The Dukan diet takes the power of protein for weight loss to the extreme with an initial phase of protein-only menus.
French physician Pierre Dukan developed the diet to help patients lose weight fast and redesign eating habits to stabilize weight permanently.
Allowed foods in the introductory Attack phase include meat, fish, poultry, non-fat dairy, eggs, vegetable protein like seitan and tofu, pork, and game meats. You also eat oat bran, and beverages are limited to water and non-caloric drinks like diet soda.
The time period for Attack phase varies depending on how much weight you need to drop. For 20 to 40 pounds, it’s typically about five days, and you can eat all you want.
Without carbohydrates to supply fuel, the body burns stored fat through the process of ketosis. According to a report by the National Institutes of Health, a ketogenic diet may protect against neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. (1)
Next comes the Cruise phase: continue eating mostly protein, with certain vegetables allowed on certain days. Expect to drop 2 to 4 pounds weekly.
The Dukan diet has stringent rules, and success depends on a dieter’s ability to follow guidelines to the letter.
If you do well with following rules, you’ve got a good chance at making the Dukan diet work for you.
The time you spend in each phase of the diet is calculated according to your age and how much weight you want to lose, as well as how much yo-yo dieting you’ve done in the past. Dr. Dukan says you should run the plan past your doctor before you begin.
Here are the loose guidelines for how long to stay in the Attack phase: a day or two if you want to go down ten pounds; between 3 and 5 days for 20 pounds; up to ten days for more than 20 pounds. (2)
An online survey of 1500 respondents in 2010 reflected an average loss of nearly 16 pounds in the first two phases. (3)
Four phases of the Dukan diet:
- Attack – only protein foods are allowed. This strategy puts your body into a state of ketosis; ketones are flushed through urine, so drinking 6 – 8 glasses of water daily is vital. You flush out water as your body begins to burn fat. Take 1.5 tablespoons of oat bran daily to provide a few carbs. Walking is the recommended exercise.
- Cruise – expect to spend about 3 days for every pound you want to drop. Add non-starchy vegetables on alternating days, or customize the alternation pattern to suit your lifestyle and weight goals. Go back and forth (a day of pure protein, then a day of protein and vegetables, or 2 and 2, 3 and 3, etc.); for those with more weight to lose, choose a pattern up to 5 and 5. Walk 30 minutes daily to maximize weight loss. Increase oat bran to 2 tablespoons a day.
- Consolidation – stay in this phase 5 days for every pound dropped in the first two phases to protect against rebound weight gain. Divide the time into two equal parts. During the first part, add a piece of fruit, two slices of whole grain bread and 1.5 ounces of hard cheese daily; once a week, eat a single serving of starchy vegetables, and splurge on a celebratory meal that includes an appetizer, an entrée, a glass of wine, and dessert. During the second half of this phase, bump up fruit and starchy vegetables to two servings, and have two celebratory meals. Keep taking 2 tablespoons of oat bran.
- Stabilization – there are no forbidden foods in this phase, so it’s up to you to regulate yourself according to the new habits you’ve acquired. The three requirements: eat 3 tablespoons of oat bran daily; take the stairs whenever you can; one day each week eat only protein, just like in the Attack phase.
While the plan includes a source of fiber (oat bran) even when you’re only eating protein foods, this approach is a far cry from the most-repeated diet advice today: eat abundant quantities of fruits and vegetables.
Studies show high fiber intake can help protect against developing cardiovascular disease. (4) For those with large amounts of weight to lose, the Dukan diet could keep them in low-fiber intake phases for substantial lengths of time.
The National Institutes of Health recently conducted a 14-year study with 50,000 Japanese men and women. Those who consumed more fiber had a decreased risk of cardiovascular disorders. (5)
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine issued a statement that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help prevent and manage chronic health conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. (6)
Focusing on protein is likely to improve insulin response, so that’s good news for anyone with blood sugar problems. Keeping the carbohydrate content of meals low (or almost non-existent, as in the Attack phase) results in stable blood glucose levels. (7)
Besides weight loss, which cuts the risk of developing many chronic diseases, decreasing the amount of carbohydrates in the diet can reduce cholesterol levels and blood triglycerides. (8)
While cholesterol levels have been shown to drop when subjects consumed 20% of calories in soy products as their main protein source (9), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to advise limiting saturated fats such as those found in animal foods like meat as the best way to control cholesterol. (10)
In a recent update for physicians, the USDA advises that recommending plant-based diets to patients should be considered a beneficial dietary strategy that can promote weight loss, drop cholesterol levels and reduce blood pressure (11), all of which are risk factors for developing heart disease.
While the Dukan diet is clear that following the rules, even in the Stabilization phase, is necessary for long-term success, fast weight loss often ends with weight gain up the road. Studies confirm that taking off weight slowly and steadily is more likely to result in keeping if off. (12)
Summary: If you’re determined to drop weight quickly and can shrink your nutrient choices while focusing mainly on protein, the Dukan diet is worth considering.