Exclusive interview: Liz Jones grills diet doctor Pierre Dukan
This man has made 15 million women thin. In an exclusive interview, Liz Jones meets the controversial shape-up svengali who’s revolutionised our approach to weight loss
'My regime is about reaching your true weight, not being as skinny as a model'
It's surreal, a recovering anorexic meeting the biggest diet guru of them all: Dr Pierre Dukan, one million sales in the UK and counting, with disciples in 50 countries, from his native France to the US, South America and even China. The list of celebrity fans (from French president Franois Hollande to Carole Middleton – devotees are 60 per cent women, 40 per cent men) is almost as long as the list of permitted Dukan foods.
Dr Dukan peddles not just books, of course, but food products, supplements, the specially milled,
all-important oat bran, an interactive website…(and is therefore a man who makes a great deal of money). The Dukan special pancake mix is reportedly delicious, but I can’t try it as I’m vegan, and you have to add milk. This man is all about meat, isn’t he When we all know very soon the planet will not be able to feed its growing population unless we all turn veggie.
And surely we should be addressing the reasons why we are fat (myriad, from additives in food, to impossible standards in the media, to genetic predisposition): fix the problem at source, as it were, rather than mopping up after the event.
So when I meet Dr Dukan at a London caf, where he’s on a whirlwind book-signing tour, I’m sceptical. As an anorexic, dieting almost killed me. Being thin has ruled my life: I thought of nothing but food. I know the calories in half a banana, and the exact fat content of half an avocado. I know the more you starve your body, the less it can survive on: I lived for years on four cox’s apples and a Loseley yoghurt a day. And do we all really need to be a size 8 or 10, society’s ideal My mum was a size 14/16 all her life, and is 92!
But it turns out that the good doctor and I have the same goal: for women to not be thin or obese, just happy with the shape nature intended. Pierre Dukan is 70, with the immaculate, silver-haired, lightly tanned, well-manicured je ne sais quoi only a Frenchman can pull off. He’s charming. ‘Ah! But you have no need of my books. You are just right: not too thin, not fat at all! And such beautiful teeth!’ he says in an accent straight out of Central Casting. To cover my embarrassment, I ask how he transformed Carole Middleton from frump to chiselled goddess in the blink of an eye. ‘I sent Carole the books, dedicated to the Middleton family, because I know Lady Elizabeth Anson, who is the cousin of the Queen. She organised the royal wedding, and she lost 34lb with my method and was very grateful. Every time I come to London she brings me a cake with oat bran.’
Dr Dukan and Liz Jones go knife to fork
He’s proud, too, of the fact he helped the new president of France to power: Hollande lost 17 kilos on the Dukan diet. I’m surprised how popular his books are in France, given Frenchwomen all seem to eat butter and drink vats of red wine, but are still svelte. ‘We ’ave 22 million who are overweight and six and a half million obese, a little bit more man than woman. But yes, Frenchwomen resist better than Americans: when a Frenchwoman starts to put on pounds, she stops immediately. She has an allergy to weight.’
Dr Dukan started his career as a medical doctor, but decided to specialise in nutrition in 1973. The catalyst was a very overweight patient whom he was able to help. The patient loved to eat lots of meat, and wouldn’t have stuck to a diet of 2,000 calories
a day. Dukan had to figure out a way to help, and came up with the idea this man should just eat what he loves, lean meat, for a few days. The results were astonishing. His research using many more patients only confirmed that this quick protein boost (the ‘attack’ phase of the diet) really worked, particularly on men. ‘You can’t tell a big man used to the gastronomy to reduce his portions, it just won’t ’appen!’ He published his first book in 2000. ‘And in 2007 I was, without any publicity, number one in the charts, above even novelists. /08/15/article-0-148DAC5F000005DC-795_148x438.jpg” width=”148″ height=”438″ alt=”From frumpy to fabulous: Carole Middleton slimmed down with the Dukan diet” class=”blkBorder” />
From left, frumpy to fabulous: Carole Middleton slimmed down with the Dukan diet; Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins is said to be another celebrity fan; Jennifer Lopez and Penlope Cruz are rumoured to follow the plan when they need to shed the pounds
The Dukan method
Attack: around five days of only protein (steak, fish).
Cruise: 100 foods in unlimited quantities. This stage lasts for three days for each pound you want to lose.
days for each pound lost in the Cruise phase. Once at your ‘true’
weight, you can eat protein and vegetables, one piece of fruit, two
slices of wholemeal bread, one serving of hard cheese a day. You can
have carbs twice a week, two celebration meals a week, and one pure protein day, say every Thursday.
Stabilisation: one pure protein day every week for life, no taking lifts or escalators, three tablespoons of oat bran a day.
Many say Dukan is more controversial than the man who said you can eat cake and still lose weight. Dukan says aspartame, as found in diet soda, is OK; that school pupils who lose weight should get extra marks, and also that pregnant women should perhaps be on a diet, too.
‘It is natural there are critics,’ he says, elaborately gesticulating. He voluntarily struck himself off the medical register in France rather than face disciplinary action over the comment that teenage pupils who kept to ‘ideal weights’ should be given extra marks in exams. ‘But 90 per cent of the criticism comes from the food-industry lobbyists. All I said was that if a pregnant woman puts on too much weight, there is risk. And that 16 per cent of young people off to university commonly put on weight. If we could preserve some of them it would be nice. If the lobbyists knew me before I was famous, they would have killed me, but now I am known it is hard to kill me totally.’
I begin to realise that Dukan, despite the millions – ‘I still live in an apartment in Paris with my wife. No, we don’t have a yacht, but we do have a house in Spain, that is my luxury. I like to cook, too. I’ve been married 32 years. I am very fidel [sic] to her, there is no time!’ – actually cares about his patients. When I ask if he finds the obesity in the US shocking, he says, ‘No, I suffer for them. I like them because they are not really ill, like with the cancer, but feel they are outside of society. They are sensitive and emotional and I like that because the difference between an overweight person and a normal weight one is that the overweight suffer. I want to help.’
So you’re not judgmental ‘No, just like if they were ill. It’s a mental problem. I’ve never seen
an obese person who has said, “I am well in my mind.” Happiness stops food being a compensation. If you love a man, immediately you will reduce your intake of food – it’s automatic.’
I’m starting to be seduced. What about the influence of impossible ideals in the media Isn’t that a factor, too ‘After the war, we entered a new world, with economic problems. If you want people to consume, you must destroy the natural satisfactions, such as family, sex and so on. Unhappy people consume more.’ Which I think is a very French way of saying, yes, we have been brainwashed to be dissatisfied with ourselves, so we buy more…clothes, diet food, pills, doughnuts when the diet doesn’t work, beauty products.
Dr Dukan with devotees Michelle Grice (left), who shed more than three stone, and Sarah Glennie, who lost 11 stone
What I like about the Dukan method is that the target weight is not for, say, a woman who is 5ft 6in and has been 15 stone to be eight stone. Which is never going to happen. ‘My regime is about reaching your true weight, not about being as skinny as a model, which is not realistic for 99.9 per cent of the population,’ he says. ‘If someone fills in the questionnaire on the website to sign up, and that person is not overweight, they will not be allowed to join.’
So, why should the very overweight never aspire to be super-thin He explains, ‘When you put on weight, the fat cells become larger. When the membrane becomes too stretched, the cell divides and makes more fat. And you’ll never get rid of these fat cells because two cannot become one again. When your BMI reaches 29, that is when your fat cells will start to multiply. When you have a BMI of 28, be careful – don’t go into 29.’
Dukan also talks about ‘rebound’. This is what happens when your body is being starved: it becomes a ‘calorie sponge’. This is the reason most diets don’t work: your body just becomes more efficient at eating less. The Dukan way is not about counting calories or restriction, as long as you stick to his food groups.
So how many people do not just lose weight from his regime but, more importantly, keep it off He is candid about figures. ‘Twenty-five per cent are cured. It’s not a lot, but it’s five times more than the usual technique of low-carb diets: the success rate there is normally three or four per cent after five years. Buy my book, you have a one in four chance of success.’ (Broadcaster Jenni Murray was famously one of his failures, losing five stone and putting it all back on again.)
But the proof, of course, is not in the pudding, exactly, but in the women who have followed him like disciples. At the book signing later that day, I meet Sarah Glennie, a 36-year-old wedding planner from Nottingham. She put on weight after her marriage broke up: she went up to a size 24 – hard to believe looking at her now, given she is curvaceous, blonde and attractive, in a look-at-me dress. ‘I was so heavy, I couldn’t even walk up stairs. I tried every diet going, then I bought my first Dr Dukan book. I lost 7lb in seven days. It was easy. Now, after just a few months, I am 11 stone lighter. Dr Dukan has retrained the way I think: I now eat to live, not live to eat.’ Does she follow his regime religiously ‘The only thing I do differently is exercise more: I run ten miles a day. He’s changed my life.’
Other women have almost identical stories. Michelle Grice, a 44-year-old office administrator from Bedford, bought her first book in February this year, and in four months lost 3 stone. At her biggest, she was 18 stone. ‘I would take weight off, and put it on again. I was miserable. I’m in “consolidation” now, using the support on the website, and I’m a
size 10. I weigh myself every day. I don’t really treat myself, and if I slip back I have a day of protein. I’m just here because I want to thank Dr Dukan.’ Finally, I meet Marion Main, a children’s physiotherapist. She bought the book at Easter 2010 and just months later had lost 3 stone for a wedding. Crucially, she hasn’t put the pounds back on. ‘The doctor is quite nice, isn’t he’ I say, as she stands in line.
‘He’s not just nice, he’s my hero!’
I take my leave from Planet Dukan, and as I do so, I ask if he ever has to follow his own diktats. ‘After Christmas, New Year, holidays I might have a protein day. But I am lucky! I have good genes!’
And that’s it in a goji berry (also available from his website). Fat people aren’t lazy or greedy. Sometimes, they are unhappy or just have bad genes. They need a helping hand, surely And Dr Dukan is just the man for the job.
The Dukan Diet 100 Eat as Much as You Want Foods is published by Hodder & Stoughton, 14.99. To order a copy for 11.99 with free p&p, contact the you bookshop on 0843 382 1111, you-bookshop.co.uk The Complete Dukan Cookbook (Hodder & Stoughton, 25) will be out in October