Home » Health News, Nutrition » The IQ of a Twinkie

The IQ of a Twinkie

I’m sure by now you’ve all heard the story about the nutrition professor who ate only junk food for 10 weeks and managed to lose 27 pounds in the process. Referred to as the “twinkie diet” or the “convenience store diet,” Mark Haub ate less than 1,800 calories worth of hostess snacks per day (which amounted to about 1 twinkie every 3 hours), rounding out his diet with doritos, oreos, and, for good measure, a can of green beans or three to four celery stalks. At the end of the month, not only did he lose weight, but he also lowered his bad cholesterol (LDL) and upped the levels of good cholesterol (HDL).

twinkies.jpg

(Source)

Sounds like the experiment was a huge success, right? Here is living proof that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. It doesn’t matter what you eat. As long as you restrict your caloric intake and maintain a regular exercise regimen, you can eat whatever the heck you want and still lose weight. Great news for junk food enthusiasts everywhere!

Not so much. The problem with this situation is not the fact that he lost weight and improved his cholesterol by eating crap. The guy supposedly ate around 2,600 calories a day before starting the experiment (FDA recommends 2,000 for the average adult). Which means that he cut his calorie intake by at least 800 calories a day for 10 weeks. On top of that, he reports maintaining a regular exercise regimen, so was burning off a good chunk of those calories everyday. Basic math and science says that when calories in are less than calories out, weight loss will result. No big mystery there.

No, the problem with this situation is the message that it sends. Not only is Haub a professor of nutrition, but he conducted an experiment that basically perpetuates the warped thinking of our culture. Thinking that equates weight with health and glorifies extreme diets as a means to a weight loss end. In a society obsessed with quick fixes and easy solutions, what could be a better way to lose weight than eating sugar to your heart’s content?

Frankly the entire thing makes me sad. Regardless of Haub’s original intentions for this experiment, the reality is that the media is having a field day with it. Special interest groups are using this as fuel to their fires of opposition against public health officials (those evil people) who want to tax soda, ban junk food in schools, and do whatever they can to “control” the foods that people eat. Because really, why do all that when we have living proof that you can eat whatever you want in moderation? When even Twinkies, the epitome of all junk food, can help a person lose weight?

Ever since the results of this little experiment have been announced, I’ve seen things popping up all over the media that focus only on the fact that a man has lost weight by eating twinkies alone. Articles and tv personalities that bash public health efforts to regulate food in schools and help encourage more access to healthy food options.

limbaugh_twinkiediet.jpg

Rush Limbaugh has been pretty vocal about his diet advice — and feelings about Michelle Obama

Articles such as this one in the Boston Herald that proclaim: Obesity Not by Twinkies Alone.

**It should be noted that this article was written by someone from the Center for Consumer Freedom, a coalition supported by restaurants & food companies.**

The article states:

“But in their extremes, they both prove the same point: Taking responsibility by watching what you eat and exercising is the best way to keep your weight down.

But responsibility is anathema to the cadre of public health busybodies, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has convinced legislators that food, not lack of self control or exercise, is responsible for obesity.”

And

”But no matter what food they’re in, calories are just energy. Weight gain or loss is due to an imbalance between calories in and calories out. And more and more evidence is pointing to increasingly sedentary lifestyles as a big, fat reason our waistlines have expanded.”

And  finally concludes:

“The next time anti-food activists propose we limit or ban foods for the public good, we should remind them that there are no good or bad foods, but there are fat-headed notions of how to fight obesity.”

The obesity epidemic in America is no joke. More than 1/3 of US adults and 17% of children are obese (source). Obviously we need to find ways to help Americans lose weight in a safe and effective manner in order to improve the health and wellbeing of our nation. But to suggest that simply losing the pounds in whatever way possible automatically makes a person healthier is ludicrous. Weight is not the only indicator of health — obesity is a health risk because of all the conditions that are associated with it. Filling your body with sugar and processed chemicals may help you lose the pounds, but will it really result in good health over the long term?

Eating well is about more than just weight loss.  When you eat well, you are fueling your body; giving it energy to enjoy all the many great things in life. An extreme diet may help you quickly lose weight, but what about other indicators of health? Diabetes and cancer, cavities and vitamin deficiencies. Or even the unknown long-term effects of loading your body entirely with chemicals for months? (To see a cool photography project that deconstructs the Twinkie into all its 37+ individual ingredients, click here).

Furthermore, there are many Americans that live in food deserts — places that don’t have affordable fresh whole foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc. Like Haub, they could live on the twinkie diet, and maybe even lose weight doing it. But unlike Haub, they don’t have the option to just drop the diet after a few months when they get sick of all the junk. The reality is that these individuals face a lifetime of poor access to nutritional foods. What sort of effect will this have on them over the course of many decades? And don’t we, as a nation — as fellow people — have a responsibility to do everything that we can to ensure that everyone has an equal chance to buy fresh foods for themselves and their families?

I think so. Personally, I’m thankful for Michelle Obama and other efforts to help improve access to healthy foods for all people. Because it’s my hope that one day I will live in a nation where every person has a fair chance to eat healthy foods and live an active life.

17 Responses to The IQ of a Twinkie

  1. I heard about the Twinkie Diet earlier today and am still pissed. What message is this sending? Eat Twinkies and you’ll be fine? Because you won’t be. And the sad reality is that people really think it’s acceptable.

    Hey, media, how about you tell a story of someone who lost weight by eating 9 servings of fruits & veggies a day? I get so sick of all these fad diets. Low-fat, low-carb, high protein, and then worse, crap like the Twinkie diet or Cabbage soup diet? Let’s all take a lesson from health genius Mike Pollan: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

    Oh, and be careful of “edible food-like substances.” aka Twinkies.
    hbobier´s last post ..Christmas Pasta

  2. I can’t agree more. Back when I was at my thinnest in the midst of my eating disorder, most of my food was either iceberg lettuce, frozen diet tv dinners, special K, or 100 calorie packs of chocolates. Crap, yes…but I lost an inordinate amount of weight eating this way because I quite simply took in so few calories. It definitely goes to show that what you put into your body is more indicative of health than how much.
    Faith @ lovelyascharged´s last post ..Make Mine a Double!

    • I love how you phrased that last line!! It’s so true! Thank you for sharing your experience. I think you make a great point, and I’m glad that it sounds like you are in a much better place now. …now if only more people could recognize this truth.

  3. I love the title of your blog and for those who want to follow a fools advice and live off of junk, then they truly have the IQ of a twinkie.
    Lauren you put a lot more research into this than I would because I get a little tired of lazy people looking for an excuse to remain lazy. And, eating junk is truly a sign of laziness. It takes effort to create a healthy meal. Besides, you can put all the twinkies you want into your body and brag about weight loss. It still doesn’t stop the fact that you are loading your fine tuned body with junk. The only upside to it is that Twinkies are so full of preservatives, that when you die you won’t need embalming fluid!
    I think to you point, the president’s wife is doing a wonderful thing openly discussing nutrition. If she were white and a republican, my guess is her message would be heard a lot more on the right and less washed up radio talk show hosts like Rush would be saying anything negative.

    • I know we talked about this already, but I just want to say again that I respectfully disagree with what you said regarding junk food and laziness. Yes, making a healthy meal takes planning and work; yes, it can seem easier to order fast food or eat a packaged dinner. And yes — I’ll even agree that people have a choice about what they eat. BUT, the fact of the matter is that for some people, that choice is much more difficult (if not impossible) to make. There are many places in this country where individuals do not have access to affordable fresh foods, so eating junk becomes the norm. It’s hard to encourage people to change their ways and eat healthy when there are many barriers that exist (and when experiments such as this one “prove” that you can be “healthy” even if you eat crap!!). You can read more about food deserts if you click on the link to the CDC above.

  4. Liz @ Blog is the New Black

    I agree with you. This is no worse than a “diet in pill” etc. Wrong messages are being sent. It’s sad.

  5. I agree with everything you said; thank you for articulating it so perfectly. I’m especially glad you brought up the class divide here – those of us in comfortable positions tend to forget to consider what these messages mean to people who don’t have the luxury of choosing between junk and healthy fare. A good reminder.
    Katie @ Health for the Whole Self´s last post ..“Live Life to the Fullest” 2011 Inspirational Calendar

  6. Well written, Lauren! I’ve been reading and watching the hype over the Twinkie Diet unfold. I find it irritating and upsetting. I feel like I witness this type of diet daily. I walk into the faculty lounge for lunch and there is always at least one person eating something like and apple and a bag of M&M’s for lunch. The person may be thin, but is usually also complaining that the day is dragging, the week is dragging, life is dragging. Maybe a decent lunch would add a little pep to their step.

    The missing link in all of this is health. Weight is not always an indicator of health. When my dad was at his thinnest, he was in the hospital attached to an insulin drip. He ate plenty of Doritos. Somehow that didn’t solve the problem. I don’t mean to get personal, but it really disgusts me when such ridiculous messages are highly publicized.
    Becky´s last post ..Go Up The Big Hill

    • No, I’m glad you did! Thank you for sharing this! I think you make a really great point, a point that not everyone gets. It’s really sad that people choose not to see the negative reality to all this, that there can be genuine health consequences to eating poorly, even if you do have a low (or normal) body weight. It’s really frustrating that so many instead choose to believe the hype that just being thin is all that matters.

  7. Oh my God … when I first heard about this “Twinkie diet”, I was so mad that I saw red. People are going to hear about how he lost weight and improved cholesterol (which many people are concerned about) and just assume that a calorie is a calorie and they can be healthy on junk food. Grrr! Many people won’t make the connection (as you so excellently point out) that he was eating fewer calories on this so-called diet and that he was exercising, which is one of the best ways to lower cholesterol and the only surefire way to increase HDL! And the fact that he’s a nutrition professor is all the worse, because people will look to him as an authority. My goodness, was this just a publicity stunt for him?? And don’t get me started on Rush Limbaugh …

    Anyway, I obviously have strong feelings about this :P Thanks for bringing this issue to people’s attention and for straightening out some of the misconceptions. Nutrition is confusing enough as it is!!

    Have a great day, Lauren!

  8. LOVE THIS! I am so glad you found all those facts! OMG I can’t imagine the people that are thinking this is a good idea?! This is an awesome post.
    Nichole´s last post ..Marathon Weekend Rewind

  9. You are such a strong writer Lauren! Love this post. I agree with everything you’ve written. Personally, I eat better now than I ever have- eating lots of local farm fresh foods and I have not lost weight but I feel healthy and thats what counts. I always say that to my friends- its not about how many calories you put into your body, but rather what kind of nutritional calories you eat- foods that make you feel good and healthy, not light and skinny!
    Lizzy´s last post ..Lessons from the NYC Marathon &amp Food

  10. Amazing post Lauren. I started hearing about this ridiculous story on the radio and honestly my first thought was how stupid can he be? I am all about eating well and then you hear about something like this and wonder yes he lost weight but how did he truly feel by only eating junk. I can’t imagine he felt all that healthy since everything he ate had ZERO nutritional value.

  11. Ahh! Of course I completely agree with you. You did such a wonderful job on this post :)
    It disturbs me that a nutrition professor would do something like this. In college, when Atkins was popular, I was livid that so many of my friends were shunning my friend the carb. I purposely went on a high-card diet to show them all that it doesn’t matter what type of calories you eat, but how much you eat that impacts your weight. Granted we were 19, and all we cared about was weight. I’m smarter now and health is clearly my number one priority.
    But thin does not equal healthy. And a nutrition professor knows better. When is our society going to stop looking at thinness as a measure of good health?
    Jen´s last post ..The scariest race of my life

  12. This is the first time I’ve heard this story and I’m appalled. It’s completely sending the wrong message (like you said). But what’s more is that it fails to look at the long-term effects of such a diet. Weight loss is a relatively quick change when adapting a lower calorie, high junk diet. But the effects of vitamin/mineral deficiencies will take a while to see. If you were to adapt a Hostess diet, you would be nutrient-deficient which could cause a slew of problems…weak bones, poor immune system, no energy, etc., etc. Health really can’t be equated with thinness.

  13. You make a really good point. I do find it a little ironic that he is a professor of nutrition and did a study that really makes the health community take two steps back in everything they’ve tried to accomplish.

    And I agree. Weight is only one indicator. People often forget that.
    Amy B @ Second City Randomness´s last post ..A Weekend of Learning

  14. I’ve been meaning to reply to this for a few days…oops!

    I think the whole “Twinkie diet” idea is a bit nuts. Most people won’t argue with the fact that if more calories are going out than coming in, then you’re going to lose weight. Simple math there. But it’s sooooo much more about what you’re eating than how much. Also, no one ever got fat by eating carrots. (No scientific research behind that, but I’m assuming it’s true.)

    It’s insane that a nutrition professor is demonstrating this! This quote bothers me: “The next time anti-food activists propose we limit or ban foods for the public good, we should remind them that there are no good or bad foods, but there are fat-headed notions of how to fight obesity.”

    Quite honestly, I don’t think people should be able to buy things like soda with food stamps…it’s government money (and can therefore be regulated) and should be for HEALTHY foods. I don’t understand why that upsets people.
    Susan – Nurse on the Run´s last post ..to jersey via the GW bridge

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge