On the Table

Why the Twinkie diet works - and doesn't

CORRESPONDENTNovember 17, 2010 

The Twinkie diet has joined the cookie diet, the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet and countless other quirky, short-term ways to lose weight. It's a good time to put fad diets in perspective.

It's also an opportune time to put in a plug for longer-term - albeit less newsworthy - approaches to losing weight.

Here's the latest story: An overweight nutrition professor at Kansas State University reported losing 27 pounds in two months by cutting his calorie intake by 800 calories a day. The catch: His diet consisted primarily of junk food, including snack cakes, chips, diet drinks, cookies, sugary breakfast cereals, and other nutritionally bankrupt foods.

He also popped multivitamin and mineral supplements and added some milk and vegetables.

He did it to prove a point to his students, that the driver in weight loss isn't the type of foods you eat. Rather, it's the number of calories you take in each day - the balance between the amount you take in and the amount you expend.

He's right. And that's why most of us could lose weight eating just about anything we wanted, providing we cut calories.

Getting some exercise helps, too. Our Kansas State prof boosted his calorie deficit by getting regular, moderate physical activity.

The Twinkie diet has something else in common with other approaches to weight loss. It resulted in some favorable changes in clinical health indicators, including lower blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. These changes are expected whenever someone who is overweight loses excess pounds.

This is all good news if your primary goal is to fit into a certain pair of jeans by Friday.

The long-term solution

If I were going for the quick shrink, though, my own vice of choice would definitely not be Twinkies. I'd probably choose banana bread with chocolate chips in it, or maybe just cinnamon toast.

Alas, for me - and hopefully for you, too - the fantasy is short-lived. That's because we all know that you can't live on Twinkies or cookies for long. Eventually, any of us would soon return to whatever eating style we had before the diet.

The pounds would return, too.

The ultimate truth is that weight loss doesn't endure unless your eating style is one you can maintain. A forever diet is one that's health-supporting in the long run.

All the supplements money can buy can't compensate for a diet lacking in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. And most of us don't run, walk or bike far enough often enough to enable us to fit junk in our diets more than occasionally.

My advice: Don't bother with a fad diet. If you want to try it for a week or two as a mental jump-start to something sensible, OK.

Instead, take the slow and steady route. Work at making changes in your diet that you can maintain for the rest of your life.

Chip away at those changes over time. Maintain your changes through the rough times - holidays, stressful times at work - then make further progress when you can.

Supplement with daily exercise.

Do it right from the start, and you won't have to do it again.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net.

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