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Nutrition prof’s ‘convenience store’ diet shows calories count most when shedding pounds

If you’re struggling to lose weight and have spent any time on the Internet this week, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Mark Haub, the 41-year-old professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University who was able to shed 27 pounds in two months by going on a “convenience store” diet.

That’s right. Haub’s body mass index (BMI) dropped from 28.8 (overweight) to 24.9 (normal) by following a diet in which two-thirds of the stuff he consumed (it’s hard to call them foods) were things like Hostess Twinkies, Little Debbie snacks, sugary cereals, Doritos tortilla chips and Oreo cookies.

Yum. Or ick (depending on your taste buds).

The other third of Haub’s calories came from a daily protein shake. He also ate vegetables (so he had something to eat in front of his kids) and took multi-vitamins.

He did not change his exercise habits at all, which he says involve walking or cycling (60 to 120 minutes per week) and weight lifting.

Interestingly (but not unsurprisingly, given the fact that he lost so much weight), other markers of health also improved. Haub’s LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol dropped about 20 percent (from 153 mg/dL to 123 mg/dL) and his HDL (“good”) cholesterol rose about 20 percent (from 37 mg/dL to 46 mg/dL). His total cholesterol levels fell from  214 mg/dL (borderline high) to 184 mg/dL (desirable). (Haub has reported that when he reintroduced meat to his diet, these positive cholesterol numbers began to reverse.)

But before you run out to your local SuperAmerica or Food ‘n Fuel to restock your pantry, Haub himself says it’s way to early to draw any conclusion about his experiment. “I’m not geared to say this is a good thing to do,” he told CNN news. “I’m stuck in the middle. I guess that’s the frustrating part. I can’t give a concrete answer. There’s not enough information to do that.”

For one thing, Haub needs to be able to keep the pounds off. And, as most dieters know, maintenance is the truly challenging part of any weight-loss effort. That maintenance may (or may not) be more challenging when snack foods are part of the equation.

U of M professor weighs in

To help put Haub’s “convenience store” diet in perspective, I called Lisa Harnack, a professor in epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota. Was she surprised that Haub was able to lose so much weight so quickly on such a diet?

“Not really,” she said. “When it comes to trying to lose weight, the key is eating fewer calories or exercising more. And he ate fewer calories.”

Indeed, Haub limited his daily calories to 1,800 — about 800 fewer than a non-dieting man his size would typically consume in a day.

Harnack also pointed out that Haub showed remarkable willpower. Not many people can limit their snack-food consumption to just a single Twinkie or Little Debbie cake per sitting. (Haub told one interviewer that his ability to stick to just one snack food per meal might be due to the fact that he’s never craved sweets.)

Harnack also pointed out that Haub’s diet, while interesting, doesn’t really prove anything. “He’s a sample size of one,” she said. “It’s hard to draw conclusions from one person about how this diet would affect others.”

Furthermore, over the long run, Haub’s diet could be quite unhealthy. “There are so many nutrients lacking in the types of foods that he’s eating,” she said, “and they contain more of the saturated fat that we don’t want too much of.”

Still, said Harnack, “I kind of like the point he’s making: A calorie is a calorie. To lose weight you must ultimately lose calories. That’s the bottom line.”

For those of you on Facebook, you can read Haub’s continuing comments about his weight-loss progress on his “Professor Haub’s Diet Experiments” page. It includes such amusing gems as: “Frustrated … wanted Frosted Flakes or Honey Comb for an evening snack, but we were out!! Had to settle on a Kit Kat from the left-over Halloween goodies.”

Ah, if only losing weight — and keeping it off — were so easy.

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