This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Dr. John Briffa. In his own words:
“Dr John Briffa is a practising doctor, author and international speaker. He is prize-winning graduate of University College London School of Medicine, where he also gained a BSc degree in Biomedical Sciences. Dr Briffa is a leading authority on the impact of nutrition and other lifestyle factors on health and illness. He is dedicated to providing individuals with information and advice they can use to take control of their health and optimise their energy and vitality.
Dr Briffa is a former columnist for the Daily Mail and the Observer, and former contributing editor for Men’s Health magazine. He has contributed to over dozens of newspaper and magazine titles internationally, and is a previous recipient of the Health Journalist of the Year award in the UK. He has been listed by Tatler magazine as one of the UK’s leading doctors, and has twice been on the judging panel of the prestigious Prince of Wales Integrated Health Awards.
Dr Briffa has authored eight books on the subject of nutrition and self-help health.
In addition to his work in clinical practice and writing, for the last 17 years Dr Briffa has regularly delivered talks, workshops and health programmes geared towards the optimisation of energy, effectiveness and sustainability in individuals within organisations. Corporate clients include Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Reuters, IBM, Bank of England, Morgan Stanley, Baker and Mackenzie, Bovis Lendlease, Danone, Clifford Chance, Eversheds, GE Money, GE Capital, BP, Skandia, SSL International and Norton Rose.
Dr John Briffa’s C.V. (resumé)
BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences – University College London (Department of Zoology) 1987
MB BS (Lond) University College London School of Medicine 1990
Current clinical positions:
Practitioner of Integrated Medicine – Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, London, UK
Practitioner of Integrated Medicine – Highgate Hospital, London, UK
GMC registration number:
Prizes and awards:
Tatler magazine – listed as one of the UK’s top private doctors – 2006
The London Paper – listed as one of London’s wellness gurus – 2006
Tatler magazine – listed as one of the UK’s top private doctors – 2005
UK Health Journalist of the Year 1998
Leopold Hudson prize in Surgery UCL Medical School 1990
University of London merit award in Surgery 1990
UCL Medical School prize for contributions to extra-curricular activities 1990
Escape the Diet Trap – lose weight without calorie counting, extensive exercise or hunger (4th Estate – 2012)
Waist Disposal – the ultimate fat loss manual for men (Hay House – 2010)
The True You Diet - the revolutionary diet programme that identifies your unique body chemistry and reveals the foods that are right for YOU (Hay House – 2007)
New Medicine – How to integrate complementary and conventional medicine for the safest and most effective treatment (contributor of nutrition section) (Dorling Kindersley – 2005)
Natural Health for Kids – How to give your child the very best start in life (Penguin – 2005)
Ultimate Health – 12 Keys to Abundant Health and Happiness (Penguin – June 2002)
BodyWise – 10 Steps to Permanent Weight loss and Well-Being (Cico Books – 2000)
Better Health through Natural Remedies (Marshall – 1999)
Food for Health (Marshall – 1998)
What’s the Alternative? (contributor) (Boxtree – 1996)
Total Living – A Complete Guide to Fitness and Well Being (contributor) (Pavilion – 1995)
Publications to which Dr Briffa has contributed include: Observer magazine, Observer Food Monthly magazine, Daily Mail, The Times, You magazine, Real, Healthy, Let’s Live, Health Issues, Men’s Health, Options, Healthy Eating magazine, Reader’s Digest, The Telegraph, The Sun, Holland and Barrett magazine, High Flyer, Pretoria News, Longevity Magazine (SA), Sunday Times (SA), Daily News (SA), Motivation of Champions (SA), The Star (SA), Pietermaritzburg Sun (SA), Die Beeld (SA), Odyssey Magazine (SA), Renaissance Magazine (SA), Shape Magazine (SA), Health and Sport Plus, City to Cities, High Flyer, Tennis World, The International Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, World of Travel, Nutrition Update, Living Well Magazine, Golf World, BioMed publications, Natural Product News, Green Farm Natural Health, Sunday Telegraph (Aus).
Radio broadcast contributions on a diverse range of subjects relating to diet and health include: The Today show (BBC Radio 4), You and Yours (Radio 4), The Food Programme (Radio 4) Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4), Radio 5 Live, LBC (Michael Van Straten Show), BBC Scotland, BBC Wales, BBC West Midlands, BBC Lancashire, BBC Jersey, BBC Forces Radio, BBC Newcastle, BBC Cornwall, BBC Lincolnshire, Plymouth Sound, Swansea Sound, Lincs FM, Gemini, BBC Hereford and Worcester, BBC Derby, BBC Nottingham, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, BBC Leicester, BBC Stoke, BBC Shropshire, BBC Greater Manchester Radio, Severn Sound, BBC Radio Cumbria, Plymouth AM, BBC Bristol, Moray Firth Radio, BBC Gloucester, BBC Thames Valley, Century 106FM, Alpha Radio, Quay West Radio, BBC Jersey and Guernsey, BBC Cleveland, Kestrel FM, BBC Essex, BBC Suffolk, BBC Norfolk, GWR FM, Wiltshire Sound, BBC Greater Manchester Radio, Dream 100 FM, The Wave, BBC Cambridgeshire, Vibe 101, Phoenix Radio, BBC Radio Orkney, BBC Radio Cumbria, South West Sound, Fresh AM, BBC Three Counties.
These include: ITN News channel (former regular contributor), Channel 4 News (several appearances), ITV News (several appearances), Channel 5 news (several appearances), BBC Good Food Live, Full-On Food (BBC1), Can’t Stop (BBC3), Children’s Health (Discovery Channel), GMTV – Lorraine Live (BBC1), This Morning (ITV), GMTV – Liz Earle (BBC1), The Locker (ITV2), Face Value (BBC1), ABC News (USA), Granada (Live Time), Special K Collection (Sky), Espresso (Channel 5) , European Business News (Sky), Second Opinion (Sky)
Dr Briffa has lectured extensively on the subject of nutrition and natural health to members of the public, health professionals and corporations in the UK, Europe, Canada, USA and South Africa.”
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Today’s show is going to be an epic one. I’ve already confirmed with today’s guest that we have to have him back on because I spent this entire weekend just enamored in his book, which is actually his eighth book. It’s called Escape the Diet Trap and I tell you, there must be some sort of shared genetic heritage here because I was reading this book just saying “Yes, Yes, Yes.”
I literally think we read the same studies. He is a brilliant man who is practicing out of the U.K. He is helping thousands of people to Escape The Diet Trap, which is the name of his book. You can learn more about him at drbriffa.com. Ladies and gentlemen today’s guest, Dr. John Briffa. John, welcome to the show.
Dr. Briffa: Hello, and thank you for having me and thank you very much for that introduction.
Jonathan: My pleasure John. Well let’s back up here John. The thing that struck me most about your book Escape the Diet Trap is that, so one, you are a doctor. In the U.S. you would be an M.D. In the U.K. you are called a, what does is it called? Sorry.
Dr. Briffa: We just call us doctors over here. Don’t stand firmly so just please call me John.
Jonathan: Okay. Well John, I wanted to call that out simply because when folks take a look at Escape the Diet Trap, they will see something very different than what they would see if they went to most doctors and ask most doctors how to lose weight. They would hear, you just need to eat less and exercise more. In fact you say that is a guaranteed path to failure. Why is there such a big difference between what you have found to be effective and what most doctors recommend?
Dr. Briffa: I think it all started when I have some personal experience of changing my own diet. I was actually a young doctor, I had not been qualified long. I put on a fair amount of weight during my six years at medical school. I was also in not a very good state of health to be perfectly frank. I felt very tired even when I sort of sleep, my sleep debt away if you like, when I met an elderly man who’s unwittingly opened my eyes to the idea that maybe my diet needed to be looked at.
I was laboring under the same misapprehension that everyone else has that actually eat a very carbohydrate rich diet. I was an avid runner in those days. I was doing a lot of cardiovascular exercise and anyway I ended up buying a book on nutrition reading it, deciding that I may have got things hopelessly wrong. I changed my diet and very quickly my health was transformed, so I felt more energized than I had in my whole adult life within a couple of weeks. I also lost the weight that I put on over six years in about six weeks and I hadn’t counted calories and I wasn’t running anymore. I didn’t have any time to run anymore, to be perfectly frank.
This led me off into thinking well, number one, diet is are important, it hadn’t really been considered before and number two, maybe we’ve got basic nutritional principles, conventional wisdom wrong. Maybe it’s just wrong, maybe it doesn’t really work and I ended up being so interested in the subject matter although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was going to switch careers but I did then switch careers and I started advising people in clinical practice about how they could take control of their own health, not just their weight.
Not all of my patient’s came because of weight but you know by fatigue or irritable bowel syndrome or skin problems or diabetes and how they could sort of basically get in control of that. I am naturally a curious person and I am also very, very interested, I think you are Jonathan, in the end result so I don’t fit in practice to sit there telling people to do things that just don’t work very well. That’s just not how I’m wired at all, so over the years the approach was refined somewhat. We are going to get hopelessly good results in patient’s but also again a more and more research came out.
I became more and more interested if you like in the research and then it became absolutely clear that not only was the approach that I was beginning to take in practice, affected, it was utterly evident based and it’s a marriage of those two things, what you find works in practices as you probably did back in the day and what the science shows. Ultimately, I think should inform us as people who are either practitioners or people seeking to educate people about how they can achieve their goals much more easily and ultimately this come out in the form of my writings, including my last book Escape the Diet Trap, where I attempt effectively to explain specifically why eating less and exercising more not only doesn’t really work for weight loss but can’t really work.
At some point, I enumerate ten specific reasons why eating that way or exercising that way essentially works against body, rather than with it to achieve weight loss and then also of course what works better both from a scientific standpoint, theoretically and also what the evidence shows and then what are you going to do about it. All good education should include some practical tips that the book obviously has in there as well but it was already written as sort of tape down of the calorie principle using a very scientific approach.
Jonathan: John, so many things to highlight here. So first, you have personally experienced and in practice have experienced and read the research demonstrating that this conventional eat less exercise more approach like it literary cannot work, not only does it not work in the real world but once you understand the physiology and neurobiology of the body, it can’t work. You also mentioned how you practice as a physician.
At the end of your education, your health was suffering and you then read a book on nutrition, implying that maybe the nutrition education provided to you when you are being trained as a physician was either nonexistent or inadequate or wrong and that lead you to the conclusion that diet is important. With your medical training, you received insufficient or inaccurate nutrition education. You then learned that diet was important but that how the medical community was presenting dietary information was basically backwards. This is so clear in practice and is so clear in the research, John so why isn’t it becoming main stream faster?
Dr. Briffa: Well I think, I don’t want this to be a political rant but I think commercials and economic considerations here. So, for example if you go with conventional wisdom, which is basically around calories, then you can for example as a food company, produce any rubbish and sell that to people something healthy on the basis that it’s got not very many calories in it but it can be absolute rubbish. You could eat carpet, not very many calories. It’s still not great. It’s also low-fat and high fiber carpet, but it’s still not great food, is it?
I think there is a slight of hand that goes on when the idea that fatty fattening and certain fats cause heart disease and so let’s have highly processed vegetable oils instead. First of all, I think practically all the conventional, nutritional wisdom is just plain wrong and every time I look at it, I see there’s usually a commercial explanation for it, so just to give you another example. I really cannot find any evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease. I just can’t find any and I look at that in the book and it’s explored there but why would you want to persuade people that saturated fat causes heart disease.
Now, some people do that completely unwittingly. They’re ignorant like I was years ago I believe saturated fat causes heart disease, why? Because that’s what people had told me and not because I’ve looked at the research, it’s just what people told me. It’s like sort of folklore. Now, why would people want you to believe that if they were doing it deliberately even though they know it’s not the case? Well, because then you can take food, reduce saturated fat or make something completely new like margarine compared to butter and then sell that to people on the assumption that eating less saturated fat is somehow inherently healthy.
Now, I actually think these four seasonal, whole cholesterol thing in particular because now we have pharmaceuticals of course in that area, is very significant because there’s a lot of lobbying power, there’s a lot of PR power there and if you repeat something long enough, hard enough, stridently enough, it generally gets accepted as fact even though when you look at the facts from a scientific perspective, it doesn’t stack up at all. I think some of it is an unwitting ignorance, all of us can be prone to but some of it is deliberate and I think the reality is that there is a lot of money to be made in misinformation and we are suffering at the hands of that.
All industries have a degree of misinformation and corruption, no doubt but the problem here, this is affecting, obviously people’s health and that’s like a fundamental right I think for people. I feel agitated and exercised about the idea that this amount of misinformation can go on because like you probably did, I see the results of this at first hand so I see people who, not only have failed at the hands of eating less and exercising more, they’ve also potentially wrecked their health and they’ve also potentially spent years beating themselves up because they felt that there must be something wrong with them because everyone knows that eating less and exercising more must work.
If it isn’t working for them, then the problem must be them, not the approach. There’s a whole bunch of things now that you’ve got physical and emotional that this person may be experiencing and suffering from as a result of basic misinformation. I am obviously keen like you are to skip away some of the myth and explore some of those things and then tell people what really looks to be the truth about how they can, for example, restore their health or control their weight much more easily.
That’s the key isn’t it because I see this in your own way Jonathan, much more easily than they’re being told. The reality is for the majority of individuals controlling weight is relatively easy when you know how. The problem is, you have to use the right approach and currently and historically, as you point out in your own work for the last few decades we’re being given explicitly the wrong approach.
Jonathan: John, I think it is important to highlight that you mentioned ignorance and not in a derogatory sense but unless someone gives us the correct information. This is not just something we’re born with, we aren’t just born with the knowledge of how human metabolism works although we do have pretty good common sense. We see people we say Tom is so lucky to have a fast metabolism and Mary is unfortunate that she has a slow metabolism and we kind of get that different bodies process different foods differently and that maybe there are things we could do to change the way our body processes food.
All too often, this ignorance as you mentioned and it sounds like you experienced personally is perpetuated because and I don’t want to put you in a position to say anything against anyone else here, so feel free to dodge this question if you would like, but your story is exceptionally interesting to me because you are a doctor.
You’re highly decorated, you’ve been on many shows, written many known noteworthy publications and when you left your medical training, you openly state you knew nothing or what you knew was wrong in terms of nutrition but most people and most doctors in that position are considered the experts, because they are a doctor, what they say is true, rather than because it’s true, it’s true, like there is a difference there, right?
Dr. Briffa: Yeah. You just reminded me of something on your video that I was watching on YouTube, where you say anthology is indictable and math is dictatable by biology and you’re absolutely right about that but getting back to your question, I do think that there are certain issues that we have in medicine that relate to the doctor/patient relationship and particularly… What I see is a lot of doctors basically buying into this notion that what they believe must be right as you’re alluding to and never really questioning am I or aren’t I and what is the basis for my knowledge and most importantly does it work when I apply it in my patient?
On the plus side, this is changing beyond all recognition I think because to be honest, 20 years ago, it would be very, very difficult for most individuals to know any better but now, with the advent of the internet in particular, there is unlimited amounts of information out there and there is always, not all of it is good but there is always a possibility that people can start to read things and start to think for themselves and start to take information to their doctor and choose not to see that doctor if they feel that they’re not being, for example, listened to or respected or whatever.
I see this happening more and more and more and a lot of doctors, I think are very disparaging about the internet because they refer to it as doctor Google and professor Wikipedia or whatever they do, do you know what I mean and that’s sort of…I am the one with the medical degree but the reality is, there are droves of people out there now who understand aspects of health, including nutrition way, way, way better than the average doctor and so a lot of individuals are now becoming their own doctors and they’re not referring necessarily to medical and health professionals like me. They’re sort of doing their own research, doing their own reading. Someone for example, you’ve got a book coming out and if someone were to read that book, I haven’t read the book but I know a bit about your work.
If they were, they’re probably going to understand, even if they from a standing start and they know nothing about nutrition or physiology or bio chemistry. In an afternoon they will probably have a much, much better grasp of nutrition, weight control, general health than their doctor has and I am being totally serious. Now, that is powerful in my view and I don’t think many of we doctors have got used to that notion now, not yet. It’s going to come presumably, at some point, we’re going to wake up and realize we have to get with the program.
Right now, to be perfectly frank, I think we doctors are becoming increasingly disenfranchised because basically, we haven’t really kept abreast of what’s going on and we’re being too easily led by the rhetoric that you get from the industries, like the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry. Anyway, everything is changing now and I am here to be positive about that and I am a great believer in people empowerment.
Jonathan: I couldn’t agree more in terms of that individual empowerment and how exciting it is and I also never mean to disparage the medical community. I think it is absolutely phenomenal. When people ask me, I just say for example primary care physician here in the U.S. there is so much they need to know I mean it’s just the sheer amount, they’re seeing patients, they’re interacting with people that is very different from reading these dense journal articles.
We actually I think tend to almost expect, I think too much from our doctors. I physically don’t know how and maybe you can tell me how a doctor because you do this, can see patient’s back to back to back for eight to ten hours per day and stay up on all the current research. It seems like generally, there are two jobs. There is the person who sees people and then the people who conduct research but we’re asking a primary care physician to be all things to all people. That seems like a lot.
Dr. Briffa: It is but I don’t let, we doctors completely off the hook. First of all, I agree with you. There are certain things that medicine does by the way, that I think is mere miraculous and for example a lot of trauma medicine and emergency medicine and surgery I think and it can be highly useful and a lot of my friends are doctors and I think a lot of them do very useful to work but I do see a bit of an attitude or a problem with some doctors where this is basic idea that they know what they know and they don’t need to know anything else and there isn’t really how can I put an appetite for reviewing their knowledge and going into areas that are going to be particularly useful to their patients.
They just sort of trot out, to be honest, conventional wisdom and I think some of it may be time constraints but some of it actually I think is attitude and that is something that I don’t find easy to deal with and I don’t agree with. I think sometimes we doctors have to work a little bit harder however… For example, last night, I had an email from what you would call a primary care physician but we call it general practitioner here in the U.K. and I’ve had three or four emails over the last year or so from him and he had the same problems that we all have with our patients; overweight, diabetes, high blood pressure.
He came across Escape the Diet Trap. He read it and then he started I know this is quite extreme, but he started buying copies for his patients and every few months he sends me an update of what’s happened. I got another update literally last night, this email came in and how many of his patients had fatty liver. This one in particular who had an enlarged, fatty liver and several months later, after applying the principles in Escape The Diet Trap her liver is entirely normal now.
How many people have come off their medication, their diabetes and high blood pressure medication for example and there is a person who clearly was not content with just giving conventional advise and not seeing great results in his patients. I would say, doctors don’t have to read Escape the Diet Trap but it is clearly possible that people can review their knowledge. Go again, learn again because as I don’t think I mentioned it but it is true, I didn’t have a single hour’s tuition in medical school on nutrition, which is a huge omission of course. You’ll understand that and many of your listeners will understand that.
What do you do in that situation? Sometimes you do have to go the extra yard and look for information that’s going to be more beneficial to your patients, then apply it and see whether it works just as this doctor has. Now, I don’t expect that of every doctor at all but what I do know is that when doctors do question their practice and question conventional medicine and the sorts of beliefs that we have around patient management, then that can often lead to a transformation in the way that that doctor thinks and then behaves and then obviously the most important thing, how that reflects in the health of their patients.
Jonathan: It’s very exciting John. I started recently using the phrase ‘a wellness renaissance’ because I think as you’ve captured so well in this call with the internet, with individuals like you, who are just getting these amazing results with books like, Escape the Diet Trap, we are on the verge and I think it’s inevitable, of ‘a wellness renaissance’ where we will start to see these amazing results and also see that accomplishing them is quite simple once you have the correct information.
I often use the analogy of a flat earth and how if you believe and you’ve been told that the earth is flat, it certainly makes sense to live in a certain way, like not to sail out too far because you may fall off the edge but once you know that the earth is round and for example that gravity exist and because of that the people on the “bottom of the earth” don’t fall off, it makes sense too but you have to have that new model.
Folks I cannot recommend any more highly John’s book, Escape the Diet Trap for understanding that new model of weight loss. We’re not here to throw anyone under the bus. We’re just here to say there was a model. Obviously that model is not working, look around. Also, if you want to look at the research you can. It’s very clear that it can’t work and there is a new simple model and John, I cannot wait to have you back on the show to discuss that alternative model.
Dr. Briffa: I would be delighted to come back. Thank you very much.
Jonathan: Well John, it’s been an absolute pleasure and what’s next for you?
Dr. Briffa: Well, literally today I handed in the manuscript of another book. This isn’t about weight loss. It’s really about how people can manage their total wellness and their total state, so I haven’t really considered what’s quite next because for the last few months I’ve been, you know what it’s like to write a book and also keep everything else running alongside that, so right now what’s next? I am going to take a week off, which I feel is deserved and then we’ll see what we get to after that but I’ll continue writing on my blog as we go and I’ve got an afternoon full of patients tomorrow afternoon.
Jonathan: Brilliant, brilliant! Well, listeners until we chat with Dr. John Briffa again, which we absolutely will, I have to give you one definite homework assignment and that is go to drbriffa.com, learn more about, I think, my brother from another mother here, because it just get, the more I talk with him, the more I’m like, we’ve got to meet Sir and check out his book Escape the Diet Trap. If you like anything about what you hear on this podcast, you will absolutely love that book. Dr. Briffa, thank you so much for joining us today.
Dr. Briffa: Thank you.
Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed this wonderful conversation as much as I did and please remember this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.
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