Thursday, September 30, 2010

is a calorie just a calorie?

A number of folks have asked me about the guy who lost weight eating the junk food diet.  Is it true?!?  Can you really eat junk food and still lose weight?

Here's my understanding of what happened.  Mark Haub, a Nutrition Professor, wanted to prove a point about how we make choices in food.  He went on a month-long diet to lose weight by eating junk food.  Taking a multi-vitamin, a protein shake, one serving of vegetables a day, and restricting his calories, he did lose weight.

But, and this is a very important, he did it to prove a point.  He wanted people to think about the choices they make.  He also wanted to highlight food costs and how that sometimes drives choices.  Yes, you can lose weight eating garbage; however it is a very unhealthy, unsustainable way to do it.  People got so excited about the headline that they failed to read the article(s).  Within 36 hours of starting his diet Mr. Haub began to not feel well.  Now that this 30 day phase is done he plans to continue his experiment by gaining weight through eating healthy foods.

While eating excessive calories, even healthy ones, can cause you to gain weight, eating junk food is not a good idea as a weight loss plan.  This way of eating is nutritionally deficient (even with protein shakes and vitamins); if we deprive our bodies for an extended period of time we will eventually begin to have accumulated health problems.  Is a calorie just a calorie?  I truly do not believe that is true.  Perhaps on a superficial level it is true but on a deeper level we need to remember that our bodies require whole foods and balanced nutrition to be healthy.

What's more important, at least to me, and I'm sure other nutrition professionals, is the response the publicity about this experiment created.  So many people were very excited.  They wanted to eat the junk food.  They failed to read that he ate 600-800 less calories per day than his body needed.  They also failed to read that he did this as an experiment to see how people would respond.  People went straight to the idea of junk food as a way to get what they wanted.

When I work with people to help them lose weight we almost always begin by avoiding the body weight scale.  We work instead on changing what they are eating.  On learning how to make healthy substitutions and how to recognize what, how, when and why they are eating.  As they begin to eat foods that provide more nutrition to their bodies people frequently find they begin to feel better.  Many folks find they may even be losing some weight without even trying.  This could be a factor of breaking the addictive cravings for sugar and fat.  It is frequently also learning to recognize the signals your body sends.

This experiment certainly provided a good conversational base and is definitely "food for thought."

photo:  Larry D. Moore | Wikimedia Commons

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