That’s not to say that I’m technically overweight or obese. I’ve managed to keep my weight in check thanks to a dedicated fitness regimen—which includes a hearty dose of cardio and strength training. But you know that saying that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet? Well, I have a stubborn stomach pudge that no amount of HIIT or heavy deadlifts seems to melt. The cure, I knew, would be found in a diet featuring fewer simple carbs and more stomach-satisfying proteins and veggies.
I’ve tried to curb my carb obsession for years, with mixed success. And so, desperate to finally get rid of that extra stomach flab that has always made me feel self-conscious, I decided to try a low-carb, high-protein diet known as the Dukan Diet.
While The Dukan Diet book was first published in 2000, the weight-loss plan gained international attention when Kate Middleton reportedly followed it in the months before her 2011 wedding to Prince William. And hey, Kate looked pretty damn good walking down the aisle.
With the Dukan Diet, you move through four distinct phases: “Attack,” “Cruise,” “Consolidation,” and “Stabilization.” How long you spend in the first three diet phases depends on how much weight you want to lose.
For example, the first phase, “Attack,” typically lasts two to five days, and you’re only allowed to choose from a list of 68 high-protein foods, such as beef tenderloin, chicken, seitan, reduced-fat bacon, and fat-free dairy products (fatty meats and full-fat dairy products not included).
In the second phase, “Cruise,” you can add 32 different kinds of veggies to your diet (think: kale, lettuce, artichokes, squash, spinach, and tomato, although the last one is technically a fruit). According to the Dukan Diet website, the average length of this phase is three days for every pound you want to lose. What’s still not allowed? Grains. Of any kind.
The third phase, “Consolidation,” is designed to prevent the rebound effect we’ve all experienced as we’ve gone “on” and “off” diets. In it, you slowly reintroduce previously forbidden foods by giving yourself two “celebration meals” per week. The average length of this phase is five days for every pound you want to lose.
The fourth and final phase, “Stabilization,” is supposed to last for the rest of your life. In this phase, there are no forbidden foods, but you’re advised to control your eating to prevent weight regain.
And to keep your weight in check, the website advises you follow three non-negotiable rules for the rest of your life: eat three tablespoons of oat bran per day, walk 20 minutes and take the stairs whenever possible, and eat nothing but protein-rich foods every Thursday. (I can get behind the second rule, but the other two? Not so much.)
To learn more about what I was getting myself into, I chatted with Samantha Heller, R.D.N., adjunct professor of nutrition and health at the University of Bridgeport, and senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health. Heller is most decidedly not a fan of the Dukan Diet.
For one thing, the diet is highly restrictive. In it, you’re cutting out carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, and even fruit which, as Heller argues, is antithetical to what our bodies actually need. “Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for our brains, our exercising muscles and most of the cells in our bodies. So why would you want to cut those out?” she says.
What’s more, the Dukan Diet results don’t include learning sustainable weight-loss habits, such as eating in moderation, Heller adds.
Before starting the diet, I had to calculate my target weight (what the Dukan Diet refers to as “True Weight”). Using a free tool on the website, I plugged in a host of info about myself, including my gender, current weight, age, height, diet history, average weight, tendency to gain weight, and body frame size.
Then, I hit “Calculate” and received a personalized plan, plus the option to participate in a paid coaching program. (I opted out of the coaching program.)
According to my personalized plan, I had about 11 pounds to lose, which was what I’d expected. If I followed the diet as outlined, I would reach my “true weight” by February 4 if I started on January 1. That included one day in “Attack,” six days in “Cruise,” and seven days in “Consolidation.” Then, the theory goes, I would be able to hang out in “Stabilization” forever.
The first day—the protein-only “Attack” day—was by far the toughest. I was so used to reaching for a granola bar or piece of fruit when I felt hunger pangs, that suddenly needing to find and prepare my meals and snacks was a huge shock. I (barely) survived by scarfing large amounts of Greek yogurt, a protein shake made with 100 percent whey protein and skim milk, and shredded chicken in chicken broth. (It’s worth noting that protein powder isn’t actually listed as one of the 100 foods allowed on the diet; I took some liberties.)
In fact, I took many liberties during those two weeks. Or, as my husband put it when he caught me drizzling diet-unapproved honey on a bowl of Greek yogurt one day: “I feel like you’re reading between the lines of this diet.”
It didn’t help that I’d sooner eat peanut butter sandwiches for days on end than cook a healthy, delicious meal. But since peanut butter and bread were off-limits, I swallowed my distaste for cooking and threw together a couple of simple, protein-rich soups designed to last the entire two weeks. I also mixed up a large salad that was chock-full of romaine lettuce, peppers, onion, and feta cheese, and topped with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The six days I spent on the protein- and veggie-only “Cruise” phase were rough, but the soups and salad helped tide me over for most of my meals. When I needed a quick snack, I’d share a small bowl of yogurt with my cat, grab a couple of cheese slices, or give in to my carb cravings and sneak a Kind bar or a few squares of chocolate.
Things went a lot smoother once I reached the “Consolidation” phase and could re-introduce previously forbidden foods. Yes, technically I’d already been doing that, but at least now I didn’t feel so guilty about it. I’ve found that I don’t cope well when someone tells me I can’t eat something; it only makes me want that something (i.e. carbs) even more.
Even though I strayed from the diet here and there, I managed to lose five pounds by the end of two weeks. It’s hardly noticeable in photos, but I can definitely see and feel the difference.
And you know what? I’m glad that I broke the rules on this diet. Sure, I probably could have lost more weight if I’d been strict, but the truth is, the way I ate during those two weeks was actually sustainable for me. Instead of relying on nothing but carbs, carbs, carbs to keep me fueled throughout the day, I was learning to reach for alternatives like protein- and veggie-rich soup, heaping salads, and healthily large doses of Greek yogurt. And in the process of adding more variety to my diet, I also cut back (a little) on unhealthy snacks, like handfuls of chips and extra granola bars.
Now that the diet is officially over, I plan to keep up the healthy habits I practiced, as well as develop some new habits. Namely, I plan to expand my protein options, so I’m not stuck eating Greek yogurt and chicken all the time. (Heller recommends trying plant-based proteins such as beans, hummus, veggie burgers, tofu, edamame, and seitan, which are all allowed on the Dukan Diet.)
But don’t get me wrong, I still plan on eating the occasional donut. Or two.