Please consider registering
guest

sp_LogInOut Log In sp_Registration Register

Register | Lost password?
Advanced Search

— Forum Scope —




— Match —





— Forum Options —





Minimum search word length is 3 characters - maximum search word length is 84 characters

sp_Feed Topic RSS sp_TopicIcon
There Is No Such Thing As A "Calorie" (To Your Body)
sp_BlogLink Read the original blog post
April 6, 2013
1:34 pm
Avatar
First-Eater
Forum Posts: 2045
Member Since:
February 22, 2010
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

K. Harris:

"Once your individual resting metabolic rate is determined, one can easily determine the amount of calories needed to sustain, gain, or lose body weight, based on gender, height, weight, age, and activity level."

No.

"ERS data suggest that average daily calorie intake increased by 24.5 percent, or about 530 calories, between 1970 and 2000." (Source: USDA)  

Assuming that people were close to maintenance in 1970, "calorie math", which gives us the 3500 calories per pound of fat rule, would mean that all Americans in 2000 were gaining one pound of fat per week indefinitely! 

Yes, we're getting fatter…but the average adult American in 2000 was only ~19 pounds heavier than the average American in 1970. (Source: CDC)  That's a long way from the one pound per week predicted by the calorie model!  

In fact, "calorie math" says a 19-pound gain in 30 years should require a surplus of only 6.07 calories per day.  That's nearly two orders of magnitude from the observed 530 calories per day.

"A calorie is a calorie; it is the human metabolic rate that's not just a human metabolic rate that is the changing factor."

But what is this mysterious "metabolic rate"?  All you've done is moved all the magic from one place to another.  

Furthermore, attempting to explain all the observed differences between diets in terms of magical adjustments to "metabolic rate" makes it difficult to explain why 1800 calories of grass-finished beef, pastured eggs, kale, and sweet potatoes don't have the same effect on your body (or your bodyweight) as 1800 calories of Coca-Cola.

The answer, of course, is that "metabolic rate" is driven in large part by your food choices, whether short-term (e.g. thermogenesis) or long-term (e.g. metabolic flexibility).

"Bodybuilders have been counting calories for years and can predict their weight and bodyfat % pretty much down to the day of competition."

No.

I have some experience with bodybuilders and nationally competitive weight-class athletes.  As Beowulf pointed out, they are strongly concerned with both macronutrients and supplements, not just calories, because they dramatically affect your body's hormonal and metabolic state.  

No competitive weight-class athlete, whose livelihood depends on their ability to make weight, ever says "My diet says I can eat 1100 calories a day until the competition…I'll take that as two slices of pizza, two ice cream sandwiches, and a Coke."  

Short version: Beowulf's explanation in #60 is correct.  

 

E Craig:

See Beowulf's explanation in #60.

 

Alex:

If you're eating roughly the same foods after you start "calorie counting" than you were before, you're maintaining a similar level of activity, and you're not trying to restrict "calories" too dramatically, then yes, you might see reasonable results.

Why?

Because by not changing the composition of the food you're eating or your activity level, you're likely maintaining a very similar hormonal and metabolic environment.  All you're doing is eating less of the same food you were before.  Result: if you don't kick your body into starvation mode (i.e. you're not already strongly weight-reduced and you're not restricting your food intake too greatly), you'll probably lose some weight.

 

Andy:

That explains the appx. 300 calorie difference in REE+TEE between high-protein, low-carb diets and others, then.

(Article, paper by Ludwig et.al.)

 

Jen W:

Going by physical dimensions rather than weight is an excellent idea, and one I recommend to all.

My point is that "calorie counting" is, at best, an approximation to what's really happening — and treating food as a generic substance made out of interchangeable "calories" can lead us to make bad decisions that will actively sabotage our health.

 

Beowulf:

Exactly true.  Anyone who thinks bodybuilders (or any weight-class athlete) only counts "calories" can't possibly have any real-world experience with competitive weight-class athletes.

 

Finally…I'm caught up!  Thanks, everyone, for your patience and interesting questions.

JS

April 6, 2013
4:48 pm
Alex
Guest

J, that's exactly what I do... same paleo foods, just 2-3 hundred calories per day less of them, averaged out over a week, so that I can have a few lower calorie days and a day of greater indulgence. With no starch/lowish carbs, the hunger level is so minor that sometimes I'll go all morning on nothing but coffee with cream and then get half my daily calories from an entire pint of ice cream and still be in caloric deficit for the day. The only thing about it that feels diety is all the measuring and logging of food.

April 8, 2013
2:01 pm
FrankG
Guest

Many thanks JS for your sensible and eminently readable blog post! You make a great deal of sense 🙂

Yes the 1st Law of Thermodynamics is a physical law, yes CICO is descriptive (but NOT explanatory) and YES there is too much emphasis on "weight" rather than excess fat mass.

I think the trick that many fall into with CICO is evident in both Lyle's equation "Energy In (corrected for digestion) = (BMR/RMR + TEF + TEA + SPA/NEAT) + Change in Body Stores" and also those who like to quote the "bible" stories about how those in metabolic ward studies always show an "energy balance", regardless of macro-nutrients (despite the 300 calories at rest per day "advantage" of an LCHF-type diet)

This equation and the metabolic ward studies, show a balance because we always ARE in "energy balance".. even when we are gaining or losing "weight" -- so long as you properly include energy stored and energy released from stores in your maths.

The trap is assuming that CICO is "predictive" of any outcome... that by reducing CI, or increasing CO, I will inevitably lose so much "weight". As too many of us know from painful experience, this is NOT a sustainable approach in the long run and may indeed be harmful in the attempt; leading to loss of lean tissue, even higher fat mass and a depressed metabolism.

Even those arguing in favour of CICO above are saying that you need to adjust the amounts over time (trial and error) before you get it right... in other words they accept that CICO is NOT predictive of the outcome... if you wait until AFTERWARDS and then look at the numbers of course they will balance! They MUST! That is is the 1st Law of Thermodynamics. BUT you didn't get there simply by counting calories.

---

I have a different car analogy and it has to do with trying to save fuel costs: in order to make my car run efficiently it is not enough to simply focus on and record how much fuel I am putting in, and how many miles I am driving with it -- at the end of the day those numbers may help me track my progress but they do NOTHING in improving how the car works... for that I need to consider everything from the size and type of tires (and wheels) their inflation, my driving style, how clean the spark plugs, air filter, oil, filter, plug wires etc.. etc...

I achieve efficiency only by focusing on the quality of these inputs, instead of simply complaining about the quantity of fuel I am putting in.

April 10, 2013
3:18 pm
eddie watts
Guest

FrankG do you have a blog at all? (i assume you are the same FrankG from taubes' blog, fathead, dietdoctor etc?)

April 11, 2013
3:16 am
FrankG
Guest

Eddie -- yes I do follow and regularly comment at those other sites.

I don't have my own blog. I think there are others like J. Stanton here who do a far better job of that than I could... and I'm not sure I would have the patience with some of the comments I see others tolerating 🙂

April 11, 2013
6:58 am
eddie watts
Guest

shame, your comments are always clear and well thought out.

although i do understand what you mean!

April 12, 2013
2:25 am
BC
Guest

Wow I really appreciate the work that's gone into this post J. Stanton.

FrankG your car analogy is brilliant.

Question though- do the bomb calorimeters reduce the food to ash and zero calories, or only to the same energy state of an average persons poo?

Ie Say a steak has 500 calories of energy total, according to the calorimeter. How much of that actually is recovered by the time that steak has exited? How many calories of unused energy is there per kilo of feces? I'd be guessing hundreds at least.

Sorry for the language, I'm just very curious.

April 12, 2013
2:25 am
BC
Guest

Wow I really appreciate the work that's gone into this post J. Stanton.

FrankG your car analogy is brilliant.

Question though- do the bomb calorimeters reduce the food to ash and zero calories, or only to the same energy state of an average persons poo?

Ie Say a steak has 500 calories of energy total, according to the calorimeter. How much of that actually is recovered by the time that steak has exited? How many calories of unused energy is there per kilo of feces? I'd be guessing hundreds at least.

Sorry for the language, I'm just very curious.

April 12, 2013
7:12 am
Madison, WI, USA
Gnoll
Forum Posts: 75
Member Since:
September 24, 2012
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

BC,

 

I'm guessing that would depend on the conditions in which the steak was eaten, what condition the body is in at the time the steak was eaten, what it was eaten with, etc.  So I think that would vary from person to person.

 

Jen

"Often we forget . . . the sky reaches to the ground . . . with each step . . . we fly."  ~We Fly, The House Jacks

April 13, 2013
9:45 am
Kevin
Guest

"A Few Possible Fates Of A “Calorie”: Fat"

Darn! I was looking forward to reading that section most of all. Where can I find an easy to read description of this? I know this works because it works for me but I am trying to understand a few things.

I understand that carbs increase insulin right away and so much of the carbs get stored as fat rather quickly because the body can't use it fast enough. Just eat fat, and insulin does not spike, so the body burns the fat slowly for energy. But, what happens if you eat carbs with fat. The insulin spikes and works on the carbs. What does the insulin do with the fat?

Also, does the body ever store ingested fat as fat if it decides there is more than needed for energy needs at the time?

April 15, 2013
8:48 am
Pablo $
Guest

Money is only an oversimplified measurement of value (and doesn't really exist) but is certainly not meaningless. Just like "gallons of gas" or "miles per gallon" are completely and utterly oversimplified measures of what is happening when we "drive".

Surely, we need to optimize the quality of our food intake (not eat our energy intake for the day as processed junk) but we also need to gauge how much energy we are putting in our tank vs how much we can use. CICO works...especially if you are actually eating "food" and not junk.

PS: Our use of "calorie" is another example of (USA) failure to convert to the metric system.

April 15, 2013
1:50 pm
Adam
Guest

Ctrl-f "food calorie" returns zero hits.

You should really learn what the calorie on the nutrition label *is*, first, before you go all crazy on CICO. Protip, a food calorie is not 1:1 to a calorie from a bomb calorimeter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_calorie

April 15, 2013
6:01 pm
EatLessMoveMoore
Guest

CarbSane has already debunked all of this.

April 17, 2013
1:21 am
Avatar
First-Eater
Forum Posts: 2045
Member Since:
February 22, 2010
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

Alex:

That sounds about right…200-300 "calories" less food usually won't be enough to cause a radical shift in the metabolic/hormonal environment.

 

FrankG:

Thank you for your cogent comments: you've understood my point and extended it to a general description.  "CICO is descriptive, but not predictive" is a great summary.

 

BC, Jen W:

Bomb calorimeters reduce food to ash.  Dietary "calories" are computed by adjusting the resulting values by what are known as the "Atwater system", which attempts to compensate for all the issues I've discussed by computing some average adjustment factors for "typical" people eating "typical" foods.

 

Kevin:

Insulin will cause the fat to get stored more quickly than it otherwise would.  

In support of this concept, empirically, we see that weight-class athletes, bodybuilders, and others whose success depends on cutting that last few percent of fat follow either a very low-carb diet or a very low-fat diet, with nothing in between.  (Though they sometimes alternate, e.g. leangains and the variants of CKD.)  Though it probably doesn't make much difference unless you're trying to get "ripped", going to one extreme (or switching them if you're already at one of them) can sometimes help you break through a weight-loss plateau.

And yes, the body eventually stores circulating fat if it's surplus to energy needs.  However, since high blood fat isn't immediately toxic the way high blood sugar is, it's stored more slowly.

 

Pablo:

"CICO works…especially if you are actually eating "food" and not junk."

See my reply to Alex above, and especially FrankB's comment.  CICO is descriptive, but not predictive.

 

Adam:

"You should really learn what the calorie on the nutrition label *is*, first, before you go all crazy on CICO."

I did.

Your Wikipedia link redirects to "food energy", which notes "Conventional food energy is based on heats of combustion in a bomb calorimeter", just as I've said.  This value is then adjusted by the "Atwater system", which attempts to compensate for everything I've discussed by computing some average values for "typical" people eating "typical" foods.  Some discussion of the shortcomings of the Atwater system, including the fact that it's a fixed approximation to a host of variables, can be found here.

PROTIP: "Protip" is written in all caps.

 

"EatLessMoveMoore"/"Melissa"/"CarbSeine":

Don't expect a response to sockpuppeting or gratuitous pot-stirring.

 

Thanks to all my commenters for the productive discussion!

JS

April 22, 2013
6:36 am
Steven
Guest

Great article! So basically what you eat matters much more than how much you eat. One question I always had was how much protein one actually needs to build muscles? The values recommended by the scientific/academic/health-agencies and the sports-nutrition/bodybuilding community vary so much. From this article, I figure caesin or whey are the best muscle building proteins?

April 22, 2013
12:26 pm
Heather
Guest

Energy In (corrected for digestion) = (BMR/RMR + TEF + TEA + SPA/NEAT) + Change in Body Stores

OR

Eat only what you can pick, dig or spear...mostly spear.

I know my choice...

April 24, 2013
6:51 am
eddie watts
Guest

Steven i think the best proteins are as much of as many as you can get.

individual mileage will vary considerably which is why there is such a wealth of advice which mostly do not agree.

some of this, no doubt, will be because people who have issues with whey/protein/egg protein will not be absorbing that protein, but still be counting it in their food plans.
possibly this is why some get good gains on say 1g per pound of weight (they have good digestion and absorption) but others struggle even hitting 2g per pound of weight (digestion/absorption is poor, maybe 100g or so is from a source their body cannot handle)

currently i'm hitting 2g per pound of bodyweight every day. it is relatively easy because i'm no paleo purist (5 protein shakes a day with 46g each. then 2 solid food meals each with 130g protein in. my bodyweight is around 230 pounds. i've always struggled with adding mass, but never tried such high doses of protein.
i've also typically stuck to the CW of high reps time under tension etc, whereas now i am focusing on heavy weights and reps of 1-5 most of the time.)

personally i'll listen to those who have achieved muscle gains themselves very successfully over those who know all the theory but have not don it themself.
if that means i listen to bodybuilders or powerlifters or strongmen then so be it.

April 26, 2013
5:00 pm
Dana
Guest

The big problems with starvation are:

1. lack of protein

2. lack of micronutrients

...on an immediate basis. Eventually without essential fatty acids you will be in trouble from that too. But starvation is not due to lack of calories or lack of excess fat storage per se. In fact, speaking to the latter, adipose tissue in humans seems to serve as a temporary energy-storage tank more than anything else. We don't hibernate, and it is not blubber so it doesn't keep us warm either.

(In fact, fat people are more likely to be *cold* since chances are excellent we have thyroid issues to go along with the metabolic syndrome!)

And if you are not getting the aforementioned protein and micronutrients, excess fat will only go so far to address starvation--and only the energy issue, as you will still break down your lean tissues to get amino acids and that will still eventually kill you.

I could, in fact, envision someone dying of starvation if all they got was either sugar syrup or liquid fat plus water to consume, even if they went above the starvation threshold on caloric consumption every day.

So I'm glad you offered the disclaimer of speaking from a First World point of view, but the practice of measuring starvation in number of calories consumed is faulty to begin with.

April 30, 2013
1:04 am
Avatar
First-Eater
Forum Posts: 2045
Member Since:
February 22, 2010
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

Steven:

That depends on how intense your training is.  For instance, Olympic weightlifters have been measured in negative protein balance (i.e. not getting enough) at 2 g/kg/day.  1 gram per pound per day is the usual "round number" starting point for active people.

I find that so long as I'm not camouflaging protein by eating it as protein shakes, my own satiation is an excellent guide.  Lean protein becomes extremely unappetizing once you've eaten enough!

As far as "muscle-building proteins", all complete proteins (which includes basically most animal-source proteins) will help build muscle.  The main difference between whey, casein, and a steak is how quickly they're digested absorbed.  Whey is absorbed very quickly, so immediately PWO is probably a good time for a scoop...but at most other times (e.g. before bed), you'll want something that is digested and absorbed more slowly, e.g. a steak.

AFAIK.  Sports nutrition is a complicated field that I don't claim to understand fully -- and many of the people making bold claims for their own plans aren't substantiating them nearly as well as they claim!

 

Heather:

"I know my choice…"

It's difficult for most people to gain fat on clean, Whole 30-style paleo: most people who do are eating/drinking dairy products or cheating in some other way.  (Though not everyone...some people do need to stay in ketosis or have other special dietary needs.)

Note that there's an important difference between weight loss stalls ("I'm not losing three pounds a week OMG what's wrong HELP) and actually gaining weight.  As I've said many times, it took decades to break yourself: don't expect to fix yourself in a month or two.

 

Eddie:

When asking how to gain muscle mass, absolutely listen to bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other strength athletes!  Their theories may not be entirely correct, nor their approaches optimal, but they have the salutary characteristic that they actually work in the real world...

...as opposed to untested hypotheses usually based on one or two in vitro experiments and knockout mouse studies, by people who don't have much muscle mass and don't lift heavy weights.

 

Dana:

Addressing starvation is beyond the scope of this article, but AFAIK your understandings are correct.  Kwashiorkor and other protein-deficiency malnutrition syndromes are disturbingly common, whereas rabbit starvation is mostly a historical footnote for a few explorers.

JS

April 30, 2013
2:55 pm
eddie watts
Guest

JS do you know how they tested whether those olympic athletes were in negative protein balance?
just wondering if it is something i can test myself in some way, other than just lack of progress.
muscle takes time to build so i should not be expecting too much too soon.

Forum Timezone: America/Los_Angeles

Most Users Ever Online: 183

Currently Online:
6 Guest(s)

Currently Browsing this Page:
1 Guest(s)

Member Stats:

Guest Posters: 1597

Members: 4814

Moderators: 0

Admins: 1

Forum Stats:

Groups: 1

Forums: 2

Topics: 250

Posts: 6915

Administrators: J. Stanton: 2045