I always find it curious when someone is hailed a 'guru', traditionally seen as a selfless sage capable of guiding others in his particular field. So kudos to Joe Wicks for reaching this high status of proficiency.
If you, like me, happen to have ventured into Waterstones only to be confronted with a gleaming image of Mr Wicks holding a plate of food while wearing a tactically chosen, tight-fitting shirt revealing his perfect V-shape, then you, like me, must have been arrested by the sight of this mesomorph.
Deciding to see what all the fuss is about, I peeked inside the magical 15-minute plan that has made Wicks a very wealthy man indeed. I was expecting a revelation, a unique approach - I got banality instead.
When you open his books, it's like a déjà vu of all the other health and fitness manuals out there by anyone familiar with sports science, except that Joe's ones pay special homage to his charismatic physiognomy. I am told that, 'this isn't a diet, it's a lifestyle that will transform you' - I'm sure I've heard that somewhere before ...
A quick breakdown of how the body works plies the reader's attention. 'Understanding macronutrients', 'Let's talk about fats', and, 'Your body is unique' become the pegs on which we can hang our frustrated limbs to try and look as lean and happy as Joe.
In fact, Mr Wicks' revolutionary approach to health and wellbeing can be summarised thus: everything in moderation.
The lifestyle coach advises that we cook our own meals, insisting that they can be made within 15 minutes! I assumed it was common knowledge that unless you're making a ratatouille or casserole, most light dishes take about 20 minutes; think wholewheat pasta, rice, eggs, fish and vegetables. Interestingly, quite a few of Joe's 15-minute wonders require that we make them ahead (Jamie, Nigella; please don't roll your eyes).
Then comes the 'science' part. Food is essentially allocated two categories: carbohydrate-rich recipes and reduced-carbohydrate recipes, indulging that 'clean food' mantra to give it an air of potency. Meat, dairy, protein powder, and the latest breakthrough ingredients are to be consumed faithfully: enter all things coconut.
As for fitness, standard concepts like 'pyramid', 'resistance' and 'interval' training make their appearance. An approach that maximises our body's fat-burning capacity by overloading the muscles, working with different muscle groups and getting us to perform shorter, alternating intensity routines - something most personal trainers have advocated for years.
Back to the déjà-vu; I just remembered where I heard it all before! Another personal trainer who runs a successful chain of gyms across London has written it all (arguably better) over a decade ago in his books: Fitness for Life Manual and 90-day Fitness Plan.
Matt Roberts in his heyday was another one of those fitness 'gurus' hailed for his ability to change lives. But whereas Joe is all for supporting debatable research that tell us to stock up on coconut oil, listing it as one of his 'store cupboard essentials', Roberts favoured a more nuanced approach which broke foods down to their glycaemic index, separating between the acid-forming and alkaline-forming groups.
Bottom line, all these health manuals and gurus have one thing in common: they're making us eat less and move more - that's the Secret. Yesterday it was the glycaemic diet, or the food combining diet; today it's the dopamine plan and Joe's 15 minutes to being a Minotaur. But if we scrutinise the advice, the basic formula stays the same. That's why all lifestyle gurus inevitably meet the same end; they expire.
As our enthusiasm wanes and the body gives in to old habits, we'll go on to the next book and the next guru. Why? Because the difference between a diet and a lifestyle change is quite small; the one is usually absurdly restrictive the other only moderately so. Still, both have their disputed favourites.
Joe Wicks' success is not down to the ingenuity of his approach but the tragic gullibility of the audience. Saturated fats are in, so we're told to load up on £10 jars of organic, cold-pressed coconut oil. Next year it'll be the urine cleanse, as practised by certain yogis. The health advice we're happily purchasing for £12.99 a book reflects our vain credulity and self-denial, which seeks a cure when the cure is right under our noses. It's why the lifestyle gurus are still teaching us how to live, by relentlessly exploiting our weakness.
Joe, it's nothing personal, but I won't be buying your book. As for your friends who ask, '... how on earth have you become a TV chef?' We might rephrase that with: how on earth have we let this man become another guru?