Eat Yourself Sexy: Gillian McKeith Interview

She takes tough love to its limits but always seems to get results.

Thousands swear by her advice and this week her You Are What You Eat diet book nearly topped a poll of books people were most likely to pass onto their kids. Love her or loathe her, celebrity nutritionist Gillian McKeith has become a global phenomenon.

In her new series Eat Yourself Sexy, the good-food guru challenges hefty housewives in the US to break the habits of a lifetime and get healthy.

Gillian doesn’t think twice about serving up some shocking home-truths in a bid to boost the chubby contestants’ libidos. We talked to the outspoken nutritionist about her no-nonsense approach, picking through people’s poo and how appearing on telly saved her life…

*Eat Yourself Sexy With Gillian is on Discovery Real Time, Monday’s at 10pm

Audiences have a Marmite reaction to you. People seem to either love you or hate you – why do think that is?

I don’t know. What I’m now realising is that food is very emotive. So there I am waving my finger saying you should not be eating that or you weren’t brought up properly – that’s quite hard to take. It’s really a big deal for people to come to terms with the fact that what they’re putting in their bodies is not good for them.

In the street – I walk a lot I don’t have a car – I meet a lot of people. They come up to me and ask me things and they all seem really happy – so they can’t be that scared. Of course a woman looking at people’s poo is going to cause a reaction.

Will there be any poop inspections in the new series?

It’s not on TV this time but of course we’re looking through the poo off screen – it’s part of what I do. My mum used to say: “Why do you have to look at people’s poo when I’m eating?â€? I said: “Well mum if you’re eating at 8pm then that’s too late.â€? She says: “God, get off your soapbox!â€?

It’s amazing how much you can read from someone’s poo. I’m so used to it. I’ve been doing it for many, many years. It’s quite fascinating. It is a taboo, that’s probably what shocked people so much. In Brazil, the programme is out there, it’s even more of a taboo. They call me Miss Poo!

Your shows go out in 60 countries and you’ve become a global brand. Do people recognise you in the street?

People act like they know you, they just come up and start talking – I’m never sure if I know them or not. I get given gifts and invited round for tea. You just have to go along with it. One time I was at St Pancras station and this group of young guys started running towards me. It was late at night and there were about 12 of them. I thought – I’m going to be mugged!

They got close and then a few of them recognised me. Then one drops his trousers and asks me to sign his bottom. So I’m posing for pictures and I thought – the show has saved my life!

Some people in the scientific community have criticised your advice and methods on your programmes. They don’t seem to like you very much – why do you think that is?

I’ve no idea. I can’t imagine what’s wrong with the message of take responsibility for your health and eating healthy food. I’m proud of my message. There’s a lot of negativity in the world and I’m not someone who goes towards that. It’s so pointless. I do believe it’s shameful in a situation where we’ve got the worst obesity rates ever and we’ve got type two diabetes on the rise. Clearly there’s something wrong. So I come along and give out a really good message – I can’t understand why anyone would want to complain about it.

You’re well known for your no nonsense approach, is that what you’re really like?

In You Are What You Eat the editing might have made me look more one way then if you met me in person. I think I may have come across as quite one-sided and one-dimensional in some of the edits but, and people start laughing when I say this, there is a lot of love to help them have a successful ending. I’m not just waving my finger screaming at you all day – I just care so much about getting the results.

Where does your strict style come from?

It goes back years ago when this woman came into my office and she threw down a bottle of vodka and a pack of cigarettes across my desk and said: “I’ll do your diet honey but I’m not giving up these.â€? I thought this is ridiculous, I cannot be ordered about by this person. I’d always been very polite, the way you’re supposed to be and very nice.

But it wasn’t getting me anywhere. So it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I remember hearing this voice shouting “get out of my office I can’t take you people anymore.â€? I thought – was that me? Have you ever had a moment when you say something, it just tumbles out and it’s too late? You can’t get it back, you can’t pretend it wasn’t you.
She said: “I beg your pardon, you can’t speak to me like thatâ€?
And I said: “Well I just did!â€?
She said: “Don’t you know who I am? My husband is very rich and very famous.â€?

I’m not impressed by fame or wealth and I said that to her. I think up until then she’d always been curt and people would have said “yes, yes, yesâ€? whatever the situation. She broke down in tears. I made her sign an affidavit to do everything I said. And she did. Her transformation was extraordinary. It was a turning point, not just for her but for me too. It was when I became really true to myself. So instead of taking it I would say the real thing. And I was able to go from getting really good results to really great results.

People don’t always take too kindly to that tough-love style though.

There’s no point in me coming to your house, looking through your fridge and saying “you’re doing a good jobâ€? when you’re like 500 pounds. How’s that going to help you? Some of them are horrified. They say “but nobody has ever said this to me beforeâ€? and I say “exactly – and look where you are.” I go out on a limb because I know that it works and I know they will get what they want.