Thursday, January 10, 2013

Diet Book Review: The Parisian Diet

[Full disclosure: I was sent a free copy of the book by a publicist]
Dr. Jean-Michel Cohen's The Parisian Diet: How to Reach Your Right Weight and Stay There is my last diet book review for at least a few weeks and for me it was something of an enigma.

I truly enjoyed reading much of Dr. Cohen's diet's preamble. He preaches mindful eating of 3 meals a day with 20 mins allotted to each (just for the eating part), and at least on paper, he talks about how overly restrictive diets are part and parcel of long term diet failure.

He presents a formula of sorts for something he's called, "Right Weight" which if followed may well help to set more reasonable number goals for folks. The formula's straight forward and here are the variables:

A. How much did you weigh when you were 18 without dieting
B. How much did you weigh at your heaviest (excluding pregnancy for women)
C. How much did you weigh at your lightest after age 18 with or without dieting
D. What is your current weight.

"Right Weight"={[(A+B)/2)]+[(C+D)/2]}/2

For eg. Age 18=180lbs. Highest ever=243lbs. Lightest after extreme dieting at 32= 147lbs. Current weight=243lbs. "Right weight"=203.25lbs.

Dr. Cohen's recommendation is to use his plan to reach your "Right" weight, then to stay at that weight for 6 months and then to re-calculate your new "Right" weight and continue to repeat this process until your BMI is in the "normal" range.

Once you reach your desired BMI you're then supposed to slowly start adding "unrestricted meals". However, and this is in bold in the book,
"continue eating 5 low calorie meals a week. There is no other way to maintain your weight loss"
The book's nutritional recommendations seem fairly solid. A big more saturated fat phobic than perhaps the literature would warrant, same with eggs, but those quibbles aside, the food involved seems healthful.

So what of the dieting part?

This is where I became rather confused. Despite alluding to the fact that overly restrictive diets are part and parcel of long term failure his diet starts with an exceedingly restrictive, albeit optional diet phase. It's called the Cafe phase and it's 10 days long with promise of you losing up to a lb a day. Dr. Cohen warns you not to do it if you're not in "good health" and that you need to take a multivitamin as you won't be eating enough to meet your nutritional needs through food.

Ok, so the Cafe phase we're warned is highly restrictive so perhaps not a huge surprise that when I crunched numbers I came up with a minuscule 719 calories a day. That's an incredibly small number. In fact it's a small enough number of calories that many would suggest it should only be undertaken under an MD's supervision (who would be monitoring for hypokalemia and/or adjusting medications as needed).

Next up is the Bistro phase which is meant to be followed for 2-3 weeks promising an 8-11lbs loss. It's described as "very restrictive" and Dr. Cohen recommends,
"you should take multivitamin and magnesium supplements to avoid fatigue and cramps and drink plenty of liquids throughout the day".
So how many calories did I calculate for a Bistro phase day? 753. Again, an almost insanely small number and not without albeit distant but potential risk.

Lastly there's the Gourmet phase which according to Dr. Cohen is,
"designed for pure enjoyment and consists of delicious menus that make it easy to stay on course long term"
So how many calories make up a day designed for "pure enjoyment"? 1,080 if Day 1 is a measure.

Honestly I really enjoyed Dr. Cohen's writing and I had great difficulty reconciling the reasonable and thoughtful preamble to his dieting recommendations with his actual dieting recommendations.

If you plan on picking up this plan from my perspective the calories are simply too low. An easy fix for women might be to double the recipes and recommendations of the first two phases and increase them by 50% in the Gourmet phase. No doubt you'll lose less weight and more slowly, but at least you'll stand a chance at enjoying life through food some.

For men, I'd nearly triple the recommendations for the Cafe and Bistro phases and double the Gourmet. Again expect lesser, slower loss, but a life you might actually sustain.

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  1. I wholeheartedly agree those calorie totals are too low.

    As an interesting aside, Dr Pierre Dukan lost a libel suit he filed against Dr. Cohen in 2011. Yes, Dr Dukan of Dukan Diet fame. A few details are at the UK's "Telegraph":


  2. Anonymous8:41 am

    The formula is much more straight forward without the aggegious use of parenthesis to make it look complicated. It reduces to the simple mean (or average) of the 4 terms. That is, RIGHT_WEIGHT = (A+B+C+D)/4

  3. Rebecca9:00 am

    I hope in your next go-round you focus on some books that actually promote HEALTH and not simply weight loss! "Eat to Live" by Joel Fuhrman is one such book, which diet plan actually provides abundant nutrients along with a moderately restrictive calorie intake. Anyone can lose weight on 700 calories a day - anorexics do it all the time! Not everyone wants to end up in the hospital, though.

  4. The formula also fails if you were your heaviest at 18. By that formula I need to gain 38 pounds and raise my BMI from 29.0% to 34.9% for my "Right Weight"

    1. It doesn't matter which numbers you plug-in where as it is just an average of the 4 numbers. There is a lot of room for error in that formula, it also tells me that I should gain weight.

  5. I like the formula, however, because I've never been in the "normal" range according to BMI scales since puberty (as a healthy, active, athlete) I think it is unreasonable to expect that I could ever achieve a weight within the "normal" range.

    I did, however, continue the calculations with the hypothetical that I reach the goal of the "Right Weight" as a new "Current Weight" to see when the calculations bottom out. With my numbers as they stand (170, 214, 165, 210) it seems as if once I hit 183 my "Right Weight" would drop by increasingly smaller fractions of a pound.

    So does this mean that 183 is my "ULTIMATE Right Weight" and if so...I should feel satisfied and healthy with a BMI that is still above NORMAL?

    Personally, I think 183 (or thereabouts) would be a "happy weight" for me, and it was nice to open my eyes to the fact that I've never weighed below 165 in my life, while still being healthy and active and athletically built, so why should I expect to weigh less than that now that I'm nearing the age of 40?

  6. Anonymous4:36 pm

    I think your 'slow and steady' 'toothbrush level' advice is slowly percolating through into popular culture- on a young blog devoted mostly to beauty products, of all things, I found a brief discussion of realistic goal-setting with regards to health and weight.

    I am never going to go on any diet that requires me to take vitamin supplements. To my mind, that should be a sign that it's reccommending either too little food or the wrong food.

    I was wondering about the mean weight thing too, like the Anonymous above.

  7. Anonymous6:57 pm

    If I'm doing that calculation properly, I should gain about 5lbs to be at my "right weight"? That doesn't make sense since I'm no where near underweight.

    The calculation (130+160)/2 + (120+128)/2 /2 = 134.5

    I'm 5'2",so a healthy weight for my height currently, and I'm amused that a diet book seems to be telling me to gain weight.

    1. You are performing the calculation correctly. It also tells me I should be gaining about 10 pounds... when I'm about 15 pounds overweight at the moment.

  8. Thanks for this review. Full disclosure, I am part of the team that's adapting The Parisian Diet as an online program.

    If I may point out, regarding the concerns for the Café and Bistro phases, it is stated in the book that if you feel uncomfortable, you can move on to the next phase. And it is in fact possible to start the diet directly with the Gourmet phase.

  9. Well the "formula" didn't work for me - probably b/c my A and B are the same - age 18 was at my heaviest - my C and D were my lightest - current weight is my lightest - as a result my ideal weight is 21.5 lbs heavier than I am and considering I just lost 30 lbs and have about 10 more to go I'm going to say this is way off

  10. I'm supposed to gain 5.5 pounds by that formula. It assumes that people are close to or at their highest weight, I think.

    Also, it's recommendation that you can add back "unresticted meals" and only need to restrict five meals per week, dooms it to failure. It is cultural mythology that you can live a different and more calorie-generous life than the one you live in the final week of your loss, when you hit your bottom weight. The body just doesn't work that way. In addition to prescribing a draconian loss phase that will deplete muscle mass, this book is an invitation to yo-yo weight cycle back up after the loss, and hence a horrible disservice -- psychologically and physically -- to anyone who would be drawn in by the seductive language of the preamble. I give it a resounding thumbs down.

    1. Anonymous4:48 am

      I disagree. Firstly, you don't need to follow the "draconian loss phase" if you don't want to. Secondly, there's no risk of yo-yo dieting, something the author highlights as the scourge of dieting. If you read the book in its entirety, he does recommend that you weigh yourself weekly after reaching your final Right Weight and that, if you gain 2kg or more, you pick up the diet again. So there's no risk of gaining a lot of weight at the completion of the diet, if you follow his guidelines. I'm following this diet, having great results and am healthier now than I have been since I was a teenager. Just saying...

  11. Julie7:17 pm

    I had the same problem with the formula--I would need to gain 10 lbs and I am already overweight by BMI. I weigh about 70 lbs less than my highest weight right now. If I leave my highest weight out of the equation, I would need to lose 10 lbs.

  12. Anonymous7:37 am

    Hi all., I just saw the author on french tv and was utterly shocked to see how he was trashing the US, the culture and the americans. He was really condescending and was clearly sounding like he was just basically taking us for idiots. You can always google his appareance on "le Supplément" if you speak french to see for yourself. It is not the first time a diet author uses France to sell books, but I was really shocked as his way to talk about americans. a few quotes: "i went to crappy towns such as Minneapolis" (really??), " or you present to them Croque Monsieur (grilled cheese with ham) and they instantly think you invented sliced bread".. I felt compelled to share his incredibly arrogant attitude to future readers.

  13. This is a bit confusing. There seem to be two different Dr Cohen involved in the weight loss industry, both famous.

    The other Dr Cohen has developed a diet that is based on a person's blood test that measures the levels of certain hormones. A special diet is then individually designed to rebalance those hormones.

    They are not the same person, right?