Expert says low-carb diet of real food boosts weight loss: No sugar, no wheat

“Calories in, calories out” is a failure when it comes to the obesity epidemic. So what really works? We asked Zoe Harcombe, author of “Why Do You Overeat? When All You Want is to be Slim” and “The Harcombe Diet: Stop Counting Calories & Start Losing Weight,” to share her knowledge.

Zoe has three rules for losing weight and keeping it off:

  • Eat real food …
  • …three times a day. Unless you are a cow, or want to be the size of one, stop grazing!
  • If (i) and (ii) don’t get you to your natural weight then manage your carb intake.

Let’s define real food:

Real food is anything in its most natural form. Fake food is anything that comes from a factory. Oranges grow on trees; cartons of orange juice don’t. Fish swim in the sea; fish fingers don’t. You’ve got the idea. Real food meals should be based on: meat, eggs and dairy products from (ideally) grass living animals; fish (fresh or tinned) and vegetables/salads. Those are the safest staples for weight and health. Then we have the higher carb real foods – which should be moderated if need be, as point (iii) advises – fruits in season; non-wheat whole grains (brown rice, oats, couscous, quinoa etc) and nuts and seeds.

As for wheat? Zoe puts it succinctly: “Wheat is best avoided by anyone who wants to be slim and healthy.” She recommends “Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs,  and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers” and “Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health.”

If you struggle with your weight despite obsessively carrying around a calculator and calorie counter, Zoe has the answer.

“Weight really, really isn’t about calories. It’s about burning fat and the body can (rare VO2 max exceptions aside) only burn fat in the absence of carbohydrate/glucose/glycogen and this requires carb, not calorie, management.”

Grocery store shelves sag under the growing load of pricey products labeled “”Fat-Free” and “Low-Fat.” What’s the truth about fat and weight loss/health?

“Time for a quick nutrition lesson. There are three macro nutrients. We know them as carbs, fat and protein. Protein is in everything except sucrose (table sugar) and oils (olive oil, sunflower oil etc). Nuts and seeds are rare foods for having carbohydrate and fat and protein in good measure. Most foods are essentially carb/proteins (things from the ground and trees – grains, fruits, vegetables etc) or fat/proteins (things from faces – meat, fish, eggs, dairy products),” clarified Zoe.

And with that knowledge: “Fat/protein vs carb/protein is the key dietary decision to make. Just drop the word protein (because it’s in everything other than sucrose/oils) – if you eat more fat as a proportion of your intake, you eat less carbohydrate. Conversely, if you eat less fat, you eat more carbohydrate.”

Zoe, who also authored “The Harcombe Diet: The Recipe Book,” notes that the diet advice introduced decades ago is a proven failure.

“Having studied the obesity epidemic for 20 years, this is the crux of the issue. Global dietary advice was introduced in 1977 (USA) and 1983 (UK), telling people to eat less fat and more carbohydrate. Obesity rates in the UK were 2.7% for men and women in 1972 and 25.8%  for UK women by 1999. So less fat and more carbohydrate didn’t work then! To reverse the obesity epidemic we need to eat less carbohydrate and that inevitably means embracing fat. We must stop fearing fat. We are seeing nutritional deficiencies as a result of our fat phobia – rickets in children; osteoporosis in middle age as examples. Fat doesn’t make us fat – it just has an unfortunate name!”

Are you a snackaholic or emotional eater? Zoe offers these tips.

“I do think that people (women especially) eat for emotional and psychological reasons. However, I have focused more on the physical reasons for overeating a) because these have been largely overlooked by other writers and b) because there is a big logical flaw in the emotional eating argument. I have yet to meet someone who craves white fish and green beans. We crave processed foods generally and processed carbohydrates particularly – chocolate, sweets, cakes, biscuits, crisps, ice cream, bread, cereal and so on. If eating were purely emotional, we would eat anything – steak and broccoli would satisfy us emotionally, but it doesn’t.”

And here’s the lightbulb:

“In my earliest research I came across three medical conditions – Candida, Food Intolerance and Hypoglycaemia – and the literature of the time documented their impact on food cravings, bingeing and eating disorders in quite an incredible way. These conditions are core to understanding overeating.”

For that reason, Zoe crafted her first book was called “Why do you overeat? When all you want is to be slim“.

In addition to following the guidelines, there, she notes: “If you find yourself feeling addicted to food, craving refined carbs, wanting particular foods to the exclusion of others – understanding more about these conditions could make a significant difference to your eating, weight and health.”


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