The Cambridge diet is a “medically-supervised” very low calorie programme, requiring participants to purchase specific meal replacement soups, shakes and bars (TetraBriks) from ‘counsellors’ who operate under the Direct Selling Association’s code of conduct. Counsellors are there throughout a dieter’s Cambridge experience, providing motivation, support, advice and the meal-replacement foods required. Dieters must fill in a medical record form, which may need to be countersigned by their GP, before entering into the programme.
The plan is divided into four phases: preparation, weight loss, stabalisation and maintenance. During the first phase, dieters initially meet their Cambridge counsellor to discuss their goals and personal circumstances, so that diet participants can set realistic goals and make informed decisions on where to begin the Cambridge plan. It is recommended that dieters ‘prepare’ for the Cambridge plan by starting out two steps above the step they are going to enter the programme properly on to begin their weight loss. The point of this preparation is that dieters stand a better chance of success if they gradually reduce their intake before setting out on the new plan.
The second phase is losing weight. This is the ‘real’ start of the diet. For most those with a BMI over 25 and at least one stone to lose, the Cambridge diet starts at the ‘sole source’ level – meaning that the Cambridge diet is the only source of nutrition for dieters. During the weight loss phase(s) of the diet, participants should drink at least 2.25 litres of water each day, and are allowed as much unsweetened black tea or coffee as they wish to drink. This ‘sole source’ step of the diet shouldn’t be followed for more than four weeks at a time. IF four weeks have elapsed and the dieter still has more weight to lose in order to meet their agreed upon target, they should follow the ‘add a meal’ menu for a week.
The ‘add a meal’ menu is designed to provide a break after four weeks on the sole source part of the programme. It allows dieters to integrate selected lean proteins and vegetables into their diet along with the Cambridge meal options. Generally, this means dieters are allowed their standard three or four Cambridge meals as well as: 80g of white fish, 80g of skinless poultry meat, 80g of Quorn or tofu, or 80g of cottage cheese as well as two tablespoons ‘white or green’ vegetables, such as cauliflower, lettuce, mushrooms, cabbage, broccoli, celery, courgettes, spring greens, marrow or cucumber.
As a dieter progresses through the Cambridge weight loss steps, the amount of ‘real’ food allowed to supplement the supplied shakes, soups and bars increases gradually as well. The variety of foods diversifies slightly each time the caloric intake rises.
The Cambridge diet site and literature claim that their meal replacement bars, shakes and soups are good value for money and readily available at reasonable prices. One of the criticisims of the diet, however, is that you have to buy the products from Cambridge’s recommended resellers and prices are on the high side. Additionally, the diet is criticised by nutritional and dietary experts for failing to educate dieters about their eating habits – this results in a high number of participants simply regaining the weight they’ve lost once they leave the Cambridge diet programme behind.