Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Does The Food Even Matter? (Is a Calorie a Calorie?)

For a while, the health world has been split over an interesting dilemma.  Nearly every fitness expert out there will tell you to eat healthy, watch your nutrient consumption, pig out on more leafy greens, yadda yadda yadda, knowing full well that healthy eating isn't the only way to lose weight.

Wait...WHAT?  Yeah, you heard correctly.  You can eat like crap, and still drop weight.

This was evidenced in a study done by an overweight professor named  Mark Haub who wanted to support the fact that all that was required to lose pounds of body fat was a caloric deficit (eat less calories than you burn in a day.)  His theory was that it didn't matter where those calories came from, a calorie was a calorie, so that was that.  His diet was called many things, but the two most memorable names for it were the "convenience store diet", the "Junk Food Diet", or even MORE memorably, the "Twinkie Diet."  He basically consumed junk food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, taking out all other meat, carb, and fat sources from his diet.  He did have one serving of leafy greens each day, a protein shake, and a multivitamin (these were in hope to slightly offset the ridiculously poor nutrition he was receiving.)  At his initial weight, his maintenance calorie consumption was about 2600 calories.  He limited his intake to 1600 calories of junk.  At the end of it all, this guy lost 27lbs of body fat, lowered his blood cholesterol, and was unarguably leaner.  I know what you're thinking.  What...the...hell?


Well you see this diet made professional dietitians and fitness experts feel many things.  They were baffled, furious that it worked, yet also confident that the science behind it makes sense.  The bottom line is that if you consume less energy than you expend, your body must use some of its own energy stores to compensate.  Eat in a caloric deficit consistently, and you WILL lose body fat.

Mark Haub, Twinkie man himself

But don't you dare go and run off to buy a box of Yodels just yet.  We're not through here.  I have a question for you.  Do you honestly think you can get away with eating pure junk food for weight loss?  Yeah, this guy did it, but he didn't keep doing it.  This diet isn't by ANY means sustainable.  You can't eat junk food and expect to be healthy.  In fact, you can't even expect to be thin.  Why's that?  Well first of all, despite having a set number of calories, those calories go right through you, causing no sense of satiety and huge cravings for more sugar.  You WILL overeat if you try this diet.  Why didn't this guy overeat?  Well, portion control is a lot easier when you know you're going to rock the whole world with your findings (at least in my opinion.)

Plus, you are going to be the unhealthiest hulk of a human being by the end of the diet (if you decide to give it a go, which I strongly recommend NOT DOING.  Actually, strongly is an understatement.  DO NOT DO THIS DIET.)  This guy was thinner, sure.  Was he healthier?  Um....NO!  Listen here.  Healthy foods make your body want to be leaner.  They support all these critical carb/fat/protein/blah blah ratios in your body that basically make it a lean, mean, muscular, fat burning machine!  Eat healthy, you'll end up being lean.  Eat too much healthy food, sure you might put on a little weight, but you can bet it'll be a hell of a lot harder to store body fat off of salads and chicken breast than it would be to store it off one too many cinnamon buns.

Another reason not to try this diet?  You'll feel like utter crap, guaranteed.  You'll have so much sugar coursing through your blood you won't be able to maintain a mood for more than a few minutes.  No focus, no lasting energy, no calm stomach.  Not to mention that extended periods of time on a similar diet will skyrocket your chances of contracting diabetes.  Not what you want, I bet.

Here's what I really think.  A calorie may be a calorie, sure, but wouldn't you want to get the best for your money?  I make my calories work for me, and you should do the same.  What do I mean?  Well I make sure that almost every calorie I consume has some sort of vital nutrient critical to my health, basically giving my body the best chance to stay lean, healthy, and strong.  It's like gasoline, would you rather run off 87 octane, or 93?  I'll take the high test all day.

But this diet escapade did give us one important nugget of information, one I believe you should keep in your back pocket throughout your own diet endeavors.  If you slip up, eat a face sized chocolate cookie, and feel guilty, stop for a minute and remind yourself that no matter how unhealthy that cookie was, those calories were just calories, and stick them into your daily total.  Then you can make a great attempt at organizing the rest of your meals to still fall into a deficit, or maintenance, or at least minimize the excess.  Barely any food in moderation will set you back far, if at all.

Keep healthy, don't stress, and stay away from the junk whenever possible.  GOOD LUCK!


  1. Nice article Seth but you should have mentioned the phenomenon of compartmentalisation: the process by which food is broken down in steps. Secondly mention the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. Thirdly, "calorie" should be capitalised because it refers to kilocalorie.