Do calories count, or not?
According to Marion Nestle (author of Why Calories Count) and thousands of other self-appointed experts in fat tissue metabolism, the answer is an unambiguous “YES!” that’s as impassioned as any “HALLELUJAH!” you’ll hear in a fire-n-brimstone church.
No matter how many times we Calorie Deniers point out that the gospel of calories flows from a simple, logical error — the confusing of cause and effect with respect to the applicability of the First Law of Thermodynamics to fat tissue regulation — nothing changes. It’s as if the Calories Count crowd literally cannot understand us.
The unwavering fixation on calories, as enshrined in the dogma of “just eat less and move more,” seems impervious to any counterevidence or counterargument.
As one of the world’s most respected skeptical doctors once wrote to me in an email: “I’m not skeptical of calorie counting because I’ve seen it work for my dog.”
Excuse me. WTF times 100?
So if I eat like your dog, will I, too, grow a tail and start barking at the mailman?
Head. Slam. On. Desk.
Let me reiterate: that retort came from one of the world’s most respected professional skeptics, not from some brainless internet troll.
That brings me to this manifesto. Below, I provide 9 pieces of pictorial evidence that should convince anyone with a working brain to acknowledge the actual truth about fat loss and obesity: namely, that our preoccupation with calories is AT BEST an oversimplification, and an inaccurate and morally mean one at that.
1. Insulin-injection-induced fat belly
This Type 1 diabetic injected insulin for 31 years in the same location, leading to what the New England Journal of Medicine called “insulin lipohypertrophy.” In layman’s speak, that’s insulin-induced fat tissue growth. Did “overeating” — a “positive calorie balance” — cause this big lump of fat?
Obviously, the insulin injections changed how this guy’s body partitioned fuel into fat. Gluttony or lack-of-portion-control didn’t cause this problem, and a few extra laps on the treadmill wouldn’t fix it.
2. Obese baby afflicted with Cushing’s Syndrome
Cushing’s Syndrome is an awful disease that you can read more about here. One of the side effects is fat tissue growth — a.k.a. obesity.
Do you really think that the disease made this baby fat by forcing him to “overeat” milk or formula? Would the solution be to starve him and put him on a treadmill?
3. Sam Feltham’s remarkable overeating experiment
Smash The Fat’s Sam Feltham recently completed what he called the 21 Day 5000 Calorie Challenge, where he purposefully forced himself to consume ~5700 calories a day of low carb/high fat food. That was roughly ~2700 more calories than he had been eating at baseline, before the experiment. If the “calorie math” actually worked, he should have gained ~16 kgs. Instead, he gained less than 2 kgs AND dropped his waist size.
So much for gluttony — even forced gluttony! — as a possible cause of obesity.
Sam’s an awesome guy, btw, and we just did a “podcast swap.” I’ll be publishing my interview with him in early July.
4. Progressive lipodystrophy
Did this woman become emaciated up top because she didn’t eat enough?
Did she become obese below because she ate too much?
Should she eat less and exercise more to lose fat below the waist… or eat more and move less to gain some fat above her waist? Or both at the same time, somehow?
Hold on. Brain exploding!
5. HIV medication makes people obese and emaciated at the same time!
According to this article, ARV therapy for HIV patients can lead to obesity AND emaciation AT THE SAME TIME.
Mind = blown. Right?
Here are some of the symptoms. I’ve added the bolding and underlining and asterisks, so the point is clear.
• face (sunken cheeks, temple hollowness, sunken eyes,
prominent zygomatic arch)
• arms and legs (prominent veins, skinny appearance)
• buttocks (loss of contour, loose skin folds)
• ****!!!!abdomen (increased abdominal girth due to visceralfat accumulation****!!!!!)Related symptoms
• dorsocervical (‘buffalo hump’)
• breast enlargement
• abnormal insulin resistance or glucose tolerance or
new onset of diabetes mellitus
• elevated C-peptide
Let me repeat that. This course of HIV medication apparently causes people to become OBESE AND EMACIATED AT THE SAME TIME.
Trying to apply the calorie counting logic to this kind of obesity is like dividing by zero.
6. Low carb diets curing both obesity… and anorexia!
Most people know that low carb diets, like Atkins, can be used to treat obesity.
But did you know that low carb has been able to treat anorexia, too? No kidding.
In their book, Life Without Bread, German doctors Allan and Lutz describe how they successfully treated anorexics with a low carbohydrate diet. Here’s the money quote:
“The low carbohydrate program augments the anabolic processes that contribute to increased body mass… over a long period of time, they [i.e. anorexics] will eventually reach a larger body mass compared to when they began the low-carbohydrate program. The new weight, however, will be in all the right places.” P. 144 Life Without Bread
So somehow, a low carbohydrate diet can help an anorexic man gain fat in “all the right places” AND help an overweight woman lose fat “in all the right places.”
a) low carb diets are magical
b) fat tissue health (and size!) can be mightily influenced by the QUALITY of food eaten
I’m putting my money on (b).
7. Obesity and Malnutrition are often found together.
From the Abstract for this article, Obesity and Malnutrition in a Shantytown Population in the City of São Paulo, Brazil,(published in the journal Obesity in 2012): “To investigate the prevalence of obesity and malnutrition in the poor Brazilian population we conducted a survey on the socioeconomic and nutritional status of 535 families (comprising 2 411 individuals) living in shanty towns in the city of São Paulo. There was a 30% prevalence of malnutrition in the children, with chronic malnutrition as the most predominant problem. The prevalence of obesity was 6.4% in boys and 8.7% in girls.”
Okay, so in a population that barely gets enough to eat, we see obesity AND malnutrition occurring at the same time. Think about how amazing that is — how much it conflicts with our basic assumption that Americans get fat because we have too much yummy food.
Are we to believe that the people in this shantytown have access to yummier food than, say, the affluent, healthy, non-obese, non-malnourished populations in the Mediterranean and Japan do?
Are we to assume that, somehow, the malnourished cohort in this society passively allows the obese cohort to eat more than their fair share, while they starve?
That doesn’t make any sense. Put on your thinking cap, Marion Nestle & co!
It’s not about the “yummyness” of the food we eat or how much we eat.
It’s about the FAT TISSUE. It’s about what messes the fat tissue up (e.g. unhealthy processed foods, consumed chronically).
8. There’s no such thing as a “calorie receptor” in the human body.
Here’s diagram of a fat cell – a.k.a. an “adipocyte.”
Do you see any “calorie receptors” on it?
No? Neither do I.
So how in Hades are “calories” supposed to make us fat, biochemically?
Oops. There is no answer that makes any sense. And I’ve asked many a Calorie Wizard this question. Never gotten an answer that’s even made half a lick of sense.
9. 2nd Law of Thermodynamics ALSO applies to the human body.
Per Richard Feinman and Eugene Fine: “The second law of thermodynamics says that variation of efficiency for different metabolic pathways is to be expected. Thus, ironically the dictum that a “calorie is a calorie” violates the second law of thermodynamics, as a matter of principle.”
See their full paper here.
If body processes different calories differently, howzabout we stop giving all people one-size-fits-all advice to deal with weight control issues? Just a thought.
In Summary – It’s Not That Complicated, People
Calories do not count on a boat.
They do not count with a goat.
They do not count in the rain.
They do not count on a train.
Not in the dark! Not in a tree!
Not in a car! So shut up about calories already!
They do not count in a box.
They do not count with a fox.
They do not count in a house.
They do not count with a mouse.
They do not count here or there.
They do not count ANYWHERE!
The Calorie Counting mentality:
- Is mean, in that it blames obese people for being gluttonous sloths who care more about pound cake than about their health.
- Is wrong (see above).
- Is the beating black heart of all the B.S. that has made our nation (and world) fat and sick and sad — and has kept it that way.
Join with me and with the growing legion of Calorie Skeptics around the globe to free as many people as possible from the nonsensical calorie delusion. We just need 10% of the population. Then the Othello board can flip, and we can finally have a sensible conversation about the true causes (and possible cures) for obesity and the hundreds of chronic diseases associated with it.
!Viva La Revolucion!