The Junk Food Diet (Stunt)

[Spoiler: no, this is not a new miracle diet.]

Hey, guess what! You can lose weight by eating junk food.

Huh?

Lose weight by eating junk food? No, it’s not the latest nutty tabloid headline; it’s an experiment that an American professor of nutrition is conducting on himself.

See this story by Francine Kopun, Losing weight in the Twinkie of an eye:

For three weeks, nutrition expert Mark Haub has been eating Little Debbie Pecan Spin Wheels for breakfast, Hostess Twinkies for lunch, birthday cake for supper and Doritos for dessert.

He’s lost 10 pounds. His bad cholesterols are down, his good cholesterols are up. … So is it a healthy diet? That’s the question Haub, 41, wants everyone asking….

Now, no one who knows anything about diet and nutrition is going to be surprised that Haub has lost a few pounds. As the story points out, he’s restricting his overall calories, so he’s going to lose weight. And it’s not even shocking that his (short-term) health is OK. Humans can survive on a truly amazing range of diets. (Think, for example, of the traditional diet of the Inuit peoples of Canada’s north. Historically, the Inuit got about 75% of their calories from fat.)

Of course, Haub’s short-term experiment doesn’t speak to the long-term effects of his junk-food diet. I’m guessing it’s not something to be optimistic about. And Haub, for his part, isn’t at all recommending his diet to anyone else. It’s just a way to grab attention, and to get people thinking about (among other things) what it really takes to lose weight — and, in particular, whether one has to switch to a whole-grains-and-green-leafy-vegetables type of diet in order to do so.

I do wonder about the wisdom of this stunt, though, mostly because I worry about how it will be reported in the media. I can’t fault Haub’s interest in stimulating debate. I’m a professor myself, and sometimes a professor’s job includes doing something outlandish to get people to reconsider something they’ve taken for granted. All in all, I suspect the benefits of Haub’s stunt outweigh the risks. Sure, a few people might stop reading at the headline, and conclude that they, too, can lose weight by eating Doritos. But then again, I’m not sure the state of public education about nutrition can really get any worse. And it does seem useful to help people see that there are many kinds of healthy (or semi-healthy, or reasonably healthy) diets, and many kinds of feasible weight-loss diets. And — and this is crucial for people for whom obesity is a key health issue — that you don’t have to live on alfalfa sprouts and quinoa in order to lose weight.

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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