Can Dukan Do It?

Is this French diet the answer to America’s weight-loss dreams?

By Erin Gulden, Editor

When news hit that a certain Duchess may have turned to the Dukan Diet to help her slim down before her very public wedding in April 2011, the blogs were abuzz. Then came reports that both model Gisele Bundchen and singer Jennifer Lopez used the diet to lose their baby weight. The blogs went wild. Was this the magic method dieters had been waiting for?

Dr. Pierre Dukan had been prescribing his high-protein, phase-based diet to his own patients for decades, but only in the last 10 years has he put his plan down in writing. It made a splash in France before spreading through European nations and dozens of other countries before being published in the United States in April 2011, the same month as the Royal Wedding. Though Carole Middleton is reportedly a fan and turned her now-famous daughters on to the diet, Dukan’s method has plenty of detractors.

A survey by the French magazine Journal des Femmes Santé asked 5,000 people who completed the Dukan Diet how it worked in the long run. More than 80 percent of responders reported losing weight rapidly, but putting it all back on within four years. In December 2011, the British Dietetic Association went a step further, calling the diet one of the five worst celebrity diets of 2011.

So how does it work? The plan consists of four phases. The first tends to be the most satisfying, due to the rapid weight loss. It’s called the Attack Phase, and consists of eating unlimited amounts of lean meats and nonfat dairy products and small amounts of oat bran. This phase lasts for two to seven days, depending on how much weight the dieter wants to lose. The second phase is the Cruise phase, where dieters rotate days of pure protein with days of pure protein and vegetables until they hit their desired weight. The third phase reintroduces whole grains and cheeses in fixed amounts, and the last phase allows the dieter to eat whatever they like, as long as they eat only pure protein one day each week.

Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), finds immediate fault with the diet’s restrictive regimen. “When you're on a diet that restricts entire food groups it can be really difficult to get the nutrients you need,” Ansel says. “To feel your best you really want to find a diet that lets you eat from all the food groups.”

She says the high-protein approach may lead to rapid weight loss, but cautions that since protein acts as a diuretic, most of those initial pounds may be lost water weight, not fat.

And she says there are other side effects to high-protein diets, including constipation, fatigue, dry mouth, bad breath and even depression. “Our bodies need carbohydrates to synthesize the brain chemical serotonin, which is linked to feelings of happiness and relaxation,” Ansel says.

So the Dukan Diet may work in the short term, and high-protein diets may be able to help you slim down a few days before an event, but for long-term weight loss success, Ansel suggests skipping Dukan.

“The best formula for weight loss is a plan that allows you to eat smaller portions from all food groups,” Ansel says. “Not only is it healthier, you're more likely to stick with it.”