According to a recent article from CNN, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University lost 27 pounds over 10 weeks by living on what CNN is calling a “Twinkie diet.” Haub would eat a sugary snack cake like a Twinkie, or a Little Debby cake every three hours, instead of meals. He threw in Doritos, sugary cereal and Oreos into the mix, too. The point of the experiment was to explore Haub’s thesis that what matters most in weight loss is not the nutritional value of food, but the calories of what you eat.
I have a bunch of problems with this. First, allow me to attack the experiment itself, the results of which Haub has dutifully been reporting on a Facebook page dedicated to it. Over the course of the experiment, Haub limited himself to 1,800 calories a day, two thirds of which came from junk food. The remainder tended to come from things like a little whole milk and some baby carrots. He would also take a multi-vitamin. Haub reportedly engaged in moderate exercise during this time, but the article did not specify. All of this stacks up against the 2,600 calories a day a man of Haub’s pre-dieting size is said to take in.
Now, this is a no-brainer. Anybody familiar with weight loss, let alone a nutrition professor, knows that 1,800 calories a day paired with moderate activity (which I’ll assume for the purposes of this project is anything more than sitting on the couch, just to give Haub the benefit of the doubt)will result in weight loss. Hell, if Haub had eaten junk food exclusively at that calorie level he still would have lost weight. My point is…so what?
Considering that our national obesity level has not just gotten sky-high but reached cruising altitude, Haub’s experiment does more harm than good. Weight loss should be a nationwide concern, but the problem with our national obesity isn’t just a matter of excess weight. It is that as we eat the high-starch, high-sugar, high-fat foods that make us as big as we are, we take in a pitiful amount of the colorful, nutritious foods (i.e., fruits and vegetables) that fill us with the vitamins we need to stay healthy. Weight loss should only ever be a means to an end, that end being optimum health.
This is not to say that there is any merit to the ridiculous “health at any size” movement that is trying to legitimize obesity. If you’re overweight, you are not as healthy as you could be, case closed. But if you are losing weight, it is just as important to maintain one’s level of nutrition also. For anyone to address excess weight through Haub’s “convenience store diet” does little good, as it does not address the unhealthy eating and exercise habits that led to one’s excessive weight in the first place.
Normally, I would chalk off this story as the kind of pablum CNN has resorted to in recent years to gain viewers. (Oh, CNN. I remember when you were a respectable news outlet. Before you tried to go toe to toe with circus acts like FOX and MSNBC. Tragic.) However, the story was linked by a Facebook friend of mine, and on Haub’s own page, I found comments like this:
I hit on this a few mos ago bc I was spending so much on food. who knew a candy bar or donut for breakfast has less sugar and calories than the average fiber rich cereal recommended by the average rd? THANK YOU Professor for injecting common sense back into your profession. No one is listening to RDs anymore they give us strange food phobias and make ppl afraid to eat.