Want to know the real secret of how you can lose those extra pounds?
As Demi and Ashton take up the Master Cleanse diet, Chrissie Russell looks at our obsession with weight-loss quick fixes
Published 21/07/2010 | 05:00
Twitter followers of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher have had a treat. Over the past week, the image-conscious couple have kept fans up to date with their unpalatable ins (and even less palatable outs) as they embark on the celebrity diet du jour: The Master Cleanse.
Although it's been around since the 1940s, the detox -- created by alternative health practitioner Stanley Burroughs -- has become a celebrity favourite in recent years among those looking to purge their bodies of negative toxins and shift weight fast.
Fans include singer Beyoncé, who lost 20lbs for her role in Dreamgirls on the Master Cleanse, while Gwyneth Paltrow, Naomi Campbell and Jared Leto have all reported results.
As fad diets go, this is slimming at its restrictive peak. The 10-day programme banishes solids completely, and any liquids allowed are hard to stomach. Master Cleanse devotees consume a quart of salt water in the morning, followed by between six and 12 daily glasses of a freshly squeezed lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water concoction and a laxative tea in the evening.
The results are a smelly expulsion of toxins lurking in the body and usually significant weight loss due to the drastic curb in the number of calories imbibed.
On her Twitter page Demi Moore is adamant that she and the hubby are doing it to be healthy, but a 10-day fast that reduces calorie intake to between 650 and 1,300 per day, without including protein, calcium, iron or zinc, pushes the boundaries of 'healthy' eating and doctors don't advise staying on it for long.
But the fasting fad is nothing new in Hollywood. The size-obsessed culture sees celebrities embrace a new miracle weight-loss programme virtually every year. And, the more rigid and complex the rules over what can and cannot be consumed, the greater the hype that surrounds it.
Demi Moore has also been a follower of the raw-food movement, allowing only organic, non-processed foods that had not been cooked higher than 46C to pass her lips. Madonna's macrobiotic diet only allows for low fat, high fibre, soy-rich foods.
She's even rumoured to phone ahead to restaurants to make sure butter is banished by whoever prepares her meal.
When the lists of what's considered 'good' and 'bad' food get too tricky, some stars opt for ditching whole food groups from their diet or sticking to just the one ingredient.
Renee Zellweger and Jennifer Aniston are famed for ditching portions of pasta and bread to shed pounds on the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet (Zellweger also endorsed snacking on ice cubes).
While Sarah Michelle Geller limited herself to cabbage soup for a week to lose weight and Adrien Brody embarked on an eggs-only diet (with only minute additions of fish and steamed veg) to lose 30lbs for his role in The Pianist.
Right at the extreme end of the scale are the stars nibbling on baby food to maintain their minuscule waists; the fussy eaters who will only eat foods of one colour on any given day; and Jennifer Lopez who supposedly carries round a vial of grapefruit oil which, when sniffed, keeps hunger pangs at bay.
The tragedy is that these extreme approaches to food aren't solely the domain of the Hollywood starlet. As soon as one svelte star appears on TV talking about a new miracle weight-loss regime, the rest of us can't wait to hop on board.
In the UK and Ireland, the diet industry is worth billions, yet ironically, obesity is a growing problem.
In Ireland 59pc of men and 41pc of women are overweight or obese. Excess weight results in 2,000 premature deaths every year and treating obesity costs more than €400m annually.
Dublin-based dietician Paula Mee believes fad diets help fuel our hope that weight loss has a quick-fix solution.
She says: "People think that these diets are a magic potion -- and they're not. The fact is that even if you do lose weight on them, the chances are, once you start eating normally again, the weight will go back on. They're not sustainable and they don't educate us in a healthy way of eating."
According to Paula, what sucks us in is the link between the celebrity image and their endorsement of the diet.
"People take on an extreme diet expecting extreme results," she says. "There's an all-or-nothing mentality. When they don't suddenly see an instant transformation they give up, when really they need to set more attainable goals."
But more worrying are the side effects of some of Hollywood's favourite dieting trends. The Master Cleanse can cause headaches, cramps, irritability, tiredness, pains and vomiting. Atkins has been linked to headaches, bad breath and osteoporosis, and restrictive diets cause nutrient deficiencies.
Paula says: "Short term, they won't do any harm. But long term, any restrictive diet is going to result in a deficiency of important nutrients, which can have a knock-on effect on the thyroid and liver. These diets are absolutely lethal.
"The fact is that the only way to lose weight, and keep it off, is by changing your eating habits, eating healthily and getting exercise. There is no miracle cure. It takes dedication, but on the plus side, it doesn't require anything drastic; small changes like cutting down on sweets and taking the stairs really do have an impact over time."
The good news is that we might slowly be cottoning on to this. According to Easons' head of purchasing, Maria Dickenson, buyers are starting to look into books advising a healthier approach to diet.
She says: "Classic titles like Eat Right For Your Type and the Atkins diet still sell year in and year out, but there has been a trend towards holistic health recently with Patrick Holford's 10 Secrets Of 100% Healthy People, which takes in both diet and general health, selling more than 15,000 copies so far this year."
Perhaps reading about Demi and Ashton's extreme experience is enough to prove to the rest of us that we just don't have the appetite for it.
There is one diet whose slow and steady approach has seen it stick, while other fad diets fall out of favour. Nearly 1,000 Weight Watchers meetings take place in Ireland every week, shedding pounds through a system that involves tracking how much you eat, but denies you nothing.
"That's what really works about it as a diet," says Katy McCabe (28), a Dublin-based computer worker who has lost 4st 5lb over the past year-and-a-half following Weight Watchers.
She says: "I wasn't happy with how I looked and I knew other people that had joined Weight Watchers and been successful, so I decided to join a meeting.
"I knew I'd put on weight after starting a new job, but I couldn't believe it when I stepped on the scales and realised I'd put on four stone.
"I was in floods of tears when I got home, but the next day I took out the book I'd got at the meeting and made a start -- the next week I went back and I'd lost six-and-a-half pounds."
A year on and Katy had dropped from 14 stone 11.5lbs to 10st 8.5lbs. She says: "I found going to meetings gave me the support I needed and I liked knowing that if I wanted a treat, I could have one, so long as I allocated for it in my points allowance."
She adds: "I don't see Weight Watchers as a 'diet', it's a way of life. I can't imagine going back to eating the portions or the type of food before and I don't feel any desire to."
Weight Watchers PRO, Margaret Burke explains: "Weight Watchers is about a slow, steady, healthy approach to weight loss. It's about changing behaviour not a quick fix."
In the programme, foods are given points and everyone has a certain amount of points they can eat every day; some foods contain more points than others, but nothing is off the menu.
Margaret says: "When people feel deprived, that's when they fall off the wagon.
"Weight Watchers is about permanently changing attitudes to food and providing support through weekly meetings to help members stay focused, achieve their weight-loss goal and maintain that weight once they get there."