Zoe Harcombe ~ Walking Advertisement for Low Carb Eating?

Zoe Harcombe made a bit of a splash in the LC community thanks in part to the following article in the Daily Mail:  Everything you thought you knew about food is WRONG

The subtitle:  Fibre's bad for you. Fat's healthy. And five-a-day is a gimmick to make fruit and veg firms rich. Or so claims a remarkable new book...

Just say no to fruit and starchy carbs that the government is pushing on you ... right?

Harcombe sings the praises of butter and eggs, and meat and *real food*.  She shuns the idea of dieting and restricting foods.   Clearly she's drunk the Taubes Kool Aid on calories and insulin.

So her diet is fairly low carb and extolls the virtues of animal foods -- meat, fish, eggs, butter, dairy.
Her personal story is compelling, but one never gets the sense that Harcombe was ever obese or significantly overweight.  She had a history of anorexia and bulimia, and most with "active" bulimia are relatively normal weight or will get slightly overweight.   So it appears she's conquered those demons (kudos!!) and has maintained a stable 8 stone weight (112 lbs)  for the past 15 years.  But come to find out, she's been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for that entire time, and only ate "something with a face" for the first time this past Spring as she discussed with Jimmy Moore in a recent interview HERE.  So would one imagine she eats as she seems to counsel?

When one looks at her diet, Phase 1 is akin to Atkins induction except for if you're a vegetarian you can have 50g brown rice.  In this YouTube Video she discusses the rest of the plan.  Surprise surprise.  What's all this whole grain pasta and bread about?  

There's also another article on Ms. Harcombe from Oct. 2010:  Healthy Eating According to Zoe Harcombe

Is she eating a real animal food based diet now?  Well, in her own words.  No.
“I have porridge with plain oats every morning,” she says.
“For lunch, I have a massive cheese salad with four types of cheese, fennel, beetroot, alfafa sprouts, dark leaves and loads of olive oil and I stuff in lots of salad leaves for plenty of filler.
“And for dinner, I’ll have something like a butternut squash curry with brown rice.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for ready meals – who hasn’t got time to put a pork chop under the grill or make a pasta sauce with wholewheat pasta?
Sounds like she's still a vegetarian, which is not necessarily low fat.  Grain for breakfast and dinner, a TON of fiber and a cheese salad for lunch.  (She mentioned that butternut squash curry with brown rice in the JM interview too, so seems she probably eats that pretty regularly).  She may not count calories, but plain porridge (no sweetener and in accordance with her separation of carbs & fats credo there's no cream or butter in there either) would be pretty difficult to overeat.  One can also presume the butternut squash curry & rice dish is low fat as well.  And OH!  The insulin and blood glucose spiking!  Dr. Davis would be beside himself!!  One might also look at her breakfast and dinner and conclude that, in direct opposition to her complaints over dietary recs in the first article, she bases 2 of her 3 daily meals on grains after all.  Yet, she's slim!!  How can this possibly be??   
Zoe Harcombe is not a walking advertisement for low carbohydrate eating.  If anything she's a poster girl for vegetarianism.  

{Yes, this was the "low carber" I was referring to in the comments on another post before my vacation ;-)}

Edit & Note:  I'm cutting and pasting the initial exchange in comments here with Zoe "for posterity" and closing/hiding the existing comments to preserve them.

Zoe Harcombe
I have never held myself up as a low carb poster girl - your blog did that and then knocked me down for something I never claimed.

First and foremost I believe in eating food - real food. If I would like to be anything, it's a role model for eating real food, not processed food. Not eating processed food (read drink also) is the single thing that would make the biggest difference to the obesity epidemic - which is what I work full time to try to understand and overcome.

Once people reject processed food (and low carb concoctions are as bad as low cal concoctions) the next step is - how low in carb do they personally need to go to lose the weight. Everyone is then different. People are having huge success just not eating processed food and enjoying grains, dairy and things that you personally may choose not to eat/not be able to eat - I don't make assumptions about you. Veggies do also want to lose weight and, having reached my natural weight as a veggie, I will try to help them. It's just much harder for veggies to lose weight because carbs are the secret to weight loss.

Is the perfect diet meat, fish, eggs and a bit of salad - almost certainly. Is there huge debate in the low carb world on dairy, grains, nuts, seeds etc - definitely. Can some people be optimally healthy eating meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, grains, veg, salad and even fruit - yes. Not everyone has to go to the same low level of carb.

5-a-day is a fairy story and I expose it in my book "The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it". The idea that we need to eat fibre is another. 1lb does not equal 3,500 cals; we will not lose 1lb if we create a deficit of 3,500 cals. The seven countries study did not study fat. There are so many lies that the public are being fed that we need to try to counter.

My personal history is shared in "Stop Counting Calories & Start Losing Weight" so I don't know what fraud you are accusing me of. I explain exactly how I tried to answer the question - why couldn't I stop eating when all I wanted was to be slim. I discovered and researched three common conditions that cause insatiable food cravings and made a connection between their cause, low cal dieting and food addiction. The discovery changed my life and sharing it has changed the lives of many others.

My diet has changed enormously since seeing the light on the need to eat animals, but it's still no where near the change in my diet that happened in my 20's once I discovered the perfect diet to overcome food addiction. That was my holy grail moment and I've been 8 stone ever since - eating more than I could have ever imagined and loving what I can eat.

I'll post the first comment back and then I'll bow out. The reason I took it down was that I don't have the time or inclination to debate with you, but I won't leave your unjust accusations unanswered.

I wish you huge success with your weight loss goals and life long maintenance. When I first saw a comment on this site I offered to send you a book. The offer still stands.

Best wishes - Zoe

Zoe Harcombe said...

This was the first comment - it got posted twice for some reason - hence the 2 deletes.

Goodbye & good luck!

Doctor heal thyself is a well known saying for a reason. It describes the classic situation when people spend so much time helping others they forget to heed the same advice themselves. I have always advised eating meat, fish, eggs as the staples of a good diet. I was never a vegetarian for health reasons, but because I couldn't bear the thought of eating an animal. I was slim being veggie (it is far more difficult getting slim and staying slim as a veggie). I thought I could be optimally healthy being a veggie. I was wrong and it took a Weston Price conference to wake me up and realise this.

The October article must have used some parts of old interviews (they have interviews back as far as 2004 when "Why do you overeat? When all you want is to be slim" came out). I still start my day with porridge because I like it and I am one of the fortunate people who can eat some grains (I don't eat wheat). Lunch is a lot of cheese or a lot of fish or meat (or a mixture of all) with a lot of salad - again - I like it. Dinner is now always meat - pork, lamb or steak - can't be bothered with chicken - I find it less tasty. A lot of dark chocolate and real milk gets consumed during a day as well. I haven't had pasta for years and I haven't had that brown rice butternut squash curry since starting meat - there's no room in the diet for it, nice as it was.

Even when you know it is the right thing to do for your health, it is still incredibly difficult for someone to go back to eating meat, when they haven't eaten it for 20 years. You show no appreciation whatsoever of the turmoil that someone would go through finding that two of their core values - optimal health and love of animals - are in conflict. It says more about you that you want to have a pop at someone with the courage to admit they were wrong and to try to change their core values.

Best wishes - Zoe

CarbSane said...

Zoe, since one dupe persisted for a while before you deleted it, I could only wonder as to why. I'm glad you reposted the comment and thank you for the additional explanations. I do hope you will read this response and perhaps respond.

Firstly, *I* didn't claim you were a poster girl for LC ... surely you're aware of the numbers of LC folks out there touting you as a voice in the field, no? There have been a number of times when your videos and articles, etc. have been referenced on low carb forums as well. So one of the purposes of this post was to correct this misperception.

Secondly, I specifically used the words "not quite up to the level of KK fraud". Are you familiar with the KK story? Apparently the obese founder was promulgating dietary advice and using pics of others as "after" pics. Legions signed up -- and many lost gads of weight however unhealthy some of the plans may have been -- but it turned out Heidi Diaz didn't follow her own advice. Now, you're certainly not on the level of Diaz. But you feature yourself and your weight loss & maintenance success. I can appreciate why you were a veggie, but folks look at that pic, and it simply wasn't achieved by following the diet you advocate. You can't argue otherwise! Can you see where being a "poster girl" for the Harcombe Diet while not eating that way for 20 years might smack of hypocrisy?

It's like if I wrote a book and told people that to lose weight they should eliminate all grains and dairy and held myself out as an example of how this diet reversed my obesity. It matters not that the dairy and grain recommendations may well be healthful ones (this is core to Paleo plans), if it's not how I lost the weight I shouldn't hold myself out as an example!

The 5-a-day may be "made up" as you say, but you pretty much do it anyway. The notion that whole fruits and veggies are making us fat is absurd. OK, it seems you don't eat fruit, but you get your sucrose in your chocolate. You argue against whole grains as government recommended foods, bemoan the folly of building one's diet around such, yet that's how you ate to get slim 2 meals a day. Many would argue that the distinction between whole grain and more refined grain is inconsequential, they are both processed foods. You don't eat pasta, but in the 2008 video you say to eat brown rice, brown bread, wholegrain pasta. The fiber thing is a hoax and yet you "fill up" on lots of salad leaves.

I'm not sure I get why getting and staying slim is more difficult in your words on a veggie diet, if that's how you conquered hypoglycemia, food intolerances and candida. For 15-20 years you've eaten a relatively high carb, high fat, low protein diet to become free of binge eating eating food you enjoy. That's wonderful. But it's not what you're preaching to others.

I am also on a mission with this blog to dispel this mythical notion perpetuated by too many in low carb circles that calories don't count. As such, your "bad science" is on my radar. It seems you wish to join the league of thin-skinned "gurus" who can't take criticism. If you're going to put yourself forth as an expert, be prepared to defend your expertise. I'm probably not the first, and I'll certainly not be the last to be critical of your work.