Michael Mosley, exuberant medical broadcaster who popularised the 5:2 diet – obituary (2024)

Dr Michael Mosley, who has died in Greece aged 67, was a Tiggerish presenter of television science documentaries, and became one of Britain’s leading communicators on diet and healthy living.

Mosley was a television producer for some two decades before he began to appear in front of the camera in his 50s. Billed as Dr Michael Mosley – he had trained, though never practised, as a psychiatrist – he proved a television natural, combining professorial good looks with boyish enthusiasm.

Mosley’s approach was evidence-based, and as well highlighting relevant scientific studies, he was happy to use himself as a guinea pig, not only to test a hypothesis but also to enliven potentially dry subject-matter. One journalist called him “the great gonzo scientist of our times”.

Michael Mosley, exuberant medical broadcaster who popularised the 5:2 diet – obituary (1)

For the 2014 BBC documentary Infested! Living with Parasites, he travelled to a backstreet abattoir in Nairobi to secure beef riddled with Taenia saginata cysts, and after eating it later ingested a tiny camera to allow viewers to observe the metre-long tapeworm that had developed inside him.

He also experimented on camera with the magic-mushroom drug psilocybin in a laboratory (“like going into hyperdrive on Star Trek”) and ate black pudding made from his own blood. Some of his ideas had to be abandoned at the behest of his wife, Clare, who vetoed, for example, “the idea of infesting myself with pubic lice”.

Mosley rejected the suggestion that such programmes were gimmicky – “generally speaking, everything I do has a substantial basis to it” – and cited George Orwell as his inspiration: “He lived his journalism in Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier. He put himself out there. It’s Orwell who put me on the road to this.”

Michael Mosley, exuberant medical broadcaster who popularised the 5:2 diet – obituary (2)

Mosley also tried out various diets for his programmes and in 2012 presented Eat, Fast and Live Longer, a documentary in the BBC’s Horizon strand, in which he explored the efficacy of intermittent fasting.

In an accompanying article in the Telegraph, Mosley revealed that “after a final slap-up dinner of steak”, he had experimented with eating no food for four days: “I was convinced that hunger would build day by day, getting steadily worse until finally I gave in and raided a local bakery.

“But what I found was that, after the first 24 hours, things got better. I had hunger pangs, but they passed.” He lost more than 2 lb of body fat and his blood glucose levels plummeted.

Drawing on the work of professional nutritionists such as Krista Varady and Michelle Harvie, Mosley explained in his article that he had devised a less dramatic alternative called the 5:2 diet: “With this regimen you eat what you want five days a week, then twice a week you restrict yourself to just 600 calories.” After six weeks, he had lost more than a stone.

Michael Mosley, exuberant medical broadcaster who popularised the 5:2 diet – obituary (3)

Mosley’s findings drew such an eager response – his Telegraph piece rapidly secured nearly a million online hits – that the following year he published his first book, The Fast Diet (with Mimi Spencer). Within a few months it had been reprinted 13 times and sold more than 350,000 copies. He went on to write or co-write several more bestselling books, including Fast Exercise and The Clever Guts Diet.

Mosley had been inspired to lose weight after his father contracted diabetes, followed by dementia and then death at the age of 74; he knew of no male in his family who had reached 75. He was convinced that his diet had put his own Type 2 diabetes into “remission”.

Later he devised the Fast 800 Diet, which required its practitioners to restrict themselves to an 800-calorie, low-carbohydrate, “Mediterranean” diet for eight weeks at a time. Celebrity enthusiasts for his diets were reported to include Beyoncé, Hugh Jackman and Benedict Cumberbatch.

The former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson (Lord Watson of Wyre Forest) credited one of Mosley’s books with helping him to lose seven stone and “reverse” his Type 2 diabetes.

Michael Mosley, exuberant medical broadcaster who popularised the 5:2 diet – obituary (4)

In 2021 Mosley came in for some criticism for his Channel Four series Lose a Stone in 21 Days with Michael Mosley, with a spokesperson for the eating disorder charity Beat saying: “It is incredibly worrying to see a national programme yet again promoting extreme weight loss and crash dieting. The promise inherent in the title is likely to attract people suffering from or vulnerable to eating disorders.”

The presenter always emphasised, however, that people should consult their doctor before making any significant change in their diets.

Nevertheless, as he became ubiquitous on television magazine programmes and was the resident medic on The One Show, Mosley admitted to a degree of worry about the influence he wielded over the nation’s eating habits. “What happens if someone loses too much weight and makes themselves ill?” he reflected, but concluded: “Nobody has ever come up to me and said you utter bastard, you’ve ruined my life – and my work is utterly rooted in science.”

Michael Mosley, exuberant medical broadcaster who popularised the 5:2 diet – obituary (5)

Michael Mosley was born in Calcutta on March 22 1957; his father was a banker while his grandfather on his mother’s side was an Anglican bishop. Michael was “quite religious until I was about 20” and contemplated becoming a priest: “I spent a while on Iona and [in] other Christian communities. I was searching for God, then I didn’t find God – or at least God didn’t find me.”

After reading PPE at New College, Oxford, he went into the City; but banking palled after two years and he enrolled in a graduate training scheme at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School. On his first day in A&E, he recalled, he stitched his glove to his first patient’s head.

He hoped to specialise in psychiatry, but became disillusioned by “how little could really be done for people with mental illness”, and toyed with joining the BBC’s producer training scheme.

“I discussed it with people in the media before I jumped. And they all said: ‘No, no, don’t do it. It’s a terrible thing to go into, you should stick with the noble art of medicine.’ And most of the medics said: ‘Go, go. It sounds much more fun.’ So … I thought I would do it for a year or two and see if it suited me, and I found that it did.”

Michael Mosley, exuberant medical broadcaster who popularised the 5:2 diet – obituary (6)

He started out on the children’s series Investigating Science and graduated to producing episodes of Tomorrow’s World, QED and Dr Phil Hammond’s Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, uncovering health-care scandals, as well as Sir John Harvey-Jones’s business series Troubleshooter and the evocative 2003 drama-documentary Pompeii: The Last Day.

In 1994 he wrote and produced Ulcer Wars, a Horizon documentary promoting the physician Barry Marshall’s then novel theory that gastric ulcers could be caused by a bacterium.

He was named Medical Journalist of the Year by the BMA and received some 20,000 letters from people whose seemingly incurable stomach pains disappeared after they started to take antibiotics. “I probably did, in a funny way, more good with that one programme than if I had stayed in medicine for 30 years,” he said in 2004.

In 2007 he devised a BBC TV series called Medical Mavericks, and, unable to find a suitable host, agreed to present it himself. The Telegraph’s James Walton praised the tyro broadcaster’s “sharp eye for memorable anecdotes” and “winning enthusiasm for his subject”, plus his willingness to “re-enact a few of the experiments himself, with nitrous oxide inducing an impressive fit of the giggles as he tried to describe its effects”. In 2013 he took on presenting duties in a revived Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, focusing on lifestyle and preventative medicine.

Michael Mosley, exuberant medical broadcaster who popularised the 5:2 diet – obituary (7)

Mosley suffered from insomnia, which inspired his 2020 book Fast Asleep; in the same year he published a book on Covid-19 and the race to find a vaccine. From 2021 he presented the popular Radio 4 series Just One Thing, in which he advised listeners on how they could make small positive changes to their lives, from eating more slowly to walking backwards and being kind (which may help to reduce inflammation).

He had a benign and soothing broadcasting voice, with a slight lisp, and in a special run of nightly episodes he took the audience on a “sonic journey” that explored relaxation techniques including slow deep breathing: these were so effective that listeners might be fast asleep before the end of the programme.

Michael Mosley, exuberant medical broadcaster who popularised the 5:2 diet – obituary (8)

Speaking of the diet regime with which he will forever be associated, Mosley admitted latterly that he had become more of a 6:1 than a 5:2 dieter, drank red wine five nights a week, and was a chocolate fiend: “I have even been known to steal my daughter’s Easter eggs and have to replace them.”

“You can tell that riches have not gone to his head,” observed Harry Wallop in a Telegraph interview, noting his “frayed collar, battered pair of trousers and scuffed shoes”. “Though he enjoys the ‘showboating’ aspect of presenting television programmes, for him the joy is in influencing the scientific debate, not being on the front cover of Radio Times.”

Mosley had gone for a walk on the Greek island of Symi last Wednesday afternoon when he was reported missing.

He married, in 1987, Clare Bailey, who became a GP; she survives him with their daughter and three sons.

Dr Michael Mosley, born March 22 1957, death announced June 9 2024

Michael Mosley, exuberant medical broadcaster who popularised the 5:2 diet – obituary (2024)


What happened to Michael Mosley? ›

We miss him so much." Greek police said Mosley, who disappeared after going for a walk, died of natural causes. CCTV footage appeared to show him falling over close to where his body was found and no one else was with him. He was just metres from safety.

Is Dr. Michael Mosley a real doctor? ›

Career. After graduating in medicine, Mosley elected not to pursue a career as a doctor, but instead joined a trainee assistant producer scheme at the BBC in 1985.

What is the Michael Mosley 600 calorie diet? ›

The 5:2 diet involves cutting calories to 500-600 on two days of the week, and eating normally the rest of the week. Mosley was first introduced to it through a 2011 study and it became the backbone of his 2013 book The Fast Diet.

What does Dr Michael Mosley eat? ›

The Fast 800 diet is a form of intermittent fasting, where you stop eating for a large part of the day, and the rest of the day's food is inspired by a Mediterranean Diet. Dr Mosley fasts for 12 hours a day, he told SBS, waking at 7am and having his breakfast at 8am after an hour of exercise and work.

Does Michael Mosley have diabetes? ›

It had all grown out of Mosley's own life experience, a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in 2012. It led to him looking to see what the latest health science could offer as a solution, trying it out and then telling the world. "I wrote the Blood Sugar Diet because I was diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic," he said.

How did Michael Mosley lose weight? ›

The outpouring of concern and affection was of no surprise – Mosley became a household name and one of the most recognisable and trusted figures in healthcare after the publication of The Fast Diet, a book he co-wrote that popularised an intermittent fasting strategy known as the 5:2 diet, where you restrict your ...

Where does Dr Michael Mosley live now? ›

Dr Michael Mosley, who has died aged 67 on the Greek island of Symi, explored health and fitness issues of interest to big audiences. He was a versatile communicator, whether as a television diet guru, newspaper columnist or podcaster.

How many calories can you have on the 5:2 diet? ›

BHF dietitian Victoria Taylor says:

There are different versions, but the 5:2 diet involves eating a normal, healthy diet for five days every week and 'fasting' on the remaining two days. On a 'fast' day, you would typically consume between 500 and 600 calories.

Is fasting good for you Michael Mosley? ›

Michael Mosley promotes it as a way to lose weight, lower blood pressure and even reverse type 2 diabetes. But a new study says it's harmful to heart health, and it's not for everyone. Michael discusses this more and advises consulting your GP before going ahead if you have a pre-existing health condition.

What does Michael Mosley recommend for breakfast? ›

Dr Mosley said his best four breakfasts were porridge, overnight oats, eggs - especially omelettes and kippers.

Can you eat potatoes on Fast 800? ›

Other things to cut out are starchy carbs including bread, pasta, potatoes and white rice. Instead, he recommends switching to whole grains like bulgur (cracked wheat), whole rye, wholegrain barley, wild rice and buckwheat. So, thankfully, carbs aren't completely out the window. He added: "Brown rice is okay.

Can you eat pasta on Fast 800? ›

How does the Fast 800 work? The first stage of the diet works on the premise that when we eat refined, typically 'white' carbohydrates, like white bread, pasta and rice, they are easily broken down in the gut to release sugars which, over time, leads to fat accumulation and possible insulin resistance.

Can you eat fruit on the 800 diet? ›

Avoid sweet fruits

Enjoy berries, apples and pears, which have less sugar than sweet, tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple and melon.

What vegetables are free on fast 800? ›

Focus on low calorie, non-starchy vegetables, which The Fast 800 always encourages you to eat freely, without the need to count calories. Examples include, kale, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms and aubergine/eggplant.

Is the 800 diet safe? ›

The NHS website is quite clear that these "very low calorie diets should only be followed if recommended by your GP". Further to that, "it should only be followed for a maximum of 12 weeks" and it is necessary to be "under medical supervision."

Who is Dr. Michael Mosley married to? ›

Does Michael Mosley have a brother? ›

It killed around two million people and left baby Mosley seriously ill. He was sent to England at the age of 7 to attend boarding school, with his older brother, John.

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