11 November 2010

Twinkie-schminkie: Professor’s junk food diet success rests on calories, not quality

The word ‘diet’ often conjures up images of a lonely dinner plate accented with a few measily carrot sticks, some forgettable celery stalks and perhaps even a saltine cracker to remind us that yes, this is in fact our meal (so it might be wise to savor the whole spread the way a diligent little hamster might). Staring incredulously at our suddenly unrecognizable reflection in the mirror – grappling with that do-or-diet revelation – there’s a point in everyone’s life when we must summon every bit of resolve to finally make this the day that we officially jump start the slim-down process.

Educators certainly aren’t immune to this experience, as Kansas State University human nutrition professor Mark Haub has proven. The 41 year old, who saw the number 201 taunting him from the display on his personal weight scale, decided to launch a very unique controlled experiment that he hoped would benefit not just his overall downsizing efforts but the students taking his class, as well. Rather than offer himself up as a guinea pig for one of the latest fad diets (Eco-Atkins or Master Cleanse anyone?), he decided to conjure up his very own cockamamie version instead.

Haub’s technique didn’t involve slurping 100% cabbage soup day in and out or eating pink grapefruits until he scurvy-proofed his body. He instead decided to eschew conventional, nutritionally balanced meals in favor of consuming an 1800 calorie diet consisting of nothing more than 2/3 convenience store goodies augmented with a daily Muscle Milk Protein Shake and some vegetables. His 10 week experiment was meant to determine which was more crucial to effective weight loss – what you choose to eat (nutritionally speaking) or the actual amount of calories that you consume?

Based on the instructor’s incredulous weight loss success story, chowing down on Twinkies is where it’s at. His 27 pound weight loss was accompanied by a body mass index reduction of 3.9 as well as significant improvements in his cholesterol numbers (good HDL increased 20%, bad LDL dropped 20% and his triglycerides dropped 39%). All that while noshing on roughly 5 individually wrapped snack cakes a day (such as those manufactured by Hostess and Little Debbie) with sugary Kellogg’s cereal, milk, calorie-free soda, Doritos and occasional portions of baby carrots or canned string beans thrown in just to shake things up a bit.

The important thing to glean from this whole quirky experiment is that Haub effectively subsisted on highly refined and heavily processed flour, sugar, fat, grain, protein and minor amounts of vegetables with not a single bit of meat in sight. Despite the junk in his repertoire, with minimal animal protein in his diet for a two month period, it’s not surprising that his cholesterol levels improved. Moreover, the daily caloric requirements for a man in his age range fall around the 2500 mark, so it’s also not so shocking that he achieved notable weight loss consuming just 1800 calories daily.

Skeptics might have expected the professor’s snack-happy diet plan to yield at least some of documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me health woes (following his all-McDonald’s-meal plan), but in truth, Haub pursued his own version of the Weight Watcher’s point system. Still, man cannot and probably should not live on snack cakes alone, as oddly appealing as it still might sound.

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/nooe