AS slimmers try to lose pounds, health gurus earn them. The diet industry is, ironically, huge . . . worth dollars-40 billion in the US alone. Most diets come with a personality attached: someone who can show the world contrasting "before" and "after" photos; living, breathing proof that their approach will get results. But like any publication, a diet book contains its author's own story, their own biography, hidden or revealed. As fads and fashions change . . . from low-fat to low-carb, vegetarian to low-glycaemic index . . . we can get a clearer idea of whether these diets really made their creators happy and what these gurus truly gained . . . or lost.



The concept of a high-protein, high-fat diet is not new. In the late 1850s, London undertaker William Banting was struggling with his 202lb of flesh. The pain in his ankles and knees meant he had to descend stairs backwards and needed help tying his shoelaces.

He had already tried starvation, purgatives, diuretics and Turkish baths, but it was only when his doctor, William Harvey, recommended a low-carbohydrate (lowstarch) diet - an Atkins long before Atkins - that Banting began to shed the pounds. A year later, he was 46lb lighter.

In 1862, Banting famously published his Letter On Corpulence Addressed To The Public, an early diet bestseller which sold 68,000 copies and was subsequently translated into French and German. For supper, Banting would recommend three or four ounces of meat or fish and a glass or two of claret. Toast was allowed, because toasting was believed to diminish the starch in bread. "By proper diet alone, " he wrote, "the evils of corpulence may be removed without the addition of those active exercises which are impossible for the sick or unwieldy patient." Some professionals laughed off his regime as "as old as the hills", while others at the British Medical Association described it as "humbug". Banting died in 1878.



Back in 1918, Los Angeles physician Dr Lulu Hunt Peters advised that dieting was a demanding lifelong commitment, requiring vigilance, exercise and probably some suffering.

If being overweight is now considered a sign of moral weakness or laziness, she's partly to blame. More significantly, she brought to the world the idea of the calorie-controlled diet. The calorie then was such a new idea that she even had to describe how to pronounce the word. At the time dieting was dominated by quick-fix pills and medication rather than eating regimes. Hunt Peters had been a fat lady herself, tipping the scales at 220lbs. She claimed to have lost 70lbs through following her own method. After the publication of her Diet And Health With A Key To The Calories, she went to work for the Red Cross in Bosnia. By the time she returned, her book was a bestseller. It eventually sold more than two million copies. Dr Hunt Peters died in 1930, but her book outlived her, going into its 55th edition in 1939.



Once a self-confessed 214lb "overweight housewife obsessed with cookies", Nidetch, now in her 70s, did more than start a diet; she started a social revolution. When she held her first meetings of overweight friends in her New York apartment at the age of 19, the idea of support groups and the self-help movement had barely been born. She realised that compulsive eating was an emotional problem and needed "emotional support as its solution". Born in 1928 in Brooklyn, Nidetch, this cab driver's daughter had always been a fat girl. By the time she was in her mid-20s, she was a dress size 44 and, under medical advice, was put on the 10-week diet recommended by the New York City Board of Health, during which she lost 20lbs. The rest of the weight wouldn't shift, however, so she enlisted the help of her friends. Talk of Nidetch's weekly meetings spread rapidly and when she held her first public

meeting in a small hall, 400 people turned up. Since then nearly 40 million people have enrolled in the WeightWatchers programme and in 1978 she sold her small empire. Nidetch set up a bursary at UCLA for women studying political sciences. "I don't think I'll make it as president of the United States, " she said, "but some woman can and will. I'd like to be instrumental in that."



These days, Nathan Pritikin is probably more famous for his feud with Robert Atkins than his own dietary revolution. In a screaming match between the two men on the Tomorrow Show in 1981, Pritikin yelled that Atkins "sets you up for heart disease . . . and clogs your arteries". Atkins in turn threatened to sue for slander. Pritikin, a successful businessman and inventor of photographic devices, had been diagnosed with heart disease in 1958. Doctors told him to keep up his regular diet of steak, cream, butter and other animal fat-laden products, but Pritikin felt this was wrong, guessing there was a connection between the lack of heart disease in those on supposedly "poor" diets and the high rates in affluent people on rich, meat-heavy diets. By following a fibre-rich, low-fat diet he brought his cholesterol levels down by more than half. Pritikin killed himself in 1985 in the late stages

of leukaemia. He was 69 years old and had directed that his body be autopsied. The results, published in the New England Journal Of Medicine, stated that his arteries were free of heart disease and as "soft and pliable" as a teenager's.



One of the most fashionable diets of the 1980s came from an aspiring actress. Mazel was the youngest of three daughters, the only fat girl in a family of skinnies, who, as a young woman, moved to California to look for acting work. In the land of the thin, she constantly struggled with her weight, trying everything: diet pills, diuretics, mood changers, cigarettes. At one point she was hospitalised and pronounced incurably overweight with a non-functioning thyroid. It was only following a skiing accident in the mid-1970s that she came upon the idea of conscious food combining. Through her diet, which holds that only fruit should be eaten in the first 10 days, she lost 70lb. She went on to share this and set up the Beverly Hills Diet Shop. Like the British author of the F-plan diet, Audrey Eyton, who published in 1982, she believed in roughage. "The more time you spend on the toilet, " she

said, "the better." Details of the latest incarnation of her Beverley Hills Diet are available at www. cyberskinny. com



Not strictly speaking a diet innovator, Fonda is nevertheless the ultimate embodiment of the celebrity health and fitness guru. Her catchphrase, "no pain, no gain", became the mantra of the 1980s, while her workout videos were the personal trainers in every living room. At her fitness studio there was a sign declaring: "Profits from the Workout support the Campaign for Economic Democracy." Meanwhile, behind the million dollar industry lay insecurities Fonda has only recently confessed to. The obsessive exercise was just an extension of the bulimia and anorexia that had plagued her from childhood. "You try to fill the hole with something, " she has said. "Some people fill it with alcohol and drugs or sex and gambling or whatever. And many girls, including me, filled it with food. I was made to feel that I was not good enough . . . I had to be perfect in order to be loved. And if I wasn't perfect,

I would end up alone."



Though his diet seems to have been everywhere in the past few years, Doctor Robert Atkins had been plugging away at his counter-orthodoxy high-protein plan for years before the world turned the low-fat corner towards low carbohydrates. As a young doctor in 1983, Atkins had his photograph taken for a security pass and realised that from being a lanky teenager, he had turned into a triple-chinned adult.

Wary of normal diets - he said that even the idea of hunger scared him - Atkins read about a lowcarb approach and decided to test it himself. He would take carbohydrate out of his diet, then gradually reintroduce it, testing himself for ketosis (the process by which our bodies convert fat to energy) as he did so. Following the publication of The Atkins Diet Revolution in 1972, the American Medical Association pronounced his proteinrich diet "bizarre" and "naive".

Atkins lived by his own diet for around 39 years. He played tennis regularly, took around 50 food supplement pills a day and, as a 72-year-old, still saw patients three times a week.

In April 2002 he was hospitalised following a cardiac arrest. Yet, ever persistent, he ordered bacon and eggs while in hospital. Doctors did not consider the heart attack to be related to his diet. In 2003, he hit his head after slipping on an icy pavement and went into a coma, dying of heart failure a week later. A statement from his wife following his death said that he had progressive cardiomyopathy. "I have been told in Robert's case caused by a viral infection, " she said. "Though this condition significantly weakened his heart, its cause was clearly related to an infection and not to his diet."

Despite speculation over his apparent obesity at the time of death (he weighed 258lb), fluid retention related to his condition is said to have bloated his body by 60lb.



Rick Gallop first became interested in diet when he started putting on weight after slipping a disc. He could no longer do the jogging that had kept him trim and gained four inches around his waist. This, he felt, was not a good look for the president of the Heart And Stroke Association. "I thought, we can't have a tubby Gallop preaching about losing weight to heart disease patients, looking like a tub of lard himself." That was six years ago, before he worked out that following a diet of low-glycaemic index food staves off hunger, and published his GI diet books advocating these foods as a weight-loss solution. The glycaemic index was not a new concept, but Gallop's way of presenting it, with each food marked with traffic light colours, red, amber and green, was new. Gallop had worked in advertising and had a knack for putting across an idea. The GI business has now become a family affair:

Gallop and his wife have just published The Family GI Diet. So far the books have sold almost 1.75 million copies.