The French may be known for their thin figures, but that doesn’t mean their fad diets are any less ridiculous than the ones originating in the States. The Dukan Diet is the latest weight-loss plan to target Americans and their wallets, with celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Giselle Bundchen swearing by its effectiveness.
What is it?
The high-protein, low-calorie diet was created by French nutritionist and former doctor Pierre Dukan, who has sold more than 7 million copies of his Dukan Diet book. That, combined with his 30,000-some paying online subscribers and 50 Dukan Diet-branded food products, has made Dukan a rich man — his business is worth approximately 100 million Euros each year, according to the Guardian.
The Dukan method combines the restrictively low-carb aspect of Atkins with the focus on foods eaten by our prehistoric ancestors that serves as the foundation of the Paleo Diet. Like most fad diets, the Dukan promises an alternative to simply eating in moderation — in this case, using the allure of “all-you-can-eat” allowances to attract those unhappy with their weight but struggling with portion control.
How does it work?
The Dukan Diet consists of four stages. The first, the “Attack” phase, lasts about one to 10 days, depending on one’s ideal weight, and restricts the diet to 72 lean meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, nonfat dairy, no-calorie drinks (including diet sodas) and oat bran. Dieters can eat as much as they want, as long as it falls in the list of allowed foods — a list that, by the way, does not include fruits or vegetables. One-and-a-half tablespoons of oat bran, plus 1.5 liters of water, must be consumed each day.
The second stage, called “Cruise,” reintroduces 28 vegetables into the diet, but does not include starchy veggies like carrots, corn and potatoes. Dieters are supposed to alternate all-protein days with protein-and-nonstarchy-vegetables days. Once again, they can eat as much as they want, as long as it’s not one of the (many) prohibited foods. Daily oat bran intake increases to 2 tablespoons. This phase lasts until the individual reaches his or her ideal weight, losing about 2 lbs to 4 lbs each week.
“Consolidation” is the theme of the third stage, with the goal being to not gain back the lost weight. For every pound previously lost, add five days of “consolidation.” During this phase, dieters don’t need to alternate all-protein and all-protein-and-veggies days during the week, but they’re required to do at least one all-protein day each week. Each day also means eating one serving of fruit, two slices of whole-grain bread, 1.5 ounces of cheese and 2 tablespoons of oat bran. (Getting tired of oat bran yet?) Two servings of starchy foods are allowed each week, plus three protein indulgences and one or two “celebration meals,” in which you can eat whatever you want.
The fourth and last stage is known as “Permanent Stabilization” and is meant to last a lifetime. Six days of the week, you’re supposed to stick to the type of diet followed in the Consolidation phase. Then once a week, you revert back to the all-protein day, which now includes even fewer proteins than you were allowed in the first stage. Permanent Stabilization involves three key rules: One all-protein day a week, 3 tablespoons of oat bran a day, and walking for 20 minutes each day without ever taking elevators or escalators.
Why you shouldn’t put yourself through this kind of hell
Before it started gaining traction in the United States, the Dukan Diet plagued the Brits, irritating nutrition and weight-loss experts across the pond. At the end of 2011, the British Dietetic Association declared it the worst celebrity weight-loss plan to follow for the New Year, stating that it had “absolutely no solid science behind it at all,” according to the Daily Mail. In the United States, it was tied for last place with the Paleo Diet in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of 25 popular diets.
The lack of nutrients usually absorbed from fruits and grains concerned experts, who stated the diet could put people at risk of deficiencies of such vitamins and nutrients as vitamin B. On WebMD, Keri Gans, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, warned, “A once-daily multivitamin will not compensate for the nutritional goodness of fruits, whole grains and healthy fats that are inadequate in the ‘The Dukan Diet.’”
Unsurprisingly, the Dukan Diet also frequently results in the yo-yo effect, in which dieters lose weight in the first few phases of the diet but then gain it all back soon afterward because it presented such a challenge to follow in the long term. A May 2012 survey of 5,000 Dukan dieters showed that 70% gained back the weight they lost within three years. And can you blame them? Look at those four stages again and check out all the rules. You would need to keep some crazy Excel spreadsheet and checklist with you at all times to make sure you’ve done all the right things for the day and alternated your diet days properly throughout the week.
In addition to potential nutrient deficiencies, experts have worried that the diet could raise the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, according to the Guardian. U.S. News and World Report reported that the high levels of protein — which, for the record, is about three to four times the normal amount — could take a toll on the kidneys, potentially injuring them or worsening existing problems.
Also, we hope you don’t mind constipation since the dearth of fiber in the diet will most likely cause some issues in the digestive system. U.S. News stated that lethargy, bad breath and dry mouth are also notorious side effects of low-carb diets.
By the way, did you notice we said Pierre Dukan was a FORMER doctor?
Earlier this year, Dukan was asked to attend a disciplinary hearing that could result in his being struck off the medical register, according to the BBC. Conveniently, Dukan asked to be removed from the register on April 19, the Telegraph reported. "I think he made this decision when he saw things weren't going his way in medical ethics circles," Irène Kahn-Bensaude, head of the Paris branch of the College of Physicians, was quoted saying in the Telegraph.
The College of Physicians had expressed disapproval of his highly successful business, saying this breached the medical code that states medicine must not be practiced like a business and that he was neglecting medicine because he was too consumed with his diet books, according to the BBC.
Additionally, Dukan sparked controversy in January when he said that the French Baccalaureate exam — an academic qualification taken by French students at the end of their secondary education — should factor in the weight of the 17-year-old students taking them, according to the BBC. Dukan believed that students should earn passing scores if their weights fell within recommended weight guidelines. The College of Physicians was not pleased with this radical proposition, stating that it could negatively impact young girls with existing weight-related problems.
Lose weight the healthy way
If you want to lose weight, pay attention to your calories and eat everything in moderation. And don’t forget to exercise! For more info on how to lose or manage your weight in a healthy, safe way, check out these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.