Twinkie diet anyone?

The wonderful KoD forwarded me this article, that I have cut and pasted below.

(CNN) — Twinkies. Nutty bars. Powdered donuts.

For 10 weeks, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate one of these sugary cakelets every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.

His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most — not the nutritional value of the food.

The premise held up: On his “convenience store diet,” he shed 27 pounds in two months.

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.

“That’s where the head scratching comes,” Haub said. “What does that mean? Does that mean I’m healthier? Or does it mean how we define health from a biology standpoint, that we’re missing something?”

Haub’s sample day

Espresso, Double: 6 calories; 0 grams of fat

Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake: 150 calories; 5 grams of fat

Centrum Advanced Formula From A To Zinc: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat

Little Debbie Star Crunch: 150 calories; 6 grams of fat

Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake: 150 calories; 5 grams of fat

Diet Mountain Dew: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat

Doritos Cool Ranch: 75 calories; 4 grams of fat

Kellogg’s Corn Pops: 220 calories; 0 grams of fat

whole milk: 150 calories; 8 grams of fat

baby carrots: 18 calories; 0 grams of fat

Duncan Hines Family Style Brownie Chewy Fudge: 270 calories; 14 grams of fat

Little Debbie Zebra Cake: 160 calories; 8 grams of fat

Muscle Milk Protein Shake: 240 calories; 9 grams of fat

Totals: 1,589 calories and 59 grams of fat

Despite his temporary success, Haub does not recommend replicating his snack-centric diet.

“I’m not geared to say this is a good thing to do,” he said. “I’m stuck in the middle. I guess that’s the frustrating part. I can’t give a concrete answer. There’s not enough information to do that.”

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.

Families who live in food deserts have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, so they often rely on the kind of food Haub was eating.

“These foods are consumed by lots of people,” he said. “It may be an issue of portion size and moderation rather than total removal. I just think it’s unrealistic to expect people to totally drop these foods for vegetables and fruits. It may be healthy, but not realistic.”

Haub’s body fat dropped from 33.4 to 24.9 percent. This posed the question: What matters more for weight loss, the quantity or quality of calories?

His success is probably a result of caloric reduction, said Dawn Jackson Blatner, a dietitian based in Atlanta, Georgia.

“It’s a great reminder for weight loss that calories count,” she said. “Is that the bottom line to being healthy? That’s another story.”

Blatner, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said she’s not surprised to hear Haub’s health markers improved even when he loaded up on processed snack cakes.

Being overweight is the central problem that leads to complications like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, she said.

“When you lose weight, regardless of how you’re doing it — even if it’s with packaged foods, generally you will see these markers improve when weight loss has improved,” she said.

Before jumping on the Ding Dong bandwagon, Blatner warned of health concerns.

“There are things we can’t measure,” said Blatner, questioning how the lack of fruits and vegetables could affect long-term health. “How much does that affect the risk for cancer? We can’t measure how diet changes affect our health.”

On August 25, Haub, 41, started his cake diet focusing on portion control.

“I’m eating to the point of need and pushing the plate or wrapper away,” he said.

He intended the trial to last a month as a teaching tool for his class. As he lost weight, Haub continued the diet until he reached a normal body mass index.

Before his Twinkie diet, he tried to eat a healthy diet that included whole grains, dietary fiber, berries and bananas, vegetables and occasional treats like pizza.

“There seems to be a disconnect between eating healthy and being healthy,” Haub said. “It may not be the same. I was eating healthier, but I wasn’t healthy. I was eating too much.”

He maintained the same level of moderate physical activity as before going on the diet. (Haub does not have any ties to the snack cake companies.)

To avoid setting a bad example for his kids, Haub ate vegetables in front of his family.

Away from the dinner table, he usually unwrapped his meals.

Haub monitored his body composition, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose, and updated his progress on his Facebook page.

To curb calories, he avoided meat, whole grains and fruits. Once he started adding meat into the diet four weeks ago, his cholesterol level increased.

Haub plans to add about 300 calories to his daily intake now that he’s done with the diet. But he’s not ditching snack cakes altogether. Despite his weight loss, Haub feels ambivalence.

“I wish I could say the outcomes are unhealthy. I wish I could say it’s healthy. I’m not confident enough in doing that. That frustrates a lot of people. One side says it’s irresponsible. It is unhealthy, but the data doesn’t say that.”

After the KoD and I were done discussing this interesting diet, I wondered aloud what this fellow would have done if he were an observant Jew – how would he have eaten on Shabbat?

So what do you think of this diet? Are you tempted to try it? (I want to taste a twinkie before I try anything else, I have never eaten one!!)

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  1. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    I tested this myself a few years ago, while Twinkies were kosher. It DOES work, and it’s fun.

    BTW, I think that their changing the formula to reduce the negative numbers on the nutrition data might have been motivated by anti-Semitism. After all, what type of person even looks at the nutritional info on junk food? I wrote them at the time, but they never responded…..

    I did get a good essay out of it, though. It still floats around around online, called “An Elegy for Twinkies”.

  2. batya from NJ says:

    As much as I enjoy indulging in several low cal snack foods daily while trying to follow Weight Watchers, I nonetheless do not think that the Twinkie diet would be healthy in the long-term even if there is weight loss while following this diet b/c of the reduced caloric intake. I guess I’ve been brainwashed by WWs for too long to want to consider the above diet as a weight loss plan!

  3. Mark says:

    What do we learn?

    Not much new.

    1) 10 weeks is very little in the scheme of things when discussing an average human lifespan of 80+ years.

    2) A diet isn’t something you do for 10 weeks, look at the results with pleasure and then go back to doing something else. A diet is a way of eating that you consider healthy and can stick to most of the time throughout your life. Well, a successful diet at least :-)

    3) Isn’t it obvious that eating fewer calories than you burn will lead to weight loss? Those calories you burn need to come from somewhere! And bodyfat is the easiest “somewhere” when intake is reduced. That’s mainly why humans evolved to store bodyfat.

    4) As far as the “indicators of health” go, we have no clear idea of what causes them to change in all cases. Some people inexplicably have widely varying levels of those indicators. Search for the people of a particular Italian village that almost all had very high cholesterol (the bad kind too) levels, yet on average lived very long and healthful lives. Even certain medications that are used to modify the levels of those indicators don’t work in all people.

    Rav Kook was mostly vegetarian, but every shabbat he ate a small piece of chicken to be able to say that he ate “meat” on shabbat.

    I would never try this diet. Not because I think it isn’t healthful (there’s no way for me to know that for sure), but because I know that it wouldn’t work for me (not in the short-term or in the long-term).

  4. Philo says:

    3 points:

    1) The problem is that for far too many people today, healthy = weight loss. Weight loss is only a small part of being healthy.

    2) The fact that his cholesterol and blood pressure stayed OK doesn’t mean that that would be the case for everyone. I suspect that most people wouldn’t fare so well. He mentions “the data”, but anecdotal evidence from one person isn’t data. There will always be exceptions who can stay healthy no manner what they eat.

    3) True, ultimately calories count when trying to lose weight. But most people can’t limit themselves to what’s in front of them. For most people, eating all that refined sugar would make it extremely hard to exercise portion control. That makes you have a high and then crash very soon, making you hungry again very quickly. Again, one person’s experience isn’t proof of anything.

    • Mark says:

      Philo – But most people can’t limit themselves to what’s in front of them.

      And this, in general, is the essential problem of short-term diets. Unless it is a change in diet (i.e. the way you eat, and the way you will continue to eat for life), if you tend to gain (or lose) weight, you will go right back to the weight you were before starting the diet.

      For most people, eating all that refined sugar would make it extremely hard to exercise portion control. That makes you have a high and then crash very soon, making you hungry again very quickly.

      And this is exactly my problem. When I eat sugar/carbohydrates, I very quickly get into a state in which I cannot control my intake. I have ascertained that this is clearly (based on many years of “experimentation” on myself) a physiological problem.

      Again, one person’s experience isn’t proof of anything.

      Yes. Doctors usually have a dismal knowledge of nutrition and how different people react differently to diet. They usually fall back on “general” knowledge (the good old pyramid, for example), knowledge that is often wrong for large segments of the population. That’s why a good nutritionist is worth his/her weight in gold! They know those things and specialize in it.

  5. Woodrow says:

    1. Note the baby carrots, green beans, etc. – I suspect he ate more vegetables than I do! So I think this diet was probably more nutritious than it might seem at first glance.
    2. I think this would actually be a pretty easy diet for an observant Jew as long as you are more modern than haredi- many of the snack foods are kosher, and my sense is that most Modern Orthodox rabbis think vegetarian shabboses are perfectly OK, its the yeshivish/chassidic communities who still pasken that meat is required. (Of course, you’d have to just have a minimum amount of bread instead of the usual heaping helping!) .

  6. Giti Fuchs says:

    Haha I just read this article yesterday… pretty ridiculous… it so unhealthy for your body regardless if he lost weight, I personally wouldnt recommend it!

  7. Conservative Apikoris says:

    Actually, when I participated in a medically supervised weight-loss program, they had me consuming “food replacement” supplements that had more or less the same nutritional value as the junk food that this guy was eating. Well, the supplements might have had more fiber, but the professor here was eating some veggies to provide the roughage he needed. Well, not 100% exactly. They had me on a 1500 calorie a day diet, with 750 calories of the supplement and a 750 calorie meal, which consisted of 4 oz. of lean meat or mini-can of tuna (packed in water), a 1/2 cup of rice/potatoes/noodles and all the salad I wanted (no dressing, of course.) In 8 weeks I lost 40 lbs. Then they spent another 8 weeks putting me back on real food at my normal 2100 calorie a day diet. The program also included a group therapy session (and though I was definitely a chubby, I was the skinniest of the bunch) and nutrition education. I also worked out three days a week.

    Thus, I think there might be something to what this guy was doing. As omnivores, humans eat a wide variety of diets — some cultures are totally vegetarian, whereas others ea nothing but meat. Many cultures don’t touch dairy products. The Japanese eat salt levels that should give them all strokes, but they have a very long life expectancy. Thus, there is probably no one “perfect” diet, and there are no “bad” foods. The problem is eating too much, because we have such abundance in our civilization.

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