Steak and peanut butter: the Liz Taylor diet

An effective diet entails a balanced intake and plenty of exercise, right?

Not exactly, if you follow the dietary advice of Elizabeth Taylor.

We've heard our fair share of questionable dietary tips - not from least Karl Lagerfeld, who champions the highly dubious nutritional content of Diet Coke as key to slimming down from fashion heavyweight to fashion's dahling.

He's not alone. Who can forget the baby food diet (possibly not you, Jennifer Aniston), or those who are said to order water and Red Bull in place of a meal (we're looking at you, Paris Hilton), or those who favour ADD drug Adderall (Britney Spears, that was once you, we hear)? There are those who have experimented with laxatives and, of course, those who resort to a surgeon's scalpel to shift a few pounds.

Grapefruit diets - à la Kylie Minogue – may be less terrifying, but watching calories is nothing new. Nietzsche and Henry James were strict weightwatchers, while the Huffington Post reports that Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson were ahead of their time in another way, choosing a vegetarian diet in days when meat was all but obligatory.

Reportedly a proponent if the distinctly unappealing steak-and-peanut butter sandwich, Taylor doled out some eyebrow-raising weight-loss tips, pushing a high saturated fat diet that has well and truly fallen by the wayside with current nutritionists (and anathema, surely, to those who criticise the Atkins diet).

What a difference 23 years makes - along with her take on steak, the Cleopatra actress mixed cottage cheese with sour cream and advised nothing but plain toast for breakfast in her 1987 diet book, Elizabeth Takes Off.

Not that the actress didn't have a good innings - she died in 2011 at the age of 79.

We may be better off taking a leaf from Audrey Hepburn's lifestyle. According to Pamela Keogh's What Would Audrey Do?, she preferred organic produce and the odd plate of pasta, treating herself to a square of dark cooking chocolate in the afternoons. She drank wine, but was partial to the "occasional Scotch", said the Daily Mail.

There seems however, a notable lack of protein on the Hepburn table - and the fashion icon never took exercise, instead staying active by way of her daily routines, walking wherever she could.

Lagerfeld may agree with her mores - he dodges exercise, fearing that it stimulates appetite and weight gain.

Protein was high in Marilyn Monroe's diet. In 1952, she told Pageant magazine that she drinks a glass of warm milk with two raw eggs stirred into it for breakfast. As rich in some nutrients as it may be, the Huffington Post points out the meal has high cholesterol and at risk of contamination - but then, the star herself admitted that she had been told her eating habits were "absolutely bizarre".

Less unorthodox, though certainly ahead of her time was the admission that the blonde bombshell exercised with weights, taking care of her very best assets.

Like Garbo, the star would undoubtedly have been influenced in some way by Hollywood diet maven Gayelord Hauser, who shared his dietary tips with stars of the silver screen after moving to Hollywood in 1927. Sanguine and down-to-earth, Hauser's fruit, vegetable, broth and herb-heavy food tips make many a contemporary diet seem more faddish than ever.

For some stars of the 1950s, enviable figures went beyond food. According to the LA Times, Maria Callas, the troubled soprano, took an alarming route, injecting iodine into her lymph system to help her lose weight.

Spin the years back further and Lord Byron, as dashing and devilish as he may have been, had a "morbid propensity to fatten". According to the BBC, the Don Juan writer subsisted on "biscuits and soda water or potatoes drenched in vinegar" while at Cambridge University, where he wore woollen layers to help shed pounds. He smoked cigars to supress appetite and was seen as a bad influence on the impressionable youths of circa 1818.

The poet, who died aged 36 in 1824, was in good company. One of the very first diet books was Brillat-Savarin's Physiology of Taste, written in 1825 - making the odd jar of baby food ingested by a 2012 A-lister seem as old hat as it is plain unappetising.

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