Home Debunking The Myths The Dukan Diet: A French Version of Atkins Debunked

The Dukan Diet: A French Version of Atkins Debunked

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I’m serious – why do people diet? Like, I get it. It’s a “tool for weight loss.” I’m not completely dense, here… but I just don’t understand this.

Allow me to explain.

This morning, I happen to read about something called “The Dukan Diet,” which is being referred to as “The French Atkins.” It’s a high protein, low fat, low carb diet that promises “no hunger, no calorie counting, instant weight loss and lifelong weight maintenance.”

Okay.

Let’s look at the diet, as according to the article:

His own diet’s high-protein, low-fat approach is organized into four phases: attack, cruise, consolidation and stabilization. The first encourages dieters to eat as much as they want of nonfatty, protein rich foods, including oat bran (a key component) washed down with oceans of water. The second stage introduces vegetables, but no fruit; the third brings with it two slices of bread, a serving of cheese and fruit and two servings of carbohydrates a day, with two weekly “celebration” meals with wine and dessert (the diet is French, after all); and the final stage six days a week of “anything goes” and one day of reversion to strict protein-only stage one — for the rest of your life.

Okay. I’ve written about how this works, right?

A diet, in general terms, is simply the “list” of foods that you allow yourself to eat during the day. It’s the foods that you limit yourself to – if you were on the cabbage diet, your daily diet consists of boiled cabbage for breakfast and lunch with a regular dinner. Diets are generally named by the food that dominates your day – cereal diet, cookie diet, mashed potato diet. This all seems kind of “duh,” but we’re breaking it down to it’s very core, right? Gotta start somewhere.

Excerpted from The Anatomy of A Diet: Why They Work, and Why The Success Never Lasts | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

I’m also interested in this idea that The Dukan diet is “anti-calorie counting,” because – again, as I’ve already written:

Dieting works because it is an extremely mindless form of calorie counting. If I’ve only allowed myself to choose from this one low-calorie food to eat, I can’t possibly gain weight, right? You don’t have to think about the food you’re eating and whether or not it’ll cause you to gain weight – you KNOW this one food won’t cause you to put on any pounds, you know exactly what you’re going to do. It’s auto-pilot for weight loss.

However – because it usually involves something that you can only manage temporarily, you tend to come off of it – excited to beat the pounds – by celebrating with what? More food you have no business indulging in in the first place!

Excerpted from The Anatomy of A Diet: Why They Work, and Why The Success Never Lasts | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

So… let’s go back to what the diet consists of:

The first encourages dieters to eat as much as they want of nonfatty, protein rich foods, including oat bran (a key component) washed down with oceans of water. The second stage introduces vegetables, but no fruit; the third brings with it two slices of bread, a serving of cheese and fruit and two servings of carbohydrates a day, with two weekly “celebration” meals with wine and dessert (the diet is French, after all); and the final stage six days a week of “anything goes” and one day of reversion to strict protein-only stage one — for the rest of your life.

If you wind up resorting back to “anything goes” with just a touch of “restriction,” what’s going to happen? Oh, wait:

Chloe Château, a young researcher at a French Web site, decided to try Dukan after she came home heavier after spending more than a year in Britain. “When I got off the plane, the first thing my mother said was, ‘Oh, you’ve put on weight,’ ” Ms. Château said. “She didn’t even say ‘Hi’ or ‘I missed you.’ ”

Ms. Château said that she took off 14 pounds in less than three weeks, put some of it back on, and plans to try the diet again, even though she has a kidney ailment and migraines.

For the record, super-high protein diets can be rough on the kidneys for people who already have impaired kidney function… which makes it that much more crazy that she’s willing to go through this via this route just to lose weight.

And really, that brings me to my next statement. All of this talk about weight… what is there to say of health? I mean, a woman willing to further exacerbate her health condition just to lose weight in this trendy fashion? Seriously? It’s worth that much?

What is so alluring about weight loss that we’re willing to risk our health in order to obtain it in such a questionable fashion? What is there that lends credibility to this diet when…

Even before its American introduction, the diet is under attack. “This is just another one of those diets invented by a charismatic individual who makes a lot of promises and has loads of testimonials but is not based on any scientific data whatsoever,” said Frank Sacks, professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and chairman of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee.

France’s governmental National Agency for Food, Environmental and Work Health Safety has identified it as one of 15 imbalanced and potentially risky diets. The British Dietetic Association, the country’s organization of professional dietitians, branded it one of the five worst diets of 2011. “We call it the ‘Do-can’t’ diet,” said Sian Porter, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association. “Even if you can survive it for the first few days, it’s hard to stick with it. It’s hard on your kidneys. And it’s expensive.”

You can’t simply follow a regimen that doesn’t take into account your own personal needs. You can’t risk your health for a diet that’s only going to slingshot you back into a cycle of yo-yo dieting. You can’t…

I’m just… I’m gonna move on.

I have no idea how a temporary restrictive diet with “stages” can be turned into “lifelong maintenance” when the final stage relies on an “anything goes” philosophy.

And even if “anything goes” does turn into a “mostly fruits and vegetables” mentality with the occasional indulgence… what part of what he’s teaching here would tell you to go to that and, even, stick to that? What does this diet teach you about the foods you could or should be eating during that “anything goes” period? What if you’re an emotional eater who resorts to problem solving in the form of delicately rich french pastries and you “black out” when you’re indulging… that “anything goes” period is going to be a struggle for you.

Why won’t this work? Like I’ve said before:

Because… wait for it… auto-pilot doesn’t work for weight loss! That’s right – you can’t do it. Why? Because waking up one day and deciding that you’re going to go auto-pilot eating nothing but grapefruit for breakfast and lunch can’t change the fact that your auto-pilot used to lead you to McDonalds or Krispy Kreme for breakfast every morning. Auto-pilot, unfortunately, does equate to mindlessness. It’s operating without thinking. “Not thinking” before led us to being unhealthy in the first place. It certainly won’t lead us to “healthy,” and if it does, it certainly wouldn’t do it overnight… or in two-six weeks like other diets.

 

Let me see how I can put this. If you think a “successful diet” consists of simply “losing weight,” you’d be sadly mistaken.

Considering how a “diet” is “in general terms, is simply the “list” of foods that you allow yourself to eat during the day,” a “successful diet” is one that allows you to maintain your weight and nourish your body properly. If a diet consists of you going back to an “anything goes” mentality (oh, with one day of restriction each week), then guess what? You’re going to gain the weight back and – since you thought the Dukan diet, Atkins diet or goodness knows what other diet was “successful” – you’ll inadvertently go right back to that very same diet to start the same sad, silly cycle all over again.

The goal is to develop a balance that allows for indulgence and pleasure – because no element of our lives should be unpleasureable – while allowing for health and weight management. Not yoyo dieting or restrictive slurping of vegetable broth.

The reality is that you lose weight the same way you gain it: the choices you make regarding the food you put in your mouth. There’s no possible way to get around that and no speedy, trendy diet by a French dude is going to change that. He might be charming, but he’ll only say what you want to hear… and may very well not be around when you realize you were sold a pipe dream. Don’t buy into it. Trust me.

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21 comments

Daphne March 18, 2011 - 12:59 PM

“This is just another one of those diets invented by a charismatic individual who makes a lot of promises and has loads of testimonials but is not based on any scientific data whatsoever,”

I think the above sums it all up. Every couple of years, a new diet book is published, being touted as the next best thing. Even though it’s madness, I get why people are so quick to jump on these things. It’s easier than the alternative – mindfully and precisely developing eating habits that are healthy and sustainable.

Also, since it’s about weight loss (a certain look), and not healthy eating, I suspect the option of “going back to anything goes” is a motivating factor. As in, “I can deny myself to lose weight, and then when I hit my goal, I can relax again.” So, by relaxing, the weight comes back. Vicious cycle.

Donna March 18, 2011 - 1:25 PM

Unfortunately, there are many who are so desperate and in disrepair to lose weight they will try anyway. That said as health care professionals we need to teach these people the right way.

Jean R March 18, 2011 - 1:55 PM

Erika…your website should be required reading for all women. I love it. Thanks for the insights and all of the information and for being so darn sensible and normal. You are AWESOME!

Shermy March 24, 2011 - 9:26 AM

I totally agree! …and second that emotion!

trish November 19, 2014 - 1:13 AM

Agree with you wholeheartedly Erika. This is a great read. As a marathon runner who 10 days ago fell down a flight of stairs resulting in seriously injuring my sacrum and not being able to exercise at all (yes I’m going mental and putting on weight) I was given a copy of the Dukan Diet by a doctor I saw and told to go on a wholly protein based diet. I can’t belive GP’s are peddling this kind of nonsense. A balanced diet, combined with exercise (calories in V’s calories out) to me seems far more sensible. After all cows get fat eating grass.
Thanks Erika for the read.

Quais-ono March 18, 2011 - 7:35 PM

Usually I agree with your posts, and I love your site, but this one I don’t agree that low carb diets are unhealthy. Yeah, it’s bad for people with an impaired kidney function, but for people who have an impaired GI function (like myself), it’s a blessing.

Due to antibiotics, I developed a gastrointestinal-related illness. I suffered for years, even resorting to a vegetarian diet. Nothing helped. My doctor recommended a low carb diet to alleviate my symptoms, called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. I found out that I cannot break down complex carbs like those found in wheats, table sugars, corn, potatoes and other starches.

Before I went on this diet, I was almost 50 pounds overweight, and sick most of the time, including eczema. I was one of those people who ate pasta, 2% milk and oatmeal for breakfast, olive oil and the “healthiest foods” possible. Not only did I not lose weight, I kept gaining. And my GI problems stayed consistently bad.

I started the SCD –which is not a weight loss diet, but something to help the intestines recover from the damage of “bad flora” like yeasts, etc; When the intestine is damaged, from bad flora it cannot completely recover or digest complex carbs properly. They remain in the gut for bad flora to feast on. Since the intestine is major part of maintaining immunity, it’s bad once damaged. The waste materials from the bad flora end up escaping the intestinal wall and causing damage throughout the body — the leaky gut syndrome. To stop the cycle, a low carb/high protein diet is used.

I had eliminated the sugars from my diet (all processed foods, all sugars (including lactose) — except simple sugar honey, all wheat/breads etc;). I was shocked that the constant hunger I experienced disappeared. My blood pressure and cholesterol actually lowered by 20 points. I was satisfied longer, and the weight started to drop off. I lost 30 pounds and my eczema disappeared.

I ate mostly meat and veggies — but none of the processed crap most people ingest when on the low carb diet. I also made a smoothie with homemade 24-hour cured yogurt that was free of lactose, in order to get good probiotics into my system daily, along with fruit. I ate no foods containing sugars (including maltose, dextrose, HFCS), foods that could be converted directly into sugars (starches like corn, wheat, potatoes) or other stuff.

My daily meals included chicken with zucchini, a lasagna with zucchini used in place of pasta noodles, and breads made from almond flour. I made all of my foods and snacks myself. No fast food.

I think that low-carb diets get bad rap because of Atkins. He was on the right road, but he forgot to eliminate the processed foods, sugars and oils from the mix which are more damaging to the body than anything else. Other baddies: HFCS cannot be processed by the intestines and goes directly to the liver where it becomes triglycerides and fat in the body, and raises cholesterol levels. MSG (of course) is in ALL processed foods and causes people to become fat (like the obese MSG rats).

I fell off the wagon when I went to visit a friend up north, and began eating all the things I know were bad for me (including the starches). The weight and the eczema returned, and I’m itching now to get back on the SCD.

Yeah, Atkins died of a heart attack, but if done right (like eating chicken, poultry, etc; instead of red meats, and not eating the sugar) and loading up on green veggies(no starches), and fruits, then a low-carb/high protein diet can be extremely healthy, if done right.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 18, 2011 - 7:44 PM

Where did I say that “low-carb diets are unhealthy?”

I said that high-protein lifestyles are hard on people who have impaired kidney function… and that was directly speaking to the woman who admits to having kidney problems and still chooses to lose weight via THIS method. That’s not an indictment of low-carb diets. It’s not an “either-or” zero-sum situation.

I’m not sure why you’re explaining YOUR lifestyle – it’s obviously not a diet – when I’m making very specific statements about the issue surrounding DIETING, as I’ve defined here. I’m not talking about gluten sensitivity or the specific choices people make regarding their lifestyle. I’m referring specifically to the issue of dieting and what people are willing to foolishly put themselves through to lose weight, especially when it only catapults them into a silly cycle of yoyo dieting.

I see that your comment wasn’t out of “hatred” or “shade,” but I don’t know what part of my post seemed like an indictment of those who’ve chosen that lifestyle, especially when there are real medical reasons why people choose to live this way.

Quasi-ono March 18, 2011 - 7:38 PM

sorry I rambled. but it’ s not out of hatred, or hating…but I just wanted to present another view.

Chloé Chateau March 31, 2011 - 6:38 AM

Hi, I’m the Chloé Chateau of this article. Just wanted to say, for the record, that I’m not “crazy”, as you suggested.

I told the journalist that because i suffer a kidney failure, I adapted the diet: to me, health is way more important than loosing weight, but I wanted to loose a bit of weight (for the record, it’s a question of 5 kilos, I’m not obese, so I don’t need to eat just meat for months).

I particularly said that even though I would eat, during the “proteine only phase” fruit-fat free yogurts instead of no fruit at all, that I would still drink my orange juice, and eat veggies and fruits during the week-end -fat free-.

I also said that I even postponed the date when I wanted to start again the diet, because I was sick and did not want to deprive my body of any nutritive element that it could need while I was sick.

As a consequence, I lost the weight I wanted to loose, and haven’t had any kidney trouble since the last 2 years, now.

I, by the way, do not allow you to call me or my behaviours “crazy”, and wish that you remove or rephrase this sentence.

Thanks by advance,
Chloé Chateau

Erika Nicole Kendall March 31, 2011 - 1:27 PM

I thought long and hard about whether I’d post this comment. Are you really who you say you are? Are you really Googling yourself and defending what was written about you in a very widely-spread NYTimes article?

Then I decided that using your comment as a prime example of the foolish indoctrination of dieting as “successful practice” would suffice.

Aside from the fact that you don’t have the authority to “allow” or disallow my comments regarding anything written in a news article – regardless of whether or not it was about you – I’d like to take a second look at what I wrote:

For the record, super-high protein diets can be rough on the kidneys for people who already have impaired kidney function… which makes it that much more crazy that she’s willing to go through this via this route just to lose weight.

And really, that brings me to my next statement. All of this talk about weight… what is there to say of health? I mean, a woman willing to further exacerbate her health condition just to lose weight in this trendy fashion? Seriously? It’s worth that much?

I stand behind that.

As a courtesy, I’ll also correct your other extremely foolish ideas about food and offer you one last question in the end:

On “fat-free” anything:
https://blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com/food-101/did-you-know/supermarket-swindle-fat-low-fat-fat-free/
https://blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com/food-101/its-always-been-a-big-fat-lie/

On juice:
https://blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com/what-are-you-eating/the-case-against-juice/

On dieting:
https://blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com/fad-diets/the-anatomy-of-a-diet-why-they-work-and-why-the-success-never-lasts/

You underwent something – a diet – that you had to POSTPONE because you knew that ENGAGING IN IT WOULD RISK YOUR HEALTH. What part of “sane” does that sound like? You “adapted” a DIET – which, essentially, means that you DIDN’T follow the Dukan protocol and probably shouldn’t have been included in the article at ALL, but you were. You took ON something you had to modify in order to make sure you didn’t undergo kidney failure AGAIN because of it, and the only thing you have to say now is “I lost the weight and I didn’t die!!!”… and you come on MY blog and spout that?

Come on, now.

Not only do I find this entire thing crazy, but I find it sad that you’d come here and defend this foolishness instead of just letting sleeping dogs lie. I won’t be altering, modifying, changing or deleting any portion of my post – or yours – and any more arrogant requests regarding what you’ll “allow” will be promptly ignored. As long as I own this space, I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done, and that’s tell the truth and shame the dieting mentality. Sorry if you don’t like that, friend.

Valencia May 10, 2011 - 2:17 PM

Interesting post. I also did a post on the Dukan diet…very controversial. I also agree that losing weight is not a gimmick, it is a life changing, life altering process that takes time. The one (small) point that I gave the diet was that it requires you to drink water (6 glasses) and walk for 20 minutes. I do think you need more water and more exercise, but most diets don’t even mention that much!

Rhonda May 10, 2011 - 2:56 PM

They lost me at no fruit. Since I gave up sugar and candy I have to have my fruit. I eat at least one grapefruit everyday. If I had to give that up I would go nuts.

milaxx May 10, 2011 - 4:00 PM

I simply don’t get it. Mind you I have a very long way to go in my weight loss journey, but most importantly I am on a journey to better health. I don;t understand putting your body into ketosis or eating a bunch of processed “low fat” foods will make you healthy. If that means my weight loss is a slower process, then so be it. I am certain however that in the long run changing my eating habits and learning to exercise more are much more beneficial than any fad diet will ever be. I keep seeing my friends on twitter and facebook say they are going to start this Dukan mess and it’s takes every once of will power not to scream “NO!”

Honey July 24, 2011 - 8:11 AM

Erica,
I wish you had posted this review before I purchased the book. I could not believe hat he was serious with the “stages”. Anything goes? Ae you kidding me?

oekmama January 30, 2012 - 7:13 AM

I’m not going to comment directly on that young lady’s actions. That’s her business.
I followed the link to your post with Axelle’s email to you. She is SO right. While the french, seem to be the embodiment of chic and beauty and tralala to the rest of the world, all isn’t so hunky dory over there.

I went on vacation to France a few times and I was appalled: All over the place (on busstops, poster boards, buildings, sides of buses) are ads for cosmetic surgery, and for weight reduction/appetite reducing products! Especially when you go in the shopping areas (city centers) where all the boutiques are.
It took me a while to decipher it all, with my rusty high-school French, but that is what it’s like for the French women. At every turn, you are being reminded, implored and demanded to be thin, get thinner, stay thin. What pressure!

On the other hand, I love going into French supermarkets, coz there is so much variety there (compared to Germany where I live). It is possible to eat healthy, and eat well/clean. You just have to put the effort in, just like anywhere else in the world.
I think if anyone wanted to take some french advice, then read Mirielle Guiliano’s ‘French Women Don’t Get Fat’. It’s not a diet book, though. It talks about one french woman’s relationship with food.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 30, 2012 - 9:26 AM

I LOVED “French Women Don’t Get Fat
.” LOVED it. It was just such a cute book.

Ms. Fit And Tempting January 30, 2012 - 4:58 PM

You know, after I tried the South Beach Diet years ago, I said to hell with it and never picked up another diet book again. I picked up the zone first and that was annoying. The South Beach diet had things that made sense, especially since low carb was the craze back then, but overall, my radar was going off at the part about not having fruit, dairy, etc. Fruits are good. I grew up with fruits in Central America. I was eating it and at my weight at the time, I was literally starving myself. Even when I modified it, it did not work and I haven’t looked back since. The ONLY good thing in that book are some of the recipes, but I love cook books anyway so….

After two more children (that was after my first child) I know what my problem was, what it is, and I believe in keeping it simple. I’m in the lift big, eat big group. I can eat about 2200 calories to maintain weight, but I have to obviously cut 500+ to lose the weight. That’s fine. I’ll be damned if I starve myself or deny my body good foods like fruit, good fats, protein, complex, good carbs, etc. These poor people are being misled. There’s way too much misinformation out there.

Marie-Christine January 31, 2012 - 6:18 PM

Alas, this Chateau girl is not only crazy, she’s typical. French women are indoctrinated from birth, getting fat is truly the worst that can happen to you, much much worse than dialysis. It’s sad.

A friend of mine got onto this Dukan thing a couple years ago. To be honest, she’s 4’10” and full-busted, so even 10lb more looks like a lot on her, and she’s Italian and a great cook, so she started off kind of nicely round, without being the least bit obese. But it’s at least 3 times now that she’s gained it all back with interest, and started all over again. Your typical diet story, except that I do think this one is particularly unhealthy, at last Atkins does tell you to eat some vegetables. She’s poor as a churchmouse, and hurting herself financially as well. She’s gotten into dieting like it was still 1955, and is worse off than anyone I’ve ever seen. Sigh.

The Truth August 10, 2012 - 12:54 AM

So condescending and prob single & lonely. What man wld want you?!?!

Erika Nicole Kendall August 10, 2012 - 7:32 AM

The one who proposed to me, of course.

You guys have got to work harder at this trolling thing. You’re not very good at it.

And, since you’re so freaking terrible at it, don’t expect to see your little raggedy comments published. My readers don’t need to have their precious and valuable time wasted by the likes of you.

“What man would want you?” Is being wanted by a man the highlight of your life? YOU must be lonely… among other things. ROFL

Sally Asher June 11, 2013 - 12:10 AM

I lost over 25lbs living in Paris with a French family and I can tell you that not a day went by when we didn’t eat fresh baguette, full fat cheese, drink some wine and enjoy a piece of fruit. To say that eating Dukan style is how French women stay slim is just not true. French women don’t get fat because they watch their portions and go for quality food they love.

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