I’ve tried a few. Most of us have. They all have pluses and minuses. Most work just fine if you actually follow them.
They also have a tendency to make us a little nutty.
A number-phobe, I've run complicated cost/benefit analysis on waning Weight Watchers points. I've dreamed — and I mean dreamed — of fresh-baked French baguettes on South Beach, waking up one step away from emptying my 401K for a permanent move to Paris. I started off strong with Couch 2 5K (not a diet, but a great exercise plan) only to be stymied by the realization I live on a mountain and dashing out for a quick walk/run felt like torture to the unfit.
The trick, of course, is realizing that whatever part of your life was an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink, no-exercise-but-still-looking-pretty-fine, buffet is over.
Right now I’m trying the Dukan Diet. For me it always helps to have some framework to get back on the dieting wagon and it’s essentially South Beach-esque, which is great for the carb-addicted among us, a.k.a. me. Plus, nothing like registering your “baby” for kindergarten to get you thinking it’s time to lose the baby weight for good. (And staring down 40 at the same time.)
Plus I’m a sucker for fads and this is the worst sort to suck you in — it’s the pre-wedding diet Kate Middleton and her mother allegedly tried. I’m practically ordering Kate and William commemorative plates off QVC. At least I'm not the only one. The book is now No. 2 on the Amazon bestseller list.
But this column is about creative cooking, not dieting. What gives?
The Dukan Diet, at least the first full week of it, the most restrictive phase, has tested my kitchen creativity in ways I could never have imagined. The first week you eat only from a list of 72 foods — that’s it! Seventy-two foods and nothing more. This is my second to last day and I miraculously didn't "cheat" once. I was too busy shoveling grilled chicken into my maw and lunching on sushi minus the rice.
(I have to give a shout-out to in Briarcliff for its great tuna sashimi, a huge yes on the most restrictive part of the diet. Wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce are OK too in small amounts. Score!)
But first, they should re-name it the Cholula hot sauce diet because that’s all I keep dousing on the insane amounts of protein I’ve been consuming. Alternatively, the joy-that-is-fat-free-Chobani-yogurt diet. I’ve been living on that too.
The basic gist is to pack your plate with lower-fat protein choices (chicken, turkey, fish, non-fatty cuts of beef) paired with low-fat dairy for a few days to jump start weight loss. Then you add green, leafy vegetables in alternating days and once on a roll, start throwing in a few carbs and celebratory “eat-anything” meals.
I’m not a nutritionist, and no one should start a diet without talking to their doctor first, but the best thing to take away from this diet, even if you have no weight to lose, is an insistence on eating oat bran every day (the real deal, not oatmeal), drinking a ton of water and walking for at least 20 minutes every day.
It also underscores that herbs and low-carb condiments are any dieter’s friend. If all you can use is hot sauce or mustard or little cornichon pickles in a nearly all-protein phase, it becomes a central part of your cooking repertoire.
So I’ll diet for as long as I can — I have plenty to lose — but these seriously low-fat and delicious creative inventions will definitely stick around, even if I fall off the wagon.
Many Dukan recipes and ideas are widely available on the Internet, which is where I learned of the mayonnaise:
Dukan herb mayonnaise: (If you aren’t afraid of raw egg yolks it’s the tastier option) 3 TB fat-free Greek yogurt, chopped chives, 1TB dijon mustard, one egg yolk. You can also use a hard-boiled yolk as an alternative to raw. Great mixed with a can of tuna and some chopped cornichons.
Dukan roast beef: My personal favorite — a creamy dip for sliced roast beef: mix fat-free Greek yogurt with prepared horseradish, in proportion to your taste, with salt and pepper.
Dukan shrimp: Chop a few cloves of garlic and saute in a hot non-stick pan with just a spritz of fat-free oil spray for a minute (watch carefully so it doesn’t burn) then toss in raw fresh or defrosted shell-on shrimp. Once completely cooked through, toss very hot with Cholula hot sauce. Eat messily (and eagerly) with hands.
Dukan “disguise the oatbran” omelette: There are a ton of pancake-like recipes to get your daily allotment of oat bran on this diet. The easiest is just to mix in with your Greek yogurt (superior in every way to regular yogurt) and get it down in a few bites.
I like this preparation with, again, hot sauce. (What is my problem?) Mix about a ½ cup of pasteurized liquid egg whites with 1.5 TB of pure oat bran. Cook as you would an omelette, and eat very hot with salt, pepper and hot sauce. (Once it cools you'll wonder why previous bites tasted good, trust me.)