Can Tim Noakes save North Korea’s Kim Jong-un from himself?

UPDATE: If ever there were a good time for North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to lose weight, it would be right now. His stress levels must be going through the roof, given the country’s sabre-rattling with the US over the Sony Pictures hacking and The Interview movie debacle. You don’t have to be an endocrinologist to know that being overweight is a stress all on its own that wreaks havoc on stability in body and mind.  When there were concerns about Kim’s health earlier this year, I wrote this tongue-in-cheek blog below, on what he needs to do to get back in shape. It still holds true and is updated here, because if anyone were surprised at speculation surrounding Kim’s health, they should just check out the moon face and double chins.

The ‘Supreme Leader’, as the 31-year-old  is known, has grown fatter and sicker since taking over after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il in 2011.  My prescription for him? The Tim Noakes low-carb, high-fat diet, and mindfulness training. MS

In July, TV footage showed North Korea’s corpulent young leader clearly sweating, and walking with a “peculiar gait”. That’s a nice way of saying Kim was limping along like an old man.

His absence from important public events for a while thereafter, sparked fears (or hopes, depending on your viewpoint and The Interview) that Kim Jong-un was “either dying or had been deposed”. The regime moved quickly to quash those, saying their “Supreme Leader” had simply been “unwell”. To prove it, they had him wave to the public from a balcony window, showing that he was at least alive, and up and about, if not yet well to be doing his usual public duties.

In the wake of  North Korea threats of unspecified attacks on the US in all the sabre-rattling following the Sony Pictures cyber-hacking, Kim Jong-un has been very much seen in public, looking just as corpulent.


PIC: North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’, Kim Jong-un has been overdoing the carbs


According to media reports, a North Korean medical team  have visited Germany and Switzerland for consultations on Kim’s health. They would have done better to make a detour to Cape Town to consult sports scientist Prof Tim Noakes.

I haven’t seen a report on Kim’s actual BMI (a measure of body fat based on height and weight) and weight, but Noakes would just have to look at him (and his lack of cheekbones) to know that at 1,75m, it’s in the obese range.

Certainly, photos of Kim since he took over the as leader after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, (known as “Dear Leader”) in 2011, have shown a “rapidly expanding man, at least in terms of his girth”, as one writer put it. Another report quotes North Korea expert Andrei Lankov, who teaches at Seoul’s Kookmin University, saying: “The guy is seriously overweight.” (Lankov goes on to say that’s “not good when you’re talking about a country where so many people are malnourished”, but that’s another issue.)

Science proves it isn’t fat that makes people fat, it’s carbs. So Noakes could explain to Kim that while he is not yet morbidly obese, he is on the way, and it’s because he has been overdoing the carbs. Noakes would be likely to prescribe his  low-carb, high-fat (LCHF, aka “Banting”) diet.


PIC: Cape Town sports scientist Prof Tim Noakes

Yes, that diet, the one that is causing all the trouble, and being hailed as a “revolution” in South Africa; the Noakes diet that despite a growing body of scientific evidence to support both efficacy and safety, still has doctors and dietitians frothing at the mouth.

The traditional Korean diet probably has enough protein in it for Kim’s needs. I’m not so sure about its saturated fat content – another reason Noakes diet, or any other good LCHF regimen, would benefit Kim. (The Harcombe diet, by British obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe is another good one.

And if Kim doesn’t yet have full-blown diabetes, as some reports have suggested, all that adipose tissue (the medical profession’s euphemism for too much fat) he carries around shows that at the very least he is insulin resistant (IR). Noakes’ diet is specifically for people who are insulin resistant. (Kim can hear Noakes here, in his own words on his diet.)

Diabetes is known to cause mood swings, and more research his showing that an LCHF diet is a good way to treat it, even reverse it. Kim could come round to seeing The Interview as just another western red herring – an oily rich, fatty food Noakes would heartily recommend he includes in his diet anyway.

The science behind LCHF  shows that along with speedy weight loss, eating enough fat could resolve any other health problems Kim might have. Media reports have suggested that Kim’s “peculiar gait” is from gout, a painful condition both his father, and grandfather, North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung (known as “Great Leader”) are reported to have had, and that often attacks the toes.

Gout is a form of arthritis, an inflammatory condition sometimes called the “king’s malady”, because it is associated with excessive intake of the good things in life – too much eating and drinking, and too little exercise. Clearly, Kim indulges in all those hedonistic habits.

Yonhap, South Korea’s news agency, has said Kim also has hyperuricemia (excess uric acid in the blood, which would explain the gout), hyperlipidemia (an umbrella term mostly for high cholesterol and triglycerides), and hypertension (high blood pressure), and obesity.

If all that doesn’t augur badly enough, Kim is a smoker, and there’s also the added toll of stress on his health in mind and body.

I’d happily hazard a guess that Kim’s stress levels must constantly reside in the stratosphere, even without the escalating war of words with the US. After all, becoming leader at the tender age of just 28, of what the BBC has called as “one of the world’s most secretive societies”, with nuclear ambitions that have “exacerbated its rigidly maintained isolation from the rest of the world”, isn’t exactly a breeze.

The stress of that on its own will be more than enough for “stress hormones”, such as adrenaline and cortisol, to be coursing continually through his bloodstream. That’s even when his country isn’t confronting its neighbour to the south, and fighting (figuratively speaking so far) with the US, and that’s all very bad news for his health.

Of course, stress isn’t always bad. It can even be good. But as Kim is finding, too much of the good things in life can be bad. Excessive stress is shown to suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and blood sugar levels, decrease libido, contribute to obesity and more.

So when Kim feels under stress, here are five tips to manage it, that include short practices of “mindfulness” (living in the moment), seeing his “ideals”, and “letting go of control”.

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