One evening last summer, I looked up at my husband with alarm - not simply by the fact that he'd begun to develop a fair bit of extra upholstery around the middle, but also because something didn't look well about him. His face was florid and puffy, as though he were flooded with toxins. Perhaps, I thought, he was suddenly becoming allergic to something.
A few evenings later, I sat him down, took a deep breath and said, in effect (there was no delicate way to put this), you are too fat. Not surprisingly, he was extremely defensive about his weight. After all, it wasn't for lack of trying that he was heavy. He certainly wasn't a secret binger. For an entire year, he had dutifully headed for the gym three times a week and worked out so hard that sweat poured off him, but he lost not a single pound. (Nor, he noticed, did most of the other heavy people he saw who were regulars at the gym.)
For two years, he'd tried eliminating this food or that food to see if the problem was an allergy. He'd had his stomach acid tested, he'd been checked out for Candida and even parasites. Nothing.
He was just getting old, he finally concluded, with an air of resignation. This was what happened when you reached middle age. You got old - old and fat.
Driven by this latest attack on his pride, he decided to approach his problem anew as a journalist. He researched this diet and that diet, and came upon the low-glycaemic-index diet, first developed in 1850 by William Banting in the first-ever diet book, and popularised more recently by French scientist Dr Michel Montignac. The diet was a revelation to him. Here was what appeared to be a sound explanation for why so many people fail with a low-fat or low-calorie diet. His problem - and weight in general - wasn't about overeating. It was about overwhelming the pancreas for many years with secret sugars - in bread, in potatoes and, mostly, in processed foods - so that eventually the organ begins to malfunction. Being fat, in a sense, was being ill.
Overweight wasn't a risk factor for diabetes. Overweight, he realised, was the overnight motel on the long road to having your pancreas pack up.
Montignac's theory is simple: eat all you like of the foods that don't overtax the pancreas insulin and, eventually, it will heal and your body will return to its normal weight.
My husband plunged into the diet with gusto and, within a week, lost eight pounds. As the weeks went by, the weight poured off him. He recovered his jaw line and also his healthy colour. Within six months, he'd lost 30 pounds (more than 13.5 kg) and had virtually returned to his fighting weight. An 80-year-old friend of ours only partially followed the diet and lost 20 pounds (9 kg).
Montignac's most important discovery isn't about weight loss or even diabetes. It may be one of the keys to much degenerative disease. Preliminary research shows that, when patients take these hidden sugars out of their diets, their cholesterol levels normalise and they recover from other diseases - not just diabetes. Banting himself, who was growing deaf before he started the diet, recovered his hearing after a year of following it.
An exhausted pancreas flooding the body with insulin may be one of the hidden keys to a great deal of modern disease.
How lucky for my husband and me that a smart Frenchman made the connection.