Interview: Cotswold nutritionist Georgie Graham
PUBLISHED: 13:44 22 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:06 22 January 2018
© Thousand Word Media
Want to eat healthily but don't know where to begin? You're not the only one! Confusing and conflicting advice is doing us a fat lot of good, says Katie Jarvis (fad dieter extraordinaire). Which is why she's consulting a real expert: Cotswold nutritionist Georgie Graham
Tony Benn. Marie Antoinette. Eric Pickles...They all had it so wrong!
Diet-wise, I mean.
Tony Benn – famously vegetarian – allegedly lived mainly off pizza. Marie Antoinette, with her misplaced ‘Let them eat brioche’ advice, was one of the first to prove that sugar can kill.
And then there’s pure lard.
“What are you giving up this time?” Greg, Ellie’s boyfriend, asks me, wearily; he has little truck with my food-based research. Or ‘fad diets’, as he unscientifically terms them.
“I always read up before I embark on a new meal-plan!” I tell him, huffily. “And why on earth would you think I’m giving anything up!
“…But grains and dairy, as you ask.”
“Yeah,” he says. “’Read up’ like, in the Daily Mail.”
“Everything in the Daily Mail is well researched!” I protest, empirically. “It wouldn’t be in there, otherwise. Plus they always really helpfully put key words in capital letters.”
“You,” Greg says (in a way that leads me to suspect this isn’t going to be a compliment), “waver between the diet of a medieval peasant and an 18th century French king.”
Not a bad nutrition plan, if I do say so myself.
How can I put this...?
Talking to Georgina Graham (or Georgie, as she’s better known) at the Natural Health Centre in Bishop’s Cleeve is like sitting down with a trusted friend, who (metaphorically speaking) pours you a glass of wine because she knows you’ll enjoy it; (but just a small glass, naturally high in antioxidants). What I’m trying to say is: she doesn’t preach; doesn’t criticise or impose impossible standards which – as a nutritionist – she could well do. She’s just lovely – though she does do a good line in the faintly sceptical.
“I’ve done the 5/2 diet for four years,” I tell her, as she gently quizzes me on my food habits.
(Faintly sceptical look from Georgie.)
“I lost loads of weight and I never feel hungry!” I overemphasise, in the kind of tone you use to defend something you’re suddenly beginning to doubt.
(Very sceptical look. This time on both our faces.)
The truth is, I’ve come to see Georgie because I’m all over the place. A well-laden ship caught in a maelstrom: crosswinds of dietary advice coming at me from all directions. I’m not the only one struggling, of course. According to latest government figures, 58 percent of women and 68 percent of men in the UK are overweight or obese. And, what’s arguably worse, more than a third of children in their final year of primary are, too.
I’m not trying to excuse these awful statistics – a fat lot of good that would do; but the truth is, healthy eating isn’t easy when we’re fed a diet saturated with bad advice: fat is good/harmful; sugar/dairy is the devil; alcohol makes you live longer/shorter; little and often/complete fasting staves off cancer; gluten is essential/to be avoided at all costs.
(OH, FOR GOODNESS SAKE!)
What’s more, it’s advice that comes as readily from celebrity and politician as from so-called expert.
Even more telling was a quiz I was sent by a university research group, asking me to rate body-shapes as being underweight, normal, overweight or obese. The shape I thought skeletal turned out to be just jack-a-dandy – the human ideal. Well, who’d have known! Certainly no one in a society that’s even failing to recognise what ‘overweight’ looks like any more.
The point is, nutritionists such as Georgie should come prescribed with every bottle of tablets doled out.
She starts my session by taking me back down to bedrock. How am I, on a day-to-day basis? (Sluggish.) Do I sleep well? (No; I frequently wake at 3am feeling as alert as that unfortunate moment when I once sat on my own knitting.) What are my stress-levels on a 1-10 scale? (11). And so on.
Her initial pronouncement is interesting. I thought she’d be impressed by my diet, lacking in ready-meals and packed full of fresh veg. And, indeed, like the good old curate’s breakfast, she judges it fine in parts: “You cook for yourself; there’s lots of vegetarian food. You only buy meat from your trusted butcher, which is great.”
But her main gripe is with my blood-sugar balance. “And if you don’t get that right, you simply can’t be healthy, in my opinion,” she says. It’s not so much the content as the long gaps I often have between meals.
And like all excellent practitioners, she’s good at explaining why that’s such a problem. Your blood sugar can spike for all sorts of reasons, she tells me, drawing an impromptu graph of a typical day. It’s linked to the stress response – fight or flight: “So in cave-man days, when you saw a tiger running towards you, your pupils would dilate, your hair would stand on end, and your body would pour sugar into your blood so you’d got lots of energy to run away.”
A spike in the graph.
“But in those days, such a trigger would be quite rare.”
The problem today is that our tigers are manifold: “Artificial stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fast-release carbohydrates have now become triggers, too.”
Georgie’s plan to banish my tigers is relatively simple. Firstly, she weighs me on her Tanita scales, which also analyse body composition. I’m not overweight; my BMI is within range; my ‘metabolic’ age is some 15 years younger than my actual age (someone tell this to my face); but the fact that I don’t exercise much means I could improve. I need to find some form of easy exertion that I’ll enjoy.
Then she cuts off a small lock of my hair to be sent off for analysis. This, she says (and I’ve no idea of the science, let’s be clear) will indicate any intolerances or problems with substances such as sugar, grains, dairy, candida, and so on.
Will any of this help my sleep?
“If your blood-sugar is spiking throughout the day, it’s going to continue to do that through the night,” Georgie explains. “You’re going to wake up at 3am with loads of energy.”
OK. Game on.
Here’s the good news. Georgie Graham doesn’t spend her own days meditating while eating nothing but kale, quinoa and organic nuts. At least, not all of them.
“I’m very normal!” she laughs. “I love wine. I love coffee. I always have dark chocolate – 85 percent, mind you – at night. And would I have steak and chips when I eat out? Hell, yes! But that’s also because I wouldn’t eat that at home.
“My golden rules are: no dairy, no gluten – it upsets my stomach – not more than one coffee a day; and, if I have a glass of wine, then I stick to just one. When I go out with my best mate, we’re like Sex and the City! But I don’t need alcohol; I get high on being with my friends.”
Her own backstory is an interesting one. In her early 20s, slightly overweight, she lost a stone with Weight Watchers and, as a result, became one of their leaders. But success turned to obsession. “I started starving myself, eating vegetable zero-point soup and over-exercising to the point where I had no energy; I just ached. My mum got very worried about me.”
Georgie knew she had to find a balance. A course of acupuncture hauled her out of a dark place, and she started working in a health food shop in Cheltenham, learning the principles of healthy eating. In 2006, she enrolled at Patrick Holford’s Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London – one weekend a month – where she learned that healthy eating wasn’t about zero-sugar jelly or calorie-free coke; that, if you’re going to lose weight, it needs to be from fat not muscle-mass; that motivation is a key to success – health is about life-goals as well as body-goals. And that time is key: it takes a good 30 weeks for new practices to move from passing fad to ingrained second nature.
Since qualifying, Georgie has been in demand; for six years, she ran a clinic in New Zealand, where she met her-now husband. (“Am I veggie? Not living with a Kiwi, I’m not!”)
And now she’s back in Cheltenham, running her Cotswold Better Health Clinic – “I see a lot of people with digestive issues, stress and energy problems; babies and children with colic; all ages. People will have been to every specialist under the sun and yet they’ll never have looked at food. It’s weird.”
Plus the 10-week classes she holds in Cheltenham on a Monday evening and Friday afternoon; not specifically weight-loss classes, though that’s part and parcel. But classes, more importantly, that show participants how to sleep better, gain more energy, improve skin, stabilise their moods – and all beginning with food.
So roll on six weeks – a meeting every fortnight and a phone chat in between - and here I am, for my final appointment. We’ve established – or Georgie has, going off my hair test – that I’ve little tolerance for sugar (in common with most people); wheat, barley and oats (so I’ve swapped my oat porridge for quinoa in the mornings); and alcohol (distressing news). But, to my surprise, my body tolerates dairy pretty well.
I’ve pretty much kept to my instructions without difficulty and, guess what? I’m sleeping far more soundly; I’ve noticeably more energy in the day; what’s more, my stress levels are right back down to normal. Sort out sleep and the rest of your life falls into place, I guess.
What amazes me most of all is that, despite giving up my 5/2 diet, I’ve lost weight.
“Even though you’re eating more!” Georgie says. “That – to their utter surprise – is what many of my clients find.”
Her sceptical look has gone. But… is that a smug look in its place, Georgie Graham?
She grins. “I’m just glad it’s working out for you,” she says.
In fact, I’ll allow her a smidgeon of smugness. She deserves it.
To find out more about Georgina Graham’s Cotswold Better Health clinic, as well as her group health sessions, visit cotswoldbetterhealth.co.uk or call her on 07765869670. The Natural Health Centre is at 2 Stoke Rd, Bishop’s Cleeve, Cheltenham GL52 8RP