I'll Pass on the "Twinkie-Diet"

The Twinkie Diet

A new story hit the news this past week in which a Nutrition Professor, Mark Haub, ate sheer junk food for two months and lost weight.  Yes, a Nutrition Professor!  He was testing the theory that in weight loss simply calories in versus calories out is what matters most.  

Image courtesy of Hostess International.

While he is correct that a calorie deficit leads to weight loss, this is certainly not a healthful means of losing weight.  The body is much more complex than we give it credit for so if the professor were to have sustained this diet he would find himself with some health consequences.  He consumed junk foods (mostly Twinkies or other Hostess cakes, some varieties of chips, or cookies) every couple of hours throughout the day to keep from eating big meals.  He also ate a few vegetables, took a multivitamin daily to avoid micronutrient deficits and drank a protein shake daily to meet his protein needs.  He consumed up to 1800 kcal/day (down from an approximated 2600 kcal/day) for 10 weeks and lost 27 pounds, bringing him to a high-normal BMI of 24.9 from an overweight BMI of 28.8.

Playing Devil's [Food Cake] Advocate

When I had first read the headline on CNN I was surprised that a nutrition professor would propagate such an idea, but upon reading through the article I think that there are some interesting issues raised.  

The Convenience Store Diet - All of the foods that Mr. Haub ate are available at convenience stores, which in many communities across America are unfortunately the only close source of groceries (these areas are termed food deserts and are often in low-income neighborhoods where large chain grocery stores are less inclined to set up shop).  This shows that eating convenience items in moderation can in fact lead to weight loss, albeit the ingredients are processed and man-made.

Kick-start Weight Loss - The article did a good job of addressing the fact that this diet would have many health consequences over the long term but that a calorie deficit in the short term can in fact lead to weight loss.  Achieving that calorie deficit with simply junk food is difficult because these foods are calorically dense so one gets less volume of food.  

Looking at the Labs - Consuming this diet for 10 weeks actually led to improvements in some of his cholesterol and lipid labs.  I found this surprising but it leads to the theory that carrying excess weight is more detrimental to the body than eating some junk food when within a normal BMI.  Unfortunately, because overweight and obesity is so prevalent in our society the devastating health effects are seemingly becoming mainstream and aren't seen as so scary anymore.  This brings attention back to the fact that even carrying an extra 20 or 30 pounds on the body leads to detrimental health effects.

Conclusion

Overall, I think that Mr. Haub was taking things to the extreme to make a case, but it does raise some interesting issues regarding convenience and junk foods, healthy dieting, and weight loss.