Preaching a practical approach to eating and health, Thorbjörg Hafsteinsdottir's book 10 Years Younger in 10 Weeks unlocks the secrets of anti-ageing
It’s some surname but, unless you’re Icelandic, Hafsteinsdottir is always going to be a mouthful.
So Thorbjörg the anti-ageing guru – or rather, anti-premature-ageing guru – has taken a leaf from the book of her compatriot Björk (who is one of her private clients), and operates under her first name alone.
And that’s a relief, because we’ll probably be hearing a lot more of it. In her adopted country of Denmark, the trim, blonde Thorbjörg – pronounced ‘Thaw-byurg’ – is a national celebrity.
She was the star of 2012 TV series Botox Versus Broccoli (BVB), in which, after eight weeks, her healthily coached team was deemed by viewers to look younger than a rival’s treatment-enhanced crew. She is also a lecturer, author and government consultant.
Her latest book, 10 Years Younger in 10 Weeks, is a sensation in Scandanavia. Now it’s being published in English, followed soon by a subscription-only online course called My Vitality.
While we chat on Skype, she’s already talking to the American networks about doing BVB out there. It’s just right for the looks-obsessed sex-and-the-city crowd.
But in the end, she says: “This is not about looks, it’s about being happy. Of course, vanity is a good motivator – but better looks are a bonus in my programme, not a goal.”
So what does it involve? Well, if you’re taking it seriously, it’s a change in the way you live and eat (with lots of multi-vitamins on top). You follow the book step-by-step for ten weeks, filling out the charts, and monitoring your progress. But mercifully, Thorbjörg isn’t really a diet dictator.
“Every little helps,” she says. “At the most basic, you should get seven to eight hours sleep a night, drink green tea, drink more water, always eat breakfast and cut down on your sugar intake.
“Plus, if you can afford it, always buy fresh, organic produce.”
And exercise, and meditate, and…
“Look,” she says, with a smile on her face, “even if you were doing everything I advise, there’s still a margin for pleasure. I put the ratio of maintenance to indulgence at around 80:20, so there’s still room for a glass of wine or an ice cream.”
Can this be a former sugar junkie talking? “I was fat and spotty in my teens,” she says. “I had eczema all over my body, and I was unhappy. I couldn’t think rationally.”
Because of her eczema, she began to investigate food intolerances and allergies, reformed her diet and decided to work in nutrition. She trained as a nurse – hence the hard science that backs up the book’s various claims – and came to the conclusion that sugar affects the brain’s ability to function.
“If your brain is essentially caramelised, it can’t work properly,” she says.
“Your positivity is sapped, which means you don’t even have the mental equipment to make the changes to your body that will, in turn, have a positive effect on your mind.”
But isn’t this ‘convert syndrome’? It’s all very well for Thorbjörg: she was forced into this route by her own extreme condition. But if we’re not absolutely miserable and suffering physically, surely the incentive is less?
“Ah,” she replies, “but many, many people are in an extreme condition. They’ve just become habituated to their own suffering.
“Now, it’s true that taking the plunge is difficult. However, as soon as you do, you’re improving the mental state that will sustain you in your new habits – so they become easier and easier to change.”
If only there were time! Juicing your vegetables every morning (and cleaning the damned jug); preparing the pre-work body scrub made from olive oil, sea salt, cayenne peppers, green tea and aromatic pine wood oil…
At the end of the day, most of us struggle with changing TV channels, let alone yoga sessions and training routines. But Thorbjörg dismisses the couch potato’s lament.
“If you follow my advice, you’ll find you have so much more energy that you’ll easily have time to do everything.”
Nagging doubts remain. though. When does such maintenance become obsessive? When does playing on vanity become exploiting insecurity?
Why should women – and her book is squarely aimed at women – feel they have to operate by different rules from men?
Thorbjörg, refreshingly, laughs. “Well, in their fifties, women have more reason to want change than men. After they’ve brought up children who have left home, and they’re having the menopause, they can feel purposeless, depressed, tired…
“If I can just change that by getting their minds in better shape, I’ll have done some good.
“Besides, in couples, women tend to address such issues earlier than their men. But when the husbands see the improvements, they follow themselves.”
Not that you need do any of it, if you don’t want to. One of Thorbjörg’s biggest plusses is her matter-of-fact honesty.
“Look,” she says, “changing what you eat isn’t the solution to all life’s woes. There are other factors to consider, such as stress, environment, and your expectations.
“If it works for you to smoke and drink and eat too much sugar, then carry on. You don’t have to be too serious about life.”
Not for her the puritanism of, say, a Gwyneth, then. (“I’ve known a few raw eaters. They’re terrible people!”). Nor does her message come with any mystical mumbo jumbo: “I’m from Iceland, I get all the spirituality I need from the weather and the geography.”
She concludes by summing it up thus: “All I’m saying is, if you want to look and feel better – however much you want – you have to start from the inside out.”
Which is a lot easier to say than Hafsteinsdottir.
• 10 Years Younger in 10 Weeks is published on 21 April 2014