The Harcombe Diet

I know I’m always going on about food but I read about this lady in Whizz’s Mensa Magazine and was impressed.

Zoe Harcombe advocates a mixture between the Atkins Diet (40 – 90g of carbs per day and as much fat as you like) and food combining (don’t eat carbs and fats together so eat meat/fish/full fat dairy-with low carb veg/berries, or starchy foods,with any fruit/veg and with absolutely no fatty food). She combines this with nutritional advice to maintain a healthy body- although it is difficult to know sometimes which bits are for health and which for weight loss.

For the first five days there is a detox to rid the body of the causes of its cravings and once the five days have passed then the diet is as above.

It is true to say that my sugar cravings vanished after the first 5 days. I have looked longingly at the wine bottle on a few occasions and also the fruit juice as I mainly eat the fatty days. Carbs are my downfall and having tried Slimming world and lost absolutely nothing after weeks on green days I know the carbs won’t work.

So, I find myself back on Atkins but calling it the Harcoumbe Diet albeit without the alcohol and with a bit less cream and more olive oil – I think!

During the first week I lost half a stone (7lb) and over the next couple of days got to 8.4 lb. On the following couple of days, Sunday and Monday, I stuck to my diet as well as I could. My only cheats were 2 small glasses of Champagne (we went to a wedding), one glass of red wine, and some sugar which I ate inadvertently on a bowl of strawberries. Seemingly, as a result of the cheats, over the next couple of days I gained 2 lbs and during the subsequent four days of this week I have clawed back 1.5 lbs.

This is not exactly a dramatic weight loss but the food is very enjoyable so I will persevere. I plan a couple of weeks with absolutely no cheats and if the weight loss remains steady and acceptable I will continue.

I was interested to work out how many calories I have been taking in so I did a quick analysis of today’s meal plan and here it is:

Breakfast: Streaky bacon, 3 eggs and a tomato (carbs:5g, calories:580, fat: 31g)

Lunch: smoked salmon (Zoe does not recommend smoked food as Candida feeds off it, and Candida can be one of the causes of food cravings) and mascarpone cheese with salad leaves (carbs: 5.8g, calories: 795, fat:69.68)

Dinner: Salmon mousse with leaves (carbs: 3.68, cals 131.68, fat: 16.8), Berries and cream (carbs: 16.93g, cals: 359.82, fat: 36.52g)

Total consumption: carbs: 31.41g, cals: 1866, fat: 154g)

The fat level is over double the government’s RDA but I was amazed to discover that the calories are slightly below the total of 1940 recommended for an average woman of course that would not be to enable them to lose weight.

Zoe Harcombe tells us to throw out calories but I am interested to have worked out that I am eating so much rich food and yet not really eating huge numbers of calories.

The book is available on Amazon for £5.99 until the end of July then it will be £7.99. It may leave you asking more questions but Zoe is quite helpful if you send her one or two questions by email – more than that and she will charge for a telephone call on a premium rate number. Some of your questions may be answered on her faqs

I will continue on the diet and keep you posted on progress. If you have any experience of the diet then I’d be interested to know about it. It’s a shame she doesn’t have a message board on her website but if I get enough response I might look into starting one myself.


37 Responses

  1. Good luck with the diet. I too bought Zoe Harcombe’s book after reading the Mensa article. I’m currently “disposing” of some refined foods in my cupboards before I start the diet in earnest.

  2. Hi Austen, Thanks for the wish. I know that this diet has worked for many people (most diets do) but for me, as soon and I got to phase 2 the weight started going back on again. A lot of what she says makes sense and the stuff about hypoglycemia and candida rang lots of bells.
    I started researching some of the unanaswered questions from her book and found this website which I have found very helpful as there’s lots of technical stuff and there are links to real scientific evidence, that helps you understand your body.
    I have found that my cravings have gone, as promised, but having studied the lowcarber forums, I have ended up on a much more low carb and high fat diet than she recommends.
    Good luck to you, there’s room in this forum for all types of dieters so why not have a look?

  3. hey, great for sharing the experience here. I hope you’re going well with the diet and progress. Good luck!

  4. I heard about the Harcombe diet from a friend of mine, I started it 3 weeks ago, I did the 5 day phase 1 with no cheating at all and lost 8lbs , I thought it may have been more as I have 5 stone to lose. I am now 2 weeks into phase 2 and no change in my weight, which is so disappointing as I have not cheated once, I have been too scared to eat any carbs so have been sticking to the fat . My food cravings have gone and I do not feel hungry, so I am not sure what is going on. I have read the book which is interesting and makes a lot of sense, but no answers in it to how much you should lose in phase 2.

    I think she should have a forum on her website, this is a good idea though. if anyone else has had the same problem with phase 2 I would be interested to hear.

  5. i am on day 4 of phase one and have not lost a single pound. I havent even cheated which makes it more fustrating. Very disappointed considering i spent nearly ?13 on the ebook. Will give it a couple more days then admit defeat on this i think.

  6. I have followed Phase 1 faithfully for over three weeks and lost two pounds. I am becoming very despondent, however, I will continue as I feel something will shift soon. I exercise for 30 mins daily. I enjoy the very large green salad with fish for lunch and brown rice with vegetables for dinner and the usual eggs for breakfast not forgetting the NLY. I am aiming to loose ten pounds…where am I going wrong…?

  7. I have lost 5 lbs on Phase 1. I am in my 3rd week of Phase 2 but my weight is stagnant.

  8. Hello Everyone….Anyone out there that would like to keep in contact with me about Zoe’s diet ….please email me…..,

    I totally love Zoes eating program…. SHE ADDRESS FOOD INTOLERENCES, CANDIDA AND HYPOGLYCIMIA… Which I have the food intolerences and the hypoglycima..I have had candida in the past…but have gotten it out of my system over the years…. I have done well on it ..and I feel my best on it….it would be just really nice to have someone to email with that is on the same eating program….

    I live in South Ayrshire Scotland….
    I look forward to hearing from anyone Cheryl Johnstone

  9. Hi Cheryl,

    Thanks for your post. As you can see from the above, many people responding here have not found the diet very effective, but many others elsewhere have done well on it. There is a Facebook page where you can find lots of people on the diet and in fact Zoe Harcombe herself contributes to the page. If you go into Facebook and search for Harcombe Diet you will find it. You can talk to any of the contributors privately and set up some kind of correspondence with them. I have found that having some email support is invaluable.

    Do let us know how you get on with the diet, and if and how you have had to tweak it to make it work for you.


  10. Glad I found this site. The comments are really interesting.
    I have been on this particular diet for two weeks. Lost 6 lbs the first week which was great. Decided to stick with Phase 1 for a further week but admit to a little cheating! A couple of glasses of red wine, a little low fat salad cream. By the way, mesls were mostly protein (fat) with salad or veg. Have not had a slice of bread or a potato since starting diet. Very disappointed that I have now put 3 lbs back on. Only 3 lbs lost then over two weeks! and no bread or potatoes! (I love chips.)
    Has anybody else lost weight the first week and then put most of it back on? I am now on day 1 of the third week (re-doing Phase 1 with absolutely no cheating.) Has anyone else had this experience? and should I expect a substantial weight loss as the end of the week?

  11. Hi Mary,

    You may be retaining fluid. I would stick to the diet but don’t forget to give up ALL starch ie bread, potatoes, white rice and pasta. Also, I have found cheese, and the starchier veg like parsnips and carrots should be taken with care.

    Hope this helps,


  12. I have been on this diet for two months and lost 17lbs. I have struggled with my weight all my life. I have had no cravings and have only cheated with red wine. Zoe does say you can have a gless with meals but that’s a bit restricted on a night out.
    I think I would have lost more if not for the wine but it was worth it.
    I have lost fat as clothes no longer fit and I feel so much better. I’m in control.
    I have eaten lots of lovely food, fat and carb meals and managed to get quite a few freinds to join me on what I believe to be the best diet ever. Yes I have tried all of them.
    Good luck and keep going, it’s worth it.

  13. Hi,

    Glad to see I am not the only one who lost weight on phase 1 (4.5lbs) but now have stagnated in phase 2. Been sticking to the phase 2 rules and haven’t lost a thing! Ok, I haven’t put any weight back on which is a good thing, but feel rather despondant about the lack of weight loss. Going to keep pressing on and see what happens

  14. Hi Denice, Thanks for your comment.

    I think the diet works, but only if you stick to a low carbohydrate menu. This, in my opinion, makes it no different from many other low carb diets.

    You could try cutting out the high carb veggies such as root vegetables and maybe cut down on the dairy. See if that works.

  15. I have done this diet faithfully for a the first 5 days and all I lost was 2lbs and I have done everything from eating the NYL, No sugar, lots of water and herbal tea, meat and fish and no carbs except for the rice and even reduced my exercise for the 5 days. Where am I going wrong. I have however moved to phase 3 which is pretty much like phase 1 except I have my puffed rice with milk and have some berries before that and I am on day 3 and have put on the 2lbs back. Help needed here. I have no problem sticking to strict diets and I thought this bar “liquid” diets was my last hope..

  16. Hi Dee, I think you should ask Zoe Harcombe. I have had a similar expeience and ended up on Atkins, which worked really well for me.
    Zoe Harcombe has a website and you can chat to others on the diet. I suspect the successful ones have only done ‘fat’ days but I may be wrong.

  17. Hi, I have been doing the Harcombe Diet since mid August and have lost nearly 3 stones. I am just doing phase 1 again as I came off the diet for Christmas/New Year and so needed to get rid of all the cravings. It’s my 3rd time of doing phase 1 as whenever I get cravings I find it helps me alot. I seem to lose 5 lbs on phase 1 and then when I start phase 2 it takes about 2 weeks before I lose anymore weight. Then the weightloss varies from 2 lbs to 8 lbs.

    I don’t avoid carbs at all like some ppl suggest. I just try and vary things abit. I usually have porridge (made with milk) or bitesize shredded wheat for breakfast (bacon and eggs at weekends). For lunch I’ll have an ommelette with salad or homemade soup or a salad with tuna and then Natural Live Yogurt. For dinners I’ll have steak or pork chops and loads of veg or something like chilli and rice, butternut squash curry and rice etc. If I get home from work and am hungry I’ll have a banana or some other kind of fruit. But I do generally try to stick to just the 3 meals – which are filling. I drink alot of water but will have a couple of cups of decaf coffee.

    The main thing that works for me is that I spent time looking at everything that I was buying. I can’t just buy any old bacon or ham. I have to check it’s ingredients and really watch out for hidden sugars. Even buying butter isn’t straightforward as some have a whole list of ingredients and so not natural.

    If someone isn’t losing any weight on the diet then I would start by checking what you’re eating. I religiously followed the 10 day plan that you get for free from the harcombe diet website. I’ve read the book from cover to cover to understand everything I needed to do. And most importantly I don’t worry if I don’t lose weight. It doesn’t last for long. I also measure myself so normally I’ll get either inch loss or weight loss or if lucky both.

    I’ve tried many diets and have to say this has been the only diet that I’ve seen myself able to stay on for the rest of my life – which at the end of the day is what we need to do isn’t it? I’m interested to find out at the end of my journey just what my natural weight is rather than aiming for an idealistic weight that might be impossible to achieve or maintain!

  18. Fascinating reading this blog – wanted to contribute on Zoes site but didnt want to pay haha. OK I am male in mid 40s – I am not overweight by any means but over past 15 years have tried many diets to shift back to the 11stone I want to be. I have done calories, cambridge, scarsdale, rosemary conley and atkins. Oh and that weirdo one with lemon juics and maple syrup – what a pile of horse poo, but it does work for a quick fix ! Anyway, the point I have is this:

    Have done the Harcombe since mid November 2011 and in the space of 7 weeks have lost over 2.5 stone. Thats quite good since was less than 14 to start with at over 6ft.However, for me the most interesting part is not having one single craving for anything whatsoever during the whole time, or feeling deprived at all although no caffeine in phase 1 sucks a bit. I dont normally drink alcohol and dont eat chocolate anyway, so my vice is a few cigarettes and coffee each day. Now, I do live alone so unless my children are with me there is only ever the food I want in the house- that possibly helps. It does also cost a bit if you go for really nice foods, but my reckoning is that we dont spend nearly as much on our foods as we should. This is the only diet book I have read from cover to cover (epage to epage;) 3 times and found refreshing. Zoe is clear, helpful and not patronising. It all makes sense to me and it works. I am within 7 lbs of target weight and kn ow I will have no trouble achieving that. Having had a day off on Christmas Day out of social necessity, and gained 3lb from that day alone (it would appear) I empaphise with those who get stuck without appearing to lose anything. In my first phase 1 I lost 3 lbs. As a result of Christmas gain, I decided to reboot and go back to phase 1 for 5 days. Reported weight loss in phase 1 2nd visit is 6lbs. I am actually staying on phase one for a further 4 days – so 9 in total to get near to target then try phase 2 and then 3.

    For me the best part is feeling totally energised – it is so weird and I am not some prophet or employee of Zoe (haha)but a sedentary male who does bugger all exrecise part from a bit of walking and smoke a bit but have not felt so vitalised ever in my life. Have huge reserves of mental and physical energy and have not felt need to cheat at all. Eating and shopping for it is truly pleasurable (if expensive – spending £100 a week for 1, I am awake, everone is commenting and skin is smooth etc blah blah blah Ok u get the message ? 😉

    Do try sticking with it, it is amazing and a real diet for life. Well done Zoe 🙂

  19. Hello All

    I see that Giles is the only recent contributor so am not sure how many of you are still on the diet.

    Well done Giles, amazing loss that I can only aspire to!!! I have a lot of weight to lose and am on day 14 and still on phase 1 but have happily given up caffeine and bread and even cheese. There has to something in the whole food addiction thing!

    Good to read that others find it easy but also that the weight loss seems to come and go. Have learnt a lot about my tolerances in these few days.

    I am hoping for a miracle loss but just love this diet as I can eat veg which was so restricted on The Atkins.

    The easiest, healthiest diet I have ever tried, here’s hoping 🙂

  20. Helen glad to see people are still contributing – thought I had killed the blog haha! Agree about veg – I gave up on atkins after 4 days, but now am always roasting veg to have cold with stuff – oh and fruit, eating tons of blackberries, bluberries, raspberries and strawberries with yoghourt or creme fraiche. It seems so ‘wrong’ to do that on a ‘diet’ but it is a way of eating really and I have found it really suits me – and like said before, the better bonus is the energising feeling from fressh food (ok yer feel slightly smug havent touched tinnned, processed, packeted food for 7 weeks !) Off to Egypt for 2 weeks next week – will be interesting. Having been there many times before – I know I can actually stick to the diet easily with food in hotel………but will be interested to see if am swayed by breakfast patisserie ! Will report back. Keep going Helen – the way things are I can see myself sticking to this for life, way beyond any weight goal – as you say, so easy and so healthy. 🙂

  21. Hi all, just finishing my second stint at phase 1, end to end with no break. Have lost 4lbs which, given that I haven’t gone off piste at all, is disappointing. I would toss it and try something else if it wasn’t for the fact that I really feel so well. After day 4 and a horrible carb/suar crash, I recovered and feel great. I’m not sure if THD is the answer to losing the remaing 16lbs I want to lose but I’m now going to go onto phase 2 but with an eye on fat intake – like butter, cream, cheese. Surely to goodness if anyone cuts out bread, processed food and sugar and eats healthy, balanced meals – weight loss has to occur defecto!! Here’s hoping! Good luck everyone whichever plan you are following.

  22. Hi there! I have struggled with binges all my life and although I managed to stay slim in my 20’s and 30’s as I lived abroad and there just wasn’t the temptation, I am now in my 50’s and am a good 2 stone overweight and find it very difficult to get below 11 stone. I did a sort of version of the Harcombe diet years ago when I read another similar book about not mixing carbs and protein and I ended up at 8 stone and felt and looked fantastic. I am now on Phase 1, day 4 and have lost 5 pounds which is what took 3 weeks to lose at Slimming World. I am going to continue on Phase 2 very seriously to see if it has the same effect as it did all those years ago. I do realise that my metabolism has probably changed and being in menopause I am sure doesn’t help. Is there anyone else out there who is a similar age and going to give this a serious go? Really good to read all the posts and mostly encouraging. Will keep you updated over the next couple of weeks!

  23. Does anyone know if this diet is manageable for vegetarians. I eat fish and cheese, milk and eggs if I have to ( wouldn’t choose to ) Can someone let me know if they know from first hand experience. I have ordered this book online. Thanks in advance.

  24. Hi Kira I have just completed phase 1 and lost 4lbs and also had a sneaky glass of wine each eve. I too am menopausal and am carrying an extra 7lbs. I have had success on The Dukan Diet before but I find it very difficult having only protein. I think that the biggest problem is keeping the weight off. The HD appears to me to be something that one could stay on indefinitely if you watch the fat intake. I don’t have the book and am trying to find out the rules for phase 2 and how it differs from phase 1 if anyone can enlighten me. Thank you.

  25. Hi Kira, I’m also in my 50’s and starting off on the HD. As I’m a real bread and butter person I thought this was going to be very difficult but it’s surprisingly easy, once you’ve got your head round it. I don’t have scales to weigh myself but even so, after three days,I definitely feel less bloated. Will come back to the site to see how everybody is getting on.

  26. Hi there I have just completed phase 2 and lost 3 lb, in phase 1 lost 7lbs, feel great not hungry at all, and I have a real sweet tooth have not cheated at all,my problem is my family are telling me my breath smells!!!!I cannot understand why as diet has a good mix of carbs and fat, am getting a little paranoid about it is anyone else having same problem?

  27. Hello Gill,

    As far as I understand things the smelly breath is caused by your body being in ketosis. I think my breath probably smells but I am fortunate (for many reasons) that my husband is anosmic (no sense of smell).

    Ketosis is when your body converts from glycogen to ketones as it’s main source of energy. It does this when you cut out most of your carbohydrates. If you are on the Harcombe Diet you are basically on a low carb diet and as such will probably go into ketosis.

    Ketosis is not dangerous and should not be confused with keto-acidosis, which is. If you want to be sure that you are in ketosis you can do so by urinating on a keto stick. There is a colour scale on the side of the pot that will tell you the degree of ketosis. According to Dr Atkins, if you are in Ketosis you will be losing fat but be careful as the fat may not be body fat, it may be the fat you have recently eaten that has not yet been stored. Keto sticks can be purchased from a pharmacist.

    I hope I have all this right but I am sure someone will correct me if I am not. Most of my knowledge on the matter of carbs and ketosis comes from the late Dr Akins and the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. I can recommend the book, which is out of print as he has written follow ups that are not as good I am told. GCBC can be purchased second hand from Amazon and others. It is huge but most interesting and informative.

  28. Hello everyone,
    Just started the phase 1 on Monday – I am post menopause with about 3 stones to lose to get to 10 stones (height 5’6″). So far so good, no cravings apart from wanting milk in my tea and coffee(decaf). I have not had any carb meals yet as I am a bit dubious about adding rice. I read another book, the No Crave Diet, which is similar but advocates no butter,cream or saturated fats but puts a lot of emphasis on not snacking so I am following the HD but trying to have only three filling meals each day with no inbetween snacking and finding to my amazement that it is not too difficult! One thing puzzles me – why is it o.k. to eat nly but not to have milk? Have lost 4.5lbs so far(yes!!) so will keep going on phase 1 for a few more days as I am not finding it difficult and am enjoying lots of veggies and salads with oil and lemon, fish ,chicken, eggs and meat. Also drinking lots of redbush tea which is nice with no sugar or milk. Hope to lose lots more lbs and keep feeling well.

  29. I (and my DH) just started this diet on Wednesday this week (today we’re on Day 2 of Phase 1). Reading through the replies above I don’t understand why some people say they have ‘just completed phase 2 but haven’t lost the weight’ ? Phase 2 continues UNTIL you reach what is your ‘natural weight’ It doesn’t just run for 5 days like Phase 1 does. Anyway, that aside, I have had a stonking headache for most of today but apart from that, Phase 1 is going well for us both.

  30. I have just started phase 1 of the harcombe diet again, i find that this diet does work really well but i went off course as had so many things on at the start of july and i just continued on and didnt stop eating hence why i put on 8 lbs in 3 weeks believe me when i want to eat bad i can eat really bad. anyway i totally recommend the harcombe diet, when i initially done it by the end of phase 1 i had lost 5lb and then when going through phase 2 i had lost a total of 10lb but have put most of that back on since beg of july. i find it really easy to follow, nothing better than having bacon and eggs for breakfast is there, i do find the rice thing great in phase 1 as can mix it with meats and have paella style meals, just to try to persuade the hubby to do it too now but i dont think he will

  31. Hi all, nice to read this! I started phase 1 on monday and have lost 4lbs already…i have another 8lbs to go to reach my target weight but enjoying this diet. i am a big carb lover (potatoes/bread/bagels/pasta/rice you name it) but not suffering too much so far with not having them.

    I havent given up my black coffees during the day – would this help do you think?

  32. Last week i started THC and spent 5 days on phase 1 with no cheating which took 3 kgs.However yesterday i was in a bad mood so i just binged,chocolates,cupcakes etc.. I feel so bad and started phase 1 again this morning.i am not sure if it works for the second time after cheating.will be so happy if anyone could help. Thanks xx

  33. You just need to start again from scratch. It will be fine. Give yourself time to get used to no sugar, and don’t be hard on yourself.

  34. This is great to read! I’ve been doing harcombe for 2 weeks now and have switched it up a bit to be more atkins like, so more fat less carbs, keeping the carbs under 20g. I got a massive headache first few days… now I just have a cup of coffee a day. Wine is my downfall also :/ I’m trying to limit it to once a week… On the harcombe diet so far I’ve lost about 3 or 4 kg (7 pounds?) which is pretty good, but keen to lose more. I’ve started a blog/diary on it not that anyone will probably read it but it’s good to have a journal of the process. has anyone used protein powder in baking for phase 1 (of either diet)?

  35. Hi Monique, Thanks for visiting my site and leaving a comment.

    Your weight loss is great, keep it up.

    I have stopped doing the very low carb dieting. Although it really suits me, I had a few health issues. I don’t know it was because of the diet but I felt it too risky to continue. I love all the fats: cream, butter, crispy bacon and so on. It would be a horrible diet without them – for me at least.

    I now eat low-ish carb – try to stick to wholemeal bread and brown rice, and only a little sugar. It doesn’t suit me at all, and I am constantly fighting my cravings, and getting the ‘sugar shakes’ in the afternoon.

    My instinct now would be to stick to Harcombe, but after the first couple of weeks I just stopped losing weight.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just eat and drink sensibly all the time?

  36. My husband has 5 stone to lose. After sticking rigidly to phase 1 he has only lost 1kg in a week. He has worked really hard and i have followed the diet to a t. Breakfast is turkey bacon and eggs, lunch is home made soup or ratatouille and his portion of whole grain rice an dinner is meat and salad…. I’m hoping it just takes time but any support would be great

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