By now we’ve all heard of Kansas State Professor Mark Haub’s junk food diet, aptly dubbed the “twinkie” diet by the ever-present media. The objective of the professor’s project was to prove traditional weight-loss methods wrong by eating junk food in moderation, rather than healthy fare. So for 10 weeks, the professor’s diet consisted of little more than Twinkies, Little Debbies, Oreos, sugary cereals, and small helpings of vegetables at dinner time to save face for his kids.
In the end, his body mass index went from 28.8 to 24.9, which is pretty drastic if you consider his “diet”, and his “bad” cholesterol, LDL, went down twenty percent. For some, this begs the question, what accounts for weight loss? Is it mainly calorie restriction? Could you theoretically just eat junk food all day, so long as it doesn’t exceed 1800-2000 calories?
Ideally, that would be nice. However, most dietitians will disagree. Registered dietitian Catherine Kruppa of Houston, a licensed dietitian who recently spoke live on Houston’s Fox affiliate network about the issue, says that while Kaubman’s cholesterol levels decreased, medical professionals might be looking at the wrong markers to determine what stimulates weight loss.
“Processed food in the long-term ultimately leads to poor health and a higher risk of disease. His cholesterol levels may have gone down, but other organs were suffering. For instance, his pancreas was working hard to produce a lot of insulin to control his blood sugar levels.”
Haub admitted that after the first thirty-six hours on the “diet”, his head felt as if it were in a vise, a sugar headache resulting from the dip his blood sugar levels took after eating sweets on an empty stomach.
Ultimately the test was so limited in scope that there’s no way to determine how Kaub’s diet will affect his overall health in the long-term. However, the general literature in the diet and nutrition field is pretty clear on what happens to the body over time. Most of the serious side effects are fairly obvious—diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems, increased cravings for sugar, systemic inflammation, and overall malnourishment. Also, since snacks like Twinkies and Little Debbies contain empty calories, they are likely to aggravate sugar cravings, making calorie restriction more difficult than ever.
One of the major drawbacks of a diet of this caliber is the rise in insulin levels caused by sugar, which suppresses the release of growth hormones and heavily debilitates the immune system. Not only will this increase the risk of disease, but ultimately a rise in insulin levels leads to increased fat storage, resulting in imminent weight gain and elevated triglyceride levels.
At the end of the day, the question comes down to deciding what’s more important, losing weight or being healthy? Most people would like to answer both, but a large segment of the population is still searching for that quick weight loss fix and for some, Haub has provided one.
“The way you lose weight is ultimately how you’re going to maintain your weight loss,” Kruppa continues. “If you do it in a way that’s not sustainable, the weight loss won’t be sustained.”
So it’s true. You can lose weight by eating a Twinkie and a chocolate bar a day, but at what cost?