Caloriegate: What if overeating doesn’t make you fat and the “Eat Less Move More” message is wrong?

Calories don’t “count” in the way everyone thinks they do. This changes everything

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9 Pictures That Prove Beyond a Reasonable Doubt That Calories DON’T Count

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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

insulin-makes-you-fat

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, no.

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

Cushings-syndrome-obesityCushing’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

Sam-feltham-5000-calories

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

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!

antiretroviral-therapy-for-hiv

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.

“Main Symptoms
!!!****Fat atrophy****!!!
• face (sunken cheeks, temple hollowness, sunken eyes,
prominent zygomatic arch)
• arms and legs (prominent veins, skinny appearance)
• buttocks (loss of contour, loose skin folds)
!!!***Fat accumulation***!!

• ****!!!!abdomen (increased abdominal girth due to visceralfat accumulation****!!!!!)Related symptoms
• dorsocervical (‘buffalo hump’)
• breast enlargement
• hypertriglyceridaemia
• hypercholesterolaemia
• 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!

low-carb-cures-anorexialow-carb-cures-obesity

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.”

Two possibilities:

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.

obesity-and-malnutrition

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.

adipocyte-diagram

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.

feinman-fine-2nd-law-of-thermodynamics

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!

Adam

 

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75 Responses to 9 Pictures That Prove Beyond a Reasonable Doubt That Calories DON’T Count

  1. HK says:

    Obesity is not something to be cured. That is rather offensive. Also, if you read all of Atkins work about low carbing, he specifically says it is not something that should be done long-term as it will impact your thyroid and other metabolic processes.

    As someone who has recovered from anorexia, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, that if I had tried to refeed on low carb, it would not have worked. Even putting that out there for someone who is recovering from an ED to read is dangerous, as it will most likely lead them to orthorexia or further enforce ED behaviors. In reality, those with EDs are probably already eating very low carb because that is just the nature of the beast. Perhaps you should visit http://www.youreatopia.com and read about eating disorder recovery and also her FAT series.

    I appreciate that you are saying it isn’t about calories in/calories out, because I do not believe that to be true at all, and our society is incredibly off about how many calories a person should eat in a day, but I think some of your information is way off base.

    • Adam K says:

      Thanks for the comment HK. I don’t think our positions are that far off. Wish I had more time right now to respond in detail…

  2. Mike says:

    Taking extreme cases and Taubes-esque cherry picking only proves that you can appeal to emotions, a massive confirmation bias and an ability select nice jpegs.

    Metabolic ward studies or some controlled studies, if you please.

  3. gallier2 says:

    Just to nitpick a bit about Life Without Bread. Lutz was Austrian (and died at age 97 in 2010 and Dr.Allan is American.

  4. Adam K says:

    I stand corrected, Sir! Thanks :)

    Sad to lose Lutz. He helped so many people. Hopefully, his legacy will live on.

  5. CarbSanity says:

    Someone – ahem, CarbSane – deserves an apology…

  6. Adam, I am very confused about thermodynamics. Can you please explain that Figure 1 from Feinman and Fine’s paper?

    • Adam K says:

      Thanks for commenting, Evelyn. I’d be happy to discuss the Feinman/Fine graph and other stuff from above, but I’m currently crazed with work stuff. I’ll do my best to respond tonight or this weekend.

    • Adam K says:

      Hi Evelyn,

      Thanks 4 your patience. Okay, so the Feinman and Fine diagram. Here’s the gist of what they’re saying, from what I understand. When you transform food into usable biological energy, the 2nd law says that you’re going to lose some of that energy during its various transformations.

      Different foods get metabolized differently in the body. The digestion/absorption pathways are not all equally efficient. You will lose more energy going down one path than you would going down another. Thus “a calorie is not a calorie” because measuring the calories you put in your mouth gives an inexact figure for how many calories your body actually “sees.”

      In other words, when you digest a gram of protein, more energy may be wasted by the process than, say, is wasted when you digest a gram of sugar.

      This is a separate kind of attack on the calorie-is-just-a-calorie idea than the arguments that Taubes has put forth (and which I tried to explain above.)

      I do think the Feinman/Fine concept is important. For instance, it suggests that the calorie counts in our food seriously mislead us. A 500 calorie bison burger may yield only 400 calories of usable energy, while a 500 calorie brownie may yield 450 calories of useable energy. (totally making those #s up to illustrate the point :) )

      In their own words (from this paper):

      “The second law says that there is a physical parameter called “entropy,” which we identify with disorder or inefficiency and, whereas energy is always conserved, entropy is not. In any real (irreversible) process, entropy increases and no process is perfectly efficient. The consequence is that conservation of energy (ie, the first law) is maintained by exporting high-entropy compounds (principally carbon dioxide and water) into the environment. The extent to which energy and matter are distributed among heat, chemical bonds, work, and the excreted products is determined by the specific metabolic pathway used. In our review, we presented plausible mechanisms by which dietary composition can lead to different pathways of different efficiencies.

      The first law of thermodynamics never exists in the absence of the second law. Both laws are inviolate, and they must be applied correctly.”

      Does that square with your understanding?

      On another note… I’m genuinely curious (and not in a snarky way) — what’s the CICO response to the insulin-injection-induced fat gain in the first picture? How can that in any way be caused by gluttony or sloth?

      Thanks,

      A

      • gallier2 says:

        The other example they give and the second graph shows that somehow is, that depending on the pathway used, the same component can yield different “net energy”. A protein directly oxidized will give a bit more than 4 kcal of energy, if it is first converted in glucose it will only have a net yield of 1kcal, because all the intermediary steps are not free. This disproves of course only the simplistic “a calorie is a calorie” idea, which if it was true would mean we could subsist on drinking only diesel (~9 cal/g) and eating wood (~4 kcal/g). Not to forget that a cookie has more calories than the same amount of TNT.

        • Adam K says:

          Excellent points, Gallier, and thanks for bringing them up! Perhaps I should have included a 10th picture of a lava field to illustrate an example of a very high calorie substance (liquid rock!) that no one would consider obesogenic.

      • Sorry Adam, but you didn’t answer my question. Can you please explain what they mean by that diagram? I know what entropy is and I also know that generation of heat is NOT entropy which is the basic problem with most of that paper. TEF is a first law term. To put it in a physics context, TEF is like the heat produced when a box sliding on a rough surface comes to a stop.

        Still, they were making a different point with that figure, so since you used it as proof that calories don’t count I was thinking you could explain why that picture says that is the case.

        • Adam K says:

          Hi Ev,

          I’m confused by your response and its applicability to everything I wrote above.

          I also had an inkling that I was being trolled, but I do mean what I wrote about compassion and empathy.

          Lastly, I’m seriously curious re: your take on the insulin-injection-induced fat gain. How does that square with the CICO/ELMM philosophy?

          • Adam, you wrote a post entitled 9 pictures that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that calories don’t count. You used that figure in #9 and I am asking what that means. To you. And how that proves anything. You didn’t answer that. I’ve read that paper, many times. It’s an example of peer review gone wrong …

            I know what it means to me, and can give you an example of why it is one of the weaker arguments they made, but would like to hear an original thought from you first. This is your blog after all.

            The fat deposits are simple. You are talking supraphysiological concentrations injected directly into the fat tissue, not brought there by the blood stream in amounts any human pancreas is capable of generating. So the DISTRIBUTION of fat is skewed into where he injected it. How is that at all relevant? It isn’t. It shows that you can make fat tissue hypertrophy by injecting insulin in the same place over and over and over where the concentration is not only >>>>> greater than normal, but also remains there for a longer time since it wasn’t an IV injection directly into the blood stream. It didn’t make him fat overall either. Explain that with TWICHOO.

            As to compassion and all that, your response to Sam below is all I need to know about you. You do not engage in honest discourse as evidenced by our email exchange and your misrepresenting that on a JM podcast.

            http://carbsanity.blogspot.com/2012/03/response-to-moorekosloff-podcast-i-my.html

            http://carbsanity.blogspot.com/2012/03/response-to-moorekosloff-podcast-ii.html

            Your readers might be interested in reading the comment from Kurt Harris at that second link. Jimmy Moore lifted it and claimed it was made on one of his venues and used it as an example of the so-called antagonism.

            Your readers will also be interested in this comment from you:

            It’s Adam.

            Haven’t read all the comments on this thread yet, but yikes! I feel regretful that my interview sparked this reaction. I had kinda wanted the opposite :)

            You guys raise some important critiques, and I really want to address them thoroughly and thoughtfully. I’m running up against a deadline for a writing project, so please bear with me, and I’ll try to respond in a few days.

            Needless to say, you were never heard from again. I think this is what the carbsanity troller is getting at about apologies owed. Though I suspect you recall this but prefer to go about the internet taking ad hominem pot shots.

          • Adam K says:

            Hi Evelyn,

            I wish that we could communicate better, but I don’t know how/when that will be possible. We’re on the opposite sides of an admittedly heated issue. Maybe in the future we can arrange some way to exchange ideas in a more constructive fashion.

          • Why don’t you start with the thorough and thoughtful response to the issues from that blog post. Seems a logical place. Meanwhile, nice dodge on #9.

          • Why don’t you start with the thorough and thoughtful response to the issues from that blog post. Seems a logical place. Meanwhile, nice dodge on #9.

          • Adam K says:

            You know, I’d actually be happy to do that at some point. Seriously.

            I think in some sense the animosity between the two sides in the calories-in-calories-out war is silly — that we’re all striving to do our best to help people/understand this shizzle the best we know how. There has GOT to be a better way to exchange ideas – one that involves less anger and more compassion and more listening. Unfortunately, I’m totally swamped with work right now. (This post is the only thing I’ve put up for months, and I don’t even really have time to respond to all these comments.) To address even your issue with #9 thoughtfully would take a while, for instance, because we’d have to go back and forth many times, and to thoughtfully and thoroughly deal with all the points from that blog post (and the inevitable responses, counter-responses, etc) would take like two days of concentrated effort! But that kind of project would be worth doing. Let’s table this chat for now and reconnect at some pt and have a humane discussion.

          • gallier2 says:

            Hi Adam,

            don’t let you be trolled by Evelyn. While she seem partially interested in what you have to say, in reality she’s not. Her track record of being an abusive bully and completely incapable of a genuine conversation is well recorded. You may take a look at http://carbsaner.blogspot.fr/ where Carole made the effort to archive her past mischiefs.

          • Adam K says:

            Thanks for the link, Gallier. That’s quite an archive. I feel sad because I wish the discussion over these issues could be more reasoned and less heated!

          • Hi Adam,
            I agree with Gallier. She is a troll who devotes her life to character assassination, bullying, belittling and persecuting people.

            Regards,

            Carole

          • Adam K says:

            Hi Carole,

            That’s quite an archive you’ve compiled. I had read some of what Evelyn’s written before, but I’ve always held out hope that she might be inclined to less ad-hominem centered discussions. Perhaps that’s being naive. I feel sad that this dialogue (about calories, carbs, etc) so often turns so mean and nasty!

          • Adam, please, I think you are easily the most insincere person I have encountered in this community. If you really meant what you said, you would make the time to respond on my blog as you had promised. You have time to trash me in comments on other blogs, so being busy is no excuse. Rather you prefer conflict because that is how you make your living. But you could surprise me.

            Clearly you’d rather engage trolls and allow links to harassing bullies than discuss the science here.

  7. EatLessMoveMoore says:

    What is your opinion of Jimmy Moore’s “NuttyK” experiment, Adam? Do you think that king of extreme is necessary?

    • Adam K says:

      Hi ELLM,

      I consider Jimmy a friend and mentor, and I’m thrilled for his success. Is it (i.e. nutritional ketosis) a “nutty” diet? Well, it certainly sounds extreme — eating massive amounts of fat and little else. :] It that diet necessary for Jimmy or anyone else? Is it healthy? It is optimally healthy? Could it be dangerous for him or others? These are all important questions. I don’t think we have the science to answer them conclusively. Sounds like it’s working pretty well for Jimmy and many others, so far.

      In terms of fat loss, the NK diet may be optimal for some people because it’s designed to minimize insulin levels and effectively force the body to burn fat for fuel. So if you’re extremely obese or stuck on low carb, a “fat fast” might be the nuclear weapon in your dietary arsenal. Is it a cure for obesity? Probably not. Is there a huge difference between an NK diet and a run-of-the-mill low carb diet? These and other questions lik it are quite complicated, and the answers are probably very context dependent. Hope that answers your q!

      • Joe says:

        Please don’t take ELMM seriously – he’s a troll for Carbsane who got banned by Richard over at free the animal.

        • Joe, can we PLEASE stop repeating nonsense like that ELMM is me? Even Richard stated that he knew it was not me, which you should know if you are familiar with his banning of same.

          It’s difficult enough having to communicate through the lies and misconceptions of me, but it is impossible when people such as you irresponsibly attribute the actions of others to me.

          • Sonia says:

            Evelyn, sweetie- I think you’ve used up you allocation of airtime. Off you go now honey bun. Go eat a doughnut.

  8. Dee says:

    Have you seen the study on the various diets by a Stanford professor? It seems to bear out your thoughts here and provides the “proof” asked for in some of the comments above. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eREuZEdMAVo

    Things of note in this video: It is a little over an hour long. The study took place over 2 years. The professor is an admitted vegetarian. Multiple types of diets were assigned and tracked for a vast number of people for such a study. He also gives quite a few references, provides graphics to help summarize his work.

  9. CarbSanity says:

    Thanks, Adam. I think you’re doing truly indispensable work in making often-confusing science accessible to laypeople (myself included). In fact, I know many – again, including myself – who are probably guilty of being too harsh on Taubes and who are considering giving the CIH a second look… As for Jimmy, he’s certainly no scientist, but his heart is in the right place – and ultimately that’s all that matters.

    • Adam K says:

      Thanks Evelyn! The debate over diet science certainly does get heated. Understandably so. We are what we eat, and we eat 3x a day (more for some folks). So it’s no surprise that the question of “what’s a healthy diet?” leads to emotionally charged discussions, ad hominems, etc. My feeling is that almost all the zealous people on both sides of the calories issue are passionate because they deeply want to help other people. We may differ radically in diet philosophy. But we all have needs to help others, to eat right, to figure out the truth of the universe, etc.

      I believe that, if we can see those human needs in one another — as opposed to the “enemy images” our society teaches us to contruct about people who disagree with us — we’ll all be better off. It ain’t easy! I often have to restrain myself from going ad hominem. But compassion and empathy have the power to help us face our mutual challenges.

  10. J says:

    I really think people are trolling and impersonating here…

  11. CarbSanity says:

    As do I. We’re all entitled to our own “Road to Damascus” moments.

  12. Christine says:

    I’m having a difficult time with this concept…not saying it can’t be true, just that in my experience with diet and exercise as a personal trainer to elite athletes for 26+ years, I can honestly say, that I’ve seen the difference it makes when you take in fewer calories or more calories. In the off-season, my clients increased their calories by about 3200 calories per day and gained up to 40 lbs. In the competiton seasons, calories were cut by the same amount and those 40 lbs. disappeared. What I DID notice is that a lot of it depended on what types of foods were eaten and how many meals those calories were divided into per day. I think there are so many “truths” out there, and what may be true for some is not true for others and vice versa. For athletes, diet is a science…you must eat certain things at certain times in certain amounts to fuel your body, but bottom line is, a certain number of calories must be consumed to fuel your body to do what you need it to do. If Joe Average ate the same number of calories my clients did, and never worked out, I can just about guarantee he will experience weight gain.

    • Adam K says:

      Hi Christine,

      Thanks for your thoughtful response! I hear you about having a difficult time grappling with this concept, since it’s very unconventional and countertuitive based on what we all grew up learning. I especially appreciate your being open minded, considering that you work as a trainer, and you’re thus in the weight loss/health business.

      To try to address your points… first off, when people “cut calories” on any kind of diet, they inevitably reduce carbohydrate consumption and almost always improve the quality of carbs that remain in the diet. Likewise, when they “add calories” – especially when they do so while backsliding on a diet – they increase the # of carbs and eat more bad carbs (e.g. ice cream, candy, bread, etc). So really almost all diets, including low fat, vegan, Weight Watchers, you name it, are variants of low/better carb diets. Dr. Peter Attia makes that point eloquently here with some good math and references. The gist is: any conventional diet that cuts calories lowers insulin secretion. And since insulin is the primary fat storage hormone, when you lower it, you free up more fat to burn for fuel.

      That’s an oversimplification, but it seems to me like a good 1st approximation.

      Of course, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Other factors that could affect the balance of forces on the fat tissue (beyond insulin) probably include: cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, leptin, lipoprotein lipase, whether you smoke or not, whether you’re doing resistance training or not, how much sunlight you get, whether you’re on certain meds or not, the quality/quantity of sleep you get, your genes, the environment you were exposed to in utero, chemical compounds you might have been exposed to, the time of year, etc :)

      It’s a lot of stuff! And I don’t think anyone has “The Answer” or that there will be one Answer. But maybe “cut/improve carbs to control insulin” would be a useful solution for many, if not most, overweight/obese people — and it’s at least a more humane (and probably more accurate) message than the conventional “Just Stop Eating So Much, Fatty” message we’ve all been taught.

      Anyway, thanks again for your comment! :)

      • Christine says:

        Adam K.:
        I realize you have a degree in Physics from Yale and I have a measly BS in physiology from Cal State and an MS in kinesiology from that same school and am only now working on my doctorate. And I’ve only been working in health and fitness since the 80′s, but I think all of that gives me a bit of expertise in the area of weight loss. And the equation is very simple. Consume fewer calories, exert more energy. Obviously, it’s preferable to eat the right kind of calories at the right times (frequent small meals), which helps regulate insulin, and do the right kind of exercise, buy ANY less amount of calories and MORE amount of exercise will help anyone lose weight. You can put any kind of fancy name on it, but it all comes down to the same thing. I don’t know why people insist on making weight loss any more complicated than it needs to be. There are thousands of weight loss programs out there and unless a person has the most important component to all of them – determination – none of them will work. None. Willpower is fleeting…and it’s a rare few who can hold onto it. But determination will help you reach any goal you have, whether it’s weight loss or becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

        • Adam K says:

          Thanks Christine. I appreciate your argument and passion to help people become healthier but respectfully disagree that fat loss as simple as you argue.

        • MITBeta says:

          Perhaps, Christine, you should ask why there are
          “thousands of weight loss programs out there” if the equation is so simple. Perhaps you should wonder why “willpower is fleeting” on so many of these weight loss programs. Could it be basic physiology? Could it be that calorie restriction and increased activity leave people HUNGRY? Could it be that most people are able to tolerate conventional calorie restriction/increased activity diet plans for so long, but that they fall off the wagon eventually because of this hunger?

          My own experience suggests that WHAT you eat is far more important to the equation than HOW MUCH you eat, and furthermore that exercise is nice, but it has very little bearing on weight management. Ever see how many overweight people cross the finish lines at marathons? How can this be possible with your simple formula?

          • Adam K says:

            Excellent points. Especially this one: “why there are “thousands of weight loss programs out there” if the equation is so simple?” A real head scratcher for the calories count crowd, if they were honest/non-delusional about what’s going on.

  13. Min says:

    This is selective bias. Here is an analogy for your theory: I put a bunch of cups on the table and fill them with water. The more water I pour into the cup, the more they become full, at least for most of the cups. You, on the other hand, picked 9 broken cups, and tried to show us that it doesn’t matter how much water you pour into the cup, they would stay empty. People with hyperthyroidism, or lipodystrophy, or cushing’s disease, or insulin treatment, are extreme cases and do not represent normal population, albeit that some genetic predisposition or hormone changes can be seen in normal people. One should do large cohort study or paired study to assess the role of calorie, and I believe that most such studies have given clear answers. The only example in your list that qualify is a fair comparison is the guy who went on the high calorie diet. Although he didn’t put on much weight, if you do that to 100 people, I would double down on >95 putting on more weight.
    BTW, there may not be a calorie receptor, there are lipid and glucose transporters…

    • Adam K says:

      Hi Min,

      Thanks for your comment! I don’t really get your broken cup analogy. Here’s the deal. The CW on obesity – that is universally believed and preached – is that the cause of all obesity is simple: a positive calorie balance. The popular solution is equally simple: Just Eat Less Than You Burn Off. The 9 “broken cups” I’ve provided explicitly and powerfully and unimpeachably show that this kind of thinking about obesity is, AT THE LEAST, inaccurate in many contexts.

      You COULD try to make the argument, which may be what you’re getting at — “hey, okay, regarding the guy who injected insulin in his stomach and then grew fat there… I can accept that the insulin caused that fat growth and that any overeating he did was merely facilitative. And the same is true with your other examples — diseases, disorders, etc can all lead to abnormal fat tissue growth that has nothing to do with gluttony or sloth and that cannot be addressed (well) just be telling these people to Eat Less Move More. BUT when it comes to “normal” obesity, calories still matter.”

      That second argument at least begins to make sense, although I would argue that it’s still very off base and flawed.

      Lastly, if there’s no calorie receptor, how, biochemically speaking, do “excess calories” make people fat? Like, what are the specific biochemical mechanisms involved? I get it that there are lipid and glucose transporters. But those do not transport “calories” – they transport lipids and glucose :)

      Also, in terms of scientific studies to address this issue, Peter Attia and Gary Taubes at NuSI have compiled an exhaustive list of all the major relevant studies that have ever been conducted. You can check those out here.

      Thanks!

      • Min says:

        Sorry, when I said “broken cups”, I meant “leaky cups”. Imagine that people are cups and calories are like water. Leaky cups don’t get full when one pours water in them, but it doesn’t mean that pouring water into regular cups won’t make them full. Small cups become full easily but it doesn’t mean that pouring water is not the cause of the fullness. Essentially, regardless of the size and shape of the cups, if one stops pouring water into the cups, they will remain empty. Hope I explain this clearly.
        Your examples, such as people don’t get fat when they take extra calorie, or people who do get fat while taking normal calorie, are not representative as most people will have only subtle defect compared to them. The key here is that in the same person, taking different calorie intakes, will it make a difference in this person’s weight control, glucose control, etc?
        Literally, there has not been a “calorie receptor” found. But last time I checked my nutrition books, I thought people eat calories in the forms of lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins, don’t they? So if glucose and lipid transporters, and a number of cell surface receptors, and cellular enzymes that function by sensing cholesterol, fatty acids, and carbohydrate levels are not considered as calorie receptors, then I am truly puzzled. Plus, there are enzymes that sense ATP and NAD+ levels, which largely depend on the energy status of the cells. Do they not count either?
        As I said, there is exception to every biology rules. So your examples, at least to me, do not strongly argue increased calorie intake is not the cause of obesity. I can easily present to you a person with chronic diarrhea and say: hey, this guy eats 20 burgers a day but don’t get fat!
        Life style modification fails in most people because there are only few people who can achieve true healthy life style. When true life style modification is indeed achieved whereas obesity is not improved, then it is time to seek secondary cause of obesity. Simple as that.

  14. bejewelme says:

    As someone who was obese her whole life, and finally lost 150 pounds eating a low carb, high fat diet, I argue this with many people! A calorie is not a calorie for me, if I were to eat 2000 calories a day with 40% carbs I gain weight like crazy my body is still very insulin resistant, healthy carbs, bad carbs they all make me gain, and even a small increase in carbs makes me hold water and retain fluid like crazy! I am struggling to lose 25 pounds now being pre menopausal and wonder why low carb isn’t working after all the success I had before? It is a battle I will continue to fight my whole life, and battle with doctors to find what it is that makes me have such a difficult time.

    • Adam K says:

      Hi Amber,

      Thanks for sharing your story, which I bet will resonate with many people. It’s probably very hard for relatively obesity resistant people (like me) to understand, viscerally, what you’ve been through. Congratulations on persisting and seeing such success. 125 pounds of fat net lost (and kept off) is still a mighty accomplishment!

      Some resources you might find helpful. My friend, Jimmy Moore, used a more vigorous form of dietary insulin control, called “nutritional ketosis,” to reboot his fat loss after regain on standard low carb. You can read about it here. Rebecca Latham details her journey with NK here.

      Alas, many hormones beyond insulin can cause fat storage. Changes in the female sex hormones can change levels of a key fat storage enzyme, LPL, and cause excess fat storage. (The same enzyme is likely responsible for why smokers gain fat when they quit – because the removal of nicotine “upregulates” this LPL enzyme.)

      Also, there’s the leptin factor. I don’t know that much about leptin, but this blog post (written by someone who lost 100+ lbs on low carb and kept it off for over a decade) is worth checking out.

      Lastly, remember that we are more than the number and size of our fat cells! :) :)

  15. Sam Knox says:

    I’ve been wondering where Carbsane and her flying monkeys were hanging out.

    Here, apparently.

    • Adam K says:

      Ha! Well, she appears to have come and gone. Too bad. I was genuinely curious to hear her explanation for the insulin-injection-induced fat accumulation – how that could be spun to support the calories-in-calories-out POV.

      • Contrary to popular opinion, I do have a life and actually didn’t expect you to respond. When you have claimed being busy in the past on my blog, you never returned to offer up an explanation or apology for your “regretful behavior”.

        Your email notification is not working BTW. I got no notice of your response.

        Lastly, Carbsanity is not me and you could easily determine that but you choose to play along with pot-stirrers for page hits I suppose.

        I’ll return when I get a chance to respond to your reply. If it gets too long I’ll make a post out of it so as not to bog your servers down 3:)

  16. Doug benson says:

    Lol at using extreme examples of people with rare disorders. You are also using your complete lack of information about the human body to come up with completely unsubstantiated claims and conclusions. I laugh at you. :]

  17. GetEducated says:

    I just want to start off by saying that this article is very miss-leading and I completely agree with Doug Benson’s comment. Calories and energy/in energy out do count…its thermodynamics!! Ever heard of it?? Adam, you seriously need to start reading read peer-reviewed articles on weight gain and obesity and get your facts straight. Using extreme examples to justify your nonsense is unprofessional in my opinion. Last but not least being a Yale graduate does not make you an expert on obesity and nutrition. You don’t even mention what you studied at Yale? My point being is that too many people nowadays lose weight on a diet, get muscle gains from a specific workout plan etc., and all of a sudden they consider themselves an expert in the field. To everyone who read this article, please consult an expert to get the right facts on weight gain, obesity and nutrition.

    Dr. P

    • Adam K says:

      Hi Dr. P,

      100% agree that people who read this article should work with their physicians if they want to change up their diets and exercise routines. I’m not a doctor or nutritionist. Nor would I ever claim to be.

      My point in this article – and this website – is to highlight the fatuous idea that “Calories and energy/in energy out do count… its thermodynamics!!”

      No one is denying thermodynamics! Go back to the top of the article. Here’s what I wrote: “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.”

      The 1st law always holds true. Read this for a more detailed explanation.

      • Adam K says:

        Here’s the money quote, btw:

        “Consider the difference between these two statements:

        1. For obesity to occur, more calories must be consumed than are burned.
        2. Obesity is caused by consuming more calories than are burned.

        The Alternative Hypothesis accuses the conventional view of making a logical fallacy known as Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, or mistaking correlation for causality. An example of this fallacy would be the observation that the rooster crows every time the sun comes up, and therefore concluding that the rooster’s crow causes the sun to come up. In future posts, you’ll be reading a lot about this logical fallacy because it is at the heart of most of the misinformation in nutrition science. The Alternative Hypothesis is in complete agreement with statement 1 (a restatement of The First Law Of Thermodynamics) but it says that statement 2 is totally false.”

        • Adam K says:

          Also, I got a degree in physics from Yale. And Gary Taubes got a degree in physics from Harvard.

          So, yes, we do believe in thermodynamics.

    • John says:

      Western civilization is suffering from mass obesity. The evidence is clear, and a Yale or Harvard degree is not necessary to know this. Yet all of you researchers and physicians have no stopped it. We get fatter and sicker. Ten million n-1 HFLCers drop weight and get healthier and you chuck it off as invalid science. Face it doc, you have zero credibility in the world. I now eat the way that works, whether you can accept it or not. I’m down weight, my lipid profile has become stellar, my A1C is sub-6, my 19 years of advanced retinopathy has completely retracted, and I feel great. But your industry funded study doesn’t support it, so I’m wrong.

      Pfft to science. It doesn’t help the common citizen.

      • Adam K says:

        Thank you, John! Amen! And congratulations on your achievements.

        And btw, regrets for the snooty comment re: my credentials. That’s not how I like to roll. I would just like more respect for the general argument and for all the crucial points John made above.

  18. Hi, Adam! Congratulations on the success of this post.

    I didn’t know you studied physics!

    I didn’t, but it’s not hard for me understand that some people store calories and some lose them as heat, or some other way that I may not be aware of (maybe thinking about things?).

    I remember once reading that scientists in Arctic Greenland when they camped out there would eat several steaks per day and not gain weight. This was an dietary experiment. I think they were like studying seals or something. Anyway, it was cold, they shivered to keep their temp up, and so they ate more when they were hungry, and didn’t gain a lot of weight.

    Not really controversial, and neither is the fact that hormones, genetics, and chemical messengers (and sometimes things like drugs and lack of food or certain types of food) play a huge role in either making this or not making this happen (as have shown above). This is the whole deal with digestion, enzymes, metabolism, etc? After all, that steak needs to be broken down so the good stuff can get the cells that need it.

    I am a biology guy, so the best comparative example I have in this regard is in surgery. Everyone needs water like they need calories, right? We need to replenish it or else we die. But how do we lose the water in the first place? By peeing, of course. But its not the ONLY way. We lose a lot by breathing and through our skin as well. It’s call insensible loss and its especially important when you are operating on someone.

    Let’s say you are operating on belly, like for colon cancer, and you have the belly open for like 3-4 hours. You lose A LOT of fluid, and just because you didn’t pee it out, doesn’t mean it didn’t leave.

    Same thing with burns. If a person has a massive burn, they will need a ton of fluid, literally liters on the order of 10′s, if their burn is bad. How much to give is based on a something called the parkland formula if you want to look it up. Often people will stop peeing with burns and go into kidney failure because they lose so much fluid (and blood) this will shock their kidney and they will shut down. This is called Acute Tubular necrosis, ATN for short.

    Likewise, a person who has kidney failure, can’t pee at all, and so they need to be fluid restricted and dialysed (or get a kidney transplant).

    You see where I am going here?

    I hope I don’t have to give you the example of why drinking seawater is a bad idea!

    The point is: Why is so hard to conceptualize that no is trying to say thermodynamics is false, but that your body, depending on the food you eat, your genes, the drugs you take, hormones, and other factors, does different things with it and doesn’t JUST store fat.

    • Adam K says:

      Thanks Andrei! Wonderful points, and your vivid surgery metaphors hopefully make the message abundantly clear.

      When someone has edema, they’re storing abnormal amounts of fluid in parts of their body. But doesn’t mean “overdrinking” caused the edema or protracted water deprivation should be the cure :)

  19. Adam, I have been observing your writings with CarbSane.

    To be Frank, I don’t understand it all, but I get the impression that CICO is kind of intellectual placeholder, or a surrogate for thought, which makes us end up talking past each other for the most part.

    EXAMPLE:

    Statement: We eat to many calories, that is why we are fat.

    Response: What about people who eat a lot of calories, and don’t gain weight?

    Statement: That may be true, but for most people we eat too many calories and so we gain weight. And those people will probably eventually gain weight.

    Response: So, why do we eat so many calories, then?

    Statement: Because food tastes too good and it’s too cheap.

    Response: Why does food taste good?

    Statement: Because corporation put flavors in them.

    Response: Do the flavor have calories?

    Statement: No.

    Response: What does?

    Statement: The calories!!!

    Response: You mean the sugar in coke, and the wheat in Twinkies, and corn in doritoes?

    Statement: EXACTLY?

    Response: But aren’t those basically carbs?

    Statement: No! They are calories!

    Response: So what about steak?

    Statement: Too many calories! Too expensive.

    Response: What about beef jerky then or bacon? That’s cheaper.

    Statement: Too many calories! Beside the corporations that make those foods are evil, and the government is controlled by corporations, and they all want to make us fat and sick, so we can be controlled by Big Pharma.

    Response: What about gastric by-pass and appetite suppressants.

    Statement: They work.

    Response: Why?

    Statement: Because they reduce your calorie intake.

    Response: Aren’t carbs considered calories, and don’t they stimulate insulin which helps store fat?

    Statement: You don’t know how to read science. Insulin makes you skinny.

    Response: Is that why diabetics are skinny? Because they make too much insulin?

    Statement: They aren’t skinny! They are usually fat! Because they eat too many calories and don’t make enough insulin.

    Response: I suppose they would be skinny then because insulin doesn’t have any calories?

    Statement: That’s right, and it’s also because it doesn’t taste good at all. It’s not palatable.

    Response: Like Potatoes.

    Statement:Exactly.

    Response: But not French Fries?

    Statement: Those are too tasty, too many calories, and made my big corporations.

    Response: So, no?

    Statement: No.

    Response: Just checking…

  20. Regarding the image in #6, a link is missing. Try: http://www.lowcarbfriends.com/photopost/showphoto.php/photo/9464/cpage/2#poststart

    Are you related to Candiflip or did you just pick a random success story from three years ago when we all know that LC has no greater track record for maintained weight loss than any other method.

  21. Joe says:

    Adam, Richard Feinman also discussed this issue. In short, you’re right, and most people are being witless when they exclaim about what they think the laws of thermodynamics prove:

    http://rdfeinman.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/metabolic-advantage-%e2%80%9ca-calorie-is-a-calorie%e2%80%9d-and-why-the-first-law-of-thermodynamics-does-not-apply-2/

  22. Hey Adam, here is a question I have been mulling over for a long time and I kind of tried to allude to it in a funny way with that dialogue I presented: Do you think that we are framing CIH and CICO incorrectly, and that is why we are talking past each other? Specifically, are these really competing hypotheses in reality?

    I understand that practically they are because if you only care about calories, then things like the Food Pyramid don’t matter in regards to how many carbs they prescribe, whereas if you say carbs are metabolically active (and the second part of that, fat doesn’t make you fat or cause heart disease), that has implications on current medical advice and the idea that it is ‘correct and compassionate and environmentally responsible’ to not eat meat.

    But in reality, carbs are calories and they are metabolically active. It seems that if we apply a competing hypothesis paradigm, ala Thomas Kuhn’s definition of science, then neither idea can be fully excluded because they are can never fully be disaggregated for an real comparison.

    My point is, aren’t both right and part of a greater ‘system’ or ‘systemic analysis’? I tend to think of metabolism as a akin to evolution or economics or any other system where there are multiple elements interacting with each other, and so a perfect comparison is near impossible.

    Too often, people think that if you compare the two aspects of the system as complex as metabolism, you will get an ‘answer’ but this approach seems to involve what I have learned is called the ‘residual fallacy’, or the implicit assumption that all other variables are being held equal, when they are not, and may have significant impact on what is happening (ie genetics, environment, hormonal status, etc.).

    Indeed, if you restrict calories you will probably never gain weight, and in fact, lose it, and you will also probably lose fat in most cases, but this describes a phenomena and not the characteristics of the system. And we agree that something magically doesn’t just ‘happen’ to calories, they get converted into heat, energy, or get stored, but what exactly happens and what are the characteristics of that process?

    The problem with a system is that we may never know specifically with our current knowledge, but only generally, in regards to what emerges. Is there something in physics that describes this, by the way? Is there is a similar phenomena or something in this regard?

    I guess I am just curious about your thoughts in this regard, and if you have any sort of opinions about the general framework issue of the discussion, and if you feel that is a major part of the communication problem.

    • Adam K says:

      Hi Andrei,

      These are wonderful thoughts, and I think you’re onto some very important stuff! I wish I had time right now to respond in depth to them, but I think you hit the nail on the head with ” Do you think that we are framing CIH and CICO incorrectly, and that is why we are talking past each other? Specifically, are these really competing hypotheses in reality?”

      Agreed! CICO, as it’s normally argued, is just a logical fallacy. It’s not really a hypothesis. And the CIH is probably a good shortcut (or at least generally better) to describe a more complex question, which is: what are the long and short term forces on the fat tissue?

  23. rosa says:

    I think maybe some people don’t understnad what real low carb diet is, I would think we are talking about low carb in the blood stream not in the stomach, because fruit and veggies are carbs yet there are eaten freely without any restriction by alot of low carbers, I think maybe a new name for this type of eating should be found that exactly emulates what it really means.maybe call it low glucose diet (low as in lower amounts in the blood stream at anyone time) myself I still have problems trying to stick to a low carb diet (I do not however eat alot of meat, never could eat alot of it tho I have tried)I love milk cheese and yogurt.part of the problem is avoiding bread in sandwiches how do you eat a sandwich without bread? (I try to choose whole grain higher fiber but still you cant always get that)I found that even the highest quality (except all bran which sucks and is sweetened with aspartame yuck)cereal gives me bloat and other problems and I am under the inclination that it messes wiht my blood sugar as well. so I try to avoid it, the problem comes when I am pmsing, I crave carbs more then usual and find it difficult not to eat lower quality carbs for a couple of days then that craving leaves.

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