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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.