'It's OK to be a late starter'

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The Independent Online

Kathryn Marsden, nutritionist, skin specialist and modern founder of the Hay Diet is a best-selling author with 13 books to her credit and more than one million sales worldwide. In 1987 Kathryn went into full-time practice as a nutritionist. Kathryn's first book was published in 1993 and she gave up her clinic in 1994 to concentrate on writing. Her latest book, The Complete Book of Food Combining (Piatkus), is out now.

Kathryn Marsden, nutritionist, skin specialist and modern founder of the Hay Diet is a best-selling author with 13 books to her credit and more than one million sales worldwide. In 1987 Kathryn went into full-time practice as a nutritionist. Kathryn's first book was published in 1993 and she gave up her clinic in 1994 to concentrate on writing. Her latest book, The Complete Book of Food Combining (Piatkus), is out now.

Education

I went to Chipping Camden Grammar in Gloucestershire where I had nightmares for much of my school life, spending most of my days in a kind of terrified fog. I suffered quite badly through bullying and I was too afraid to fight the girls back.

I was told that I was "probably not university material", and my only talents were in art and English. I had a wonderful English master called Barry Fell who made writing, story-telling and words all seem exciting. I had poems published regularly in the local paper from the age of 12 onwards and in two locally published anthologies in my teens. I adored books and still do. For me, words were an escape from a pretty unhappy childhood.

The Next Step

I found my way into the hotel industry and worked up to management level. Working 80-hour weeks was normal, with long shifts, awful pay, dreadful accommodation, always working bank holidays, weekends and Christmas. It was a job and a good life experience, but not for me. Drifting in and out of office work, I met my first husband, George, and spent a while being a housewife, having no particular career plans.

The Big Idea

Fate stepped in and gave me a push when my husband contracted diabetes and stomach cancer. His prognosis was very poor and I was told he might survive a few weeks at the most. On release from hospital, minus his stomach and his spleen with only 6st of body weight, he needed constant attention. So I became a carer.

The hospital dietician seemed obsessed with George's dramatic loss of weight and so her nutrition advice was based around filling him with high-calorie foods. She recommended sugar and lemonade instead of water. Fats and puddings were also high on the menu and we were told not to worry about fruit and vegetables because they were low in calories. I couldn't believe it, even with no nutritional experience whatsoever I could see that this wasn't going to work. All it did was make him sick. I needed to find a diet suitable for a man without a stomach, so I began to research diets of all kinds from all over the world. I became so fascinated by what I discovered that I knew I had found what I wanted to do.

The diet that made the biggest difference to George was called "food combining", and was originally devised by the late-Victorian philanthropist, William Hay. The method was quite complicated so I set out to devise my own simplified version. The research I had done began to pay dividends and the few weeks George had been given extended into a year. He began to feel much better and could be left alone for short periods of time. I never suggest that diet cures cancer or anything of that kind, but the food combining boosted George's immunity. After his body had become so ravaged by the surgery it seemed that the nutrition he was receiving allowed his body to heal itself properly. I decided to go back to college to study nutrition. I was 35 years old.

In 1987 I went into practice as a full-time nutritionist. The name spread quickly and people travelled long distances to see me. I gave each person a lot of time and probably learned as much from them as they did from me. I would write down masses of information for each patient to take away, making the notes humorous and with anecdotes to illustrate the more complicated aspects of their treatment. Several patients suggested I should get my notes published and one particular person sent what I had written for them to a few health magazines. This led to the magazines commissioning some articles from me and the writing grew from there. I felt I could reach a wider audience through writing and so I gave up my clinic work in 1994.

Worst Moment

When my first husband died, even though he lived 12 years longer than the original prognosis of six weeks, and even though the hospital consultant acknowledged that much of the success had been down to the care that I had given him. He was the catalyst for Kathryn Marsden the nutritionist and Kathryn Marsden the best-selling author. I did feel for a while that I might give it all up. Colleagues that I respect, however, encouraged me to carry on and I'm glad that I did.

Most Proud Of

When people - usually the ones with long-standing health problems - have either been to see me as a patient or have read one of my books, come back and tell me that my advice changed their lives. Whenever this happens I know I have made the right career choice.

The Secret of My Success

I always approach my work with total commitment and dedication to detail. I have an infectious enthusiasm and the ability to talk to people on so many different levels. I have a constant desire to learn that leads to better health and development.

Need to Know

That books are not things magically produced in a few weeks yielding instant income. Each book I write takes two years on average. That's one year's research and another getting it into the word processor. It is always worth it in the end though.

Wish I'd Known

Oh so much. I wish I'd been able to cope with sciences at school, then the learning curve I had to climb during my nutrition training might not have been so steep. I also wish I'd had more confidence when I was younger and the ability to stand up for myself against the bullies. It took a long time to repair the destruction of my self-worth. My advice would be that it's OK to be a late starter, or to change direction mid-life. I wouldn't have had the maturity to do my job in my late teens or twenties. It is good to be ambitious, but not to be arrogant. Remember that you can learn so much from other people.

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