One man’s junk food diet (don’t tell the Food Police it’s working)

Mark Haub at start of junk food diet

This story is sure to bring out the ire of the Food Police and anyone else who blames their weight on specific junk foods.  Just over a month ago, Kansas State University nutrition professor Mark Haub started his own personal demonstration diet of the effects of simple calorie control.  He put himself on an 1800 calorie/day diet of nothing but junk foods, such as doughnuts, cake, sugared soft drinks and pizza*.  No fruits, vegetables, whole grains or lowfat dairy.  Just junk, but in small portions.  The daily calorie count added up to 1800.  His purpose: to illustrate that weight loss is dependent on calorie intake, not special types of foods.  He planned to document his progress with weights and tests of other health risk factors.

Now over a month later, Dr. Haub has lost 19 lbs.  Even better, his health parameters have improved.  He admits he was surprised about this effect, given his high sugar, high saturated/trans fat intake.  He now intends to stick with the diet until his BMI is under 25, in the normal range.  What’s his opinion about weight loss diets now?  He says diets that advocate complete avoidance of junk food as a magic formula for health may be misleading.  Junk foods are a problem when someone is overeating an obesity-promoting diet.  But when it comes to weight loss, it’s all about the calories.  Eating less than you burn will cause weight loss, regardless of where they come from.

It’s the eat less part that’s usually the problem for dieters, who chronically underestimate portion sizes and calorie counts.  One good thing about Dr. Haub’s diet is that, given all the nutrition labeling on packages, it would be extremely easy to portion out exactly 1800 calories from a variety of junk foods.  No guess work involved.

The calorie restriction explains Haub’s weight loss, but what about the improvement in other health measures like cholesterol?  Weight loss – any weight loss – is known to improve many weight-dependent health risks.  Cholesterol typically decreases with weight loss, which is why overweight heart disease patients are advised to lose weight.  Insulin resistance improves with weight loss, which reduces risk for metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes.  Weight loss can also lower blood pressure.  So Dr. Haub’s experiment shows that weight loss alone, regardless of the diet, can lead to health improvements.

Should you adopt a junk food diet?  I personally don’t advocate it, because there are other health effects of poor nutrition besides those related to weight.  Not to mention, how boring!  Nothing but processed sugary, salty flavors all day?  No fresh crunchy vegetables.  No refreshing fruits or rich whole grains?  No salads?  Forget it.  The real lesson here is: Portion Control.   Take that message very seriously if you want to control your weight.

Recently some of my RD colleagues submitted their favorite weight loss mantras to another dietitian’s blog.  There are dozens of smart and fun motivational catch phrases here to use in your own weight control efforts.  My particular favorites include two that tie into Dr. Haub’s diet demonstration project:

“Foods are not fattening. They may be high in calories but they are not fattening. Excess calories, above your daily maintenance requirements, are fattening.”

“Downsize portion size, supersize common sense.”

*As usual, I disagree that all pizza is “junk”.

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