Zoe Harcombe, or How to Not Be Big, Fat, and Stupid

Overweight and Obesity Graph

Childhood obesity is just adult obesity getting an early start, and we had better get this thing figured out before 100% of us are overweight or obese. To encourage us, Justin Stoneman recently published an essay in The Huffington Post titled “America: A Big, Fat, Stupid Nation.” First of all, Stoneman is astonished that, with all our Yankee ingenuity, we can’t seem to master the simple art of eating enough to stay healthy without getting fat. He writes,

Perhaps this crime is forgivable, purely symptomatic of the dietary ‘misinformation’ in circulation. However, the truly unforgivable stupidity has been in allowing this misinformation to propagate.

Stoneman, whose credits also include broadcaster, producer and composer, writes for newspapers in 30 different countries. In this piece, he goes on to accuse us of willful ignorance. He suggests we get a clue from the graph on this page, created by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which shows the obesity epidemic starting in 1977. What else happened then? The government told us to eat less saturated fat and more starch (carbohydrates). That sounds about right. A lot of us were raised on the idea that “you are what you eat” — and if you eat animal fat, you become a fat animal.

The governments of Canada, Britain and Australia adopted the same program, and, as a result, those countries too are now experiencing the consequences. We’re all stuffing ourselves with “low-fat” or “fat-free” processed foods loaded with sugar, starch and chemicals, piling on the weight, and paradoxically suffering from malnutrition in the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K.

Apparently, a lot of the problem is attributable to a misunderstanding of the famous Seven Countries Study conducted (or, some say, misconducted) by Ancel Keys. Stoneman even suggests something worse than faulty interpretation. It’s possible that the meaning of the study has been knowingly perverted by the food industry to “falsely demonize” fats.

It now seems that the relationship between dietary fat intake and obesity has been misrepresented. This is way too complicated to go into here, but the case is explained by Jon Herring, quoting heart disease experts who call the cholesterol theory “one of the greatest and most harmful misconceptions in the history of medicine” and “the greatest scam in the history of medicine.” Herring comes to the conclusion that:

[…] many of the dietary recommendations to reduce heart disease have actually been shown to CAUSE heart disease (not to mention cancer, diabetes and obesity).

If we don’t want to be stupid, Stoneman says we should listen to Zoe Harcombe, who believes, among other things, that we probably don’t eat enough fat. The key thing about fats, she says, is to not mix them with carbohydrates in the same meal, because then the body gets all confused about what it’s supposed to use now as energy fuel, and what it’s supposed to store up for later as body fat.

Here’s something about fat that will knock your socks off:

Did you know that it has absolutely not been proven that eating saturated fat causes heart disease? Did you know that the Food Standards Agency admits the study to try to prove this has not even been done and likely never will be?

Here is another sample of Zoe Harcombe’s iconoclastic assertions about obesity:

We have got the first principle of dieting wrong. Energy in does not equal energy out (put a gallon of petrol in a diesel car if you question this). …We have got the mathematical formula wrong. ‘1lb = 3500 calories’ and ‘To lose 1lb of fat you need to create a deficit of 3500 calories’ has become folk law. Do you know where it comes from? Could you prove it? Don’t worry, nor can any of our government departments or obesity organisations and yet they use it all the time.

Harcombe says, “I was addicted to food,” and recognizes that food addiction is just as serious as any other kind of addiction. After 20 years of research on what it takes to stay addiction-free and slim, she rejects the notion that healthy weight can be achieved by “everything in moderation.” Some foods must not be eaten at all, and others can be eaten in virtually unlimited quantities.

Harcombe’s diet book was designed to put an end to food cravings and food addiction. It starts with a five-day detox period, and moves on to a plan that is truly sustainable. She insists on foods that are natural, rather than processed, and one of the main reasons is because every kind of processed food is laden with hidden sugar. Most astonishing of all, she even includes a way to eventually allow some favorite foods back into your life, under certain specific conditions, so they won’t hurt you.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “America: A Big, Fat, Stupid Nation,” The Huffington Post, 09/24/10
Source: “The Greatest Scam in Medical History,” Total Health Breakthroughs, 06/16/10
Source: “The Harcombe Diet,” YouTube.com
Source: “Zoe Harcombe,” ZoeHarcombe.com
Image by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

6 Responses

  1. This post just makes the issue more confusing. The bottom line is that there are many ways to eat that are good for us. Unfortunately, we have chosen the one way of eating (the Western diet) that is known to cause disease.

    And everyone is “attacking” the problem in the wrong manner. If you are reading this, the next time you go to a party, out to eat, or stroll down your “Main Street”, become an observer. Here’s the issue: Americans have become accustomed to eating crap, junk food, incredibly rich overly-processed stuff. Most Americans think this is normal.

    I would estimate (just a guess) that about 5% of the population understands the proper way to eat, exercise and live a healthy lifestyle. The other 95% are not interested.

    Call it brainwashing, call it advertising, call it whatever you want, but we live in a toxic food environment and most people are lovin’ it — that is until they get sick. And then they wonder how it happened.

    Ken Leebow

  2. Hello there! I work for a Boston-based non-profit that’s working to end childhood obesity. We integrate bicycling programs into gym classes around Boston and will be opening programs in NYC. We teach fourth and fifth graders the importance of, not only exercise, but healthy eating as well! We work on educating children on how to make their own healthy choices.

    Our Website:

    Our Blog:

    Our Twitter:

  3. It’s funny how Zoe Harcombe is mentioned as an authority on the subject of weight control. While she gets some things right (not revolutionary anymore that many fats are good for the body), she continues to prattle on about the insignificance of calories.

    Calories matter – they matter a lot and studies have shown this many times over. Take a look at metabolic ward studies (the most highly controlled environment possible) and they almost unanimously show that calories from all sources affect weight.

    I advise people to do their homework themselves. Yes eating minimally processed foods is good for you and will likely help you lose fat. Lowering carbs may also help – guess why? You’re eating less calories. Magic!!

  4. I’m suspicious. I liked everything she had to say until you got to the part where you can eat some things and not others….and we’re back to the same old food control/neuroses.

  5. @ catfe:

    I think the foods that Zoë is saying we shouldn’t eat are the processed foods.

    I have been following The Harcombe Diet for 10 months now and have lost 42lbs. I have never felt fitter or healthier and have not once been hungry in the 10 months.

    Believe it or not, a lot of the ‘control / neuroses’ issues are caused by three medical conditions that cause us to crave food. The Harcombe diet addresses these three conditions and gives you the ability to eat freely.

    Once you have known what it feels like to be free of craving and also feeling incredibly healthy it really is an easy choice not to eat processed food again.

    I’m sorry if I sound like a ‘walking advert’ here but this diet has really helped me to get close to my natural weight.

    Thanks for reading,


  6. This is just another example of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction. Calories matter – they matter most and the evidence of this is overwhelming. Metabolic ward studies (the highest caliber studies available) have proven this time and time again.

    Eat less proceced food is not rocket science and like catfc says – eliminating certain foods altogether is just a different form of neurosis.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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