Skip to main content

Nicknamed “the French medical solution to permanent weight loss,” the Dukan diet is the ultimate in prescriptive nutrition, with just 72 foods to choose from in phase one. Carbohydrates are the enemy, even when they come in the form of fruits and vegetables.

Pierre Dukan's high protein, low carbohydrate plan was first published in France in 2000 under the name 'Je ne sais pas maigrir' (I don't know how to lose weight). It was only in 2010 that the Dukan movement reached the UK and was rebranded as the Dukan diet. Though much of the younger, more knowledgeable population already leans towards a carbohydrate-free diet, the Dukan diet has carved its way into the miracle weight-loss market by jostling through the crowd with a little help from some fairly well-known fans. Kate Middleton, in the run up to her royal wedding, has in fact two sizes following the Dukan method.

Pierre Dukan began his medical career specializing in neurology, but allegedly switched to nutrition after recommending a high-protein diet to a friend who was desperate to lose weight. So impressed with his friend's rapid size reduction, Dukan embarked on the development and research of the diet that would eventually make him a household name around the world. To date, Dukan's diet book has sold more than eight million copies and been translated into 14 different languages.

Not without controversy though: Dukan's weight loss plan has come under criticism from health professionals, many believing the diet promotes an unbalanced way of eating. In recent years, Pierre Dukan's controversial claims have also brought unwanted attention to the Dukan brand.

The original diet

The original Dukan diet is similar to a ketogenic diet, as both promote the consumption of fat and protein, but cut carbohydrates. The body turns to glycogen stores (carbohydrates) for energy primarily if supplies are plentiful. Ketogenic diets essentially force the body to switch from burning carbohydrates to burning fat for energy. This often has the desired effect of weight loss, although high levels of ketones in the body can be problematic and can lead to a state known as ketosis.

The four phases of the Dukan diet 

1. Attack phase

This first phase lasts between five and ten days and promises immediate results. Dieters have 72 high-protein foods to choose from, with no carbohydrates of any kind allowed.

2. Cruise phase

While pure protein days are still being encouraged, carbs are slowly being reintroduced in the form of 28 pre-approved veggies. Dukanistas remain in this phase until they have reached their "target weight".

3. Consolidation phase

Previously prohibited foods, such as fruit and dairy products, are gradually being reintroduced. Followers are even allowed two "celebratory meals" a week, where they are allowed to eat almost anything they want (but some restrictions are still in place).

4. Stabilization phase

If you've managed to reintroduce carbohydrates into your life without gaining weight, you can happily enter Phase 4 and unlock the "rules for life."

The duration of the diet depends on your current weight, your fitness level and your desired target weight.

The Dukan diet 2

After the original Dukan diet was developed, a second program was formulated that essentially reflects the original consolidation phase. Dukan 2 has seven phases – each phase represents the dietary inclusion of a food group. Stages one and two involve consuming unlimited amounts of 100 permitted foods, which include natural proteins (stage one) and vegetables (stage two). The next stages involve gradually adding fruit, bread, cheese, and other starches, such as pasta.

During the initial, very restrictive phase, you can expect to lose weight quite quickly which of course serves as a great motivator. The diet is especially appealing to those who dislike counting calories and prefer a more prescriptive way of eating because it stipulates exactly what you can have.

Unlike Atkins, the Dukan diet limits fats and completely excludes vegetables in the first phase, with a gradual reintroduction of fruits, vegetables and carbohydrates in the later phases of the diet. Some reports suggest that the stabilization phase – the last of the four phases – is causing the most problems. That's because it's difficult to reintroduce a wider selection of foods without putting weight back on, and many followers find it difficult to stick to a dedicated weekly "protein day."

There is a limited scientific support whether the Dukan Diet is effective and sustainable over the long term, so while one can expect to lose weight in the very strict initial stages of the diet, most go on to regain the weight they originally lost. A survey suggests that 80% of people regain weight over a period of more than 4 years.

More importantly, though, the diet ignores the basic tenets of healthy eating -- including the importance of fruits and vegetables, the benefits of whole grains and fiber, and the health benefits of selecting from a variety of food groups. For these reasons, the diet is likely to be nutritionally unbalanced. It can be argued that the Dukan Diet 2 attempts to address the issue of nutritional imbalance by introducing wider inclusion of food groups permitted and a shorter period of time. Weight loss as a result is said to be slower and more gradual, requiring a longer-term commitment to the plan.

Side effects

As a result of following a restrictive, low-carb diet, dieters can sometimes experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Lack of energy, tiredness and dizziness due to low levels of carbohydrates
  • Bad breath and dry mouth
  • Constipation and potential intestinal problems due to low fiber levels
  • Nutrient deficiencies due to limited food choice
  • Subsequent weight gain, particularly around the waist

Please note, if you are considering attempting any form of dieting, you should first consult your GP to ensure that you can do so without risk to your health.