Zoe Harcombe ~ Credentials?

We've discussed this lady before here at the Asylum, but I was recently made aware of some additional information about her that folks might find interesting in assessing the information she promulgates or to counter those who tout her work in LC circles.  

Let's review.

Zoe Harcombe is the author of a few diet books who hopes to take the world by storm and fix the obesity epidemic in the UK.  She has a story to tell about weight loss after a history of eating disorders in college and 15 years of maintenance.  But as commendable as conquering ED's is, there's no indication this woman ever had significant excess weight she had to lose.   

As I've highlighted before, Zoe has been lauded as a proponent of LC, and she's clearly a disciple of the Church of Taubes where insulin is concerned.  But aside from the fact that she's basically a parrot of flawed science, she is also a model of inconsistency.  Specifically:
  • She advocates an animal based LC diet but lost and maintained her weight for 15 years as a practicing grain eating vegetarian.
  • She rails against fruits & veggies but ate lots of veggies and prefers dark chocolate to fruit
  • She considers (or considered) wholegrain bread and pasta as real whole foods.
  • She claims to have made the switch to animals and cut out the butternut squash curry in Spring 2010, but still mentions that meal in a Fall 2010 interview in which she discusses her conversion.
  • She wants to fight obesity touting maintenance yet advertises and celebrates the "records" for weight loss in the first few days on her program.
  • She claims to eat a ton but does not appear to.
  • She says she never claimed to be a low carber in Jan 2011, but just the month before said "if insulin is not a villain then go trigger some! We don’t care! Us low carbers will stay full, fit, healthy and hunger free eating only real food and managing our carb intake."
And now, thanks to a comment on Diet Blog (many thanks for the shout out Mike Howard!!) we learn that she does not have the credentials she claims.  

Zoe Harcombe sells diet books. This week in the Daily Mail she was explaining that fruit and veg are actually no good for you. There’s a fascinating conversation to be had about the evidence base on the relationship between diet and health: would you start with Zoe’s work?
We all rely on heuristics, or shortcuts. Trusting an authority is one. Zoe boasts in the Mail that she is “studying for a PhD in nutrition” but she admitted to me, tediously, inevitably, that she’s not registered for a PhD anywhere (although she is thinking about doing one in the future).

~ Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 29 January 2011

Just thought I'd pass this along as my latest "Consider Your Sources" PSA*

*PSA = Public Service Announcement 


Instead of following around celebrities, I'd sure like to see some "candid shots" of what health gurus/experts are really eating when they go out and what they're buying in the grocery store. Like a National Food Enquirer.
markgillespie said…
I've never seen her mention specifically what nutrition qualifications she has. She claims to have a degree in Mathematics from Cambridge which, if true, is impressive. But I suspect her nutrition education probably consists of no more than a correspondence course, probably with a 'naturopathic' emphasis.

I think she's an intelligent person who started off on the wrong track in her nutritional 'research' and now , after 10 years of confirmation bias, has it all very, very wrong.
Tonus said…
So her credentials amount to "staying at a Holiday Inn hotel last night?"
Diana said…
Yeah. I looked at her website, and she doesn't claim ever to have been overweight, just bulimic and anorexic. Yet she wants to conquer the obesity epidemic. Why? What's so special about the obesity epidemic? Why doesn't she claim to want to defeat the scourge of eating disorders, something where she has personal experience?

Also, she doesn't claim on her bio to have earned a degree in mathematics from Cambridge. She says she read (Britspeak for studied) mathematics there. Hm. Wonder if she's telling us something.

"Zoë is a qualified nutritionist with a Diploma in Diet & Nutrition and a Diploma in Clinical Weight Management"

From where? Doesn't say.

" but she is first and foremost an obesity researcher. She works exclusively in the area of weight and obesity and read, writes and talks about obesity as many hours as possible, 7 days a week. Her complete goal and drive is to reverse the obesity epidemic. She has clear views on how it started and what we need to do to stop it ...." yada yada.

Perhaps she has merely shifted her weight obsessions from her own body to that of other people.
CarbSane said…
LOL Tonus, you are a trip!
CarbSane said…
Princess ... you're hired! And Diana too :)

I don't doubt Zoe eats like she mentioned in her articles. I do doubt that one Weston Price symposium has her eating meat and eggs morning noon and night now (with dark chocolate of course because chocolate is more nutritious than fruits or veg).

@Diana she does claim to have graduated Cambridge and is rightly proud of that accomplishment. Hmmmm.... I got a 4.0 my first semester at RPI and what people didn't know was that I was bulimic. So? It is telling that with the name dropping she doesn't state where her diplomas are from, and her doctorate claims are no longer there (though I recall those claims). The Andy who comments is her husband apparently. I do believe her efforts would be better directed towards eating disorders than obesity. At least she has personal experience to draw from there.
Anonymous said…
I discounted the wisdom of Zoe Harcombe's nutritional approach to diet since reading her statement that we get our potassium from water so not to worry.

I googled 'drinking water source of potassium' and found that there are water treatments that do add potassium to water. This sent me to the brochure sent to residents in my town about our water quality. No mention of potassium there! So, I'm still puzzled.
LynMarie Daye said…
Well, she took quite the chance telling this fib considering that in this day and age the truth usually comes out. I wouldn't think it would be worth the potential loss of credibility. It's just plain strange.

Regarding Ben Goldacre, I recently read his book "Bad Science". Well-written, entertaining, and informative. Highly recommended! :~)
CarbSane said…
My gosh! I've been reading around her site again. It's been a while and I find her writings difficult as they are so full of error and fantasy and lack of original thought. *sigh*

On her MyPlate commentary she sure sounds like a low carber now!
Diana said…
I really don't like what she says there. I think the One Plate recommendation is actually quite useful. (Shocking that the gov't comes out with something useful....) I think that if every overweight American would limit themselves to three of them per day, not piled to the ceiling, they'd lose at least some weight. I'd like to see a study at least. Call it the "Three My Plates A Day" study.

Some of what she says is OK, but most of it is silly.

And gosh, she sure does love to blab. Can't she tone it down a bit?
CarbSane said…
What I don't get is that one huge "MyPlate" would characterize almost perfectly her diet for the previous 15 years that had her slim and not hungry. Porridge & rice = 1/4 grains; butternut squash, lettuce and all the other stuff in her huge salad = 1/2 veggies, and cheeses = 1/4 protein. Perhaps she had a bit more fat that appears nowhere there and a bit less pure protein, but pretty darned close eh? If anything her grain/starch portion of the plate runneth a bit over.

Your point about the "plate" is well taken. Pick a reasonable sized plate, not a huge thang, and eat just that.
If every obese person got an 8 or 9 inch luncheon plate (not the uberplatters that pass as plates in most restaurants these days and many households), and did the gov'ts plate, without using super-breaded and fried or doused in a gallon of grease foods, they'd have to lose weight. I don't think that you could follow those guidelines and eat the 3000 to 5000+ calories a morbidly obese person eats. Not unless there is some interesting sci-fi-ey law of physics at work in the area of that plate (a la Doctor Who's call box) that allows for mega-calories to exist in 1/2 cup and 3 to 5 oz servings of this or that.

I didn't get to 300 pounds eating one moderately portioned plate of balanced food groups. I got there eating whole footlong subs of veal parmigiana, half of a large or all of a medium pizza, huge slabs of lasagna, Whoppers, and 8 servings of fruit at a fell swoop followed by chocolate mousse or cookies. I could eat my hubby, whoh's 6'1, under the table. That's how *I* got fat.

How'd I lose weight? I got smaller plates and bigger water glasses, and pretty much learned to moderate carbs and not go berserk with fruit (though I am still wont to on some days, as I'm a fruitaholic and can't stop at ONE), and figured out that calories count. :D
Sue said…
Harcombe's plan involves having carb meals and fat meals. Also there is the restrictive phase 1 which you can continue as long as you want (like folks did with Atkins induction)and Phase 2 less restrictive. There is also Phase 3. The link shows more info. Its from a low-carb website posted by members who were following it:
Sue said…
Fat meals
● Any unprocessed meat: steak, pork, lamb, chicken, duck etc
● Any fresh fish: mackerel, cod, salmon, tuna, seafood etc
● Eggs
● Dairy products: cheese, milk, butter, cream, yoghurt (ideally natural live yoghurt)

Carb meals
● Any fruit
● Wholegrains: brown rice, corn or rice pasta, quinoa, millet, barley, porridge.
● Beans and pulses: lentils, broad beans, kidney beans, chickpeas etc.
● Baked potatoes in their skins

Eat with either a fat or a carb meal:
● Any salads or vegetables (except potatoes, which are carbs). No mushrooms allowed as they promote Candida albicans.
● Tofu/Quorn - vegetarian protein alternatives.
● Certain fruits - olives, tomatoes and berries.
● Very low-fat dairy products - milk, cottage cheese and yoghurt.
● Any herbs, spices and seasoning and olive oil.

From this link that doesn't seem to be working anymore: (I had the info in a word doc but didn't actually do the programme).

MM said…
Wow, this sounds a lot like the old food combining diet except separating fats from carbs instead of proteins from carbs. http://www.alderbrooke.com/images/chart.jpg

I thought that whole idea had been debunked. I guess maybe this is the "new" food combining.
CarbSane said…
Hi Sue, This goes to the contradictions. Her menus put forth in interviews seem to square with her diet as promoted. I don't see how 5 days of low carb (+ rice for the veggies) does anything, but so be it.

Her calories are bunk theories are pure insulin schtick plucked from the Gospel of Taubes and bulletins from (as Anthony Colpo calls it) the Latter Day Church of MAD. It doesn't square with this diet. She seems to be happy to be a "low carber" when it suits her but she's clearly not one.

What's with the crusade against fruits AND veggies but eating all those veggies?

How does she define "real food"? I'd love to see a Zoe v. Wheat Belly debate on that one!!

I actually can see this diet working for some people. But a lot like Atkins, not for the reasons she's made up as to how/why.
Mike said…
Thank you for the pos/men, CarbSane!

Zoe's true colours revealed themselves in her discussion with James Krieger. James went on her site to clarify something that she had ripped into. When James corrected her )and backed everything up with citations), she became noticeably rattled and threw something of an internet hissy fit.

She quipped that it was "poor mannered" for James to come on her site and DARE correct her on her misguided critique of James' work.

I'm shocked at the amount of mainstream press this woman gets.
CarbSane said…

Yes I had read that back when and revisited it when it was linked in the comments on your post.

I'm with you, don't even understand how she garners the press she does.
DaveHPT said…
another charlatan peddling a load of garbage in the form a fad diet. i am dismayed to let you know I only became aware of her after a heated discussion on a PT network I am currently a member of, where it was suggested I read up on her work to better educate myself on nutrition. Foolishly I still think fruit is good for you and overall calories is the primary determiner of a person's bodyweight.
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