Meet The Girl Who Tried 10 Extreme Diets Over 10 Weeks To Challenge Our Attitude To Perfection

She found it sent her a bit loopy. Unsurprisingly. Photograph by Stephanie Gonot


by Lucy Draper |
Published on

Did you do something to celebrate International No Diet Day last week? Maybe you bought yourself a cheeseburger or two. Maybe you finished off that packet of biscuits and didn’t feel the least bit bad about it. Or maybe you didn’t actually know it was an official day and so wasted the golden opportunity of gluttony by choosing it as a ‘fast day’ on your 5:2 diet, you fool.

Founded in the UK in 1992 by Mary Evans, a recovered anorexic, there are a few basic ideas behind the INDD project (because life’s too short to write out the whole thing every time). The day is meant to encourage people to question the suggestion of there being just one ‘right’ body shape; point out all the fat-shaming that our society likes to do; remember those who have been, or still are, victims of eating disorders; and perhaps most importantly, declare one day that is diet-free and where no one has to worry about their weight.

Which is a great idea of course but, let’s be honest, not that easy to do. Because if there’s one thing that women know, it’s that there’s an awful lot of people telling us to do exactly the opposite, and the proof is in the pudding (#sorrynotsorry for that pun). A quick scan of Twitter alone brings up extreme diet gems such as: ‘Fat tummy dos and don’ts’, ‘Abby Clancy… models new bra that claims to banish the dreaded ‘double-boob’’ and ‘Fitness experts hand-selected this awesome fat-burning playlist’.

I did the master cleanse – when you only drink lemon juice with cayenne pepper and maple syrup – for two weeks and it was one of the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do

Someone who probably appreciates this constant bombardment of extreme diet tips and ‘health suggestions’ more than most is 19-year-old Australian, Madeleine Humphreys who last month completed what was essentially a gruelling 10-week assault on her body. As part of her final university project Maddy and her classmate Kate Paul decided to try out a different extreme diet and beauty beauty treatment each week – along with a gruelling exercise regime – and recorded their experiences in a documentary called

to highlight the unrealistic expectations women have for their bodies and to show the dark side of these extreme diets and beauty treatments.

‘I did the master cleanse – when you only drink lemon juice with cayenne pepper and maple syrup – for two weeks and it was one of the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,’ Maddy tells me when we speak over Skype, a couple of weeks after completing filming. ‘The thing is that the nature of these fad diets mean that they’re hard to do physically, but the hardest part was the mental state that you put yourself in.’

I asked her if she began to lose control of herself somewhat as the project continued. ‘Initially, I came into the 10 weeks quite naively – I didn’t really have much of a goal, I just wanted to find out why girls do it. But then if you’d ask me at say week five what I wanted to get out of the documentary, it had changed. I started to pick up little goals – like getting to a certain weight, or dress size, or fitness – priorities which I hadn’t had before.’

I quickly developed the most erratic relationship with food

Maddy comes across as a sensible and articulate girl, so hearing her describe how quickly her mentality changed during this relatively short amount of time is eye-opening to say the least. ‘Once you start, it’s easy to get obsessed with calorie counting and pushing yourself to your limits. We found that especially in the later weeks the diets were extreme, but I was pushing them to be more so,’ she tells me.

I ask her to explain how this was even possible when she was trying things like the baby food or cabbage-soup diets. ‘We started the documentary saying I could have 1,000 calories a day – which is still not recommended. But at week five, I made the decision to cut down even further and allow myself just 500 calories a day. I had reached a plateau because my body was retaining everything it could, so I was doing all this hard work and not getting any results. I got into a terrible headspace.’

We all might be aware of the downsides of dieting, especially concerning these somewhat novelty diets, but it was the speed with which they clearly began to effect Maddy which is most shocking. ‘I quickly developed the most erratic relationship with food. I was obsessed with what other people were eating, what groceries they were buying. I would ask my friends and family what they were having for dinner and to read out their receipts from the supermarket. I was also really into feeding people – if they said they were hungry I wanted to cook for them. It felt like I was compensating for my hunger through theirs.’

And although she was consulting nutritionists and health consultants throughout the process, they could do little more than stand back and basically point out this was all a really bad idea. ‘My physical and psychological sides were both constantly monitored, but every time I would tell the nutritionists about a new diet, they’d instantly tell me all the terrible statistics and health concerns that evolve around them.

‘Looking on these diets’ sites, they all say things like “cleanse”, “cleaning” and “detox” and “fresh” and “healthy” – little key words – and the dietician was great because she just said no, none of this is true.’

The happiest I felt was when I was confident after having my hair cut. I just think the closest to feeling perfect is when you are happy with yourself

What started as a university project has now garnered international media attention – and the documentary isn’t even going to be released for three months. But the attention is hardly surprising. Dieting, whether extreme or not, is something that most adult women find hard to ignore. In fact, the average woman is said to have been on 61 diets in her lifetime. In other words, she’s spent over 30 years of her life on one.

Before finishing up I ask Maddy if she thinks things will ever change. ‘I think the media is so saturated with these images, and there’s so much information out there, I’d like to say I see the industry changing, but I haven’t really seen any indication that it will.’

And did she achieve the perfection she set out to find? ‘The happiest I felt was when I was confident after having my hair cut. I just think the closest to feeling perfect is when you are happy with yourself to be honest.’ Well in that case, I’m going to grab three burgers today – and make every day International No Diet Day. And if that doesn’t make me happy, I don’t know what will.

Follow Lucy on Twitter @DraperLucy

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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