‘Little Debbie diet’ may not be so sweet


Typically, a married couple needs to be supportive of each other in their respective attempts to stay away from diet-crashing cakes and cookies. For a few weeks this semester, however, Michelle Haub will be encouraging her husband Mark Haub, associate professor of human nutrition, to keep slurping down snack cakes.

As part of an unofficial experiment for his class in human nutrition energy balance, Haub is ingesting a diet of mostly snack cakes for 30 days in an effort to test the bounds of human nutrition.

“What I want to know is, if we get essential nutrients in our diet, whether it is a whole-food diet or whatever, does it matter where the energy comes from, so long as we don’t exceed the calories we expend with the calories we take in?” Haub said. “In the short term, diets like the vegan diet or the Atkins diet seem to support the conclusion: if you meet the nutrient requirements, then it doesn’t necessarily matter where you get energy.”

While replacing his main courses with pre-packaged confectionaries, Haub is receiving his essential nutrients by taking a multi-vitamin each morning and by helping himself to two or three servings of vegetables a day. These supplements allow him to continue to receive essential nutrients while still depending on sweet snack cakes for the bulk of his diet.

So far, the results look positive.

“From a health perspective, things seem to be moving in a positive direction,” Haub said. “I’ve lost almost 8 pounds in two weeks, and my blood lipids have improved, and that’s what people recommend.”

To Brian Lindshield, assistant professor of human nutrition, the diet demonstrates an important aspect of human health.

“It’s not so much about what you eat, as much as about the amount of calories,” Lindshield said. “If he’s eating within his calorie allotment, then he will probably still lose weight.”

However, Lindshield said it was important that Haub’s diet includes more than just junk food.

“He is doing a good job of eating vegetables and taking vitamins, so he is getting his micronutrients that he would not get from eating snack cakes,” Lindshield said. “If you are eating very processed foods and no fruits or vegetables, then you would encounter some long-term problems.”

The “Little Debbie diet,” as Haub likes to call it, does present some challenges. For instance, after his first full day of cake consumption, Haub experienced some mild headaches.

“It was not quite a migraine. I would say it was similar to a morning after a night spent out at Aggieville imbibing in some adult beverages,” Haub said. “It was a snack cake hangover for a day.”

Michelle Haub believes the diet has also tested Haub’s dedication to research and science.

“I think he is craving some of the fruits,” Miche lle said. “He does have that look in his eye sometimes when the rest of the family is eating supper and he really wants to eat something healthy, but he restrains himself.”

The Haub family children also provide an obstacle to the professor’s experiment.

“The biggest challenge is to explain to the boys why it’s OK for Daddy to eat the snacks all day long while they have to eat vegetables,” Michelle said. “We don’t really let the boys eat the snack cakes, so when we have our family meals, Mark is eating his vegetables.”

Despite losing eight pounds during the experiment, he would not recommend it to anybody attempting to lose weight.

“I don’t recommend this. It’s more of an exercise in biochemistry than anything else,” Haub said. “If somebody wanted to do this, I would ask the question, ‘Why do you want to lose weight?’ and I would suggest that they meet with a health professional.”

Julie Gibbs, director of health promotion and nutrition counseling at the Lafene Health Center, would also recommend that students seek a healthier weight-loss strategy.

“If your goal is weight loss, you could eat cardboard and lose weight,” Gibbs said. “If you want to lose weight the healthy way, you need to eat a variety of foods from all of the different food groups.”

Gibbs recommends students interested in losing weight meet with Lafene’s registered dietician, or consult mypyramid.gov for tips and resources for healthy eating.