had experienced , which had been linked to asparame. After a few days without Diet Coke she noticed a huge difference , the weakness and strange sensations were no longer a problem!
I personally can’t bear the taste of artificial sweetners, and am so sensitive to the taste. It’s as if my body can detect it, and reject it.

02/24/2010 08:46 PM

This is interesting – we gave up aspartame about 8 years ago – my husband had been ill and someone mentioned ms type symptoms. A friend mentioned aspartame and on researching found info about it mimicing symptons of lots of illnesses including ms let alone the implications for dieters! Haven’t knowingly had it since.

02/23/2010 08:41 PM


I refuse to buy reduced sugar drinks for my children because of this research Roz. Interestingly my food shop recently contained a bottle of “no added sugar” squash, I’ve been drinking it and have found that I have a permanent sweet “taste” in my mouth and I am convinced that it is the sweetner in this bottle. I had a drink last night and have had my normal tea all day, but I can still taste it.

02/22/2010 12:25 PM

Antoine Clarke

I’m not a fan of restricting sugar for children, unless they have a metabolism disorder. It seems to be fashionable to attribute bad behaviour to “too much sugar,” but I suspect a combination of parents not setting boundaries, bribing children with too many sweets, and children not playing in the street enough.

I might be accused of being flippant, but concerning child obesity, with due notice given of metabolic disorders, I blame the government. Too much crime outside means children are locked indoors (government’s fault for not having more effective police and courts and too lenient with criminals). Too much taxes means parents have to work too long hours (so less energy to play with children, set boundaries, cook healthier meals, not bribe with sweets, etc). Too much trust in “let the government deal with education/health/social security” etc means people don’t look after themselves.

I note that in my neighbourhood, excessive local taxes mean that only cafes and convenience food outlets can operate, so I blame local government for the proliferation of junk food availability!

02/23/2010 06:12 PM

This would mean more if you cited your sources. There is a lot of information out on the internet about aspartame; likewise, there is also a lot of misinformation as well.

Vague statements such as:
“We know who drinks the most Diet Coke, don’t we?” and
“Aspartame is also reported to be particularly dangerous for children.”
are particularly unhelpful.

As a parent of two young children, I obviously don’t want to put them at any risk (although perhaps just being born and living isn’t actually that good for you, when you start looking at the world today). However, as a scientist, I want more than just heresay and supposition to back up the changes I make.

02/22/2010 07:04 AM
Roz Watkins

I am a scientist too and I agree that there is a lot of information and misinformation out there. I know there have been hoax letters about the effects of aspartame. However when three people I trust mentioned MS-like symptoms that had disappeared on stopping it, I thought this was worth a mention, although I know it’s anecdotal and I know it could be the placebo effect.

I didn’t want to go into too much detail and include lots of evidence on the blog because it is intended to be short and readable. It is aimed primarily at those who didn’t realise there were any questions about aspartame’s safety. It flags this up as a possible concern and they can then get in touch for more information or do their own research.

I have endeavoured to look at peer reviewed research and multiple sources of information, and if you would like a list of these, do let me know (the list is quite long!)

But I agree it is very hard to determine the truth because everyone has an agenda. There seems to be a strong correlation between funding source and the outcome of research. Basically there is no definitive view and mine certainly isn’t definitive. I hope readers who are interested will do their own research and make up their own minds.

02/22/2010 08:53 AM


Thanks for the article. Aspartame has had rumours milling around about it’s vicious make up for years and it’s about time the truth came out. Money covers up so many things in this world and if only we knew the half of what we were putting into our bodies… my partner has MS and I have been trying to get her to change to raw sugar as a substitute but she is forever reluctant as she believes it to be heresay. Personally, I think a partially raw product such as brown sugar is always going to be better than a chemical substitute… we wonder why cancers are slowly eating away our loved ones… chemicals are the new fresh food and it should never have gone that way… but we as humans are very lazy and want quick fixes at any cost.

02/21/2010 07:47 PM


Scary isn’t the word for this. We are not walking but racing into human disaster. Difficult to know where to avoid all these money spinning schemes which mess up our health. You may as well forget any responsible action from our supposed democratic system of government. For a start it isn’t democratic and has more interest in “expanding the economy” and covering up on MPs’ expenses than applying itself to a sane approach in the interests of its citizens. Sorry, not citizens as we don’t have that right, I should have said subjects.

02/21/2010 06:41 PM

How Statins and a low fat diet nearly killed my Dad

My Dad has written an article about his experiences with statin drugs. He was put on these a few years ago when, despite being a slim, fit, healthy non-smoker, his heart disease risk was deemed high because his cholesterol levels were above the new recommended limit. Here is his story:

“Six years ago I walked into my doctor’s surgery a healthy 68 year old and walked out a man diagnosed with a potentially fatal condition.

I thought I was fit and well. That summer I had rowed in an eight miles Celtic Longboat race and prepared for this by six weeks of tough training. I regularly walked the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, went hiking in the Preseli Hills and enjoyed sea kayaking. And the doctor’s initial checks seemed consistent with this: my blood pressure was 115/80; my resting pulse in the mid 50s; my weight 150 lbs; no signs of sugar in my blood; my BMI in the low 20s. All that was left was to check my cholesterol.

Returning for the result I was told that my GP wanted to see me. He said that new government advice had lowered the figures regarded as healthy for cholesterol. My cholesterol figures were now considered high. I was told that a high cholesterol puts you at greater risk of a heart attack. He offered free statins on prescription. So one minute I am active and very fit and the next I am offered statins as a precaution against a heart attack.

“I am not saying you should take them but this is the official government advice,” said my doctor.

Neither my wife (who is a doctor) nor myself, after much discussion, could see the need for these powerful drugs. Again, suppose I have a heart attack or stroke which they could have prevented. The two saddest words in the language are said to be “if only.” The government advice was clear, that statins offer exceptional protection against heart disease and other illnesses. Their benefits, they claimed, outweigh any possible side effects. They do not come cheap and are a vastly expensive cost on the NHS. I decided to take them.

“You will need to have a liver function test before you begin and then regularly to make sure they have not caused liver problems,” said the nurse. So, my healthy liver has to be checked every six months to ensure this drug does not wreck it. I still wonder why I did not see the irony, never mind stupidity, of what I was doing?

At this time statins had been hyped as the next wonder drug. I read that the majority of cardiologists over 50 in the USA were taking statins. In the USA the pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing drugs than they do on research and development. Drug trials are often conducted by companies with a strong financial incentive to find the drugs effective.

What was not publicised is that high cholesterol does not cause heart disease. Nor does a high fat diet, saturated or not, affect blood cholesterol levels. Nor that the beneficial effects of statins are so minor for most people that they are not worth taking. Why spoil a nice piece of hype with some facts?

Side effects, some horrible, are ignored, denied or attributed to other causes. Doctors are overworked and don’t necessarily have time to question government advice; politicians are ignorant and just possibly influenced by drug companies; and the public is anxious and perhaps a little too trusting. Statins are the most profitable drugs ever and the pharmaceutical companies earn billions of pounds from them.

Within a few weeks a print out of my cholesterol reading from the surgery showed that the figures had almost halved. My liver was still normal. I remember poring over the low cholesterol figures, in the surgery, with my wife. We were delighted. The euphoria turned out to be brief.

Within weeks I became depressed, lethargic and fatigued. I had accepted the conventional dietary advice of fruit, vegetables, wholemeal bread, soya replacing milk and an olive oil spread replacing butter, and my weight had soared to 164 lbs. My love of exercise had gone. I had no interest in reading and writing and my memory had deteriorated dramatically. One day, after forcing myself to walk for twenty minutes, I feared that I might not be able to get home. My thighs ached, my legs felt weak and I was leaning in distress against a grass bank. I didn’t connect my failing physical and mental health to statins.

“This must be it,” I thought. “I’m knackered. Old age has hit me at last.” I dragged myself home. Grasping at straws I wondered if something in my diet had affected me? Did I have some kind of virus? Or was I now just old and decrepit?

The following week I read an article in The Sunday Times about the under reported and damaging side effects of statins. Doctors, having recommended statins, were none too keen to attribute ill health to them. By now statins were being distributed on prescription for healthy patients. This, of course, is the Holy Grail of money making for a pharmaceutical company: a drug that healthy people consume to stop them becoming unhealthy. And the state picks up most of the bill.

I followed some leads from the Sunday Times article via the Internet and bought my first book about statins and cholesterol. This was The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol cause Heart Disease by Uffe Ravnskov M.D., Ph.D . Looking at the evidence, the research and the medical history produced a profound attitude change. I then read The Diet Delusion by Gary Taubes and The Great Cholesterol Con by Anthony Colpo.

I became convinced that the government advice on diet, cholesterol and statins is damaging to health. I, and millions of others, were the victims of a massive con while huge sums, funded by NHS budgets, flowed into the coffers of the pharmaceutical companies. Nothing convinced me as much as relating the damaging effects of statins, described in the literature, to my own experience.

I read that low cholesterol leads to reduced serotonin levels in the brain which leads to depression. Statins are associated with polyneuropaphy which amongst other problems causes difficulty in walking, decreased sensation in hands and feet and fatigue. I could have been reading about myself.

I stopped taking statins. My wife asked, “Are you sure? Before you decide you had better listen to this.” “This” was a consultant cardiologist on a phone in BBC programme advising that a caller should start taking statins as a preventive move.

“I have already stopped,” I said. By this time my symptoms were so similar to those I had discovered from my reading that I was convinced that statins were the cause. In three weeks my depression had lifted and I was soon as physically active as before. I also returned to my previous diet.

I drink organic full cream milk, eat butter and cheese and every day I eat eggs from our own chickens. My weight is again 150 lbs. Most of the diet advice peddled by the government and the diet gurus is wrong. We need fat as the brain cannot function without it. The villain in the diet is not fat but carbohydrates.

The foisting of these powerful drugs, with major side effects, on to healthy people continues. When this is allied to perverse dietary advice, supported by the government, the results are before us: an obesity epidemic. We cling to diet advice as if we were religious fundamentalists wedded to a faith. Accept the received wisdom. Do not question or you will suffer. And never think for yourself. ”

I saw the change in my Dad when he went on these drugs. But initially even the family didn’t question the wisdom of the government recommendations. Initially we trusted the advice Dad had been given.

The drug companies use statistics in clever ways that are very difficult to understand. You might be told “This drug reduces your chance of having a heart attack by 30%” Sounds good? What if they said:”If 1000 men with your health profile took this drug for 5 years, it would prevent one death”. This could be the same drug. It’s about how you present the figures. You need to ask about “all cause mortality” because the drug companies will say that statins reduce your chance of a heart attack but they won’t mention that they increase your chance of dying of other causes. And you need to ask about “numbers needed to treat” i.e. how many people will have to take this drug for how long to save one life?”

Another possible question to ask your GP is: “Would you advise your own father/mother/brother to take this drug?” The doctors are often in a difficult position. They may not feel that they should go against government guidlines. Sometimes this question makes it easier for them to give an honest opinion. In fact, Dad’s GP said that he wouldn’t advise his own father to take statins in similar circumstances.

Here’s a website for statin victims, with links to research:

Here are the comments appended to a petition to investigate statins. It makes scary reading.

This blog post has been moved from another website, so these comments have just been copied over:

Showing 1-10 of 19 comments

Marie (Guest):

i am taking statins, even though my cholestrol was only 4. i have high blood pressure, and an ecg showed i’d suffered a mild heart attack, caused by Vioxx a drug used for arthritis, i had been on Vioxx 3years, this was over 7/8 yrs ago approx. So i was put on statins as a precaution. I have lost weight, but have no appetite no energy, panick attacks depression, memory is terrible and i can’t remember or store any information, if you told me your name ,i will forget it before end of conversation, i have to write everything down, like app.I have no energy, depression, sleepless nights, muscle pain, and joint pain, and irratible leg syndrome,I am now 8st 2ib down from 9st 13ib.i use d to rid e my horse, walk every where,now i won’t go out and mix. I also have IBS. My life is constant pain, i am 61 and feel like 100.i now have no interest in my home, I love my partner dearly. but have lost all interest in the bedroom, i am emotionaly drained. so i am now going to stop the statins for 1month and see if coming of them makes a difference. i can relate to others on here and found their experiences have helped me. i thought i was a total neurotic.

  • This is exactly what would be expected based on an objective assessment of the science. If you look at an article on the Number Needed to Treat website you will find that for those who do not have heart disease after 5 years treatment with statins absolutely zero lives were saved. On the other hand at least 10% suffered from side effects such as muscle pain. here is a link…
    But it gets worse because in men and women over about 60 years old, when most deaths actually occur, the higher the blood cholesterol value, the greater the life expectancy.
    Current government policy is a scandal but unfortunately no-one in a position
    to change things is prepared to listen.

  • Pat

    I am only 45 years old and had perfect health except a slight increase in cholesterol, depsite following a fat free vegetarian diet. The local doctor bullied me into taking statins and after years on them, I now have permanent nerve damage in both my hands and feet and my life is completely ruined- as I have burning pain every day of my life. I cannot even exercise now without burning pain. Statins should be taken off the market! No one should take them!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Plus, high fat diets do not make cholesterol go up significantly- high cholesterol is a liver issue! Fats don’t affect this, but sour/acid foods and drinks with high acid content do. I am a health care professional and have studied food science and chemistry for 14 years. The American info on the amrket is 50 years outdated.Acids cause bile obstruction which affect LDL receptor function, etc.

  • Donwhite68

    You are eating too many carbs and not enough protien. I am far healthier as a meat eater than ANY of my veggie leaning friends.

  • Lionel

    It is not as simple as presuming that everybody’s needs are the same.

  • Rozwatkins

    So true. Some people thrive on a veggie diet and others feel better eating more meat. The only diet which no-one seems to thrive on is the Western diet of processed junk and sugar!

  • Rozwatkins

    Thanks for commenting. I’m so sorry to hear your story about statins. It makes me so angry the way they are handed out like sweets (not that sweets are so great for you either!) As far as I am aware there is no research suggesting they help women in any way. I hope now you are off them (and also off the low fat diet) you will gradually improve although I realise repairing nerve damage is a long process.

  • Sa11yann

    Thank you for this, my daughter suggested I read this as I too have no energy and have put on weight. I am going back to my Doctor!

  • Rose

    There is an interesting piece in Easy Living magazine July 2010 called “Why does this young, fit, healthy woman have high cholesterol?” It describes the conflicting advice she is given regarding her cholesterol status and how “dangerous” this supposedly is. It also talks about statins and Co-enzyme Q10.

  • Denis Watkins

    Please do not be lulled by the bland comments of Chris. I and many others went to our doctors. If you think this is a “silly” blog you might try the paperback “the Great Cholesterol Con” by Dr Malcolm Kendrick published by published by John Blake in 2007. If that doesn’t convince you nothing will. And I suspect Chris is beyond convincing. But for all I know he may have excellent reasons why he would prefer not to be.

  • Marilyn Lawrence Collapse

    My husband became an invalid, after taking statins prescribed for a slightly raised cholesterol level. He became depressed, uninterested in any aspects of life, and worryingly, eventually was unable to walk more than a few yards without becomong breathless, and unable to tackle hills at all.
    Then, someone pointed out that statins reduced the amount of co-enzyme q10 available for cellular activity, and especially to heart cell muscle. My husband began a course of co-enzymes, and ” woke up ” . He was able to walk normal distances, tackle hillls once again, and resume a normal active life. I had my husband back again.
    We then subsequently questioned whether it was helpful to take these statins at all, especially given the new research, which points away from cholesterol as causative in heart disease.
    The statins were duly abandoned, and we have never looked back.
    Typically, and sadly, our GP was not at all interested in the miraculous improvment in my husband’s health, only wanting him to return to them. What does that tell you about the emphasis in modern medicine ?

      • Roz

        Hi Marilyn, thank you for commenting and sharing your husband’s story. What a terrible experience for him but thank goodness he is now well again.
        I hadn’t heard about the the co-enzymes so that is very interesting.
        Thanks again.

      • Chris

        Publish this if you will. Nice story. All drugs have possible side effects and statins are no different. However, bear the following in mind.
        1. Governments and doctors make policy- not drug companies.
        2. Trials may be run by manufacturers but results are scruitinised before publication by independent doctors
        3. Since goingoff patent some statins now cost the NHS less than £3.50 per month. At that price they are not promoted by pharma companies so doctors are prescribing off their own back.
        4. All side effects should be reported to your doctor. Don’t just grumble and cease medication. He needs to know to build up evidence to see if side erects are common.
        5. We all know of people who have smoked 60 a day and lived into their 90s but smoking is still a killer.
        Some peopl who have read this far may really need this drug. Don’t scare them off with individual stories. If you are concerned….. Go and see your do for and stop Reading silly blogs!!!!!

      • Meg Learner

        1. Have you heard of lobby groups?
        2. But the manufacturers can pull certain results if they don’t like the outcome, so only the trials that show positive results for the drug in question are given to the scrutineers.
        3. Doesn’t necessarily make it correct, nor is this an argument in favour
        4. Agree
        5. Agree

      • Denis Watkins

        Since I wrote this article, and I now hope to have it published in a national newspaper, I have been amazed at the number, intensity and entirely understandable bitter resentment of the responses. So many people hurt and their health damaged. The effects hit families, relatives and friends as well. The outrage is also growing in the USA. The only way forward is exposure and that is what I hope will happen in the UK with more publicity. The depth of cynicism, and the determined cover up from the drug companies, beggars belief. I realise how very lucky I was to “get out in one piece.” I hope some benefit may come if all our efforts at exposure prevent this drug being inflicted on more victims. To my co victims and sufferer’s I send you my good wishes.

        Roz’s Dad

      • Scary indeed, Roz. I have forwarded to my sister as I believe her husband had a similar experience. Big Pharma at their worse.

      • mark, Nottingham

        Hi Roz,
        I have familial hypercholesterolemia and have been prescribed a variety of statins-Some have hospitalised me as I had a severe rise in my CK and Liver function. I am non smoking, swim 3 times a week and got to the gym 3 times a week and have normal blood pressure. I remember after taking one of the statins for 2 months laying on the sofa crying for no reason just wanting to die. Didn’t see the low mood coming as it was a gradual thing. A few days of ceasing them things returned to normal. No changes in my life just no statins. All statins cause me that much muscle pain I end up stopping doing excercise.Despite this my GP continues to want me to take them. I have been threatened by cardiologists that I am refusing treatment however I would argue that by keeping myself fit, normal weight and non smoking and I maybe refusing the statin but not advice. Out of interest 14 years ago I swapped to a veggie diet not due to animal rights but just due to cholestrol and reduced my cholestrol down from 12.9 (as a huge meat eater) to 7.8.

      • Roz

        Hi Mark, thanks for commenting. That’s really interesting. I suppose the issues are a bit more complex with your condition, but I can’t see how statins can be a good idea if they make you too ill to exercise and severely depressed! Sounds like you are taking a very sensible approach.

      • Annie

        I totally agree with this article. I was a reasonably fit, 48 year old women, eating a healthy diet, when I was told I had high cholesterol at a work health check. Off I went to my GP who after a blood test agreed my level was unacceptably high – about 8 – apparently anything over 5 is high. I was prescribed statins. After about 6 months, I was lethargic, permanently exhausted, but the worst symtom was aching legs at night. I did a bit of research and have come of them approx three months ago and feel much better. Although I’m still not back to my level of exercise, I will get back to it now the summer his here. I feel I have lost about six months of my life. I feel that the NHS are prescribing statins without giving patients ALL the information. I had no other risk factors, so why was it given to me, I should have been more informed.

      • Roz

        Hi Annie, thanks for commenting and helping this situation become more widely known. What a terrible experience for you. It’s shocking that a relatively young and healthy woman should be prescribed these drugs. My understanding is that there is no good evidence that they even help women with heart disease, let alone healthy women. Well done for doing your own research and getting off them.

GM foods and mutant hamsters

Until recently, I hadn’t come down strongly on one side or the other in the GM foods debate. I thought there could be benefits given the number of people we have to feed in the world, although better access to contraception and less food waste would seem a preferable (albeit less profitable) alternative.

However, having seen Monsanto’s antics in the film “Food Inc” I had a very uncomfortable taste in my mouth. They mercilessly misused the patent system to bankrupt farmers who stood in their way. I used to be a patent attorney and I know how possible this would be. (It’s one of the reasons I’m not a patent attorney any more!)

There are also some serious question marks over health risks. A study published by the International Journal of Biological Sciences found that rats ingesting GM corn for just 90 days were subject to statistically significant organ damage and raised triglycerides (associated with heart disease and diabetes.) The researchers stated:

“Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two
major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM
type. In addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood
cells were also frequently noted. As there normally exists sex
differences in liver and kidney metabolism, the highly statistically
significant disturbances in the function of these organs, seen between
male and female rats, cannot be dismissed as biologically insignificant
as has been proposed by others. We therefore conclude that our data
strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of
hepatorenal toxicity.[…] These substances have never before been an
integral part of the human or animal diet and therefore their health
consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time
periods are currently unknown.”

Monsanto dispute the findings and to be fair to Monsanto, there do seem to be some question marks over the study. However, it suggests that more research is needed, especially on the longer term effects, and this is something Monsanto are not rushing to encourage. After all, if you can see any effect at all in just 90 days, something pretty alarming is going on.

Here’s the paper:

In one of the few studies that did look at longer term effects, Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov fed GM soy to hamsters for 2 years over three generations of hamsters. By the third generation, the GM-fed hamsters were suffering from sterility and infant mortality. Some of the unfortunate hamsters even had hair growing inside their mouths.

There is more detail in this Huffington Post article:… And it includes a link to a website which shows pictures of the hair in the hamsters’ mouths, if you can stomach it.

These results can always be regarded as “inconclusive” but I will be avoiding GM foods where possible. I pity the poor US consumers who are not even given the courtesy of a label to tell them their products contain GM ingredients.