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The Dukan Diet: Effectiveness and Safety

Updated on January 16, 2012

A French Atkins?

In the early 2000s, Dr. Pierre Dukan invented a low-carbohydrate, high protein weight loss method to help his overweight patients beat the battle of the bulge. Time has passed, and his diet method has traveled from its native France to the United States.

How the Diet Works

The Dukan Diet encompasses four distinct phases, starting with a very aggressive no-carbohydrate "attack phase" and ending with a lifelong "maintenance" phase, requiring the dieter to spend at least one day per week in the phase 1 mode.

Phase 1: The Attack

This phase involves consuming unlimited amounts of lean protein. All vegetables, fruits, or other potential sources of carbohydrates are verboten. In addition to the protein, the dieter is required to eat 1.5 tablespoons of oat bran each day. This phase takes approximately ten days to complete, and about seven pounds will be lost in the course of five days.

Phase 2: Cruise

The restrictions lift slightly during the "cruise" phase. Unlimited quantities of non-starchy vegetables are allowed during this phase, in addition to unlimited amounts of lean protein. Two tablespoons of oat bran are eaten each day, and a very limited amount of fruit is allowed. This phase is months long: dieters stay in the cruise phase until they reach their goal weight.

Fish is a Source of Lean Protein

These salmon steaks represent the type of lean protein allowed on the Dukan Diet.
These salmon steaks represent the type of lean protein allowed on the Dukan Diet. | Source

Phase 3: Consolidation

No additional weight loss is expected in the consolidation phase, when dieters maintain the weight loss by eating a high protein diet/low carbohydrate diet. Each week, 1-2 "celebration" meals are allowed, in which the dieter may eat anything he or she desires. Dieters stay in the consolidation phase for 5 days/pound lost, so the duration of this phase will vary by the individual dieter.

Phase 4: Stabilization

This phase lasts for an entire lifetime, and allows dieters to eat whatever they would like, with one caveat. One day per week, dieters must return to the Phase 1 style of eating, which means absolutely no carbohydrates or vegetables are allowed. In addition, dieters must consume 3 tablespoons of oat bran each day and walk for at least 20 minutes per day.

Oat Bran is Part of the Dukan Diet

Oat bran is a necessary part of the Dukan Diet. Dieters will have to consume 1.5 tablespoons of the bran on a daily basis.
Oat bran is a necessary part of the Dukan Diet. Dieters will have to consume 1.5 tablespoons of the bran on a daily basis. | Source

Diet Effectiveness

The diet is effective in causing short-term weight loss, as nearly all high protein, "ketogenic" diets cause rapid weight loss. This diet is similar to the Atkins diet in implementation (at least during the first two phases). One main difference between the Dukan Diet and the Atkins Diet is that the Atkins plan allows for individual variances in metabolism for carbohydrate intake (i.e., some people may eat more carbohydrates without causing weight gain).

Unfortunately, long term effectiveness has not been studied. Like many restrictive diets, the lifelong commitment to eating a menu consisting only of protein (even if it is only for one day per week) may cause many to "fall off the wagon."

Dukan Diet Safety

As with all low-carb diets, there is the risk of constipation, fatigue, and headaches, particularly in the "Attack Phase." With extremely rapid weight loss in the first phase, some dieters may be tempted to stay in this phase for a long period of time, which would be detrimental: no-carbohydrate diets may cause kidney damage over the long term, and gallstones may form with rapid weight loss. Gout, ketosis (causing bad breath), and nutritional deficiencies are other risks associated with this diet.

In addition, dieters are not likely to maintain the diet's requirements for an entire lifetime. Returning to a "no carbohydrate" mode one day per week may be difficult several years down the line, and the weight is likely to return.

Before starting any diet, individuals should consult with a physician regarding the safety and efficacy of the plan.

Celebrities Use the Dukan Diet

Kate Middleton used the Dukan diet to lose weight before her wedding to Prince William. The diet is extremely effective at short-term weight loss, so celebrity Jennifer Lopez used it to lose weight from her pregnancy.

The British Dietetic Association listed the Dukan diet as the worst diet fad, as the diet is inflexible, confusing, and requires people to eat foods not found in their native diet, such as offal (entrails) and rabbit. In addition, the high protein diet can cause kidney damage over time, constipation, headaches, and bad breath.

Explanation of the Dukan Diet

Dukan Diet Menu Ideas


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    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      It is quite extreme, and like all of the no-carbohydrate diets, there are risks in the early, harsh phases (health risks). The long-term follow-through on this diet plan isn't very high. Any diet should be monitored and recommended by a physician - fasting will certainly cause weight loss, but could be harmful to your health!

    • Claudia Tello profile image

      Claudia Tello 6 years ago from Mexico

      This diet sounds very extreme to me! I am sure it is effective because of the very low carbohydrate ingestion but I reckon only the very carnivorous individual could actually stick to it. I know, should I be in the need to lose weight, I wouldn’t be able to follow it because of my general food preferences.