The Twinkie Diet

This blog from the What The F&$^ file is thanks to an e-mail from a reader named Sabrina. Thanks Sabrina!

I love getting reader e-mail so feel free to send me interesting stuff at dances with fat at yahoo dot com.

Sabrina sent me a link to the article:  “Twinkie Diet Helps Nutrition Professor Lose 27 Pounds

The story highlights are as follows (let’s pay particular attention to the third one, shall we):

  • Nutrition professor’s “convenience store diet” helped him shed 27 pounds
  • Haub limited himself to 1,800 calories and two-thirds come [sic] from junk food
  • Haub said it’s too early to draw any conclusions about diet

To sum up: For reasons somewhat passing understanding this guy decided to see what would happen if  he ate like crap for 10 weeks, but only 1800 calories of crap per day.

According to the article, he ate a snack cake every three hours in lieu of meals, but at the table with his kids (so as not to set a poor example) he ate vegetables.  To quote the article:

“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.”

Wait, so do his kids think that a can of green beans or 3-4 celery stalks is an appropriate meal?

During the 10 weeks he lost 27  pounds and his health markers improved:  his “bad” cholesterol went down, his “good” cholesterol went up, and his triglycerides went down.

What does he say about the experiment?

“I wish I could say the outcomes are unhealthy. I wish I could say it’s healthy. I’m not confident enough in doing that. That frustrates a lot of people. One side says it’s irresponsible. It is unhealthy, but the data doesn’t say that.”

He’s exactly right.  We can’t draw conclusions for a bunch of reasons.  Here are some of those:

  • He didn’t properly track his eating before he started the diet to create any kind of baseline
  • It looks like he went from eating a few large meals a day to many small ones which can have an effect on the metabolism, at least in the short term
  • His study had no control group
  • 1 dude for 10 weeks does not statistical significance make
  • The body corrects for weight over time – in long-term weight loss we like to see 5 year success so I’d like to hear from him in 4 years and 42 weeks
  • His results have not been replicated (and I wouldn’t hold your breath for someone to try)

He says over and over not to draw conclusions based on this “experiment”.  I’m not mad at him, he understands the limitations of his study.

But then the article quotes Dawn Jackson Blatner.

She is a dietitian based in Atlanta, Georgia and spokeperson for the American Dietetic Association  (who I personally think should be stripped of both titles for being epically bad at science) who says:

“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.

Really Dawn?  Science is hard, let’s go shopping.

If you read this blog, oh I don’t know…EVER, you’ll know that I disagree with this based on a TON of research that I’ve done.  I’ve not seen any good research to back up anything that she said here, and I’ve seen a lot of research (of course, she doesn’t cite any). She doesn’t know the difference between correlation and causation which activates my eye-roll reflex – studies show that these problems and being “overweight” happen at the same time, they haven’t proven that one leads to the other.   Caloric deficit weight loss methods (eating less calories than you burn) have an abysmally low success rate, and over 95% of people end up LESS healthy than they started within 5 years.  Mostly though, I just want to ask her –  I’m trying to choose between a diet based on cocaine or crystal meth.  Which would she recommend? I mean, whatever makes you thin, right?  Right…?

In a not-that-redeeming slightly lucid moment she did say: “There are things we can’t measure.  How much does that affect the risk for cancer? We can’t measure how diet changes affect our health.”  I find a dietitian saying “We can’t measure how diet changes affect our health” pretty suspect, but I refuse to waste any more time on this woman.  What I don’t understand is why, in an article about a nutrition professor, they thought it was necessary to bring this woman in for an “expert opinion”?  My guess is that they wanted a conclusion and, as a scientist with ethics, he couldn’t give them what they wanted.  Enter Dawn Jackson Blatner.

Bottom line:  I could start eating 2/3 junk food in the hopes of getting to a  BMI of which Ms. Blanton would likely approve,  but if I didn’t lose weight long term (and I suspect I wouldn’t) and my health failed (and I suspect it would), I’ll bet Ms. Blanton wouldn’t be there backing up my method, confused as to why it didn’t work, and singing the praises of the Twinkie diet.

It’s not called “Healthy Skepticism” for nothing y’all.

Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 3:04 pm  Comments (19)  
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19 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Best part of the blog EVER, “What I don’t understand is why, in an article about a nutrition professor, they thought it was necessary to bring this woman in for an “expert opinion”? My guess is that they wanted a conclusion and, as a scientist with ethics, he couldn’t give them what they wanted. Enter Dawn Jackson Blatner.”

    As a scientist, I am purely embarrassed for her! You kind of have to wonder why she didn’t ask herself the same question when they asked her to contribute her two cents to this little tidbit of “journalism”. Sounds like someone who just wanted to get her name in an article somewhere.

    Thanks again for some clear and concise logic about some new “research”, Ragen!

    • Glad that you liked it and thanks for giving a real scientists perspective.

  2. In the battle of cocaine v. meth, go with cocaine everytime. No methmouth and typically a classier more refined crowd of drug addicts to hang out with.

    • haha this made me laugh!

      Great post and I agree why was Dawn Jackson Blatner even needed to comment on this when its clearly not a study or anything its just news.

    • Thanks Dave – I can always count on you to be there for me with sound advice. Now, where can I score some cocaine?

  3. All I can say is “duh.” Honestly, what are people thinking?!

    xo Susie

    • I think that they are kind of not.

  4. Ok. Not a scientist. Not in awesome shape, though all of my numbers are fine. But….2 years ago, I took 2 weeks off work. I eat less at home. I ate ramen noodles every day for breakfast, peanut butter and crackers for lunch, and maybe a “real food” dinner most days. Imagine my shock to learn that I LOST 10 POUNDS. Really. It convinced me that it’s not so much “what you eat” as it is “how much you eat”. Blast and flame me if you want. Just telling a story.

    • Hi Tiff,

      There’s nothing to flame you about, you were very honest that you are not a scientist, this is your personal story about a 2 week personal experience, what happened, and what you’ve decided that it means in the long term. As long as you are just applying those conclusions to yourself and not trying to extrapolate to tell others how to live, I don’t see a problem. If you were trying to claim scientific validity, or tell us that you have proof of how to lose weight, then of course you know your one person, 2 week life experience would fall far short of any kind of scientifically valid proof of anything – in the same way and for the same reasons that the “experiment” in the article does, but you are absolutely allowed to tell your personal story and I can’t imagine anyone flaming you.

      ~Ragen

    • This is in no way meant to blast or flame you Tiff, but the point of this blog was not contending whether or not someone can lose weight eating mostly junk food, but whether or not it is healthy to do so. Some people have taken this a step further and have insinuated that being skinny and eating nothing but junk food is inherently healthier than being a heavier person, which is total bunk. Not everyone was meant to be a size 2 or 10 or 14, and as long as we eat a moderately healthy diet and get a decent amount of exercise, we can be healthy at any weight. With all due respect, health is very dependent on both what you eat and how much of it you eat; the numbers on the scale, maybe not so much.

  5. hi ragen…another fantastic post! thank you. i’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and it’s such a good kick in the pants for me.

    i’m a big believer in eating healthy, which is an oddly unpopular thing to believe, not being on a diet (besides, the second i tell myself i should go on a diet, i instantly want a doughnut or 5). i try to include as many healthy foods in my diet as i can, and don’t beat myself up for the occasional doughnut (i figure the endorphins from enjoying the food is better than the stress created from feeling “bad” about eating the dumb thing). instead of telling myself what i can’t eat…i just try to include more healthy foods. and guess what? i’m healthy. imagine that!

    now…i’m what the bmi considers “overweight” but thanks to you and other blogs (like kate harding), i’m becoming more and more ok with this (& less ok with the bmi). i started working out earlier this year, gained a bunch of muscle (yay! i love being strong), lost all of about 5 pounds on the scale. i realized the only way for me to lose the 40 pounds i’ve gained since college (where i was NOT healthy on my strict diet of dr. pepper and taco bell) would be to work out like a maniac and go on a restricted diet…and even then, who knows?? i’ve decided i’d rather be healthy now and enjoy my life. i think this is where my body wants to be (size-wise), because i’ve been this size and weight for 10 years. i figured, i’d take the hint =)

    as an aside, i have a friend who is constantly on atkins…which only works while you’re on the stupid diet. oy vey, she drives me crazy. anytime we talk about food, i’m always saying “but why can’t you eat beans? they’re good for you! they have lots of fiber and protein.” and “why can’t you eat tomatoes? you didn’t gain weight from eating too many tomatoes??” “seriously? no carrots? do you realize how many carrots you’d have to eat to have a spike in your bloodsugar??” i drive her crazy, too, i’m sure. =)

  6. Thanks Ragen!

    A student actually brought this article to my attention because of some stuff we’ve been talking about in class — in particular, my reaming of students for using “fat” vs “thin” to mean “healthy vs unhealthy” in a load of examples (it’s class on ethics, and their essay was on the ethical theory hedonism).

    And, yeah, your comment about the professor vs. the nutrition expert is particularly noteworthy to me as a professor. I think that this phenomena is quite widespread — I recall in an earlier post you were talking about a dude who wrote a book on weight loss, and the source of his authority is “because he lost some weight”. This happens to be a problem that, I think, lots of folks who work on ethics experience. Our knowledge is for crap, because some dude with a degree in some other unrelated field has decided to write a book on ethics, which to any person who’s taken a basic ethics class knows is total crap. So lots of people who’ve never actually studied ethics blab off about it, and no one ever wants to actually listen to the people who spend their entire careers studying it. I guess I see the (bad) pattern you’ve noted when it comes to the weight/health/body shape connection also applying in a lot of other places. It’s an issue of bad reasoning, and the only way to fix it is to try and teach people good reasoning, so they recognize crap claims when they see them… I hope I manage to do that.

  7. Thanks for the writeup. I was reading a version of this story on a uk website and after reading “‘How much does that affect the risk for cancer? We can’t measure how diet changes our health,’ she told CNN” I was shocked.

    When I read your comments about her being epically bad at science I decided to read on. Thanks for the breakdown, and thanks for bringing a blog that is well worth a visit. I’m glad I’ve found another useful site to learn and be entertained by.
    George

  8. If this guy was a great & knowledgable nutritionist he wouldn’t have had the 27 lbs to lose in the first place. If you eat fewer calories ummm … Yes your weight will probly drop. Over the long run if you aren’t supplying the nutrition your body needs there will be a deficit no matter what you eat or weigh.

  9. Great article, I’m just about to write about the Twinky diet myself. I was appalled at the news coverage of this story where reporters were making comments like “is the Twinkie diet to good to be true” or asking people on the street if they would try it when your right there’s no real science to back it up.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you like it and I’m glad that you are writing about it. More people need to be writing about this using logic and common sense! Let me know when it’s done, I’d like to check it out!

      ~Ragen

  10. NOTE: I APPROVE EVERY COMMENT TO THIS BLOG THAT DOESN’T APPEAR TO BE OVERT SPAM. IF YOU DIDN’T BELIEVE THAT BEFORE, YOU WILL AFTER READING THIS. I’M EXCITED TO SAY THAT THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I’VE BEEN COMPARED TO A BIRTHER. AWESOME!

    “I disagree with this based on a TON of research that I’ve done.”

    Have you bothered to publish any of your research in peer reviewed journals? If not, why should we believe you instead of the general consensus amongst scientists that a) being overweight/obese is unhealthy (except when you’re overweight/obese with less than the ordinary amount of bodyfat e.g. atheletes) and b) peoples attitudes to being overweight as well as their general levels of conscientiousness matter to their capacity to maintain a normal weight (and yes, a persons levels of impulsiveness and conscientiousness (as measure by e.g. the Five Factor Personality Model) do predict whether they are going to be overweight or obese). Pickup any medical student’s text book on pathology and they will tell you that overweight and obesity causes disease, and the reason these text books have the things they do in them is because there is a general consensus amongst the medical community that they are true – No dances with fat, ‘bacterial infectionss’ were not invented by the pharmaceutical industry to sell antibiotics!

    Why should we believe a theory about a conspiracy that has somehow fooled/seduced/coerced tenured scientists at leading universities, not to mention ordinary doctors – men and women who spend their lives trying to improve peoples health and reduce their suffering? Are they, generally speaking, idiots/being paid by the ‘diet industry’ when they claim that having too much body fat causes increased risk of certain diseases (heart disease, cancer etc.) Or are these doctors, despite having gone through incredibly intense training, complete idiots who just can’t read journals as well as you can? Doesn’t your conspiracy theory, at the end of the day, boil down to a theory similar to the ‘9/11 truther’s’ or the ‘climate conspiracy theorists’ etc. Why don’t the tenured scientists just come out and say “We’ve been wrong all along, ONLY DANCES WITH FAT KNOWS THE TRUTH! THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HAVING TOO MUCH BODY FAT! NOTHING YOU CAN DO CAN EVER EVER EVER REDUCE YOUR BODY FAT, DON’T TRY! JUST EAT PEOPLE, GO CRAZY!!!”

    Why not instead acknowledge the obvious: that there is a strong consensus from full time scientists who have devoted their life to studying health and overweight, and whose opinions as a whole can be trusted due to their tenure at reputable organisations. That the consensus is that having too much body fat is a bad thing, and that generally speaking, except for persons with above average levels of lean tissue, overweight and obese people have too much body fat and this causes them serious health problems, with the greater the fat the greater the health problems.

    But that 1) no, just because someone is fat doesn’t mean that they are less entitled to any dignity or respect, and that 2) discrimination against fat people is a real and unjustified form of discrimination that should be fought against by society and that 3) being fat should not make anybody feel worse about themselves as a person, and 4) that loosing weight is a very difficult process that persons who have been overweight/obese for a long time will have great difficulty doing, and will often require significant behavioural therapy or possible surgical/drug assistance for very severe cases.

    And thats it! But you have to go on and on about how Bush bought down the twin towers or how Obama wasn’t born in America etc. etc.

    • M,

      Thank you for taking the time to write out such a long reply.

      First, you ask repeatedly “why should we believe you”? You shouldn’t. As I always say on this blog I’m simply providing options and information. My goal is that people make up their own minds and then make their own choices. The consensus used to be that the world was flat. That was also espoused by the best scientists of the time. Pregnant women used to be given thalidomide by these same well meaning doctors, based on information in their textbooks, until contrarians proved that it caused serious birth defects. In science, we always leave room for the circumstance that we could be wrong and we are always looking for more and better research. It is perhaps interesting to note that you’ve spent your time here stating your opinion as fact. At any rate, I’m bored with you now. You are welcome to read this post for full information about my policies on argument. http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/side-effects-may-include-weight-loss/

      Thanks for the laugh – this is my first time being compared to a birther and it got my Sunday off to an amusing start. Best of luck to you in whatever it is you are trying to accomplish.

  11. Yeah… I did that diet once upon a time and oh boy did it wreck my health. I lived on mostly candy and it was “fine” as long as I didn’t go above whatever the “magic” number of calories were for me at the time. Sure, I lost a ton of weight. After a few years, I couldn’t think straight anymore and all I could think about was food. My skin turned gray and my hair thinned. Did I mention that I have several teeth with very little enamel from all the hunger and God only knows whatever other permanent damage my body has sustained?
    Yeah, it’s not a diet that I would recommend. I’d rather be fat and eating better and I am – so yay!
    Those docs claiming the ends justify the means as long as weight is lost make me want break something.


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