Wait, How Did the Olive Garden Pasta Pass Guy Lose Weight?

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Photo: Olive Garden

Today we learned that Alan Martin, the national hero who set out to take full advantage of his Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Pass, not only achieved his goal — he actually lost weight in the process. Martin lost four pounds, which is remarkable considering he’s spent the last seven weeks eating all but a handful of his meals at a chain known for its carb-heavy foods. 

It’s especially hard to believe because, according to popular low-carb diets like Paleo or Whole30, eating pasta is a direct route to weight gain. But on its own, pasta is fairly nutritious, some dietitians argue, in that it contains almost no sodium or cholesterol. It’s also a low-glycemic-index food, which means your body digests it slowly, keeping you feeling full for longer. As such, there’s some evidence that eating low-GI foods can keep you from gaining weight. 

But that’s just the pasta itself, and any potential health bonus is easily undone when the noodles are buried under a cheese mountain. But Martin told Salon in an earlier interview that he’s been eating as sensibly as this ridiculous scheme will allow: He usually doesn’t finish the entire serving of pasta, first of all. (His wife, on the other hand, has mostly stuck to the chain’s salads, and Martin says she’s lost 12 pounds.) He’s also mentioned that his kids usually steal all the breadsticks before he can get to them, so maybe he partially owes those lost four pounds to them.  

It’s tempting to dismiss this as a simple case of calorie-counting; like the Twinkie diet guy before him, maybe Martin’s experience is evidence that weight loss is dependent on how much food you consume, and that the type of food doesn’t matter. But recent research is poking holes in that classic dieting strategy. A 2012 study published in JAMA, for example, suggested that the quality of calories consumed may be related to how efficiently people burn them off. At any rate, the longer-term effects of this seven-week dietary experiment are not clear, so it’s probably not the best idea to try this for yourself. Not that you wanted to.