Three women: three diets

A low-carbohydrate regime favoured by celebs, a hi-tech cyber diet, or the slow and steady option - which one worked best?
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Daisy Price Diet: Weight Watchers Weight loss: 8lbs

Daisy Price Diet: Weight Watchers Weight loss: 8lbs

Joining a slimming club might not sound like the most alluring of pastimes. The idea of spending Tuesday evenings in a church hall full of fat grannies would fill even the most desperate dieter with dread. But it's actually not as bad as you would imagine. When I joined Weight Watchers for the first time six years ago, I was surprised to find that everyone was actually quite normal. There was a real mix of people of all sizes and ages and there were even a few blokes. Still not necessarily the route to a new social circle, but for losing weight, it definitely works. First time around, I lost nearly two stone in five months. Recently, after only four weeks, I have lost 8lb.

Anyone who has been on a diet will know that trying to stick to it on your own is extremely hard, but when you know you've got to go through the humiliation of getting on those scales each week, it makes you a lot less likely to cheat.

For anyone who is good at hiding those lumps and bumps, and doesn't look clinically obese, admitting you are on a diet can be embarrassing. With Weight Watchers there is no obsessive calorie counting, nasty cabbage soups or milkshakes - it's normal eating so people don't need to know you're on a diet.

The first time you get weighed can be a bit of a shock, especially if you discover, like I did, that your home scales weigh about half a stone under. But don't worry because most people lose quite a few pounds in the first week. After that you usually lose one or two pounds a week.

The new Weight Watchers Pure Points programme works on the basis of point counting. Everything you eat and drink is worth a certain number of points. For example, a slice of bread is one point, an apple is half a point and a McDonald's cheeseburger is six points. It's an advantage if you like vegetables because they contain no points.

The number of points you can eat each day depends on your age, sex and weight. For example, men weighing 18-20 stone can have 34 points a day, while women weighing 10-12 stone can have 20 points a day. It sounds complicated but you soon remember how many points things are worth and don't need to keep looking it up.

The programme offers you menu plans, but you can basically eat whatever you want as long as you add it all up. It's not a diet where you go hungry, you just have to be careful about what you eat. You can build up bonus points by doing exercise: if you do 30 minutes of aerobics you can have three extra points.

The major drawback to the diet is the amount of alcohol allowed. You can only have 14 points a week, which is equivalent to 14 very small glasses of wine (100ml), or nine pints of lager. This might sound like an average night out, but unfortunately they don't recommend you have the whole allowance in one day. Also if you did, you wouldn't have many points left for food. At one meeting a woman claimed she wasn't losing weight even though she had been counting her points religiously. It turned out she'd been drinking 10 pints of lager a day instead of eating.

When you've reached your goal weight they suggest you go back for monthly weigh-ins. But it's easy to think, "I know what I'm doing now," and never bother to go again. The weight soon creeps on again if you're not careful, and although I've never been as heavy as I was initially, I've rejoined about four times since. Each time I plan to stick at it, but it's easy to think of a million other things to do with a Tuesday evening.

Lisa Markwell Diet: New Diet Revolution Weight loss: 10lbs

I never wanted to go on a diet. People on diets quickly become diet bores, endlessly wittering on about the fat content of oat cakes and whether fizzy mineral water has more calories than still. So when I read about a diet that allowed me to eat steak, roquefort, bacon and fried eggs, suddenly dieting seemed somehow more ... interesting.

The New Diet Revolution is a large paperback, with a bright orange cover and lots of gushing testimonials from 20-stone Americans on the brink of death saved by Dr Robert C Atkins MD, diet guru. He rightly berates junk food, at yawnsome length, and talks about a sensible, lifetime pattern of eating being better than constant dieting. I didn't enjoy being seen reading it, but I enjoyed the recipe section and it didn't hurt that such famous thinnies as Jennifer Aniston and post-pregnancy Catherine Zeta Jones swore by Dr Atkins.

I launched myself into the 14-Day Induction Diet and started trying to reach the nirvana that is ketosis (the process by which the body starts burning its own fat for fuel). I loaded the fridge with chicken, tuna, cheese etc. I banished bread, pasta and anything remotely carbohydrate-ish (including lettuce). By avoiding all carbs and sugar, and concentrating on protein and fat, the body stops producing insulin and, voilà, ketosis.

It was easy to start with. Breakfasting on bacon and eggs felt really good; I was used to drinking lots of water so I didn't have to fight the urge for a Coke, and a single espresso is much nicer than a pint of milky capuccino. (It was also my secret way of trying to deal with one of the Atkins diet's nasty little side-effects - ahem, constipation.)

Dr Atkins's big shtick is that you need never go hungry and that was true for me - mainly because I couldn't face more mackerel fillets and poached eggs. I curbed my carbohydrate addiction and, amazingly, never ate sugar (fellow office-workers will know it's nigh-on impossible to avoid it in an average canteen). The weight started coming off - by day 10 I'd lost 7lbs and felt pretty energetic. At dinner parties I avoided admitting I was on a diet by stuffing my face with meat and cheese and saying I was too full for pudding.

Although a diet virgin, I knew it was too good to be true. Two enormous problems presented themselves - ketosis manifests itself by expelling fat through urine and breath. Ugh. I must have missed that chapter. No one actually told me my breath stank, but I could tell. Then there was testing the level of ketosis by peeing over a test strip, a bit like litmus paper. It became a nightly chore that I didn't need on top of face-scrubbing, contact-lens rinsing and tooth-brushing. I'll admit I got a tragic buzz when that strip went dark red (look at that fat go), but it's hardly normal to study one's pee.

Then the clincher. On day 14, the end of the induction diet, the day I had lost 10lbs, the supposed beginning of a new dawn of carbohydrate-free, svelte-thighed existence, I started getting a dull ache in my kidneys. Low-level but insistent, it drove me to seek advice from a doctor. When I told him what I had been eating for 14 days, he got very cross, saying the body is not designed to cope with such an unbalanced diet. I knew that, of course, but I was persuaded temporarily by the sight of Jennifer Aniston's taut abdomen on Friends. Now I've replenished the fruit bowl and regained the 10lbs. Maybe Dr Atkins is right about our carbohydrate addiction - but I do feel like I've regained my sense along with the weight.

Hester Lacey Diet: Activeaction Weight loss: 10lbs

If a diet can ever be alluring, there's something attractive about one where all the calorie and fat counting and meal planning is done for you. If that diet is completely personalised to you, and also involves an individual exercise plan, there are very few excuses you can make. So hello to Activeaction, the UK's first interactive Internet regime. This is, says founder Joanna Hall, absolutely not a "diet". It's about fat loss and well-being, which is much healthier. Luckily, though, fat loss and weight loss do tend to go together, because God knows I'd like to be a size 10 again one day.

The Activeaction plan comes in the form of a CD-rom hosted by a chirpy cartoon fitness instructor, Active Annie. The first thing you have to do is fill in an e-questionnaire; you click in a comprehensive personal and medical history, plus questions on your foraging habits ("Do you snack?" Yup. May as well be honest. "How much time do you want to devote to exercise?" Sadly there was no option for "none at all".) Your computer then mulls all this over and comes up with personalised diet and exercise plans. It also sets up a super set of electronic progress charts; all you then have to do is re-enter your weight and body fat percentage periodically, and watch the graph readings plummet.

Ah yes, body fat percentage. This is about fat loss, remember, not just fitting into last year's trousers. As well as a computer, the other essential piece of kit is a body fat monitor. These are available from Tanita and look like a normal pair of scales. But as well as giving your poundage, they also give the percentage of your body that is pure blubber: a sobering experience. I'm not saying what mine was when I started; and once I'd begun the programme, it took about 10 days to drop a percentage point. (Annie was cyber-supportive about this, explaining that weight loss manifests quicker than actual fat loss.)

The food regime itself is not arduous to follow. It has plenty of recipes for home-made dishes and options that you can buy ready-made from Marks & Spencer. And Chocolate mousse is permitted. The exercise plan is also clear; Annie lays down the law about doing plenty of brisk walking every day and there is a series of video clips showing you exercises you are supposed to do at home or the gym. Rather feebly, I regret to say, Isnickered at the video clips and failed to get to grips with them.

The Activeaction website provides welcome support, and even Active Annie is surprisingly endearing - well, anyone who tells you you're making progress is a plus, even if they are no more than a bunch of pixels speaking in an electronic slur.

E-diets are already big business in the US, and some sites flog dodgy supplements or promise unlikely weight-loss scenarios (best to avoid any site that tries to sell you anything and any promising shrinkage of more than 2lbs per week). This programme, however, is firmly rooted in common sense, and while the results aren't instant they are enduring. I dropped 10lbs over the first five weeks, despite my dilatory attitude to the exercises. For anyone who likes to surf the Web, it's far more fun than following a diet book - and you don't have to go and get weighed in a church hall on a rainy Tuesday night.

Information at www.activeaction.com; the Activeaction for Fat Loss CD-rom costs £39.95, and can be used by two people at once. The Tanita body-fat monitors come in various models, from around £70

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