The results of crash diets may be a beautiful body, but the repercussions are scary, warns experts Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai:  Diet. It's that four-letter word that women are drawn to, and doctors repelled by.

Despite health warnings and horror stories aplenty, a number of women in Dubai are taking extreme steps to shed the pounds in the fastest possible way.

The latest diet to hit the city is called Hollywood Diet. The makers promise a drastic weight loss of up to 10 pounds [4.5kg] in 48 hours. Besides this celebrity diet, the others doing the rounds here are Atkins' diet, Dukan's diet, the master cleanse, the cabbage diet, a raw food diet, water melon diet, starvation… The extremes women go to in order to have that much-desired Victoria Beckham, unhealthy, undernourished (US) size zero figure, is alarming.

Hina Bakht, vice president of a PR firm, admits to falling dangerously ill a few years ago when she went overboard on a self-created starvation diet.

Air hostess Shumaila Jafri says she spent two years eating nothing but Indian bread and lentils.

Mary M. is slowly killing herself drinking only lemonade day after day, because superstar singer Beyonce lost weight on that diet.

Aashi Amir, an event coordinator, is losing up to 2.27kg a day on the Hollywood Diet.

Mum of two Prisca Tiphane has almost eliminated carbs out of her diet in an attempt to lose her post-pregnancy weight.

There are thousands more in Dubai who put their bodies through all kinds of extreme treatments in order to kick the kilos. The results may be a beautiful bod, but the repercussions are scary, warns Australian nutritionist Belinda Rennie. "Dieting is a sure-fire way to jeopardise your health. It's self-limiting, self-defeating and, ultimately, extremely damaging," she warns.

It's a warning that falls on many a deaf ear.

"There was a point in my life I had become so addicted to dieting that I ended up being afraid of food. I would have a small breakfast and then not allow any other food in my body for the next 24 hours," says Bakht of her self-imposed starvation. No surprises then that Bakht landed up in hospital with severe gastric ulcers. "I thought that by avoiding food I'd get my weight under control, without any repercussions. How wrong I was. Lying in a hospital bed, bent over double with pain, I was told that it was because my body went through a starvation process that it broke down." It took Bakht nearly a year to recover. "I remember that pain and I never want to go through it again," says the petite Indian.

Stress and overeating

However, a year ago, extreme stress led Bakht to overeating. "Before I knew it, I had ballooned up to 54kg. From being a UK size 6 (US 2), I was fluctuating between size 8 and 10 (US 4 to 6)." Until that point, Bakht prided herself on being 10kg underweight. "I was in depression. I knew I needed to lose the weight. But after being hospitalised last time, I just didn't know how."

Having finally reached her ideal weight of 54kg, Bakht began thinking herself to be obese "with a big belly and a fat face". When she found out about a diet plan created by French doctor Pierre Dukan, she decided to give diets another go.

According to the Dukan diet, which is divided into four phases, one has to eat only proteins for the first 3, 5 or 7 days, followed by at least a month of alternating between proteins and veggies, and then gradually introducing carbohydrates into your meal plan in stage 3. Stage 4 is about creating a diet that you have to follow for the rest of your life, provided at least one day every week is devoted to proteins only.

Aashi Amir, a 27-year-old Pakistani mother and part-time event coordinator, has recently discovered what she calls the joys of the Hollywood Diet. According to distributors Leosons General Trading, the diet offers women three options: a 24-hour juice fast, a 48-hour juice fast and the cookie diet.

"The juice diet was first introduced in high-end spas in Europe to provide women a quick fix alternative to traditional diets," says Hollywood Diet marketing associate Husam Khan.

"One can lose up to 5 pounds [2.27kg] in 24 hours or 10 pounds [4.5kg] in 48 hours on the juice diet. On the cookie diet, one is advised to eat up to two cookies as a replacement for breakfast, and the same for lunch. Dinner can then be a healthy, balanced meal." While Khan does caution women against using the juice diet for over two days at a time, the weight loss that results from the drink may seem too tempting to give up.

"Within two days of drinking the Hollywood Diet juice, I lost five pounds [2.3kg]," says Amir. "I'm giving it a break of one week before doing it all over again so that I can lose another 5 to 10 pounds [2.27kg to 4.5kg]."

On this diet, women can drink only this concentrate mixed with equal parts water. A bottle meant to last 24 hours costs Dh50.

The 27-year-old Pakistani admits that she's now able to indulge on weekends and lose it on weekdays. "My family thinks I'm crazy. My husband doesn't see the need for me to lose weight so drastically; friends think it's unhealthy. But I don't."

Gain and loss

Similarly, Jafri recalls a period in her life when nothing mattered more than the need to slim down. "I was a teenager and grossly overweight at 64kgs." In order to lose weight, Jafri created a diet plan of her own: Indian bread and lentils, two times a day, 365 days a year, for two years. "Within the first six months I lost 19kg and reached my desired goal of 45kg," she says. Nonetheless, the diet continued, albeit with a fair amount of exercise.

Today, at nearly 10kg under her ideal weight, Jafri is pleased. "I love my body right now. It's exactly the way I want it to be." Despite being dramatically underweight, Jafri is hesitant to add a single pound to her petite frame. "When I'm older and married, I won't mind, but for now, I'm happy with myself the way I am," she says.

For many dieters, the excuses are aplenty. Whether it's long working hours or stress, there are always reasons to validate the diet.

Mary, a 33-year-old, is on the Master Cleanse. On this diet, one substitutes meals for a glass of lemonade. Dieters can drink up to three litres of home-made lemonade per day, plus as many glasses of water as they desire, for a minimum of 10 days.

"The first three days were a nightmare," says Mary. "By the third day, I had a bad migraine. On the fifth day, I was depressed for no apparent reason. Friends who've done this diet explained that while the body is cleansing itself of toxins and parasites, so too is the mind. They were right. On day 10, I had lost over 7kg and was back to my normal self."

Mary's inspiration for this diet was Beyonce, who had lost 9kg in ten days while preparing for her role in Dream Girls.

Such extreme diets, however, come at a price. Overnight diets are extremely dangerous, warns Rennie. Weight lost so quickly is always prone to return unless there is awareness of the origin of the problem. "When I see a client about weight loss issues, before even prescribing a healthy eating plan, I try to dig to the core issue that made them overeat in the first place. We begin the process of exploring the underlying imbalances in their body before coming up with a solution."

For Prisca however, the weight gain stemmed from pregnancy. "After delivering my second child in February, I couldn't shed the pounds," says the French-African. From 55kg, Tiphane's weight shot up to 68kg. No amount of exercise worked. The muffin belly remained visible, while the confidence levels dropped. Tiphane says help came in the form of the Dukan diet. The mum of two has lost a healthy 6kg over two months and understands the importance of slow and steady when it comes to weight loss.

With the inches melting away from her middle and her confidence soaring to new heights, maybe Tiphane's route is the middle ground between the dangers of extreme dieting and obesity.

Health hazards

Rennie, a nutritionist, says there's a reason carbohydrates are called carbohydrates. "It's because the carbs they provide hydrate your body. Eating carbohydrates is essential to your health," she says.

Most diets place emphasis only on one type of food and the body then believes that since it's been deprived of the nutrition, it needs to hold on to whatever fat it has, she says. Being on a yo-yo diet over a period of time is bad. "Deprivation of carbohydrates means the body loses water, which may lead to a breakdown of muscle tissue and health hazards, including kidney failure," she says.

Celebrity Diets
From coffee enemas to dangerous detoxes, celebs go to extremes for a quick-fix solution to losing weight. Here are some examples:

Robin Quivers
Claim to fame: Co-host of The Howard Stern Show
Diet: Master cleanse (lemonade diet)
Weight lost: 32kg in 21 days

Matt Damon
Claim to fame: Oscar for Good Will Hunting
Diet: Egg whites, chicken, vegetables and dry baked potatoes
Weight lost: 20kg
Drawback: Adrenal gland disorder

Christian Bale
Claim to fame: Batman in The Dark Knight
Diet: One apple and one can of tuna daily
Weight lost: 28.5kg

Holly Robinson Peete
Claim to fame: Officer Judy Hoffs in television show 21 Jump Street
Diet: Coffee enema
Weight lost: 4.5kg in two weeks

Khloe Kardashian
Claim to fame: Sister of Kim Kardashian and star of the Khloe & Kim Show
Diet: Quick Trim weight loss pills
Weight lost: 13.6kg in 30 days

Diet hard

What: A four stage diet that focuses on proteins and eliminates carbs until the last stages.

How long: One month and above

Expected weight loss: A minimum of 5kg, going up to as much as the person desires to lose

Master Cleanse

What: A 10-day detox where one can only drink homemade lemonade (made from organic lemon, grade B maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne pepper), interspersed with sea-salt water and decaf peppermint tea.

Expected weight loss:
5kg in 10 days, or more if period of diet is extended

How long:
10 days and above

Hollywood Diet

What: A 24- or 48-hour juice fast. The dieter mixes the pre-bought concentrate with equal parts water and drinks or eats nothing else for the stipulated duration.

How long: 24 or 48 hours

Expected weight loss: Up to 4.5kg in two days.