Who are you? I’m a researcher, author, blogger and public speaker in the field of diet and health. My particular areas of interest/expertise are public health dietary guidelines (especially dietary fat), nutrition and obesity. I also do quite a few media interviews – TV, radio, newspapers and magazines – plenty of examples here. (Any media requests – please tweet @zoeharcombe and please try again if I don’t get back to you quickly enough, in case I’ve missed it in notifications – many thanks).
I’ve got a BA and MA from Cambridge University (economics/maths). I’m proud to have been the first pupil from my state (comprehensive) school to have graduated from Cambridge. I was even more proud to be voted college student president by my peers while there – only the second female president in over 630 years (well it did take them almost that long to admit women!)
In 2016, I was awarded a Ph.D. in public health nutrition. My thesis title was “An examination of the randomised controlled trial and epidemiological evidence for the introduction of dietary fat recommendations in 1977 and 1983: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” The full document is available to site members here.
What are you known for? There are an increasing number of people who have worked out that current public health dietary advice is not healthy and not evidence based. I like to think that I have made original contributions to the body of knowledge in the following areas:
1) Dietary fat: Being the first person to examine the evidence base for the dietary fat guidelines at the time of their introduction (US 1977 and UK 1983). Discovering that not only was the randomised controlled trial evidence NON supportive of the introduced guidelines, but that fewer than 2,500 sick men had been studied in the process.
2) Dietary guidelines generally: I coined the phrase ‘the Eatbadly plate’, which became ‘the Eatbadly guide’ in March 2016. If you know of anyone who has challenged this ‘role model healthy eating’ advice, as consistently and for as long as I have, please let me know – I’d like to shake their hand! Ditto for the myth that is five a day.
3) The 3,500 calorie theory: I devoted 7 chapters of my 2010 obesity book to dissecting calories generally and the 3,500 calorie myth particularly. You can get a flavour here and in this presentation.
4) Physical and psychological reasons for food cravings: The question that baffled and fascinated me, from my teenage years until my mid 20s, was “Why do you overeat? When all you want is to be slim”. This became the title of my 2004 (revised 2013) book, which is still unique in explaining physical reasons for overeating and how to overcome these.
5) Journal article dissection: I receive requests from all over the world (many from my own heroes) asking if I can dissect a particular paper, which has led to daft media headlines e.g. margarine is better than butter. I thoroughly enjoy doing this, although there are too many to keep up with. Too much nonsense and too little time!
What’s your food philosophy? My dietary advice can be summed up as:
1) Eat real food;
2) A maximum of three times a day; (One of my favourite sayings is: “Unless you are a cow, or want to be the size of one: Stop Grazing!”)
3) Manage carbohydrate intake.
I think those three principles will get most people most of the way towards their own optimal weight and health (unavoidable conditions allowing). I do think that some people need to start at number 3) and manage carb intake very precisely (those with extreme obesity who don’t respond to the three bullets above and those with diabetes). That’s the LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) world.
I’m a real foodie first and foremost. I’m passionate about real food. What do I mean by that? Oranges grow on trees, cartons of orange juice don’t. Fish swim in the sea, fish fingers don’t. Cows graze in a field, Peperami sticks don’t. Hopefully you’ve got the idea. Food should come from fields, not factories.
Why do you do what you do? I’ve sat next to people at dinners and, when they hear what I do, they often say “Oh – you’ll be watching what I eat then?” I reply “I don’t actually care what you eat; I care that you know what you should eat.”
I passionately believe that human (and planet) health could be transformed if we returned to eating as nature intends. I know personally what it feels like to eat a Low Fat High Carb diet; to follow the government dietary advice to eat loads of starchy foods and sugary fruit. I did this for years – vegetarian on top – and I struggled to maintain my weight, I craved food like a drug addict (fruit especially!) and I was constantly tired and hungry.
My fellow human beings deserve better. You deserve independent dietary advice, not advice assembled by the fake food industry. You deserve evidence based dietary advice, not numbers plucked out of thin air. You deserve healthy dietary advice, not the current mantras that have paralleled a 10 fold rise in obesity and 4 fold rise in diabetes (UK data).
I do what I do because I want people to know what healthy eating is; to know how they can achieve optimal weight and health and to know that they are being let down by public health bodies. What people choose to do with that knowledge is entirely up to them. Have starchy cereal and sugary fruit for breakfast if you want – but have it in the knowledge that it’s bad for you, not in the public advice delusion that it’s role model healthy eating.
I’ll leave you with some food for thought…
“If we have been eating food in the form that nature intended for 24 hours, agriculture (large scale access to carbohydrates) developed four minutes ago and sugar consumption has increased twenty fold in the last five seconds. I wonder which food is more likely to be responsible for obesity, diabetes, or indeed any modern disease…”
Thank you for visiting!
Dr Zoë Harcombe, PhD
If you want some more personal stuff, read on!
Zoë Verna Harcombe (Verna is my mum’s name – it’s French for ‘Spring born’ apparently – and I was!)
Height 5’2”; Weight 7.12-8 stone; BMI 20.5
Chocolate! (85-92% cocoa)
What do you eat?
I follow what has become known as The Harcombe Diet. After I wrote “Why do you overeat?…” the publisher said that she had heard people referring to the diet as “The Harcombe Diet” So, when I wrote “Stop Counting Calories & Start Losing Weight”, we added “The Harcombe Diet®” to the title and stuck with it. It’s my husband’s name, so I quite like it!
The Harcombe Diet is based on my food philosophy above. It’s not LCHF, which wasn’t really heard-of when I started writing books. I was vegetarian while writing my first few books, so carbohydrates were necessary features of my own diet. I started eating meat and fish again in 2010. This was a personal choice and I respect all personal choices in this delicate area. This may help to explain how my views were developing around this time.
I am fortunate, living in the countryside in Wales, to be able to eat meat, eggs and dairy from pasture living animals. I also eat fish – especially oily – white fish is less nutritious. I eat fruit most days, but not too much and because I like it, not because I think it is good for me. I eat a lot of vegetables/salads – locally grown/in season wherever possible. I eat very dark chocolate pretty much every day and quite a lot of it! It’s a great source of minerals and saturated fat ;-). I do eat starchy carbs – just not daily. I enjoy porridge (plain oats and whole milk) – especially in the winter. I like brown rice and (veggie) curries/chilli. Sometimes, there’s nothing like a crispy baked potato and melted cheese.
As Phase 3 of The Harcombe Diet® allows, I eat whatever I want if I fancy ‘cheating’: croissants; ice cream; chocolates crisps… Phase 3 sets out how to cheat and get away with it – in terms of health and weight. I do find I cheat less and less nowadays. I just feel better the closer I stick to quality real food.
Husband Andy, his two boys – Gez and Max and our two mad rescue animals – one canine and one feline. They adore each other and there’s no Tom & Jerry stuff going on!
Have you ever passed off a bought meal as your own?
No way – my friends all know I can make chocolate mousse and that’s it! Andy is the cook in our household – I’m the taster!
I have three: The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle; The Diet Delusion by Gary Taubes and The Great Cholesterol Con by Dr Malcolm Kendrick . All brilliant and original and good to take on a desert island, as you would never get bored of re-reading them.
What do you do to relax?
I’m not great at relaxing – I’m pretty full on from the minute I wake up until the minute I crash. If the cat jumps on my lap – that’s the best thing guaranteed to make me sit still until he decides he’s had enough! Thinking about it – it’s animals that best help me relax – a walk with Roxy is wonderfully relaxing.
I have three criteria for a great film – the three “E’s” – if anything Entertains, Educates and Emotionally stimulates me, I love it. There are loads that Entertain and Emotionally ‘reach me’: “Love Actually”, “Bridget Jones”, “About a boy”, “Notting Hill” – I love all that stuff. There are also quite a few films that deliver all three – examples would be “Dead Poet’s Society”, “Cry Freedom”, “Amadeus”, “Erin Brockovich”, “Gladiator” etc. I hate any depressing films, like “The Piano”, “Atonement”, “The Reader” – why would anyone want to watch a film that makes them depressed?! Fave overall? Dead Poet’s Society clinches it I think – if only for the brilliant Robin Williams (RIP).
I watch so little TV I hardly know what people are talking about. I do the thumbs up thing on TIVO to record all diet programmes, but I watch those with the laptop in front of me making notes and analysing things. I keep factsheets on things from the Horizon Atkins programme to “Why are thin people not fat” and “The Biggest Loser” and all sorts – these are not just diet programmes – they are a great source of research material.
Fave TV series is deffo “24” – best thing on the small screen ever! I loved Prison Break also – but only after the first series, which was a bit slow. My new faves are House of Cards and Stella.
What makes you cry?
What doesn’t?! Any human emotion makes me cry – someone getting through on the X Factor/American Idol, someone scoring the winning goal in a footy match (and I don’t even like football that much), every event at the Olympics, watching people reunite at airports – I’m a basket case!
What makes you laugh?
The dog’s face when the cat is in her basket! Twitter makes me laugh most days, Michael McIntyre, Gavin & Stacey, Stella (two mentions for this brilliant series), Friends, Gabby & Carlos on Desperate Housewives, Jo Brand, clever cartoons in newspapers, great one-liners and loads of my friends make me laugh – that’s nice eh?!
Freedom, Health, Relationships, Curiosity, Mutuality and Integrity.
I love what I do. My work is my hobby. Call me sad, but there’s little more fun than dissecting a journal article! I love learning and discovering new things. I love connecting with people doing similar things. I love spending time with Andy (we work together now, so we need to get non-work time also). What else? Walking the dog, stroking the cat, rugby (supporting Wales – can be very stressful), socialising and having great dinner parties with great friends.
Describe yourself in 5 words:
I asked Andy to do this and he said (he can’t count!): Friendly; Too bright; Enthusiastic; Principled; Chatty; Passionate (oh, & short!)
That’s all folks! Site members can contact me here.