I vividly remember reading about the “Twinkie Diet” back in 2010.
I was a year away from joining the Coast Guard, and I had been looking for ways to get more in shape before heading off to bootcamp. The idea that I could eat junk food and lose weight was interesting enough to take a look.
The originator of the “diet”, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, had embarked on a 10-week junk food diet capped at just 1,800 calories a day.
He wanted to prove that energy balance (calories in versus calories out) was essential to losing weight and that the body treats calories the same.
While he ate a variety of junk foods, the Twinkie’s, Oreo’s, and Doritos took center stage (He also ate a serving of vegetables, a protein shake, and a multivitamin every day to help combat the inevitable micronutrient deficiencies brought on by such a change in eating).
However, because he normally ate 2600 calories a day, the cap of just 1800 calories on junk food provided an 800 calorie deficit allowing him to lose 27 pounds in those 10 weeks.
The professor admitted that it wasn’t good for his overall health, longevity, or even how he felt day-to-day, but his point was proven that a calorie is just a calorie as far as weight loss is concerned.
The Goal Is Fat Loss, Not Weight Loss
Professor Haub adequately demonstrated that when fuel is consumed below energy expenditure, weight loss occurs.
But we’re not just interested in weight loss.
Because of his low protein intake, Professor Haub undoubtedly lost muscle mass, water weight, and fat during his 10-week experiment.
A calorie deficit can lead to fat loss, but it can and does also result in the loss of muscle mass, especially if you’re not intaking an adequate amount of protein.
His experiment was only about proving energy balance correct, not that his diet was optimized to get what we truly want: only fat loss.
Fat loss, as you may remember, specifically refers to the reduction in body fat while maintaining or even increasing muscle mass.
Fat loss is the goal for people who want to improve their body composition and achieve a leaner, more toned physique.
In general, weight loss can occur due to a calorie deficit because you’re losing water, muscle, and some fat, which is WHY the TYPE of calories matter more than the amount.
If the Professor had eaten the same amount of calories, but chose a different ratio of proteins, fats, and carbs, he still would’ve lost weight. But it would’ve been more fat loss than weight loss. He would have spared his muscles, felt better, and improved his body composition.
What That Means For Us
The professor’s work proved two things: namely, energy balance is crucial. And that every diet is the same. They’re all just a mix of different macronutrient ratios and calorie deficits via the elimination of macronutrient food groups.
He also unintentionally proved that macro counting is the easiest way to burn fat because of the flexibility it affords:
- All foods are allowed.
- All foods must fit your daily macro goals.
- No food group is off-limits.
- 85% of what you eat should be healthy.
Now, that doesn’t mean we want to follow the professor’s example and give ourselves an imbalance of carbs and fats with just straight junk food. We’ll feel lethargic, look terrible, and feel terrible at the end of the day, even if we lose weight.
But neither do we need to limit ourselves to chicken and broccoli.
No foods are off limits with macros – just make sure the majority of what you eat is highly nutritious and that your treats fit within your daily macro limits and the TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) designed to reach your intended goal.
The 85% Rule
Since we want to look good and feel good, we need to follow the 85% rule (where most of our calories come from real good food, not fast food). Plus, we want to hit our daily protein goal (current body weight x 1 gram of protein), so we’ll need some high-protein/low-calorie foods to make this happen.
Some examples are:
- 0% Fat Greek Yogurt
- Lean Chicken
- Lean Beef
- Whey Protein
- Lean Ground Turkey
What would this look like for me?
Since I know my BMR and maintenance calories, I am at a slight caloric deficit at 2800 calories daily, and I need a minimum of 180 grams of protein.
If I can get to 100-150 grams of protein in 1000 calories for breakfast and lunch (about 500 calories per meal), I’ll have 1800 calories for dinner that I can spend on whatever I want within my macro ranges.
Breakfast: Fruit & Yogurt with Whey Protein: 345 calories / 56g protein
- 250 g 0% Greek Yogurt
- 100g blueberries
- 35g scoop of Whey protein (in almond milk)
Lunch: Egg & bacon omelet: 516 calories / 47g protein
- Four whole eggs
- Four slices of bacon
- 20 g cheddar cheese
- Spinach and mushrooms
Snack: Whey Protein: 180 calories / 25g protein
- 25g scoop of whey protein (in almond milk)
Dinner: Bring on the steaks! I have 1800 calories to spend 😀
Remember, it’s important to know your numbers so you can have the flexibility you want and a range of options at your disposal.
Imagine if I was going out to eat!
Plenty of meals exist at decent restaurants that allow me to stay under 1800 calories. That’s what makes this fun. Flexibility in our options and what we want to do.
So let’s get those numbers.
Get Your Baseline Numbers Down
- Know Your BMR Number
- Once you know your personal number, the number that accounts for the majority of your calories burned in a day, you’ll be able to both figure out your maintenance calories (next step) as well as avoid fad diets that tell you to go under that number.
- Know Your Maintenance Calorie Number
- Once you’ve found your BMR, you can calculate your maintenance calories. This is your baseline number, from where you can subtract (for fat loss goals) or add (for muscle building goals) from that number. This is crucial.
- Monitor your maintenance calories for two weeks. If you neither gain nor lose weight, you have the correct number. You can now add or subtract calories depending on your goal. I recommend only cutting or adding around 200 calories at a time.
- Track Your Numbers & Metrics
- If you don’t track your weight, calories, macros, or exercise, how can you expect to know if you’ve hit your goal? Or even if you’re going in the right direction?
- “You can’t manage something you don’t measure.” – Tony Robbins
Stay tuned – at the end of the month, I’ll be releasing my macro tracker that will help get your macros and base numbers quickly, and help you stay accountable to tracking them.