Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds

For 10 weeks, a Kansas State University human nutrition professor ate nothing but sugary snack cakes, candy bars, cookies, sweetened breakfast cereal, and chips. He lost 27 pounds. (He also "took a multivitamin pill and drank a protein shake daily. And he ate vegetables, typically a can of green beans or three to four celery stalks.")
201011091051 For a class project, Haub limited himself to less than 1,800 calories a day. A man of Haub's pre-dieting size usually consumes about 2,600 calories daily. So he followed a basic principle of weight loss: He consumed significantly fewer calories than he burned.

His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal. He now weighs 174 pounds.

But you might expect other indicators of health would have suffered. Not so. Haub's "bad" cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his "good" cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent. He reduced the level of triglycerides, which are a form of fat, by 39 percent.


Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds

Photo by Mykl Roventine. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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  1. And thousands of fat americans will completely misread this and start eating as much sugary crap as they can hold down.

  2. I’ve just lost 10 pounds in 3 weeks by limiting myself to 1400 calories, but otherwise eating anything I like.

  3. “Two-thirds of his total intake came from junk food. He also took a multivitamin pill and drank a protein shake daily. And he ate vegetables, typically a can of green beans or three to four celery stalks.”

    I’d think that he’d be pretty sick if he’d only eaten the junk food for 10 weeks.

  4. That’s extremely irresponsible reporting.
    He ate vegetables and took vitamins, and he does not
    recommend others to do what he did.

    Yet thousands of people are likely to copy this.

  5. Yeah. Sucks that many people with diabetic spectrum issues and obesity may read the CNN article and go, GREAT! Twinkies ahoy!

    I’m not buying that this is sustainable over time, and that there weren’t other negatives. Makes for a great trafficbait over at CNN, and yes, calorie math alone can work short-term IF you have the self-control to measure out your calories like this guy did.

    But eat nothing but packaged snack cakes and coffee and vitamins for a week, a month, or even a year, and there will be downsides.

    Totally not practical for people with diabetes, and for many people who are obese.

  6. Well, duh. A calorie is a calorie. You either burn the energy or store it. You can get fat on just bananas if you eat enough of them. And losing excess body fat is always going to improve your lipid profile. Haub states that he’s unsure about recommending the diet. The real questions are; is this a lifestyle diet sustainable over the long term and is this diet healthy enough to fight off disease and infection? No, on both counts. If you know how to eat well and you know that your problem is simply over-consumption, why not put your effort into breaking the habit of reaching for seconds?

    I really respect Michael Pollan for writing about diet with reason and moderation. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” It’s not rocket science, guys.

    http://michaelpollan.com/

    1. I think it’s the “not too much” part that we have the hardest time with. It may be hardwired in us to overeat.

    1. Don’t be jealous. I have used (nearly) this diet method — count calories and who cares what I eat — and yeah, eating junk food totally works if by “works” you only mean “you will lose weight”.

      But it’s not fun. If you eat too much junk food, you’ll be hungrier all the time, and maybe a little constipated too :P I eat lots of soup and raw veggies now not because I think they’re inherently healthier, but because I can fill my belly and not feel hunger pangs if I eat low-fat high-fiber foods. Health effects of excessive preservative and salt intake entirely aside, a twinkie and a bag of chips just aren’t enough bulk to make me feel full at a meal, and the blood sugar crashes make me want to kill the world while I’m waiting for the next calorie ration.

  7. The lesson I get from this is that you can have some truly horrible things in your diet, as long as you’re willing to arrange pretty much all the rest of your food consumption to compensate for it.

    To me, this does not sound like an enjoyable diet.

  8. Growing up, I ate crap food, as much as I pleased. I was fat. One day, fed up being Stay Puft, I decided to limit calories. But I couldn’t. I was so incredibly HUNGRY all the time. I did not have the will to stop eating. Then I decided to stop eating crap, and like magic, my hunger was normal, and I started losing weight.

    My old model:
    Eat Too Much –> Fat

    My new model:
    Eat Crap food –> Insatiable Hunger –> Eat More Crap Food –> Fat

    1. You get that effect because hunger is keyed off of weight of food eaten, not calories eaten. If you eat calorie dense junk food, it will take more calories worth to feel full than if you eat something mostly made up of water or indigestible fiber.

  9. The cholesterol and triglyceride drop can be easily attributed to his cutting out meat, dairy and eggs from his diet. Although Twinkies and other junk foods are often not vegan (but Oreos are!), use of animal fat is now rare in most commercial processed foods, and other animal-derived ingredients usually amount to trace ingredients.

    I lost 30 pounds within 6 months of taking up a vegan diet, and I never count calories. Also, I eat junk food all the time. I just find out what’s in it first.

  10. But he controlled two variables in his experiment: the amount he ate and the quality of the food he ate and then said that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Shouldn’t he repeat the experiment keeping caloric content the same but eating really good food? If he ends up at the same weight and with the same blood panel, fine, but if he ends being in even better shape (or worse – who knows), then is a calorie still just a calorie?

  11. But how do you turn “just make sure you burn more calories than you consume” into a series of bestselling diet books?

  12. Pardon my french but NO FUCKING SHIT he lost weight. If he has a caloric deficit every day, it doesn’t matter if he eats only lard (or milk, or carrots, or caramel) as long as he eats even one calorie less than he burns there will be a loss. I believe 3500 calories are in a pound of body fat so he should be losing a pound every 4 days.

    Calories in less than calories out equals net loss.

    I have lost 10 pounds in the past couple weeks by not drinking ice tea with sugar, jogging a few miles, and basically not doing much else different.

  13. The problem is a “diet” is considered something you do for a short period of time to fix something, then stop. The trick is settling on what you’ll be eating in the long term. Anybody can lose weight in the short term.

    1. A “diet” is what you eat, nothing more, nothing less. It’s the health nuts that turned the term “diet” to mean something such as eating food but losing weight.

  14. I think a low-carb advocate like Gary Taubes would say you can’t built a successful diet on willpower and guilt but that if you choose to eat fewer high-glycemic and insulin-spiking foods (sugar and refined white flour) your body will automatically burn calories slower, subjecting you to fewer crashes and fewer cravings.

    1. Have read Gary Taubes in addition to Michael Pollan, and even Gene Ornish.

      The problem is, if you start out with people who have a BMI less than 25, who maintain an active lifestyle, it’s hard to say that junk food is bad, mostly because you couldn’t do a randomized clinical trial with humans. I would think that with a diet consisting mostly of plants, and eating protein, fats and starches in moderation would provide better health for these folks, but I don’t know of any observational studies that show this. You have to believe intuitively that this is better.

      Nutrition and public health policy is not an easy problem to solve, plus you have some government agencies that are pushing cheese surreptitiously with our tax dollars.

      But on a practical level, do we really want to spend our dollars supporting junk food producers to the exclusion of anything else? In my small town, Midwest super market they’ve stopped stocking greens (spinach, collard or mustard greens) because there is not a demand I’m told. Instead, you can buy a dozen different types of frozen pizza. Then you have the 100-calorie pack cookies, and the “lean” cuisine frozen meals, as well as haute pockets, side shooters, etc.

      Will our young-uns growing up ever know the variety of eating experience except for the fast, junk, microwave, take-out stuff? Is this such a thing as food culture or food literacy?

      We can learn a lot from our vegetarian and vegan friends in order to add variety to our diets. Omnivores, remember?

      Still would like to try that vegan recipe for the lemon bars. Thanks, Glenn.

  15. The disturbingly popular notion that junk food is more enjoyable than real, healthy food (“I’ll cut calories, but at least I get to eat Twinkies and chips!!”) is pernicious.

    I think it comes from indoctrination, purely and simply: We so often use junk food and desserts as ‘treats’ and ‘rewards’ for children that we grow thinking that if we deny ourselves the junk, we are punishing ourselves, missing out on the fun, condemning ourselves to the straight, square, dull, solemnly grown-up tyranny of healthy food… It’s a sad thing to teach people.

    I’m not going to forbid junk food to my kid, that would only create an enticing aura around it. Besides, it’s okay to have it occasionaly. I just hope to impart to her that a REAL reward consists in preparing yourself a healthy square meal.

  16. 1,800 calories a day? That’s like the riddle that goes “what’s heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?” The caloric source isn’t as relevant as the amount!

  17. Eh, personally I think a lot of the negative reactions to this experiment are from people who are annoyed that it really is _that_ simple to lose weight. Burn more calories than you eat and you’ll lose weight. If you don’t lose weight it’s because you’re burning less calories than you’re eating.

    That’s not to say that this diet is a good idea. I can think of quite a few nutrition issues that might arise, but this experiment does debunk the whole diet industry in pretty damning terms and I would imagine that will frustrate a lot of people who do struggle with their weight.

    Note that I make no value judgments in my comment, I am perfectly willing to accept that there are 100% valid reasons why people have trouble with their weight, but the base problem is still that they need to burn more energy than than they consume to lose weight.

  18. I’m amazed that this fellow is a nutritionist, yet still equates “losing weight” with “healthy body composition”; sure, there’s that BMI index that’s thrown around- but for many athetic folks I know, it doesn’t work. First off, lean muscle weighs more than fat, so one can *gain* weight, and still be lean (with the help of some decent training and nutrition advice, I personally gained about 8 lbs over the past 6 months; my body fat percentage went down 3 percentage points- from 14% to 11%- basically 2-3 inches off the waist. Net change= heavier, but leaner, and with more energy and feeling healthier overall).

    Also, I am skeptical about the “calorie is a calorie” equation- I take in more that 3000 calories a day; but that is based on being active and consuming a more or less mediterranean-type diet. I’m pretty sure that my energy and resting metabolistic burn would be different on twinkies and other trans fat/ HFCS rich “foods”

  19. “Also, I am skeptical about the “calorie is a calorie” equation”

    Hilarious. Everyone has their own little pet story of how their body, or their thyroid, or their genetics are DEFYING THE LAWS OF THERMODYNAMICS.

    1. You can’t equate physiology with high school physics. Different foodstuffs trigger different physical processes. For instance, insulin production. Two items with identical caloric value can cause radically different chemical states in your body, which in turn, can alter weight gain or loss.

    2. “Defying the laws of thermodynamics?” Really? You really have NO CLUE what you are talking about. The amount of chemical energy in any meal is far, far greater than the amount that even the most efficient metabolism can extract; and there are vast differences in metabolic efficiency.

    3. Seriously, it’s not invalid to assume that the “calories burned” term in the equation doesn’t remain completely insensitive to the type of calories.

      Do you, personally, know how many calories you burn a day, under varying activity levels and under varying food regimes? I sure as hell don’t. It’s not a simple question, unfortunately.

      The input side is the only one you can measure really efficiently.

  20. Yes if you consume fewer calories than you expend then you will over time lose weight, not withstanding the common sense fact that the quality of food does have an impact on your overall health and well-being.

    But the part that a lot of people miss is that it is a lot harder to eat a limited amount of some types of food – food that is loaded with sugar, salt, and fat – IE JUNK FOOD. My doctor told me that only 8% of Americans who are obese are able to lose weight and keep it off for 10 years. A big factor is the difficulty to control craving, which means it’s hard to eat only a small amount of food unless you give up eating junk food. Eating junk food is like smoking or drinking – consuming just a little bit can trigger stronger cravings that are very difficult to control. The only serious long term option is to strictly avoid eating the foods that create craving.

    I eat fresh fruit as much as I can now (I’ve lost 75 pounds). Every time I eat an apple I enjoy it immensely. I never crave an apple no matter how much I enjoy apples when I am eating them. But I do crave potato chips and Halloween candy. If I eat 80 calories of fruit (one apple) then I am satisfied. If I eat one small candy (80 calories), I want more and am not satisfied at all and am preoccupied for the rest of the evening with wanting to eat more candy. That is why a junk food diet doesn’t work.

  21. I’ve got to lose 30 pounds, like soon Scoob, because my knees are killing me. I put myself on the “fill myself up with fruits and veggies” diet last month and also keep reminding myself to eat sparingly. Not too little, but don’t just keep eating and eating till I feel like my gut is about to bust. Have to downthrottle, which means every meal remembering what my priorities are. It’s really hard. And weird how health rituals are basically a strange personal religion.

  22. The point is you need to reduce your calories.

    People talk about burning calories but i think that is the wrong language as that is interrelated to the false notion that exercise deals with calorie intake.
    Exercise is great but it uses up little energy in calorie terms and will not counteract over eating, it best in weightloss terms it will aid you if you have a calorie restricted diet.

    As someone who has been fat, lost it, put it back on due to stress and so on that lead to me lapsing back into terrible comfort eating patterns and is now losing it again the one thing that I know is that the only way to loose weight is to cut the calories.

    any diet that doesnt cut calories or recommend eating as much fibrous veg as you like just isnt worth it

    as frank zappa said ‘there are only 2 things in this world you cant have too much of; sex and vegetables.

  23. I’m over weight with a BMI of around 33 and I never get hungry. I don’t really crave anything, sometimes chocolate, but that’s about it. If there are sweets around I’ll eat them, plain and simple. I occasionally make something sweet, cookies, brownies, ect… But it’s not that often. I don’t drink that much soda either.

    Now on the other hand I have a friend that probably has a BMI of like 10-12. He drinks probably 40+oz of soda a day, and eats a decent amount of sweets. And we get about the same amount of physical exercise.

    My theory: When WW3 happens some of the fatties will out survive the bean poles. We won’t starve to death in 12 hours.

    (Note: if the zombies come, I’m screwed.)

  24. Really this isn’t odd. It’s simple – eat less calories than you need, then lose weight. And 2.7lbs a week is not excessive.

  25. I read about this guy in another article. As I recall, the point of his diet stunt was to show his students that nutrition is about more than just losing weight. By eating the junk food, he demonstrated them that losing weight is just a matter of restricting calorie intake.

    I was curious to know how he incorporated his experiment of one into his lesson plans.Even though by all of our usual measures of health he improved his health by eating a lot of sugar and white flour, I am sure that “eat more junk” is not the message he intended to convey. I am curious what other aspects of nutrition he wanted to discuss and why he chose this method to highlight those facts.

  26. Personally, I do not believe that “a calorie is a calorie.” If nutrition were that simple, we’d have had all of our health problems licked long ago. But, that issue aside, what bothers me most about this whole thing is the notion that one can regularly ingest all of the synthetic crap that goes into Twinkies and become healthier for it. IMHO, that’s a dangerous experiment — one that likely flirts with cancer and other chronic illnesses. As a guy who lost and kept off 70 lbs. (after trying many different ways to lose the weight), my message is always: (1) Incorporate more raw, organic fruits and veggies (and some raw nuts & seeds) into your diet & see how that works for you — and, if possible, (2) cut out sugars and processed foods (like Twinkies). Worked for me… Your mileage may vary.

    1. Weight is that simple. Nutrition is not. Hunger is not.

      Mammalian metabolism is not highly variable. It has evolved over a long period of time to be as efficient as possible. Anyone who wasn’t efficient, starved. If you’re here, it’s because all your ancestors going back thousands of generations didn’t starve. After billions of years of evolution, it is absolutely ludicrous for a bunch of fat Americans – myself included – to exclaim that somehow in just the last 60 years, they’ve acquired a new mutation that makes their metabolism not just a fraction of a percent more efficient than all the mammals that came before them at extracting energy from food, but vastly more efficient.

      Yeah, sure, buddy. You’re not fat because modern technology and easy oil have made food calories cheaper for us than any other people in history, it’s because you’re a candidate for the X-Men. Now change out of that yellow and black spandex suit. Nobody wants to see that.

  27. i lost 5lbs in 30 days following a paleo diet after reading Robb
    Wolf’s “Paleo Solution” book. (that sounded like a spam email)

    I ate as much fresh fruit, meat, fish, vegetables nuts and seeds as I wanted. I even managed to make a paleo carrot cake without any dairy or gluten, using only palaeolithic ingredients :)

    To be fair though, I wasn’t aiming to lose weight, I just wanted to see what differences it would have on my health and athletic performance.

  28. Calories are calories? Are we sure that all calories in a food are extracted by the intestines? Or that all calories are extracted at the same rate?

    I would bet different foods are absorbed differently. Cooking enables the body to process meats better, but it doesn’t change the calories content of the meat.

    I don’t have the evidence in front of me but I would bet that not all calories are the same.

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