Thursday, April 21, 2011

Do you Dukan?

Sound the Royal horns… Here comes the best-selling Dukan Diet book, amidst widely publicized rumors that Kate Middleton and her Mom used the now famous diet to slim down for the big day. Written by eminent French nutritionist Dr Pierre Dukan, the four phase program is being touted as the French dieter’s secret. Dr. Dukan developed this diet to treat his morbidly obese patients, not for a duchess-to-be who wanted to lose a couple of inches off her slim waist.

I was going to bulldoze the Dukan Diet’s credibility until nothing but a paper-thin smudge was left, because I don’t like “diets”, especially the trendy variety. Fad diets tend to create failure by making promises they can’t keep, until the dieter becomes so frustrated, weight and food obsessed, they’ll try an even more risky or unproven diet.

Here comes the lowdown. This is probably a slightly risky, rather inconvenient way to lose weight. You can lose weight with nasty side effects, roller-coaster trips up and down the scale, food-obsessions and a sense of deprivation, or without those things. Here are my “Bests” and “Worsts” of the Dukan Diet. You can apply these to any eating regimen/diet and test it like a paper airplane to see if it’ll fly.


Once you eliminate sugary treats, baked goods, and oily french fries
you can actually start to taste, with pleasure, the more subtle flavors and textures of protein and vegetables that are not smothered in rich, gooey or sweet sauces or toppings. Something about sugar, cream sauces, and butter triggers cravings in us, and the habit of it makes us less adventurous with herbs, spices and cooking methods that bring out the subtle aromas and tastes of fresh food.

The Dukan Diet encourages walking and other aerobic exercise.
Thirty minutes or more of consistent exercise releases endorphins, which are little reward chemicals for your brain. When you are trying to stay out of the kitchen and remove yourself from places where you normally eat your extra or junk calories, going for exercise is great not just for burning calories but for enhancing your mood, without extra food.

The Dukan Diet doesn’t rely on counting calories...
which can be a nuisance, and a tempting rule to break. But, if you want to lose weight, you still have to have a basic idea of your daily calorie intake.


It’s not Practical.
The Dukan Diet has four official phases. In the first phase you are on a strictly lean protein and water diet, plus a couple of spoonfuls of oat bran each day. Can you see being at a conference, a restaurant, or your aunt’s 50th birthday dinner? What are you going to do, pull some deli turkey out of your purse and munch on it? There are ways to start a diet without all that social embarrassment and self-torture.

You can eat “all you want”.
What could be wrong with that, eh? How are you going to learn to recognize what is “enough” and when you are full, if you can eat “all you want”? For most Americans, all you want means, go ahead, stuff yourself. This is not a way to keep your BMI in the zone.

It makes you Obsess about Food.
Even in phase two and three, the Dukan Diet is very particular about which proteins and especially vegetables you can eat, and how many days of the week you follow a certain regimen. It would make a crazy food obsessed person out of me, I’m sure. The last thing you should do to your relationship with the food you eat, is to let it devour all your attention, and trigger your guilt switch every time you see a sweet potato.

It throws you Out of Balance.
The more I learn about nutrition the more I see why cutting out whole food groups for more than say, a few days, is a really bad idea. A natural, varied diet contains a whole carnival of vitamin interactions, fiber, fatty acids (the Omega 3’s and 6’s), minerals and nutrients that regulate your blood sugar, iron levels, liver function, skin structure and immune response. You name it, if it involves your cells and organs there’s a group of foods for that. They all work together, and that’s why eliminating say, 99% of your carbs will lead to some sort of deficiency.

If you aren’t morbidly obese or trying to shed ten quick pounds for your wedding day, (and don’t care if you gain it back) I suggest you skip the Dukan Diet and try something less complicated, safer, and more long term. So, hey Princess (and Prince Charming) lay off the second helpings, hide the cookies and cream, and look for a diet that’s going to keep you physically and emotionally in balance.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bountiful Bite: Craving Conundrums

Have you kept your New Year's resolution to slim down, exercise regularly, and eat smarter? Yes, until it snowed, until your daughter left a big bowl of chips and onion dip on the counter? Until your best friend's baby shower/cake fest, or the Call of the PMS? I understand, really I do.

Ah, the craving monster, or should I say the Monster Craving. It gets inside your brain, literally, and gets your mouth watering. It would be nice to pop a pill and stop the craving, but there is no safe snake-oil remedy, so listen up. You were biologically programmed from cave-guy (and cave-chick) days to crave food when it was available, and your brain was included in this programming. To this day, we still respond like neanderthals to delicious smells and visually appealing food. What to do?

The first action I recommend is biological, and for those women suffering the cravings of PMS. During PMS the amount of serotonin in a woman's brain tends to drop, and so she craves fatty snacks or chocolate. While this is natural, it's not that helpful. Exercise, sex, and a sense of accomplishment can also raise serotonin. So -ahem- go full throttle, ladies. You should also have your calcium levels checked because several studies, like this one published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, show that ovarian hormones affect our levels of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. Magnesium helps regulate muscle relaxation and blood sugar levels, and helps you absorb calcium. Blood sugar ups and downs = cravings.


Male or female, young or old, none are totally immune to the allure of every brownie, pizza pie, french fry and donut we pass.

Like any behavior you'd like to change, you can get a handle on the Craving Monster and the way "it" makes you behave. Let's say I want to be more positive. Oprah and dozens of well-known psychologists advise us to surround ourselves with positive role models, give ourselves positive internal dialog, give negativity a wide berth, and set reasonable goals. My money's on this working for food cravings.

Surround yourself with positive role models. In the case of food, this may mean you need to get your significant other to be an ally as your anti-craving advocate. Stopping for lunch? Walk the extra two blocks to the healthy spot. Read books or blogs by chefs or nutritionists who inspire you. And flip the channel when the 'chip-i-tos' commercial comes on. Stock your pantry with fruit, whole grain snacks and other healthy snack choices.

Positive internal dialog.
Here are examples: "I don't need to eat that, because I had some last week." "I'll just have one square of dark chocolate with this tangerine." "When I go home tonight I'll be so glad I didn't eat all those fries." "There's a smoothie with my name on it after my workout."

Give negativity a wide berth: In the case of cravings this means walking down the other hall to avoid the break room where the red velvet cake sits. Bring a non-food gift to the party. Don't anticipate cravings by bringing junk food home. Don't give any credit to those who say "You have to try this!" or "You know you'll give in, you always do."

Set reasonable goals:
You know what this means. Have you seen someone try to flip from a pastry and fast-food diet to 100% macrobiotic in one day? It didn't work, did it? There will be times, like before a big test or after a particularly stressful day that you will oblige the craving monster (in a hopefully not too egregious way). No reason to beat yourself up over it.

So if you're ready, as I am, start applying a little positive psychology to your cravings. Kudos, from
the Bountiful Bite.

Additonal Reference: