From the Dukan to alternate-day fasting, we test six of the most talked-about diets. After four weeks, have the pounds propped off?

Every-other-day diet

§  Tester: Picture editor Ginny Henry, 43

§  Weight lost: 4½lb


Food fight

Food fight

The plan: Intermittent fasting could help you live longer and stay slimmer. First observed by scientists in mice  and, more recently, monkeys calorie restriction has been found to reduce a hormone that causes ageing. The medical community is skeptical, though.

The process: Alternate-day dieting involves eating whatever you want one day (even high-fat foods are permitted) and restricting your intake to 500-600 calories the next (a ‘fasting’ day). I went for the more practical 5:2 plan eating normally for five days and fasting for two. So my social life wouldn’t suffer, I chose Monday and Tuesday to fast (you don’t have to choose consecutive days), as those evenings tend to be quieter. I experimented with having one filling meal at brunch (say, scrambled eggs with salmon and toast), or breaking up the day with a morning cappuccino and massive Panini around 4pm. Either way, it’s hard because I’m so tired and grumpy on fast days that meeting friends is off-limits, as is pretty much any form of exercise.

The results: I’m sticking to it. I love food and two days’ control is no hardship if I have a free pass for the rest of the week. Plus, on my whatever-I-want days, I now become fuller more quickly.

Dukan Diet

§  Tester: Beauty & health director Alice du Parcq, 32

§  Weight lost: 8lb

Dukan Diet

The plan: This controversial method is designed by Dr Pierre Dukan, a French nutritionist who advocates a high-protein, low-fat diet and carefully chosen carbs (mostly oat bran). The diet pushes your body to obtain energy from protein, rather than the excess glucose in carb-rich foods, before turning to your fat stores for fuel.

The process: I was in ‘attack’ mode for seven days: no fat, no carb, no fruit or veg, lots of protein and 1 tbsp daily of oat bran. Five days later just before I was driven to a Kettle Chips binge – I hit phase two, where I could flip between vegetable-and-protein days and protein-only days. I became so bored with bland flavours that I resorted to chewing a square of chocolate then spitting it out. After that, the maintenance phase seemed a welcome relief: six days on low-fat, low-carb food (such as fruit and brown rice); and one day of 100 percent protein to rev up fat-burning.

The results: Cutting out sugars gave me energy, but the black of carbs bunged up my digestion and the occasional glass of wine gave me a headache. The Dukan has had lots of bad press, but it’s not too bad for you – there’s a vegetable quota and low fat levels, but be prepared for boredom, repetition and an enormous amount of time spent reinventing chicken.

Weight watchers

§  Tester: advertisement director, Kate Wake-Walker, 30

§  Weight lost: 4lb

The plan: After 50 years, Weight Watcher has modernised itself: there’s an app and an online facility for tracking your progress. It’s based on a points system. Foods have different values – for example, a skinless chicken breast equals four points, while most vegetable and fruit are free passed with zero.

The process: I was allocated 28 daily points (determined by my current weight and how much I aimed to lose) and everyone is allowed 49 ‘bonus points’ for splash-outs during the week. The reminder emails kept me focused and it was relief to avoid the embarrassment of group weigh-ins by doing everything online. I prefer not to tell friends I’m dieting, so my biggest challenge has been dealing with people saying, “Oh come on one more!” I can feel very down after a couple of instances of cheating, such as an extra cocktail or bread roll. And occasionally the maths goes wrong, so I have me bonus points for weekends when I’m most likely to slip up.

The results: As long as your points tally, nothing is absolutely banned, meaning that you don’t have to deprive yourself of a glass of wine after work on a Friday as long as you adjust what else you eat accordingly. Inputting points into the app on my mobile phone made me more conscious of what I was eating. Although I lost weight, it did take longer than other diets I’ve tried. It’s slow and steady but, so far, the weight has stay off, so I’m glad I was patient.

Nordiska DNA diet

  • Tester: Health writer Helen Foster, 44
  • Weight lost: 5lb

Nordiska DNA diet

The plan: Developed with scientists at Newcastle University, genetic testing (a swab is taken from your mouth) determines a weight-loss plan for you by screening variants of seven genes relating to appetite, muscle activity and metabolism.

The process: I was told my so-called fat genes mean I lose weight slowly and absorb fat quickly. The answer? A low-fat plan. The 1,300 calorie diet took a lot of adjusting to. I was shocked by how much I could eat dinner even included carbs, which I usually avoid in the evenings. Over all, I didn’t feel deprived, but I did get an energy dip in the afternoons. Some fruit helped and the no-biscuits-in-the-house rule stopped mindless grazing.

The results: Things that work for others rarely do for me, so it was nothing short of miraculous when the weight fell off. As it was tailor-made for my genes, I had more confidence in it and didn’t lose come too and it all went back on. Since then, I have struggled to get back into the routine, as you really need to focus if you don’t follow it to the letter, it won’t work.

Paleo diet

§  Tester: Beauty & health writer Charlotte Jolly, 27

§  Weight lost: 3½lb

Paleo diet

The plan: This diet goes back to evolutionary basics, extolling the virtues of prehistoric eating (Paleo derives from the Paleolithic era). The premise is simple: to return to a hunter-gatherer diet of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. That means no cereals, dairy, legumes (such as beans or lentils), salt or sugars.

The process: The basic rule is this: if our hunter-gatherer ancestors couldn’t get hold of it, you can’t eat it. Daunted, I decided my one cheat be coffee. Initially, I had a foggy, tired ‘diet head’ and craved sweets. However, after two weeks of eating spinach omelettes, raw vegetables with guacamole and tuna salad, I’d shaken my sugar obsession and my energy levels rocketed. I even began viewing caffeine as a toxin and have now cut it out completely.

The results: There’s no calorie counting or scales involved (phew!) and cutting out salt has wider health benefits. But I missed porridge for breakfast and my sweet treat of Greek yoghurt with Manuka honey – both of which would be considered healthy on a modern menu. I also worried about depriving myself of nutrients (such as the calcium in dairy products). Long-term, this diet becomes dull, but I have acquired a whole new perspective, Walking around the supermarket, I’m now aware of how reliant I’d become on convenience food. I don’t want to go back there.

Food swap diet

§  Tester: Promotions creative director Clare O’Sullivan, 46

§  Weight lost: 5lb

Food swap diet

The plan: This diet book by health writer Peta Bee is a bible for common-sense slimming, aimed at changing your eating habits. The basis is still ‘calories in, calories out’, but the more informed your choices, the cleverer your (reduced) calorie picks.

The process: The science about food groups and belling helped me to make better choices about what (and how much) I was eating. Tips on navigating different scenarios were a revelation. Chicken Raisukaree – my go-to dish at Wagamama – has 1,276 calories by ordering Ginger Chicken Udon, which is a similar but nutritionally savvier dish, without being left feeling deprived or hungry.

The results: The theory appealed to diet detective in me, but it’s not for those who prefer strict regimes. Unfortunately, simply reading the book wasn’t enough to impact on my waistline. But when I combined my new knowledge with calorie counting (I used the MyFitnessPal app), the scales shifted in my favour.

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