I’m not gonna tell you how many of Team BGG2WL sent me this story… let’s just say that I am eternally grateful that y’all care this much about this stuff. It makes me feel like less of a nerd.

Let’s just also say that I am also honored to know that y’all care what I think about these issues. Don’t ever stop sending me stuff, though. Ever.(Please?)

On to the subject at hand, though.

Meet Professor Mark Haub. He teaches nutrition at Kansas State University. That’s important. Remember that.

Professor Haub decided to go on a diet that consisted of majority junk food… as a means of proving that it is the quantity of the calories one consumes, not the quality. Meaning, it doesn’t matter where your calories come from. What matters is that you cut your portion sizes down. This is important. Remember this, too.

I’m going to [resentfully] quote the article:

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?”

It means you’re missing something. Trust me. The article goes on, though:

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?

If the body isn’t operating optimally, how long do you think you can last on a diet that doesn’t aid it in achieving that goal?

But wait… there’s more:

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.”

I can’t take this any more. All of these people with big giant degrees and alphabet soup behind their names still don’t get it.

I’m going to start from the top. Professor Haub went from eating 2600 calories a day to eating 1800 calories a day. Let’s take a look at Professor Haub’s sample daily diet:

  • Espresso, Double: 6 calories; 0 grams of fat
  • Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake: 150 calories; 5 grams of fat; 19g sugar; 220mg sodium
  • Centrum Advanced Formula From A To Zinc: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat
  • Little Debbie Star Crunch: 150 calories; 6 grams of fat; 11.9g sugar; 70mg sodium
  • Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake: 150 calories; 5 grams of fat; 19g sugar; 220mg sodium
  • Diet Mountain Dew: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat; 0g sugar; 35mg sodium
  • Doritos Cool Ranch: 75 calories; 4 grams of fat; .5g sugar; 85mg sodium
  • Kellogg’s Corn Pops: 220 calories; 0 grams of fat; 12g sugar; 110mg sodium
  • whole milk: 150 calories; 8 grams of fat; 12g sugar; 125mg sodium
  • baby carrots: 18 calories; 0 grams of fat
  • Duncan Hines Family Style Brownie Chewy Fudge: 270 calories; 14 grams of fat; 32g sugar; 115mg sodium
  • Little Debbie Zebra Cake: 160 calories; 8 grams of fat; 31g sugar; 170mg sodium
  • Muscle Milk Protein Shake: 240 calories; 9 grams of fat; 6g sugar; 580mg sodium 

Totals: 1,589 calories and 59 grams of fat (143.4g of sugar, 1730mg of sodium)

The sugar and sodium totals are mine – CNN didn’t provide those. Remember that, too.

Let’s look closely at Professor Haub’s “results” from his diet:

  • He lost 27lbs in 2mos.
  • His body mass index (BMI) decreased from 28.8 to 24.9, .1 below the “overweight” classification, considered “normal.”
  • His LDL cholesterol (cleverly referred to as bad cholesterol) dropped 20%, while his HDL (the good cholesterol) was elevated by 20%.
  • His body fat percentage dropped from 33.4% to 24.9%.

I have questions.

First, I know that he said he worked out regularly and ate healthily before he began this “diet,” but he also said that he also worked out during the diet, as well. Did he find himself properly fueled for his regular activity? Did he ever increase or decrease the length of his workouts? Did he find himself growing more and more tired throughout the day as the diet continued? Did he ever hit “the wall” earlier on in his workouts than before?

(And, really, I am familiar with how people overreport their “healthfulness” and underreport their healthy living shortcomings… so I don’t expect honest answers, let alone answers period to my question.)

Secondly, why would a nutritionist [professor] be confused about cholesterol levels decreasing when meat is cut from one’s daily intake? Assuming he wasn’t a vegetarian, the fat consumed from his “twinkie diet” would be considerably less than that consumed from animal and animal by-products… so if you’ve cut meat and all you’re ingesting (as far as animal by-products go) is whole milk, then yes. Your cholesterol will decrease. Mentioning these results without clarifying that point seems dishonest and while I don’t know whether Professor Haub or the journo is to blame for that, it needs to be said.

Thirdly, I want to be clear. Can diets create weight loss? Yes! A big giant man who is used to taking in 2600 calories each day, who cuts his caloric intake by 800 calories, is going to lose weight. Let me be clear. Deprivation works.

That’s not what’s in question, here.

I’ve said this before and it [clearly] bears repeating:

Why does dieting work? Dieting works because it is an extremely mindless form of calorie counting. If I’ve only allowed myself to choose from this one low-calorie food to eat, I can’t possibly gain weight, right? You don’t have to think about the food you’re eating and whether or not it’ll cause you to gain weight – you KNOW this one food won’t cause you to put on any pounds, you know exactly what you’re going to do. It’s auto-pilot for weight loss.

However – because it usually involves something that you can only manage temporarily, you tend to come off of it – excited to beat the pounds – by celebrating with what? More food you have no business indulging in in the first place!

Why does the weight ALWAYS come back? Because… wait for it… auto-pilot doesn’t work for weight loss! That’s right – you can’t do it. Why? Because waking up one day and deciding that you’re going to go auto-pilot eating nothing but grapefruit for breakfast and lunch can’t change the fact that your auto-pilot used to lead you to McDonalds or Krispy Kreme for breakfast every morning. Auto-pilot, unfortunately, does equate to mindlessness. It’s operating without thinking. “Not thinking” before led us to being unhealthy in the first place. It certainly won’t lead us to “healthy,” and if it does, it certainly wouldn’t do it overnight… or in two-six weeks like other diets.

Without a relatively rare medical condition, you cannot put the weight on if you aren’t putting harmful things in your mouth. It simply does not work that way. Dieting might help you drop a few pounds, but if your eating habits are in check you couldn’t put it on in the first place… and you couldn’t run the risk of gaining it back once you “come off” of your diet. It solves the immediate visual problem – if only momentarily- however you’re not addressing the thing that not only ensures that you’ll always have the weight, but in some cases also ensures that you’re doing some damage to your insides, as well.

Excerpted from: The Anatomy of A Diet: Why They Work, and Why The Success Never Lasts

The issue is not – nor has it ever been – whether or not a diet can work. If “work” is defined as “causing you to lose weight,” then yes, they “work.” The issue is sustainability. The issue is whether or not you’ve taken on a diet that cannot be turned into a lifestyle. Whether or not you’ve properly addressed any issues you may have with emotional eating (which will directly affect ones ability to control their portions, something this diet apparently makes a huge deal out of), whether or not you’ve handled any psychological issues that may prevent you from reaching your goals (because, as with most diets, you will hit a brick wall where you have to change again in order to keep losing) and whether or not you’re doing yourself a disservice internally will all play ginormous parts in one’s success in a diet.

You didn’t think I was going to do all this dieting talk without talking about health, right? “But his cholesterol… his blood pressure… his body fat percentage… they all lowered!” So what? Let me tell you something. The chemical makeup of his diet is… nauseating. To quote Maya Naura, RD:

In order to lose weight, our liver essentially turns fat stores into energy and is burned off. When we consume, breathe in, be in, or live in ’toxic’ material, that same one and only liver neutralizes the toxic material and it is removed from the body. Keep in mind diet coke is ‘seen’ by your body as a toxic substance. It’s not food, it’s not water, so what the heck is it? An unusable, toxic substance. Our liver is very clever in prioritizing it’s duties. We can’t live with toxic material overloading the body so the liver needs to neutralize it, putting weight loss to the side. And the better news? If toxin removal pathways aren’t functioning properly, which most aren’t, that toxic substance ends up stored in fat cells… so much for counting calories. [source]

So… my unscientific opinion is that a privileged male living on a tenured professor’s salary probably has been eating well enough for long enough that these effects haven’t hit him yet, but they would. Without question. A middle (upper?) class man coming down off of a healthy lifestyle to “eat like the poor” is much different from people who, unfortunately, have to live this reality.

And that’s my next point. Studies like this won’t affect privileged and monied college professors who can afford to jovially come up off their pathetic little twinkie diet. This will affect the people who have to live this diet, as well as the public’s perception of those people… that even though they’re poor and aren’t getting enough food, they’re still obese because they’re eating too much food. So, not only should the poor not have access to certain foods, they should also stop eating as much as they do now, and we need to stop harassing grocery conglomerates about setting up shop and offering these people actual food that isn’t all chemicals.

I cannot explain how alarmingly important that is: “even though they’re poor and aren’t getting enough food, they’re still obese because they’re eating too much of the food they actually have access to, now.” It’s right back to “fat people are fat because they have no self-control.”

A person living off of a processed food diet faces the following:

If you watched the clip above, you already know. Our processed foods are broken down to their most basic parts, mixed in with preservatives (which help, you know, preserve the final product), flavor additives, water, flour, various forms of salt, then manipulated to be whatever they want to sell us. The same ground up chicken carcass (which is what is in that photo) can be chicken patties, chicken nuggets, chicken fingers, “diced chicken,” the chicken in your chicken pot pie, the chicken in your soup… whatever. Just look for “mechanically separated [animal] parts.” You won’t have to look too hard.

Once it’s broken down to create this… goo… chemicals are used to hold it in place to form whatever shape it’s going to take. Once it meets your saliva and enters your body, it breaks right back down to the goo… with no fiber inside to help push it out. It essentially deflates inside of your system, making it easier to consume more calories because you’re “not full yet.” Couple all of this with the fact that it takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your digestive system that you’re “full,” and you start to see why a food that breaks down this quickly is a recipe for disaster – a breaded chicken breast on wheat bread breaks down much more slowly than a chicken patty sandwich on white bread, takes longer to chew (buying you time until that 20 minute mark… see what that 30 bites was important?), takes longer to digest (thus leaving you feeling fulfilled longer), and keeps you from overindulging. You’re getting that “full” feeling for less calories. You’re not scarfing it down because it’s breaking down faster than it can fill you up… only to find that “all-of-a-sudden-I-feel-like-I-ate-too-much” feeling arrive.

A privileged, well-off professor… who – it is likely – has never experienced these issues before his stupid twinkie experiment, probably doesn’t have a hard time understanding “I eat this much. I stop. That’s it. No more.” 10 weeks may not be long enough for his body to get sucked into this cycle. Maybe years of “eating healthily” has rendered him immune to these harmful effects.

I’m just gonna come out and say it. This is why I find nutritionists useless, pointless and downright annoying. Taking the nutrients out of the context of the food, the foods out of the context of the diet, the diet out of the context of the lifestyle and the lifestyle out of the context of duration does nothing to further nutrition science. It does nothing to further our understanding of how food impacts our health. What sense does it make for a rich white dude in the suburbs with (assumedly very little stress) to adopt the lifestyle of the impoverished who might fear their lights being turned off?

How much sense does it make that he would release his findings to places like CNN, for goodness sake, when all he can do is scratch his behind and say “Derrr, I don’t really know why any of this happened… I just know that it happened?” Why does he not know the consequences of his releasing his findings? Why wouldn’t he wait until he had more concrete answers? How salacious and attention getting for him (and his University, don’t get it twisted) to release these findings, knowing there’d be hoards of people excited that they, too, might cut 800 calories from their daily intake, still work out, eat sugary crap food and still lose weight? Nothing to mention of whether people are even in the position to cut 800 calories from their diet (a girl who weight 120lbs, antsy to lose a last 5lbs isn’t in a position to cut 800 calories AND still work out.) Nothing to mention of whether or not people would be satisfied after eating a twinkie for a meal. (Did the article say whether or not HE was satisfied after eating that amount?) Nothing to mention whether or not there would be additional ramifications of his little diet. He doesn’t know… and I’m not sure whether or not it’s because he doesn’t care, but I’m positive it’s because he’s not concerned with that.

Before I go… there are two parts of the CNN article I want to address directly:

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.

So… excess fat causes high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels? Or… is it that the foods that cause high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels also cause excess fat?

One sentence makes the weight the problem. The other sentence makes the weight an additional consequence of the actual problem… which is poor food choices. I bet almost no one will catch that, though.

Meanwhile, twinkie sales have gone up 30%, and Kansas State University will probably be opening up a new science and nutrition lab in about three years: Hostess Hall.