Diets are big business - many of us will try anything in the effort to shed pounds. The latest weight-loss fad is facial analysis, and Kate Winslet swears by it. Lena Corner investigates

The actress who famously "couldn't give a stuff" about weight gain has finally succumbed. Well, almost. The startling news that Kate Winslet has shed four stone has quickly been followed by reports that she didn't go on a conventional diet at all. Instead she went to see a "facial analyst" which is a different thing entirely.

Facial analysis is an alternative method of weight loss which is based on the belief that the lines, shadows and even the pores on your face can tell you which foods you should be eating and which you shouldn't. Winslet's nickname at drama school was "Blubber" and her ample proportions have long been the subject of critics' jibes. Her weight had gone up to 13 stone after the birth of her baby, Mia, 10 months ago. When her leather trousers would go up no further than her calves, she knew it was time to act.

"My bottom looked like purple sprouting broccoli," she revealed to the fashion magazine, InStyle. "Other parts resembled squashes. I was an absolute sight, I really was."

Fearing that her career prospects were endangered by her size, she overcame initial feelings of cynicism towards facial analysis and decided to give it a go. "I was given an eating plan and the weight absolutely dropped off. My skin's much better, I never feel tired. I just feel great."

The origins of facial analysis are rooted in an ancient Oriental practice, which takes the face as the initial point of diagnosis. In this country it's still very much in its infancy, but the Hale Clinic, a complementary medical centre in Notting Hill, has been practising it for the past four years. There, they believe that if a patient has a heavily lined her forehead, for example, it means she is likely to be eating food that's too oily or rich. Lines around the jowl could point to problems with the kidney, while very open pores mean it's likely that the food she is eating is too acidic.

"Facial analysis tells you if you're deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, what food you're allergic to, and in particular which foods you can metabolise well and which you can't," says the clinic's founder, Teresa Hale. "When I had it done I found out I couldn't digest fruit or lettuce, which goes very much against what all those bestselling diet books would advise. This method takes into account that different people put on weight for very different reasons. Some of us are fine with certain foods, while others aren't." Winslet, it transpires, is still able to eat potatoes and butter – "so it's absolutely not a diet," she protests.

The first two to four weeks on the plan are a period of intense detoxification. Although you eat less food, you don't starve yourself and the most important thing is to adhere strictly to eating only the foods prescribed. After this, the weight-loss should start. "It's quick," says Hale. "I've seen people lose a stone in a month. If you were calorie counting, you would never get that kind of weight loss." After this intense initial period, the food plan can be relaxed a little and certain types of food can be reintroduced.

One of the major benefits, facial analysts claim, is the ability to identify food allergies. "A lot of people have allergies to certain foods – wheat, dairy or whatever. That can cause them to bloat out, and as soon as those foods go off the menu, they can lose literally inches."

Others, however, are more cynical. "It's a load of old garbage," says Tom Sanders, a Professor of Nutrition at Kings College. "If facial analysis can tell you what you need to eat from looking at your face, then it probably just means that your face is fat.

"You gain weight when you consume more food energy than you burn up. The only way to lose the weight is to change the balance – eat less, or use up more energy. The idea that what you need to eat is based on your wrinkles and frown lines is just banal."

Sanders believes that Kate Winslet's weight loss is probably just a result of nature taking its course. When women are pregnant, they need to store more fat, so their metabolic rate changes. "She's not pregnant any more, she's had the baby and now she's probably just more active."

New-fangled diets, he believes, are often dreamt up to encourage dieters to have another go. "With Winslet it works, probably because she's not allowed to drink alcohol or eat fatty foods. If you cut them out, you will obviously lose weight. Calling it facial analysis is simply a way of dressing this up.

"But dieters do need a role model," he points out. "My personal prediction is that, just as we did with Fergie and all the other celebrity slimmers, soon we'll be seeing the book and the video. The Kate Winslet Weight-loss Diet – and it will be ready in the shops, just in time for Christmas."