Diets

Celeb Diet Secrets

UPDATED 06/07/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/07/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

Celebrities may not be superhuman, but they often look that way. Mere mortals face a constant struggle with those extra 5 or 10 lbs., but actresses and pop stars always manage to show up on red carpets looking svelte and perfect. Even when they do gain a few pounds, they're somehow able to drop the weight with amazing speed, and in no time they're back at a premiere, reed thin and smiling for the camera. And the camera adds 5 lbs.! How do they do it?

Some stars do it the old-fashioned way, with hard work. Drew Barrymore and Beyoncé are both runners; Queen Latifah and Sophie Dahl diet and have hired trainers. But others desperate to stay skinny opt for more extreme measures—and in most cases refuse to talk to about it.

Some flush out their systems to flatten their stomachs before public appearances or skip meals for days. Some down pill combinations, and others shoot up synthetic hormones. "People try very drastic things," says Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon Dr. Peter Fodor. Doctors hope that this Hollywood approach to weight loss doesn't signal a wider trend. "When celebrities do crazy things," says Dr. Walter Willett, chair of department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, "a lot of people try to imitate it."

INJECTIONS

•Human Growth Hormone, approved for treatment of hormone deficiencies, including those that cause dwarfism, is now "very fashionable" as a weight-loss aid, says one doctor. "I know many, many actors over age 40 who are all on HGH," says another, L.A. plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Ryan. It's injected to give patients a leaner fat-to-muscle ratio and raise metabolism. Manhattan's Dr. Eric Braverman says he won't give HGH on demand but has several patients with "treatment-resistant obesity," who come in for monthly shots. The downside? It's been linked to diabetes and cancer. Says L.A. weight-loss specialist Dr. Ron Benbassett: "If you go to a doctor who prescribes HGH for the sole purpose of losing weight, I suggest you find a new doctor."

•Mesotherapy, or multiple injections of herbs and drugs believed to dissolve fat, is growing in popularity despite lacking specific FDA approval (though formulas contain approved ingredients). "Nobody seems to know what they're really injecting," says Fodor. "I would think it could be potentially very dangerous."

PRESCRIPTION PILLS

Extreme dieters have embraced a cabinet full of appetite suppressants and other medications designed to help shed pounds. Phentermine was once half of the heart-damaging (and FDA banned) fen-phen combo but is still in solo use. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, headache, rash, dry mouth, insomnia and chest pain. Also popular is Meridia, another suppressant. It takes about two weeks to build up, then "you realize you're eating less food," says Manhattan's Dr. Howard Shapiro. Side effects are similar to phentermine's, as are its safety and efficacy, if used properly. However, some patients are making these drugs more potent—and more dangerous—by mixing and matching with drugs prescribed by other doctors, or with over-the-counter stimulants, laxatives and diuretics [see box, p. 97].

Dr. Dennis Gage, a Manhattan diet specialist, says he emphasizes healthy eating and exercise, but "most patients prefer a motivator." For some he prescribes a "Metabolic Bypass," which consists of two pills that prevent the body from absorbing some of the food it takes in, much as a gastric bypass does with surgery. He uses Acarbose, a starch blocker originally formulated for diabetics, and Orlistat, a fat blocker, which causes about a third of consumed fat to pass through the body. Eating too much fat will lead to diarrhea and a related symptom known as "leakage." "If you're going to have a pint of Häagen-Daz," says Gage, "expect the worst."

•Thyroid stimulants. Prescribed for people with underactive thyroids, synthetic thyroid hormones are another celebrity favorite, despite warnings from manufacturers. Though improper use can lead to heart failure, "I've seen people in Hollywood use massive amounts to stimulate their metabolism," says UCLA endocrinologist Dr. Naomi Neufeld.

OVER THE COUNTER

In the quest to control their weight, obsessed dieters sometimes take multiple approaches, adding over-the-counter remedies to the mix. Oz Garcia, a Manhattan nutritionist who has ministered to Kim Cattrall and Winona Ryder, says, "There's one star who was living on laxatives and enemas," though he won't name her. The practice is more dangerous than it may seem. Says Dr. Ken Fujioka, of the Nutrition and Metabolic Research Center at Scripps Clinic in San Diego: "The body adjusts so that patients go from three laxatives to 50 to 100 laxatives a day. There is severe swelling and constipation if they go off. The bowels get addicted and have to be weaned off."

StarCaps, a dietary supplement of mainly papaya enzyme, are popular for losing water weight before hitting the red carpet. StarCap creator Nikki Haskell says that veteran model Beverly Johnson lost 30 lbs. with the help of her little pills. Because of their diuretic effect, which can deplete potassium, Haskell recommends taking the pills with a banana.

Though ephedra was recently banned, other nonprescription drugs that rev the metabolism remain on the market, such as Xenedrine, Hydroxy-cut and Zantrex-3. Even energy drinks can help keep the pounds at bay. For Demi Moore and Britney Spears, Red Bull remains a favorite among the increasingly popular caffeine-stoked drinks that include Liquid Ice, Jolt, and Monster Energy Drink. At 80 mg. of caffeine per 8.2 oz., Red Bull is as strong as coffee and has similar effects. "You burn up more energy just by running around," says Dr. Frank Ryan.

Cigarettes, too, remain a popular diet aid. Skinny celebs Lara Flynn Boyle, Mischa Barton and Nicole Kidman are all at least sometime smokers. "One supermodel maintains her weight by smoking," says Garcia, who lost this client when he ordered her to quit. "There was a cancer involved. But to her, having the cancer was of no concern if she couldn't be thin."

VERY LOW CALORIE DIETS

At least one celeb blasts fat by eating only watermelon for a week. And plenty of others try to starve it off in other ways. Jairo Rodriguez, a Manhattan chiropractor turned nutritionist, puts clients on one-to four-week programs of 750-1,000 calories a day. Difficult? Yes, but it works. Says Rodriguez: "One of my patients was playing an anorexic prostitute—we chiseled her down."

Many A-listers have gone on supervised five-week liquid diets (at a cost of up to $2,000) with Bo Wagner, who runs Universal Life Force in Sherman Oaks, Calif. "I've done major fasting detox programs with him where I drink only these thick green shakes for a week and have five colonics in a row," says Everybody Loves Raymond star Patricia Heaton, who lost eight lbs. in the week before the 2001 Emmys. But "science doesn't support fasting or even skipped meals as an effective weight-loss strategy," says Dr. Howard Eisenson of the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center. "You can run the risk of a heart attack. Certainly, people feel bad: Lethargy, weakness, bad breath, hair loss, dehydration."

After dropping all they can, some stars still seek surgical assistance. Not wise, says Dr. Peter Fodor, who has refused to do liposuction on celebs who appeared to be suffering from eating disorders; extreme dieting can affect a body's ability to recover from surgery. But some celebs may have an even bigger problem. "After a while they don't have a realistic view of themselves," says Fodor. "Then I try to guide them to a Psychiatrist."

Allison Adato. Rachel Biermann, Alison Singh Gee, Maureen Harrington, William Keck, Kwala Mandel, Nicholas White in Los Angeles, Lisa Marsh, Debbie Seaman in New York City, Joy Sewing in Austin and Courtney Rubin in London

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