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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

To Dukan or not to Dukan?

Any bestselling diet whether it be Atkins, South Beach or the Dukan will create headline news, as the millions and millions of overweight adults around the world search for the elusive answer to their long term weight issues.

In turn, any heavily marketed diet will also warrant much criticism, from both health professionals who revert to their standard line of, “you need to eat healthy, low fat food and exercise if you want to lose weight long term”, as well as from unsuccessful losers who love nothing more than to blame yet another program for their failed attempts at weight loss.

The Dukan Diet has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, which would suggest there may be something we can learn from the program when it comes to weight loss. A closer look at the 4 phase regime reveals that it is simply a high protein plan initially followed by the gradual reintroduction of a small amount of wholegrain carbs and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables – basically a French style of eating with a couple of cheat meals in which you can enjoy your wine, pastries and dessert. The novel factor is of course the weekly return to a protein only day, very similar to following a day of low calorie eating. So if it is so basic, why has the program gained such popularity?

I have worked in the area of weight loss for both children and adults for more than 10 years, and all that weight loss talk has taught me a few key things about human beings and their approach to weight loss. The first thing being that even though you and I both know that weight loss comes down to calories in versus calories out, this message does not sell. To be able to win the attention and adherence of our clients we have to be able to sell a quirky “product” which is exactly what Dukan does. Next, the diet must get results immediately or our fast based, instant gratification fuelled clientele will nto be back – again Dukan uses the protein only approach to kick start weight loss. And finally, for anyone who works in weight loss, you will know that in a number of cases the calories in versus calories out approach to dieting does not always work. In fact, for a large number of metabolically challenged clients, those with insulin resistance, PCOS and pre diabetes, if anything a high carb, low fat traditional diet approach is perhaps the worst thing we can offer. A diet such as Dukan does give you an opportunity to significantly alter the profiles of carbs, protein and fat and often induce weight loss in individuals who thus far have been unsuccessful in losing weight using a more traditional approach.

So, what do I think as a nutritionist about the Dukan approach? Personally, I could think of nothing worse than eating only protein for a day and would rather carry a few extra kg than put myself through this deprivation. For my client though, it is a different story. I have used more extreme diets including Dukan in my practice, particularly for clients who have severe metabolic issues after years of dieting with good results. It is not the only answer but can be an option for those who have tried a range of other approaches with no results. They do not necessarily do it forever, but compared to some of the diets and detoxes out there, Dukan is a viable option, at least in the short term to shift weight initially.

Whenever a new program comes out and health professionals step onto their soapbox whining about the issues with the latest diet craze, without proposing any other viable options for those people who need to lose weight quickly, I always keep in mind that it is not my job to tell them how to lose weight but to help them lose it and if Dukan can help in times, so be it. It is a diet, not a political empire and as long as it does not cause undue damage what is the big issue?