Rush Limbaugh is an easy punching bag, or wind bag, or whatever kind of bag you care to imagine…but this one really takes the Twinkie. Limbaugh, in THIS ARTICLE, declares himself “right all along” about dieting, nutrition, and weight loss. He discusses the research of a Kansas State University professor, in which the academic put himself on a diet consisting mostly of popular snack foods like Twinkies, chips, and sugared cereals. Over the course of two months, Dr. Mark Haub, the prof, dropped 27 pounds, lowered his Body Mass Index from 28.8 (nearly obese) to 24.9 (normal), lowered his “bad” cholesterol, raised his “good” cholesterol, and….yes, lived. He limited himself to 1800 calories a day, and dropped his tonnage to 174 lbs.

Limbaugh says the research proves all that matters in weight loss is cutting calories. Further, he claims to have been “informing” his listeners for years that exercise has nothing to do with losing weight; again, it’s all simply cutting calories. He’s also emphatic that the nutritional content of the food doesn’t matter, only the caloric content, when it comes to getting skinny.

So, yeah, as far as he’s defined the discussion, he’s right. Eat less than your body needs in a day and you will lose weight. I’m not sure who’s arguing with him on that point (I found not a single commentary on the research that did), but like most of Limbaugh’s schtick, he’s not telling the whole story and he’s built himself a fairly flimsy straw man to knock down (to great applause from his brainy audience). Long-term effects of the “diet”? The effect of exercise of speeding weight loss by increasing the body’s calories burned in a day? Notice, too, his article scarcely quotes Haub. He also didn’t quite get the “diet” right: Haub ate 1/3 of his calories from vegetables, protein shakes, and fortified his intake with vitamins. Accuracy has never been Limbaugh’s strong suit, anyway.

But who’s paying attention to details?

Limbaugh claims to have instinctively “known” that nutrition doesn’t matter when it comes to weight loss, only calories. You might wonder if Limbaugh learned some of this in college…but then again, Limbaugh did two semesters of college at a backwater school and dropped out. No formal education to speak of for the de facto leader of the Republican party. Funny, Glenn Beck is a once-failed radio DJ, just like Limbaugh, a former drug addict, and a college flunkie. I guess that bio sells to certain people.

Back to the story: spend a few minutes googling around and you’ll get some critical details. Funny, how when you spend five minutes bird-dogging Limbaugh’s rants (and Beck’s, for that matter. Palin’s, Hannity’s,…yeah, you get my drift) the story’s never quite as simple as he claims. University research, intellectual discourse, and political issues generally tend to go beyond talk-show sloganeering. Surprising. Wait, I’m off track again! Anyway, I googled the story and discovered quite a bit of commentary on it.

First off, Dr. David Katz, Director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, dissects the hype over the “Twinkie Diet,” including explaining the change in Haub’s triglyceride levels.

You might also dig this post on WebMD.com, in which another medical doctor nukes Haub and Limbaugh’s “revelations.”

There are a bunch more articles available online, every one I saw expanding the discussion and giving a big “not-so-fast” to Limbaugh’s blathering.

Haub in fact holds a PhD in exercise physiology from the University of Kansas…but he has some strange opinions about health, exercise, and nutrition. He claims it doesn’t matter where one derives the vitamins in one’s diet, etc…I guess that’s arguable, but there’s a wealth of information on the inferiority of vitamin supplements in comparison with real-food sources. Check out this piece in Scientific American, as well as a recent story in the New York Times Sunday magazine on the topic (if anybody has a link to that piece, I’d dig reading it; I only heard of it through an associate. Thanks to Paul Rogers for dialing me into THAT PIECE–RC.).

The drag of this is, guys like Haub and Limbaugh set the discussion back years and decades with their sensationalizing. The average American of course doesn’t want to hit CrossFit and eat his salmon-and-broccoli, so it’s a willing audience that receives the latest fad diet…or cheap-shot political rant.

I go round-and-round with my conservative buddies about this, but you can’t possibly point to anybody in progressive politics who has the appeal and audience of Limbaugh, Beck, or Palin. Whenever an elected Republican steps out of line (as determined by the shouting talk-show crowd, led by Limbaugh), she or he trots back on his or her word and apologizes to Limbaugh. Limbaugh effectively runs the GOP. Even President Obama doesn’t dictate policy to the Democrats as definitively as Limbaugh does to Republicans.

I honestly don’t see how anybody can participate in conservative politics in this country without some level of embarrassment about this kind of thing. I’m no Obama fan after his first two years; I’m no fan of Pelosi or Reid, Olbermann, or Maddow for that matter, but I gotta say, you’d never catch Dennis Kucinich or Russ Feingold pulling these stunts. I guess going to college still means something, though you’d never know it looking at the GOP.