The Men Who Made Us Fat: Are you TOFI?

Thursday 14 June 2012, 11:00

Jacques Peretti Jacques Peretti Presenter and Journalist

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At London's Hammersmith Hospital a suave gent by the name of Dr Jimmy Bell is ushering me into his MRI scanner.

I'm here for a scientific trial as part of the television series I'm making for the BBC - The Men Who Made Us Fat.

I came up with the idea for the series a while ago as I was watching the original version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from 1971.

I was struck by how the character Augustus Gloop, the supposedly obese child, now looks perfectly ordinary.

I wondered how in the space of 40 years we could have changed our idea of what is fat so drastically.

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Jacques Peretti has his hidden obesity levels checked

So having authored the series and worked in partnership with FreshOne Productions and the BBC to get the series made, here I am in the above video clip - at Hammersmith Hospital about to discover how fat I really am.

Dr Bell specializes in analysing not the external fat of patients but the internal fat, and the shocking truth is that it's not just the obviously obese who are in trouble from their diet.

It could be all of us.

I'm not particularly worried as I put on my blue gown and am lowered into the space-age chamber.

I cycle to work, I walk up escalators and play the odd bit of football in the garden. I'm by no means a health nut but I do enough physical activity to remain relatively fit, or so I think.

For half an hour I must lie perfectly still as a scanner moves up and down my body creating a detailed image of every last inch of fat.

"There will be no hiding place for your fat," Jimmy tells me ominously.

Then it's all over, I take off my headphones and re-join the world, sitting in Jimmy's office to go through my results.

On the outside, Jimmy says I am fit.

"There is very little external fat," he tells me.

"But on the inside," he says, gesturing to the scan ominously "your liver is swimming in fat - four to five litres."

Four to five litres!

In all honestly I was so shocked by the results of the test that I found it difficult to continue interviewing the professor properly.

On average we are all three stone heavier than we were in the 60s, and for the vast majority of us the fat is internal.

Jimmy calls us 'TOFI's' (Thin Outside Fat Inside).

Worrying as this realisation is, on reflection it makes sense.

It shows the degree to which sugar, which as many of the programme's contributors explained to me can be a major contributor to obesity, is present within our everyday diet.

Having just discovered I was a TOFI I want to quiz Jimmy on what I could do to reduce the amount of internal fat I was carrying.

He reassures me that there is a solution - firstly we should eat less processed food and instead opt to cook from scratch and reduce our sugar intake.

Secondly, short, sharp bursts of sprinting, 30 seconds at a time three or four times a week. It mimics what we did as hunter-gatherers and burns off the internal fat.

Forget jogging and lay off the midweek Chardonnay in front of re-runs of The Killing: the sugar in the alcohol turns to fat. Unfortunately.

Now if only I had the willpower to put that advice into practice!

Jacques Peretti is the presenter of The Men Who Made Us Fat.

The Men Who Made Us Fat is on Thursday, 14 June at 9pm on BBC Two.

Note: Due to the extended Wimbledon coverage, the third and final episode of The Men Who Made Us Fat has been rescheduled for Thursday, 12 July at 9pm on BBC Two. It will be available to watch in iPlayer for the following seven days.

Update 4 July: Episode one and two have unfortunately now expired in iPlayer because of a break in the run of the series due to the unavoidable schedule changes.

However, all three episodes will be available in iPlayer when they're repeated as part of the Sign Zone starting on Wednesday, 11 July at 2.30am on BBC One. Please see the episode guide for further times.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I'm looking forward to your programme with baited breath. I'm a personal trainer and low carb food coach, based in Shropshire, and have been banging on about the sugar/obesity link for ages. I've taken 50 women through a low carb high fat diet. Every single one of them lost weight but also reported feeling so much better. Incidentally they all know you're programme's on this eve. I really feel the penny starting to drop but as long as there's money to be made by teasing the gullible public with tasty food I just can't see and end to this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Brilliant programme - well done - have Facebooked it and told everyone to iPlayer it (is it available on the iPlayer) and to watch the next 2 episodes.
    One not to be missed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Is there any evidence of links between the food manufacturers and the drug companies? I am thinking of sugary foods and type 2 diabetes and the manufacturers of drugs used to control diabetes? It would not surprise me if there were.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    At last, sugar exposed.... and the food industry. Hopefully this programme will start a movement equivalent to the exposure of the tobacco industry. We nutritionists have been swimming against the tide for a long time on this one. Well done Mr Peretti!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I figured & worked out all you are saying way back in January after hitting my 40's, seeing how fat I was ... I chose a vegan lifestyle .. and I'll never go back .. to hormone laden fat meat dairy & eggs .. remarably loosing 3 stone without the need for sugar laden diet foods ... just good old wholesome fruit, veg and leguimes .. perfect .. I really enjoyed tonights viewing .. ty

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    As SI SHORROCK says, the penny is starting to drop. Bottom line: the food industry is powerful, much more powerful than the tobacco industry. Did you know there are 15,000 lobbyists in Brussels? Admittedly, not all of them are lobbying for the food industry, but the chairman of the Committee which decides about which food additives should be restricted/allowed/not allowed has just left her post and become... a lobbyist. From corn syrup to fructose, now there's an interesting story. And whether we like it or not, we're about to find out. The food revolution is about to start. It's back to basics I'm afraid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Brilliant. It could have been tedious but it was so well presented. Looking forward to the rest of the series and should be compulsive viewing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Interesting stuff. All for criticism of the food/sugar industry but will this series look at the other end of the equation - the fact that we exercise less now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I am probably like many people featured in the programme. I have dieted for years, mostly low fat diets. I've tried low sugar diets (with normal amounts of fat) and I've always got good results. However, the general attitude of 'society' puts a lot of pressure on you to revert back to a low fat diet.

    The food industry have too much power and to see how the industry has changed over the years, I've finally realised that it's all gradually happened over the years. Even the education system was fooled - we were always told to avoid fat, but nothing said about the 'hidden sugars' (in many cases named to something sounding more innocent).

    Hopefully many people watch this - the more people who see it will realise the lie we've all been 'fed' (pun intended).

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    At last a program that "dares" to tell the truth about the biggest nutritional con of my lifetime. Fat in food does not equal fat on your backside. It's the sugar that does it. It won't be long until we take the next step and link the excess of sugar in the blood with heart disease too.
    This should be compulsory viewing to every child at school.
    It's actually quite simple, eat whole, non processed food.
    Perhaps Jaques can look into why we are not allowed to buy delicious, healthy raw milk next.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Gripped by tonight's episode. Nothing completely unknown to me in there. I know low fat means high sugar and that ultimately we are headed one way in the UK - but to have it spelled out in such detail was a great reminder (and kick). Whilst watching (in the Kitchen) I did a sweep of the cupboards. Most meals are cooked from scratch here so I'd say 80% good food, but even basic ingredients can have hidden sugars and other undesirables. First 2 products on my radar had glucose syrup high up on the ingredients list - of which innocent snacking crackers were one. Not sure I'll sleep tonight! Pretty sure tomorrow's meal plan for the forthcoming week will consist almost entirely of basic ingredients rustled up into something! Looking forward to next Thursday's episode... ps - have a feeling I might be a TOFI :-(

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    until the program focused on sugar it was almost identical to michael pollen's talks (the corn story etc).

    amazed the personal trainer in the first comment is getting people to eat a high fat diet!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I recently sent Ed Balls a plan to restore EMA and funding this by taxing sugar. It is clear that sugar is addictive. I would go as far as saying that sugar has the same addictive characteristic as class drugs.
    raise VAT on foods that contain high levels of sugar to 30% and watch the likes of Kraft panic

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I am so releived that this programme has been made, especially by so illustrious a TV company. I have been an addiction specialist for 20 years and have created a programme for people who struggle with eating which exactly targets the addictive qualities of food. It works. Is the NHS interested in something that tackles the single, most overwhelming threat to both the public and the NHS itself - obesity? Nope. Because the medical fraternity and the British Dietetic Association appear to refuse to acknowledge that foods are made to be addictive. Thank you BBC and Jacques Peretti for this desperately needed expose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Just watched the programme and found it very interesting. I've travelled to Asia on vacation on a few occasions, and one thing which I found remarkable was the fact that even though they eat a lot, the majority of the population is relatively thin compared to Westerners. However the diet is considerably different. Asians eat a lot of roughage and green vegetables and use a lot of chillies in their cooking. When I asked why this was, their reply was that the spices and peppers raise the temperature, resulting in a higher Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). They also consume very little dairy and wheat products. Whether or not this will remain the case with the ubiquitous proliferation of Western fast-food outlets remains to be seen. Looking forward to the next part of the series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Finally somebody is exposing the damage sugar is doing to our health and it would be great to a programme about all the hidden sugar in good food and juices as well. Great that some one is using the LCHF (low carb high fat) concept in UK thanks Si Shorrock, I'm sure you recommend cut in both sandwiches (all the white bread), baked beans and crisps (high glycemic potatoes and fat). Eggs is a great food source and should never be dismissed. We all need to lower our intake of carbs and change to more complex carbs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I am a dietitian who qualified in 1970 and I am still working in the NHS. I attended a lecture by Professor John Yudkin when I was a student and what he said stopped me taking sugar, and I coverted my family to no sugar, consequently don't like sweet things and have never drunk cola. The family are all slim. I am staggered that he was discredited by both politicians (USA and UK) and even scientists by the power of the sugar manufacturing lobby. Did no one have the honesty, commonsense and strength of purpose to so the right thing - obviously not. It is too late for many but starting with families from conception, through school age, teaching people what is in food, how to read food labels and portion size is essential for the next generation. Look at the Welsh Government's Dietetic Capacity programme - that's what we are doing - it might just work - in fact it has to! Dr Pauline Rigby

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Brilliant!...and as many are saying here, what some of us have been batting on about for many years, against the mainstream's incorrect reasoning and dietary advice.Please....repeat this program on BBC1 and lets start getting the myths of saturated fat etc causing the problems, dispelled once and for all.Everything in this country is 'low fat' ..except the population....HELLO!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Hi Jacques,
    Welldone on a top program, nice to see someone looking at these things without sugar coating it. As a Chef, Pastry Chef and Baker. I have strong feelings on all the issue in the program. I wait with hope that more information on sugar, trans fats and other chemical additive are exposed. People need to get back to traditional cooking and baking. Welldone keep up the good work.
    Your Old Chum, Grimsby

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I am a group exercise instructor and sports masseus. Watching this programme is a breath of fresh air. I wish that the masses would think for themselves and be driven enough to make their own decisions to eat or not to eat processed foods.
    Bring back national service and get an army sergeant to whoop their arses back into shape.
    A very well presented and much required programme. Well done Jaques and Beeb. X


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