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My Big Fat Diet Show

I’ve just watched the first episode of this programme and never has my book title “Stop Counting Calories & Start Losing Weight” seemed more appropriate.

First of all – don’t you just love Anna Richardson?! She is one of my fave presenters – so natural, so approachable, so ‘one of us’ and good on her for joining in and trying to get into a dress and being seen in her pyjamas etc. She is just fab. I just want to get hold of her though and explain all about calories and how they are just fuel and how a calorie is not a calorie and how we have misapplied the laws of the universe to the human body. She’s clearly very bright – so let’s go into this at whatever level is necessary until Anna stops believing that cutting calories is the way to lose weight. Start with the Minnesota experiment and we’ll go from there!

The second great thing about the programme is the 6 women chosen – genius idea to get 6 slimming friends. The chemistry between them is such fun to watch. I laughed out loud when Lissy got so hungry she said the dog was starting to look quite appetising. Not surprising though – what do we know about hunger?! The body will do anything to avoid it and anything to get you to eat. Poor Lissy put on 2lbs in 4 days, so has anyone seen her dog?!

Now for that 100 calorie supermarket – very visual, great idea, but who the heck cares about 100 calorie units?! We have got to STOP thinking eating less (let alone doing more) will do anything other than 1) make us hungry 2) slow down our metabolism (until you get to the point that you can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day and then 1000 and then 800 etc) and 3) our body will use up lean tissue before fat if we create a calorie deficit.

As the Minnesota experiment proved and as we all found on our first ever calorie controlled diet, it will work, in the very short term and then the body quickly adapts, does those 3 things and works to get you back to ‘equilibrium’. Sadly it is most likely to put you back in equilibrium at your previous weight but needing fewer calories to stay there than you did before. Then you do Weight Watchers again and your equilibrium intake goes down again and then I get a pool of clients who can’t lose weight despite having starved themselves on 1000-1200 calories a day. Every now and again they give in, because they are so depressed at not losing weight and they ‘binge’ on a glass of wine and some crisps and beat themselves up! They should still lose weight on 1200 calories and a glass of wine and some crisps every single day according to this mad calorie theory, but they don’t!

Anna ended the first weigh in by saying “That’s proof – if you limit your calories, you do lose weight“. Well Lissy didn’t and the other women will find it won’t be long before they are still limiting calories and literally starving and no more weight loss occurs. Run the programme for 2 months, not 2 weeks and see what happens! (Actually the women have been trying to eat less for over 25 years and they haven’t managed to reach goal).

Other great learnings from the programme:

* Lucy Yates from the government agency “Consumer Focus” was good (never heard of the agency – great idea – but what are they actively doing to stop junk being thrust upon UK PLC?).  She talked about what we know – all the supermarket promotions are on junk food, not health food. One of my facebook fans, Andrea Specchio, made a brilliant comment recently about the difference between processed food and real food – only processed food gets promoted! On this basis, it is obvious that only junk food makers are going to do BOGOF’s on products – as they are the only ones advertising in the first place!

* Anna said that the average woman needs c. 2000 calories a day and the women’s trolleys showed that they had been eating 2500 calories per day. If the calorie theory worked (it is supposed to work for more calories as well as fewer), each of these women would have put on 52lbs each and every year by eating 500 calories a day ‘too many’. Josie said she started going to the slimming club at 18 and was now 43 and had yet to reach goal! If she really had been eating 500 cals more than she needed to, she would be now be over 100 stone! I suspect she’s been having lower calorie days followed by “I’m hungry”  higher calorie days but continuously eating the wrong things – mainly carbs!

* The chocolate addict bit was interesting – Felicity was eating 250 kilos of confectionery (not real chocolate) per year! Mars and Cadbury may actually notice a dip in sales if she manages to stay off the stuff!

* Finally the menu plans. Harcombe Diet followers will have immediately noticed that the diet was designed to induce cravings for every one of the three conditions that we know all about. An example day was given (and then you were directed to the web site for the full 14 day plan):

– Breakfast was a sausage sandwich and a piece of fruit (wheat, sugar, candida, food intolerance – you may get away with hypoglycaemia if the sausage helps stabilise blood sugar. In a cheap sausage there will be wheat, however).

– Lunch was 1 egg and sugary baked beans on toast (wheat, sugar, candida, food intolerance and likely blood sugar problems within 1-2 hours).

– Dinner was salmon pasta and wine with sorbet for dessert (more wheat, more sugar, more feeding candida & food intolerance & hypoglycaemia).

No snacks, no food unlimited. No wonder the dog looked appetising!

Don’t do it girls! Stop Counting Calories & Start Losing Weight!!

16 thoughts on “My Big Fat Diet Show

  • it doesnt suit with cultural in indonesia, especially for those who live in countryside like me. we had rice 3 times a day, cant afford to buy fruit or yoghurt, only unfresh vegetables that available.

  • Hi Zoe

    I’ve read both your “Obesity Epidemic” and “The Harcombe Diet” books and I am totally on board with your arguments – it all makes perfect sense. I am certainly nowhere near my natural weight, so, after 4 days of following your Phase 1 plan to the letter, I decided to have a sneaky peak at the scales this morning I was dumbfounded to find that I have GAINED 5lbs! Can you offer any possible reasons and remedies please? Thanks.

  • Zoe: I have started you protocol for weight loss and lost 2.5 lbs. in Phase 1. I have done every diet there is known to man and am positive my metabolism is out of control. My weight problem started after college – not sure why – did not change my diet. Prior to this diet I would not allow myself to have over 1200 calories per day and am cautions of where they come from. I am 35 lbs. over weight. I don’t have any of the 3 problems however my metabolism is terribly messed up. Any idea what time frame I am looking at to reset my metabolism. Thanx

  • Thank you so much Zoe …have lost 7lbs this year on your diet.4 1/2lbs during phase one during which I felt awful for 4 days…tired ,depressed headaches etc. Then I had to work abroad for a week…I tried to stick to your general principles but sometimes the right food was simply not availabe…so to have lost 7lbs in 20 days is pretty amazing.By BMI is now 24 when it was above 25 …plan on eating this way for the rest of my life.I have more energy and don’t have to suffer hunger this way .Hopefully more wight loss will follow.
    Bless you.

  • Thanks zoe I shall follow your advice and let you knowif the scales start going in the right direction x

  • P.s Zoe I am struggling to eat 85 percent dark chocolate on the diet every day like you do but everyday my weight increases. I don’t eat any other carbs I eat 3 boiled eggs for breakfast,chicken salad for lunch and meat or fish with green veg for dinner. I eat thechocolate throughout the day,I reached my natural weight but the chocolate keeps making me put on weight. Please tell me where I am going wrong. Thanks Naomi x

    • Hi Naomi – many thanks for the Anna book lead by the way – I’ll check that out!
      On the chocolate – a couple of things could be going on here. I’ve been in Phase 3 and at constant weight for 15 years so I know how much/how often/when etc dark chocolate I can eat and not gain weight. You’ve found quite quickly that you almost certainly can’t eat chocolate throughout the day – you’ll be lucky to maintain weight (or not, as you’ve found). The second thing that jumped out in your message was “throughout the day” – remember all the advice on not grazing? Albeit low carb, if you are ‘grazing’ on dark chocolate, you are keeping your body in an insulin/fat storing mode and not a fatty acid/fat burning mode. You may be able to get away with having a couple of squares at the end of the fat meals you are describing, but the advice not to eat between meals is really important. Phase 3 really is about trial and error in terms of what you personally can get away with – at the moment it sounds like you’re having too much too often!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  • Hi Zoe

    There is a book by Anna Richardson to go with the tv series but it is not the same. I think that Anna has read your book as she has developed a set of rules that are very similar to the ones that you suggest… sugar alcohol wheat dairy or carbs after 6. Check it out it is very different than the tv show.

  • Hi Zoe. A friend of mine is raving about your diet having lost 3 stone so far. I have recently discovered I am diabetic type 2. I weigh 120.6 kg. I am in a quandry. The doctor wants me to loose weight and motovationally I need to do it quickly. I am not good at drawn out processes. My options are things like Celebrity Slim. Atkins ( did before and lost lots which I put back on again) or a vlcd total food replacement which I have also done (lipo trim) and lost a lot but put it all back on again. I also had to have my gall bladder removed possibly as a result of this. I am looking for a quickish but healthy fix. If not a vlcd I am thinking of your diet or the Gi diet from Patrick Holford. What do you think. Also you mention your research over 20 years. Are you a dietician or nutritionist etc or what is you background?
    Thanks in advance


    • Hi Paul – so sorry to hear about your health problems, but weight does tend to mess the body up in major ways. I’m a nutritionist working exlusively in the arena of diet/obesity/weight loss/eating disorders etc and I just happen to have been researching the topic since my own eating problems 20 years ago). Dieticans say things like “there’s no such thing as a bad food, only bad diets” (what about sugar and transfats then?) and “eat everything in moderation – if you ban something you’ll only crave it” (why don’t we give the same advice to smokers and alcoholics?!) In my experience, nutritionists care more about WHAT goes into our bodies and Dieticians care more about HOW MUCH (caloires).

      You’re right to split this into two routes – VLCD or low carb. Check out the definitive conclusion on low calorie diets ( let alone VLCD. Put lighterlife on the search box on this web site and see the articles about VLCD.

      If Atkins has worked for you in the past and you want quick results, I would recommend Atkins! For the quickest results you’d have to stay on the first (strict) phase. For more carbs/enjoyment etc, try Phase 1 of The Harcombe Diet. As your friend has found (and read the amazon reviews or check chat rooms) it is working really well for most people. The Type II Diabetes indicates insulin resistance, so you may be extra carb sensitive (another reason for going low carb, not low cal.)
      Hope this helps and good luck with this
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  • Hi,
    Me and my two kids(17,13) started the diet about two weeks ago, good news is we all lost two pounds. We did eat a lot but stuck to the rules, so Bacon and Eggs does work. Of course we would have liked to loose more, I wonder how some people loose 14lb was it their first diet?? (Actually it was my son’s(13) first and he is only doing it because it is so healthy.)

    I’m finding P2 more difficult than P1 because I want to do some carb meals for us and the kids hate just veggie or cottage cheese fillings. I looked at the fat content of various things and found prawns have just 0.7g per 100g whereas cottage cheese has 0.9g per 100g. even though prawns have a face what do you think of using them in sauces for a carb meal. The other thing we’d like are chestnuts which are 2.7g fat? I suspect we have candida and so Quorn is out for a while.

    Why Olive Oil can be used with carb meals? Surely it a fat and will be stored with the raise of insulin? I don’t want to stop sing it!

    It’s wonderful to have lost any weight at all for me and it really was relatively painless. Thankyou for a great start to 2010.


    • Hi Pat – poor you – you’ve had one of the lowest weight losses so far and you are in the advanced class of understanding the diet! People who lose 14lbs have Candida and Food Intolerance particularly badly and the results are spectacular when they start to attack these 2 conditions.
      Onto fats and carbs….
      The key thing is that protein is in virtually everything (it’s actually not in sugar or olive oil – the extremes of carbs and fats), but it is in everything in between from lettuce to butter. Hence it is pretty safe to group foods into fat/proteins and carb/proteins and then just drop the word protein or the book would be 600 pages long! The key thing (as you’ve spotted) is the group that raise insulin (carb/proteins) and the group that doesn’t (fat/proteins). Prawns have way more protein than fat and no carb content. Cottage cheese (low fat) also has more protein than fat, but it does register a carb content. The only zero carb groups are meat and fish. Eggs are essentially carb free and dairy starts to have a small carb content. Having low fat dairy with carb meals is no different to having veg/salad with carb meals – the small carb content you consume should be well handled by the body and cause negligible impact.
      Read the Q&A on nuts in the diet book, as this is one of those unusual foods with all 3 macro nutrients in good measure. The recipe book talks about chestnuts being one of the least ‘nut like nuts’! I study the carb/fat/protein content of every real food and we can either make a really, really complicated diet, or we can say don’t mix carb/proteins with fat/proteins (the table in the Phase 2 chapter is the best visual for this) and this gets us 99% of the way there!
      Olive oil is only used for stir-frying with carb meals. You don’t dunk whole grain bread in it or cook brown rice in it! You only need a tablespoon or two in a large wok to cook veg and the amount you end up with is negligible.
      Keep up the good work!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  • I have just bought your books , read most of the pages and this morning embarked on the first day with a plateful of bacon and eggs ! ….
    And then a little nagging voice inside of me said “this cant be right” how can this work? and yes , yes…I know I have read the book …but still this nagging little devil on my shoulder with its own little voice.
    Then I thought , get on the website to get some motivation and inspiration, and there you were with a blog as well.
    Its helpful ! feel like your there somehow.

    • Hi Debbie – check out the Minnesota blog ( any time you think you can go back to calorie counting! You may also like to know that (Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food – MAFF – figures) UK people were eating an average 2290 calories per person per day (The National Household Food survey) in 1975 and 1690 at the end of the millennium (1999). During that time obesity increased over 6 fold (From c. 3.5% to over 20% – now 25%). And, in case you’re wondering, exercise and/or eating out do not and can not account for this difference – I’ve done the maths.
      So, we have been eating less and getting fatter. Why? During those 25 years, our consumption of real food (meat, eggs, butter, whole milk, whole potatoes, fresh veg) went down and our consumption of processed food (flour, sugar, cereals, cereal products, ice cream, ice cream products, soft drinks, processed vegetables, processed meat, processed milk products, processed potatoes) has gone up. The facts are staring us in the face and governments and dieticians continue to say “Base your meals on starchy foods“. It is little short of criminal.
      The best bit is how quickly individuals can work out we’ve got it wrong and reject processed food and eat as nature intended and start returning to natural weight. Some weeks pounds are lost and some weeks nothing – there is no formula. The body will release fat when it no longer thinks it needs to store it and when the right environment is created in the body to burn fat, rather than store fat. Insulin facilitates fat storage and insulin inhibits fat utilisation and we tell people to base their meals on starchy foods to produce insulin! Mad is not the word
      Many thanks for your comment inspiring mine and keep the faith!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  • EXCELLENT !!! Brilliant Blog Zoe , I could not agree more with what you have said about this show , I watched it and I just felt so sorry for everyone in the show trying to lose weight, I believe one of the reasons I became overweight with food intolerances, hypoglycaemia and Candida was because this was exactly the kind of diet I believed would make me thin!! when actually going on this kind of diet causes you to have all the conditions that your diet helps you get rid of .

    I have seen Anna Richardson doing all sorts of different diets on TV before, I think its time she gave the Harcombe diet ago!!!


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