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.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.