The world's top ten best (worst) fad diets

Cabbage soup, tapeworms and imaginary food - all healthy and effective ways to lose weight, if you believe the women's magazines.

Being as you are a bunch of keyboard-pestering internet potatoes, you will all undoubtedly know how notoriously difficult it is to lose weight. Oh, would that becoming your lithe, slimmer self were as simple as the mere task of burning off more calories through exercise than you take in through cheese snaffling! Unfortunately, and despite what mendacious vegetable-eating tosspot Jamie Oliver would have you believe, combining a healthy diet with regular physical activity barely makes any difference to your flabby, gelatinous arse, which is why you should accept that chowing down on your five-a-day and frantically zumba-ing your way to a slimmer, sexier you whose thighs don't rub agonisingly together as you walk is a fool's errand. Instead, why not try one of those totally non-mental faddy diets, brought to you courtesy of Every Women's Magazine Ever?

The Cabbage Soup Diet

This classic diet is a must-try for every slimming masochist. Everyone knows that cabbage smells like arse, but not only does this diet make you shit molten cabbage-lava, it also makes your house (wherein you have been preparing the devilish concoction) extremely unpalatable to gentleman callers. If you've been craving celibacy as well as IBS, and are prepared to eat unparalleled quantities of boiled cabbage (perhaps you are Russian?), then this is the diet for you.

The French Women Don't Get Fat Diet

Hear that, ladies? No French woman has ever experienced the indignity of portliness, despite the fact that this is a nation that eats cake and cheese for breakfast and whose lunchboxes contain pig's head fried in butter. Apparently, this is because these women are able to enjoy the country's gourmande delicacies, such as baked camembert, in moderation, while spending every weekend subsisting on leek water (a mild diaretic) until they poo themselves thin. How the French have managed to combine faecal incontinence with a reputation for chicness remains one of life's great mysteries.

The Lemon Detox Diet

Starvation is the name of the game, with dieters replacing food with a lemon juice and maple syrup mixture that can ultimately rot your teeth and constipate you. This diet will not only make you unpopular when you visit restaurants with friends and order hot water for your "mater cleanse lemonade", but is also based on what Dr Ben Goldacre probably calls "unadulterated detox bollocks". You're unlikely to lose anything except water-weight before your body kicks into starvation mode and starts clinging onto every last molecule of fat like a toddler to a shinbone on the first day of school.

The Dukan Diet

Offer someone on the Dukan Diet a sausage sandwich and they will probably reply "No. I'm on phase two of the Dukan Diet and can only eat pork on every second Wednesday providing it's a full moon." The reason for this is that the vagaries of the Dukan Diet and its various phases are harder to grasp than the most complex branches of theoretical physics. Even the Schrodinger's cat thought experiment (which, let's face it, most people only pretend to understand because - SPOLIER ALERT- barely anyone's brain can comprehend a cat in a box that is simultaneously both dead and alive) is liable to become as unchallenging as an episode of Button Moon when compared with a Dukan dieter trying to work out whether they're allowed yoghurt on Tuesday. From what we have been able to glean from the esoteric mumblings of the Daily Mail website, the Dukan Diet is based mainly around cottage cheese and allowed Suzanne Southall from Birmingham to lose seven stone, which, considering the fact that cottage cheese is composed entirely of the cellulite waste removed through liposuction, deserves a famous paradox all to itself.

The Tapeworm Diet

If you're one of those women with a big event coming up and are praying for a spot of slimming Norovirus to help you on your way (hot tip: try the oysters at the Lord Stanley), you could do a lot worse than a tapeworm. How exactly you're supposed to go about 'catching' a tapeworm doesn't really bear thinking about (although according to our research on the internet it invariably involves giving a Mexican $1,500 - a bit dear considering pig shit costs nothing), but once you've got the bugger in it can apparently lead to a weightloss of 1-2 lbs per week. Side effects may or may not include the tapeworm bursting out of your stomach while you lie on a spaceship breakfast table after an artificially induced deep sleep. Speaking of.

The Sleeping Beauty Diet

This crackpot diet has been being peddled for over fifty years, on the basis that your body is forced to use up extra reserves of fat while you sleep. Perfect for the ultimate lazy dieter, it involves the bare minimum of effort and crops up regularly in newspapers and women's magazines. When taken to an extreme conclusion, however, this diet involves 24/7 sleeping following medically- assisted sedation, in order to get your abs fairytale firm. Yeah. Expect to awake from your three day Temazepam snooze to discover that you are not only 12lb lighter, but that a homosexual in a cape is leaning over you, clutching an engagement ring as he wet-breathes on your face.

The Hallelujah Diet

The regime of choice for Bible-bashers, this diet is based on something God apparently said in Genesis about how 85 per cent of your food should be raw and plant-based, or something (it's essentially veganism with added sanctimony). It's not the most balanced of diets, revolving as it does mostly around mung beans, and flagrantly ignores the fact that cooking kills off some of the bacteria that lives in food. God also later renegs on the veggie-deal by saying: "every living thing that moveth shall be meat for you", which basically means that you can go ahead and eat that tapeworm mentioned earlier.

The Air Diet

Perhaps tiring of their daily leek juice, a couple of years ago French Grazia featured the Air Diet, an eating plan which involves.not-eating. Basically, you hold your food up to your mouth but instead of consuming it, you just pretend (to yourself and others) to be. It's a regime that sounds even less satisfying than the well-publicised Mastication Diet, involving involves chewing food before spitting it out. Whether or not the magazine were engaging in self-referential post-modern irony by covering this remains something of an unanswered question, but considering that the same article featured a recipe for "water soup" which apparently helps you "lose four dress sizes before the summer", we can only conclude the answer to be no.

The Purple Diet

This diet involves the unique consumption of only purple food (can you tell that we're losing the will to live?)

The Liquid Diet

This is the part where, after exhausting all dieting options, you drink two bottles of Pinot and four tequila shots, while weeping to your best friend about how your life is so miserable and devoid of joy and chocolate mousse that you have become an empty husk of a person. In a sense, you have become a human Shrodinger's cat- alive, yet dead, and in a box filled with cyanide.

Which brings us to The Serious Bit - while we may have been flippant earlier on, a very important point lies at the very heart of this poor excuse for an article. Which is this: next time you think of embarking on a fad diet, you need to ask yourself why so many of them exist in the first place. Surely if such a diet worked then the pseudoscience diet fascists would have stopped their evil schemes long ago? Aside from their vested interest in keeping you fat, these diet gurus (and the magazines that publish them) care little for your health and wellbeing. This is less amusing than it is terrifying once you realise that health is really all you have.

There's probably a diet where you only eat this stuff. Photograph: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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Angela Merkel's call for a burqa ban sets a disturbing precedent

The German chancellor's plan for a partial ban of the full-face veil is a clearly political move, which will do more to harm those women who wear it than protect them.

 

In these febrile times, women’s freedom and autonomy has become a bargaining chip in the poker game of public propaganda — and that goes double for brown, Muslim and migrant women. Angela Merkel should know as well as any other female politician how demeaning it is to be treated as if what you wear is more important than what you say and what you do. With the far-right on the rise across Europe, however, the German chancellor has become the latest lawmaker to call for a partial ban on the burqa and niqab.

We are told that this perennial political football is being kicked about in the name of liberating women. It can have nothing to do, of course, with the fact that popular opinion is lurching wildly to the right in western democracies, there’s an election in Germany next year, and Merkel is seen as being too soft on migration after her decision to allow a million Syrian refugees to enter the country last year. She is also somehow blamed for the mob attacks on women in Cologne, which have become a symbol of the threat that immigration poses to white women and, by extension, to white masculinity in Europe. Rape and abuse perpetrated by white Europeans, of course, is not considered a matter for urgent political intervention — nor could it be counted on to win back voters who have turned from Merkel's party to the far-right AFD, which wants to see a national debate on abortion rights and women restricted to their rightful role as mothers and homemakers.

If you’ll allow me to be cynical for a moment, imposing state restrictions on what women may and may not wear in public has not, historically, been a great foundation for feminist liberation. The move is symbolic, not practical. In Britain, where the ban is also being proposed by Ukip the services that actually protect women from domestic violence have been slashed over the past six years — the charity Refuge, the largest provider of domestic violence services in the UK, has seen a reduction in funding across 80% of its service contracts since 2011.

It’s worth noting that even in western countries with sizeable Muslim minorities, the number of women who wear full burqa is vanishingly small. If those women are victims of coercion or domestic violence, banning the burqa in public will not do a thing to make them safer — if anything, it will reduce their ability to leave their homes, isolating them further.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, racist and Islamophobic attacks spiked in the UK. Hate crimes nationally shot up by 42% in the two weeks following the vote on 23 June. Hate crimes against Muslim women increased by over 300%, with visibly Muslim women experiencing 46% of all hate incidents. Instances of headscarves being ripped off have become so common that self-defense videos are being shared online, showing women how to deflect the “hijab grab”. In this context, it is absurd to claim that politicians proposing a burqa ban care about protecting women: the move is transparently designed to placate the very people who are making Muslim women feel unsafe in their own communities.

When politicians talk about banning the burqa, the public hears an attack on all Islamic headscarves — not everyone knows the difference between the hijab, the niqab and the burqa, and not everyone cares. The important thing is that seeing women dressed that way makes some people feel uncomfortable, and desperate politicians are casting about for ways to validate that discomfort.

Women who actually wear the burqa are not invited to speak about their experiences or state their preferences in this debate. On this point, Islamic fundamentalists and panicked western conservatives are in absolute agreement: Muslim women are provocative and deserve to be treated as a threat to masculine pride. They should shut up and let other people decide what’s best for them.

I know Muslim women who regard even the simple hijab as an object of oppression and have sworn never to wear one again. I also know Muslim women who wear headscarves every day as a statement both of faith and of political defiance. There is no neutral fashion option for a woman of Islamic faith — either way, men in positions of power will feel entitled to judge, shame and threaten. Either choice risks provoking anger and violence from someone with an opinion about what your outfit means for them. The important thing is the autonomy that comes with still having a choice.

A law which treats women like children who cannot be trusted to make basic decisions about their bodies and clothing is a sexist law; a law that singles out religious minorities and women of colour as especially unworthy of autonomy is a racist, sexist law. Instituting racist, sexist laws is a good way to win back the votes of racist, sexist people, but, again, a dreadful way of protecting women. In practice, a burqa ban, even the partial version proposed by Merkel which will most likely be hard to enforce under German constitutional law, will directly impact only a few thousand people in the west. Those people are women of colour, many of them immigrants or foreigners, people whose actual lives are already of minimal importance to the state except on an abstract, symbolic level, as the embodiment of a notional threat to white Christian patriarchy. Many believe that France's longstanding burqa ban has increased racial tensions — encapsulated by the image earlier this year of French police surrounding a woman who was just trying to relax with her family on the beach in a burkini. There's definitely male violence at play here, but a different kind — a kind that cannot be mined for political capital, because it comes from the heart of the state.

This has been the case for centuries: long before the US government used the term“Operation Enduring Freedom” to describe the war in Afghanistan, western politicians used the symbolism of the veil to recast the repeated invasion of Middle Eastern nations as a project of feminist liberation. The same colonists who justified the British takeover of Islamic countries abroad were active in the fight to suppress women’s suffrage at home. This is not about freeing women, but about soothing and coddling men’s feelings about women.

The security argument is even more farcical: border guards are already able to strip people of their clothes, underwear and dignity if they get the urge. If a state truly believes that facial coverings are some sort of security threat, it should start by banning beards, but let's be serious, masculinity is fragile enough as it is. If it were less so, we wouldn't have politicians panicking over how to placate the millions of people who view the clothing choices of minority and migrant women as an active identity threat.

Many decent, tolerant people, including feminists, are torn on the issue of the burqa: of course we don't want the state to start policing what women can and can't wear, but isn't the burqa oppressive? Maybe so, but I was not aware of feminism as a movement that demands that all oppressive clothing be subject to police confiscation, unless the Met’s evidence lockers are full of stilettos, girdles and push-up bras. In case you're wondering, yes, I do feel uncomfortable on the rare occasions when I have seen people wearing the full face veil in public. I've spent enough time living with goths and hippies that I've a high tolerance for ersatz fashion choices — but do wonder what their home lives are like and whether they are happy and safe, and that makes me feel anxious. Banning the burqa might make me feel less anxious. It would not, however, improve the lives of the women who actually wear it. That is what matters. My personal feelings as a white woman about how Muslim women choose to dress are, in fact, staggeringly unimportant.

If you think the Burqa is oppressive and offensive, you are perfectly entitled never to wear one. You are not, however, entitled to make that decision for anyone else. Exactly the same principle applies in the interminable battle over women's basic reproductive choices: many people believe that abortion is wrong, sinful and damaging to women. That's okay. I suggest they never have an abortion. What's not okay is taking away that autonomy from others as a cheap ploy for good press coverage in the runup to an election.

This debate has been dragging on for decades, but there's a new urgency to it now, a new danger: we are now in a political climate where the elected leaders of major nations are talking about registries for Muslims and other minorities. Instituting a symbolic ban on religious dress, however extreme, sets a precedent. What comes next? Are we going to ban every form of Islamic headdress? What about the yarmulke, the tichel, the Sikh turban, the rainbow flag? If this is about community cohesion, what will it take to make white conservatives feel “comfortable”? Where does it stop? Whose freedoms are politicians prepared to sacrifice as a sop to a populace made bitter and unpredictable by 30 years of neoliberal incompetence? Where do we draw the line?

We draw it right here, between the state and the autonomy of women, particularly minority and migrant women who are already facing harassment in unprecedented numbers. Whatever you feel about the burqa, it is not the role of government to police what women wear, and doing it has nothing to do with protection. It is chauvinist, it is repressive, it is a deeply disturbing precedent, and it has no place in our public conversation.

 
 
 
 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.