Towards the end of last year Tom Kerridge stood with fellow chef Jason Atherton in Jason’s fancy Marina Social restaurant in Dubai chewing the fat.
‘We were talking about how much had changed in the past couple of years. Can you believe I’ve lost a Jason – a whole person? It’s mental,’ he says. ‘Mental but amazing.’
What Tom means is that he’s shed his close friend’s entire body weight – 12 stone – in only three years. He now weighs just under 18 stone after cutting right down on carbs and ditching alcohol completely – an awful lot of alcohol it seems.
Tom Kerridge reveals how he lost 12st in just three years by devising his very own diet
‘In our business it becomes an obsession to party, play hard, drink hard, eat rubbish food,’ he says.
‘You start drinking after the last bill’s been paid and then it will go right through until two or three in the morning. It’s a release from the pressures of working hard. But there’s a point where you get fed up. You think, “I’ve got to make a change.”’
Today Tom, who’s been Weekend’s cookery columnist for the past two years, can swim a mile in 36 minutes, race up six floors two stairs at a time and, well, it’s probably best to let him explain.
‘Sex is different because you’re not going to bed drunk,’ he says. ‘It wasn’t something that was at a bad point. It was just different. Everything is different,’ he says. So very different, in fact, that just over a year ago Tom became a dad.
The amount Tom lost was equivalent to the entire body weight of one of his close friends
His son Acey was born on 21 December 2015. His wife Beth Cullen Kerridge, a talented sculptor whose 16ft-high marble Dhow Sail sculpture was recently unveiled at the Dubai Opera house (which is why Tom was there), was by all accounts ‘a brilliant pregnant person. So calm. So amazing.’
She’s here now in Tom’s two Michelin-starred eatery The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, and is as warm and easy-going as Tom.
They both call Acey ‘Little Man’, even though he weighed a not-so-little 11lb 4oz when he was delivered by planned Caesarean two weeks early. ‘That was bananas,’ says Tom.
Tom says that it was partying hard and eating rubbish that lead him to become obese
Tom has totally given up alcohol since January 2013, the same day his diet started
‘You can’t put it into words. It’s a mental life-changer. It was something I never thought I’d have and then all of a sudden it’s there and you think, “This is amazing.” Life isn’t about you any more. It’s about him.
‘He’s very much a part of our lives. By the age of 11 months he’d been to Italy four times, Cyprus, San Francisco and Dubai. How cool is that? To be in Dubai with your son while Beth is opening a piece at the Dubai Opera house. He’ll be taking his grandkids there to see what his mum did. It’s mental.’
‘Mental’ and ‘cool’ crop up time and again when you’re talking to Tom. Indeed he’s so full of beans you can’t quite believe he was up until 3am with Little Man, who had ‘a bad night’. ‘Beth took over when he woke again at 5am,’ he says.
He and his wife Beth Cullen Kerridge welcomed their son Acey was born on 21 December 2015 – they both call him Little Man
‘It’s a tag team. We work it together, which is amazing.’ Since shedding a grown man the size of Jason Atherton he says he has a lot more energy, and he wasn’t short on that before. Sobriety helps too.
Not so much as a nip of Scotch has passed his lips since 8 January 2013, which is the date his diet started. He calls it Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet and he’d researched just about every diet on the planet before putting it together.
The recipes are a game-changer for anyone on a low-carb diet. Take, for example, his Asian Beef With Pak Choi And Radishes, or his Greek-style meatballs Keftedes With Parsley And Lemon Salad.
Before I spoke to Tom, I tried them both out on my 20-year-old son, who has the appetite of a small army. They were so good, and substantial, my son thought I’d ordered them in.
A low carbohydrate intake lowers blood sugar levels causing the body to burn stored fat for energy, which leads to weight loss, explains Tom.
WHAT IS THE DOPAMINE DIET
Dopamine is known as ‘the happiness hormone’, a chemical released in our brains when we experience a pleasurable sensation – be it from food, laughter, alcohol, sex or gambling.
Our bodies create it by breaking down an amino acid called tyrosine, which can be obtained from lots of foods.
These recipes are low in carbohydrates, as you’ll see from the amount I’ve listed in each one, but they’re high in tyrosine to help boost dopamine levels – so you’ll enjoy eating them. Many of the recipes are also high in protein which helps you feel fuller for longer.
My Dopamine Diet is not a traditional low-calorie, low-fat diet, it’s a selection of recipes I’ve enjoyed that have helped me lose a huge amount of weight without feeling deprived. The proof really is in the pudding – but sadly there aren’t many of those!
My diet is rich in the following foods. They’re high in tyrosine, which can help the body produce dopamine.
Dairy products I use full-fat cheese, cottage cheese, yoghurt and double cream.
Eggs For reasons of welfare and flavour, I always buy organic or free-range eggs.
Fish Oily fish such as salmon, sea bass, trout, tuna, sardines and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids and are a good source of vitamin D. Seafood, especially oysters, is also rich in essential omega-3s.
Fruit Apples, bananas, blueberries, grapes, oranges, papaya, strawberries and watermelons are favourites with me. And yes, I’m aware that these are also quite high in carbohydrates, but they are better than a burger or a Mars bar if you need a quick fix.
Well-sourced meat I buy grass-fed beef and lamb, free-range pork and free-range chicken and turkey. It’s always worth asking your butcher where his meat comes from.
Vegetables My recipes include artichokes, avocados, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and seaweed. I love dark green leaves such as spinach, sprout tops and kale. Their strong, iron-y flavour – especially when combined with garlic, salted anchovies and lemon zest – is powerful, and the iron helps to increase dopamine levels. These days, I enjoy greens more than chips, honest!
Nuts Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts are among my favourites.
Spices and chillies Hot, chilli-rich foods don’t actually increase dopamine levels but they do help to release endorphins in your brain. When you eat hot, spicy food, your mouth sends signals to your brain telling it that it’s on fire. Your brain releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller, which leaves you with a natural ‘high’.
Miscellaneous Chocolate, green tea, vanilla, lavender, sesame seeds and the algae dietary supplement spirulina also help to promote the release of dopamine and endorphins.
‘I try to stay below 90g of carbs a day. My recipe portions are me-sized, designed to satisfy a hungry bloke who’s on the go. If your lifestyle is a bit more sedentary, reduce the portion size a little. Many of my recipes are high in protein too, which helps you feel fuller for longer.
‘I spent ages researching diets and trying to find something that would work for me,’ he adds.
‘It was important to me to find something I could stick to in the long term, a style of eating I wouldn’t get bored with after a few weeks before sliding back into my old, bad-boy ways.
‘I looked at our menu here and saw one of our best-selling main courses was steak and chips. Under a low-calorie or low-fat diet, I wouldn’t be able to eat that at all. But on a low-carb diet I realised I could eat at least 50 per cent of it.’
He stuck with the steak and swapped the chips for veg. Similarly spaghetti Bolognese just became Bolognese, and as for curry, well, he cut the rice, poppadoms and chapatis and knocked up flatbreads containing low-carb coconut flour.
Also key to Tom’s diet is the ethos of eating as many foods as possible that help stimulate the production of the happiness hormone dopamine, such as dairy products, eggs, fish, fruit, grass-fed beef and lamb, organic pork, chicken and turkey, as well as nuts, vegetables and spices.
‘I’m sure this is why I’ve enjoyed the diet so much, and why I’ve been able to keep it up,’ he says.
Tom weighed 30st and was fast approaching his 40th birthday when he decided he had to do something.
‘I think your 40th is quite a big one because you think, “OK, where am I personally? Where am I professionally? And where do I see the future?”
‘On a personal level my life was amazing. I’d been married for 13 years. Professionally, I’d just received my second Michelin star. But when I started looking at the future I thought, “I’m only halfway. Maybe I won’t be here if I keep going the way I am.”
‘I’d been checked for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol. No problem. I do a physical job and I was swimming every day but not losing any weight because I was eating badly and drinking.
‘I knew I had to do something. We all know if you’re overweight it’s putting pressure on your heart and your joints. But we get told all the time, “You eat too much sugar or too much salt,” so we feel oppressed.
‘Every time I went to the doctor I was being told I was drinking too much. If you’re like me you rebel. You think, “They’re telling me six pints is bad, are they? Well, I’m going to drink 12 then.”
‘You just become anti being told what to do. I wanted to look at what’s good, not what’s bad. I thought, “Let’s celebrate the food we can eat.”’
Tom’s always been large. He says it never bothered him. Growing up in Gloucester, with many a night spent at the rugby club, he’s always been confident in his skin, which says much about him given his far-from-easy childhood.
One of two boys, he was 11 when his mum and dad, a lecturer in graphics, separated. His father suffered with multiple sclerosis and died when Tom was 18. ‘The last few years he was very ill,’ he says. ‘There was a person there but he didn’t take us to the cinema or anything like that, because he couldn’t move.
‘It’s hard to see anybody suffer. It’s not a pleasant thing to experience or be a part of. Now, as an older bloke, I can recognise the frustrations he must have had.
For somebody who’s creative, to have that taken away from him must have been incredibly frustrating, and even worse with the pain he must have been in.
‘But how many people come from a broken family? Mum was everything. She was a mother and a father figure who took us to the rugby. It’s not the easiest life, but I don’t think it’s until later that you think, “Oh God, she did really well.”’
Tom ended up in a kitchen because he ‘needed to find something I was interested in and then I needed money so I ended up washing up. Everyone who works there is slightly more rock’n’roll.
‘You’re with hard-working, hard-swearing chefs who take the p*** out of you. Party animals. It was a bit like being at an all-boys comprehensive only there’s knives and fire. I fell in love with that part of the industry. I thought, “This is cool. I like it.”’
By 21 Tom had hotfooted it to London, where the partying began in earnest. Two years later he met Beth at a mutual friend’s birthday party and three months later they were engaged.
‘She went down on one knee at 1.30am in Leicester Square and a street sweeper was going past. He said, “Congratulations.” It was amazing. I was 23. We knew, we just knew.’ He says this without a smidgeon of smugness.
Tom knows he’s blessed. He thanks his lucky stars on a daily basis. They married in 2000 and opened The Hand and Flowers in 2005, gaining the first Michelin star a year later.
They both worked very hard and played very hard. Tom began to put on weight. ‘It’s difficult when you open any business. You’re constantly juggling the books and you don’t know if it’s going to close the next day.
‘For me, partying was a way of releasing the pressure. It’s not like you gain the weight overnight. It’s something that goes progressively. I reckon I put on the best part of 9st since I opened here.’
Did Beth complain? After all, 30st is a huge hunk of a man to cuddle up to at night. ‘No one ever said anything to me,’ he says.
‘It was a recognition I had that this was unsustainable for another ten years. We have the conversation now and she says, “I loved you then.” When we met we fell in love with each other as people – what we were trying to do, where we were trying to go.
‘It’s never been about physicality. Great marriages are built on an understanding of each other, not how someone looks. Of course, you can be attracted to someone in the first place, but it’s something that becomes more deep-rooted. It’s about the person and then…’
The sentence peters out. And then? ‘Then Little Man comes along. It hadn’t been something that was necessarily missing, but it’s the best thing. We’d reached a plateau in our lives where we were fitter, healthier and the business was fit too.
‘We were at a point where we could say, “Now is quite good.” The timing couldn’t have been better. Suddenly life isn’t just about Michelin stars or TV.
‘Two Michelin stars is something we’re very proud of, but that’s not all to do with me. That’s a team effort. But, Little Man, no one else had anything to do with that.’
Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet: My Low-Carb, Stay-Happy Way To Lose Weight, Absolute Press, £20.
When chef Tom Kerridge realised he was obese, he devised his very own diet