The WM an Appetite Interview for Life; ZOE HARCOMBE IS SLIM, HEALTHY.... AND HAS A STASH OF CHOCOLATE TO RIVAL WILLY WONKA'S. THE DIET GURU TALKS TO LYDIA WHITFIELD ABOUT BATTLING FOOD, AND WINNING
Ibet you wouldn't find this in Gillian McKeith's fridge now, would you?" giggles author, business woman and diet guru Zoe Harcombe, conspiratorially.
The bubbly 43-year-old is bounding over to the fridge to fetch the leftovers of a dreamy chocolate mousse she made for friends the night before. She hands it to me to try and quips, "Gillian doesn't eat nearly enough fat now, does she?!"
Zoe was anorexic by 15, bulimic by 19 and fought severe food cravings for years afterwards, which more than qualifies her as an authority on food and dieting. It also goes some way to explaining why her books, Why Do You Overeat?
When All You Want Is To Be Slim, and Stop Counting Calories and Start Losing Weight: The Harcombe Diet and its spin-off recipe book, are a breath of fresh air for die-hard dieters.
Warmand youthful, Zoe is convinced most people suffer from food intolerances and promises to stop food cravings forever.
The Cambridge graduate was a keen athlete in her teens, but rubbishes the tired mantra of exercising to lose weight, and can't abide calorie counting.
She recites offhand the pages of her favourite recipes in her book. The chocolate mousse - which, she tells me, is to be found on page 435 - is, for the record, delicious and oozes with dark rum, decaf coffee and a carton of whipping cream.
There is no hint of the ghastly synthetic saccharine aftertaste present in most diet desserts.
But that's because Zoe shuns half fat half measures.
Today husband Andy, who works in web research, knocked up for her a "delicious and huge" salad for lunch with four different cheeses, plenty of olive oil, sundried tomatoes and pine nuts. She has wolfed down the best part of a bumper sized bar of Lindt chocolate - The Excellence, Extra Dark 85% cocoa variety - and only six squares remain. "I easily get through a bar a day," she confides, opening up an amazing bottomdrawer in her kitchen, which wouldn't be out of place at Willy Wonka's, packed tightly as it is with an army of neat, upright Lindt bars.
Zoe is head of human resources at Dwr Cymru and is also on the board of governors at Uwic. She and Andy live in a peaceful farmhouse in Llanvaches with cat Maxwell, who they recently rehomed from the rescue centre, and dog Roxy. Hearing all Zoe crams into her life, it comes as no surprise that both books were written when she was meant to be holidaying - the first on her laptop in St Lucia in 2003 and the latest in Spittal, near Haverfordwest last May, while Andy took his 12 and 14-year-old sons to the beach and she had up to 10 hours a day to herself.
She says: "Andy jokes, 'You talk at 10,000 words a day so if you wrote it all down, you would have a book by the end of the week.' And that's basically what happened."
Zoe was bought up near Bedford, though feels her roots are in Wales and moved back here in 1999. Her grandparents were Welsh, but moved to the North East for work in the mines. Her parents, John and Verna, were born there.
"Food was always a big part of my childhood. Where my parents were brought up, after a massive Sunday lunch, when the dishes had barely been cleared away, everyone would have high tea with plenty of Battenburg cake and sandwiches.
"When I was 13 and my brother Adrian was 15, he was diagnosed as diabetic. To be fair to mum, she changed our diet overnight when she had been one of those who spent Sunday mornings baking enough shortbread and biscuits to last the week.
"Adrian's diabetes totally changed the way he ate and bred my fascination with food. If I had been the older child, maybe I would have had the diabetes.
Adrian still injects himself twice a day and I realised early on, 'Wow. Sugar is really powerful stuff.' I've been anti-sugar since. If sugar were put through Food Standards tests today, I don't believe it would pass. It has no nutritional value whatsoever. …