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Calorie Count Blog

Can You Eat Junk Food and Lose Weight?


Posted on Nov 18, 2010 10:00 AM in Dieting & You

By Marie Elizabeth Oliver

Edited by +Rachel Berman, July 2, 2013

Losing weight by snacking on candy bars instead of celery sticks may sound too good to be true, but convincing research from a few creative nutritionists is out to prove otherwise. Before you start unwrapping those snack cakes, be warned these junk food diets aren’t always as magical as they seem. Get past the hype and headlines by taking a closer look into two of these high-profile studies.

Fact vs. Fiction

You may have heard of Mark Haub, a nutrition professor from Kansas State University, who reportedly lost 27 pounds in two months on what some have dubbed the “The Twinkies Diet.” Haub not only lost inches, but also reduced his triglycerides and improved his good cholesterol by 20 percent—all the while eating primarily vending machine fare. Sounds great, right? The clincher in this experiment is that despite all the donuts and chips, Haub decreased his regular caloric intake to just 1,800 calories per day. Plus, he eliminated all meat from his diet and garnered nutrients from vitamin-mineral supplement and from a daily protein shake.

James Painter’s documentary, Portion-Size Me, showcases two college students who lost weight on a 30-day fast food diet. This “epic journey of proper portion size” catalogs the gap between restaurants’ serving sizes and a person’s actual caloric needs. A nutrition professor at Eastern Illinois University, Painter proves that maintaining a healthy weight is all about how much you eat, not necessarily what you eat.  Translation: No supersizing.

Calories Do Count

What both Haub and Painter’s experiments have in common (besides “don’t try this at home” disclaimers) is an emphasis on calories. While neither nutrition expert endorses junk food, they believe that losing weight isn’t rocket science. Think about it, if people can lose weight eating brownies and cheeseburgers, then that doesn’t leave many excuses for the rest of us.

More recently, you may have also heard about David H. Freedman’s cover story for The Atlantic: “How Junk Food Can End Obesity.” His point is that fast food giants have started offering healthier options. These options may be more realistic for all economic classes than expecting everyone to be able to eat (let along afford) organic, wholesome foods. 


Have Your Cake

Moral of the story: No matter how bogus the diet, if you consume fewer calories you will lose weight. However, experts agree that a healthful long-term diet plan should include a smart balance of fruits, veggies, protein, and hearty whole grains. Just don’t get discouraged if you have to resort to the occasional vending machine lunch or drive-through dinner. Your life isn’t perfect, and as these two nutritionists prove, your diet doesn’t have to be either.


Your thoughts…

Do you “cheat” on your diet with junk food? How do you make up for your indulgences?



Comments


I usually have a bit of chocolate every day. Not too much and with a limited calorie amount, plus everything else I eat is low in sugar and healthy. But I know that if I didn't allow that for myself, I would end up with a bar of chocolate in my hand and it gone in 5 seconds soon enough.



I have found that it is much easier to stick to your diet if you allow yourself the occasional indulgence.  I have a cookie or a piece of chocolate if I want I just make sure that I adjust my calories and try to stay within my range.  I have also found that giving myself a target range instread of a set number of calores give me a little flexibility to eat that treat if I really want it.



While it may involve the specific junk foods or the genetics of the individual, I thought that some high fat/high sugar foods actually make you hungrier and more likely to continue eating. These individuals may have a will power or other individual ability that makes their junk food diets feasible. I would be afraid that later on, when I was "off the diet," I would start having cravings for the Twinkies even with the right amount of healthier fare. So how much will they weigh a year from now?



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When I was a college freshman, while living in the dorm I decided to forego the meal plan on campus.  As a result, I ended up eating at Wendy's 5 days a week.  I ate a double with cheese, a large fry and a medium Frosty every Monday thru Friday.  At night I would eat a piece or two of fruit.  That was my daily food intake.  And this was my diet the entire first semester of school.  By the time I went home for Christmas break, I was 23 lbs thinner!!  Instead of packing on the pounds, like most of my friends did from eating 3 cafeteria meals a day, I lost weight!!  Of course, after I got an apartment the following year and was accessible to more food more often, I gained every pound back!  :(  Calories do count!!!



I'll confess that I unintentionally lived on a Twinkie Diet when I was 16. I lost 20lbs in a month. My sister and I moved in with my grandmother and the only junk food in her house were the boxes of Twinkies we secretly stashed in our closet. My grandmother's diet of buttermilk, brown rice, wheat germ and who knows WHAT else seemed foreign to us so we resorted to a steady diet of Twinkies. Of course, I gained that 20lbs back as soon as my 'normal' food supply was readily available again. I didn't learn any valuable lessons from that experience other than the fact that you CAN live on junk and lose weight. I don't recommend it! I've spent my life struggling with a major sugar addiction that begin years before the age of 16.



I like this article.  Since beginning CC, I have not cut a single thing out of what I consume (though there are some things I no longer have a taste for).  The key though is that I made sure to still have a calorie deficit at the end of the day.  As of yesterday, I am half way to reaching my goal.  So yes, you can still have your ice cream, cheesecake, and donuts (in moderation) and achieve your goals - but you also need to maintain a calorie deficit and compensate with other forms of nutrition to offset what those items do not provide.



When I diet, I have to forego all the junk. The stuff I love so much is just soooo good that I cannot resist it. So I have to cut it all off cold turkey. However that always ends up better for me b/c if I do "cheat" once it usually tastes nasty anyway.

I am a HUGE proponent of calorie counting. I believe int hat above ALL else. I lost 32lbs in 3 months with nothing more than calorie counting and regular cardio workouts at the gym 4-5x a week. I did, admittedly, drop my calories more than I should have, but...I have to see results quick or I'd give up. It was my first time ever REALLY dieting.

That said, when you are calorie counting, it's actually more often that junk food can have fewer calories than the "health" foods.

People are always shocked when I tell them that a king size reese's cups has fewer calories in it than a nutri-system bar or the like. Having the mass of food allergies I have, there are very, very few things I could ever just 'grab' in a hurry. So while, it's not a good idea to live on them (trust me) it's not as bad as you might think to eat something "junky" for a quick meal or filler once in awhile.



sometimes eating junk food will curb my appetite



When I am hungry with no time to eat and my stomach rumbling, I will eat a 'snack-size'  (about 120 calories), square of very good quality candy bar. I cuts my hunger for several hours. I keep chocolate with me all the time- small, needs no refrigeration, crush-proof!



What's life without a treat? My trick, I bring them home once in a blue moon. If I don't bring home those yummy bags off decadent chocolate chip then I'm less likely to over indulge. What I do is I look forward to an evening walk to a coffee shop once or twice a week where I dont have to worry about over indulging. And as many others have said just work it into your calorie count. Try to eat it on a day you do your excercise (mine would be a day that I go jogging). I generallyl eat healthy complex carbs at home leaving the "junk carbs" for outside treat.



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I do... my worst guilty pleasure is peanut butter. I love the stuff but it's SO high calorie it always gives me a case of the guilts later. Also... two of my daughters work in a pizza joint & I can eat there free if I want... they make the best brownies and desserts ever... I have to stay away most of the time but boy they hit the spot when I'm jonesin for a sugar/butter fix.

I have a hard time with guilt when I overdo - I'm a recovering binge-starve bulimic so it's hard not to "punish" myself when I eat even one brownie or one spoonful of peanut butter. Articles like this help me remember that it's the CALORIES that count, primarily, and that I am not going to gain back 100+ pounds from ONE indulgence.



Interesting, but he never posts his energy levels.  Not to mention anyone that may follow an exercise regime I don't see how you would have the energy to pursue it. 

 

I'd be very curious to see how this sort of diet is would effect the body long term.



As a new member to calorie count I am learning that calories actually do count.  I have struggled with doing Atkins for the last 6 months and not losing anything.  After doing this for a week I know why.  Doesn't matter how  many carbs you give up if you eat a block of cheese at one sitting. LOL



This article is so true.  Is it healthy to eat only junk to lose weight? Of course not!  But it is definitely calories in vs. calories out.  In the body building world they have you to believe you have to eat 'clean' to drop body fat .. to drop body fat you have to weight train and eat AT A DEFICIT.  Plain and simple. 

When I was 23 I was the smallest I'd ever been in my life at 105lbs.  I walked everyday for 1 hour and had a HUGE chocolate chip cookie for breakfast, salad for lunch with cottage cheese, a loaded bagel for dinner, and another cookie at night.  I lost lbs very fast.  I wasn't healthy at all .. but dang it I was thin!



The best lesson to be learned from the experimental diets is that it you haven't failed if you eat junk food.  I suppose that is second to the main lesson that if you restrict calories you will lose weight.  I have to admit that I have had days where I will waste a good 600 calories on junk.  And it feels so good to indulge sometimes.  The downside though is that I get pretty hungry later and have used up all my calorie budget. 

On most days though a 100 calorie pack of some sweets or chips will suffice. 



Nothing wrong with indulging.  But there is no way you can sustain muscle mass on a diet like this.  The entire purpose of this this is just to prove it is okay to eat junk once in a while but I find it hard to believe that one would stay healthy on such a diet for an extended period of time.



umm, i don't have a diet or follow an eating plan at all and i have lost 53 lbs since april.   i have just been counting calories, staying around my 1600 cal limit...   i eat pizza, cookies, whatever i want, just in moderation :)   i HATE most veggies so i drink b8 fusion to get at least one serving a day.   if i were on a diet, i would have blown it by now for sure...



*and i do exercise everyday and have plenty of energy.  not that everything i eat is unhealthy or junk food. 



It all depends on your goals.  True anyone can loose weight but there is a difference between losing weight and re-composition.  Almost anyone can be skinny fat.  Look at the doc...  He lost weight but he still looks fatty.  No real muscle tone and roughly 25% BF is still a lot of fat if you ask me.



I agree with rab, I have been skinny fat in the past; that is, I weighed 5-7 pounds less than I do now (and I am currently about 134) but I was not as skinny as I am now. The reason is because I used to eat tons of "bad' calories EVERY day coming from junk food and alcohol. I would still count them, they were just terrible for my body. Now, I workout 5x a week and weigh more, but look and feel way better. I still have a small dessert or a few drinks...just in smaller portions and with less frequency. And like most people, the cravings aren't as bad now. We all know you can't live off of of junk food (and be healthy) for a long period of time, but it is comforting to be reminded that you can have your cake and eat it too....in moderation.



Isn't the point of "dieting" or weight loss to be able to keep that weight for a long amount of time? And by keeping that weight for a long amount of time one would have to have a sensible diet which includes both health foods and the occasional treat, be it french fries, cookies, pastries, or alcohol?

If you didn't learn it in childhood, learn it now. Moderation and sensibility go hand in hand.



Original Post by: grammajinx

I do... my worst guilty pleasure is peanut butter. I love the stuff but it's SO high calorie it always gives me a case of the guilts later. Also... two of my daughters work in a pizza joint & I can eat there free if I want... they make the best brownies and desserts ever... I have to stay away most of the time but boy they hit the spot when I'm jonesin for a sugar/butter fix.

I have a hard time with guilt when I overdo - I'm a recovering binge-starve bulimic so it's hard not to "punish" myself when I eat even one brownie or one spoonful of peanut butter. Articles like this help me remember that it's the CALORIES that count, primarily, and that I am not going to gain back 100+ pounds from ONE indulgence.


i would not feel guilty about the pb -  it is high in fat but it also is high in protein, and has fiber. I will eat a few tbsp of pb when i know my diet for the day was low in fat and protein.



I have tried for years to lose 50 lbs.  Lately, I have taken up running - that and keeping a food diary (love this website!) have enabled me to lose 30 of the 50 lbs.  It was a happy day when we were told that a glass of chocolate milk was the best pick-me-up after running.  So my big splurge is - on the days I run, I have an 8-oz glass of chocolate milk.  If I don't run - no chocolate milk.  The promise of a glass of chocolate milk keeps me moving!

On the other hand, I am probably somewhat lucky because I don't like whipped cream, or things that are filled with any kind of cream, or ice cream or even cake frosting.  But, before you all get envious, I LOVE pretzels, potato chips, tortilla chips and salsa, really good cheeses and homemade baked goods.  These things I cannot keep in the house because I cannot limit myself.



Unfortunately, I resorted to Gastric Bypass Surgery to loose 200 pounds, which I have kept off for the last 9 years.  One thing I have found is that Americans "inhale" their food.  We shovel it in, take bites that would choke my dog, barely chew and wash it all down and start again.

I started watching people eat and find that most overweight persons have this habit.  Thin people eat slowly, take small bites and chew, chew, chew, thus gaining satisfaction from the food they intake.

I do not diet now.  I eat what I want, but I eat it slowly, savoring each bite.  I also don't waste calories on items that don't taste good.  I've been to buffets where I'll have 5 different desserts on my plate, but eat one bite from each because I did not enjoy that one bite.

Calories are calories.  Too many in equal excess weight.  Eat less by eating slowly, chewing completely, tasting the food and enjoy it.  That, to me, is the key to long term weight loss.



I indulge every now and again in "junk food".  When I have a craving for McDonalds, I get a cheeseburger (yes, that little one that comes with happy meals, not the Gigantors that all the other meals are made up of) and a small fries.  I think the fry sizes tend to be smaller in Canada than in the States anyway... at least I've noticed when I've been down there.

I never order pop.  I just don't like it.  It makes my mouth sticky because it's just too sugary.

Surprisingly, the tiny cheeseburger (or regular burger) used to be what McDonalds sold to adults back in the day... and still makes a satisfying meal with not too many calories!  :)



Original Post by: rab71

It all depends on your goals.  True anyone can loose weight but there is a difference between losing weight and re-composition.  Almost anyone can be skinny fat.  Look at the doc...  He lost weight but he still looks fatty.  No real muscle tone and roughly 25% BF is still a lot of fat if you ask me.


I was also skinny fat the first time I dieted.  I started out at 135lbs and stopped when I got married and I was around 120-115lbs.  I wasn't exercising at all, but I cut down on my calorie intake.  This time around I started out at 130.  I started to exercise, and eat healthier.  By the time I was down to 115, I was smaller than I was when I got married and I looked better! 



WOW!  Women that agree with me!  I have to go tell my wife!



I stick to a regular diet I watch what I eat daily. However; I eat McDonalds 2 or 3 times a week for either a lunch or dinner. I consistently loose 2-3lbs a month even eating McDonalds more than my average counter part.

It's all about portion & calorie controll. If I'm having McDonalds for lunch I count every calorie and budget it in to my day. I only order kids meals. As a typical cheeseburger kids meal is more than enough food & calories for an adult.

This round of dieting for me has been the only one to work long term. I can loose tons of weight by eating lower carb and adding in more veggies however; I find it hard to stay strictly to that diet long term. This way I can still have french fries and loose weight! I should be the McDonalds new Jared! LOL. Best of luck count those calories and don't deprive yourself of the foods you love!

 



Sorry thats 2-3lbs a week.



Is that you in your avatar pic?   Nice flowers.



I don't "cheat" on my diet, because I don't consider my eating habits a diet, but rather a lifestyle.  But no, I do not indulge in junk food.  I'd much rather starve until I can receive adequate nutrition than eat empty calories full of simple carbs.



Yes, I cheat, sometimes. But I do try to account for it in the rest of my calorie intake. For example, last night was a potluck with friends, and there was German chocolate cake. No way I'm going to miss out on that! But in preparation, my lunch had been spaghetti squash with non-dairy cheese and diced tomatoes. It was filling AND it made up for the extra calories I took in with that cake. And today I'm making sure to stick with the healthier choices, and I'm going to take a walk/run at my lunch break.

And I've been able to keep off the 15 pounds I've lost so far, for the most part, taking in fewer calories and making sure to get good exercise. It all adds up... or, should we say, subtracts.



I believe all of us on our journey of losing weight, have "those days" that we are hungry or just plain and simple, want something that we just don't eat daily.  I had one of those days yesterday, three little chocolate bars (the Halloween ones) were my indulgence yesterday.  I enjoyed every morsel and when I went to Zumba last night, I worked a wee-bit harder.  Today - back on the band wagon!  We all must (once in awhile) enjoy something that we normally do not have!  If you don't, that's when one tends to "binge"!!

So enjoy, never feel guilty BUT just get back on track the next day!



Oooooh, that's DISGUSTING!!! Plus they never tell you what kind of weight it was, water or fat?After one day of this I'd be, no pun intended, "tossing my cookies."



I think fast food restaurants should charge by the calorie. 300 calorie meal = $3.00, 500 calorie meal = $5.00. so that way if you really want to be a glutton and buy that 3500 calorie meal....you have to pay for it! You know what(how much) you're buying, and if you can't afford it you shouldn't be eating that much anyway! lol.



Articles like this make me so mad sometimes, they're so condasending!  Not everyone is fat because they're a pig and don't watch their portion sizes!  It's not always a simple equation of calories in verses calories out.  I eat very healthy, religiously weigh and record everything I eat and drink, time and record my exercise, I consistantly eat between and 1200 and sometimes up to 1600 calories a day to confuse my metabolism.  I weigh 190 pounds at 5'4", and it has taken me two years to get here from 255.  This last month or two my weight loss has slowed so much as to be barely perceptable.  I am doing all I can, so if any of you "it's not rocket science" people have some brilliant idea, let me know. 



I eat normally (luckily normal foods for me include whole grains, fruits and lots of veggies, as well as lean meats.)

I didn't cut anything out of my diet, all I did was count my calories and exercise more...., But not surprisingly, once I started counting calories I stopped drinking soda and eating fast food because they stopped appealing to me, and Now I think they are disgusting and I crave healthier foods instead.

In fact, once I started reading ingredient labels I have stopped wanting to eat almost all of those unhealthy foods anyway. I mean yuck, do you know what's in those snack bags and candy bars?



Yummy junk food lol...I saw the video of that guy on Youtube was a dietitian experimenting lost like 27 pounds....yadda yadda yadda... thats about what I need to lose 30 pounds 50 for my BMI we all know that's not going to happen lol.



I find junk food similar to alcohol or drugs. It's best to just do it socially. If you drink alochol on a daily basis you would more then likely be considered an alcoholic, if you do drugs every day you would be considered an addict. Junk food is no different. Just kick it for the first week or two and the cravings start to diminish. Now if I'm out with friends I don't mind eating a little unhealthy as long as in my normal day to day life I eat sensibly. 



Original Post by: mewlkitten

I eat normally (luckily normal foods for me include whole grains, fruits and lots of veggies, as well as lean meats.)

I didn't cut anything out of my diet, all I did was count my calories and exercise more...., But not surprisingly, once I started counting calories I stopped drinking soda and eating fast food because they stopped appealing to me, and Now I think they are disgusting and I crave healthier foods instead.

In fact, once I started reading ingredient labels I have stopped wanting to eat almost all of those unhealthy foods anyway. I mean yuck, do you know what's in those snack bags and candy bars?


Have you looked into having your thyroid tested?  There are many things that can cause super slow metabolism.  Also being on a deficit for an extended period of time can actually mess with your metabolism.  So many factors to consider.  Check a site bodybuilding.com I realize most folks are not into body building per say but that site has a massive amount of unbiased quality information.



I'm a big advocate of "intuitive eating" and found that when I got caught up in the "diet mentality,"  (e.g. good foods vs. bad foods, etc.) I was a) miserably unhappy and unhealthfully pre-occupied with my weight and what I was eating and b) more inclined to binge or treats.  Today the word "allow" is not in my vernacular in relationship to food.  I eat when my body is hungry and stop when I am satisfied...period.  I think the biggest benefit of this shift for me is that when I sit down to a slice of cheese cake, I get to really relish it because there's no longer any judgment around it.  What a gift!



Original Post by: benten

I'm a big advocate of "intuitive eating" and found that when I got caught up in the "diet mentality,"  (e.g. good foods vs. bad foods, etc.) I was a) miserably unhappy and unhealthfully pre-occupied with my weight and what I was eating and b) more inclined to binge or treats.  Today the word "allow" is not in my vernacular in relationship to food.  I eat when my body is hungry and stop when I am satisfied...period.  I think the biggest benefit of this shift for me is that when I sit down to a slice of cheese cake, I get to really relish it because there's no longer any judgment around it.  What a gift!


" Check a site bodybuilding.com I realize most folks are not into body building per say but that site has a massive amount of unbiased quality information. "

I second that!  Most of the time us women are programmed to 'eat like birds' and spend hours doing cardio which only results in the whole 'skinny-fat' appearance and lowered metabolism.  Which means you have to lower your calories even more to keep seeing results and/or increase cardio.  If you lower your calories too much your muscle will waste away (along with some fat), which means you'll burn less calories at rest, making it even more difficult to lose fat.  Sometimes eating at maintenance for awhile helps to re-set your metabolism and hormones so that when you drop calories again your body will start losing.  And lift weights as heavy as you can!  That is the only thing that will change your figure!



From years of experience trying everything, doing marathons, competitions, being a former "party fool" and having on and off weight issues for all my life the answer(s) is/ are kinda simple.

  • Exercise. Why? heart health, streess depression and anxiety treatment, calorie usage, functional ability boosting and disease prevention ECT.
  • Eat a balanced healthy diet. Why? More nutrients, better health, increases energy, wellness, and blood sugar, cholesterol, etc. Fruits, veggies, lean protein or vegan protein balance, and yes- not deprivation. satiation, happiness and some caloric resriction. 5 salmon steaks has more calories than a half snickers but that does not mean snickers is good and salmon is wonderful but unless you are Micheal Phelps, 5 staeks is too much in one sitting. besides, smaller portions are absorbed better, we can only use a certain amount of protein at once.
  • Count calories. Why? Calories in= Calories out is maitenance. Calorie + and calorie burn - is weight gain. Calorie- and Calorie burn + is weight loss.
  • I do have a Kinesiology degree but a fifth grader with sense could probably tell you this too!!lol


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This is true- medications, thyroid (real)problems, serious injuries, and some people have other eating/ weight problems where the answer is not easy. However, if you just take the best care of yourself as you can- nutritionally yes but Spiritually/ mentally- that is the best you can do.

Trust me, I have been there



I probably should've mentioned that I only lose about 3 or 4 lbs a month.  But, with the running, I am able to eat more.  The beauty of tracking my food on a food diary website is I am very aware of what I am putting in my mouth.  I am 59 and I want to be a healthy and active 80-year old.  This really makes me stay away from junk food.  The other thing - and I don't know if you have found this - my focus, my energy and my sense of well-being are really dependent upon the food I eat.  I eat high-fiber carbs, lots of vegetables, 2 pieces of fruit a day, meat/poutry/fish once a day and absolutely NO white sugar.

The advantage of the slow weight loss - it has been staying off.  And because of the running, I can eat so I am not walking around hungry trying to ignore food.  When I get a taste for something that I usually wouldn't eat (chips, for example), I eat it before it becomes a craving.  I don't have the will power to ignore a craving.  I really have changed my eating/exercise habits so it is not a matter of discipline.



Original Post by: blazedancer

Articles like this make me so mad sometimes, they're so condasending!  Not everyone is fat because they're a pig and don't watch their portion sizes!  It's not always a simple equation of calories in verses calories out.  I eat very healthy, religiously weigh and record everything I eat and drink, time and record my exercise, I consistantly eat between and 1200 and sometimes up to 1600 calories a day to confuse my metabolism.  I weigh 190 pounds at 5'4", and it has taken me two years to get here from 255.  This last month or two my weight loss has slowed so much as to be barely perceptable.  I am doing all I can, so if any of you "it's not rocket science" people have some brilliant idea, let me know. 


Don't discount the fact that you've lost 65 pounds! That's awesome! Sure, you're not done yet, but you've hit a plateau. It happens.



What I get out of this study is the importance of counting calories. I've always been heavy, but when I get too heavy (meaning my jeans are too tight) I'd lose enough to fit back into my clothes, and then I'd go back to eating crap. So for the first time in my life I've seriously decided to lose 40 pounds, and for the first time, I'm keeping track of everything I put in my mouth. The good thing (if there is one) about fast food is that the nutritional info is readily available. I still go to Taco Bell (a lot less than I used to), and now I get Fresco Tacos instead of Mexican Pizza.



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