You may remember that back in September I ran an article about Prof. Mark Haub, who set out to lose weight by eating what is commonly referred to as “junk food” and that subsequently I also had an interview with the man.
The Diet Is Finished
Mark just finished his diet and lost 27 lbs. His body fat dropped from 33.4% to 24.9%, his “bad” LDL cholesterol went down by and the “good” HDL increased by 20%. All this reported by CNN, which is also the primary reason why I am writing about Mark again: the CNN article unleashed a small-scale news tornado.
Interestingly, most of the mainstream media grasped what Mark tried to show: that it depends on how many calories you consume whether you lose weight or not.
However, the reactions from various sides that have or at least should have knowledge in the field of health and nutrition were different.
Fad Diet Fans React
First there are the proponents of various fad diets with little scientific basis. One such is a popular blog on “low carb” diets, whose author put the results down to coincidence:
He may be a good metabolizer of carbohydrate unlike most of the people who visit my blog.
There is no such thing as a “good metabolizer” of carbohydrates. In absence of a true medical condition like diabetes the metabolic pathways and reactions nutrients take and cause in the human body are the same in all humans.
The Scientific Community
But these statements from the pseudo-scientific corner were to be expected and it is more worrying when an actual MD goes down to a similar level and makes connections between food ingredients and their sources, as Dr. Pamela Peeke does here:
60% of what Haub ate was not food. (…) Five ingredients [of Twinkies] come from rocks. I’m not kidding. These include: phosphate mines in Idaho, gypsum mines in Oklahoma, and oil fields in China. Sorbic acid, for example, is actually derived from natural gas. Cellulose gum, Polysorbate 60, and calcium sulfate are also used in sheet rock, shampoo, and rocket fuel. The vitamins, artificial colors, and flavorings in Twinkies come from petroleum. Limestone makes Twinkies light and the cream looking center is made of shortening. There is no cream.
I wonder what her stand toward antibiotics is, as penicillin was derived from the fungus Penicillium notatum, that in some cases was connected to human disease.
Reactions like these from professionals are even more worrying when they come from such noted individuals in the field as Marion Nestle, who told the Chicago Tribune that because of this diet, it won’t take Mark long to gain the weight back:
“If his experiment proved anything at all, it’s that calories count,” said Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University who was unimpressed with the results. “If he wants to do that with junk food that’s fine, but let’s see how long it takes for him to gain it all back.”
I otherwise think highly of Mrs. Nestle, but here she is mixing weight control with what constitutes healthy nutrition. The most important factor in weight control after weight loss is, well, keeping up the weight control. If you don’t, you make it much more likely to gain the weight back, no matter if it’s Twinkies you indulge yourself in or whole grain bread. It may happen faster with calorie-dense “junk food”, but down the road the result is the same.
The respected British Heart Foundation states in an article written by dietitian Victoria Taylor:
In truth, it’s impossible to say how this diet would affect someone who eats it over three, six or 12 months. But it’s certainly not a realistic alternative compared to a healthy, balanced diet which includes at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day as well as omega 3 fats from oily fish, both of which are beneficial to your heart.
Which makes me wonder if a person that can’t keep up the “healthy” diet she outlines here would be better off to stay fat or lose weight with the junk food he enjoys. Or would it be healthy to be overweight from a “balanced” diet? I am not making a rhetorical point here, but see these as subjects that warrant further research. I personally lost weight by eating less of the unhealthy foods I enjoyed, after finding out I couldn’t go through with a diet deemed “healthy”.
Rush Limbaugh Has A Word
Although he is far from being an expert on human nutrition and probably doesn’t even harbor a layman’s interest in the field, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s reaction to the experiment stands out:
It is what you eat. It’s the content. It’s not all the health food garbage. It’s calories in versus calories out, pure and simple. It’s not health foods; it’s not exercise, pure and simple. You gotta figure out how many calories at your body size and age that you can eat every day without gaining weight and then subtract from that, even if it’s booze. If you go over the limit of calories, the whole thing’s blown.
When you read the entire transcript of the show, which you can find in the link above, you will see he also had “experts” phone in that stated fitness doesn’t improve health.
This mention of eating fewer calories than you burn to lose weight, which is quite right, while leaving out what nutrients the human body needs to stay healthy and finally ending it on the point that fitness is not good for your health is admirable for its crudeness.
A Simple Summary
To all these experts and non-experts I’d like to give a very short summary of Mark’s experiment: Losing weight is as simple as fewer calories in than out, he never said that his was a healthy or advisable diet and we need to acknowledge that our concept of “healthy” and “unhealthy” food still needs research.