You may recall that Gary Taubes recounted some over-feeding studies in Good Calories, Bad Calories. The upshot was that naturally thin people don’t gain as much weight or extra bodyfat from over-consuming food as the “3500 calories equals a pound of fat” equation says they should.  Their bodies adjust.  The same works in reverse:  people who cut calories often don’t lose as much weight as the calorie equation says they should.  Their bodies adjust as well.  The calories in affect the calories out.

Someone on YouTube suggested I watch this BBC documentary about a researcher who conducted a similar experiment:  a group of naturally-thin young adults doubled their normal caloric intake for four weeks.  Sure enough, some gained about what you’d expect, but others gained significantly less.  One barely put on any extra bodyfat at all.

Most of them reported easily losing the weight they’d gained once they stopped the experiment — and no, they didn’t count calories.  They didn’t need to.   Their bodies are geared to resist becoming fat, so they just returned to their normal eating behaviors and dropped the weight.  That’s what happened to Chareva after both of her pregnancies.  A month after delivery, you’d never know she’d been pregnant to look at her.

As if to demonstrate just how pig-headed people can be about this topic even after the evidence from a controlled study is presented to them, some genius left this in the comments section for the documentary:

this is the most moronic documentary ever.

eat more than your body burns = gain weight, vice versa

END OF STORY

The genius is probably one of those people who never gains weight and thinks it’s because of his superior discipline.  Or as I’ve put it before, he was born on the finish line and thinks he won a race.  (He no doubt believes he’s qualified to tell others how to win the race as well.  But enough about Dr. Oz.)

I trust you’ll come to a less simple-minded conclusion after watching.  Enjoy.

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66 Responses to “Why Thin People Aren’t Fat”
  1. Rachel says:

    Alyssa’s post made me smile. We are like sisters. I was around 300lb this time last year (I’m now 195lb!). My partner weighs around 130lb, which is what he’s weighed for the past twenty years, since he was 21. He CANNOT gain weight.

    On holiday a few weeks ago we had buffet breakfasts and dinners, and he hates buffets because he just can’t stop. He’d pile his plate up and go back for more, every morning and evening for 8 days. Not a single solitary extra pound gained.

    Meanwhile I was sticking as best I could to low carb foods, but was forced to eat rice and bread once. Just once. I got sick and ate nothing for 36 hours too. The result? I returned home 2lb heavier. Water weight, and it went, but really?! How is that in any way fair?! Half a plate of rice, a miniature airline-meal roll and croissant, and I’m up 2lb. Several tons of everything he can fit in his mouth, washed down with beer and fruit juice, and he’s as scrawny as ever!

    Unbelievably, despite 10 years of him stuffing his face in front of me, I still believed in CICO up until last year. Duhhhh!

    Sounds as if we can dismiss the possibility that he’s lean because of superior discipline.

  2. cTo says:

    These videos were fascinating, and very well produced (as British documentary-type things so often are). However, I found watching them to be very upsetting. Why? Because although it easily proves half of CW false, it does so by idolizing the OTHER half of CW: You Are The Way You Are And There’s Nothing You Can Do About It (since the take-home messages from it seem to be that if you were fat as a kid, oops too bad, thats screwed you over as an adult, and oh hey if youre fat now that means your body has set itself to be fat so you’re stuck with it).

    My entire life, my self esteem and body image was pummeled back and forth by these two ideas on weight and body health (the You’re A Fat Lazy Loser With No Willpower camp and You’re Genetically Inferior So Get Used to It camp). I ricocheted back and forth between them, with seemingly no escape. Luckily, of course, I have FOUND the escape (paleo lifestyle! wholesome real foods! eat more fat!!), but it still upsets me to remember when I was trapped.

    Still, thank you for sharing them!

    I ricocheted between the same self-defeating ideas back in the day.

  3. johnny says:

    My 2 sons – in their 30s – have body fat % in the single digits ( 6 and 8%), they don’t workout and eat tons of junk food. Their after work “cocktail” is a pound bag of m&ms for one and a two liter pepsi bottle for the other. GRRRRRRRRRRR

    My wife is within normal bmi, their grandparents are fat/obese except my wife’s dad, who is slim but eats like a bird.

    Where did they get those great genes?

    If you adopted me, would I get that ability to eat junk and stay lean? Dad?

  4. Galina L. says:

    Life is not fair . Some people could pig-out while others have to watch like a hawk whatever he/she is eating even on a LC diet. Bob Johnston brought-up the possible importance of artificial sweeteners. It could be overdone for sure. I was recently amazed to read that Jimmy Moore while experimenting with eating sweet potatoes found it necessary to garnish 1/2 of sweet potato with one Tbs of honey or a sweetener equivalent and THREE Tbs of butter, not to mention brats cooked in more butter. There is something wrong with that picture. After more than 4 years of LCarbing sweet potatoes taste too sweet already for me, steamed green beans and cashew are sweet. It didn’t happened for JM. He also really struggles with his weight. Many people who are ready to part ways with grains, starches and sugar, can’t disregard sweet taste.

    I eat small servings of sweet potatoes now and then at home, but I don’t have any desire to make them sweeter either. A little butter, a little sour cream, that’s all I need.

  5. Firebird7478 says:

    @ Rachel, I hope you and your partner do not take being lean as being healthy. Make sure he’s taking care of his insides, too. :)

  6. Koala says:

    Tom, regarding your cited studies,

    1. I don’t have access to the full-text to it, unfortunately.

    2. As for your second study, I read it, and I certainly wasn’t impressed. Here are my objections:

    a) It was incredibly short at most lasting only 9 days. Diuresis of salt and water (glycogen depletion) confounds results with low-carb. Studies of greater length (over 3 weeks at least) have all shown the opposite.

    b) It was a -poorly- controlled trial, the authors even say so themselves…Did you decide to conveniently ignore this part, Tom?

    c) Their findings were not reproduced in an identical trial (except it was longer and better controlled). (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14428636).

    Come on Tom this is hardly ‘good science’.

    3. This wasn’t a metabolic ward trial. Do you really want to debate whether or not self-reported intakes are reliable?

    Now my turn. I won’t give an exhaustive list, but at least check out these 4 ward studies.

    1. This one lasted 42 days (6 weeks) and compared 15%kcal vs 45%kcal carbohydrate intakes. No (statistically) significant difference in weight-loss.

    Golay A, Allaz AF, Morel Y, de Tonnac N, Tankova S, Reaven G: Similar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr 1996, 63(2):174-8.

    [The diet was 1,000 calories. I'd expect anyone to lose weight on a semi-starvation diet, which is totally unsustainable in the long-term. At 45% carbohydrates the "high carb" group was consuming 112 carbohydrates per day. That's a ketogenic diet.]

    2. This one lasted 56 days (8 weeks) and compared 0g vs 38g of carbohydrate consumption. No significant different in weight-loss again.

    Hoffer LJ, Bistrian BR, Young VR, Blackburn GL, Matthews DE: Metabolic effects of very low calorie weight reduction diets. J Clin Invest 1984, 73(3):750-8.

    [500 calories per day?! Again, a ketogenic diet and not sustainable for free-living people. Those are starvation rations.]

    3. Another study lasting 42 days (6 weeks) comparing 1%kcal vs 36%kcal carbohydrate intake. No significant difference in weight-loss.

    Bogardus C, LaGrange BM, Horton ES, Sims EA: Comparison of carbohydrate-containing and carbohydrate-restricted hypocaloric diets in the treatment of obesity. Endurance and metabolic fuel homeostasis during strenuous exercise. J Clin Invest 1981, 68(2): 399–404.

    [Weight loss wasn't reported in the abstract. Another semi-starvation diet of 830 calories. That means the high-carb group was consuming 74 grams of carbohydrates per day -- a ketogenic diet. Semi-starvation diets aren't sustainable and don't tell us anything useful about how obese people can lose weight and maintain the weight loss long-term.]

    4. And finally this one which lasted 28 days (4 weeks) and compared 9g vs 86g of carbohydrate. And again, no significant difference in weight-loss.

    Vazquez JA, Kazi U: Lipolysis and gluconeogenesis from glycerol during weight reduction with very-low-calorie diets. Metabolism 1994, 43(10):1293-9.

    [Where was fat loss reported in this study?]

    There is substantial literature unequivocally indicating that calories are the principle regulator in bodyweight, not carbohydrate content. Studies by the dozen have refuted the idea that restricting carbohydrates (and thus ‘restricting’ insulin) will expedite fat-loss. It doesn’t.

    I say it again – if Tom REALLY IS committed to ‘good science’, he would genuinely consider the large body of dissenting evidence rather than cite qualitatively inferior studies in a desperate effort to maintain his pet paradigm.

    Bang-up job there, Mr. Professional Nutritionist. You demonstrated that if you starve people, they’ll lose weight. Nobody I know denies that. They’ll also become cold, depressed, fatigued and perhaps mentally unbalanced, as Ancel Keys discovered in his starvation study. The studies you cited tell us nothing useful about how people can lose weight without being miserable for the rest of their lives.

    Once again, weight loss is not the same as fat loss. Low-carb diets have been shown in studies to preserve more lean tissue during weight loss, with lean muscle mass even increasing in at least one study I’ve seen:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez/15533250?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez/12077732?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn

    If subjects lose the same amount of weight on average but one group maintains more muscle mass, then more of the weight lost was fat, which is the goal.

    There’s on an ongoing debate about whether low-carb diets provide a so-called “metabolic advantage” that allows for more weight loss while still consuming enough calories to feel satiated. (I don’t know anyone who feels satiated on 830 calories per day, and even those who believe in a metabolic advantage say it disappears at semi-starvation levels, when the body will of course use every available calorie for energy, as opposed to, say, tissue repair.) I’ve yet to see a definitive answer on the supposed metabolic advantage, but I don’t believe it’s the important issue anyway. What makes low-carb diets effective for so many people is that they end up eating less spontaneously without feeling hungry, which means something quite positive is happening metabolically. They’re eating less but not feeling short of fuel. Most people cannot resist hunger in perpetuity (nor should they), which is part of the reason most diets fail.

    In the recent Foster study, he reported that people on low-fat diets and low-carb diets lost roughly the same amount of weight. However, the people on low-fat diets were given a calorie limit and the people on the low-carb diet weren’t. Also he had the low-carb group raise their carb limit to maintenance levels by the one-year mark, whereas the low-fat group was still calorie restricted. At six months, when the low-carb group was still restricting carbohydrates below 100 grams per day, they had lost more weight.

    http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa022207

    Did low-carb dieters in the Foster study reduce their calorie intake? Yes, they almost certainly did. But they weren’t told to, which is significant. Since we aren’t going to lock obese people up in metabolic wards and restrict their calories so they can’t eat even when they feel starved, the fact that they’ll restrict calories spontaneously on a low-carb diet is a very positive finding.

    Chris Gardner reported similar results in this study comparing the Ornish diet, the Zone diet, the LEARN diet and the Atkins diet. The Atkins dieters lost the most weight, despite no calorie restrictions. (They also improved their metabolic markers the most.) The Ornish group wasn’t calorie-restricted either, but the other two groups were.

    http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/297/9/969.full

    Gardner said in a speech he gave on the study that he also found that greater weight loss on the Atkins diet was even more dramatic among insulin-resistant subjects than among the study population as a whole. Since insulin resistance is a major problem these days, that’s also a significant finding.

    I’m quite a bit leaner than when I lived on a high-carb diet, and I’m sure I probably consume fewer calories on average. But now, like then, I eat until I’m satisfied. I don’t go hungry to maintain my weight loss. My high-carb diet ramped up my appetite and encouraged my body to store fat, which just made me hungrier.

    Saying that people get fat because they consume too many calories is as enlightening and as useful as declaring that alcoholics are alcoholics because they drink too much. It doesn’t address the question that really matters, which is: why do they crave alcohol so much more than normal people?

    You, of course, would lock alcoholics in a metabolic ward, allow them one beer per day, discover a reasonable level of sobriety among them and declare that you had indeed proved your hypothesis: they’re drunks because they drink too much. Limit their alcohol, and by gosh we’ve solved the issue. And that would work until the day they went back to a free-living situation.

    Same goes with obesity. Telling obese people it’s all about calories and they need to go hungry for the rest of their lives is worthless advice. It’s failed over and over and over. They’ll lose weight and keep it off when they fix the hormonal imbalances that drive hunger and weight gain in the first place.

  7. Marilyn says:

    Speaking of sweet potatoes: When I make them, I put some butter in the bottom of a glass baking dish, scrub the potatoes, cut them in half, and place them face down in the butter. I cover the dish and roast the sweet potatoes for 1 1/2 – 2 hours — along with whatever meat I’m roasting. The sweet potatoes come out carmelized in their own sugars and need nothing but a sprinkle of salt.

  8. Koala says:

    Tom,

    You’ve done a great job in spinning my words. I NEVER said a word about obesity in my previous posts. My contention was simply that calories matter, not carbohydrates.

    [Talk about spinning words ... I don't know how to put this any more plainly: Of course calories count. When people gain weight, they've consumed more than they've burned. When they lose weight, they've burned more than they've consumed. No one has ever denied that. Gary Taubes devoted a whole chapter to what "calories in/calories out" does and doesn't tell us in his latest book. What it tells us that is that energy is neither created nor destroyed. We all knew that already. What it DOESN'T tell us is why some people divert more of what they eat to stored body fat, become hungrier as a result, and eat more.

    People who've struggled to lose weight for years end up losing weight on low-carb diets. Did they eat less? Of course they did. But you're back to declaring that alcoholics are alcoholics because they drink too much and therefore the cure for alcoholism is to drink less. Duh. That's meaningless advice. The question is why did switching to a low-carb diet allow those people to lose weight without feeling hungry?]

    As for lean mass retention, lol…this is not some magical side-effect from low-carb. It’s just the increased protein. Low-carbohydrate implies higher fat and higher protein. So it’s no surprise that higher protein intakes preserves lean mass. Show me a study were lean mass retention was higher on an isocaloric low-carb AND isonitrogenous regimen. Good luck.

    [Isocaloric, isoprotein:
    http://www.ajcn.org/content/24/3/290.abstract?ijkey=42bb6ce289aaf1bb6e8a11662777ed1b30011692&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

    Here's another reason people on low-carb diet might (emphasis on might) preserve muscle mass: if their bodies are releasing fatty acids more quickly because of the low insulin levels, they don't need to burn up their muscles to make up for the fuel shortage of a diet.]

    Those four studies I cited showed without doubt that fat-loss is NOT accelerated by low-carbohydrate (keto or not) compared to high-carbohydrate regimens over one month or greater periods.


    [Nor would I expect it to be at semi-starvation levels. If you're desperately short of fuel and already in ketosis, you'll burn fat whether you consume a whopping 100 grams of carbohydrates or zero.]

    And if you really want to talk about free-living studies, well I’ve just got bad news for you again.

    I love how you try to justify the Foster study while nearly completely ignoring its actual finding…that weight-loss was the same after 1 year between low-carb and low-fat. And it’s worth noting there were similar attrition rates between the low-fat and low-carbohydrate groups, so much for adherence?

    [And once again, in plain English, the relevant points were: 1) the low-carb group had greater weight loss at six months, when they were still restricting carbohydrates to lower levels -- by the one-year mark, Foster had them at maintenance level, which isn't intended to produce weight loss, and 2) they lost just as much weight despite not being told to reduce calories and in spite of going on maintenance while the other group was still calorie-restricted throughout the study. When people reduce calories without being instructed to do so, that's a very positive sign. When people who are essentially told to stop losing weight (by going on maintenance) a year into a study lose as much as people who are in supposed weight-loss mode (by continued calorie restriction) for the full two years, that's significant.]

    In the A to Z study you spoke so warmly about, why did you ignore the most important finding of all? That weight-loss was strongly correlated to adherence, DESPITE whichever regimen was followed.

    [And yet the Atkins dieters still lost the most weight, and all they were told to "adhere" to was a carbohydrate restriction, not calorie restriction. Once again, in plain English, when people who aren't told to reduce calories do so spontaneously and still lose more weight than people who were told to reduce calories, that means they weren't hungry. That means they can lose weight without being miserable, which is the entire point.]

    And how about the following studies which were all long-term and free-living. You love these because it reflects the real-world and therefore are more pertinent than ward studies, right? Take a gander.

    http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/7/1147.abstract

    [The Atkins dieters lost more weight initially, but tapered off as they were told to increase their carbs to MAINTENANCE level, which isn't intended to produce weight loss. Once again, the point is they lost just as much weight (more when they were still restricting carbohydrates to lower levels) without being told to restrict calories.]

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15148064

    [The Atkins dieters weren't told to restrict calories, the other group was told to reduce by 500 calories per day. The Atkins dieters still lost more weight, but not enough to be declared significant. So once again, we have people NOT being told to restrict calories losing as much (or slightly more in this case) as people who were told to restrict calories by 500 per day. And you think this bolsters your case that it's all about the calories how, exactly?]

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20141567

    [The low-carb group lost more weight. Did you read this one?]

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17925473

    [That's an observational study (if you can call it that) based on a survey of people who enrolled in the National Weight Registry. Not exactly a randomized trial, is it? They also used an "intent to treat" analysis. Those are garbage.]

    http://www.annals.org/content/152/5/334.2

    [Here's the opening from the abstract:

    "We reported elsewhere (1) the results of a randomized, controlled trial that found greater weight loss at 6 months with a low-carbohydrate diet (<30 g/d) than with a calorie-restricted, low-fat diet (deficit of 500 kcal/d with <30% kcal from fat) in 132 participants with a mean weight of 130.9 kg."

    So once again, we see people who weren't told to restrict calories losing more weight than people who were. At 12 months, researchers reported no significant difference, which means (again) people who weren't told to restrict calories but did restrict carbohydrates lost at least as much weight without being told to eat less. That bolsters my point, not yours. If people aren't told to restrict calories but do anyway, it means their bodies are happy with less food. That's a positive sign.

    The abstract stops after 100 words and I'm not paying to read the whole study, so there's no way of determining if they (like Foster) advised the low-carbers to raise their carb intake to maintenance levels after six months.]

    http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0804748

    [Ah yes, the Sacks study, in which the "low carbohydrate" diet was 45% of calories from carbohydrates. Go to your bookstore and report back to me which low-carb doctors believe a diet of 45% carbohydrates will produce ketosis and weight loss.]

    http://www.ajcn.org/content/early/2012/01/17/ajcn.111.026328

    [There's nothing in the abstract to indicate what people actually consumed, nor are there any actual group comparisons given. George Bray, the lead author, has been known to write conclusions in abstracts that aren't supported by the data and to play games with his data, as I discovered when I read his study on salt restriction. In that study, one group ate a low-sugar diet with lots of vegetables, the other ate a diet full of sugar and other junk. Both groups had their blood pressure measured several times, then ate the same diets but with 2/3 less salt. In both groups, restricting salt produced almost no change in blood pressure -- about 2 points over several weeks.

    So to goose up the conclusion, Bray compared blood pressure figures between the two groups. He noted that the blood pressure numbers for the group that ate junk and lots of salt were significantly higher than blood pressure numbers for the group that ate lots of vegetables but no sugar and also not much salt. In other words, he compared apples to oranges and then announced that restricting salt is useful for controlling blood pressure, never mind the fact this own data showed almost no effect in either group.

    I wouldn't trust the man to tell me the time. He's a perfect example of the type I'm referring to when I say scientists are freakin' liars.]

    http://www.annals.org/content/153/3/147.abstract

    [That's the Foster study I already mentioned. You know, the one in which people lost more weight than the calorie-restricted dieters up until the point where Foster had them raise their carb intake to maintenance level. The other dieters remained calorie-restricted for the duration. So once again, people who weren't told to restrict calories lost as much or more than people who were.]

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20536502

    [That takes me to a blank page. I couldn't get it on Google Scholar either.]

    Feel free to check every single one. They all show the same endpoint weight-loss despite widely varying carbohydrate contents. Are you going to desperately try to explain them away as well?

    [I checked every one. The ones that actually involved a low-carb diet and presented group comparisons (in other words, we can forget the Sacks "low carb" diet and the Bray abstract with no comparative data) showed equal or superior weight loss for people who were restricting carbohydrates even though they WEREN'T told to count or restrict calories. More proof that cutting carbs leads to spontaneous reduction in appetite and enables people to lose weight without going hungry, which is exactly what I've been saying. Thanks for giving me all that supporting evidence, Ace.]

    In review, you’ve failed on all fronts, Tom.

    1. You ignored my original contention that it was calories, not carbohydrates that matter. Instead you just pull red-herrings and made it about obesity, starvation, lean mass, alcohol etc.

    [Ignored your contention? No, I addressed it directly. Telling us that people gain weight because they consume more calories than they burn is as useful as explaining that my toilet overflowed because more water went in than went out. It doesn't address the cause. It doesn't explain why some people are hungry even when they eat what would appear to be more than enough food. It doesn't address what drives excess hunger and fat accumulation in the first place.]

    2. You still have not provided ANY solid evidence that in non-free-living, tightly controlled populations, fat-loss has been greater in the isocaloric low-carbohydrate group. I challenge you to produce a study of this quality that supports your argument. You know, just like we (apparently) saw in Fat Head.

    [And once again, in plain English, I don't know whether or not a low-carb diet produces greater weight loss if people are locked in metabolic wards and given exactly the same number of calories at something above semi-starvation levels. (Although the study I referenced above and again below was isocaloric and the low-carb group did lose the most fat.)

    http://www.ajcn.org/content/24/3/290.abstract?ijkey=42bb6ce289aaf1bb6e8a11662777ed1b30011692&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

    Nor do I care about what happens on semi-starvation diets in metabolic wards. I care about which diet allows people with metabolic issues to eat less and lose weight without feeling starved.]

    3. You disregard a plethora of longer term free-living studies have refuted your contention.

    For the third time, if Tom is so committed to ‘good science’ as he says, why on earth does he try so hard by citing partial and misrepresented evidence to keep his pet theory alive?

    The amassed metabolic and free-living literature is clear that calories count, not carbs.

    [And once again, in plain English, I have never denied that losing weight means burning more calories than you consume. The issue is whether or not cutting carbs enables people to eat less without feeling starved for the rest of their lives, and yes, that's exactly what happens for many people, just as it happened for me.

    The studies you cited so proudly say likewise. When people who aren't told to restrict calories lose as much weight and body-fat (or more) than people who are told to restrict calories, it means restricting carbohydrates is producing a positive and desirable metabolic effect.

    Since you believe it's all a simple matter of counting calories, this one should be easy for you: In these head-to-head studies, the low-carb groups aren't told to restrict calories. The other group usually is. That means the other group is hearing the advice you insist is correct. So find me the studies in which the calorie-restricted group lost more weight and more body fat, especially during the phase of the study when the low-carbers were still consuming below 50 grams per day instead of moving up to maintenance level. There must be dozens of them. Show me the superiority of your preferred advice.]

    • G says:

      In support of Tom’s point. A calorie is a calorie is a calorie, and yes – calories is all you need to consider, which is not helpful long-term. Forcing oneself to eat less – equals living in a constant struggle with one’s body. It’s similar to forcing yourself to not pee when your bladder is so full it’s about to erupt – or forcing yourself to sleep less than your body feels like……….forcing yourself can last days or weeks…..but when you struggle your own body, there always comes a point where you can’t take this anymore and lose all control. People cannot live in that struggle forever. That’s why thinking of how to make them NATURALLY want to eat less – rather than by forcing them to NOT EAT – is more important. Once people feel like they are not hungry so much, they’ll eat less without the struggle, which will make weight loss possible to maintain for ever….Protein in that sense is crucial. But if calorie is a calorie, and if calories is all we need – then, HELL with FOOD – have some whisky for breakfast, some vodka for lunch and a ton of technical alcohol for dinner ….and you’ll never have to eat again – you’ll get all your calories from alcohol, right? If all you need is calories – just drink alcohol – and keep living a happy life, duh!

  9. Koala says:

    Well that was a bit silly.

    If we both acknowledge that calories are the sole determinant of absolute weight-regulation then I don’t know what the point of this back-and-forth was. I only ever defended the notion that calories predict fat loss, not carbohydrate content. As for the causes of overeating, I don’t know and I never claimed to know.

    No, we don’t agree that calories are the sole determinant of weight regulation. That’s the crucial difference. To you, calories are the cause. To me, saying that people burn more calories than they consume when they lose weight is simply repeating a law of physics that doesn’t tell us anything about the root cause.

    Given all the studies you cited in which people who counted carbohydrates but not calories ended up losing just as much or more weight as those who restricted calories, how can you conclude that carbohydrate content doesn’t predict weight loss? Carbohydrate content was very much a predictor of weight loss in those studies. When the low-carbers were instructed to raise their carbs to maintenance levels, their weight loss slowed down or stalled. It’s right there in the data.

    Clearly for many people (not all), the carbohydrate content exerts a profound effect on appetite. If their appetites are reduced, it suggests something very positive is happening metabolically, something that allows them to tap their stored body fat more efficiently so they don’t feel hungry while eating less. In real-world situations where appetite nearly always overcomes willpower in the long term, that’s important.

    If my bank account shrinks, it means more money is leaving the account than going in. That’s undeniable. But that law of finance doesn’t tell me anything about WHY more money is leaving than going in. I once wrote a long analogy on that topic. Perhaps this will clarify why I see “calories in vs. calories out” as a mere statement of physics that doesn’t tell us anything useful:

    http://www.fathead-movie.com/index.php/2011/01/25/fat-accounts-and-the-laws-of-fiscaldynamics/

    This post also explains why I see “calories in vs. calories out” as a statement of HOW we get fat, but not WHY we get fat:

    http://www.fathead-movie.com/index.php/2011/02/01/fat-kids-and-thermodynamics/

    This post explains how calorie-restricted mice became fatter without violating any laws of thermodynamics:

    http://www.fathead-movie.com/index.php/2011/01/27/fat-mice-and-the-laws-of-thermodynamics/

  10. Obadyah says:

    I’d have to say I’ve been studying all this out for about a year. I haven’t put it much into practice, per se, but I can see, logically, how it makes sense. To the people who are stuck on the whole “It’s only calories in and calories out,” I gotta say, “Because plants crave electrolytes!” (Note: This is a reference to Idiocracy. It’s a funny movie, check it out.)

    In any case, I’m thinking about a project very similar to the Fathead movie, though with a much smaller budget. I am a very tall man, six foot two inches, and have been overweight most of my life. I’m currently in the 350′s range, though I may have gained abit since my last weight terror. I would simply like to make a series of youtube videos where I start eating low carb and document the changes that happen in my body over that time. Nothing fancy, but I not only want to improve my life, but show people that this isn’t just some hair-brained idea, like giving rabbits (who are herbavores) meat fat and watching them die of heart disease. To be honest, I could use some ideas on how to keep track of everything and to have a way to prove to people that I am doing this as a low-carb, non-calorie restricted diet. Anybody can post anything on youtube these days.

    Go for it. Nothing to lose by putting it out there.

    Idiocracy was great. The courtroom scence was a stitch.

  11. Jayne says:

    To Obadyah: looking forward to your YouTube videos.

    Regarding that documentary: fascinating stuff. Thanks, Tom, for posting it. Would have been so much richer if macronutrients had also been recorded.

    And those poor obese people, shown at the end, with their “starving” brains… Give those poor folks some fats and watch those brains show satiety!! Until I went paleo or lchf I was simply never “not hungry” and, like a light-switch, my desire for and thoughts of food is turned completely “off” now. I feel like a normal human being. In fact I am able to do a fast day weekly with no effort at all. I want to grab the waddling overweight people I see and turn them on to lchf… But I realize it s not that simple. Lchf – it is a gift. (lchf since September … I pray the feeling of satiety lasts)

    I’d love to see that experiment repeated, but with different groups consuming different kinds of foods. I wonder if people eating a high-fat/low-carb diet would complain that they couldn’t put away the required calories.

  12. Jason B. says:

    Tom: I’m surprised you didn’t notice (or at least comment on) the “chocolate montage” at the start of clip 4, how many of them said they had to turn to chocolate to get enough calories each day. The chocolate items they rattled off sounded, on the whole, pretty high in sugar. The researcher afterwards said it’s because chocolate has a lot of calories, and because it tricks your satiety mechanisms. But another plausible explanation is that they needed to go high carb in order to choke down all those calories.

    Aren’t there high-protein and/or high-fat foods that have even more calories per bite, or per cubic centimeter or whatever, that could theoretically have been tried? Makes me wonder what would have happened…

    (I haven’t finished watching yet, so maybe more is said about it later.)

    I’d need to eat sugar and refined starches to choke down that much food.

  13. Marie says:

    I’d like to see a longer trial period for their over-eating to see at which weight they would plateau at, and when the longer trial period was over if their bodies would be as resilient as they were after just one month. I also would like to see a set of twins do a controlled diet experiment where one ate low carb and the other high carb and to see what the different effects would be between the two since they are genetically identical.

  14. Meade says:

    The thing is, people don’t get gain weight overnight. Unless they have some unusual medical condition. Most people pack on the pounds slowly. Usually about 15 -25 lbs extra annually. Naturally, they had these people shoveling food in all the time. Thats not how it works. Uh-ah. It works like this: A little bit more salad here and there. An extra cookie at the end of the day. That extra piece of pie. Drinking soft drinks with your meal. All in all, maybe only a couple extra hundred calories than what your body needs daily. Now some people burn that off easily. But people that become obese- its because they ate that “little extra” amount of food. Overcoming these bad eating habits takes years.

    That isn’t how it works. People whose hormones instruct them to be thin can easily burn off those little extra bits. Our metabolisms can adjust up and down dramatically. Fat stores aren’t a simple bank account.

    • G says:

      it’s not just the habits, indeed. I used to be naturally skinny myself, gorging on food until felt stuffed every time and never exercising…..so I wasn’t having any good habits and I was skinny, which proves that if the body burns all extra’s – it’ll burn all the extras – it’s not about a habit. Now, being 29 years old, I work out, lift weight, run, avoid sugar and starches – all those good habits – and I still have tiny love handles……and all those good habits don’t help, unless I try to eat even less, which hard as hell to do

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