food / travel

Pierre Dukan, France’s Nouvelle (Old School) Diet Guru

The latest international connoisseur on the secrets of weight loss is an old-school doctor who isn’t afraid to call you ‘fat’.

filet mignon (markomni)
filet mignon (markomni)
Veronique Grousset

PARIS - When he talks about weight, Pierre Dukan isn't always tender. He's the only acclaimed nutritionist author to consistently refer to his readers as "fat," and tell them they'll have to be on a diet "for life." His publisher at Flammarion called his blunt wording a "major marketing mistake" and predicted "a sure failure" if he didn't tweak his text. But the doctor stood his ground, and after selling 3 millions copies of his book worldwide, Dukan will not be softening his approach anytime soon.

"If you want to be understood by people who want to lose weight you have to be straightforward," he says. Dukan points to the "Five fruits and vegetables a day" campaign, a French state-sponsored nutrition campaign. "It cost millions of euros, but no one understood what it meant! I do the opposite: I tell my patients exactly what they can and cannot eat, without giving them a way out, and they're thankful for that."

He says calling his followers "fat" doesn't offend them. "You should hear them talk about themselves, they're much harsher then I am! ‘I'm obese", ‘I'm a monster", ‘I'm disgusting"; that's what they say, that's how they see themselves!"

It's true that these days, extra pounds don't only weigh on our hips or arteries; they also weigh on our mood: people who are overweight are increasingly affected in their personal and professional lives. A deep uneasiness that could explain why the Dukan diet, created more than 20 years ago, started catching on in a major way only the past five years.

People don't lose weight for the same reasons they used to, explains Dukan, noting that doctors in the 1960s and 1970s only sent people with extreme cases of obesity to nutritionists and dieticians.

"Then weight loss became seasonal: you would start a diet in April, before summer, to look good for the beach or fit in your wedding dress," he said. "Today, people want to lose weight for health reasons, but mostly to improve their self-image, to keep their jobs or boost their careers."

He said being chubby is no longer associated with enjoying life, being nice and open to others, but is rather "seen as a sign of weakness, lack of will power and self-control. The big CEOs got it first, followed by political heavyweights. But the phenomenon is broader, my patients' profiles have changed as a whole: now I treat almost as many men and women, all younger, in better shape and more motivated than ever."

Yes, he still actually meets with patients. For the past 40 years, he's been in the same office, in a large building in an upscale Paris neighborhood, which he shares with 8 others, including a dentist, a dermatologist, two OBGYNs and several plastic surgeons.

Though he insists that he's the same Parisian physician he always was, he has become a mini marketing phenomenon: you can now buy the Dukan brand, which includes bran loafs and prepackaged meals, at supermarkets; his book I Don't Know How to Lose Weight has been on the bestseller list since 2006; some 400 blogs or forums refer to his name, and there are more than five million dukanians and dukanettes (as they call themselves) in France alone who follow his strict anti-fat and anti-sugar diktats.

His calling dates back to the discovery of dietetics in the late 1960s, when Dukan was already practicing in Paris as a young doctor, specializing in neurology. "That field wasn't for me. I was suffering almost as much as my patients. I quickly found out that I have too much empathy to become a neurologist and that I'd be a better doctor if I helped those who enjoyed life too much rather than those who were dying."

That's when he got interested in nutrition by listening to the teachings of the field's pioneer, Professor Gilbert Dreyfus: "To be taken seriously, they were trying to get as close to exact sciences like physics, chemistry, mathematics. That's how they came up with the rule of the 1,500 calories a day and the balance between protein, carbs and lipids."

But the young Dukan was already skeptical of these rules that are "impossible to follow on a daily basis, and in the long run." But he wouldn't have invented anything if in 1969 he hadn't met the person he refers to in all of his books as "the man of my life": publisher Pierre Seghers, with whom he shared a passion for poetry, who then weighed 130 kilos and who one day asked him to help lose weight by "depriving him of anything if necessary, except meat." Dukan said yes without knowing what he was getting himself into. And it worked: Seghers, happy to be able to eat like a prehistoric carnivore, lost 5 kilos in just a week, and soon the word began to spread. In 1975, his first book's success (125,000 copies sold), helped him build a huge practice.

A very dangerous disease

He admits however that his method wasn't complete: "I built it like a rocket, stage by stage," he recalled. "First, the "all protein" sprint. People were happy, they were losing weight fast, but it didn't work: six months later, they had gained it all back. When I added Stage Two, with the vegetables, they only came back a year later, but they still came back. I sold them a dream, an empty dream. If I had been just a businessman, that would have been enough, but not as a doctor: I treated, but I didn't cure."

Dukan says being overweight is indeed a real disease, and a very dangerous one that kills more people than smoking does. Beyond cardiovascular diseases, being overweight is also responsible for some forms of cancer, diabetes and bone problems.

His approach is built around what he calls "stabilization," which other diets do not use, including the American Atkins diet. Still, his approach caught on not for reaching "stable" Stage 4, but the speed at which you lose weight during stages 1 and 2, even when eating twice as much as usual: so long as you don't touch sugar or fat.

Stage 3 is when things get tough. That's when patients are allowed to indulge occasionally. Many put on some weight, even when being careful. This means that the Dukan diet's efficiency still has not been proven. His own personal results, however, seem to be working. Over a long lunch, he ate three endive leaves dipped in a mix of water, mustard and balsamic vinegar. Questioned about his own slips, Dukan answered without irony: "I eat two apples for each meal. Yes two… I know that's a lot, but I love that. I'm excessive."

Read the original article in French

Photo credit - (markomni)

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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