Great Britain

Months of junk food gave me moobs, piles and I was unable to have sex… some of the grub I ate will surprise you


AT first he relished the challenge of scoffing fried chicken and pizza for four weeks – but soon wanted the hell out of stodge.

Extra weight hung on TV doc Chris Van Tulleken’s belly and man boobs grew. But the worst change was in his head.

For BBC1 documentary What Are We Feeding Our Kids? later this month, Dr Chris has MRI scans to see how a month of eating almost entirely junk food affects his brain.

It forms links between the “reward” areas of his brain and those driving repetitive behaviour, as in addicts.

Dr Chris, 42, tells viewers: “My brain has been affected similarly to if I’d been taking a substance we think of as classically addictive — cigarettes, alcohol, drugs. So what is happening to children who do this from the youngest age for years and years?”

Dr Chris, co-host of kids’ A&E show Operation Ouch! on CBBC, sets out to find why childhood obesity glob-ally is up tenfold in 50 years.

In the UK, 21 per cent of kids are obese after primary school. Dr Chris believes much of it is down to ultra-processed food (UPF), which goes through industrial proc-esses and has ingredients not found in your kitchen.


Currently, 57 per cent of the calories Brits consume are from UPF. Among teens, it is 68 per cent.

One in five of us lives 80 per cent on UPF but in 1980 only 26 per cent of an average supermarket trolley was convenience food.

Dr Rachel Batterham, of the Centre for Obesity Research at University College London, warns on the TV show: “It might change your brain for ever, we don’t know.”

Embarking on his UPF diet, Dr Chris licks his lips, but the novelty soon fades. Much of the food is soft and easy to eat but he craves it more often.

He is filmed on the toilet, constipated, and visiting a pharmacy for a piles remedy.

He says: “I aged about ten years. I developed piles, low libido, erectile dysfunction, an expand-ing waist, anxiety, sleep-lessness, heartburn. The second I stopped the diet, everyone said, ‘Wow, you’re different’.”

From sarnies packed with emulsifiers to food with ingredients like sodium meta-bisulfite, Dr Chris says we are “soaked in this stuff”.

He adds: “I’m a biologist and many of the molecules on the packet are unknown to me.”

On the show, eating a pud containing potassium sorbate, he says he is not enjoying it but knows he will keep going.

His wife, Dinah, quips: “A bit like marriage.” We also meet their kids Lyra, three, and Sasha, one.

"They are three times likelier than Dr Chris was to be an obese teen.

As well as changes to his brain — still there six weeks later — tests show the “hunger hormone” in his blood up 30 per cent but the hormone telling his brain when he is full is down.


Dr Batterham tells him on the show: “You’ve got the double whammy — an increased hunger hormone and decreased hormone tell-ing your body you’ve eaten.”

There is little research on UPF but a US study found adults ended up eating 500 calories more a day, and eat-ing 30 per cent faster.

Dr Chris blames UPF firms for driving obesity. UPF is cheaper than meat, fruit and veg — and often marketed as healthy.

On the show, Dr Chris meets Ronnie, four, who will only eat chicken shaped like a dinosaur out of a packet, and the family point out healthy wholefoods are dearer.

Raising UPF prices would leave many unable to afford to eat, Dr Chris fears, so better would be regulation of UPF, education and making wholefoods cheaper.

He says: “Guidelines need to acknowledge UPF is the cause of most of the obesity epidemic, partic-ularly with children. Marketing needs to be regulated and we need to invest in early-years care.”

But Tim Rycroft, of the Food and Drink Federation representing manufacturers, says: “The industry has to be guided by Government, which is guided by scientists. If these things are no longer acceptable, we’ll change.”

A few countries, such as France, Brazil and Canada, have brought in regulations.

For his show, Dr Chris visits north Brazil before lockdown, where UPF consumption has doubled since 2002 and obesity tripled.

A floating supermarket run by Nestle and no longer in operation gave rural people easy UPF but the result brings Dr Chris to tears. He says: “It was a feeling of being powerless in the face of corporate power.”

Nestle say the boat was about access to food, and it has since educated locals about good nutrition.

But Dr Chris hopes to inspire healthier eating. He says: “Read the ingredients.

"Try to create time and money to eat wholefoods. And don’t judge overweight people, it’s not their fault.”

How Dr Chris’s body changed in just FOUR weeks:

I lost three stone eating junk food I love including pizza, nachos and fries - life is too short, high volume food is key

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