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Review Stop Counting Calories & Start Losing Weight by Zoe Harcombe

Updated on April 2, 2016

What is the Harcombe Diet?

The Harcombe diet is unique, it does not fit neatly into any well-known diet category. It is a controlled carb (not necessarily low carb), eliminate processed foods (and drinks) and control certain medical conditions diet! Zoe Harcombe researched and developed her diet after years of calorie counting, anorexia and bulimia made her question and challenge the conventional diet advice of "eat less and exercise more"

Zoe Harcombe Video

The Harcombe Diet in a Nutshell

The Harcombe Diet has 3 phases:

Phase 1

This lasts 5 days and is designed to kick-start your diet when your willpower is at its highest. It also weans you off a number of foods that you could be a source of addiction and causing one of three medical conditions; Candida, Food Intolerance and Hypoglycaemia. During this phase you are likely to lose 5 pounds in weight. Phase 1 is similar to a Paleo diet, you can only eat, meat, fish, tofu, eggs, salads and vegetables (but not mushrooms and potatoes), natural live yogurt and a small amount of brown rice (50 grammes per day). Drinks are restricted to water, herbal teas and decaffeinated coffee and tea.

Phase 2

This is the steady weight loss phase and lasts as long as you wish to lose weight. There are only 3 rules to follow in phase 2:

  1. Don't eat processed foods
  2. Don't eat fats and carbohydrates at the same meal
  3. Don't eat foods that cause your cravings

Phase 3

This is the weight maintenance phase and there's only one rule; Don't cheat too much or too often. But what is cheating? In phase 3 you are basically following the same rules as phase 2 so cheating would be breaking any of the rules from phase 2. Zoe Harcombe advises that, if there is a golden rule it is; Don't eat processed foods.

In phase 3 you should be free from any of the medical conditions that you identified in phase 1 and you should be at a healthy weight. This puts you in control, you just need to stay alert and avoid slipping back into bad habits. If you think you are beginning to lose control you can revert back to phase 2 or even phase 1 and take control back.

My Harcombe Diet Experience

I started out on the Harcombe Diet in September 2011 at a very unhealthy 16 stones and 9 pounds. I'm exactly 6 feet tall so that gave me a BMI of 31.6 which is officially obese. I found it reasonable easy to follow the diet. I lost about 7 pounds in the first 5 days (phase 1). In the next few weeks, I found that I didn't lose much week in phase 2, so from time to time I switched back to phase 1.

By Christmas my weight had dropped to exactly 15 stones which is still overweight but a lot better. I put on 4 pounds between Christmas and the New Year and then tried to go back to phase 2. However, I think I'm addicted to carbohydrates, especially bread and I think for me it's all or nothing. I decided that I needed to follow a diet that minmised carbohydrate intake.

I suspect that I could suffer from one or all three medical conditions that Zoe describes (Food Intolerance, Candida and Hypoglycaemia). She does give quite a lot of advice on how to self-diagnose but many of the potential symptoms are highly subjective. As my craving for bread is strongest its quite likely that I have developed a wheat intolerance. In the end I decided that if I was going to have forgo bread (and that other carbs could be feeding a medical condition) I might as well just try a low carb diet. The other factor that swayed me was that I was not losing much weight during phase 2. Since the beginning of February, I've been following the advice given by Dr. Briffa in his book, "Escape the Diet Trap"

The Harcombe Diet: Conclusion

Overall I recommend Zoe Harcombe's book, "Stop Counting Calories and Start Losing Weight". The plus points for me are:-

  1. You will lose a significant amount of weight in phase 1 (lasts only 5 days), probably at least 5 pounds.
  2. The advice to avoid sugary foods and processed foods and drinks in general makes a lot of sense.
  3. The book sets out a convincing argument that the government's standard advice of "Eat less and exercise more" may actually be counter-productive.
  4. I'm convinced by Zoe's analysis that the control of carbohydrates is the key to losing and controlling weight.

However, for me, there are some questions unanswered.

  1. There is a considerable focus on self-diagnosis of three medical conditions which I suspect are intrinsically difficult to diagnose.
  2. After stage 1, carbs are controlled by not mixing carbs and fats in the same meal. I'm not convinced that this would be effective for all people.

In the end, I'm left with the impression that "controlled carb" advocates like Zoe Harcombe have effectively proved that standard medical diet advice is, at best, dubious. In addition I'm convinced that controlling carbs is the most effective way to lose and maintain weight. However I'm not convinced that there has been enough research to pin down exactly how and to what extent carbs need to be controlled. I would like low carb advocates to stop writing books and instead pool resources to carry out extensive and conclusive research to enable crystal clear information. I would hope that the medical and human cost of obesity would motivate low carb advocates to put aside commercial interests and reputational risks to come together to fight the vested interests of the food industry, the medical profession and government. I explore this further in my article, "Are Low Carb Diets Healthy?"

How Much Success Have You Had Following a Low Carb/Controlled Carb Diet?

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