The Green God­dess: How 80s low-fat di­ets ru­ined my bones

Fol­low­ing low-fat craze also meant low cal­cium... now I have thin­ning dis­ease, says TV fit­ness guru

The Mail on Sunday - - Comment - By Eve McGowan Green God­dess Diana Mo­ran:

CLAD i n trade­mark emer­ald leo­tard and leg­gings, glam­orous Diana Mo­ran fully lived up to her nick­name The Green God­dess dur­ing the height of her fame in the 1980s when she in­structed the women and men of Bri­tain to ‘wake up and shape up’ in her reg­u­lar tele­vised work­out slots on BBC1’s Break­fast Time.

In many ways, she was the UK’s own Jane Fonda – but Diana, who at 76 still sports that same en­vi­ably trim physique that al­lowed her to wear the most eye-wa­ter­ingly un­for­giv­ing Ly­cra en­sem­bles, is wary of the com­par­i­son.

‘Jane was all about go­ing for “the burn”. But by the time I was pre­sent­ing ex­er­cise on tele­vi­sion, I was al­ready in my 40s and it wouldn’t have fit­ted for me at that stage in my life to be do­ing all the high­im­pact ex­er­cise. In hind­sight, I think I made a good de­ci­sion.’

Fonda, 78, who has os­teoarthri­tis and has un­der­gone mul­ti­ple joint re­place­ments, said in a blog: ‘My 25 years of eat­ing dis­or­ders didn’t help… and per­haps my decade of run­ning made it worse.’

Diana be­lieves her freestyle fit­ness regime – a com­bi­na­tion of aer­o­bic moves, dance and stretch­ing – may have saved her hips and knees. ‘I’ve never had any aches and pains in my joints,’ she says cheer­fully.

But she re­cently dis­cov­ered she suf­fers from a dif­fer­ent or­thopaedic con­di­tion from Fonda: the bonethin­ning dis­ease os­teope­nia. And, while Diana never starved her­self, she be­lieves diet fads of yes­ter­year might be be­hind her own di­ag­no­sis, which can be brought on by a de­fi­ciency of cal­cium or Vi­ta­min D.


WHILE trav­el­ling the world as a model in her youth, Diana fully em­braced the low-fat eat­ing trend that was so pop­u­lar dur­ing the 1980s.

‘Lean cui­sine, boil-inthe bag – I tried it all. I even did the grape­fruit diet. Then we were ad­vised to swap but­ter for mar­garine, and it was low-fat yo­gurts, low-fat ev­ery­thing.’

The now widely de­bunked trend for shun­ning ‘fatty’ dairy foods like but­ter, milk, yo­gurt and cream in favour of man­u­fac­tured fat-free ver­sions can have a disas­trous ef­fect on the body’s in­take of cal­cium, which is im­por­tant for healthy bones.

Re­cent fig­ures from the Na­tional Diet and Nu­tri­tion Sur­vey show 18 per cent of teenagers are not get­ting enough cal­cium, and there have been a num­ber of cases of women with a his­tory of eat­ing dis­or­ders de­vel­op­ing bone-thin­ning diseases as poor nu­tri­tion in ear­lier life ‘stores up’ prob­lems for the fu­ture.

‘There has been a sea change in think­ing over the past few years and we’ve be­come more so­phis­ti­cated in how we re­gard fat,’ ad­mits Diana. ‘Ex­perts now re­alise fat isn’t bad – in fact it is quite good for you.’

Nu­tri­tion­ist Zoe Har­combe agrees, say­ing: ‘When di­etary fat guide­lines were in­tro­duced in 1983, a green light was given to the fake food in­dus­try to pro­duce low-fat al­ter­na­tives. For low-fat, read low-nu­tri­tion. Cut­ting out real food, with the nat­u­ral fat that it con­tains, means cut­ting out nu­tri­ents. And it also means cut­ting out taste – the pro­cessed food so­lu­tion to this has been to add su­gar.’

For women who still think they need to avoid dairy and fat, Diana has a mes­sage: ‘Eat ev­ery­thing nat­u­ral in mod­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing fat. I still trim some of the fat off my meat but I en­joy but­ter, yo­gurt and semi-skimmed milk. Go for a var­ied diet with as much fresh food as you can man­age.’

She ad­mits that when she looks back at her TV hey­day, she can hardly be­lieve how much things have changed in terms of health and fit­ness. ‘In the 1980s there just wasn’t the aware­ness of what we should be eat­ing and how we should be ex­er­cis­ing. Ex­er­cise was left to the blokes and car­ried out in sweaty, dirty old gyms where they would box or play bad­minton. They weren’t a place for a woman – I felt a nov­elty.’


CUR­RENT rec­om­men­da­tions for women over 65 achiev­ing op­ti­mum bone health sug­gest a min­i­mum of

two-and-a-half hours of mod­er­ate aer­o­bic ac­tiv­ity a week (such as walk­ing), or an hour and a quar­ter of vig­or­ous ac­tiv­ity such as run­ning or ten­nis.

Cy­cling and swim­ming are not as ef­fec­tive for bone-strength­en­ing. Although they may be eas­ier on the joints, the phys­i­cal im­pact of a heel strike is what trig­gers new bone for­ma­tion in the body. This should be cou­pled with two ses­sions a week of strength ex­er­cises.

Bone-thin­ning is just the most re­cent of Diana’s health prob­lems. She sur­vived breast can­cer in her 40s, hav­ing a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy in 1987 at the height of her fame.

She went on to be di­ag­nosed with skin can­cer in her 60s, thanks to a youth­ful ob­ses­sion with un­pro­tected sun­bathing. As a re­sult she has re­li­giously cov­ered up in the sun­shine ever since. Para­dox­i­cally, this may have led to a Vi­ta­min D de­fi­ciency which also con­trib­uted to her thin­ning bones. She now takes Vi­ta­min D sup­ple­ments and cod-liver oil.

Diana dis­cov­ered her os­teope­nia after a visit to her GP in De­cem­ber 2013. ‘I strained my back after over­do­ing it in the gar­den and they sug­gested a bone scan.’

Although the back strain was un­re­lated, the scan re­vealed bone-thin­ning, which had no symp­toms. ‘From that mo­ment on I be­gan tak­ing Vi­ta­min D and cal­cium sup­ple­ments to man­age the prob­lem,’ she says.

While los­ing bone den­sity is a nat­u­ral part of the age­ing process, in some cases os­teope­nia can lead to os­teo­poro­sis – a more pro­found thin­ning of the bones that can dra­mat­i­cally in­crease the risk of frac­tures.

Diana is leav­ing noth­ing to chance, stay­ing as ac­tive as she can. She says: ‘I do daily stretch­ing and sim­ple yoga moves and core ex­er­cises based on Pi­lates at home. I also love walk­ing out in the fresh air and gar­den­ing, so I’m al­ways bend­ing and stretch­ing in un­ex­pected ways.’ WE MEET shortly after Diana has re­turned to her home in Shep­per­ton, Sur­rey, after a week at Es­pace Palace Mer­ano, a health and wellness re­sort in Italy, where she had a com­plete health over­haul. Doc­tors there or­dered a bone-den­sity scan, which con­firmed that her bones are still thin­ning. It came as a shock but, ever-pos­i­tive, she says: ‘It’s what you do about it that mat­ters.’

The spa also checked Diana’s choles­terol lev­els, blood pres­sure, iron lev­els and heart and lung func­tion. ‘They reaf­firmed that in most ways I’m ac­tu­ally a pretty healthy be­ing,’ she says. ‘I look back at what we thought of as healthy in the 1970s and 1980s and it seems like light years ago. Our aware­ness and prac­tice of health and fit­ness has come so far. Ex­er­cis­ing is for every­body now. I like to think my break­fast show might have played a small part in start­ing that.’

TV REG­U­LAR: Diana dur­ing a rou­tine in 1984. Above: Hav­ing her bone scan at Es­pace Palace Mer­ano

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