How I lost two and a half stone

Since the end of the summer last year, I have lost just over 16kg, or roughly two-and-a-half stone in real money.

This year, I intend to lose a few more to take me to my ideal weight, which my doctor informs me should be roughly 12 stone.

This I have done without either starving myself or adopting some absurd fad, without exercising my body into the ground or swallowing a gastric band. There’s been no juicing, no jogging, no wonder-oils or pills — and best of all, I’ve not become an alcohol-free bore.

I have, as they say, been on a bit of a journey. One that, like everyone who struggles to control their weight, I have embarked upon countless times before — but never yet completed.

It began with a visit to my doctor last year, around the time of my 50th birthday. Despite regular exercise, a good diet and a (reasonably) healthy lifestyle, both my blood pressure and cholesterol levels were starting to creep up, and I was puffy from water retention.

Sarah Vine (pictured before) was advised to lose weight by her doctor, after scales showed that she weighed almost 16 stones

We discussed various options for treatment, and then, just as I was about to grab my prescription and head for the exit, he said, almost as though it were an afterthought: ‘And what are we going to do about your weight?’

I immediately stepped on the defensive, reeling off the usual list of excuses (underactive thyroid, menopause, big bones) and contributing factors (stress, work, family), and pointed to my regular regime of high-intensity training.

He was sympathetic but firm: I needed to do something about it. Without wishing to be rude, he said, I was three stone heavier than I should be and, even allowing for a bit of wriggle room, that put me in the category of the clinically obese. Losing weight, he said, would not only help with my blood pressure, but also reduce a number of unnecessary risk factors, including diabetes.

That was April. I went home and felt sorry for myself for a bit, and then had various half-hearted stabs at cutting back the calories. As ever, they came to very little — just a few pounds here or there, a mere drop in the adipose ocean. I went back to the doctor and whined about how hard it was. He still had his stern face on.

How come I could manage most things in life, but I couldn’t manage this one simple task? he posited. That was it. I hate being told what to do, but I will never turn down a challenge. He was right. Why could I not get a handle on this thing? Why was I letting my weight rule — not to mention potentially ruin — my life? For a reasonably intelligent woman it was a stupid thing to be doing.

What had begun as baby weight had stuck around and increased, slowly but surely. In denial, I had stopped weighing myself. When I stepped on those scales at the doctor’s, I was horrified to see that I had passed the 100kg mark. About 16 stone!

My ideal weight is 12 stone. So I had to make a decision: spend the next ten years slowly expanding, with all the attendant health issues, or save myself — and the NHS — a lot of trouble and get a grip.

I decided that what I needed was a kick-start. Over the course of last summer I tried to cut down on my worst excesses — bread, pastries, rich suppers and cheese — and then, at the start of last October, headed to Austria to spend five days at the VivaMayr clinic.

Sarah Vine (pictured after) was able to lose three-quarters of a stone from a five day visit to Austria's VivaMayr clinic

Sarah Vine (pictured after) was able to lose three-quarters of a stone from a five day visit to Austria’s VivaMayr clinic

Mayr is a generic term for a method of digestive cleansing devised in the Twenties by Dr Franz Mayr. The objective of the ‘cure’ (as they call it) is not actually to lose weight, but rather to help the gut rest and re-condition, thus promoting better overall health. But significant weight loss is a common side-effect.

I won’t lie: it was not fun. The best way to describe it is like food rehab — total sensory deprivation. They take away all the pleasures associated with eating and replace them with a diet of, in my case, herbal teas, Epsom salts and a foul-smelling broth that tastes like the bottom of some long-lost primordial swamp.

All epicurean pleasure thus removed and the gut returned almost to its virgin state, they then go about re-educating the mind to reject customary cravings in favour of simple, wholesome foods that stabilise blood sugar and encourage efficient digestion.

I can honestly say it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. But it was also one of the most enlightening. 

I never once felt hungry, but it was such a shock to my system that I became properly ill on day two, and was forced to spend a day in bed. Whether it was a simple bug or a case of my body expelling poisons, I don’t know. Whatever it was, it was pretty violent. Still, I emerged from that place of pain 5kg lighter. Three-quarters of a stone. And my body felt completely different. It was the boost I needed.


Amount of British women who are overweight

Lose three-quarters of a stone, see, and you can actually tell the difference. Clothes fit better, you feel lighter. People notice and say nice things like ‘Have you lost weight?’ (the four words every woman longs to hear). And even though I knew I still had one hell of a mountain to climb, for the first time ever I felt the prize was within reach.

I am certain that for a less weak-willed individual travelling all the way to Austria to spend five days drinking swamp water would not be necessary. Given a few days off work and an iron will, anyone could replicate the principles of the Mayr.

In fact, Harald Stossier, director of the VivaMayr, has published a book called The Viva Mayr Diet.

But for me it was the boost I needed. At home, I managed to stick to the basic principles. No raw food after 4pm (in order to give the gut sufficient time to digest before sleep and allow the liver to detoxify the body overnight); no sugars (including most fruit); no grains (such as wheat, rice and cereals).

I ate slowly (one of the funniest moments at the clinic was when I was handed a bowl of soup and told to chew it). I ate mindfully and stopped when full. I drank kefir (fermented milk) and swallowed a spoonful of sauerkraut before meals to help with digestion. The hardest part, really, was staying away from the children’s fish fingers.

Sarah Vine (pictured left) also learnt about nutrition from a gut-cleansing course at Grayshott Health Spa with coach Evelyn Bentley (pictured right)

Sarah Vine (pictured left) also learnt about nutrition from a gut-cleansing course at Grayshott Health Spa with coach Evelyn Bentley (pictured right)

As I watched the pounds slowly come off, I began to understand what the Mayr had done.

Essentially, it had reset my gut. Like a computer clogged up with junk, my system had begun to run hopelessly slow. After half a century indulging my epicurean excesses, it needed resetting. Unplugging, if you like. For someone to clean out the bugs and hit reboot.

Now that I was digesting my food properly, I didn’t need to load my body with sugar to keep going. Sure, I still fancied the odd treat; but I was no longer on a blood sugar rollercoaster of highs and crashing lows. I didn’t feel hungry and I had stacks of energy.

In fact, I felt so un-hungry that I was able to cut out an entire meal from my day. I found that by having a late breakfast and an early supper, I could have one meal at around 11am and another at around 7pm or 8pm — and that would do me.

After half a century indulging, my body was like an overloaded computer clogged up with junk — it needed resetting 

By the beginning of December, I was down one-and-a-half stone. That was a real breakthrough. For the first time in ages I took pleasure in getting dressed for Christmas parties. And yes, I enjoyed a few mince pies and toasted the season. But I always climbed back on the wagon the next day.

This was actually easier than I had anticipated. Because I felt so much happier and healthier, as all that dreadful lethargy, low energy and bloating had dissipated, the difference if I ate the wrong things for a day was palpable.

Far from resenting my new diet, I resented any interruption to it. In fact, I was starting to enjoy this new-found sense of control I had. For once I controlled the food, rather than the other way around.

I also began to understand more about the biochemistry of the body. Of course everyone is different, and what works for one person will not necessarily work for the next. But knowing how certain foods react in the gut is beneficial for all — and will play a vital part in maintaining my target weight.

To this end, earlier this month, I spent a few days at Grayshott Health Spa in Surrey, on its week-long gut-cleansing course.

Sarah (pictured) revealed her weightloss has reduced her puffiness and removed the feeling of aching joints

Sarah (pictured) revealed her weightloss has reduced her puffiness and removed the feeling of aching joints

The premise is similar to the Mayr, but the method is very different — not least because while the Mayr is essentially prescriptive, Grayshott’s programme is designed to educate so principles practised during the retreat can be replicated easily in real life.

The programme is run by a brilliant nutritionist called Stephanie Moore (she has her own website at

Her depth of knowledge and drive to get us all eating in ways that are optimal for our health makes this as much a journey of the mind as the stomach. She sits with you as you eat, explaining the purpose and relevance of every mouthful, educating with every bite.

For her, getting a handle on personal weight problems — as well as the overall obesity crisis facing the nation — is all about understanding the way our bodies work and empowering individuals to make the right choices.

When I look down I can see straight from my chin to my toes for the first time in years 

When the body is working correctly, i.e. when it is given fuel it can process quickly and efficiently instead of having to invest extra resources on processing junk, it does not store unnecessary weight. Nor does it crave more than it needs. It becomes self-regulating.

This is a truth very much borne out by my own experience over the past few months. I consume more of the things that are good for me, and very little of the stuff that’s not. And my brain has a much clearer connection to my body’s engine room: my gut.

If I ingest something it doesn’t like, it lets me know. The other day, for example, I wolfed down a scone. I just couldn’t help myself. A few hours later, I received a very clear message back in the shape of a tummy ache. Conclusion: wheat really doesn’t agree with me.

This new state of self-awareness is, I’m convinced, a large part of the reason I have finally found success in an endeavour that has eluded me for the past 15 years. Because I have learned to see this process not as a negative one — I cannot have this, I cannot have that — but as a positive one.

Not just in the sense that I feel and look much better; but also that I can now take pleasure in deciding what to wear in the mornings, rather than just flinging on the same old black tent.

I still have a little way to go until my weigh-in puts a smile on my doctor’s face. I went back to see him last week and he only seemed mildly impressed.

Still, already my blood pressure is down to a much safer level. My joints don’t ache from supporting all that extra weight. My puffiness has all but disappeared. And when I look down I can see straight from my chin to my toes for the first time in years, without having to desperately suck my stomach in.

I now weigh 13 stone 8 lb, so I’ve got just over one stone to go. And you know the best bit? I don’t hate my body any more. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be skipping around in a bikini any time soon. But I no longer look in the mirror and feel that familiar wave of self-loathing.

And that, aged 50, feels like a real breakthrough.

Why exercise and eating less makes you fat 

For years we believed cutting calories and keeping active was the answer to weight loss. But the ‘eat less, exercise more’ approach doesn’t trigger your body to burn fat: it causes hormonal and biochemical changes that put the brakes on metabolism. It can make the body go into crisis mode and store fat, explains clinical nutritionist STEPHANIE MOORE. Here’s what you need to do instead . . .

Real food matters, not calories

It’s not about how many calories you eat, but what they do once they’ve been absorbed. Minimally processed food, good natural fats, protein from eggs, oily fish, meat (outdoor-reared is fine, so long as you chew it thoroughly), fibre-rich foods such as nuts, seeds and pulses, sour fruits (such as pale green bananas or Bramley apples stewed with skins on) and bright or deep green vegetables such as radishes and broccoli. Eat like this 80 per cent of the time and calories will give you energy and fat-burning power.

Move more, but exercise less!

Slow exercise has benefits, but fat burning is not one of them. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) — short bursts of strenuous exercise — triggers the after-burn effect, where you burn fat as muscles strengthen. The more intensively (not longer) you work out, the better. Start with a light jog on the spot, then do 30 seconds of tough exercise such as sprinting uphill, fast bench step-ups or jumping squats. Recover for 60 seconds. Repeat up to eight times.

Forget what you know of fats

Saturated fats don’t ‘coat’ your arteries — they can support heart health and brain function. Good fats stop insulin (the fat-storing hormone) from spiking, and are found in organic butter, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, macadamia nuts, raw unrefined coconut oil or free-range animal fat like eggs, goose fat and, yes, lard. Avoid polyunsaturated fats (the ones we’re told are ‘healthy’): sunflower oil, margarine. These are highly processed fats your body stores rather than burns.

Get better gut bacteria

In our intestines live 100 trillion bacteria. The right foods, such as fermented foods, feed fat-burning bacteria: live natural yoghurt, sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kombucha tea (try or make a tonic with 1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar in a glass of water. Try Symprove, a liquid probiotic (£79 for four bottles,

Balance your blood sugar

It’s no news that sugar is bad for your body, but a daily supplement of the mineral chromium can help regulate your blood sugar level and avoid major sugar cravings while you try to kick the habit. Alpha-lipoic acid, a potent antioxidant, is another blood sugar regulator you can take as a supplement.

Why Eating Less And Exercising More Makes You Fat by Stephanie Moore is published by Health-in-Hand, £11.99.