Sat, Jan-21-17, 04:49
Tom Kerridges' Dopamine Diet: At 30 stone, I feared I might not live to be 50’
Tom Kerridge is a well-known and very popular British chef. He has lost 11 stone in the past two and a half years by low carbing. He's now published a book, The Dopamine Diet, which is a personal story of recipes that reflect Tom's change and outlook to food.
From The Times
21 January, 2017
Tom Kerridge: ‘At 30 stone, I feared I might not live to be 50’
He made his way from a Gloucestershire council estate to running a double Michelin-starred restaurant. But at 40, Tom Kerridge realised the excess of life as a superstar chef – including 15 pints a night – was killing him
A few years ago, with his 40th birthday looming, Tom Kerridge found himself taking stock of life. Things, he concluded, were pretty good. At the age of 18 he’d stepped off a Gloucestershire council estate and into a kitchen and, after two decades of borderline demented grafting, he had succeeded in establishing himself as one of Britain’s most accomplished chefs.
He was respected: his gastropub, the Hand and Flowers in Marlow, won its first Michelin star in 2006 and its second in 2012. He was popular: he was a regular on Great British Menu, MasterChef, Saturday Kitchen, all that stuff. Plus, he finally had “a bit of money in my back pocket” and, just as importantly, he was in love. He’d been happily married to Beth, a sculptor, for years. Happy days.
There was just one problem. He was fat. Really fat. Massive. “I must have been approaching 30 stone,” he says. “I thought, ‘This isn’t good.’”
It wasn’t. Kerridge, now 43, is tall and broad and had been a useful prop forward as a teenager. But over the years he had slowly and surely been piling it on. “I’ve always been a big, big lad. A big bloke. Never been skinny. Never will be.” But almost tipping 30 stone? That was dangerous. “I realised that if I continued doing what I was doing, I wasn’t going to be here when I was 50.”
We’re in the bar area of the Hand and Flowers, mid-morning, before the lunchtime service gets going. Kerridge wears jeans and a T-shirt and drinks a cappuccino. He is warm and cheerful with a rolling West Country accent and, at the risk of sounding wishy-washy, is just a lovely, lovely bloke. More to the point, he is no longer fat. Over the past three years he has managed to lose something like 12 stone, a transformation he engineered via a programme of diet, exercise and abstinence he concocted himself and which forms the basis of a new book, Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet. He’s now down to around 18 stone and is still getting used to his new physique. “My shoulders were the big thing,” he says. “They became more defined, more shaped. I used to be massive around my chest but I lost a lot of weight there. My thighs have always been big, so I’d love to be able to do something about that.”
What about saggy skin? Don’t people who’ve lost a load of weight end up with really saggy skin? “There’s not a huge amount. I’ve got some excess skin, but not to the point where you think …” he trails off, then pulls a face. “But it’s because I was doing a lot of exercise too. Your body just changes shape.”
But before we get to exactly how Kerridge was able to lose so much weight, it’s probably worth understanding how and why he was able to gain so much in the first place. And it boils down, more or less, to one thing: booze. Kerridge could drink. He could drink like a Viking. “In an industry full of party animals and hard-drinking mentalists who’ll stay up drinking all night, I’d built a reputation as the last man standing. The biggest drinker in an industry full of big drinkers,” he says with, it has to be said, just a touch of pride.
He would drink every night with his kitchen staff. “There used to be a big drinking culture here and that was led by me. The moment that service finished, the moment that we cleaned down, that’s the moment it would start. We’d be like, right, come on, let’s get on it.”
All right. So how much drinking, exactly, are we talking about? “Well if you think about what some people might drink on a really big night out, they might drink six pints, eight pints, maybe even hit double figures if they go out at 7 o’clock and don’t finish till three in the morning. Well we were fitting that in between maybe 11.30pm and 2.30am. Big, big, big drinking. Fast, hard drinking. You’d have a fast, hard 18-hour day in the kitchen, then do some fast, hard drinking before going to bed for three and a half hours and then get back up and go back to work again.”
There were a couple of pubs down the road from the Hand and Flowers that would stay open late, and as often as not – but particularly on the weekends – Kerridge would march his staff to them. Although he has a fondness for gin, his drink of choice has always been beer. “Big quantities of beer. I was never really that interested in wine, because wine’s not about volume. But with beer, you could get volume in. I just love everything about it,” he says warmly. “I’m a bloke from a broken family in Gloucester. I’m a normal guy. If I wasn’t a chef I’d be driving a white van. I’m not even beer snobbish. OK, there are mass-produced beers that aren’t that great, but you know what? They’re all right at a festival. They’re all right at a concert.”
We then spend a bit of time just talking about how nice beer is. “It is,” he sighs. “There’s something about beer I absolutely love.”
I tell him that I once read that the darts player Andy Fordham might drink 30 bottles of Holsten Pils in one sitting. He shrugs. “That’s 15 pints. That’s no bother. No bother at all.”
He thinks his background – raised by his mum in a council flat – played a part in his weight gain. His parents split up when he was 11; his father, who had multiple sclerosis, died when Kerridge was 18. “I grew up in a single-parent family and we didn’t have a lot of money and we never had loads of food on the table. So when I ended up owning my own space, surrounded by this vast selection of great food and drinks, I could have whatever I wanted. And psychologically, that was very different. I could eat and drink what I wanted because I owned it. And I didn’t want to let go of that because I’d never had it before.”
Still, looking back, he admits it’s “frightening” how much he was putting away, especially if he was at some nice food industry awards bash with a bunch of fellow chefs. “You’d start drinking at lunchtime and then you’d be on it until five the next morning. Interspersed with eating at a really nice restaurant, having amazing food with really expensive wine, after which you might go to a dirty, divey boozer next door and then all of a sudden you’d find yourself in Soho eating Chinese at three in the morning and then you’re in a drinking den going, ‘Right, bottle of gin, please.’ It was relentless. Relentless eating and drinking. People tell me that they’re surprised at how much weight I’ve lost. Whereas before they were amazed at how much I could drink.”
But if this all sounds like fun, for the most part, it wasn’t. “It wasn’t a laugh. It was a release. A release of pressure.” Kerridge describes what many top chefs have described in the past, which is the relentless scrutiny and levels of expectation they are faced with on a daily basis. Stress. Stress, stress, stress. “It’s not like an office job, where you can go in and have a quiet day. You have to be 100 per cent all the time.”
So drinking and, to a lesser extent, eating were how he decompressed. “So many great chefs at the top of their game have something that they just click into. Some chefs are into going to the gym all the time. Some chefs run marathons. Some chefs will do drugs; some chefs will just do gambling or get really into fantasy football or anything that becomes obsessive and that’s totally separate from what they’re doing in the kitchen. It’s an industry riddled with people with some form of issue.”
This makes it sound like Kerridge must have been miserable. But the problem was that he wasn’t. “I wasn’t sitting in a dark room at the end of the night feeling sorry for myself. Everything was working. Accolades, TV stuff, working with amazing staff. So there wasn’t ever a point I thought, ‘Things are bad. I’m blaming weight.’ Things were great. I’m working hard and then get a release by drinking heavily and eating all this lush food.”
But then, some soul-searching. Were things really that great? Really? “I thought, deep down, inside, am I actually that happy? Can I continue doing this? Am I convincing myself that I’m happy with everything? Because I think that’s what I ended up doing. It got to a point where I thought, ‘No, actually. To be honest, I don’t think I am.’ You can talk yourself into believing everything’s all right.”
He began researching diets, from calorie counting to Atkins-style programmes, but nothing appealed. If he was going to sign up to something, it needed to be something he would stick to. “You’d see people go on these diets for three months and lose a stone and a half. But a stone and a half wasn’t going to do it for me. I needed something I could do long term. I even researched if there was such a thing as a ‘beer diet’, where all you do is drink beer,” he says, chuckling. “But it didn’t exist.”
In the end, he looked at a plate of steak and chips, one of the most popular dishes at the Hand and Flowers. He worked out that if he were on a low-fat or low-calorie diet, he couldn’t eat any of it. But if he were on a low-carb diet, he could at least eat the steak. “And then I looked into it more and I realised that, on a no-carb diet, there’s no restriction on the amount of protein you can eat. So instead of steak and chips, I could have two steaks.”
Two steaks? That swung it. Low-carb it would be. Potatoes, pasta, bread, cakes and white, starchy foods were all banished and in their place he developed dishes with as much flavour and texture as possible. So full English breakfasts, large omelettes with bacon, chopped salads packed with feta, anchovies, olives and spicy chorizo all became staples. Same with stews and joints of roasted meat with crispy skin. Handfuls of nuts and pork scratchings for snacks. And what Kerridge seems to have really got right – something that most fortysomething blokes on a diet struggle with – is the psychological side. Rather than being furtive and frustrated, he made a point of being unapologetic and open about what he was doing.
“One of the biggest things that people have to get over is the self-consciousness of being on a diet. So when you go out for dinner or around to a friend’s house, don’t apologise for not being able to eat certain things. And you know what? Your real friends will be 100 per cent behind you, because they recognise why you’re doing it.”
He knocked booze on the head and hasn’t had a drink in over three years. “I don’t touch it,” he says. There is no middle ground when it comes to alcohol, he explains. “If I tried to have half a pint, I know that straight away I’d just be back on it.” A case in point: a while back he went to a bar with his wife. She had a glass of wine and he decided to try a non-alcoholic beer. “Within about half an hour, I’d drunk eight bottles. And that’s not normal. In 20 years’ time I might get to a point where I think, you know what? It might be nice to sit down and have a glass of wine with this amazing roast beef on a Sunday. If I could get to that point, it would be great. But I’m not there yet.”
Kerridge swam a lot – he still does – although to be fair he always had done. Only now that he wasn’t necking 15 pints a night and stuffing himself with carbs, the fat just began to evaporate. Recently, he said that being teetotal means “sex is different because you’re not going to bed drunk”. Two years ago his son, Acey, was born. “Having my little man makes it even easier, staying fit and healthy. I don’t want to be the dad at sports day that’s really embarrassing. I don’t mind coming last in the race, but I don’t want to collapse halfway through. I want to make sure I’m a part of his childhood. I’ve got to teach him how to become a professional footballer.”
He says his wife never once made a comment about his weight, even when he was 30 stone. “The one thing she has said is, ‘I loved you when you were like that.’ She loves me; it doesn’t matter to her what I look like. She loves characters, and characters aren’t always 6ft 1in chiselled men with six packs.”
Ideally, he says, he’d still like to lose a bit more weight, to get below 18 stone. But on the plus side, he’s building muscle mass now, so just because he’s plateaued over the past year or so doesn’t mean he’s not getting into better and better shape. In fact, looking at him now, it’s easy to view his weight loss as straightforward or somehow inevitable. But it wasn’t. It’s a real achievement. And while the basic approach of eating right, not drinking too much and doing plenty of exercise isn’t exactly a secret formula, if it were really that easy then everyone would be doing it. But they’re not. Perhaps Kerridge can convince a few more of us to try.
Before he goes to start getting ready for the lunchtime service, he chuckles and says that sometimes he’ll be flicking through the TV channels and see a repeat of some food programme he appeared in a few years ago. He’ll see the big, fat, jolly chef chopping away and he’ll rub his eyes. “I think, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I actually looked like that.’ And I’ll feel mixed emotions. Because there’s some part of me that goes, ‘Oh, I miss that guy,’” he says. “But then there’s another part of me that just thinks, ‘I’m so glad I’m not there any more.’”
Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet is published by Absolute Press
30 stone = 420lbs
18 stone = 252lbs
11 stone= 154lbs
Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet
This new approach to eating is tried and tested by the Michelin-starred chef himself, who has used it to shed 11 stone in three years. Kerridge’s aim was to lose weight without losing the joy of eating, and he has created a diet featuring ingredients that trigger dopamine production in the brain, known as the “happy hormone”.
Focusing on meals filled with vegetables and high quantities of protein (yes, there's plenty of meat and cheese), Kerridge’s book offers hearty, sophisticated fare.
From The Times
5 November, 2016
‘Quitting sugar was absolutely horrible’
Tom Kerridge used a special technique to lose 11 stone. He talks to Lucy Cavendish about the diet he devised
Tom Kerridge is a huge great big hulk of a man. I don’t mean in a girthy kind of way, because he has, rather famously, lost 11 stone. No. I mean in terms of his sheer presence. There is just something about him that fills the space at his pub-cum-Michelin-starred-eatery the Hand and Flowers in the home counties town of Marlow, Buckinghamshire. In 2011, it was the first pub to have been awarded two Michelin stars.
Kerridge, 43, is instantly recognisable from his stints on television, with his enormous grin, bonhomie and trademark West Country burr (he was brought up in Gloucestershire). He is a regular on Saturday Kitchen on BBC One and the host of BBC Two’s Food Detectives. He also hosted Bake Off: Crème de la Crème (the professional version of The Great British Bake Off), during which he managed to eat not a single bite of cake.
This impressive restraint is why Kerridge has shrunk to half his size in only two and a half years. He is now sharing the secrets of his dramatic weight loss in a diet cookbook called The Dopamine Diet, which will be published early next year. And it’s not just avoiding cake. He now consumes zero starchy carbs, zero sugar, zero booze — all of which have been replaced by high levels of protein.
Low-carb, high-protein diets typically have a downside, however — because they often put you in a bad mood. Kerridge has come up with a way to offset that by making sure that all the proteins in his diet are ones that trigger the release of the “happy hormone” dopamine. Kerridge’s “dopamine heroes” include dairy products such as double cream and yoghurt, good-quality meats including beef, chicken and turkey, and chocolate, coffee and vanilla.
You also have to ditch alcohol and starchy carbs in favour of plenty of fresh fruit and veg. He extols eating steak — as long as it’s without the chips. “I can eat 50 per cent [of the meal], and that’s better than nothing, isn’t it? I can eat as many proteins as I like! Two steaks, even.” He has now become an expert on the “stay-happy” way of losing weight.
I ask him whether the fact that a protein-rich diet affects the levels of chemicals in our brains was a factor in choosing how to lose weight. “Not at the time,” Kerridge says. “I didn’t know it would feel this good.” First of all, “I cut out carbs and sugar. It was terrible, absolutely horrible. I had headaches, I had the sweats, but gradually I realised how much I hated the sugar spikes and all those highs and lows. The temptation to go back to eating it was huge.”
Then he says he started thinking about what was really going on in his body. “Over time,” he says, “I realised that rather than missing other things, eating just protein was making me feel pretty good and very energetic. I was enjoying it. You can’t do a diet that makes you feel bad.”
When Kerridge turned 40 three years ago, he was obese, smoked, and drank an awful lot of booze. I ask him what made him decide to overhaul his entire life. “I just got to 40 and started wondering what I was doing with my life. I was drinking too much and 20 years ago I smoked, I ate a lot, I partied. I was beginning not to like what was happening to me in terms of my body and health, and knew I had to do something about it.”
Someone told me he used to drink ten pints of beer a night (I live locally and stories of Kerridge’s drinking are legendary). “That’s probably true,” he says. “Being a chef, you work mad hours. You stay up late.” He says that this “alternative” lifestyle was what attracted him to being a chef in the first place. “It felt slightly rebellious,” he says, “slightly naughty.”
So, does that mean losing all this weight somehow makes him less naughty? “Nah.” He doesn’t drink. “That makes me sound a bit boring — but I still party. I still stay up late, I’m just drinking Diet Coke rather than beer.”
Alongside the cooking, books and television, Kerridge has a new project developing his own kitchenware, which is all sold on The Great British Exchange, a website selling only British-made goods.
It’s impossible not to notice Kerridge’s steely determination to get things right — and that very rigorous diet. This is a man who cooks chips every day — delicious, yummy, best-chips-on-the-planet chips — and doesn’t even nibble one. “I can’t. I’m an addict. I know myself far too well. If I start eating carbs again, I’ll never stop.”
Is it the same with alcohol?
“Absolutely. The other day me and Beth [his wife] were out for dinner and someone offered me a glass of wine — but I knew it would be a slippery slope. It’s the same with fags. I was the best at drinking beer and now I’m the best at not drinking beer.”
I meet Kerridge in the Hand and Flowers. Even though it is barely past breakfast time, the restaurant is full and business is booming — his two-year-old venture, The Coach, a few hundred metres away, is also packed. His two Michelin stars at the Hand and Flowers look secure and his 18-year marriage to Beth, a sculptor, seems rock solid. “We’re good,” says Kerridge. “We’re tired but happy.” They are particularly tired because, ten months ago, Beth gave birth to a boy called Acey. “It’s totally changed my world,” says Kerridge. “Now everything revolves around him — I’m not in the kitchen on a Sunday morning, I’m in the play park.”
Yet he and Beth weren’t sure they would become parents. Kerridge is 43 and Beth is “in her forties”, says Kerridge tactfully. He says parenting was not really on the cards for them, and that they couldn’t have managed with children in their thirties. “We just didn’t have time for babies.”
Yet Acey has appeared — and they are no less busy. How are they coping? “I always thought kids were a bit of a bind,” explains Kerridge. “But I am besotted by the whole thing. I have realised that money doesn’t matter, celebrity doesn’t matter.”
Kerridge’s experiences with his father were troubled — his dad had MS and, once his parents separated when Tom was 11 years old, he barely saw his father.
“I don’t really have a good experience of being looked after by my dad,” he says, although he feels he lucked out with his mother. “I do know what it is to be loved.”
He says that one of the main things he has learnt since having Acey is that, “I don’t care about money any more. I don’t care if Beth and I are rich or not. All I want to do now is build memories for Acey. That’s what is most important right now.” And sod the rest of it?
He laughs. “No,” he says, “not quite.”