What’s the Point of the Twinkie Diet?

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flickr.com/precipice

This story has been every where, so I’m sure you already know about the so-called Twinkie Diet.

Kansas State University nutrition professor Dr. Mark Haub has made international headlines for putting himself on an 1,800 calorie diet that represents what you might find in a convenience store:  Twinkies, Little Debbies, powdered donuts and other snack cakes.

He did it to make a point to his students — that it doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you’re reducing calories.  In otherwords: it’s the calories, stupid.

Haub has been chronicling his weight loss journey on his Facebook page  Prof. Haub’s Diet Experiments, and has been busy with media interviews now that his little class project is over.  4915303816_246605de19

After 2 months,  Haub lost 27 pounds, dropped his LDL or “bad” cholesterol by 20%, increased his HDL or “good cholesterol by 20% and reduced his triglycerides or blood fats by 39%.  He’s been talking about his diet success every where from Good Morning America to  CNN Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds.

Here’s a clip of  Haub discussing the experiment in his nutrition lab at Kansas State, which is my alma mater.  It’s kinda strange for me to see him talking about the Twinkie Diet in Justin Hall — where I spent 6 years as an undergraduate and graduate student studying nutrition.


Countless studies have demonstrated that the  composition of the diet — or the various combinations of  carbs, protein and fat — seems to matter less than the total number of calories for losing weight.  Even so, sometimes it takes a stunt like this to hammer home a message.   But is this Twinkie Diet sending the wrong message — even if the intentions were good?

supersize meCertainly it’s not the first time someone has used their own body to illustrate a point.  Who can forget  Morgan Spurlock who lived on McDonald’s for a month and documented his story in the movie Super Size Me.

In reality, no one is really going to eat only McDonald’s for a month, and no one is really going to try the Twinkie Diet.  Or will they?

Unfortunately, some of the media coverage is making this sound like the latest diet craze.  Some stories may leave you thinking that this is not such a bad idea. It works, why not try it?  Hey, that’s not why the good professor did this.

Yes, he lost weight –  but let’s don’t make this regimen sound appealing and worth trying.

Here’s one example from the New York Daily News Lose weight by eating junk food

Want to lose weight without giving up junk food?

It may sound too good to be true, but nutrition professor Mark Haub proved you can have your cake and eat it too – by putting himself on a “Snack Cake Diet” and losing 27 pounds in 2 months.

And here’s the segment from CBS  News Twinkie diet for weight loss, Is professor Haub on to something?

What should you eat to lose weight? Lettuce? Bean sprouts? How about a Twinkie with a soda pop chaser?

On Good Morning America, co-anchor Juju Chang makes it sound like there are some distinct advantages of the Twinkie Diet over eating healthy food.

It’s all about calorie restrictions. If you eat healthy food you’re tempted to eat more of it because it’s healthy.

Come on.  Let’s don’t make the Twinkie Diet the next Cabbage Soup Diet or Master Cleanse.

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There are some positive takeaways from this little experiment:

  • Total calories count – not low carb, low fat, the Zone percentages or some magical formula of carbs, protein and fat
  • Losing weight can improve cholesterol levels and other health markers, such as blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Demonized “junk food” can  be included in a weight loss diet — so you can still enjoy some of your favorite foods and lose weight (keeping in mind portion size and moderation)

Yet, there are some messages that I hope aren’t reinforced.  Here’s what I hope people will keep in mind:

  • The quality of calories still matter.
  • Skinny doesn’t equal healthy.
  • A supplement doesn’t make up for a nutrient-poor diet.
  • A successful diet is sustainable , not a quick fix.

This experiment also raised the issue of food deserts — or the problem of accessibility of healthy, nutritious foods. It’s true that some people live in areas with few grocery stores and farmers markets.  So perhaps this “convenience store, junk food diet” is how some people truly eat.  Let’s don’t give them a reason to think it’s OK.

Take a look at what others have had to say:

WebMD
Livin La Vida Low-Carb
Food Navigator (podcast)
Diet Blog
Examiner.com
U.S. News & World Report

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