News - November 17, 2011

‘It doesn't look at the origins of an eating addiction'

Astrid Smit

In the TV programme Obese, we met extremely overweight people embarking on strict weight loss regimes. Does this sort of programme help in the battle against obesity?

‘This programme works on many people's emotions. It emphasises that it is a tremendous struggle for obese people to lose weight', says Nutrition professor Frans Kok. ‘And their struggle appears to be successful too. The programme is about people who are really very overweight and who lose tens of excess kilos in one year. I wonder though: how are those people getting on another year down the line? Morbid obesity is a dreadful condition; it is more addictive than smoking. Will they keep it up? They manage now because they get maximum attention from the TV and a support team. But does this work in the long term? I felt the lack of analysis of how they got so overweight, why they have been stuffing themselves for a long time. In other words, the psychology of it. If you expose the origins of an eating addiction, you can help people in the long term.
It isn't a bad programme, though. I think that it carries a warning for many overweight people: this is where obesity can land you. Hopefully this will work on people's unconscious: I mustn't get too overweight, otherwise I will end up in a negative spiral. The skin hangs off the people who lose weight - which is pretty off-putting. I could imagine that this would be enough to persuade people who are ten kilos overweight to lose five kilos.
I once lived on an unhealthy diet for a month to see what it does to you, for my book Gezond eten, gewoon doen (A healthy diet: just do it). I ate a high calorie diet with lots of sugars, salt and saturated fats and hardly any vegetables or fibres. Within days my bowels were knotted with constipation, but after a week I was used to all that sweet and salty stuff and then I started to enjoy it. I put on more than two kilos, but what worried me most was how quickly you get used to it.'