Diet or exercise which is the best way to beat the bulge?

Diet or exercise — which is the best way to beat that post-Christmas bulge? That’s what TV doctors X and and Chris Van Tulleken set out to prove once and for all in the big TWIN trial

  • BBC2’s Twinstitute subjects 30 sets of identical twins to a range of experiments 
  • The series aims to find out ways of improving physical and mental health 
  • Twin doctors Chris and Xand Van Tulleken host the Birmingham based show 
  • In one experiment five pairs of twins with matching IQs complete a memory test 
  • Another test explores what happens to obese twins placed on a one month diet 
  • The twins spoke about their experience of taking part in the new BBC2 series 

The lives — and waistlines — of identical twins Lyn Maytum and Jen Howden have followed remarkably similar trajectories.

These two 47-year-olds, who have five children between them, have always been a similar build and worn the same clothes size. ‘I was always a tiny bit smaller than Jen, but there was never more than about five pounds in it,’ Lyn admits.

Born ten minutes apart (Lyn came first), they have done everything together, since childhood, and consider each other best friends as well as siblings. ‘We go shopping, pop into each other’s homes, holiday together,’ says Lynn.

They even work in the same field, as accounts managers, and in January Lyn will actually start working in Jen’s office. ‘This is unusual even for us,’ says Lyn.

How have the women’s diets and lifestyles been affected by being a twin? Well, they joke about how having an identical twin is actually quite an effective diet aid, in that seeing yourself (or a version of yourself) every day, no mirrors required, can rather focus the mind on whether you need that extra slice of chocolate cake.

BBC2’s new series Twinstitute hosted by Chris and Xand Van Tulleken shares the result of a series of health and wellbeing experiments on 30 sets of identical twins (pictured)

To find out what diet would work best for them, they agreed to become guinea-pigs for a new BBC2 series about health and well-being.

Twinstitute, which starts next Wednesday, takes a staggering 30 sets of identical twins — of all ages and from all walks of life — and subjects them to a barrage of experiments on both their bodies and their minds, with the aim of finding out how we can all improve our heath, both physical and mental.

Thanks to their matching DNA, identical twins are the perfect human guinea pigs, and are often the subject of scientific scrutiny. This is the first time they have been used in a TV experiment of this scale, however.

Over the course of six weeks, the 30 sets of twins are welcomed to a special lab in Birmingham designed for the show and put through their paces with memory tests, physical challenges and diet-based experiments.

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Competing theories on everything from pain tolerance to study techniques are tested on the twins. They find themselves linked up to heart rate monitors, asked to cram study, try various methods for repelling mosquitoes, and are even made to watch films to discover whether TV viewing can help you lose weight.

The theory is that you can apparently increase your resting metabolic rate by watching films. Five pairs of identical twins hit The Twinstitute cinema where one half watches comedy before their identical siblings watch horror. Bonkers? Perhaps, but it does make for fascinating viewing.

The show is presented by TV’s resident identical twin doctors, Chris and Xand Van Tulleken.

Chris and Xand have made many shows together and, in this one, undertake some of the experiments themselves, even having tattoos done on the soles of their feet in the interests of a scientific test about whether meditation works better than yelling and swearing when it comes to tolerating pain.

Ken Topping (pictured second from left alongside Lyn Maytum, Graham Topping, Jen Howden, Xand Van Tulleken and Chris Van Tulleken) and his twin brother once represented Essex in swimming but have since become obese, they were placed on a one month diet for the series

They will share many of their findings in a life-changing new series in the Mail early next year.

There are all manner of intriguing experiments in the Twinstitute lab. Some take the twins involved back to the classroom to examine brain-power and study techniques.

Which works better — cramming or planning?

Five pairs of twins with matching IQs are asked to study a 24-page dossier of trivia written by a world memory champion. ‘Team Plan’ have five days to revise it, being allowed 30 minutes each day.

Meanwhile, their counterparts in ‘Team Cram’ have the same two-and-a-half hours to commit their dossier to memory — but are allocated that time in one go, the night before the exam.

The whole six-part series kicks off with the subject so many of us will be grappling with as the New Year approaches — how best to shift those excess pounds. Is cutting down on calories more effective than hitting the gym?

The female twins are joined by Graham and Ken Topping.

As young men, the pair were athletes. Ken represented their home county of Essex in swimming, while Graham was an international springboard diver, representing Great Britain.

Thirty years on and now aged 54, they discovered what happens when you stop exercising but fail to adjust the extreme calorie intake that goes with a high-energy life (6,000 calories a day in their case).

Graham (pictured right with Jen) revealed he and his brother have had a tendency of spending weekends together mainly in the pub, curry house or a kebab shop 

By their mid-50s, the twins had become obese, each weighing between 19 and 20 stones.

Both concede their diet was shocking. They tended to spend the weekends together, mainly in the pub, curry house or kebab shop. ‘We’d have a beer and a kebab on the Friday night, a cooked breakfast on Saturday morning, and a curry or Chinese on a Saturday night,’ admits Ken.

And Sunday? ‘Full Sunday lunch.’

Under expert supervision, Graham is put on an extreme diet for a month — as strict as the medical advisers could go while remaining safe. Ken, meanwhile, is given an exercise plan which involves a terrifying two hours of work-outs a day.

In the women’s case, it is Jen who is put on the hardcore diet, while Lyn has to hit the gym for two hours a day.

Suffice to say, all involved suffer trying to adhere to such a radical lifestyle change. The dieters are given stern talks on portion control — a typical main meal should be a palm-of-hand size portion of carbohydrate, and the same of protein, with the rest of the plate filled with vegetables. Alcohol is out; ditto curries and kebabs for Graham.

For the exercisers, the biggest issue is how on earth to fit in two hours of exercise.

‘I found it incredibly difficult to do that,’ admits Lyn. ‘I’ve got a job, kids, a husband, a dog. Mostly I tried to get to the gym after work, but sometimes I would get up at 6am. The result was I was in bed by 8pm, even earlier than my kids.’

Jen had her own issues. ‘I was permanently hungry. My stomach rumbling became legendary.’

The twins were advised throughout the series not to discuss their individual progress with their sibling but instead to team up with a ‘replacement twin’

Interestingly, the twins were advised not to discuss their individual progress ad nauseam with their respective siblings — ‘which was difficult,’ admits Lyn, ‘given that we are used to talking about everything under the sun.’

But they were encouraged to team up with their ‘replacement twin’ in their experiment.

‘For the duration I lost my own twin but found another, in Lyn,’ says Ken, who tended to get all his exercise out of the way in the morning. ‘If we were flagging, we’d text each other encouragement.’

Effectively the twins were being pitched against each other. While the men found this quite natural (‘we’ve both done sports at high level in the past and are naturally competitive,’ says Ken), the women found the concept alien. ‘It pitched us against each other, for the first time ever, really,’ admits Lyn.

So who won? Team Exercise — Lyn and Ken — lost a staggering 14kg over the course of the five weeks. But Team Diet — Jen and Graham — topped that, losing an even more impressive 16kg between them.

They were all winners in the health stakes, though, with all four showing significant improvement in their cholesterol levels and body fat content. And the conclusion? Diet trumps exercise in terms of pure weight loss.

Since the cameras stopped filming, some have continued to lose weight too. In the month-long experiment Ken had lost 8kg, but has since gone on to drop a few more.

Graham revealed being in public with a set of around 20 twins caused traffic to stop as people took time to stare

Did the whole filming process — the twins also took part in some of the other experiments — make them re-evaluate what it meant to be a twin?

‘It was a fascinating thing to do,’ says Graham. ‘You don’t tend to meet that many other sets of twins, so having 30 sets in the one room was amazing. ‘What was novel was not having to explain yourself, because everyone knew what it feels like to be a twin.’

Lyn agrees. ‘It was like being part of a very lovely club,’ she says.

A club where the members certainly turned heads, though. They all laugh at the reactions they got when they were out and about during the filming process, sometimes en masse — and always dressed identically.

‘Once about four sets of us went out, and that had people turning round. But on one occasion there were about 20 sets of us together,’ says Graham.

‘We stopped traffic. Everyone just stopped and stared.’

The conclusions from the TV series are equally startling.

In early January, we will be bringing you the benefit of these findings — and the Van Tulleken twins’ years of investigation — to show you how you can live longer, more healthily and improve everything from your brain power to your sleeping habits.

Follow the advice and make 2019 the year you changed your life for the better.

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