Chapter 1

In 2002, the British politician, Ann Widdecombe, took part in a television show called Celebrity Fit Club. It was a follow up programme to Fat Club, which featured ordinary people, weighing up to 30 stone, prepared to be photographed in swimsuits in a desperate bid to have access to people who, they believed, could help them to lose weight. At the end of her experience, Widdecombe said that if she ever wrote a diet book it would be just two pages long. Page one would say “eat less” and page two would say “do more.”

It is an almost universally held belief that the only way to lose weight is to eat less and/or do more. This in turn comes from a misapplication of the Laws of the Universe to the human body.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard diet advisors say “energy in = energy out”; “you can’t change the laws of the universe”. However, there is no law of the universe that says energy in equals energy out. We have got the most fundamental principle, of what the laws of the universe (thermodynamics) actually do say, wrong. In Chapter 1 we set out what the first law of thermodynamics actually does say and how significant this is as an error in the world of weight loss.

We also consider – even if energy in did equal energy out (which it doesn’t) – surely less energy in would lead to less energy out. We highlight the assumptions that have wrongly been made and how the body can and does adjust internally and how we have not allowed for this fact. You may be interested to know that using 200 calories up in an exercise session is as likely to come out of your body’s planned maintenance (basal metabolic rate) for that day, as it is to come from your love handles.

We explain that weight gain and loss is absolutely NOT about the naively simple notion of calories in and out, but about how the body stores fat and how the body un-stores (releases) fat. You will learn the most important food to avoid to lose weight – oh, and it just happens to be the food that you most likely eat more of now, if you are trying to lose weight ‘the current way’.

Some people seem to have a mental block when it comes to anything science – this chapter is only nine pages long so please give it your best shot. I try to put things as simply as possible, but I can’t oversimplify things, not least because the oversimplification of these laws has got us into such a mess already. Even if you skim through this short chapter – all you need to take away is that energy in does not equal energy out.  It is WAY more complicated than that. If you really think energy in equals energy out – put a gallon of diesel in a petrol car and see what you get out! (Don’t really)!

© Dr Zoë Harcombe PhD

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Chapter 2

The other slogan I have lost count of the number of times I have heard is “a calorie is a calorie”. At one level this is meaningless. It’s like saying a car is a car. At any other level it is nonsensical. A calorie is only a calorie under a Bunsen burner. In the human body, calories could not be more different. Some provide nutrition and some are pure empty calories – sugar – providing calories, but no vitamins, minerals, fat, protein – nothing that the body needs or can use.

If we eat 1,500 calories of processed food (which, I show elsewhere in the book, the UK does every day) – we lack what I call ‘calories with a job to do’. The body needs fat, fat soluble vitamins, protein, minerals and water soluble vitamins for its daily activities of basic body maintenance (basal metabolic rate). The body then must encourage you to eat the foods that it needs – and this drives you to eat another 1,500 or so calories.

Or, you become malnourished. We are seeing ‘developed’ nations overfed and suffering malnutrition at the moment – that’s another way of looking at obesity.

In Chapter 2 we look at scientific evidence for the advantage that some calories have over others. We discover that calories are by no means equal and there is a significant benefit of eating certain foods over others. We knew this as far back as 1956, but the evidence has been brushed aside, as it doesn’t fit with the diet message that is being pushed today.

© Dr Zoë Harcombe PhD

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Chapter 3

The notion that overweight people just need to eat less and/or do more is just another way of saying that overweight people are greedy and/or lazy – they eat too much and/or do too little. I do not subscribe to this view. We have assumed one direction of causation and not considered the other. We assume that being lazy has made people overweight – we don’t take into account that larger people are simply less able to move around. They are caught in a vicious circle and patronising assumptions are doing nothing to help or solve the problem.

Chapter 3 goes into two other clear causes of obesity – neither of which are about eating too much or doing too little. We look at the hormone system in the human body and briefly note in how many different ways this can make humans gain weight. Children gain weight in puberty (growth hormones); women gain weight during the monthly cycle (progesterone, oestrogen – a cocktail of different hormones); men and women can gain weight during the menopause. We note the impact that thyroid can have on weight and, the most fattening hormone of all, insulin.

The second and quite scary area that we explore is the mass of prescription medication that is being given out and consumed by people in the ‘developed world’. From hormones being taken as tablets, to medication for depression and psychological illness – there are drugs being ingested that can cause as much as a 10 kilogram weight gain in a year. The chapter strongly recommends that doctors prescribe more cautiously and patients accept prescriptions with far greater challenge and that both doctors and patients discuss likely weight gain before starting a course of ‘treatment’. The conditions are named in this chapter, the drugs and brands are named and you will be able to see if you are taking anything that is the real culprit for your weight gain.

You may not be greedy, or weak-willed; you may be suffering avoidable side effects of something you would be better off not taking.

© Dr Zoë Harcombe PhD

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Chapter 4

Chapter 4 simply must be read by anyone working in the field of obesity and by anyone who thinks that eating less will make them weigh less. The first experiment to test what happens when people eat less was done in 1917. The definitive experiment was done in 1945 in the strictest of control circumstances and documented in the most comprehensive way. We share the story of this experiment in Chapter 4 and it’s a great story. This concluded categorically that weight loss will not come close to what you may currently expect and it is not sustainable. This chapter documents literature after this definitive experiment and all conclude the same. You will learn where the “98% of diets fail” comes from and it is evidence based.

This chapter asks and answers the question – why does eating less not lead to weighing less and, hopefully, it will lead to you never count calories or starve yourself again.

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Chapter 5

Part 2 opens with examples of just how widely the calorie formula is used “to lose 1lb of fat you need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories”. Government literature, private health company brochures, diet books, internet sites, nutrition manuals – all list this formula as fact (although most get it embarrassingly wrong, as I illustrate with ease).

The starting point for this formula is the idea that one pound equals 3,500 calories and we will see that it doesn’t. Ask the next person who says this to you, or write to the publication where you see it documented and challenge them to come up with the number 3,500. Then see what numbers you can reach reading my short Chapter 5…

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"The Obesity Epidemic is the most comprehensive demolition job on the arrogance and ignorance of the health profession I have ever read".
Barry Groves Author of Trick and Treat: How 'healthy eating' is making us ill