The Dukan Diet: Is It As Good As They Say?
You may not be clued in yet, but the latest diet craze to hit the world of wanna-lose-fat-wanna-lose-it-fast is the Dukan diet. Celebrities like J-lo swear by it, French women have apparently been doing it for years, Doctors are endorsing it, and the Herald Sun Body and Soul just gave it a 2 x double-page spread. But this is no flash in the pan. The Dukan diet (designed by medical doctor Pierre Dukan) has slowly but steadily risen to fame over a couple of decades, and is most well-known in France. And it promises up to 20kg of rapid and lasting weight loss.
The Dukan diet is basically a(nother) high-protein, low-carb diet, but with some pretty specific rules. Now as you know, I’m a follower of mostly Paleo eating, so on first glance Dukan’s wonder-diet seems like it would fare well on my check-list.
Hold that thought for just a moment while I quickly outline the diet for you.
Phase One: Attack
For 1-10 days (the choice is yours, but aim for longer is suggested if you have more weight to lose) you eat nothing but lean animal protein. Fatty and farmed meats are off the menu. You may eat no other food, and absolutely minimal oil – even for cooking. Herbs, spices, seasonings are okay.
Phase Two: Cruise
In the Cruise phase you get to introduce vegetables. That’s nearly all veg except potato, but starches in general are to be minimised. In this phase you alternate a protein-only day with a protein and veg day.
Phase Three: Consolidation
The goal here is to teach your body to adapt to a new set point. You get to add some fruit, dairy, and even starch. You also get two celebration meals (cheat meals, definitely an important part of any structured fat loss regime) each week.
Phase Four: Stabilisation
In this phase it is assumed that your body now knows how to stay lean; that you’ve changed your set point. You get to eat whatever you want (the assumption being you’ll stick, for the most part, with your new and healthier habits), the only rule being that on Thursdays you must have a protein only day – for the rest of your life.
Whilst following this diet you are also encouraged to perform at least 20 minutes of moderate exercise (like walking) each day, and are allowed a tablespoon or more of oat bran fiber each day.
Truth be told, this is one of the better diets I’ve seen reviewed in a mainstream publication, or touted as the ‘next big thing’. But there are a few fairly glaring holes that I’d like to address.
Firstly, I believe that where there is protein there must be fat. Jonny Bowden talks about this in his book Living the Low-Carb Life. He cites a year-long study in which a protein-only diet was compared with a protein and fat diet. The diet high only in protein led to constant illness, fatigue, lethargy, gout, and even mental upset. Weight loss occurred, but at an extreme cost. The diet high in both protein and fat resulted in an ideal outcome – both weight loss and excellent health and vigour. In nature, fat always occurs with protein and I fully believe our bodies need fat in order to lose fat and be healthy. In fact, fat deficiency has been said to kill more people than breast cancer each year!
My second issue with this diet is that whilst vegetables are introduced after the initial phase, they are not given much importance. Any basic reading in the field of paleo nutrition will teach you that a vegetable (fiber) free diet is a sure recipe for disaster. Fiber binds to toxins (fats) as they leave your fat cells, and drags them out of your body, and it’s also necessary to a healthy intestinal system among other things. One tablespoon of fiber is not enough to deal with all that meat, regardless how good and grass-fed it is!
Thirdly, the idea of reaching a new set point in such a short-time is not realistic. Charles Poliquin teaches that with a good BioSignature protocol, you can in fact switch your metabolism over to being lean for life no matter what you eat, but it takes at least 18 months of eating clean and being lean for that to happen. Definitely worth the wait I’d say!
Aside from that, I actually do agree with much of Dr Dukan’s advice. Unlimited protein is fine for anyone who is eating a diet low in sugar and carbohydrate, and (in that case) will not lead to weight gain. And limiting carbohydrate 100% for just a few days is not going to have much of an adverse effect (truth is your need for carbohydrate for survival and health is actually zero), so in terms of forcing you to emphasise protein it’s not a bad idea. But 10 days would be pushing it in my opinion. I’d suggest no more than 2 protein-only days – definitely with fiber added – and then alternating green-veg-only days with days where you can have a few other coloured veg, rather than alternating all veg with no veg. I can’t over-emphasise how important it is to eat fat if weight loss and true health is your goal. One thing which I really didn’t like was that the diet outed avocados (yet included starchy pumpkin!) I’d suggest fat from nuts and seeds (in small amounts), coconut oil, organic meat fat, olive oil, and definitely avocado as absolutely essential to good health, along with a good omega-3 supplement of course!
The long and short of it
All in all, you could definitely add just a few tweaks to the Dukan Diet and use it as a foundation for kick-starting correct eating habits and breaking the carb cycle.
Have you or anyone you know actually tried it? I’d love to hear from someone who has!