Do you Dukan?

The Dukan Diet is not new but it is firmly entrenched in the fad diet merry-go-round so I thought it was time for a thorough read-through. Oh boy, is this book….French. The tone is very different from a North American approach. Some of the differences, I appreciate. Dr Dukan speaks very matter-of-factly about the nature of the dieter and the pitfalls of dieting. However, some of his dictums are hilariously “old-school slimming”  – did you hear the one about sucking on ice cubes to burn calories? Another odd section on page 76/77 describes what happens if you ‘are not motivated or lack willpower’. Dukan mentions that having little self-discipline or motivation makes you a ‘resistant case’.  He then describes that even those with low motivation should be able to stick with it for 2 1/2 months and lose 22 pounds!

Believe me, all you ‘resistant cases’ out there: It’s not you…it’s the diet. The problem with convoluted diet plans is that most people lose the motivation to stick with them beyond a week or two! They don’t exactly fit into someone’s real life. Hence the unending desire to spend money on trying new plans and buying more books…I wouldn’t even make it 2 days on the Dukan diet and I feel that I have plenty of willpower to eat healthfully and take care of myself. Oh, and I almost fell out of my chair when I read the section about weight loss for teen-aged girls.

Still reading? Here is an overview of the Dukan Plan:
  1. Attack phase: nothing but low/non-fat proteins such as skim milk yogurt, chicken, tofu and eggs for 2 – 7 days. You will also eat 1 1/2 tbsp of oat bran in the form of an oat bran galette everyday, drink tons of water and walk 20 minutes a day – or else suffer from terrible constipation.

Desiree’s Take: What is happening here is ketosis-induced weight loss. It is a smart approach from a diet-writing perspective as those first days are when motivation is high but without results, motivation will wane quickly and dieters will give up. With nothing but proteins, the body will first burn off all of its carbohydrate stores, which carry water with them, resulting in a large water weight loss and as your body switches to burning off body fat for energy your body will enter a toxic, acidic state called ketosis. You will stay motivated but be sure to carry breath mints!

  1. Cruise phase: This phase alternates one day of protein-only with a day of protein + non-starchy vegetables. You are allowed tiny fractions of vegetable oil to make vinaigrettes and of course vinegars and spices. More oat bran galettes and walking. You follow this plan until you meet your goal weight; Dr Dukan states that average weight loss is 2lb per week.

Desiree’s take: This is the phase that separates the (wo)men from the (girls/)boys. How long could you go eating only protein and vegetables? When your only strategy for enjoying social occasions is eating 16 ounce steaks and spinach? If you only have 5 lbs to lose, it might work but if you only have 5 lbs to lose…there is probably an easier way to go about it!

  1. Consolidation phase: To the cruise protein+veggie phase you add the following daily: 2 slices bread, 1 1/2 oz cheese, 1 serving of fruit, 2 servings of starchy foods a week (that lumps lentils in with couscous..oy!) and 2 celebration meals a week with 1 day of pure proteins. You follow this stage (oat bran, water and walking included) for 5 days for each pound lost. A 25lb weight loss would buy you just over 4 months in consolidation.

Desiree’s take: More smart diet writing – if at this phase the diet left you to your own devices, you would obliterate your weight loss in a week as you dove head first into a loaf of bread and pound of butter. Dr Dukan’s approach is to teach you to eat these foods without overeating them so you get used to portion control. The celebration meals give you wiggle room for social events. And given the period of time, consolidation might be long enough for you to decide that this is how you will eat for life. If you do that, you will most certainly keep the weight off but it is still pretty restrictive. However, you could also decide to eat a whole block of cheese as you slice off that 1 1/2 ounce serving. 

  1. Stabilization phase: Eat whatever you want and do 1 pure protein day a week, drink water, walk and eat oat bran daily.

Desiree’s take: This is where we open the floodgates…how will you respond? If you go back to your old eating habits, you will likely gain back the weight. There are reasons why you might be successful here though. If you stick to the pure protein day, it will remind you of your old weight loss habits and maybe have some carryover benefits for a day or two. You might have also followed consolidation for long enough that you are just fine with eating that way for life. So ‘eat whatever you want’ becomes ‘stay on my diet for life’. Check mate!

Diet Pros: 

  • Protein is very satisfying and your tastebuds tire of it – making it hard to overeat so you are less likely to want to go off plan.
  • The book smartly provides very concrete rules about what to eat and how long to follow the plan so that the dieter ‘relinquishes control’ to the book and takes their willpower and judgement out of the equation, sort of. Make it easier to figure out what to do than a dietitian saying, “Just eat a variety of foods in moderation!”
  • It guides you through a progressively less restrictive diet while maintaining the emotional ‘safety’ of a very restrictive diet day. It doesn’t just take you from pure protein to diet at will, which would surely fail.

Diet Cons:

  • This is an overly complex plan that doesn’t actually teach you about eating healthfully for the long term. Protein and produce is a decent base plan but what about educating you on the benefits of foods and what you need to stay healthy – not just lose weight!
  • The final phase of the diet relies on that day of pure protein to try and shock the body into weight maintenance. Might work. Might not.
  • A protein-focused diet is expensive and not so great for the planet.
  • The restrictiveness and complication of the plan could lead you into yo-yo land.

The Bottom Line

In reality, any diet that works for you is the right diet for you. And the health benefits of weight loss can often outweigh somewhat questionable tactics taken on the path. The Dukan Diet has been published in multiple languages and has satisfied fans all over the world. But is its success any greater than any other diet? We all have different eating personalities and if this diet rocks your foodie world, it may work for you and make you totally happy. From a dietary perspective, it should be safe for most. On the Dukan plan, you will get to eat vegetables at least. And Dr Dukan figured out that he had to deliver fibre to try and keep your bowels healthy.

However, I am not sure if the Dukan plan fits the ‘success at any cost’ bill for me. At the end of the day, Dr Dukan is only offering an average weight loss of 1-2 lbs a week – the average payoff of any good weight loss plan. It also doesn’t teach you how to eat for life in a way that is nourishing and satisfying (unless this plan already speaks to your eating style). If you are the personality who can truly commit to this meat-based diet for the better part of 3-6 months, give it a go. Otherwise, steer clear!