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Calories in—Calories Out: Reviewing the "Twinkie Diet"

twinkiesIn order to lose weight one must take in fewer calories than one burns. This diet theory has been around for a long, long time, and a Professor of Nutrition at Kansas State University, Mark Haub, recently put it to the test. He went on what he referred to as the Twinkie Diet for 10 weeks and lost a whopping 27 pounds!

As a veteran of many diets, I found going back to this basic premise a very intriguing experiment indeed. Haub’s “snack-centric” diet was meant to prove that weight loss can be achieved by pure calorie counting regardless of the nutritional value of the food. Though he took a multivitamin and had a protein shake daily made with whole milk, the rest of his calories came from junk food like Hostess Twinkie Golden Sponge Cake, Little Debbie Cakes, Oreos, Doritos and Sugar Corn Pops. Occasionally he would throw in some carrot or celery sticks, or a can of green beans. Prior to this experiment Haub was consuming about 2600 calories a day. Eating primarily junk food though, he consumed only about 1800 calories a day on his new diet.

Now, this flies in the face of most, if not all of the diet programs out there, especially ones like Atkins, “Protein Power,” the “Paleolithic Diet,” and other low carb diets. It would certainly not be in line with some of the more popular commercial diets like Jenny Craig, LA Weight Loss and Weight Watchers, which espouse balanced nutrition. Nonetheless, calories are definitely reduced on these programs. Many commercial programs are around 1200 to 1300 calories a day. And finally, the National Diabetes Association would be rightfully alarmed about ingesting all that refined sugar in spite of the reduced calorie intake!

There’s more irony. Not only did Haub lose 27 pounds, his body fat dropped from 33.4 to 24.9 percent—nearly ten percentage points! His bad cholesterol (LDL) dropped 20 percent and his (HDL) good cholesterol, increased 20 percent, plus his triglycerides were reduced by 39 percent.  All his health markers improved on a “convenience store” diet, as he referred to it, demonstrating the impact that losing weight has on health.

Prior to this experiment Haub says he tried to eat a healthy diet, which included whole grains, fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, with only occasional indulgences like pizza. However, he claims that while he was eating healthier before, he was simply eating too much!

Dr. Oz commented on this phenomenon on his show Tuesday morning, November 30th, saying that the math didn’t work for him. Haub only reduced his calorie intake by 800 calories a day and that should not have added up to such a dramatic weight loss in such a short time. Dr. Oz also warned that the quality of those calories, for anyone considering giving the Twinkie diet a try, are empty calories, which burn quickly and leave a person hungry again soon after eating.     

So, we’ve got the math, along with the issue of the type of calories consumed, but here’s the rub:  millions of people practice some form of calorie deprivation every year, either on their own, or through a commercial weight loss program. Millions of people lose weight as a result. However, there is a 95% recidivism rate among dieters—only 5% keep the weight off permanently. So I will be very curious to see if the Professor eventually puts all those pounds back on—plus some!

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