Media WatchMotivationNewsletterOther Diets & Books

Horizon: What’s the right diet for you?

Last January Horizon had a diet programme. This January they had three – all on the same topic – the idea that there are three different types of (over)eaters and therefore three different diets that they should be on. It was described as “a personalised approach to dieting based on genetics, hormones and psychology”.

Hundreds of people” were invited to assessment centres in Glasgow, Manchester and London. From these hundreds, 75 were selected for the programme – no doubt the 75 that best fitted the three groups upon which the programme was based: “Feasters”; “Constant Cravers” and “Emotional Eaters”. I assume that the groups were decided upon before the recruitment started.

Further tests were undertaken when the 75 people were invited to Liverpool Hope University – where they were residential for a few days.

The questionnaire

The questionnaire to find out which type you are can be found here. The 12 questions are as follows (the options for responses are in brackets):

1) Do you have the desire to eat when you are irritated or when someone lets you down? (Very often, often, sometimes, rarely, never).

2) At the end of a typical meal, how often do you feel like you haven’t had enough to eat? (All the time, often, occasionally, never).

3) Sometimes when I start eating, I just can’t seem to stop. (All the time, often, occasionally, never).

4) Do you have a desire to eat when things are going against you or when things have gone wrong? (Very often, often, sometimes, rarely, never).

5) If you pass a plate of biscuits or a bowl of crisps, how often will you pick one up? (Always, most of the time, very occasionally, never).

6) How often do you feel hungry? (Almost always, often between meals, sometimes between meals, only at meal times).

7) Do you eat large portion sizes? (All the time, often, occasionally, never).

8) It seems like I have food on my mind a lot (Strongly agree, agree, agree somewhat, agree a little, don’t agree at all).

9) Do you have a desire to eat when you are feeling lonely? (Very often, often, sometimes, rarely, never).

10) When you are preparing food are you inclined to eat something? (Very often, often, sometimes, rarely, never).

11) When you are going through a stressful or upsetting time, what happens to your eating? (I go off food completely, I eat a little less than usual, I eat more than usual, I eat a lot more and find it difficult to control my eating).

12) When you’re out at a meal with friends, do they all seem to get full before you, even when you’re eating the same thing? (Most of the time, often, haven’t noticed, never).

I suggest that questions 1, 4, 9 and 11 are for ‘Emotional Eaters’. Questions 2, 3, 7 and 12 are for ‘Feasters’ and 5, 6, 8, 10 are for ‘Constant Cravers’. I answered the questionnaire honestly and the conclusion was “you’re not in any diet category”. I tested giving the strongest positive response to each question and it said “You are a mix of diet groups: 33% Constant Craver; 33% Feaster and 34% Emotional Eater.”

I also suggest that this questionnaire is about as scientific as asking someone if they smoke and then telling them that they smoke if they say yes.

The confirmation tests

The initial tests at assessment centres were supposed to indicate which group the 75 people would be in and then tests were run at Liverpool Hope University to confirm the predicted group. The Feasters were apparently identified at the initial assessment through gut hormones, GLP1 particularly. We weren’t given any details about the differences in hormone levels across the hundreds of people tested, or whether they were statistically significant.

Introducing the first test for the first diet group, as Chris Van Tulleken (CVT) narrated: “The sushi supper is testing the first group: we’re calling them the Feasters”. This experiment involved all 75 people having a sushi supper together. They could take as many sushi plates as they liked from a conveyor belt in the dining hall. The seating was not random – name cards on the tables told people where to sit.

The outcome of the experiment was that none of the non-Feasters ate more than 14 plates of sushi; while 9 of the Feasters ate more than 14 plates. What’s the significance of 14? Why not average the plates consumed by the assumed Feasters vs. non Feasters? What about the other 16 Feasters (assuming 25 people in each group)? 9 vs. 16 out of 25 suggests that two thirds of the Feaster group disproved the experiment. However, here’s the key issue – all 9 people, who consumed the most plates of food – were seated within the boundaries of the conveyor belt, as this screen grab shows below.

As David Curry, @dac101, also noticed on twitter “gave up on the ‘science’ then they “proved” group were feasters in an experiment where seating plan biased food availability.”

The Emotional Eaters were identified at the initial recruitment by psychological assessment alone (back to asking someone if they eat when they are stressed/let down/lonely and then telling them they eat for emotional reasons). They were confirmed with an experiment where they were put under stress with a simulated driving test. Cortisol levels rose (in everyone) and the Emotional Eaters consumed more biscuits, chocolate and crisps than the non-Emotional Eaters. There were other items on offer – did the non-Emotional Eaters eat more sandwiches for example? The non-Emotional Eaters should, in theory, have been Constant Cravers or Feasters – why was this not an occasion where they wanted to satisfy their constant cravings or desire to feast?

The Constant Cravers were predicted in the initial assessments from genetic tests (details were not given). As CVT explained, Constant Cravers have genes that “trick their fat stores into constantly thinking they need replenishing. The result? They’re hungry all the time.” This one was tested with a grip test where all 75 people were given a “hearty lunch” and then 2 hours later they were given a grip meter and they had to indicate how much they wanted a particular food. Constant Cravers pulled harder for 5 out of 8 foods. How much harder? What about the other foods? We don’t know. For scientific experiments, this was all very unscientific.

The theory

I just don’t buy that there are different types of obese people as described in this programme. 2.7% of UK men and women were obese in 1972 and this had risen to 22.6% of men and 25.8% of women by 1999. To explain the proportion of people who have become obese, it is necessary to explain what changed. The claim in this programme is that gut hormones, genes and psychology provides the answer. I just don’t buy this. We (humans and our ancestors) managed to stay slim for 3.5 million years and then hormones, genes and psychology went awry within a couple of decades and created an obesity epidemic? It just doesn’t make sense.

The ‘but for’ is surely processed food. Would the ‘Feasters’ feast on the animals and vegetation of our evolutionary diet? Would the ‘Constant Cravers’ constantly crave wildebeest and berries? Would the Emotional Eaters be satisfied by salmon and green beans, or are they uniquely drawn to crisps, chocolate, biscuits, cake and other junk? I just don’t accept that these three types override the ultimate issue, which is the processed food dominating modern diets.

The diets

The diets recommended for the three types were:

Feasters were advised to follow “a diet that makes them feel as full as possible as long as possible” – a high protein (fish, chicken, low fat milk were shown), low Glycaemic Index GI (pasta, lentils and basmati rice) diet. The group was specifically told to avoid potatoes and most rice and breads.

Emotional Eaters were advised to have group support and to follow a diet club programme (one clip showed people attending Slimming World).

Constant Cravers were put on the 5:2 diet. They were told to have no more than 800 calories a day for 2 days a week.  CVT narrated “crucially, they need to avoid carbohydrates, like bread and pasta.” Professor Susan Jebb added “fruit’s off; it’s essentially meat, fish, eggs, veg.” Perfect Paleo! Back to CVT “the other 5 days, they don’t have to diet, but they should eat healthily.” (i.e. they’ll need to diet or the 2 days will be wasted). (The fasting days were started while the participants were at Liverpool Hope University. One man was in tears approximately 18 hours into the fast – he was no doubt suffering from withdrawal symptoms from processed carbohydrates,  but he was given no warning of this or advice as to how to ride it though.)

Even if you buy that obesity can be explained by Feasters, Emotional Eaters and Constant cravers, what would be the best diet for each type?

Feasters find it hard to stop eating, so prescribe them a diet where quantities don’t matter…

Emotional Eaters want to comfort eat when life is stressful, so prescribe them a diet where quantities don’t matter…

Constant Cravers want to eat all the time, so prescribe them a diet where quantities don’t matter…

Whichever type you are (if you believe in these types) the best answer to all of them is a diet that allows unlimited amounts of meat/fish/eggs/veg and eliminates (e.g. Paleo) or limits (e.g. Harcombe) other carbohydrates. Any version of Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) is going to be better than all three options assigned – all of which are calorie deficit diets in different forms.

What is weight loss?

The presentation team even showed that they know this:

One of the programme advisors, Dr Giles Yeo, did a urine test with the Constant Cravers to try to encourage them to stick to the punishing regime by showing that they’re burning fat.

CVT explained the only thing that this programme needs to state – what weight loss actually is: “When we eat, our bodies convert our food into sugars, like glucose, but when we fast, and there are no sugars left, our bodies turn to our fat reserves. They burn them, for energy instead, which is why we lose weight.”

Dr Giles Yeo perfectly reinforced this, referring to what was happening when he observed ketones in the urine of the fasters: “When all the sugars are gone, they start to burn fat.”

So the Constant Cravers didn’t need to be starved; they simply needed to be starved of carbohydrates (sugars). The Feasters didn’t need to be put on chicken, beans, lentils and basmati rice. They needed to be allowed to feast on pork crackling, steak, omelettes, butter and cream and they would burn fat beautifully in the absence of sugars and in the absence of hunger. The Emotional Eaters could similarly turn to fat-rich/carb-poor foods when they needed comfort. The universal solution is to limit carbs, to enable body fat to be burned. Chris and Giles say so and then the programme turns back to the overriding calorie theme that is never far away…

The sushi bowls are measured in calories. The 5:2 dieters get a depressing calorie target for 2 days a week. The exercise expert arrives, Dr Jason Gill, and everything comes down to calories – even Swiss rolls are produced to show the calorie equivalent of exercise that has been undertaken. There’s a shopping experiment (message – don’t shop when you’re tired) – it’s all measured in calories. Some of the guinea pigs have their metabolic rates checked – the calories that they needed pre-diet and the calories they need now are the numbers of interest. There’s a test involving a burger – we are told how many calories it has. ‘Morgan’ uses 40 calories doing some shopping. The calorie obsession is omnipresent, despite the inescapable fact that weight loss is about body fat burned, is about absence of carbohydrate/sugars.

What we can still take from this programme

The first thing that we can take is the message that weight loss is about body fat burned is about absence of carbohydrate/sugars. I cannot emphasise this enough because it is all that anyone needs to know about dieting. There were some other interesting and useful take homes from this series of programmes:

1) In Episode 2, Dr Jason Gill was called in to help with an exercise plan (all 3 types were encouraged to exercise). His guinea pigs were given a sophisticated “accelerometer”. The first week they were advised to do whatever they normally do, to establish their baseline activity. Then a personal trainer arrived and the (handful of) people were put through 3 exercise sessions in week 2. The accelerometer measured the steps clocked up by the group on the exercise days and the days in-between.

The baseline showed that the small group had a baseline average of 7,829 steps.  This increased to 11,271 steps on the exercise days, but then dropped back to 6,694 on the days in-between. This meant that the overall average number of steps for week 1 was 7,829 and the average for week 2 was 8,655 – not such a big difference for all the effort that people put in. This has been a key finding of the Peninsula diabetes study, where this ‘compensation’ for activity with subsequent reduced activity, has been repeatedly demonstrated.

Professor Tanya Byron followed this finding by narrating “While exercise is really good for your overall health, the most effective way to lose weight will almost always be to change your diet.” This point was crucial and could have been emphasised much more.

2) In Episode 3 there was an interesting and useful focus on “Mo”. He actually used the words “pissed off” to describe how he felt when he was putting in so much effort and losing half a pound. In Episode 2, Professor Susan Jebb had stated that losing weight requires great effort and mental energy, which I agree with, but only to an extent. I think that sticking to a calorie deficit (eat less/do more) requires way more effort and mental energy than ditching processed food, and the cravings for junk that go with consuming it, and enjoying unlimited real food instead.

The insights, throughout the programmes, from the real dieters showing the extremes of emotions that come with dieting, from hope to despair, were worth watching – if only to remind ourselves that the real food route has got to be an easier way.

3) Finally – my favourite experiment of all. In Episode 3, Professor Paul Aveyard and Professor Tanya Byron, did an experiment with the Emotional Eaters. I am confident that the outcome would apply to all dieters. 8 people were involved in the experiment which involved baking cakes. A cake was produced early on in the experiment and everyone had a slice. 4 of the group were told the truth – that the cake had 700 calories a slice; the other 4 people were told that the cake had 190 calories a slice. Later on that afternoon, they were able to eat cake that they had baked.

The group who thought they had blown their diet by having a 700 calorie piece of cake earlier, ate whatever they liked. “I’ve blown it, so I’ll eat what I want” mentality. The group that thought they were still doing well for the day, hardly ate any further cake at all. The ‘blown it’ group got through almost 2 kg of cake between the 4 of them; the other 4 got through an eighth of that – barely 200g of cake between 4. This was not new. I described the ‘all or nothing mentality’ in my 2004 book Why do you overeat? When all you want is to be slim – and how to overcome it, but this was a great visual illustration of this common behaviour.

There was a final interesting take away from the programme. The weight loss goal for the programme was an average 5% of body weight lost in 12 weeks. As an example, that would be 10lb from a 200lb (14 stone) person. That would be expected in a couple of weeks on LCHF diets. The overall 12 week loss was 8% of body weight, which was better than expected. As with other TV weight loss programmes – Biggest Loser, Fat Club Celebrity Fit Club etc – people do better on TV weight loss programmes – at least for the time they are on TV. The regain after the programme is likely as consistent as the regain experienced by other calorie deficit dieters who have not been on TV. However, for the duration of the programme, the pressure of being in the public gaze has an impact. Sadly this is not scalable.

The most important thing to take away from this programme, however, is what Chris Van Tulleken said about 40 minutes in to Episode 1: “When we eat, our bodies convert our food into sugars, like glucose, but when we fast, and there are no sugars left, our bodies turn to our fat reserves. They burn them, for energy instead, which is why we lose weight.”

So don’t cut food – cut carbs.

43 thoughts on “Horizon: What’s the right diet for you?

  • Just come across your take on the BBC Expt. My partner and I started with Harcombe but no longer bother with the books as we’ve simply altered our diet to incorporate it, and it has led to us both losing significant weight and keeping it off with little effort, so thanks for that.

    Re the 3 categories used by the BBC, I don’t quite understand why you see a problem with squaring this with the surge in obesity of recent decades. The BBC team simply seem to be arguing these three categories explain (part of?) how different people respond to the dramatically different food intake environment we live in now.

    The emerging picture seems to be of obesity being perhaps the single most complex, multifaceted public health problem in history, involving biochemisty, psychology, economics, physics and increasingly microbiology (gut bacteria). Am sure your PhD will be fascinating to do!

    PS: I agree with you re Taubes’ Diet Delusion. Indeed, I think it is the best example of science writing I’ve ever read (and I’ve done it for a living for 30+ years).

    • Hi Robert
      Many thanks for sharing your results – nice one!

      On the Horizon prog, the experiments were not robust – it was as if the end in mind had been decided and then experiments were designed to support the outcome (e.g. position people nearer the food and they’ll eat more.)

      I don’t think obesity is complex. I think it’s a natural response to an unnatural food supply. We just need to return to eating the real food that we’ve evolved to eat and obesity could be dramatically reduced, if not overcome.

      My PhD has ended up being about dietary fat guidelines, not obesity per se. Although the demonisation of fat and concomitant increase in carb intake is a key factor in obesity – a substantial move away from our evolution diet.

      Glad you’re a Taubes fan too! I’ve come across some people who criticize him (even from the real food world) and I ask them what their contribution to the science of nutrition has been?! How dare they!

      Best wishes – Zoe

  • This is a very interesting article. Thank you. It sounds as if you are pretty much advocating what I would call the Atkins diet. I have a lot of respect for the Atkins and get very cross about how it is mis-reported frequently. It should be a really simple experiment to do to measure blood FAT levels after eating sugary meals and after eating a zero sugar high fat meal and yet I have never found evidence of it being done?? If anyone knows of this please put up a link. I just have a slight problem – the Atkins diet is the only one that I have ever tried and it worked well BUT shortly after the time I tried it I began to feel lousy and was eventually diagnosed with troublesome gallstones … I actually felt better than I ever had before on that diet but am scared that it seriously affected my bile production levels. I was thinnest before having my gallbladder removed but have slowly put on more weight continuously on low fat diet. Does anyone have any views on this?

    • Hi Tracy – what I follow has become known as The Harcombe Diet! Not my idea – but it took off after a book I wrote in 2004 called Why do you overeat? When all you want is to be slim. It’s definitely not Atkins – the first principle is to eat real food (Atkins will allow processed food so long as it’s low carb). It can be quite high in carb depending on options chosen. Paleo is similarly about real food but this is low carb, so a better version of Atkins if you like. I’ve also got a lot of respect for Atkins – especially the original (more Banting/Pennington – before the processed stuff came in) – and agree with you on mis-reporting.

      I wrote an ethics proposal for close to the experiment you describe for my PhD – but my studies then took a completely different turn. I wanted to test as close to pure fat, pure protein and pure carb as possible separately, as I was fed up when journal articles and documentaries reported on a so-called high fat meal full of hash browns, baked beans, ketchup – hello!?

      In my experience of seeing on-line discussions and meeting many people who have tried different diets, gallstones and gall bladder problems have followed a low fat diet – as the gall bladder is there to digest fat and it thinks it’s redundant. VLCD – liquid diets especially – I’d love to see the correlation between those and gall bladder removal. I could probably supply enough cases studies from our on-line club alone! Hence – were you doing low cal before Atkins? Don’t assume it was the Atkins rather than life before. Our club guys who have had their gall bladders removed/suffered gall stones are doing really well on real food/low carb. I really cannot see Low fat/high carb as a good route for any condition (and certainly not weight), so maybe experiment? Hopefully you’ll get some input from others

      Best wishes – Zoe

      • Yes I agree. I now know I’ve never had a proper Phase 1 insulin response but my Phase 2 is still unimpaired. Also I used to have really high insulin resistance (low HDL, high LDL, very high trigs). Back in the early seventies I was suckered into an Ornish style high carb low fat grain based vegan diet, which I recall was called Macrobiotic. I stopped again because it didn’t make me any healthier and proved too hard to follow in the Real World where I was surrounded by excellent cooks, from my mother to my ex-wife and most of my friends – but mostly what I ate was still low fat based on “heart healthy whole grains”.
        I had gallstones for at least five years before they were finally diagnosed and removed. My GP believed I was making up all my symptoms, and even my jaundice was “psychosomatic”! The consultant was relatively clueful and in retrospect he had pretty much nailed “metabolic syndrome” years before Gerald Reaven – but he made the obvious mistake of blaming fat, not carbs.
        I went from low normal to actual UNDERweight, which should have been an indicator that something was happening, but the GP remained oblivious. It’s interesting that I’m far from alone in developing them on a low fat diet. I presume that whenever this happens most doctors assume the patient is lying about their diet.

  • I was really interested to read your article and get your point about massive changes in obesity rates in general. I don’t think this is the whole picture though because there have always been some fat kids, and kids that got fat from a very young age (about 3 or 4). This is my case and I never seriously lost weight until I got pregnant when I lost 10kg without trying to change how I ate. The point about this was that I actually felt completely different about food. I cannot emphasise enough how much of a difference this was. Instead of feeling almost addicted to fatty and sugary foods I felt that I could take them or leave them. I felt able to choose. I also felt able to eat a lot less. This same thing happened both times I was pregnant and stopped right afterwards. I assume there must be a hormonal factor. Do you know anything about this?

    • Hi Carrie
      Many thanks for sharing this interesting finding. It’s a common comment among my peers that we all remember one ‘fat kid’ in the class – not the 20% overweight and 8% obese that we have now. You may well be younger ;-)

      I do generally think that weight is about hormones and not calories – insulin being the main one but glucagon, leptin, ghrelin, thyroid, gender hormones, cortisol & more – there’s a hormone orchestra going on helping or hindering weight. Hence hormones could have explained your experience. Another theory could be – children change priorities, time available and ‘reward’. Maybe you were too busy to eat, too happy to eat, too tired to eat…?!

      Just a thought!
      Best wishes – Zoe

  • Hi Zoe

    What do you make of the Slimming World Diet? I believe that it was voted as one of the top 5 diets to follow by the NHS. I must be very honest, I’m becoming very confused with all the do’s and don’ts out there.

    • Just my two-penneth on an old comment!

      My issue with SW is the whole concept of ‘syns’. To say that it’s fine (and encourage) to eat things like mini chocolate bars, Quaver crisps etc just because they are low syn is totally missing the point IMO. They also still spout low fat which isn’t going to be helpful for various reasons that have been addressed here already.

      People do seem to get on well with it, but in my mind, it’s popular as you still get to eat chocolate/cake/crisps which is what a lot of people want (even if they won’t admit it!).

      I (in my business) try and advocate an approach not dissimilar from the Harcombe Diet but it’s hard to get people to see past SW as they don’t want to have to give up/limit junk food :-/

  • I watched the programmes and did the survey and found that I am a “Feaster”. I probably knew this anyway, but somehow it was good to be told.

    What I got from it confirmed why eating meals with lots of carbs, and potatoes or bread in particular, leave me wanting more to eat pretty soon after. So being a feaster, turns me in to a “craver”.

    I’ve started having salads (with cheese, ham, or Tuna, mainly) for lunch rather than a sandwich, and I no longer get the overwhelming urge to hit the chocolate machine at 4 o’clock. I’m just not hungry any more.

    I’ve lost enough weight since embarking on this, for people to notice and comment. I’m a good stone lighter and can feel it.

    I think the gut hormone thing rings true. I got home last night and had a vegetarian cottage pie meal waiting for me which was largely potato and sweet potato and I was starving this morning. The day before, I ate out and had a sirloin steak and salad and didn’t really want any breakfast – although I had a small bowl of porridge.

    Whether the programme was based on sound scientific principles or not, it’s working for me.

    and that’s what matters isn’t it?

    • I should add, that I’d never heard of the Harcombe diet until 2 hours ago! I’ve started reading it now, and, the principles seem similar to what I’ve embarked upon. Only 3-stone to go, so I’ll read it in detail.

  • Finally, a realistic and knowledgeable take on these programmes! Thank you.

    As a health and weight loss coach myself I initially chose not to watch them because I found last year’s Fat – v – Sugar programme so annoying, but I’ve since dipped into them to find out what the fuss was all about, since so many people seemed so impressed by them. In fact it seems that most viewers completely succumbed to the usual “if a scientist says it, it must be true” thing, and completely swallowed the idea of the three categories. In fact in my experience when people give themselves a label like this they are setting up a limiting belief which makes fat loss and changes to eating behaviours more difficult, not less.

    Thanks again for a great analysis.

  • I saw only the 2nd and 3rd programs and was struck by the men who had lost a substantial amount of wright but still, in some, seem to carry stomach weight which we’re told is particularly dangerous for men.
    I need to lose weight and did the low carb approach that is not easy when on a low income.
    Apart from the fact I eat more than I should and was recommended the 5/2 diet. Don’t think I could be put in to any one catagory. As has been pointed out one just has to reduce ones food intake.

    I’m not an active person but I am going to try a Zumba class for the over fifties. Putting aside my reservations about it being in a class of women. I just need to move more and enjoy it.

    I’ve also read about the dangers of choosing commercially produced low fat foods. It’s a nightmare!

    • Hi Robert
      The first episode is still available here ( for another 7 days, but I don’t think it’s going to tell you much.

      Don’t give up on low carb with a budget constraint. Prioritise real food first and then low carb second and then you spend no money on branded/packaged foods. I did a TV prog in Wales once where I had to feed a chap real food on a budget and he had to try to feed himself on the same budget (he went for pies and junk at the local co-op). I went for all the bargains from the butcher: bacon pieces; liver; ox heart (tastes like steak – no kidding!); rolled rib of pork; mince etc and then shopped around for tinned fish; tinned toms; bargain veg. Porridge oats are as cheap a breakfast as you can get (own label). Baked spuds with grated own label cheese – the real food alone will get you much of the way there and then just have as many cheap meat/veg meals as you can and as few carb based meals as you can.

      Save the money from the zumba class and spend that on real food and just walk instead. Find an elderly person who needs help with their dog or just find somewhere you can walk as part of your day routine or build it in to your day routine.

      Ditch sugar and flour alone and you’ll do so well!
      Best wishes – Zoe

  • Thanks for your insightful comments. I have been on LCHF since June last, and have lost almost 4 1/2 stone of fat, with another 4-5 stone to go – feel grand and my doc is happy with my blood tests. Your books, Tim Noakes, Phinney, Volek, Westman etc (18 in total now) have been studied in detail.
    It is so frustrating to see the media seemingly constantly pushing out mis-information like this weeks BBC One’s “Eat well for less” where the “nutritionalist” was recommending healthy grains and breads for everyone.
    Would you have any recommendations firstly on how we can help “spread the word” and secondly might you have some suggestions on obtaining recognized qualifications on a part-time basis (I work full-time).
    Thanks again for such useful and helpful information

    • Hi Bill
      Well done on your smart move to LCHF and the results speak for themselves.

      I’m reading Tim Noakes’ “Challenging Beliefs” at the moment and I just got to a bit where he says he doesn’t think that there will be a change in global dietary advice in his lifetime and I’ve pretty much come to the same conclusion. It will be a bottom up revolution – survival of the wisest as Sally Fallon Morell calls it. We thus spread the word by reading/networking/leading by example/ sharing information with any and all other open minded people we come across/blogging/writing books/speaking at conferences/doing media interviews – whatever part each of the enlightened can play, we should.

      The problem with qualifications is that the establishment has a monopoly on what is accredited and they will only accredit conventional advice. This may help
      This is why I’m in my final year of a PhD – so I can study something of genuine interest and value at the level I want.

      I am aware that some of the thought leaders in Paleo/LCHF/real food – we’re all on the same team – are setting up some alternative qualifications. Mark Sisson and Chris Kresser may be worth checking out.

      You will have your own unique opportunity to spread the word because everyone who knows you will see you losing weight and gaining health in front of their eyes. They will ask you how you’ve done it and you can tell them. Indeed you must!

      All the best for the rest of your journey and I like being on your team :-)
      Best wishes – Zoe

      • What worries me about the ever growing numbers of success stories is that too many doctors and nurses and all dieticians (OK almost all!) will simply think “the low fat diet is working at last!”

  • Hi Zoe. I have just come across your article The Truth About Fat in Gosport’s Big Voice mag. Wow! It was saying everything I have been thinking and assessing for years about the difference in our diet between the 1970s to date. Julie B sums up my childhood eating and never knew or needed to know what a ‘diet’ was until I produced 2 children in my late twenties!
    I came to the same conclusion as you – and I’m a Travel organiser, and have absolutely nothing to do with dietary or medical research of any kind. Just intrigued about the nation’s eating habits. I also believe that ‘processed food’ is the demon of our daily diet, causing a more than just obesity, diabetes, organ malfunction etc, but I also believe that these processed foods are causing most of the cancers that are so prevalent today. I am eating more naturally produced food, more meat and more fish than ever. I feel 100% fit and healthy 99% of the time, losing that crucial 1% after indulging in carbs and sugary foods. So thank you Zoe for confirming what my thoughts!

    • Hi Lin – many thanks for your lovely message and for being another smart person in this crazy world!
      Best wishes – Zoe

  • Hi Zoe, I loved reading your assessment of these 3 programmes. I watched all 3 and was left confused about what kind of eater I am as I can empathise with various aspects of each group’s difficulties. I also had the same thoughts regarding the sushi experiment, and felt that the accelerometer gimmick was just that – of course they weren’t going to stick to their “normal” activity levels in the first week – they all wanted desperately to show good weight losses and that their activity levels have no bearing on their weight, so upped their activity levels massively I suspect!! I’m fascinated with the idea of a high fat/low carb diet. I always understood that food with “normal” amounts of fat in it, including butter and oils, was more tasty and satisfying to eat than low fat foods, and so generally people need less to feel satisfied at a mealtime. I love basmati rice and will happily eat this with any main meal and it leaves me feeling full and satisfied and without craving desserts, etc. Does rice fit into a high fat/low carb scenario, and would James Martin’s recipes on his Home Cooking series fit with this? He uses butter and oil in everything!!! Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Julie – if you’re doing LCHF for weight loss and/or type 2 diabetes, rice would be best avoided. LCHF in these circumstances would likely be 20-50g carb a day and the rice would blow the day’s allowance. If you want to lose weight, start with The Harcombe Diet ( You can have basmati rice instead of the brown rice. You could always then re-evaluate if you needed to go very low carb. I’ve never watched any chef progs but we cook with butter/oil and would never touch marg gunge or anything like that, so sounds like James has the right idea.
      Best wishes – zoe

    • And when I was a child, it was meat, veg, potatoes, gravy on Sundays, beans on toast, soup and a slice of buttered bread, jacket potatoes with butter, minced beef with potatoes and veg, fried egg and chips, home-made rice puddings and fruit crumbles with custard, home-baked cakes ….. you get the picture. And I was not even a pound overweight, throughout my childhood and until my early 20s. In fact at some stages I was at the low end of my “ideal” weight range. I had no cravings, no mood swings, no issues around food whatsoever, and I enjoyed every mouthful that passed my lips. There was no low fat nonsense, and we just didn’t eat much in the way of sugary foods at all. So, I reckon I should just go back to that and see what happens to my weight!

  • In an effort to try something ‘healthy’, I bought some frozen Quorn mince thinking it would be suitable. After all, if Mo Farah says it’s healthy, surely it must be? Checking the ingredients revealed that it contains ‘natural caramelised sugar’! I know Quorn has a reputation for being tasteless but I can’t believe they’ve used sugar to help the flavour.

    I find the same thing when buying cooked chicken fillets from the supermarket, only to find they’re roasted with brown sugar. Why is sugar added to things that don’t need them?

    • Hi Wayne Because it’s addictive and tasty and cheap and adds shelf life… probably more reasons, but that’s enough for starters :-)
      Best wishes – Zoe

  • Hi Zoe-

    I didn’t see this documentary- and I don’t think I need to- but I found your analysis very interesting. I agree of course about the carbohydrates, but the other thing I found interesting was your observation that the people sitting nearest to the sushi belt ate the most sushi. I think there are a lot of hidden psychological reasons why people unconsciously eat more than they need to, and I think this should be explored- (at least I think that would have been a more interesting program than the “3 different diets for 3 different types”). Food companies and restaurants pay lots of money for testing to figure out, basically, how to get us to overeat so they can make a profit. And this is also where refined carbohydrates and junk food come in, because these foods tend to be very addictive. I wonder, how many of the so-called “feasters” are just particularly susceptible to this type of subliminal marketing?

    • But, yeah, I forgot to say that if they “proved” these people were feasters by seating them next to the sushi belt, that of course doesn’t prove anything! As I was saying, many, if not most people would probably unconsciously eat more when the food is in their line of vision, and they don’t have to walk anywhere to get it. (That’s assuming that they like sushi). I wonder what would have happened if they had only served sashimi and some low carb vegetables? Would the “feasters” have ceased to be?

      • Hi Lisa – 2 very good points – I also wondered about Sushi as the chosen food. I don’t like it! I bet I’m not alone. I do know that I ate about a pound of grapes at the weekend ‘cos I was sat next to them at a dinner party. I had forgotten how sweet and more’ish they are. Had I not been sat next to them, I wouldn’t have reached to get them. Stay away from mindless eating opportunities folks!
        Best wishes – Zoe

        • I can’t eat grapes because they make me feel a bit sick to my stomach, so they’re easy for me to avoid. But my “vice” is nuts! I love them! So I can definitely understand this “more’ish” feeling. I like to roast them in coconut oil, with a little salt, but I have to be sure to cover them and hide them so I don’t overindulge and eat them all at once!

  • Hey Zoe, great post! I’m starting to question things lots more since reading the blog so thank you!

    The issue is when organisations and commonly trusted programmes such as Horizon conduct a very non-scientific programme, and then label it as science. The phrase “right diet” or “correct diet” was used extensively throughout the show, but what does this even mean?! There is no one correct diet to suit all people, it depends on an intricately complex interactions in a multitude if factors, although trends such as limiting refined carbohydrates and avoiding “junk” food can be broadly applied. The other thing I found amusing was when they stated that all the 5:2 dieters had lost more than a pound of weight over the last 48 hours. We were never told whether that figure was a body fat measurement, or just body mass. If it is just mass, which it probably was, then if course they all lost a pound; they were fasting! They would have lost water weight as well as depleted some stored glycogen, and had no food in their body…

    Oh well, hopefully the public will realise to take what they hear with a healthy pinch of salt!

  • It would be interesting to hear what became of the participants after the programme. Unless you are a professional athlete, model or jockey, this sort of approach won’t work in the long run. As Prof Jebb says, “losing weight requires great effort and mental energy”. If standing up required great effort and mental energy, most people, including myself, would eventually sensibly opt for sitting down. They could have condensed 3 hours of dodgy pseudo science into a 30 second public information film. Men, buy a pocket book with the carbohydrate content of every foodstuff and prepared meal. Don’t go over 200 grams a day. Eat cheese and peanut butter.

    I’m not a lowcarb fanatic – and many people who read this blog will think 200 grams of carbohydrate is a large amount; but the Government, by implication from recommended fat and protein intake, recommends 360 grams of carbohydrate, and this is what many men end up eating. 200 grams a day has the advantage of requiring little planning or self discipline. Yes, I know peanut butter is not “good”, but I love it and its 28% protein with very little carbohydrate.

  • Thanks for the analysis Zoe. I couldn’t bear to watch the thing, but wondered what rubbish they had come up with.
    I have been LCHF for 8 months, have lost 6 stone and controlled my DM. Before this I would have said I was a Feaster, a Constant Craver and an Emotional Eater all in one. Now I am none of these things. Carbohydrate no longer rules me and food has little power over me.
    This is my own study of N=1, but how thrilled am I!

  • Nice Post

    but what am I. I answer positively to all questions.

  • First we had food programmes to provide entertainment whilst everyone watching them ate microwave TV dinners, now we have dieting programmes to entertain us.

    What a waste of time and money this series has been. Fancy making people believe that they have a predisposition to being obese. Now that they have given each participant their very individual diagnosis all we need is enough therapists preferable from Cambridge and Oxford to regurgitate nonsense in scientific language so as to make their hypothesis sound credible.

    • Good points. Although I think hormones/genes play some part, they’re by no means decisive and can easily be overcome.

      The main reason why many people become obese is their refusal to take personal responsibility. Reinforcing the idea that it’s all about their genes or their hormones just buys into this culture of fatalism: “it’s not my fault”. People have the power to control their body fat levels by being more proactive.

      • I think it’s a hormone called insulin which is the main culprit in the obesity game. And we all know what foods provoke a surge in insulin.

        We can call people gluttons and sloths so as to coax them to eat less and exercise more. But do Mr and Mrs Average really have a choice when sugar, carbohydrates and hydroginated fats are present in all processed foods on supermarket shelves? After 50 years of brainwashing that fat makes you fat, choice for most people does not exist.

        The low-carb-high-fat lifestyle has to be a grassroots movement otherwise it too will end up being labelled as another fad diet being exploited for lucrative reasons.

  • Good analysis Zoe. I particularly like your observation that hormones and genes were over-stated as a cause of obesity.

    I think the most important message is “cut junk food” which covers a vast range of foods that most people eat these days.

    Personally I’m not a fan of demonizing all carbs. Sure, cut out refined processed junk carbs, but it’s absolutely fine to eat oats, sweet potato, bulgar wheat, quinoa. They’re the body’s preferred source of energy, and won’t convert to fat if eaten in moderation together with regular exercise.

    The documentary was obsessed with “weight loss” rather than “fat loss”. With low-carb diets or faddy fasting diets, you lose a lot of glycogen stores (leaving you weak and lacking in energy), water (leaving you dehydrated) and muscle (the body cannibalizes your muscle mass for fuel in the absence of carbs). Shame there was no “before and after” measures of body fat percentage on the documentary.

    Strangest of all the many strange things about this Horizon Special: no conclusion as to which diet was most effective, after carefully forcing the 75 people into 3 artificial groups with 3 separate diets. And to repeat: absolutely no mention of body fat lost, only weight loss.

    • Dominic Londesborough wrote that low carb diets leave you weak and lacking in energy, dehydrated and with muscle loss.
      My husband and I have been on very low carb diets (less than 50g per day) for 20 months. Our aim was to reverse type 2 diabetes, which has been achieved, but we have also both lost much excess fat. Neither of us are weak or lacking in energy, both running businesses and being keen gym and swim participants. We are not dehydrated and have not lost muscle mass, rather, we have increased it. My husband’s physical strength, as measured by weight lifting ability, has increased considerably over the period of the low carb diet and I swim faster than I used to.
      So, please, don’t be put off, low carb, it can be life and health changing – for the better.

    • Carbohydrate IS a demon for some people..Type 2 Diabetics. And there are plenty of us about. We just can’t handle it, not even in the limited amounts allowed on Zoe’s program. We have a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism. I cannot manage more than 40-50g per day myself.
      I am not lacking in energy or sluggish, frankly I am more active than I have been in years. I have no discernible muscle loss, I have just carted a large bag of dog food across 2 car parks, which I couldn’t even have contemplated before my 6 stone weight loss. Neither does my breath stink as some people aver on a LCHF diet. I assure you this is no ‘faddy’ diet. It is a lifestyle that I can see myself sustaining to the incredible benefit of my health.

      • Yes add me to the list of “just anecdotes”. When I went on a long walk I would crash both physically and mentally after a couple of hours, and would need to carry sandwiches, chocolate, Kendal mint cake, coffee with sugar etc. and stop to carb up.
        I now realise I was not just treating hypos but overtreating them leading to another one a couple of hours later.
        Today I routinely go without eating for 6 – 8 hours and sometimes 9 hours or longer, even when walking carrying several kilos of photographic equipment. Fat/ketoadaption is ideal for prolonged exertion, as increasing numbers of athletes are also discovering.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.