Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Twinkie Diet

This was a ridiculous bit of theatre; a professor of nutrition, Mark Haub, putting himself on a diet of Twinkies, among other things, to lose weight.

So it's somehow fitting that the best take-down of this bit of theatre comes from a comedian, Tom Naughton, who does a better job of debunking the "diet" than the pros, IMHO:

"Now, 173 grams of carbohydrate per day certainly isn’t low, but it’s not high either. Depending on whose figures you use, that’s about half as many carbohydrates as an average American male consumes per day. It’s also at least 1,000 fewer daily calories than an average male consumes. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that Professor Haub lost weight on a “Twinkie Diet” that is actually moderate in carbohydrates and very low in calories. I’d lose weight on that diet, too. (I’d hate it, but I’d lose weight.)

"I would also lose muscle on such a low protein intake, and according to his health assessments posted on Facebook, Professor Haub did in fact lose 6 pounds of lean body mass over the 10 weeks. So we’re looking at a fat loss of 20 pounds in 10 weeks, or two pounds per week...."

So the takeaway from this foolishness is that if you starve yourself, you will lose weight.  Duh.  What point the professor thought he was making by this is beyond me.  As Dr. John Briffa put it:

"While I do not buy into the ‘it’s only calories that count’ school of thinking, I do believe that inducing a caloric deficit of several hundred calories each day is likely to being about weight loss. I don’t know anyone, in or out of the ‘low-carb community’ who would dispute this (though I accept some people may hold this view). The point is Professor Haub has demonstrated through personal, anecdotal experience that the vast majority of people would not dispute. He has, in effect, demonstrated what most people would be regarded as something entirely predictable. Nice work Professor Haub."
So why was Naughton's takedown the best?  Aside from the fact that he made a movie, Fat Head, about a similar bit of theatre, he actually tracked down Haub's menus:

"November 12
Pumpkin Spice Donut
Coffee
Protein shake
Onion Rings
Steak
Broccoli
Macaroni and Cheese
Baked potato casserole
Dynasty Lychees
Baby carrots
Peanut butter cookies
2% milk"

What's missing?  Twinkies!  That's actually a far better diet than most Americans probably eat.

Stephen Guyenet (one of the pros) also has an excellent post on this farce:

"Well, then why did Dr. Haub's diet allow him to lose weight? The body can only maintain body composition in the face of a calorie deficit up to a certain point. After that, it has no choice but to lower fat mass. It will do so reluctantly, at the same time increasing hunger, and reducing lean mass***, muscular strength and energy dedicated to tissue repair and immune function. However, I hope everyone can agree that a sufficient calorie deficit can lead to fat loss regardless of what kind of food is eaten. Dr. Haub's 800 calorie deficit qualifies. I think only a very small percentage of people are capable of maintaining that kind of calorie deficit for more than a few months, because it is mentally and physically difficult to fight against what the hypothalamus has decided is in your best interest."

By the way: Tom Naughton's Fat Head movie is excellent, and extremely funny.  I recommend it highly.

P.S.: Jimmy Moore interviewed Dr. Haub.