The Cambridge Diet - the Granddaddy of VLCDs

The Cambridge Diet

The Cambridge Diet developed from research begun in the 1960s, looking for safe ways to replicate the extreme weight loss demonstrated in fasting and starving conditions. The aim was to create a product that would provide sufficent protein, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and essential fatty acids to protect the muscles and also the vital organs from the damage and loss that fasting can mean, whilst still achieving very rapid weight control. The diet also provides a very low level of carbohydrate, so as to create and sustain a low level of ketosis in order to suppress hunger and food cravings, as well as to encourage the burning of stored fat deposits.

The Cambridge Diet in the UK is supplied through a network of trained Counsellors, who retail the products on a one-to-one basis to their clients. There are no fixed franchise areas or RRPs for the products, so some areas have lots of suppliers and others are underserved - consequently the support provided to dieters is a bit variable. At its best however the Cambridge Counsellor system provides a supportive and encouraging weekly review and weigh-in, helping their clients move towards their weight loss goals safely and effectively, and choose correctly from the products and programmes on offer.

The advantage of the individual Cambridge Counsellors system is that weight loss is such a personal and difficult journey, especially for heavily obese clients, that the support can be indivudally tailored to meet the needs of each person - and doesnt exclude the many people who would rather drop dead than attend a group session with weekly weigh-ins! It also means the Cambridge Diet can be started at any time, to suit the motivations of the individual, rather than waiting for a programme or slimming club to have a starting point or date.

Cambridge Counsellors are all people who have achieved success through the Cambridge Diet themselves. This makes them deeply empathetic with the challenges and ups and downs that any weight loss plan involves, as well as the best possible advert for their own business (expect 'before' photos, to compare firsthand with the 'after' person right in front of you, a very motivating factor). Counsellors can sponsor others to become counsellors themselves, and earn a networked income through their product distribution, but they work to a very strict code of conduct and I know of no-one who has been 'sold' the counselling role in any way.

The Cambridge Diet has been developed as a total meal replacement, and in this form is a very low calorie diet, one of the lowest, at around 500kcal per day. However it is incorporated in a range of graduated programmes, from using the diet as a 'Sole Source' of nutrition (generally the recommended starting point for anyone with a stone or more to lose), through the addition of various meals and snacks up to a 1500kcal programme for gradual weight loss or transitioning to the end of their weight loss plan. Unlike Lighterlife the Cambridge Diet is completely flexible, in that the Sole Source programme can be undertaken as long as necessary for anyone requiring large amounts of weight loss - although every 4 weeks an 'add a meal' week is undertaken, which includes a daily snack adding around 300kcal to stimulate the metabolism. The Cambridge publications and Counsellors advise on the content of the additional snacks and meals to keep the carbs low and the protein up - vegetarians might have to be a bit more creative and substitute different options, such as tofu for chicken etc, to create effective choices.

As with most VLCDs, you live on what's in the box - with the addition of generous quantities of water (some of which can be made up from black tea and coffee and other carb-free beverages). The cost is lower than LighterLife - different Counselors charge slightly different rates but it generally comes it at under £40 per week for a woman on Sole Source (men pay more, but they get 4 foodpacks a day. And irritatingly still tend to lose weight faster!) As with any total meal replacement you have to offset the cost of this against ALL food drink and snacks for the week, so it represents good value for money.

One unusual feature of the Cambridge Diet programme is the emphasis on a preparation phase, especially for those with significant weight to lose. They recommend you step rapidly down through the programmes to reach the Sole Source level, increasing water drinking and tailing off your carbs significantly over a week or so. This is in complete contrast to the way most of us approach undertaking a drastic weight loss plan, ie a big time blow out the night before! But it really really helps to alleviate the potentially horrendous transition to ketosis, by depleting your glycogen levels / carb stores well in advance, and enabling you to get through that critical first week without the headaches, tiredness and hunger so typical of very low calorie diets. So don't skip the preparation however keen you are to get started - the weight loss when you start Sole Source will be all the more rapid and impressive if you prepare properly.

As well as the face to face Counsellor network, the Cambridge Diet also provides a lively and active forum on its website where contributors include staff and Cambridge Diet employees, who provide lots of support and information to members, who also support one another on their individual weight loss paths. Lots of members pair off into 'buddies' and even arrange meetings, so if you like the group thing, Cambridge can offer this too.

Cambridge Diet products

Cambridge sachets are available in the following flavours: Banana, Butterscotch, Cappuccino, Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, Fruits of the Forest,

Strawberry, Toffee and Walnut, Vanilla, Broccoli and Cheese, Chicken and Mushroom, Oriental Chilli, Spicy Tomato, Vegetable. NB the Chicken and Mushroom variant DOES contain chicken extract and is therefore UNSUITABLE for vegetarians

There are also lactose-free sachet options:Chocolate, Chocolate Orange, Cappuccino, Vanilla, Mushroom

And there are ready-mixed shakes available in tetra-briks, ideal for travel/packed lunch etc:Banana Bliss, Chocolate Velvet, Strawberry Silk NB Strawberry Silk is coloured with cochineal and is there for NOT vegetarian. A vegetarian pink food colouring is used in the regular strawberry sachets so these are fine.

For breakfast there is a new porridge sachet that can be microwaved for one of your 3 or 4 recommended food portions.

Bars are also available in the following flavours:Caramel, Chocolate, Orange, Toffee.

There is also a 'mix a mousse' product designed to offer a change of texture, but it's completely unsuitable for vegetarians as it's primarily gelatin.

As the diet is based primarily around milky shakes and whey-based soup, despite the lactose free options it is generally very limited and unsuitable for vegans. The whey products used in the sachets are however rennet free and therefore genuinely vegetarian.

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