Blog post

Why (crash) diets often don’t work

January 3, 2022

Healthy eating and living sometimes seem to be nothing more than a hype. But maintaining your weight is one of the most important things you can do to reach a healthy old age and to reduce the risk of various illnesses. Just don’t do this with the latest crash diet, says Ellen Kampman, Professor at Wageningen University & Research.

It all sounds so promising: lose five kilos in six weeks. Also, not unimportant: one in two Dutch people over the age of eighteen is overweight and runs an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes or certain types of cancer. Simply following a diet often doesn’t make sense in the long term, says Kampman. “The diet ends and people go back to their old eating habits. But the key does lie in eating and drinking less.”

High-fibre products and eating more plant-based foods, drinking fewer soft drinks and alcohol and eating less red meat. If you can keep your BMI under 25 with this ‘simple’ diet you’re on the right track.

Unhealthy options

Because we overeat, says Kampman: “And it’s not easy. Everywhere you go, food is on offer. At the petrol station, on the platform at the station, at the till. You don’t have to go out of your way. We have to reduce this temptation as lots of people automatically choose the unhealthy option. And these unhealthy options, such as hamburgers and soft drinks aren’t filling but they do contain a huge number of calories.’

It starts with awareness: what contains a lot of calories and what are unhealthy products? “You don’t have to read a diet book on the subject. The effects of many of these trendy diets aren’t always well substantiated scientifically. For example, fasting has only been shown to reduce the risk of cancer in mouse studies so far.”

Know what works

Fortunately, we know from science what does work, says Kampman. “And it’s simple. High-fibre products and eating more plant-based products, drinking fewer soft drinks and alcohol (an average glass of gin & tonic contains about 175 calories and is unhealthy too) and eating red meat less frequently. If you can keep your BMI under 25 with this ‘simple’ diet, you’re on the right track.”

If you fill yourself with good food, you are less likely to opt for unhealthy options. “Dietary fibre is the most important thing here. You can find this in wholemeal bread and pasta, wholegrain rice and in vegetables and fruit. If you eat a peanut butter sandwich made with wholemeal bread, you quickly feel full. Then you’re not looking for something else to eat immediately.”

Step by step

By changing your behaviour step by step, you may lose weight more slowly than with a diet, but you change your lifestyle. “And that’s what’s important here. Many lifestyle diseases can be prevented by healthy eating. You can prevent 50% of bowel cancers. Eating less and eating healthily can really make a difference.”