Should You Try the Dukan Diet?

By Leslie Pepper

Published in France 10 years ago, the latest fad diet, The Dukan Diet: 2 Steps to Lose the Weight, 2 Steps to Keep It Off Forever by French physician Pierre Dukan, MD, hits American store shelves on April 19 and is already garnering a lot of buzz. The diet is all the rage in Europe, with such reported celebrity fans as Kate Middleton and her mother, who are rumored to be following the diet to slim down for the royal wedding, and Jennifer Lopez, who reportedly followed the Dukan Diet to shed her baby weight.

We asked Everyday Health nutritionist Kelly MacDonald, RD, to review the Dukan Diet. Here's what you should know before you try it:

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The Dukan Diet: What Is It?

Often described as the French version of the Atkins Diet, the Dukan Diet emphasizes meals that are high-protein, low-carb, and low-fat. The diet is designed so that you won't feel hungry - you can choose from 100 different foods and you're allowed to eat as much of them as you want - and you don't have to count calories. Its biggest draw is its pronto weight-loss promise: that you can lose up to seven to 10 pounds in the first five days - and keep them off.

The Dukan Diet: How Does It Work?

The Dukan Diet has four phases: The first two promise a speedy slim down; the last two focus on maintenance so you don't regain the weight you've lost.

  • Phase 1: Attack is all about protein, protein, and more protein. You can eat unlimited lean meat, poultry, lean ham, organ meats, fish and seafood, eggs, and nonfat dairy (except no cheese). This phase, as well as the next three phases, also requires drinking six cups of water. You also take a 20-minute walk every day. In this phase and the next two phases, you eat one and a half tablespoons of oat bran daily (Dukan says it helps people feel full). You can stay in this phase for one to 10 days, depending on how much weight you want to lose. According to Dukan, most people stay in the Attack phase for five days and lose four to seven pounds.

  • Phase 2: Cruise adds in vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, eggplant, and spinach, to your diet. The diet forbids starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, peas, beans, and lentils. In this phase, you alternate protein and non-starchy vegetables with a protein-only day. So you eat meals that combine veggies and protein one day, then meals that are protein-only the next, and so on. In the Cruise phase, you walk for 30 minutes a day. This phase lasts until you reach your goal weight.

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  • Phase 3: Consolidation welcomes more variety to your meals: one serving of fresh fruit daily (except for bananas, grapes, cherries, and dried fruits), along with two slices of whole grain bread, and one and a half ounces of cheese per day, plus two servings of starchy foods, like pasta and potatoes, each week. You can also enjoy two "celebration" meals each week, in which you can eat whatever you want, as long as you keep up with one day each week of eating protein-only meals. In the Consolidation phase, you walk for 25 minutes a day. This phase is designed to prevent rebound weight gain; the length you're on it depends on how much weight you've lost. For every pound you shed in the first phases of the Dukan Diet, you stay in the Consolidation phase for five days. So if you lost 24 pounds, this phase should last four months.

  • Phase 4: Stabilization, which lasts indefinitely, allows you to eat whatever you want for six days, as long as the seventh day is protein-only. You also up your oat bran intake to three tablespoons and walk for 20 minutes a day. This phase is designed to help you maintain the weight you've lost.

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The Dukan Diet: Sample Menu From Attack phase

8 oz nonfat yogurt
Dukan oat bran galette
Coffee or tea with artificial sweetener
Snack: 1 slice turkey
Lunch: 1 slice smoked salmon, roast chicken with tarragon and lemon
Snack: Hard-boiled egg
Dinner: 8 oz grilled swordfish
8 oz nonfat ricotta

The Dukan Diet: Pros

  • Rapid initial weight loss can motivate you to stick with the plan.

  • There's an emphasis on drinking a lot of water.

  • The diet stresses consuming lean protein, which is healthier than high-fat protein.

  • After the first phase, vegetables are prominent.

  • Exercising for 20 minutes a day is required

The Dukan Diet: Cons

  • Not watching portion sizes can backfire. "Having an all-you-can-eat mentality is not the best for keeping weight off," says MacDonald. "I don't see how six days of all-you-can-eat and one day of pure protein would even out for maintaining weight loss long-term."

  • The first phase shortchanges the body of heart-healthy fiber, fat, and essential vitamins and minerals.

  • Rapid weight loss will be mostly water and muscle mass, which can lead to dehydration and may be dangerous, according to MacDonald.

  • Eating all meat all the time can be expensive.

  • There's a lack of variety, especially in the protein-only first phase, which can get monotonous and cause people to stop following the diet, notes MacDonald.

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The Dukan Diet: Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

Though you may see rapid initial weight loss, it will mostly be from water and, later, from muscle mass. You'll also likely experience fatigue, moodiness, and other symptoms because the diet is so severely lacking in carbohydrates. Nutrient deficiencies can happen in the first phases when you're consuming few vegetables and fruits and complex carbohydrates. The first two phases also sorely lack fiber, which can cause constipation. If you follow the high-protein, low-carb diet of the first two phases for too long, a condition called ketosis can set in. Here, a lack of carbs forces the body to break down fat for energy, which can cause fatigue, bad breath, and dry mouth; over time, it can damage the kidneys and liver.

"My opinion is that you should feel healthier, not fatigued or sick, while you're trying to lose weight," says MacDonald. Because the diet doesn't offer enough fiber, complex carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables, she would not recommend it as a healthy weight loss tool.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

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