Can You Eat Junk Food and Lose Weight?
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.
Do you “cheat” on your diet with junk food? How do you make up for your indulgences?