The Hollywood diet

Celebrity Bodies is 92 pages long, with around 500 words a page. The average number of calories burned whilst reading is one every minute. Reading Celebrity Bodies from cover-to-cover will probably burn up around 18.5 calories, maximum. Indeed the only pounds you're certain to lose through reading this latest publication from the Emap stable are those in the cover price of £1.65.

The magazine's launch, last week, caused uproar. Tessa Jowell, the minister for women dubbed it "grim". From tabloids to broadsheets, everyone was up in arms at the unpalatable concept of an entire magazine devoted to the wacky fitness regimes of the stars. How could any publishing company be so downright irresponsible as to launch a magazine eulogising almost skeletally-thin idols such as Victoria Beckham?

Alison Hall, co-editor, denied that the magazine would encourage unhealthy behaviour. "People want nice bodies and I don't think that it is immoral for us to cater for that," she said. But then yesterday it all got worse: pictures of Geri Halliwell, cover girl on the first edition of Celebrity Bodies, looking frighteningly gaunt on the front page of the Mirror. Proof positive that the diets celebrated in Celebrity Bodies are not a good thing.

Actually, in the flesh, Celebrity Bodies is a bit of a relief. It's a more refreshing read than Zest, or any of the other health and beauty glossies pedalling their wares with the sort of clear-skinned smugness reserved for the over-tofu-ed. A spokeswoman for the British Nutritional Foundation (BNF) remarks on its tongue-in-cheekness. "I think it's good that they've been upfront," she says. And she's right. Celebrity Bodies is tremendously funny.

Seemingly written by a bunch of slightly pudgy wannabes, who maybe eat a Müllerlite yoghurt from time to time, and once flailed around on the living room floor and called it yoga, they'll stick in the odd wry comment - instructing Jennifer Aniston to "push the boat out, girl" when it's claimed that she'll even sometimes allow herself to eat pretzels, in moderation.

But it's true that the mag does give detailed guidance on the gamut of mad celeb diets, from the high-protein, low-carbohydrate "zone" diet favoured by the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Minnie Driver, to the "blood-type"diet followed by actress Martine McCutcheon.

The zone diet involves stuff like sausages and fruit juice for breakfast (no toast, natch), warm chicken salad for lunch and a poached salmon fillet and mixed salad for supper. All pretty yummy-sounding, but in minute quantities, of course. The blood-type diet involves eating only foods which are compatible with your blood type. (Type Os, for example, should steer clear of cabbage. You have been warned.)

Then there's the living food for health diet - a lot of detoxing and salad - and of course the diet which seems to have reduced Geri to matchstick proportions: apparently a macrobiotic diet designed by "yoga guru Kisen", whoever she or he is. It's your run-of-the-mill no-meat, no-dairy, no-caffeine, no-alcohol diet. Brilliant fun. Breakfast might be 100g of porridge, followed by a hearty lunch of pumpkin soup (300ml) and then a tofu stir-fry for dinner. Recipes all included, but if this is all Geri eats, it's hard to see why she's been spotted at meetings of Overeaters Anonymous.

"People know this isn't the way to lose weight," says our spokeswoman for the BNF. "They're unsustainable, you either end up giving up or putting the weight back on."

But is it really true that people know "this isn't the way to lose weight"? There's evidence that dieting doesn't work - that it only leads to a life of dieting, with your weight going up, down, up down - but do young women actually realise this? That simply restricting your calories can mess with your head and appetite for good? In fact, that dieting will probably make you fat?

The statistics suggest an emphatic not: right now around 40% of British women are trying to diet. It's a fair guess that most of them have a pretty unhealthy relationship with food and aren't going to stop dieting when they've squeezed into their Christmas party dresses. And the unpleasant truth is that obsessive dieting of this kind may well damage both their health and their happiness.

Countless studies show that repeated dieting makes you more likely to get heart disease, gallstones, diabetes, anaemia, cancer, and osteoporosis. It can give you lank hair, sallow skin and dull eyes, make you depressed and, crucially, perilously fat.

Last year a study published by the American Psychological Association showed that drastic weight-loss efforts (dieting, exercise, appetite suppressants, laxatives, and vomiting) in teenage girls make them more likely to become obese later in life. Those who don't try to lose weight tend to find it easier keeping off the weight. And recently the American-based National Institutes of Health found that almost 98% of all dieters not only regain the lost weight, but put on more.

In 1995, Oxford University researchers discovered that dieting could actually disturb your brain chemistry. The result is a loss of control over eating that could underlie both yo-yo dieting and clinical eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa.

The team found that dieting lowered the blood concentration of an amino acid, tryptophan, the main ingredient for making the brain messenger serotonin. Basically, the message is clear: diets can be dangerous.

And will images in the media - pictures of the super-thin such as Victoria Beckham - and details of their diets actually influence anyone? "I would say there's an association between media images and eating disorders," says the BNF spokeswoman. "But it is something which has come through all sorts of problems - low self esteem, abuse ..."

Steve Bloomfield from the Eating Disorders Association (EDA) is less tolerant: "Research shows that dieting doesn't work. And yet the media is trying to sell another publication focusing on dieting methods. The EDA would question whether aspiring to other people's bodies is appropriate".

Of course it is vastly inappropriate. But Celebrity Bodies does at least has the boldness to be honest, and indeed witty, about it, rather than hiding behind the pretence of health and wellbeing and vitality.

It's the last page of the magazine which says it best, poking a finger in the skinny ribs of the stars. The "What diet are you on then?" page includes the "Pleeeease take a photo of me diet" (for the half-dressed lovelies outside the film premieres) and the "Damn she's thinner than me diet" (for the cast of Ally McBeal).

And the whole mag does show how farcical our dieting, slim-fasting, non-stop sit-upping culture is, so much more effectively than any government campaign or sad-eyed Marie Claire article about anorexia. It acknowledges that we all want to be thin. But also that we all like pies.

• A debate at the Institute of Psychiatry tonight will discuss eating disorders and the media. Call 020-7848 0183 for details

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.