• Your life and health are your own responsibility.
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The Calorie Paradox: Did Four Rice Chex Make America Fat? (Part II of “There Is No Such Thing As A Calorie”)

Caution: contains SCIENCE!

It’s possible to “prove” just about anything via a blizzard of citations and a few carefully-placed appeals to authority. It’s also easy to become seduced by a plausible and elegant biochemical pathway. Presto: science!

However, when formulating a hypothesis, it’s most important to constrain it by observed reality.

(This is Part II of a series. Click here for Part I.)

Empirical Evidence: “Calorie Math” Doesn’t Work

“ERS data suggest that average daily calorie intake increased by 24.5 percent, or about 530 calories, between 1970 and 2000.” (Source: “Profiling Food Consumption In America”, USDA Economic Research Service.) In absolute terms, the average American was consuming roughly 2150 “calories” per day in 1970, 2260 “calories” per day in 1980—and nearly 2700 “calories” per day in 2000.

Source: USDA ERS

Note that the shape of this curve roughly parallels the prevalence of obesity in America, which increased slowly before 1980 and took a steep upturn afterwards:

It's late and I'm out of witty alt tags.

Note that the upturn in obesity coincides with the US Government’s advice to eat less fat and cholesterol, and more whole grains.

Edible fats contain roughly 3500 calories per pound. Therefore, assuming that people were close to their mythical “daily maintenance calories” in 1970, “calorie math” tells us that the average American gained approximately 800 pounds between 1970 and 2000…and has been gaining one pound per week ever since!

If “calorie math” worked, we would all look like this.

Meanwhile, back in reality, the average adult American gained approximately 19 pounds between 1971 and 2000. (Source: Mean Body Weight, Height, and Body Mass Index, United States 1960–2002, Centers for Disease Control.)

The same “calorie math” says a 19-pound gain in 30 years should require a surplus of just six calories per day. That’s nearly two orders of magnitude smaller than the observed 530 calories per day.

Yes, six calories is enough to stop the obesity crisis! All Americans have to do in order to stop gaining weight is to pull four Rice Chex out of the bowl each morning.

Some say two extra teaspoons of milk are to blame...but that's just plain silly.

I blame the ones hiding under the spoon.

Clearly, “calorie math” doesn’t work.

These are back-of-the-envelope calculations, and are not meant to be exact. And I know some might be tempted to quibble about potential errors in the ERS data: keep in mind that we’re not speaking of a 12% difference, or even a 100% difference. We’re speaking of a nearly 10,000% difference between predicted and observed weight gain.

Yes, I weighed the Rice Chex myself.

Empirical Evidence: “Calorie Math” Doesn’t Work, Part II

We’ve established that the 3500-calorie rule is off by roughly two orders of magnitude for weight gain. It’s also wildly inaccurate for weight loss.

Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Apr 8. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.51. [Epub ahead of print]
Can a weight loss of one pound a week be achieved with a 3500-kcal deficit? Commentary on a commonly accepted rule.
Thomas DM, Martin CK, Lettieri S, Bredlau C, Kaiser K, Church T, Bouchard C, Heymsfield SB.

Despite theoretical evidence that the model commonly referred to as the 3500-kcal rule grossly overestimates actual weight loss, widespread application of the 3500-kcal formula continues to appear in textbooks, on respected government- and health-related websites, and scientific research publications. Here we demonstrate the risk of applying the 3500-kcal rule even as a convenient estimate by comparing predicted against actual weight loss in seven weight loss experiments conducted in confinement under total supervision or objectively measured energy intake.

Their Java applet simulates the average of all the weight vs. time curves extracted from the studies they selected: you can download it here. While it doesn’t account for the differences caused by macronutrient composition (e.g. Ludwig 2012), meal timing (see below), meal composition (see below), or the host of other significant factors, you can amuse yourself by turning on “Show 3500 Calorie Rule” from the Options menu.

Clearly, “calorie math” doesn’t work.

Empirical Evidence: A “Calorie” At Dinner Does Not Equal A “Calorie” At Breakfast

Here’s a fascinating controlled study:

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Oct;19(10):2006-14
Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner.
Sofer S, Eliraz A, Kaplan S, Voet H, Fink G, Kima T, Madar Z.

Seventy-eight police officers (BMI >30) were randomly assigned to experimental (carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner) or control weight loss diets for 6 months.
Greater weight loss, abdominal circumference, and body fat mass reductions were observed in the experimental diet in comparison to controls. Hunger scores were lower and greater improvements in fasting glucose, average daily insulin concentrations, and homeostasis model assessment for insulin resistance (HOMA(IR)), T-cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, C-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels were observed in comparison to controls.
A simple dietary manipulation of carbohydrate distribution appears to have additional benefits when compared to a conventional weight loss diet in individuals suffering from obesity.

How about that?

The officers were eating the same number of “calories”…they were even eating the same balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Yet, the “carbs for dinner” group lost an additional 2.5kg (5.5 pounds) after six months.

Furthermore, this was a deeply restricted diet (1300-1500 “calories”), so we’d expect all the participants to be extremely hungry. (The Minnesota Starvation Experiment fed its volunteers more: 1600 “calories” per day.) Yet the “carbs for dinner” group rated themselves as less hungry and more sated…so real-world results, in which food intake is only restrained by one’s willpower, would be even greater.

Finally, the “carbs for dinner” crowd were healthier in all measured respects: lower abdominal circumference and fat mass, lower fasting glucose and HOMA(IR), lower LDL, higher HDL, and lower whole-body inflammation (CRP, TNF-α, IL-6). All this from a standard “healthy” high-carb diet (20% protein, 30-35% fat, 45-50% carbohydrate), tweaked so that the carbohydrates were eaten mostly at dinner!

Conclusion: a “calorie” of carbohydrate eaten for breakfast is not equal to a “calorie” of carbohydrate eaten for dinner.

According to “calorie math”, the additional weight loss would equal 107 fewer “calories” per day. Apparently you can change the number of “calories” in food just by eating it at a different time of day…

…or perhaps the concept of “calories” is flawed. (I’ll leave the additional problems this experiment poses for reward-based hypotheses of obesity as an exercise for the reader.)

Also note the dramatic alterations to the hormonal milieu: the same authors explore this in more detail in a followup study.

Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2012 Aug 14. [Epub ahead of print]
Changes in daily leptin, ghrelin and adiponectin profiles following a diet with carbohydrates eaten at dinner in obese subjects.
Sofer S, Eliraz A, Kaplan S, Voet H, Fink G, Kima T, Madar Z.

Empirical Evidence: A “Calorie” Of Powdered Food Does Not Equal A “Calorie” Of Regular Food

Hat tip to Kindke for this excellent and well-controlled study:

Br J Nutr. 2013 Apr;109(8):1518-27. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512003340. Epub 2012 Aug 6.
Diet-induced obesity in ad libitum-fed mice: food texture overrides the effect of macronutrient composition.
Desmarchelier C, Ludwig T, Scheundel R, Rink N, Bader BL, Klingenspor M, Daniel H.

“The most striking finding was that all mice fed the different powder diets developed obesity with similar weight gain, whereas among the mice fed the pellet diets, only those given the HF and W diets became obese.

(Note that all mice were fed ad libitum, which means they could eat as much as they wanted.)

Two instructive graphs:

Weight change on standard pelleted diets.

See? High-fat diets cause obesity! (In C57BL/6N mice genetically-engineered to quickly become obese.)

Weight change on powdered diets.

Except when you grind them all into powder—at which point all diets become equally “obesogenic”.

Another fascinating fact: the mice who became obese on the powdered chow were eating the same amount of food that kept them lean when it remained in pellet form! Yes, they were eating the same number of “calories”…

…which made them fat in powder form, but not in pellet form.

We’re not just talking about a little bit of extra fat, either: the mice got 80% heavier on the powdered food, versus 18% on the pelleted version of the same food.

Furthermore, the mice who ate the “high-fat” diet consumed 19% fewer “calories” worth of powdered food—but became just as fat as before. And the mice eating the “Western” diet also consumed 19% fewer “calories”—but became even fatter than before!

Conclusion: a “calorie” of powdered food does not equal a “calorie” of regular food—particularly when the powder is primarily carbohydrate.

Some More Observations On Desmarchelier et.al.

As Kindke notes, flour is powdered carbohydrate. So is sugar. So is almost anything that ends up packaged in a brightly-colored box…processed foods are almost entirely comprised of grains ground into powder, pressed into shape, usually doused with sugar, and baked or fried. Bread, cereal, pasta, donuts, cookies, corn chips, crackers, “instant” anything…yet another reason that Step 1 of “Eat Like A Predator” contains “Do not eat anything made with ‘flour’.”

This study also poses several problems for reward-based hypotheses of obesity. The “high-fat” diet became less “rewarding” when ground into powder, but resulted in the same weight gain. The “Western” diets came in three different flavors, but produced identical results…and all became less “rewarding” when ground into powder, yet resulted in more weight gain. And chow was apparently just as “rewarding” in powder form as in pellet form, yet caused much greater weight gain. (For a demystification of the current state of hunger science, watch my AHS 2012 presentation.)

Finally, here’s a bonus observation. Quote from the paper: “Irrespective of the food texture, the W diet induced a more severe hepatosteatosis and higher activities of serum transaminases compared with the two other diets. In conclusion, diets differing in macronutrient composition elicit specific pathophysiological changes, independently of changes in body weight. A diet high in both fat and sugars seems to be more deleterious for the liver than a HF diet.

There’s much more—including an indictment of the entire field of obesity research, which has based much on the idea that “high-fat” diets cause obesity. Head over to Kindke’s article to read it.

Conclusions: Our Story So Far

  • A calorie is not a calorie when you eat it at a different time of day.
  • A calorie is not a calorie when you eat it in a differently processed form.
  • Calorie math doesn’t work for weight gain or weight loss.

And we haven’t yet discussed the effects of nutrient partitioning, the mysteries of acronyms like REE, TEE, and TEF, or the myriad other ways in which a calorie is not a calorie. Click here to continue to Part III!

Live in freedom, live in beauty.


(This is Part II of a series. Click here for Part I.)

You. Yes, you. The one who doesn’t yet own a copy of The Gnoll Credo.

You saw Fight Club, right? Everyone did. Well, in addition to being “Raw, powerful and brilliant,” “Funny, provocative, entertaining, fun, insightful,” and “Utterly amazing, mind opening, and fantastically beautiful,” The Gnoll Credo also inspires reviews such as “You must read this forthwith—it’s more life changing than Fight Club“…an assessment with which I agree.


Thank you.


Permalink: The Calorie Paradox: Did Four Rice Chex Make America Fat? (Part II of “There Is No Such Thing As A Calorie”)
  • I hear Rice Chex were reformulated using Lembas back in 1979.  Wink


    Seriously though, as usual, some nice ground covered in this post.  'Carbohydrate consumption and time of day' is particularly interesting.  I wonder if habituation plays a part?  I'd imagine the body adapts to particular eating patterns (and possibly even food types, flavours, textures etc….)

  • PaleoFast

    THis is fascinating! As a Paleofaster who for 9 months ate their only paleo/lowcarb meal in the evening I was worried about piling up weight. I did not but I did not lose any weight either.
    There is another dimension to this timing of food and nutrition: a recent PLoS one paper about chimps in the wild preferring to eat certain leaves say later in the day. THis seems to be connected to the particular plant cycle of storing sugars in the leaves: Later in the day after several hours worth of photosynthesis the level of sugar in the leaves are high. It could be that to the chimps the leaves are simply more palatable and in fact they are more nutritious.
    If it is true as many of us conjecture that we are likely to have eaten our main food later in the day it is possible that 1) plant food at least where most carbs come from may have been at their most nutritious and 2) our bodies are better able to use the nutrition and calories from these natural carbs later in the day…Thank you for a stimulating post…mind blowing stuff about powdered refined carbs. Best avoided at all costs 🙂

  • @Paleofast – Is this article referring to the paper you mention regarding the significance of when you eat?


    “There is an association between the time of day primates eat certain resources and the nutritional quality of those resources, suggesting consumption may track nutrient content,” says Bryce Carlson, an assistant professor of anthropology at Purdue University who studies primate ecology and nutrition in human evolution.

  • Kurt

    I agree 100% that calorie math does not work. I do have one criticism though. “A calorie is not a calorie when you eat it at a different time of day.” I don’t believe the study you referenced demonstrates that. The control group ate carbs throughout the day. It could be that limiting carbs to any one meal has the same effects. There may not be anything magical about night time. It would have been illuminating to have a third group that only at carbs at breakfast. Considering that a significant effect of eating carbs is a spike in your blood sugar, limiting the number of these spikes seems like it would be good regardless of what time of day the spikes were occurring.

  • Miki Ben-Dor

    Unbelievable quality J. Wonder if we can tie this up somehow with our evolutionary past.

  • Miki Ben-Dor

    Oops. Didn’t see Paleo Fast and Kurt’s comments.

  • Fmgd

    About the time of the day experiment, it reminds me of an older article from here in which it’s mentioned that the composition of your breakfast affects your metabolism for the rest of the day.

    The cops in the study ate the same amount of carbs,yet they ate more of them at dinner, so it’s likely their first meal was more skewed in favor of fat and proteins than the control, which might have an effect on how they process the other meals and the bulk of their carbs, perhaps even lowering the spike they’d cause. It also helps to explain why they were less hungry as well as some of their extra weight loss if they were burning more of their own fat.

  • Alexander

    I would add , with only personal experience.

    A calorie is not a calorie depending on your state of mind: Anxious, stressed , Anger, guilty,sad, depressed, rushed, fear,doubt,paranoia . VS Contentment, relaxed , happy, compassion , mindful, sense of accomplishment, confidence.

  • John

    Great post (though it will be a while before I forgive you for the sofa photograph.)

  • […] There is no such thing as a calorie, part 2 The Tao of snatch, Lesson 1 This low-tech furniture doubles as a gym The 28-day handstand challenge Older you vs. younger you […]

  • Trixie

    So would a whey protein powder be in the same category as other powder food forms?

  • Ash Simmonds

    I’m slowly collating anecdotal evidence of mass over-feeding of meat/fat and it’s effects, or lack thereof. Available here.

  • Jamie G.

    Wondering the same thing about whey protein. And does time consuming it make a difference, like during/after a workout.

  • eddie watts

    i have one thing to say (other than this is awesome)
    Density of information!

    will now read all of the studies linked throughout the day.

    the powdered mouse chow is very interesting stuff too

  • eddie watts

    whey protein “For example, Whey protein is obviously a powdered food, yet it is anything but obesogenic. And infact is more associated with weight loss and leanness. “

    from the kindke link

  • Paul N

    Great stuff!

    the results of the “powdered” diet are fascinating. When the powder is Vitamin D depleting whole wheat flour, and people spend their time indoors, the results go beyond just obesity.

    I would expect similar results from “liquid” food – i.e. sugary drinks. Milk though, doesn’t seem to have this effect, though I haven’t seen (and haven’t looked) for any mice type studies on that.

    These results will not be news to factory farmers, who know that feeding ground up cornmeal and the like causes faster weight gain in chickens, pigs and cows than whole grain, which itself is more fattening than grass.

    Finally, add in the fact the “flour”, especially whole grain flour, contains polyunsaturated oils that oxidise rapidly after grinding, and even more so with dry, high temperature cooking, and we start to promote not just obesity, but also inflammation.

    Even the old master, Weston Price, observed that for whole grains to have their nutritional benefit, they had to be either eaten as whole grains, or ground and consumed immediately. This never happens today.

  • thomas

    ugly picture a bit agressive for breakfeast 🙂

  • PaleoFast

    I think the effects of powdering apply to where the nutrients would normally be held in a matrix and/or in microscopic granule form as it is the case for starches in seeds and tubers.Powdering and refining in this case destroys the matrix and removes many nutrients. It does improve digestibility but with negative consequences in terms of the fattening power of powdered foods, although I don’t think we know yet exactly how this works. In the case of Whey powdering is achieved by dehydration i.e. selective removal of the water content which is a very different process from processing cereals for example moreover whey is high in protein rather than carbs and this could be an important differences also and help explain its slimming effects.

  • eddie watts

    know that i’ve seen this from home i agree with the many comments about the sofa: that is not necessary!

  • neal matheson

    love it J!
    I quoted you on my FB page hope you don’t mind.

  • Asclepius:

    I've thought for quite a while that the carb timing effect is most likely due to the effect Fmgd mentioned, and which I posted about some time ago: the initial meal after waking seems to “program” metabolism for either carb or fat burning, biasing it towards that substrate for the rest of the day.



    If I could only eat one paleo meal per day, it would be breakfast.  (Whenever that is…often I don't have “breakfast” until lunch or dinnertime.)



    Limiting all carb intake to one meal is “a different time of day” than eating it throughout the day.  And as I said, I suspect, based on the other evidence with which I'm familiar, that carbs only for dinner is much more effective than carbs only for breakfast.  But as I haven't seen any studies that measure it directly, I'm open to contrary opinions.


    Miki Ben-Dor:

    I'm honored.  Thank you!

    If I were to put on my evo-bio speculation hat, I would speculate that since most carbohydrates in the Paleolithic came from tubers, they would have been gathered over the course of the day, brought back to camp, and (for the past couple hundred thousand years) cooked at the end of the day.  (Fruit is seasonal — and as I point out in Part III, our ancestors lost their dental adaptation to frugivory way back in the early Pliocene.)



    As I said above to Asclepius, that's the explanation I favor.



    Absolutely.  I'll be discussing hormonal effects on nutrient partitioning in future installments.


    John, Thomas, eddie:

    Suck it up, buttercup 😀



    No.  Protein is highly satiating…and even if you do manage to eat a lot very quickly, converting to fat for storage involves several slow and inefficient metabolic pathways.



    That's an interesting thread.  The typical overfeeding studies involve a mixture of carbs and fat…I don't know of any that involved massive overfeeding on a ketogenic diet, and I've seen several anecdotal reports from people who find it nearly impossible to gain weight on pure keto.  I'm one of them.


    Jamie G:

    No, powdered protein isn't obesogenic.  And yes, consuming it immediately post-workout gives you maximum gains: there's a study on elderly men in which those that consumed protein immediately PWO gained muscle mass, whereas those who waited two hours gained no muscle mass at all.



    Thank you!  I'm wondering when the world at large will notice that I just destroyed the popular version of CICO.

    (Note: I'm not holding my breath.)


    Paul N:

    Those are excellent observations.  Thank you.



    Good point.  There are many things wrong with basing your diet on acellular carbohydrates.



    Thanks for the plug!  Link me next time 😀


    I'm caught up!  Thanks, everyone, for contributing.  Note that it will sometimes take me a while to respond to all my comments, so don't be discouraged if you don't hear back right away.


  • […] for people trying to lean out. You can read about a mouse experiment involving powdered food here: The Calorie Paradox: Did Four Rice Chex Make America Fat? (Part II of “There Is No Such Thing … (Warning: Post contains an image of an exceptionally large person in their underwear.) […]

  • Laura

    This is a great series, thanks JS! I like that carbs-at-night thing, I seem to be following a generally similar schedule just by listening to what my body wants from me. I usually have rice with dinner, and have just eggs, meat, and veggies during the day.

    My stepmother is entralled with this nutritional shake program whose name I can’t currently remember. They drink shakes twice a day, green glop, horrible bars, and everything. I wonder if those stupid shakes (originating as powder until you shake them….) have a similar obesogenic property. They lost some weight temporarily but I think it’s not been maintained.

  • Laura:

    That may be a contributing factor to the unsustainability of most nutritional shake programs, no matter how “nutritionally complete” they claim to be (isolated, purified ingredients do not contain the same nutrients as real food).


  • Tatertot

    I know why powdered carbs lead to weight gain.

    Akkermansia muciniphila

    Look it up!

  • […] The Calorie Paradox: Did Four Rice Chex Make America Fat? (Part II of “There Is No Such Thing … This is a pretty good article written by a guy who has a pretty good grasp of the paleo diet. In this article, he describes a study done (on mice) that were fed carbs in different forms. The ones that ate powdered carbs (flour) gained more weight tham the ones eating whole carbs. When you think about it, that's exactly what the Primal Blueprint tells us to do–not eat refined carbs. Eating 100-200g of carbs found in potatoes, rice, fruit, veggies, even beans and oatmeal, is nowhere near the same thing as eating 100-200g of refined white flour or sugar. Yes, though, some people seem immune to the effects of carbs in any form. You see the uber-athlete that eats candy bars all day or the tall-skinny guy who eats 3 loaves of bread a week, but for the people that get fat easily, refined carbs seem to be the worst. Reply With Quote […]

  • eddie watts

    Tatertot: that is interesting.
    however the fundamental questions are unanswered
    1 3-5% presence in the obese, is this the cause of or as a result of obesity

    2 is it caused by the diet or something else (money on powdered carbs i bet)

    3 will reintroducing it resolve obesity while they continue consuming powdered carbs or will they have to stop?

    does look interesting though

  • Tatertot

    eddie – I think there is still much to learn about gut flora, and I don’t think Akkermansia Mucinphila is the be-all, end-all to obesity, but it is clearly a huge clue.

    I think the gut plays a much bigger role in overall health than we think. Providing an environment for gut flora to thrive is a good start for most. Easily done with pre- and pro-biotic food choices and supplements when necessary.

    Studies on people and animals with absolutely no gut bacteria have been done. These folks can live and reproduce even, but they do anything but thrive. It’s almost as bad as untreated HIV. The slightest infection will kill you.

  • Tatertot:

    There are a lot of causal links you'll have to show plausible mechanisms for before I'll believe that particular hypothesis. 

    First, and most importantly, powdered carbs don't usually make it to the large intestine, so I don't see how Akkermansia can be much of a player.

    I said all the way back in mid-2012, in this article: “Insulin, leptin, “food reward”, and the hypothalamus have all taken their turns: I predict gut flora will be the Next Big Thing.”  Yes, it's important…but right now, blaming this particular result on Akkermansia is looking a lot like the Underpants Gnomes.


  • WalterB

    Ah, wheat is normally eaten ground even whole wheat which may explain at least some of the increased morbidity of wheat eaters.

    Another factor is xeno and phyto estrogens in foods and foodlike substances. Soy[2], hops[1] (consumed mainly in beer) and licorice contain abundance of phytoestrogens and we are all exposed to xenoestrogens which are not only in receipts, but probably in most processed foods.

    It has been said that to sell a new food to poor people the best way to start is to sell it as a health food to the affluent and this worked wonders for soy foods.

    [1] Brewer’s droop is a common syndrome among brewers and bartenders. And some people think beer belly is mainly caused by the estrogenic effect of the hops in beer, rather than the carb load. Methinks there is a synergistic effect.
    [2] Soy in large quantities should be considered medicinal, the joys of dosing yourself with phytoestrogens especially when you are overweight or trying for better athletic performance.

  • WalterB

    Besides the estrogenic elements in the environment what other chemical wonders are in our food today. Are there, for example, synthetic thyroid inhibitors?

    Perhaps a millet cereal with hops added to hide the amount of HFCS and increase appetite could be developed. If it hasn’t perhaps the industry does have some scruples.

  • tatertot

    JS – LOL! Your ‘Why are We Here?” blog is exactly why I am here! I loved it when you wrote it, made it my mantra, and had to chuckle when you threw it at me just now! Good job! Plus, I’m also a South Park fan–so double good job!

    I hope you some day decide to go deep into the rabbit hole where gut microbes reside…I would love to see your unique take.

    Not sure if you are a fan of Free The Animal, but Richard and I have been exploring gut health via a unique pathway–resistant starch. http://freetheanimal.com/2013/05/resistant-starch-4-letter-word-nope-goal-create-mashed-potatoes-a-diabetic-can-eat-every-day.html

    Regarding Akkermansia as the solution to the calorie paradox, I was eluding to a general lack of Akkermansia as well as other beneficial gut microbes that are associated with good health and calorie partitioning. In the standard diet where lots of refined grains are consumed, there is a huge lack of fermentable fiber. Gut microbes don’t get fed, pathogenic microbes rule the large intestine, leaky gut ensues. The beneficial microbes are hiding and biding their time until suitable substrate comes along to feed them–at that point they can divide and conquer.

    The difference between a perfectly functioning gut and one with less-than-optimal gut microflora makes your ‘calories are not created equal’ statement stand out even further. If one has zero gut microbes, they will gain less weight on more food. Sounds great–let’s all eat antibiotics! Not so great–as you already know.

    The gist of what I have been doing to bolster my gut microbes to epic heights is to eat a pretty good paleo diet, one you’d be proud of anyway, and specifically target probiotics through kefir, yogurt and fermented veggies ALONG WITH prebiotic foods, such as soluble plant fiber (OS, FOS, GOS, Inulin, etc…)and resistant starch.

    Foods alone, especially a grain and mostly legume-free diet leave a big gap in optimal prebiotic levels and obtainable prebiotic levels. I am shooting for about 50g/day of prebiotics, but can usually only get 15-20g. To overcome this, I have been eating 2-4TBS (20-40g)of raw, unmodified (native) potato starch per day, which contains 78% RS by weight. This easily puts me in the 50g/day range and I am being rewarded in multiple ways: better sleep, near perfect insulin sensitivity as determined by fasting and pp BG, and epic weight stability on a wide range of calories.

    Anyway, you were right last year when you said ‘Gut flora will be the next big thing’. I believe Richard Nickoley and I have cracked the code. To hell with fecal transplants and a vegan-load of veggies, target pre-biotics with a focus on RS rich foods and RS supplements when needed and your guts will treat you right!

  • WalterB:

    Excellent points about phytoestrogens.  Dr. BG talks about them often at Animal Pharm.

    Fortunately I don't think we'll see millet cereal soon, except as a novelty in the “health food” aisle (a great place to stay away from if you want to stay healthy)…it's not (AFAIK) a subsidized crop in the USA, so it'll be a lot more expensive than corn or soy.



    If you had opened with that essay, I'd have been much more cordial and less dismissive!  Yes, I've been following the RS saga on both sides…both yours and Richard's as well as pklopp's

    My impatience stems from the gigantic amount of mainstream hype resistant starch receives vs. the fact that any whole food contains very little RS compared to straight-up carbohydrate and sugar…so anything but the Bob's Red Mill potato starch hack won't have any interesting effects beyond pushing lots of empty carb calories at people who can ill afford to eat them!

    That being said, potato starch is indeed a very good prebiotic, I suspect it is indeed quite helpful for people with gut flora imbalances, and it's a very cheap experiment to try with few downsides (which should be immediately obvious if they hit you).  If it were being presented in this light instead as some “miracle carbohydrate” (it's not even a carbohydrate, really, since gut microbes digest it to SCFA), I'd have been a lot more supportive.

    I do take exception to this: “Foods alone, especially a grain and mostly legume-free diet leave a big gap in optimal prebiotic levels”…was Paleolithic man deficient in prebiotics for millions of years?  It seems unlikely.  (It's much more reasonable to say that modern man is deficient in parasite infections…)

    My current view is that it's more about the ratio than the absolute amount.  Since refined sugar wasn't on the Paleolithic menu (occasional honey was about it), the problem isn't in eating little soluble fiber: it's in eating lots of sugar and simple carbohydrates in the absence of soluble fiber.  (Possible results: SIBO and other gut dysbiosis.)  So if you're eating mostly meat, that's fine, because the bad bacteria aren't getting fed either…and whole fruit generally has plenty of soluble fiber to balance the sugar, so that's probably fine too.

    Note that I'm not trying to chase you away!  My longevity in the community has come, in part, from my unwillingness to sell my readers anything I'm not sure of: instead, I prefer to wait until I understand how to integrate it into the greater framework.  For example, in my time, I've seen more than one guru and ex-guru go from “carbs are mostly evil” straight to “your thyroid will shrivel into a raisin if you don't eat more carbs”, neither of which is correct. 

    Meanwhile, I've stuck with the original PhD recommendation of 15-20% plus desire for glycolytic activity minus desire to shed fat, which seems to be optimal for most.



  • […] “The Calorie Paradox: Did Four Rice Chex Make America Fat?” from Gnolls.org […]

  • […] is no such thing as a calorie to your body: parts one, two, and three. Every time someone says people just need to eat less to lose weight, I groan inwardly […]

  • Heather P.

    “That’s an interesting thread. The typical overfeeding studies involve a mixture of carbs and fat…I don’t know of any that involved massive overfeeding on a ketogenic diet, and I’ve seen several anecdotal reports from people who find it nearly impossible to gain weight on pure keto. I’m one of them.”

    I’m one, also. I had gone off plan and gained some fat. Went VLC and really bumped up the fat this time (Apparently I have issues with not getting enough fat during VLC – not a good thing because it intensifies the sugar cravings in this Reactive Hypo body!). Dropped 4lbs in three days eating mostly fat with decent protein. 116.4 to 112.6 (this is with cans of coconut milk, pints of local grass-fed cream, eggs with extra yolks floating in butter as they cook – butter goes with the eggs into the bowl. And of course, plenty of red meat. It took about a day and a half but ketosis kicked in hard!

    I can’t do carbs in the morning. I will suffer a HUGE RH! Oatmeal and an apple had me shaking like a leaf 90 minutes after eating. (This was when I was following the healthiest version of the SAD but still eating processed food products – I was losing weight, looking better on the outside but was getting sicker on the inside – it would have made me diabetic).

    Thank you for the wonderful articles!

  • Heather P.

    And I’ve never been overweight – I came close once when I was almost 140lbs (5’2″). I starved myself down to 130 and ended up with Fibromyalgia. That was the start of my journey. Turned out to be a blessing.

  • Heather:

    You're welcome!

    “I starved myself down to 130 and ended up with Fibromyalgia.”

    That can happen when you lose weight by restricting food intake, instead of by feeding your body what it needs.  Note that you're losing even more weight now…but you're not “starving”!


  • […] Part II: www.gnolls.org/3409/the-calorie-paradox-did-four-rice-chex-make-america-fat-part-ii-of-there-is-no-s…Cliffs: […]

  • Eric

    In Spain, Special K cereal is marketed as a light, healthy, evening meal for women. I thought that was strange but maybe they are onto something with the carbs for dinner.

  • Eric:

    Not that I recommend eating cereal at any time, but if I were forced to, dinner would be more reasonable than breakfast…


  • Lyle McDonald

    You are making the same incorrect assumption that most people make in this with your simple math in the front of the article: that maintenance is unchanging. It’s not.

    Hell, as people gain or lose weight, their maintenance changes which is why linear math to predict or estimate how many calories are required to gain or lose weight are always wrong. As someone gains weight, maintenance requirements go up.

    In only looking at caloric intake over time since the 70’s you’re also ignoring the other big contributor: decreasing activity levels.

    There are other factors and it’s not that the energy balance equation doesn’t hold: it’s simply more complicated than most consider. But you’re making the same mistakes above that most make.


  • @Lyle doesn’t metabolic rate vary over 24 hours (between the fed and unfed state, sleeping and awake, active and resting), nevermind day to day or week to week. So at what point do you declare the point of ‘balance’ a calorie-counter should seek to achieve?

  • (My apologies for missing this: according to my calendar, I was in Vegas with my girl at the time, so at least I had a good reason!)


    You’ll note that, in the comments to the previous installment, we discuss that very article — and the equation it contains — at length! I’ll reprint some of what I said here:

    “Lyle’s article and mine are making the same point, except on different levels. Lyle is enumerating all the “adjustments” one has to make when we treat food as comprised of “calories” (as measured by a bomb calorimeter), which include all those sciency-sounding acronyms like TEF, SPA, NEAT, etc.”

    Your point that maintenance is not constant is exactly the point of Thomas 2013, which I quote in the article for that very reason.

    The sophisticated version of CICO, which I know you understand, boils down to “physics is true.” The naive version of CICO, which is continually promulgated and popularly thought to be inviolate (e.g. the “3500-calorie rule”) boils down to “weight gain or loss is a direct product of calories ingested, physical exercise, and nothing else.

    My intention, in this series, is to show that the type, quality, and consumption pattern of food has a substantial impact on fat and muscle gain and loss — far more than small perturbations in the number of “calories” consumed, which are not meaningful anyway due to measurement noise greatly exceeding the changes being measured. Here’s the index to this series, which is ongoing.

    (Every time I hear someone talking about “just eat one fewer slice of bread each day,” I remember my physics teacher leaving red marks all over our papers when we incorrectly extended results to far more significant figures than the data contained!)


    That’s amongst the many problems — and why I advocate changing the type, quality, and consumption pattern of food (not to mention one’s exercise modalities!) before attempting to count calories. As I see the evidence, calorie-counting is only useful once you’ve already converged to a particular set of foods (and activity patterns) and are just tweaking the amounts you consume. Otherwise, you’re not just comparing apples to oranges — you’re comparing them to broccoli, eggs, and prime rib!


  • Also, “In only looking at caloric intake over time since the 70’s you’re also ignoring the other big contributor: decreasing activity levels.”

    Do you have a citation for that? It’s popular to claim that people have become more sedentary since 1980, but I haven’t yet found any data to support that claim…and given that the 1980s were boom times for running, cycling, and recreational aerobic exercise in general (a category that didn’t really exist previous to then), there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence against.


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