The Dukan Diet – What’s it all about?

The Dukan Diet

This diet was developed by a French man called Dr Pierre Dukan. The earliest version of the diet appears to be in a French book (in French) called “Je ne sais pas maigrir” (2003). The literal translation of this is “I do not know to slim”!

The book was published in English in 2010 and had big coverage in the Daily Mail in April 2010 for a launch May 2010.

What is the diet?

The diet is in four stages and, to sum it up in a nutshell – it’s all about protein:

Stage 1 is called the initial attack and is intended to be done for 1 to 10 days. The diet says eat nothing but protein (meat, fish, eggs and fat free dairy), but we know that this is strictly fat/protein because everything (other than oils and sucrose) contains protein. It would more accurately be called a very, very low carb diet. Meat/fish are the two zero carb foods, eggs are virtually zero carb and dairy is approximately 5% carb, as a rule of thumb.

Stage 2 is called the cruise phase where you stay until you reach your chosen weight. You alternate pure protein days with vegetable and protein days (we’ll save our opinions till the end!)

Stage 3 is the consolidation phase – where you try to consolidate the weight loss and avoid any rebound re-gain. This has interestingly been calculated very precisely (I don’t know how) that you should be in the consolidation phase for 5 days for every pound lost. So – if you have lost 5 stone, you need to be in the consolidation phase for a year. In stage 3 you can add a piece of fruit, two slices of bread and a serving of cheese each day. Plus you can add 2 starch meals a week e.g. a rice or pasta meal twice a week.

Stage 4 is the stabilisation phase where you have one protein (fat/protein, whatever) day every week. Thursday is recommended (don’t know why!) The web site says “this rule is strict and non-negotiable”.

Another non-negotiable rule throughout all phases is to walk briskly for 20 minutes every day.

What’s good about it?

1) It will work! This is stricter than Atkins Phase 1 and you stay at a lower carb level than Atkins throughout the whole weight loss phase, so this absolutely will work. (Watch out – as it also allows sweeteners – to feed your sweet tooth – as Atkins does, so you may still get cravings for sweet things).

2) It is rightly based on the idea that carbs and not calories are the secret to weight loss.

3) The detail doesn’t say much about the quality of the food, but, being French, this is going to be based on real meat/fish/eggs/dairy products and not processed versions of fat/proteins. It also avoids sugar, white flour and processed foods, which is very positive for health and weight.

What’s not so good about it?

1)   It is so strict! You could summarise the stages as:

– Stage 1 is no carb (even veg/salad) whatsoever;

– Stage 2 is Atkins Phase 1 level of veg/salad one day and not even this (back to zero veg/salad) on the next day. And you are supposed to stay on this second stage until you reach target weight;

– Only in Stage 3 can you have the rice that we have in Phase 1 of The Harcombe Diet and only in this third stage can you have cheese and fruit, which we can have after 5 days. And this stage lasts a very long time, given that you should no longer feel like you’re on a diet once you’ve reached target;

– Then, stage 4, you seem to be able to go back to anything (surely not – you must keep people off processed foods having gone to these lengths), but you have a protein only day once a week – this will just drop all glycogen and give a weight loss drop on the scales after a day.

There is no need to avoid vegetables and salads in such a dramatic way, let alone natural fats and nutritious dairy foods.

2)  The emphasis is on protein, rather than real food. This diet seems to accept the notion that nature put fat in food to kill humans, which just makes me laugh at the absurdity of the idea. You are not supposed to eat butter or natural meat fat or real milk and the recommended meat/fish foods are lean chicken and fish not in oil, as examples. You are supposed to eat egg whites only (presumably throwing away the most nutritious part of this super food).

Nature puts protein and fat in foods in balance and the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are essential for our entire health and well-being. Unnaturally upsetting the natural fat/protein balance is a recipe for fat soluble vitamin depletion and this has critical consequences. Some of today’s protein shake fans are going to have serious health problems in the future. This diet seems to be an adaptation of Atkins, trying to overcome any criticism of Atkins that it can be high fat. Removing the fat can also remove the satiety – not just the nutrients.

3)   This would be impossible for vegetarians – you are only allowed up to two eggs per day and you are told to have no more than 3 to 4 egg yolks per week if you suffer high cholesterol. There isn’t enough room here for a full cholesterol rant – but here’s one if you would like one. The body knows you can’t eat enough to meet its needs, so the body makes its own cholesterol. I like to think that any cholesterol from real food (it’s only found in real food – funny that) can only help your body and your body then likely needs to make a bit less – but one of the liver’s 500 roles is to make cholesterol to perform life critical functions and this it will do (unless we take statins, of course, and stop the body being able to carry out this vital function).

Would I ever recommend this diet?

No! No surprise – I would recommend The Harcombe Diet for anyone as a first option – real food, three times a day and manage carbs to manage weight loss. This will help people to both lose weight and gain health. If someone is struggling to reach natural weight in the final stages, I would suggest staying with the real food, three times a day principles and taking carbs down to the Atkins c. 20g veg/salad carbohydrate level. So, effectively, the last resort that I would recommend would be real food/’Atkins’ very low carb – but never any of the sweeteners/processed meat/processed low carb junk products allowed in Atkins and many other low carb diets etc.  Eat real food has got to be the most important principle that humans adopt.

I would not recommend The Dukan Diet because I would never advise messing around with natural protein/fat balance or staying away from veg/salad for such a long period of time. And, as for months without pork crackling, butternut squash curry, red wine or dark chocolate? No way!

p.s. Check out Jenni Murray’s Daily Mail diary on the diet: here’s one entry and another. If you search Jenni Murray Dukan on the Daily Mail web site, there are more

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6 comments on “The Dukan Diet – What’s it all about?
  1. avatar Jessica says:

    Hi Laurel, just wanted to post an answer, hope you’ll get to read it. What I have found is the my intense hunger is caused by high blood glucose levels (although when they are really high, I then feel sick). Ironically, if I eat less, I feel less hungry. Now, I understand the kind of hunger you’re talking about. I used to feel it on the “five a day, starchy foods” diet which we used to get told to eat. I actually wanted to bite my own arm at one point because all I could think about was eating. Even now, my brain does not acknowledge when I have eaten. I have to put food on a plate which I now know through experimentation is enough to satisfy my needs, but not spike my sugars, and eat it. Then I have to wait. If I’m still hungry, I eat some pure fat (cream) or some high fat/low carb (peanut butter) or some nuts (protein). Again, too much protein can spike me, which is where even low carb diets can go wrong for type 2 diabetics. The hunger is easier to deal with though, and I think things go wrong only because my body is damaged from yo yo dieting, a high sugar diet (yes, I tried not eating fat!) and by following the wrong advice. Right now, I am losing weight and controlling my sugars. That’s what counts, and being hungry (that low-level “I could eat some crisps right now” hunger) is a back ground noise I have to learn to tune out. Think of it like this : are you eating too little to keep yourself alive? Look at an anorexic diet – are you eating more than them? If yes, that’s either enough or too much – do you know how much food you actually need? For me, that amount is certainly not what my body thinks it is, and too keep piling food into my mouth would simply make the hunger pangs worse.
    Note : I am not advocating becoming an anorexic, I’m simply pointing out that ‘healthy’ portions might be unhealthy for some people.

  2. avatar Helena Azzam says:

    Thanks Zoe. Enough said! Too faddy by half and too many rules. I love the simplicity of the Harcombe Diet and that it fits so easily into life.

  3. avatar Suzanne says:

    You make a ton of sense. Nobody has addressed hunger and cravings and that is the reason we could never stay on a diet. Our bodies cannot do without protein or natural carbs for any period of time. We all tend to listen to the next greatest thing,try it, and fail. Even Dr.OZ confuses me terribly. If I took all the supplements he recommends in a day I would have a new job swallowing. And if I was not being paid to do it….I would be on the streets. I am going to try to live on natural foods. And try to eliminate sugar. Dr Phil failed on the weight loss front and so will Dr Oz. They need to go after the food industry to beat this thing But this America where people set you up, profit and then blame you. My point is you make the most sense so far.

    • avatar Zoë says:

      Hi Suzanne – many thanks for your kind words – much appreciated
      Real food/3 times a day/manage carb intake – that’s about it really!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  4. avatar Laurel says:

    All diets, when they work at all (not often! obviously!) work by restricting the things people desire the most — sugary or salty “treats”.

    Traditional diets (Weight Watchers, etc.) exclude these things because they have too many calories. Low-fat diets exclude these things because they have too much fat content. Low-carb diets exclude these things because they have too many carbs.

    So in short, you can “achieve” the ideal results of any diet by simply not eating “sugary, salty treats” (chips, ice cream, candy, soda pop, cookies, cake, french fries, etc.).

    UNFORTUNATELY, these are the exact foods that people desire to eat. Nobody desires to eat liver (ugh!)…. brussel sprouts…. tofu….quinoa….oatmeal….broccoli, and so forth.

    What is lacking in ALL discussion (from the insane to the absolutely rational) on weight loss is the role that APPETITE and HUNGER and SATIATION play in what people eat.

    All the diets I have known, or tried as a weight-obsessed teen and college student, or seen my family members on (most were morbidly obese) were UTTER 100% FAILURES, and in every case, when analyzing (as an ordinary person, not scientifically) “why”, the answer always was “I GOT HUNGRY….too hungry to keep starving and denying myself food (whether protein or fat or carbs, as the human body requires all 3).

    If HUNGER foils diet attempts, and the only successful treatment ever devised is the drastic “gastric bypass surgery” (which eliminates hunger by destroying the stomach, and it’s glands for ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”), what does that tell us about the role THE STOMACH plays in making people hungry?

    Why do fat people report being MORE HUNGRY than thin people? Even after they eat, sometimes very large amounts of food?

    For 100 years, we have tried to argue and pretend and tell fat people “you are not really hungry, so please go eat this very sensible diet and you will lose all the weight” and it has not worked! Heck, it is the reverse of working — it has failed so utterly that 3 times as many people are now overweight or obese!

    HUNGER IS REAL. Appetite is real. Satiation (or lack of satiation) is real. Until we address those things, we will continue to fail to cure obesity in any significant percentage of the population.

  5. avatar cathy says:

    Is popcorn okay to eat in phase 2?

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