Who doesn’t want to be healthier, have bundles of energy and enjoy each day of their life? Dr Gillian McKeith is on a mission to knock the nation into shape, and she isn’t accepting any excuses.
By the second page of Dr Gillian McKeith’s ‘You Are What You Eat, the plan that will change your life’, the book that has been a best-seller for months, the message is already clear: anyone whether you are fat or thin, ill or healthy, old or young can eat better, feel better and get more out of life. With such a carrot dangling in front of your nose it’s easy to think ‘it won’t work for me’, ‘it’s too expensive’, ‘it’s too time consuming to make aduki beans and millet mash’, but read on and watch the excuses disintegrate. There is no hidden catch.
No wonder Channel 4’s programme ‘You Are What You Eat’ has been so successful. The only one who wasn’t surprised at its success was Gillian, but then again she does seem to be one step ahead.
"I did anticipate that it would take off the way it has because the programme is so different from anything else that was available at the time," she says. "It’s entertainment, it’s informative, it takes you to the edge and it has a shock value about food. I knew it would take off. I think it’s a combination of factors and also the country was ready, it was the right time. Before, many of these sorts of programmes had been banished to the satellite channels in the middle of the day. I never believed a prime time programme wouldn’t work. People were sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. Finally something came along that really grabbed their attention in a way that kept them interested through the whole programme. I knew all along that the way people were interviewed had to be punchy, that it had to maintain public interest from start to finish.
What you see on the show is the way I am. It is how I have learned to get the best results for people, it is how I am in my practice."
Gillian’s no nonsense approach has had the knee jerk reaction she needs from her patients to do what she says. But it’s taken years of practice in the field of nutrition for her to realise this is the approach that works, and this is how to get the best out of people.
"When I first started practising years ago I had a very different approach to dealing with people. I got results but I always felt I was falling short of where we could really be going.
Then one day that all changed. It was a Friday, the end of a very long week of patients saying ‘give me a magic pill for this. I’ve had some changes but I still don’t feel as good as I could feel’. My patients wouldn’t take nutrition to where I wanted to take it. They really wanted to swallow a pill like a vitamin pill and expect that everything would magically disappear. But it isn’t like that.
On that Friday a woman came in and plonked a bottle of vodka and a packet of cigarettes on the table and said, ‘I’ll do your diet honey, but I will not give these up.’
It was almost as if someone had lit a fuse inside my body and I was about to explode. Normally I’m not that sort of person and it’s quite hard to make me angry. But on this occasion I was boiling inside, I was livid – and when I replied to her it was almost as if the words coming out of my mouth were a speech bubble, it was so out of character. I said to her, ‘Get out.’ And this woman who was extremely polite said, ‘I beg your pardon?’ She was quite posh with an amazing accent; the way she spoke was very eloquent and quite intimidating. I continued, ‘I want you to leave; get out the door. How many different ways do you want me to say it.’
She was flabbergasted and said, ‘no-one has ever spoken to me like that before.’ I said it’s about time they did. It was a catalyst for me; I’d just had enough.
Then she burst into tears and said she’d had cancer and was in remission. ‘Cancer,’ I said, ‘and you are smoking and drinking?’ ‘I need someone to help me, I’m begging you,’ she replied.
I said, ‘there’s only one way I can help you, because I’m at my limit – you pour that vodka down the sink and chuck out those cigarettes,’ and she did. That was how we began and after that I changed my approach to everyone who walked into my office. Whatever was in my head I spoke it, and it worked.
I just realised that my energy and my time were being drained. I was allowing it so I stopped that and then the results became extraordinary. They were always good but then they took off to another level that wasn’t possible before when I was basically enabling these people to stay stuck, so by telling them the truth it changed everything.
In the case of one young woman, the parents wrote to me saying how they had pussy footed around their daughter for years, walking on eggshells and then I came along and she changed just like that."
Whereas today Gillian is living testimony to practising what she preaches, it wasn’t always that way. Gillian was brought up and went to university in Scotland studying linguistics, languages and business. As part of her language studies she went to Spain where she admits, "I ate absolute rubbish."
"When I lived in Spain I wanted to save money to travel, so I spent the money that I would have spent taking care of myself responsibly on travel." Even when she returned to Britain, Gillian continued to eat badly, until she went to America.
It was there at university that she became progressively unwell. "That’s how it all began," she recalls. "I ended up changing my life because of not being well. One of the catalysts was a macrobiotic seminar I went to in upstate New York. It was given by a woman called Elaine Nusvan (check spelling with GM) who probably doesn’t realise the effect she had on my life because I haven’t ever told her – but she changed my life. There she was standing on this little stage telling how she cured herself of cancer using macrobiotics, and I thought I’ve got to do something. From that moment on I learned as much as possible about macrobiotic food, food preparation, you name it I was there. That was when I started food counselling. Way before I came back to London I worked with clients in America about how food affects the body. I’ve been working in the field of nutrition for a very long time, well over 25 years.
The States gave me my training, the knowledge and the preparation that I brought over here. America has terrible food habits and people always blame America for the fast food nation concept. But in fact some incredible food theories and food practices have come out of the States. So much of my training is from America. Everything I know about food came from there. So on one hand they have this bad food concept and on the other they have this incredible amount of information about food which I felt I needed to bring back here.” Although Scottish at heart, and by birth, Gillian felt she needed to continue her work in London.
"I love Scotland, but I always felt that I was living outside of the world. I wanted to be where the action was which is why I went to America. This may sound a little far fetched but I had a lot of time in America when I was ill to be very still, to get close to myself. It was as if there was a voice inside me telling me that I had to go back, that something important was going to happen and I needed to be there. It kept repeating itself to me continually and I knew I had to go back. I don’t know how to describe it other than it was my inner voice."
Gillian is very tuned into intuition, our environment and the energy force of love. "I have discovered that the most powerful energetic influence for good health is the energy force of love.
Everyone should learn to develop their intuition – if you only live by your five senses you will be totally limited in your life. You need to learn to see beyond what you can think, see, feel, touch and smell. To know that if you can become still or become in touch with your own inner core that there is a sixth sense, but there is much more if you can just access that energy. I think that’s what I learned to do when I was unwell and spent so much time lying in my bedroom on my own, trying so much to find ways to make myself better. So meditation, visualisation, reading all kinds of informative books all contributed to change me. I was running around looking for someone to fix me, cure me, not thinking that it could be me."
Personal experience has given Gillian the edge she has today towards helping people and learning to see through the initial symptoms to a person’s emotional state.
"There is so much negativity in the world, and I do honestly believe having worked with so many people in America and here, that very often a hug goes a long way. I don’t want to sound like a hippy, but sometimes people just need love. Sometimes people just haven’t been loved or hugged or touched or had people telling them something positive. I’ve sometimes told something positive about them and they’ve said it was the first time anyone has ever said anything positive to them. And you realise this aspect of sending out love is really missing.
I think you can really turn any situation into a positive one if you want to. I do think people send out far too much negativity and it comes back to you."
Get to the end of ‘You Are What You Eat’ and ‘You Are What You Eat Cookbook’ and it’s almost as if you have travelled a personal journey with Gillian. She signs off: ‘wishing you love and light’.
"The idea of light," she explains, "is I want people to switch on the lights in their lives, not to sit in the dark. You can sit in the dark, feel sorry for yourself, dig yourself into a hole and you get darker and darker and can’t see the wood for the trees. I will often tell a patient to go into the room and turn the light off, stand in the dark then turn it on and ask them what can they see. Naturally you can see much more. I then tell them to apply that concept to other aspects of their life. So when you have a choice to make that is difficult, turn on the light. When you turn on a light everything is illuminated, you can see so much more – take that concept and apply it to anything: your relationship and certainly to food.
With food I work a lot with emotions and the concept of lighten up your life with food. You don’t see this on television, but before I do anything with food, I work on emotions and people ridding themselves of all the emotional crap that they carry with them, from childhood right on through. Everyone has it no matter who you are, or what walk of life you come from. It could be that you had too many phone calls that day and you couldn’t deal with it, a bad relationship, a bad marriage, trouble with your kids. Who knows what it is but everybody holds these things and you need to learn how not to. These emotions affect your digestion, your bowel movements, and your ability to simulate nutrients. I always work on that first because I know if you don’t, and I learned from experience from having done it the other way, you limit yourself
. I want to give my patients an experience that is as limitless as possible."