Editors Pick

Why you need to have a happy workforce

14th May 2024

Lucy Epps: ‘We need to think about what diet can do for ourselves, the NHS, and the economy’

Lucy Epps


I was brought up with a really strong food ethic. My mum always worked in food, and understood its importance even before organic became trendy. She always discussed its importance for health. By my 20s, like most people, I thought I was invincible. I was working long hours in TV, often into the small hours.

I ended up getting an autoimmune disease called Graves’ disease. With this disease, your immune system produces antibodies which attack the thyroid gland, a hugely important gland that effects practically all cells in the body. The symptoms include a very high heart rate – sometimes as high as 200 – leading to weight loss and anxiety. Sometimes my hand would shake so much I wouldn’t be able to put the phone on the receiver on my desk. I remember fearing anyone that wanted to discuss a project with me at my desk because I couldn’t point to anything on my computer screen because my hand was shaking so much.

I didn’t understand what was going on and it was affecting my eyes –  one of them was closing and the other one was open wider than it should be. I ended up getting diagnosed via an ophthalmologist at Moorfields. I then went on the medication which suppresses you thyroid gland but obviously it doesn’t do anything to your immune system which is where the problem is. Over time I got my thyroid levels under control.

I was feeling a lot better but always knew deep down that this was masking the actual problem. I had to re-evaluate things, and look at lifestyle. I went on sick leave, and looked into diet. I thought I knew a lot about food because of my mum, but I realised that I didn’t and there is so much science in it as well. My degree had been in English literature and I always thought that was how my brain worked. I didn’t think I was science-y at all. There was so much information online with all these different people telling you what to do. It was confusing so I signed up to study nutritional therapy for three and half years, which included a year of Biomedicine and clinical training. I now see clients on a 1:1 consultation basis online.

This is a different area to being a nutritionist. In a nutshell, a nutritionist works in public health. You have dieticians who work in hospitals and for conditions such as kidney disease where patients are on dialysis or with acute cases in intensive care. I went to the College of Naturopathic Medicine. There were some amazing lecturers who were very evidence-based; as I was studying I became more and more committed to a science-based approach, which my clinical approach is informed by.

There are a bewildering array of media stories out there surrounding food. As a general rule, if anyone is talking in a reductionist way or very explicitly about things, it’s best to be cautious about that report. The dose makes the poison with any food. For example, we know that processed meat and red meat is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer and cardiovascular disease but that doesn’t mean you can’t include them as part of a wider dietary pattern. Often the headlines will grab parts of the study: they will cherry pick something but they won’t look at the finer details of the study.

Through diet, I managed to put Graves’ disease into remission but what I really noticed was that it’s not just about food. Your overall lifestyle is so important too, and to do with sleep, stress levels, and physical activity. These other pillars are really important alongside nutrition and are integral to nutritional therapy.

In terms of the work landscape, once you leave you’re on your own. I am registered with BANT which is the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine and I am registered with CNHC – Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. BANT are doing lots of work with NHS doctors, pharmacists and other health practitioners to get our names out there. I think it is being more and more recognised that there does need to be more of a dialogue between nutritional therapy and the mainstream.

My practice focuses on cardiovascular health and women’s health. Sometimes men can have a more transactional relationship with food than men. If you grew up in the 90s, you had Kate Moss heroin chic. If you look back on the models they are very underweight and that is all we saw. I think a lot of women are not nourishing their bodies the way they should do because of how society views the shape of a woman’s body should be. Even before the 90s, you had Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton. It’s so damaging to the body, as well as to reproductive health and to bone health. Then they think they should look a certain way and in terms of exercise its cardio because they think that will burn the most calories and there is nothing about health and nourishing the body which would be resistance training.

I knew I had to be entrepreneurial, so I began doing corporate talks for banks and law firms as well as 1:1 consultations. It’s been a steep learning curve in marketing.

I have provided corporate talks on the relationship between diet and mental health, specifically the gut-brain connection. Deloitte estimates that poor mental health is costing employers £56 billion annually. Meanwhile, 48 per cent of workers say their workplace hasn’t checked on their mental health in 2022. It’s a very complex area and the research is really scratching at the surface of the gut microbiome but we now know there is a bi-directional relationship between the gut and the brain.

Our guts contain trillions of bacteria and broadly speaking, high numbers of favourable or “good” bacteria and lower numbers of less favourable bacteria have been associated with healthy individuals.  When we eat fibrous foods such as wholegrains, pulses and veg, we are essentially feeding our commensal gut bacteria as they ferment these fibre and as a result produce bi-products that are known as short chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are intrinsic to the health of our colons but also have far-reaching beneficial effects of our bodies, including our hormones, skin, immune system, cardiovascular system and mental health.

Science is constantly evolving, and we are now at the point where we can make a real difference towards our health and prevent many chronic diseases with the right dietary patterns.  We need to think about what it could do for ourselves, the NHS and our economy if we were to pay more attention to diet.


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