The ‘Twinkie Diet’

      73 Comments on The ‘Twinkie Diet’

Over the past several weeks, I’ve received quite a few emails and comments about Kansas State nutrition professor Mark Haub and his “Twinkie Diet.” I became aware of professor Haub’s experiment awhile back because he emailed me about it.  He’s seen Fat Head, and if I remember correctly, he said he shows it to his students in class.

In case you haven’t heard about his experiment, here’s a typical headline, this one from a CNN article:

Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds

For 10 weeks, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate one of these sugary cakelets every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.

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.

As you might imagine, a lot of the emails and comments I received included a question along the lines of “How can this guy be losing weight when he’s living on all those refined carbohydrates?” I replied that I’d need to see a breakdown of what he actually ate. Fortunately, Professor Haub (unlike Morgan Spurlock) has nothing to hide and has made his food log and health assessments public. I finally spent some time going over them and crunching some numbers.

So, the answer to the question How can this guy be losing weight when he’s living on all all those refined carbohydrates? is … (wait for it):  By not actually consuming a high number of carbohydrates.

Despite the headlines, Professor Haub wasn’t living on a “Twinkie Diet” or a “Little Debbie Snack Cake Diet.”  He was on a diet that includes Twinkies and Little Debbie Snack Cakes.

First, let’s look at a couple of daily 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

October 29
Hostess cupcake
Coffee
Sesame chicken
Teriyaki chicken
Egg roll
Chicken nachos
Broccoli
Lemon zingers
Kit Kat

Like my Fat Head fast-food diet, nobody would mistake this for any kind of health-food diet.  The guy is definitely consuming sugar.  And yet he lost weight, lost body fat, raised his HDL, and lowered both his triglycerides and LDL.  How can that be?  Well, let’s look at the numbers.

I copied the daily nutrition totals into Excel and calculated Professor Haub’s average daily intake of calories and macronutrients over the 10 weeks he’s been on the diet:

Calories: 1457
Fat (g): 61
Carbohydrate (g): 173
Protein (g): 54

As a percent of daily calories, it works out to:

Fat: 38%
Carbohydrate:  47%
Protein:  15%

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.

As with dieters everywhere, his weight loss appears to be slowing down as he goes along. During the first four weeks of the diet, according to his online data, he lost an average of 3.75 pounds per week, but slowed to 1.8 pounds per week over the next six weeks. That’s not surprising. There’s usually some initial water loss in the early phase of a diet, and of course once you begin to lose weight, your basal metabolism tends to drop. What would be interesting to see is how quickly he’d regain the weight if he went back up to 2500 calories per day and consumed more carbohydrates — not that I’d encourage him to try it.

Overall, it looks like an interesting experiment, and it’s certainly generated a lot of media buzz. It’s just too bad the buzzing media reporters aren’t taking a little closer look at the professor’s online food log. There’s certainly junk food in this diet, but it is not (as one headline described it) a Junk Food Binge. When you consume fewer than 1500 calories and 175 carbohydrates on an average day, it’s not any kind of binge.

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73 thoughts on “The ‘Twinkie Diet’

  1. D. Sterner

    There were a lot of posts on this all over the low carb & paleo-spheres, including a thread at PaleoHacks. Instead of just quipping “that wouldn’t work long-term”, you dug out the data, did the hard work of analyzing it and wrote a lucid and detailed piece that totally blows the covers off! You may not be an M.D. or a trained scientist, but if anyone wants THE rebuttal to this Twinkie nonsense, I’ll be forwarding a link to your post.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Aaron Curl

    “I don’t really think the amount carbohydrates really matter for losing fat / muscle weight and tissue, what’s more important is that he created a calorie deficit. Of course if he consumed some more protein to replace either fat or carbs he would have retained more muscle mass.”

    I’m not picking on you but….you need to do some studying and stop watching The Biggest Loser. There is way too much evidence that supports low carbs. Now, low carbs is different for everyone but reducing carb intake is the BEST way to lose weight. Calorie restriction is great in the form of intermittent fasting but thats it! The traditional eat less (sad) and exercise more is a ridiculous model that can’t be maintained by the average human. In fact, we were not designed to over exercise or overeat. Americans are the most undernourished, fat people in the world because of our great “understanding” of health. It’s simple….eat meat, some veggies, a little fruit and throw in some nuts and eggs and you’ll be great.

    Reply
  3. Laurie

    Tom and JeremyR (and everybody else) these ideas are genius and thank you for them. ‘Twinkie’ diet that wasn’t and muscle mass was degraded and he consumed his own lard to improve his blood lipid chemistry- outstanding ideas. However, Dr Haub does get some blame. There is a ?$billion? dollar a year (don’t know the exact $ figure) diet industry- cookbooks, weight watchers, jenny craig, even Atkins (which of course we know works, but most don’t) and I probably could test and announce that I’d lost weight on a ‘pineapple’ diet (anybody remember that one?). Haub’s little demo does not help anyone and it obscures a lot. In the 1996 Atlanta summer Olympics a security guard was unjustly accused of setting off a bomb. This sullied his reputation and the retraction of the accusation didn’t get any press. There are better examples of this I just can’t think of but I’m getting at that if junk diets and STUNTS like Haub’s consume some of the air (heck any) and are lauded and sensationalized, lots of damage is done and it further delays the correct (and FAR more interesting) information emerging. We’re sent scurrying off on a waste of time tangent.
    I listened to Taubes on Jimmy Moore’s podcast. He said lots of interesting things but what struck me most is his claim of the delay in helpful ideas getting any press. Taubes said he went to a conference on childhood obesity. What struck him is that lots of detailed, minutia clinical research is being done on the genetics of some specific marker of obesity…..in zebrafish. And what fat, unhealthy kid right NOW is going to benefit from those results in ten years? And really do rat studies, rabbit and zebrafish studies advance this? For pity sake we have a randomized, large population, controlled, longitudinal nutrition study staring us in the face and the conclusion if we but look is that low-fat, high-carb diets make us sick. (30 plus years of the USDA food pyramid- thank you Dr Feinman for pointing this out). Help these young kids now. And Dr Haub and your ilk- knock it off.

    The glacial pace can indeed be frustrating.

    Reply
  4. Darth Chaos

    Tom, I just found out that there will be an “Obesity Truth” seminar at the University of South Florida on April 16 at 6:30PM. It’s titled Myths and Misinformation About Fat and Cholesterol: How Bad Science and Big Business Have Created the Obesity Epidemic. I have encouraged readers of my blog to use information gathered on my blog concerning CSPI and to buy and watch your documentary to use said information to develop questions and/or talking points should the general public be allowed to ask questions. I also posted the info on the Prison Planet Forum (I’m an “obesity troofer” like that douchebag on YouTube xxcelinux would say, and I wear that label PROUDLY), and a member on there said he is a USF alumni and may attend the event.

    Glad to hear it. I’d like to know what kind of information they’ll present at the seminar.

    Reply
  5. Robbie Trinidad

    A common argument I hear against low-carb diets is that Asians eat a lot of rice but you don’t see that many fat asians. Those who raise that argument probably have no idea how small serving sizes are in asian countries. Here in the Philippines I suspect the average Filipino eats a moderate amount of carbs despite having rice as a staple.

    That’s what an Asian researcher told Gary Taubes as well; we’re talking about a population that (until recently, anyway) was largely poor and living on semi-starvation diets much of the time.

    Reply
  6. Laurie

    Newsflash. Alert the media. Spurlock gained weight on a 5000 calorie/day diet and Haub lost weight on a 1450 cal/day diet. Big Whoop. Too late, the media has already been alerted. Eat ‘Twinkies’ ad libitum is the conclusion from this latest randomized, large population, controlled, longitudinal, nutrition study.

    Reply
  7. D. Sterner

    There were a lot of posts on this all over the low carb & paleo-spheres, including a thread at PaleoHacks. Instead of just quipping “that wouldn’t work long-term”, you dug out the data, did the hard work of analyzing it and wrote a lucid and detailed piece that totally blows the covers off! You may not be an M.D. or a trained scientist, but if anyone wants THE rebuttal to this Twinkie nonsense, I’ll be forwarding a link to your post.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Darth Chaos

    Here’s the information about the seminar.

    Myths and Misinformation About Fat and Cholesterol: How Bad Science and Big Business Have Created the Obesity Epidemic
    April 16, 2011 @ 6:30 p.m.

    University Club, Harbour Room
    One Tampa Center, 201 N. Franklin St., 38th Floor. A R.S.V.P. . is required

    Reply
  9. Darth Chaos

    Tom, I just found out that there will be an “Obesity Truth” seminar at the University of South Florida on April 16 at 6:30PM. It’s titled Myths and Misinformation About Fat and Cholesterol: How Bad Science and Big Business Have Created the Obesity Epidemic. I have encouraged readers of my blog to use information gathered on my blog concerning CSPI and to buy and watch your documentary to use said information to develop questions and/or talking points should the general public be allowed to ask questions. I also posted the info on the Prison Planet Forum (I’m an “obesity troofer” like that douchebag on YouTube xxcelinux would say, and I wear that label PROUDLY), and a member on there said he is a USF alumni and may attend the event.

    Glad to hear it. I’d like to know what kind of information they’ll present at the seminar.

    Reply
  10. Robbie Trinidad

    A common argument I hear against low-carb diets is that Asians eat a lot of rice but you don’t see that many fat asians. Those who raise that argument probably have no idea how small serving sizes are in asian countries. Here in the Philippines I suspect the average Filipino eats a moderate amount of carbs despite having rice as a staple.

    That’s what an Asian researcher told Gary Taubes as well; we’re talking about a population that (until recently, anyway) was largely poor and living on semi-starvation diets much of the time.

    Reply
  11. Darth Chaos

    Here’s the information about the seminar.

    Myths and Misinformation About Fat and Cholesterol: How Bad Science and Big Business Have Created the Obesity Epidemic
    April 16, 2011 @ 6:30 p.m.

    University Club, Harbour Room
    One Tampa Center, 201 N. Franklin St., 38th Floor. A R.S.V.P. . is required

    Reply
  12. Richard David Feinman

    I don’t understand why this was considered an experiment. What was the control group? What was the null hypothesis? Does anybody think you won’t lose weight on pure carbohydrate diet of bread and water?

    There you go insisting on scientific principles …

    Reply
  13. Richard David Feinman

    I don’t understand why this was considered an experiment. What was the control group? What was the null hypothesis? Does anybody think you won’t lose weight on pure carbohydrate diet of bread and water?

    There you go insisting on scientific principles …

    Reply
  14. Paula

    First off, I love your site and recommend everyone I talk to to watch “Fat Head”. My husband couldn’t follow it, but you must understand he is deeply in denial and thinks Pepsi Cola is a food group.

    Anyway, way back when I did Weight Watchers, it might as well have been a “Twinkie Diet” – an awful lot of energy was put into finding low “WW Point” versions of our favorite foods (cookies, cakes, starchy casseroles, carbs carbs carbs). And I did lose a lot of weight in a fairly short time on the program – for a few months, then it stopped. And I was always ravenous…. If the Twinkie diet had continued for a couple more months, chances are the weight loss would have stopped for Professor Haub, too.

    I now eat half a pound of bacon every morning, the weight is falling off, and I’m not jonesing for my next sugar fix… I’ll take that over WW any day.

    Professor Haub also ate meats and drank protein shakes. It wasn’t the “Twinkie Diet” as portrayed in the media, and he isn’t fond of the term.

    Reply
  15. Paula

    First off, I love your site and recommend everyone I talk to to watch “Fat Head”. My husband couldn’t follow it, but you must understand he is deeply in denial and thinks Pepsi Cola is a food group.

    Anyway, way back when I did Weight Watchers, it might as well have been a “Twinkie Diet” – an awful lot of energy was put into finding low “WW Point” versions of our favorite foods (cookies, cakes, starchy casseroles, carbs carbs carbs). And I did lose a lot of weight in a fairly short time on the program – for a few months, then it stopped. And I was always ravenous…. If the Twinkie diet had continued for a couple more months, chances are the weight loss would have stopped for Professor Haub, too.

    I now eat half a pound of bacon every morning, the weight is falling off, and I’m not jonesing for my next sugar fix… I’ll take that over WW any day.

    Professor Haub also ate meats and drank protein shakes. It wasn’t the “Twinkie Diet” as portrayed in the media, and he isn’t fond of the term.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      Yes, as part of my “little research,” I corresponded with the professor himself. Look at the figures you posted. A typical day was 124 grams of carbs — junk carbs to be sure, but that’s less than half the carb intake of a typical American diet.

      If you think gaining or losing weight all comes down to the number of calories we consume, please explain this experiment, which is equally as valid as the one conducted by Haubs:

      http://www.fathead-movie.com/index.php/2013/10/17/sam-felthams-second-overeating-experiment/

      Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yes, as part of my “little research,” I corresponded with the professor himself. Look at the figures you posted. A typical day was 124 grams of carbs — junk carbs to be sure, but that’s less than half the carb intake of a typical American diet.

      If you think gaining or losing weight all comes down to the number of calories we consume, please explain this experiment, which is equally as valid as the one conducted by Haubs:

      http://www.fathead-movie.com/index.php/2013/10/17/sam-felthams-second-overeating-experiment/

      Reply
  16. Rick

    “To curb calories, he avoided meat, whole grains and fruits. Once he started adding meat into the diet four weeks ago, his cholesterol level increased.”

    Curious.

    Did Haubs add only meat, or did he add meat, whole grains and fruit back into his diet?

    What was the cholesterol increase? If total cholesterol went from 170 to 170.1 that is an increase. How many times where cholesterol numbers taken during the experiment to account for normal fluctuations?

    Most studies indicate that dietary cholesterol has little direct impact on blood cholesterol, so something seems to be missing here.

    Reply
  17. Rick

    “To curb calories, he avoided meat, whole grains and fruits. Once he started adding meat into the diet four weeks ago, his cholesterol level increased.”

    Curious.

    Did Haubs add only meat, or did he add meat, whole grains and fruit back into his diet?

    What was the cholesterol increase? If total cholesterol went from 170 to 170.1 that is an increase. How many times where cholesterol numbers taken during the experiment to account for normal fluctuations?

    Most studies indicate that dietary cholesterol has little direct impact on blood cholesterol, so something seems to be missing here.

    Reply

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