Designer diets are bringing a whole lot of joy and woe on to our plates. The craze seems to be giving some of us a beautiful body but a heavy heart

Day one: Cabbage soup with fruits, except bananas. Day two: Cabbage soup with vegetables, including potatoes. Day three: Cabbage soup with fruits and vegetables, excluding bananas and potatoes.

As the week progresses, the permutations get scantier and scarier. On the seventh and final day, you are left with yourself, with no friends perhaps, but five kilos lighter for sure. The instructions come with tips to “survive” the full seven days. This is the cabbage soup diet, which the Internet claims, has millions of followers worldwide.

In these times of instant gratification, rapid weight-loss programmes or fad diets are getting increasingly popular, with celebrity endorsements to boot. Many of these diets have menus restricted to varying unflattering combinations of fruits, vegetables, boiled meat, carbohydrates and fats and show results in a week or two.

Types of diet

Beginning with the GM diet, ‘a weight-loss plan designed for the employees of General Motors for their exclusive use', to Atkins, South Beach, Dukan, onion, grape… the Internet is bristling with quick-fix diet plans which are spurring a famine in the lives of serial dieters.

Sangeetha, a 29-year-old dentist in Kochi, had always been on the heavier side. Intensive working out and cutting down carbohydrates did not help. “How long can you slog in the gym and remain motivated when you don't see results?” she asks. She decided to give GM diet a try. The results were amazing. “I lost five kilos in a week.” But what Sangeetha wasn't prepared for were bouts of intense cravings, monotony and tiredness.

Fad diets yield instant results because of the minimal calorie intake and drastic loss of body fluids. Stoppage leads to immediate weight gain—sometimes even more than what was lost. “Such diets are not balanced, as they deprive the body of the necessary nutrients. The stored fats are depleted in three days and one experiences fatigue and difficulty in concentrating,” says Reena Edwin Cubellio, a nutritionist at a fitness centre in the city.

For Joxy John, a 25-year-old English instructor in Kochi, to lose weight was a burning desire. “There were a few dresses that I was dying to get into. I badly wanted to shed kilos asap.” She tried a tailor-made version of the GM diet prescribed by a doctor at a Public Health Centre (PHC). She had to renounce even coffee, which she needed to “activate her brain cells”. A week later, it got to her. “How can one ever substitute coffee with banana?” she asks exasperatedly.

Experts and dieters agree that most fad diets are drastic and cannot be followed for long periods. Looking good (read slim) at a party or a wedding is the reason why most people try them. “But what the websites do not tell you is how to cope with the change once you get back to normal eating. There has been no extensive scientific study that indicates the feasibility of such diets,” says Sindu S., chief dietician at the Medical Trust Hospital. An increasing number of youngsters go to her with weight problems, but do not want to do things the hard way such as sweat it out at a gym, she says.

However, several people have triumphed over the ultimate diet tests. The trick lies in tweaking strict diets intelligently, and you will be surprised with the results, says Renu Vaidyanathan, senior coordinator of corporate communications in an MNC. She has been following a mix of Atkins (high-protein, low-carbohydrate) and South Beach (low-fat) diets for over four years now and has never experienced a problem. Her daily intake includes good carbs such as whole wheat flour, good fats such as olive oil and egg whites.

The industrious have come up with their own, more feasible diet plans, too.

Jaison Paulson, a nutrition expert in Kochi, says what works for one person need not work for another. The blood-type diet popularised by him determines a diet based on a person's blood group. The diet, which works on the thermogenic effect of the food, could even help in reversing the ageing process, he claims. According to Jaison, the blood type diet has hundreds of fans in Kochi. “If you understand what kind of food suits your blood type, you can follow it,” he says. For instance, O and B blood groups should avoid wheat, and A group does well with a vegetarian diet, he says.

Well, if working magic is what a diet should do, why not try the Magic diet itself? Television heartthrob and former Miss Kerala Ranjini Haridas has been following a diet, which she learnt about from a friend, but personalised and christened ‘Ranjini’s Magic diet’. “It is simple. Just cut the ‘whites’ out of your food,” she says. The ‘whites’ (sugar, rice, bread, milk…) could be replaced with ‘browns’ of course, but in limited amounts. “It is not drastic or demanding like a fad diet,” says Ranjini.

(Some names have been changed on request)