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
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.’
A TRUE SURVIVOR
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