What Is The Dukan Diet And Does It Work For Weight Loss?

What Is The Dukan Diet And Does It Work For Weight Loss?

Let’s face it: Many people wish for a quick fix when it comes to losing weight, which is why fad diets and weight loss medications like Ozempic get so popular so fast. They promise drastic results in a super short time frame with relatively little effort. The Dukan Diet is no different.

You might have heard whispers about this diet back in 2011, thanks to rumors that Princess Kate Middleton was using the program to drop weight before her fairytale wedding to Prince William. Or, perhaps you heard more recent rumors that Jennifer Lopez, Gisele Bündchen, and Gossip Girl star Jessica Szohr have allegedly used it to lose weight in the past. So, it’s natural to be curious about a diet that is allegedly one followed by the rich and famous.

The diet gained momentum after The Dukan Diet book was published in 2000, selling over three million copies, but its history actually dates back to the 1970s. The regimen was invented by Pierre Dukan, a French doctor intrigued by the success he found in using this diet with patients struggling with obesity.

Meet the experts: Amanda Steingart, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Austin, Texas. Carolyn Newberry, MD, is a gastroenterologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

So, is the Dukan Diet really a sustainable and effective route for weight loss? Women’s Health asked experts to break down the science. TLDR; They’re not convinced. And, FYI, the Dukan Diet was named one of the top five diets to avoid by the British Dietetic Association in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Dukan Diet.

What is the Dukan Diet?

This low-carb, protein-heavy, restrictive diet that promotes rapid weight loss, and was originally created to help people with obesity lose weight and maintain that weight loss. The regimen includes four main phases: “Attack,” “Cruise,” “Consolidation,” and “Stabilization.” The time spent in each of these phases is dependent on how much weight the person wants to lose.

Like the popular keto diet, the Dukan Diet also prioritizes macronutrients and includes daily workout guidelines. (Throughout the diet, you’re supposed to do at least 20 minutes of cardio each day.)

Attack Phase

In the “Attack” phase, you spend two to five days eating lean protein with three tablespoons of oat bran daily. Then, you cut everything else out. That means no fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates, grains, alcohol, sugar, and fats.

The lean proteins can be selected from a list of 69 options (think: chicken, beef, and fish, and small amounts of vegetarian proteins like soy or tofu). You can also consume fat-free dairy products.

FWIW, diets that emphasize protein can help you digest more slowly, allowing you to stay full for longer, says Amanda Steingart, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Austin, Texas. Protein digestion also burns more calories than carbohydrate digestion, she adds.

Cruise Phase

This lasts three days for each pound you’re trying to lose, so it varies from person to person. During this phase, you start to add back non-starchy vegetables to your diet, including leafy greens and root vegetables. You alternate your protein and veggie days, with one day of only lean proteins, and one day of meat and vegetables together.

Consolidation Phase

The third phase is supposed to prevent you from yo-yoing back to your starting weight. Here, you still prioritize non-starchy vegetables and lean proteins, but start to add carbohydrates and fats, like fruit and whole grain bread, back in. Unfortunately, foods like bananas, grapes, figs, alcohol and sugar are still prohibited.

Stabilization Phase

The final phase continues helping with weight-loss maintenance but no longer prohibits certain food groups. The only stipulation is that you should still prioritize lean meats and eat in moderation.

Does the Dukan Diet work for weight loss?

Well, yes…and no. Limiting carbs can “produce rapid weight loss,” says Carolyn Newberry, MD, a gastroenterologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. But most of that weight sloughing off is likely water weight, not fat, she notes. And the effects might not be long term.

“Although these diets produce rapid weight loss initially, they’re very hard to sustain over time,” Dr. Newberry says. Specifically, as you integrate more food groups like carbs back in, you could gain the weight right back.

Instead of a super restrictive diet plan, Dr. Newberry likes to work with dietitians and patients to promote more balanced eating habits.

“People always want a quick fix,” Steingart says. But the reality is that lasting weight loss “takes time.”

Who is the Dukan Diet best for?

It’s hard to know who would *actually* benefit from starting an intense program like this one. And while Dr. Newberry might encourage a patient to incorporate some of the diet’s general elements (limiting processed sugar, cutting excess carbs, or eating lean meats) she wouldn’t recommend the full diet as it is written to anyone. “I’m not sure there’s any particular patient population I would say this is a good diet for, broadly,” Dr. Newberry explains.

Steingart is on the same page. “I wouldn’t recommend my clients to eat this high amount of protein, it’s more about a balanced diet,” she says.

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Is the Dukan Diet safe?

To put it simply, Steingart says these types of fad diets are “more harmful for your health than beneficial.” The Dukan Diet is all about extremes, which can certainly have some negative health impacts.

A 2015 study of 51 women on the Dukan Diet found they had “many nutritional abnormalities” while following the program. Plus, not consuming adequate calories can slow your metabolism, and some people may experience fatigue when cutting out certain foods, Steingart adds. For that reason, she recommends consulting a doctor before starting the diet.

And while Dr. Newberry isn’t a fan of the diet in general, she adamantly would not recommend it to anyone with a history of disordered eating or advanced kidney disease. “Very high protein loads, particularly animal-based protein, can cause issues with kidneys,” such as kidney stones, she says.

The bottom line: The Dukan Diet seems to have more negatives than positives and may not be healthy or safe for weight loss for most people.


Currie Engel is the associate news editor at Women’s Health. She previously worked as an award-winning local reporter specializing in health investigations and features, and as a researcher at Time magazine.