Book Review: Food Isn’t Medicine – Challenge Nutrib*llocks and Escape The Diet Trap by Dr Joshua Wolrich

I read this book a little while ago – but have been nervous about writing a review. Not because I didn’t like the book – I really did – but I was nervous about what people would say and think. Now I don’t mean random internet trolls – by ‘people’, I mean family and friends who would say ‘of course she wants to sack off diet culture, being so overweight’ and such like. Where many things are now deemed unacceptable – making comments about people’s perceived health based on their size is still rampant. But as that’s fairly fundamental to the book – I thought I should but on my big big girl pants (repetition intended!) and write a review!

Here’s the blurb:

Losing weight is not your life’s purpose.
Do carbs make you fat?
Could the keto diet cure mental health disorders?
Are eggs as bad for you as smoking?
No, no and absolutely not. It’s all what Dr Joshua Wolrich defines as ‘nutribollocks’ and he is on a mission to set the record straight.
As an NHS doctor with personal experience of how damaging diets can be, he believes every one of us deserves to have a happy, healthy relationship with food and with our bodies. His message is clear: we need to fight weight stigma, call out the lies of diet culture and give ourselves permission to eat all foods.
Food Isn’t Medicine wades through nutritional science (both good and bad) to demystify the common diet myths that many of us believe without questioning. If you have ever wondered whether you should stop eating sugar, try fasting, juicing or ‘alkaline water’, or struggled through diet after diet (none of which seem to work), this book will be a powerful wake-up call. Drawing on the latest research and delivered with a dose of humour, it not only liberates us from the destructive belief that weight defines health but also explains how to spot the misinformation we are bombarded with every day.
Dr Joshua Wolrich will empower you to escape the diet trap and call out the bad health advice for what it really is: complete nutribollocks.”

I’ve followed Dr Joshua Wolrich on social media for some time – so when I saw he had a book coming out I was keen to read it. After a failed attempt to download the audio book off NetGalley, I parted with hard cash for a hard copy. A couple of years ago I read ‘Just Eat It’ by Laura Thomas – and it was interesting that she, and intuitive eating, are mentioned early on by Dr Joshua – and I was glad to cover the topic again.

The various chapters include ‘Your Weight Does Not Define Your Health’, ‘Stop Demonising Carbs’, ‘Food Cannot Cure Cancer’ and ‘Improving Your Relationship With Food’ and cover a whole range of different topics surrounding the diet culture we live in and, as so eloquently put, nutrib*llocks!

Dr Wolrich starts by talking about ‘health at every size’ and how often people who do carry extra pounds are discriminated against – particularly when it comes to medical treatment. I witnessed this through a friend who had a number of chronic health conditions and was permanently being told that they would improve if she lost weight. Following bariatric surgery she lost a lot of weight – but unfortunately this has not been the magic switch to cure everything else.

He also talks about how diet culture has normalised ‘disordered eating’ – how many people have said ‘Oh I can’t eat that, I’m being good’? For most people disordered eating stays that – but in some instances it can lead to a full blown eating disorder. Throughout the book Dr Wolrich references specific documents – but also to organisations and resources that could provide help and support such as BEAT.

I know that for myself – being immersed in diet culture for most of my adult life has left me with disordered eating issues. Last year I went to see a nutritionist who ran various tests – and despite being classed as morbidly obese per my BMI (I was shocked to read in the book how BMI was originally set up – and the spuriously random way levels were set) my visceral fat was only just above the normal range. This is probably because I exercise regularly and eat a pretty varied and sensible diet. The nutritionist said that my excess poundage was therefore mostly aesthetic. When we looked at my diet I was significantly lacking in fibre – which I think harps back to a low carb phase I went through in the noughties (who didn’t?!). Reintroducing complex carbs properly into my diet has helped no end with my piles issues (never knowingly undershared!)

When our then 7 year old was diagnosed with CRMO (Chronic Recurrent Multifocal Osteomyelitis) a couple of years ago she was prescribed a high dosage of ibuprofen by the consultant rheumatologist. We asked if she should look at her diet – but their advice was no, as long as she was eating a sensible, varied diet. However, many friends and family made suggestions of what she should try – cut out dairy / cut out wheat / low carb / anti inflammatory diet etc. But when this was suggested to the small, grumpy girl who was struggling to walk because of painful bones – her response was ‘but if I cut out gluten and start taking the medicine at the same time, how will I know which of them is working if the pain stops?’ Pretty perceptive from the child. And thankfully the prescribed drugs HAVE worked and currently her CRMO is seemingly in remission. Yay to medical science! Anyway – I digress wittering on about me and my family – back to the book!

Dr Wolrich is not saying that everyone should stuff their faces every day with doughnuts and hang the consequences – but he is saying that food should not be used instead of medicine. He also points out that food consumption often depends on many different factors – including socio economic situations and education – and food inequity is a big issue even in the UK. He also states that in specific situations and with specific illnesses there are times when dietary interventions are sensible, to quote:

Can food be used alongside medicine? 100 per cent. Should we be encouraging the dietary interventions when possible? Of course Might this be important when someone can’t tolerate medicine due to side effects? I’d say so. Are they equivalent to medicine? Absolutely not.

There’s also some really interesting points about putting a disease (such as diabetes) into remission rather than curing it with food – and the alleged obesity / cancer link that Cancer Research UK put on recent adverts is also unpacked excellently.

I really enjoyed the fact that the book feels very well researched – with references aplenty, kind of like a medical journal in itself. So much ‘noise’ in the ‘wellness’ area is being peddled by people who will make a financial gain from what they’re selling – and, as with many areas of life, some of the most vocal exponents of specific fads have chosen only to find evidence to back up what they believe rather than look at the wider picture.

We eat FOOD we don’t eat individual nutrients – and food is definitely more than it’s constituent parts. He concludes with the following short guidelines:

– Eat more vegetables and fruits
– Eat more sources of fibre (grains, seeds, nuts, beans and legumes)
– Include oily fish, lean white meat, eggs and plant sources of protein (such as tofu)
– Include both olive and rapeseed oil (extra virgin if you can afford it)
– Include diary (yoghurt, milk and cheese)
– Eat less sugar, saturated fat, and red and processed meat

And to focus on inclusion. Including more nutritious food rather than trying to exclude less nutritious items is going to both improve your health and benefit your relationship with food. Win-win.

All of this sounds eminently sensible and achievable – definitely food for thought (shit pun definitely intended!)