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Lessons From The Twinkie Diet

I don’t know if you saw this but earlier this month CNN released a story about a Kansas State nutrition professor who went on a ten week diet consisting of Twinkies, Little Debbie snack cakes, Hostess cupcakes, and other junk foods.

The headline read “Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds.” I cringed when I read those words as if there wasn’t enough misinformation and confusion about fat loss in the media.

Not that I was surprised but I have to admit this news story got my blood boiling. Now I’m all about professors thinking outside of the box but I guess I’d like to see research studies from our “institutions of higher learning” provide some meaningful objectives.

All I could think about was people reading this story and taking it the wrong way. I wanted to give you a quick review of the study and then share “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say, to set the record straight.

Kansas State professor loses 27 pounds on the Twinkie diet… 

The premise of the study conducted by Mark Haub of Kansas State University was that in weight loss, the “quantity” of calories matters most, not the “quality” of the food.

According to the story, the professor felt that his premise held up because he lost 27 pounds in a little over two months by simply cutting back on calories, even with eating junk foods.

Here’s how it went down…Haub limited himself to a strict diet of 1,800 calories a day, with two-thirds of his total caloric intake coming from junk food. The remaining calories came from vegetables and one protein shake each day. He also took a multi-vitamin daily as part of his routine.

twinkie_diet_professor

I find it interesting that he ate vegetables, took a multi-vitamin, and drank a protein shake every day. I thought the study was supposed to be all about the quantity of calories and not the quality of calories that matters most. Guess he figured he’d have to get some nutrition…what a novel idea!

Can eating junk food really lower cholesterol and triglycerides? 

The results of Haub’s ten week personal experiment showed a reduction in body fat percentage from 33.4% to 24.9%, LDL (aka bad cholesterol) dropped 20%, HDL (aka good cholesterol) increased by 20%, and triglycerides dropped by 39%.

On paper it looks like the “junk food” diet was a resounding success and Haub is a healthier individual for his efforts. While the numbers certainly indicate as much, there’s more going on here that meets the eye.

For starters, there’s typically always improved markers for cholesterol and triglycerides with weight loss, regardless of how it happens. I won’t bore you with the details but it has to do with a complex series of hormonal changes that accompany the release and use of stored fatty acids for energy by the body.

The bottom line is no matter how weight loss occurs you’ll see short-term reductions in blood lipids and cholesterol. Does this mean that you’re healthier?

Well you could stumble on to some viral infection that sends you to the hospital and lose 27 pounds along with lowering your blood triglycerides and cholesterol…but you sure as heck wouldn’t be “healthier” when it’s all over.

I just want to caution people of putting all that much emphasis on these kinds of short term health readings. When you lose body fat the right way, you’ll be able to improve your health markers across the board and more importantly be able to maintain them.

So what does eating “healthy” really mean?

I found it especially interesting and somewhat amusing that this so called “nutrition expert,” a professor mind you, said that he was eating “healthy” prior to starting the diet by consuming lots of whole grains, dietary fiber, berries, bananas, and vegetables.

According to him, he was just eating “too much” of the healthy foods and excessive calories we’re the real problem for his weight gain. There’s no question that eating excess calories from just about anything will lead to weight gain but the professor and I would sharply disagree that his pre-diet routine was anything close to being optimal.

Rant mode: on

Without getting on my soapbox this sounds all too familiar with the ideas being taught by the bulk of our nutrition professors at universities all across this country. There’s a long standing belief in this fraternity that a diet high in whole grains and low in protein is the key to optimal health.

I’ve yet to meet a single college professor, dietitian, or other so called “nutrition expert” that promotes the high whole grain/low protein diet actually follow their own advice and have a lean, strong, and muscular body to show for it.

But we should listen to them anyways because they’re the experts, right? Call me crazy but I’m just a little suspect of the bald man who’s trying to sell me a comb…I’m just saying.

Rant mode: off

The fact of the matter is eating a diet high in whole grains and low in protein doesn’t work very well at producing optimal health…at least from what I’ve seen.

Even the casual observer can see with our country’s epidemic levels of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes we may want to question what the mainstream experts consider “healthy eating.”

If you’re struggling with weight loss by eating “healthy” in this way its time to think outside of the box for your own benefit. While I certainly don’t recommend some wacky “junk food” diet like this professor did, you can experiment with more of a Paleo type diet that consists of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and omega-3 rich oils.

After twenty years researching virtually every diet under the sun and all aspects of fat loss, you’ll find my dietary strategies have Paleo principals as a foundation. If  you’re interested you can pick up a free copy of my Quick Start Nutrition Guide to learn more about my nutrition strategies.

As you can tell I’m not a big fan of eating a lot of grains, legumes, and what I like to call “third world” plant proteins. While you can survive on these foods it’s hard to thrive on them.

Try pulling the whole grains and other so called “healthy” starches out of your diet for a mere 30 days and be the judge for yourself. Consider it a test to see how your body responds…while not as fun as the Twinkie diet I think you’ll like how you feel much better.

Unlike the tenured professors at our universities I make a living off whether or not my nutrition strategies work in the real world. On that note I digress…

Alright, back to the Twinkie diet and the “rest of the story.”

The one fact that gets overlooked in this study is that it was conducted on ONE individual, the professor himself. In all fairness, I realize the professor was simply doing a class project and not a full scale research study.

Not that it’s needed but if we really wanted to see a research study on this subject with validity there would ideally be a large test group with follow-up measurements done post-diet over an extended period of time.

You see the professor reduced his caloric intake and lost a significant amount of weight but what do we know about his genetics, rate of metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and other bioindividuality factors?

The answer, nothing!

As you know everyone is different in these areas. Someone with the genetic good fortune of a fast metabolism and high insulin sensitivity could lose weight by simply cutting calories, even with eating junk foods.

The reason is their body would be able to assimilate and burn off the high amounts of blood glucose (sugar) very rapidly and not suffer the effects of insulin imbalances. This is a very small percentage of the general population though, like in the 5% range.

I suspect our good professor is one of the lucky few who have a fast metabolism and excellent insulin sensitivity. Just FYI, most overweight individuals have low insulin sensitivity or the more advanced degree of insulin resistance. This means their body can’t handle sugar very well, and even small amounts wreck havoc on their hormonal systems.

All aboard the train headed for “diabetes-ville”

The massive amounts of sugar consumed on a low-calorie “Twinkie diet” would lead to serious health consequences in most people as their body continued to get flooded with blood glucose it wasn’t able to burn for energy or store as glycogen.

Make no mistake about it, this diet is an exceptionally BAD idea and would be nothing more than a one-way ticket for type II diabetes in most individuals.

The “quality” of calories DOES make a difference because you can’t ignore the impact sugar has on the body’s hormonal balances.

I’m curious to see what happens to the professor when he returns to his “healthy” diet but we probably won’t be reading any follow-up stories.

He’ll either have to keep counting calories on his “healthy” foods or wind up being overweight again. We’ll I guess he could always go back on the “Twinkies diet.”

Or he could change his diet altogether now and start eating the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. He could eat only when he felt hungry, have lots of energy, and never have to count calories.

But that’s too simple, it could never work.

He could eat the foods God provided on this earth for us and give up on all the man made processed and refined junk. Heck, he could even include some vigorous physical activity every now and then and find himself with a lean, fit, strong, and healthy body.

But nah, that’s too simple right? It could never work…

Or could it?

But then again he might be out of a job if there were no more “Twinkie diets” to test.

More amazing research studies to come I’m sure..Ha..Ha.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal training programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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Category: Nutrition.