The Dukan Diet has received a lot of attention lately – not surprisingly, I’m sure, due to the press over the lovely Kate Middleton ostensibly following it to shed a few pre-wedding pounds. Astonishingly, this young woman who is no larger than a stalk of bamboo feels the need to be thinner and her “challenge” has produced a surge of interest in a diet that could be called a fad. But is it? Does it work? Is it sustainable?
Popular diets come and go – and many get recycled. The Dukan Diet, designed by Dr. Pierre Dukan as a way to treat his obese patients, has been popular in France for many years and has more recently captured the imagination of dieters in the U.K. Similar to the Atkins Diet, Dukan focuses on very high-protein meals and intense carbohydrate restriction. The appealing aspect of Dukan over Adkins is that, on certain days, wine and dessert are allowed. No wonder the French love it. The plan, if followed religiously, can result in rapid, sensational weight loss – the magic bullet that many dieters desperately seek. That in itself would seem motivating enough to stick with it. So why is it that the majority of people who embark on food-restrictive diets like Dukan end up falling off the wagon only to resume their quest for permanent weight loss with another magic promise plan? Part of the answer is we don’t fully understand how the restrictions of these diets affect our bodies and how our bodies fight back. So, in the interest of understanding just what will help you shed those unwanted pounds while maintaining good health, I’d like to unpack this popular diet trend.
High Protein Diets
The success of high-protein diets, like Adkins and Dukan, and others like South Beach, especially in their early stages, is that protein is very filling and metabolizes slowly which prevents dieters from feeling hungry. Much of the early weight loss from these diets is from water housed in your muscle. For some that loss can be rapid which can be euphoric. The difficulty many find is that when moving onto the next stages of these diets, the weight loss plateaus or even reverses. Why?
Because bodies need a balance of nutrients to survive and thrive, maintain a strong immune system and fight disease. When nutrients are out of balance, deficiencies occur that the body attempts to regulate, but after an extended period of deprivation, cannot. In the case of a protein-centric diet, the excess of protein comes at the expense of plant-based foods which are low in fat and packed with essential nutrients that regulate our body’s daily functions. Reduction of carbohydrates means a reduction of fiber which is essential to our digestive health as well as maintaining and lowering cholesterol. High amounts of protein, even of a lean variety, mean higher amounts of saturated fats. That can lead to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke (yes, even in someone as young as the lovely Kate Middleton).
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel created when foods are converted into glucose (or blood sugar) and used immediately or stored for later use. Carbohydrates help to stabilize blood sugar and, with the appropriate fiber from “good carbs” help us to feel full for a lengthy amount of time. Every cell and tissue in our body needs glucose to function properly. Without carbohydrates, the body begins to pull stored glucose from the muscle and liver, leading to muscle breakdown and possibly ketosis, a state in which your body begins to burn its own essential fats instead of glucose for energy. Ketosis can result in conditions such as gout, kidney stones or kidney failure.
I’ve said before in this column that your body is a biological super-computer. It knows when it isn’t getting what it needs to work properly. Muscle breakdown and ketosis are the body’s way of trying to survive. The visible weight loss you might achieve on a popular diet will always be at the expense of your health by means of deprivation. Your body’s strangled cry for balance is why most popular, food-restrictive diets can’t be sustained.
Finding the balanced diet of whole foods that embraces variety and sensible portions and modifying your lifestyle to reduce stress as well as nourish you through non-food means are just several of the real magic bullets to finding your “right” weight and transitioning to a vibrant life. If done well, you can have your wine and dessert too.
Mary Porter is a nutrition educator and counselor living in the Fort Hunt area. Her company, A Better Plate, works with individuals, corporations and groups teaching the art and practice of nourishment. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org