In a post last week, I wrote about why I believe most New Year’s resolutions to lose weight fail:  those resolutions are based on the notion that shedding pounds is a matter of character … i.e., if you just have enough discipline to eat less and spend more time on the treadmill, you’ll lose weight.

As someone who tried simply eating less and spent many hours on a treadmill (I even bought one for my apartment) without getting leaner, I don’t believe losing weight is about character.  I believe it’s (mostly) about chemistry, which is why weight-loss plans that rely on changing a fat person’s character are bound to fail.

I’ll have more to say on that later.  For now, I just want to share some bits from an old study (1960) that I apparently downloaded some time ago and then forgot to read.

The handful of subjects in the study fell into three categories:  1) naturally thin people, 2) fat people who had previously demonstrated that they could lose weight by restricting calories, and 3) fat people whom the researchers labeled as the “resistant obese.”  They wrote this about the “resistant obese”:

All had very small appetites, and none of these subjects lost weight even during observation in the hospital for prolonged periods of time.

By contrast, one of the naturally lean subjects was described as:

… a twenty-five year-old woman who is healthy, but literally unable to gain weight despite an excellent appetite.

The question the researchers wanted to answer was whether fat people and thin people release and burn fatty acids at similar rates if they’re fasting.   So they had all the subjects fast from dinner until the next morning, then measured the concentration of free fatty acids in their blood.  Then they extended the fast for a full 24 hours and took the same measurement at various intervals.

Here’s what they found:  in the morning, the fat people generally had higher levels of fatty acids in their blood than the thin people did.  But over the course of fasting for 24 hours, the naturally thin people experienced a sharp rise in the level of fatty acids in their bloodstreams.  The fat people who’d previously demonstrated they could lose weight by restricting calories experienced a milder rise in the level of fatty acids in their bloodstreams.  The “resistant obese” people experienced almost no rise at all in the level of fatty acids in their bloodstreams.

The researchers noted that in an earlier study, naturally thin subjects who were restricted to a high-fat diet of 1,000 calories per day showed a sharp rise in blood ketones over the next week, while obese subjects on the same diet showed a much lower rise in ketones.  Ketones, as you know, are a by-product of burning fat for fuel.

So taken together, here’s what those two studies suggest (at least about the subjects who were studied):  when naturally-thin people eat very little or not at all, they release a lot more fatty acids from their fat cells, and they burn those fatty acids for fuel.  “Resistant obese” people, on the other hand, don’t release extra fatty acids when they eat less or not at all, and therefore don’t make up for the calorie deficit by tapping and burning their body fat — at least not to nearly the degree the thin people do.

Remember that in describing the “resistant obese” subjects, the researchers noted that they had small appetites and failed to lose weight even under observation in a hospital.  In a discussion among several researchers included at the end of the paper, the leader researcher makes this statement:

This phenomenon of people who do not lose weight is really the most tantalizing thing that confronts physicians.  There are these people who can live on 600 calories and not lose any weight. On what are they surviving?  If we measure their basal metabolism in terms of calories, we get figures in excess of 600 calories per twenty-four hours.  It would seem that on this diet they are in a caloric deficit all time, but still are not losing any weight.  I am still an admirer of the laws of thermodynamics, but these people seem to be thermodynamic paradoxes.

Small appetites.  Couldn’t lose weight even while under observation at a hospital.  Didn’t release or burn more fatty acids (not to any significant degree) even while fasting for 24 hours.  Able to live on 600 calories per day without losing weight, causing a researcher who worked with them to label them as “thermodynamic paradoxes.”

Meanwhile, the naturally-lean people released lots of fatty acids and burned them for fuel soon after they stopped eating – including that twenty-five year-old woman who couldn’t gain weight in spite of her “excellent” appetite.

Does anyone believe the fat people in this study just needed more discipline and character in order to become thin?  Or does this sound like a problem rooted in chemistry?

71 Responses to “Character vs. Chemistry, Part Deux”
  1. Lori Miller says:

    Maybe the resistant people had a lot of junk proteins that were turned into glucose and kept insulin levels high, prohibiting release of fat stores into the blood stream.

    The researchers weren’t sure what the problem was, but we can safely dismiss “overeating” for people don’t lose weight at 600 calories per day.

    • Eric says:

      Do we know how long the resistant obese were held in such a large deficit without losing weight? Whatever is causing the resistant weight loss – maybe it just takes them a bit longer to kick their bodys into fat burning mode (for some currently unknown reason).

      I would think that Jimmy Moore would probably fall into the resistant category. He was able to lose substantial weight once the ketones got into the right zone. Maybe these folks just take longer to get into that zone.

      Definitely interesting…


      Interesting indeed. Even if it takes a few weeks to get into fat-burning mode, we’re still stuck wondering how they could maintain a big body on 600 calories per day.

      • Jill says:

        Aside from what I wrote below, isn’t eating too little supposed to be a metabolic no-no?
        So maybe they were not eating enough?

  2. Joe says:

    Now you’re starting to sound like Gary Taubes.

    Just now?

    • Jill says:

      You’ll never be mistaken for Taubes, Tom.
      You don’t look earnest enough. 😉

      I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not.

  3. js290 says:

    re: thermodynamic paradoxes…

    “If we measure their basal metabolism in terms of calories…”

    That’s a big IF… thermodynamic paradox assumes basal metabolism was measured correctly.

    True. But the inability to lose weight on 600 calories per day is fascinating (although not for the “resistant obese”) no matter what the explanation.

    • js290 says:

      I wonder what the insulin levels for the resistant obese were?

      I had done this to other people, too. I knew that most people who have toast, it’ll cause their insulin to go from maybe a baseline of 5, which is quite good, to maybe the 30s or 40s, which is somewhat high. (Note-This rise happens during a 2-hour test) I measured his insulin level, after he ate a piece of toast, and his insulin levels went into the hundreds.

  4. Babs says:

    Yes this is def a chemical problem. Just try limiting carbs and see for.urself. And sorry to all the Naturally Thins reading this, but your natural thinness is also probably due to your chemical makeup and not b/c ur *active* or * disciplined* or whatever other superior character trait to which you attribute ur weight.

  5. Macca says:

    I find this difficult to comprehend! I appreciate the colories in, calories out argument but in this case the difference just seems too great. The loss of weight by the fat people would seem rational to a point if the calories in were very close to the mean average burnt by an adult each day but when the calories in were only around a quarter of the daily requirement, surely any subject must lose mass of some form – no matter what groups those calories come from. I’m fascinated to hear your theory Tom along with those from your other followers.
    Just on another point I can’t seem to find an answer for, is a carb a carb? My point being, will 100 grams of carbs eaten in the form of processed foods be metabolised in the same way that the same number from fruit, nuts or vege would be treated?
    Big fan from New Zealand! :->

    My only guess is that the “resistant obese” people end up with extremely slow metabolisms when fasting. The researchers were baffled themselves.

    No, I don’t believe a carb is a carb is a carb. “Carb” is just a macronutrient category. Some digest must more quickly than others, some produce different biological reactions than others, etc. I think if you skip the sugars and grains, you’ve eliminated the big offenders.

  6. Does the study perhaps report the insulin and glucagon blood levels?

    No to both. It was all about free fatty acids.

  7. egocyte says:

    Very interesting! (from a lean guy who can’t gain weight despite having a very good appetite). Do you have the name and authors of the study? Thanks a lot!

    I’ll look it up when I’m back at work.

  8. Dominik says:

    Been there. And I had a father who couldn’t even gain to normal weight despite eating ALL DAY LONG.

  9. Catherine says:

    How very interesting that this was done in the 1960s, yet STILL we are told the claptrap about discipline, calorie deficit, “overeating”, evil saturated fat – you know I could go on and on, and on! Tom – what a very interesting study, something which surely goes towards solving the “how come she can eat anything and not put on an ounce” conundrum.

    Well, it certainly raises questions.

  10. Tom Welsh says:

    “Now you’re starting to sound like Gary Taubes”.

    And a better person to sound like I couldn’t imagine! One of my personal heroes, as he epitomizes the true spirit of science. Often one hears critics asking, “why do you pay attention to Gary Taubes? He’s just a journalist, not a professor or a researcher”.

    That is a classic appeal to authority. As the Royal Society’s motto has it, “nullius in verbum”: take no one’s word (but establish the facts for yourself).

    One educated journalist who takes the trouble to find out the true facts is worth a hundred honoured and decorated professors who give public advice that flatly contradicts their own research findings.

  11. Chris says:

    Do you have a link to the study. I would like to check it out myself to see what they fed them.

    I stumbled across a PDF I’d downloaded at work. I’ll check the title again when I’m back at the office. The first study was of a 24-hour fast, no details on what they ate before the fast.

  12. Maureen says:

    This is very interesting and I would love to see more of this kind of research done. Since the naturally thin people had more fatty acids in their bloodstreams, what would happe to the fat people if fatty acids could be added to their bloodstreams? Would it jump start the release of fatty acids into the bloodsteams? How else could they get fatty acids released by the bodies of the fat people? Could more studies find solutions to this problem? Does very low carb eating help and how much? Hope this kind of research is pursued.

    I hope so too. My guess is that if you added fatty acids to their bloodstreams, that would just give their bodies another reason not to tap the stored body fat.

  13. Galina L. says:

    I guess if people had small appetites without eating and without burning fat, their livers probably were really good in glyconeogenesis. If fat stores were not used, could it be their muscle tissue? I wonder what their blood sugar level was like, especially early in the morning.

    Sure, but if they were burning muscle, they should still lose weight. Not good weight, but weight.

  14. Dave says:

    Chemistry, for sure. I like Lori’s suggestion about the proteins. Gluconeogenesis from existing lean tissue could theoretically provide the fuel they are burning beyond the food ingested. I also have to ask: 600 calories of what?

    Unfortunately, they didn’t specify the 600-calorie diet.

  15. Sabine says:

    Great post! Peter also wrote something along these lines, if you are interested:

  16. gollum says:

    That’s very interesting. It is also impossible.

    While research has put nice dents into CICO, thermodynamic limits still apply.
    There are indeed people with a “horse metabolism” – can go for days without food (or much hunger) at least on a proper LC diet, don’t shiver, etc. (Ironically, real horses are not at all hardy like that, nor LC.)
    I know because I am one of them.

    But first law still applies.
    And better yet, if you put fattie on hunger/Zero Carb, his metabolism may not cry and panic ketones much like with some other always-shivering people, but he should still empty his glycogen stores. Glycogen binds water, to the effect of several kilograms of mass. You should see at least this effect in the first week.

    It is most unfortunate that we cannot properly discuss the study (did they check for – what was the lean and fat mass of subjects – did they – ) without having its text, but I am not buying it. Most likely explanation is lack of food police.

    I dunno. If they were under observation in a hospital setting, cheating doesn’t sound like much of a possibility. The researchers couldn’t explain it either.

  17. erik van altena says:

    I see first hand that it must be chemistry (and genetics), with or without the excellent information in Good Calories Bad Calories. I steadily lose 700 grams every week and have done so for months now on my low carb, no grains and no added sugars diet (I aim for an average of 50 grams of net carbs a day). I don’t exercise in the winter period, too cold outside and I hate going to the gym.

    My girlfriend (quite a bit heavier than I am) who also goes to the gym to exercise her muscles twice a week and lives on the same diet and eating pattern as I do is lucky to scrape off 200 grams of fat, but usually it is only water.

    Same diet and more exercise and yet the weight loss is far less effective than what I experience. So yeah, what can it be? Its because of the gender? Or is it simply her DNA blueprint that includes a plan for storing far more body fat than me? Who knows, perhaps we’ll just have to accept it’s the way it is.

    I suspect it’s mostly genetic in that case.

  18. Beau says:

    I’ve been LCHF for close to 3 years now. I don’t eat any LC junk food and I rarely cheat because I don’t crave much of anything I shouldn’t be eating. I’ve constantly tweaked the diet throughout. I mostly eat fatty meat and vegetables. I still drink beer, but I’m down to 3 or 4 on Saturday and not much else. I have more energy than I know what to do with. I’m never starving and don’t think my stomach has growled in 3 years. I skip breakfast more than I don’t. I don’t have a routine exercise regimen(about to start one), but I do a lot of physical labor most weekends.

    How much weight have I lost in 3 years? about 5 pounds and I’m now considered diabetic.

    So I’m starting a routine exercise regimen and will do a liver detox as a last resort before metformin. I’m betting in the end I will be on metformin. Of course there’s much more to the story, stress and bad genetics mostly, but at the end of the day I’m pretty sure I’m just one of those unlucky few.

    On another note, my best friend’s MIL died of a heart attack a year or 2 ago. They got scared and started a paleo diet after doing research. In a few months they were half the size from where they started and have continued to lose, including their kids. Crazy

    Unfortunately, it’s very difficult for some people to lose weight short of outright starvation.

  19. NM says:

    “Now you’re starting to sound like Gary Taubes”.

    I can’t tell if that’s meant to be some sort of insult or not; because if it is, it’s the most complimentary “insult” I’ve ever seen 😉

    I couldn’t tell either.

  20. Firebird7478 says:

    I’ve been tracking my calorie and macronutrient intake all week and have figured out that I average 1600 calories/day. My carb intake is around 25-50 gms. My protein is 100-115 gms. Fat intake is around 145 gms/day. I am not getting lean, to the contrary I have gotten FATTER around the waist, glutes and even in the pecs.

    The opposite SHOULD be happening.

    • Azurean says:

      First, there is no “should” in diet science, only “might”.
      Second, one week is too short, either for tracking weight loss or gain.

      Third, let’s look at your numbers :
      If i take the lower end (100P/25C/145F), it’s 1800 calories, with a 22%P/6%C/72%F ratio. The higher end is 2000 calories, with a 23/10/67 ratio. I don’t know your height, but the calories seem a bit high for weight loss, especially the protein. The ratio is decent, but if it’s not enough you need to go further.

      For reference, Jimmy Moore recommends a 15%P/5%C/80%F ratio to reach nutritional ketosis. For 1600 calories, that’s 60P/20C/145F. You should try with that ratio, and increase the calories depending on your height.

    • Pierson says:

      Maybe you’re not eating enough? Try adding in more non-starchy carbs (fruit included), and decreasing the fats (only those high in PUFAs, though)

    • johnny says:

      Something is wrong with your math. Based on what you showed, you are eating between 1,805-1,965 calories per day.

      Remember Dr. Atkins said low carb is not an excuse to park by the refrigerator constantly eating.

      I suggest 50 grams of protein, 50 grams of carbs – only leafy vegetables – and 150 grams of animal fats/coconut oil.

      Good luck!

      • Firebird7478 says:

        Nope, not at all. Based on the numbers at Myfitnesspal. We’re averaging out, and why 50 gms of protein? Do you not take into account heavy weight lifting? The body needs protein for repair.

        And you insult me when you refer to Atkins about parking by refrigerator constantly eating.

        You presume too much.

        • johnny says:

          “Based on the numbers at Myfitnesspal” So my firness pal transcends the laws of mathematics.

          “why 50 gms of protein” You never said you were heavy lifting. And how heavy are you lifting?

          “And you insult me when you refer to Atkins” Don’t eat so much and you won’t be insulted.

          “I have gotten FATTER around the waist, glutes and even in the pecs” Most girls would be happy if they can increase their 2 of those 3 body parts.

    • Allen W. says:

      Firebird, I am not a Doctor nor a nutritionist but it looks to me like you need to cut your protein intake. Some people, Jimmy Moore for example, have livers that are very efficient at converting Protein into Glucose so if they eat more than 60 to 90 grams a day it is just like eating extra carbs. Your body can only actually use about 30 grams a day for growing tissue unless you are a body builder or marathon runner working out every day. For myself I lost 39 pounds in 2013 by cycling between 50% fat and about 75% fat, when my protein and carbs together make up 50% or more of my diet I stop losing weight. For me a day with your 50C-115P-145F ratio would not let me lose weight or even cause me to gain a little. Note I am talking about the ratio, not the quantities I eat much more than 1600 kcal a day on most days. I even went into Nutritional Ketosis for a couple weeks last November but it is hard for me to stay in it because the protein/carb both have to be low and I am not going to drink melted butter just to get my fat ratio up. I did do a one day test with a quart of heavy whipping cream, extremely satiating but an expensive way to eat for a day lol. It also inflamed my arthritis so I have not repeated it but I do use cream or half&half in my coffee.

      The other thing you could try is divide your calories into two meals about six hours apart and don’t snack during the other 18 hours, my wife is type 2 diabetic and that method is working great for her since she started it in December last year.

      • Firebird7478 says:

        My protein has already been lowered and I base the numbers on The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Drs. Voltek and Phinney. Based on their recommendations, I actually had to RAISE my numbers, and that has only been within the last few weeks, vs. what has happened over the last three years.

        Jimmy Moore’s protein numbers might be good for him — he trains using Super Slow which requires very little protein for repair of muscle tissue.

        I train with pretty heavy weights using barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. 50 gms of protein is just not enough. The kettlebells are very taxing on the body, and I love that about them. Awesome training tool!

        Every time I have used Jimmy Moore’s recommendations, I’ve actually gotten fatter. Fat does not satisfy me if there is not enough protein in the diet.

        A friend of mine suggested Dr. Ellis’ point about metabolic adaptation — the idea that once you get to a set caloric number, especially if it is too low, the body will adapt and slow down the metabolism…so if you get down to 1200 calories (as an example) and lose a lot of weight and lower your body fat AND stay there, the body will adjust and begin to retain fat, even at that low number.

        I’m not obese by any stretch of the imagination…I weigh about 180 but would like to get my waist down 2-3 inches. It’s gone up since doing low carb. I’ve never lost anything more than 5 lbs.

        • Allen W. says:

          Whatever works for you that you can stick with should be your goal.

          • Annlee says:

            This. In the past month I have been tracking with CRON-o-meter (which I strongly prefer). When I go above the quantities recommended by the Optimal diet, I actually gain a little.


            1. Take your height in cm, subtract 100 and that’s your ideal weight in kg
            2. Daily protein = weight in kg +/- 10%
            3. Daily carb = .5 protein
            4. Rest is fat

            Me – height = 155 cm (5′ 1″). Ideal weight = 55kg (121 lbs – I can live with that, depending on composition, though I’d rather 50kg, or 110). Daily protein 50-60g (or 45-55g), daily carb is 27g (preferably less for me, according to experience). With that, anywhere from 60g on up of fat, until I’m satisfied.

            For me, that’s what works. Even with considerable walking (30 miles/week) and bodyweight strength. Adding back some kb work, which I also love.

        • Kathy from Maine says:

          It’s also a fact that many women (especially those 50 and older) do not metabolize protein as well as men (of any age) do, and so actually need to eat far more protein than men eat.

          I routinely eat 100+ grams of protein daily, and yet in a recent nutritional testing it was found that I’m not metabolizing protein (or B vitamins) well at all. In fact, I’m in the category of “high need” when it comes to protein and B Vitamins. Firebird may be the same.

          Just because something works or doesn’t work for “you” doesn’t mean it will be the same for Firebird or for me or for anyone else. If 50 grams of protein is sufficient for your body, great. I know I need to eat a lot more protein than that for it to do me any good at all.

          I also subscribe to the research and recommendations of Phinney and Volek. In their research, they found that across the board — whether you’re a petite 5’0″ woman or a muscular 6’4″ man — your body still need at least 30 grams of protein per meal, three times a day body (or equivalent, as in 45 – 50 grams if you eat 2 meals a day).

          All these equations for how much protein a person requires is, to my mind, rather bogus because all it takes into account is height and weight. These equations don’t take into account the chemistry that is going on in your body.

          • Kathy from Maine says:

            By the way, when I said in the third paragraph …

            ‘Just because something works or doesn’t work for “you” …’

            I meant the generic “you.” Not anyone in particular who has posted a comment here. 🙂

    • Angel says:

      J. Stanton at wrote a blog post a few years ago about metabolic flexibility, which sounds like it is related to the topic of this post, and Firebird7478, you may find it helpful reading as well.

      The concept of metabolic flexibility was helpful for me, as I was consistently miserable when I went on a really low carb diet AND I didn’t lose weight. Stanton also had a thoughtful reply to my comment (search the comments for my name or for “broken metabolism”) about restoring metabolic flexibility. Since I made that comment, my metabolism has been very slowly improving, although fasts are still problematic for me (I usually only engage in them due to laziness). I eat probably around 100-125g carbs a day. I don’t lose much weight that way, but I’ve lost some and I’m able to go day-to-day without terrible carb cravings, blood sugar swings, mood swings, or hunger issues.

      • Firebird7478 says:

        Thanks, I will look at that. Good that he replied. I’ve commented on Michaels Eades’ blog and if you do more than say “Merry Christmas” to him or a thank you, he won’t answer a question seeking advice. Apparently Volek is the same way.

  21. George Wilson says:

    In the big Taubes book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, there is a discussion of the genetically fat rats. When the starved them, they didn’t loose any significant weight, they just died. The necropsies showed the vital organs had essentially shut down and were semi-consumed. While alive, they became less and less active.

  22. johnny says:

    Hi Tom,

    that’s a nice and interesting study.

    Two questions:

    1.How is naturally thin defined? Do you have to maintain certain BMI while eating x number of calories? I wonder because I’ve seem numerous thin people in their 20s and 30s become obese in their 50s (probably by relentless carb attack that messed up their insulin).

    2.Aren’t the 600s that can’t lose weight like bears in hibernation? Maybe they have not fully evolved into humans?

    BTW, I’d appreciate if you could post the study or provide a link to it.


    They didn’t define naturally thin.

  23. Ro Oysterz says:

    To the people having a hard time cutting their body fat: I seriously suggest measuring your blood ketones to make sure you are in the 1.0 mmol to 3.0 mmol range like Jimmy Moore did on his n=1 experiment. Then you know for a fact that you are burning free fatty acids and converting them to ketones for energy.

    Once you have that down and have been in nutritional ketosis for weeks, I suggest cutting down the fat you intake. Then as long as you are still in the range, your body will be burning fat — except now it’s coming from your body rather than food intake.

    I have done this time and time again. Because I do stray from the LCHF diet once in a while when work gets hectic and start drinking beer again and eating nuts with it (guaranteed fat gainer lol).

    I stick to about 2 inches fatter than I would be if I had no visible fat. Good enough for me.

    Only caveat is do NOT cut down on your fat intake for too long, you WILL get lethargic and your libido will crash etc, because your body will try and save itself by winding you down so you burn less calories, naturally speaking.

    So if you do go this route, cycle the days you eat less, like 2-3 days in a row lean meat, in the range of ketosis, and then a week of regular LCHF eating maintaining your little loss, continuous.

    It’s doable, get a ketone meter.

  24. Craig Rich says:

    This isn’t quite on topic, but have you ever heard of the “Anabolic Diet”? You can google it and find tons of info, but it’s basically you spend 5 days eating 60% fat, less then 30grams carbs, and the rest protein from real food. Then 2 days you can eat carbs again, but from mostly real food without any real limits. There are all kinds of body-building forums about how amazing this diet is. According to anecdotal testimony, it’s easy to lose fat and build muscle at the same time.

    I find this amazing because it just shows that everything we think we have been taught about nutrition is just so wrong. Traditional body-builder lore is that you can’t build muscle without tons of carbs all the time. Yet a diet of mostly fat builds muscle and helps you lose fat.

    I know most of us aren’t interested in looking like Mr. Universe, but the idea is the same as the paleo diet. Fat isn’t our enemy, and eating real food is the key to nutrition. Yet you have to fight tooth and nail to try to convince people that fat isn’t the great evil of our time.

    Traditional body-builder lore when I was in high school was that you needed protein to bulk up and a low-carb diet to get cut.

  25. Jeanne says:

    I’m always in light ketosis, (blood ketones .5 to 2.0) and I eat fewer than 50 grams of carbs a day, but I still struggle with my weight and my blood glucose (last A1C was 5.7).
    Last resort: more exercise, which seems to help the weight and blood sugar, at least a little. Of course I’m menopausal. This was much easier, 10 – 15 years ago!

    • Kathy from Maine says:

      I’ll bet you, like me, just love that commercial for some kind of cereal where there are several stick-thin menopausal women posing questions like, “I’m the victim of a slowing metabolism?” and “My body doesn’t work the way it used to?” And then one says, “Yeah, I don’t think so!” and then go on to tout the health benefits of whole grains.

      Maybe those 3 don’t suffer from menopausal weight gain and inability to lose a freakin’ ounce, but they’re about the only ones in the world who are like that. I’ll bet women like you and me outnumber those naturally lean women at least 50 to 1.

  26. Elenor says:

    Beau: “I still drink beer, but I’m down to 3 or 4 on Saturday … will do a liver detox as a last resort before metformin. I’m betting in the end I will be on metformin.”

    ?!?! You’re willing to risk metformin (in the hopes of staving off all the possible horrendous ‘effects’ of diabetes) but you’re not willing to quit your beer drinking for a month? Does that even make sense?

    Are you truly “LCHF for close to 3 years now” — or merely approximating it by-guess-and-by-gosh? Diabetes is nothing to fool with!

  27. Rae Ford says:

    As a science major back in college, people (researchers mostly) talking about the laws of thermodynamics in regard to weight loss really bothers me. That only holds true in a CLOSED system. Human bodies are not closed systems. That we eat, breathe, and eliminate proves that.

    “Experiments” with more than one type of variable are also just as likely to make me scream at the computer screen or whatever I’m reading the study on. That was 6th grade science-fair 101 when testing a hypothesis. More than one variable skews results. Yet, diet is still just categorized mostly as high and low fat with no mention of carbs. OK, end of rant.

  28. Mark says:

    Maybe they should have just moved more 😛

  29. LyndaF says:

    I’ve got it! The resistant obese are actually able to do photosynthesis and produce their own glucose with just extra water and CO2 from the air! The researchers should have noticed they were looking a little greener than the other participants.
    But seriously, it is an interesting situation.

    So they’re fat breatharians. Interesting idea.

  30. CD.UK says:

    This seems to be conclusive evidence that calorie restricting diets don’t work. One would think mainstream media would send that message across the world, but no, they keep quiet and let patients restrict all their lives, go on the operating table for gastric bypass, then die from complications, commit suicide, or live the rest of their lives eating jelly from a shot glass, while they’re laughing all the way to the bank.

    Certainly calorie-restricting diets don’t work for people the researchers labeled as “resistant obese,” who are the people doctors are most anxious to put on low-calorie diets.

    • Jill says:

      What makes you think the mainstream or other media know about this sort of thing anyway? A lot of them are ignoramuses who wouldn’t know anything id it weren’t for the various news feeds playing in their offices.

      how many of them have science degrees? How many of them unbderstand how to read a study let alone spot anomalies or bad study design?
      The media of the last fifty years or so in particular play to their political ideologies and very little else.

      Science news is often presented as weird stuff fit only for nerds anyway.

  31. Suzanne says:

    Tom do you have a link/citation for this 1960 study? This is a very helpful post. I occasionally see people (women especially) who are getting a hard time from doctors and others, being bullied into low fat ways of losing weight. When I get them to keep a food diary, I note how little they eat.

    I just found the link again myself:

  32. Lyrra says:

    Very interesting. I was re-reading Gary Taubes’ GCBC and he wrote of an experiment where Zucker rats were placed on calorie restricted diets and still they were fatter than their lean counterparts who were allowed to eat ad-lib. And when the scientist cut off the food supply, the Zucker rats starved to death – and still they retained more fat mass than their lean peers. The rats lost weight, but in the form of muscle mass.

    Yup, they died fat. That’s how determined their bodies were to hold onto that fat mass.

  33. Derek says:

    Well jeez, I think it’s pretty obvious that the resistant obese people just need to eat like 300 calories a day and move a little more, idk like 60 minutes a day and the weight will melt off. Or so the government tells me.

    • Walter Bushell says:

      I think the Germans showed that works for weight loss during WWII. Troubles are that it’s unhealthy weight loss many of the concentration camp people died and in modern 1st or 2nd world countries one has to watch over oneself like a concentration camp guard to follow that plan, which produces very bad psychological results.

  34. Kristin says:

    I posted this article to my FB feed as it is excellent in terms of demonstrating that we do not all process food the same way and simple restriction is a ridiculously simplistic viewpoint. Clearly as a response my trainer posted this bit (with a note that this was important for any of his clients who wanted results):

    The blogger is Armi Legge. He does a fine job spouting the old party line. He also lists a zillion references on this article which I haven’t looked up any yet. Instead I looked up him. Turns out he used to work for Dave Asprey at Bulletproof Executive. He apparently left there because he thought Dave was using bad studies to support the positions he writes on his site. Now I have indeed found errors on BPE but I’m not too sure that Legge has gone on to do something similar for the other team, as it were. It also seems he is a teenager. Have you run across any of this before? Know anything?

    Never heard of him.

    • Kristin says:

      That is actually good news. It had looked to me like it could have been one of those rather high profile spats but perhaps not. I dug out my science for smart people hat and went through a couple of his references. First I noticed that most of them were not available online unless I had a pubmed account. Fine. Then the first study I looked at basically said that higher fat diet caused greater weight loss. But since the researchers knew that couldn’t be true more research was in order. In the meantime stick to low fat.

      Second link I found was comparing two lowfat diets, one higher in sucrose the other higher in starch and found the subjects lost weight equally on either diet…over a six week period eating 685 calories a day. So i wonder what happened after the study.

      Two more links were to Lustig’s work. This told me at a glance that there were probably a lot of references buried in there that supported the ideas he was criticizing. I could keep going but I’d had enough. I responded to my trainer with my analysis and let it go.

      • Dave says:

        My reply to your first comment came before I read this one because Tom has been busy at work. 🙂

        I’m glad to see you were able to check out some of the references in that article by Mr Legge. Nevertheless, Mr Legge may actually believe that his references do in fact support his position because on the surface of things lowering caloric intake actually does ’cause’ weight loss. The more nuanced point of view is that lowering caloric intake _correlates_ with weight loss. Unfortunately, most people are easily satisfied with a simple explanation. To them, we appear to be denying the obvious.

    • Dave says:

      Kristin, Here are some of my thoughts after a brief look at the article you linked to and a few of the comments below it.

      1. Straw man fallacies. That’s how the article “debunks” the so-called anti-CICO viewpoint. Create a bunch of “myths” that supposedly represent what we’re trying to explain about obesity and calories, and then “prove” those straw men arguments wrong.

      2. As far as the long list of references go… In my copy of T. Colin Campbell’s book, The China Study, Dr Campbell has quite a long list of references too. Of course, that didn’t mean his arguments against animal foods were based on sound science as I later learned. Let’s put the onus of proof on Mr Legge to explain how his list of “studies” prove his point. Might be a good time to rewatch Tom’s video “Science for Smart People”.

      There are a lot of people who are emotionally invested in the idea that it’s all about “character.” All I care about is the science. Chemistry is science. As Dr Robert Lustig pointed out in his Fructose 2.0 lecture (on YouTube), we’re not denying the laws of thermodynamics.

  35. Jill says:

    It doesn’t matter what the reason is. Those resistant obese and obese people will attract patronising talk, abuse, blame, sneers, diet “advice” and hectoring for the rest of their lives, which, being stressful will raise their cortisol levels and make them fatter than ever.

    People (present company excepted) don’t like to think something is chemistry – they prefer to think fat people are lazy sods – because that way THEY get to preen and feel good about themselves.
    I mean you don’t want to expend sympathy or understanding on someone who looks BAD do you?

    Besides, science – even simple science -is hard. We need a Barbie doll for THAT.

    I look at it this way: given how much genetics figures into being fat or thin, deciding you have superior character because you’re thin is roughly equivalent to deciding you have superior character because you were born with a high IQ.

  36. Jill says:

    Hey I just found this:

    Gene Overdose Causes Extreme Thinness (2011)

    So maybe the resistant obese are missing some genes….?


  37. Tricia says:

    Definitely chemistry, genetics, etc. I could have been the 25 year old “naturally thin woman” in the experiment, downing endless pieces of pizza, ice cream, you name it and not gaining weight. My dad was the same way. Now that I’m in my thirties, things aren’t quite like that but it’s still easier for me to lose pounds. Of course the number on the scale was one thing, my health (or lack thereof) was something else entirely different.

    After seeing her naturally-thin father become a type 2 diabetic, Chareva knows that being naturally thin doesn’t give her immunity. So she’s on a good diet even though gaining weight has never been an issue for her.

  38. David says:

    If, as the article says, they measure the metabolism and more than 600 calories per day are being used and there is no weight loss over a substantial length of time then the only possibilities are that more than 600 calories per day are going in or that the metabolism is being measured incorrectly (or both). I vote for cheating. Talking to medical people in my family I’ve heard that it is very, very common for people on restricted diets to find ways to get food smuggled in. And it’s not very hard. It’s not a prison where everyone is watched all the time and visitors are patted down to prevent contraband Snickers bars from being brought in.

  39. Kristin says:

    I very much appreciate all the good feedback on this article. I really like having a personal trainer to push me harder than I would myself with respect to HIIT and proper strength training but I do get weary of this naturally slim athletic 30 year old constantly telling me my diet is extreme and I should just be cutting my calories to 1400 a day (!) and eating grains. When he posted this link with a specific reference to needing to agree with it in order to be considered by him ‘coachable’ I found it condescending and irritating. I also know that I’m not the only low carb person on his roster.

  40. Tara says:

    Another interesting study (using PCOS and therefore androgen/estrogen levels, as well as insulin resistance):

    “RESULT(S): Adjusted BMR was 1,868 +/- 41 kcal/day in the control group, 1,445.57 +/- 76 in all PCOS women, 1,590 +/- 130 in PCOS women without IR [insulin resistance] and 1,116 +/- 106 in PCOS women with IR.”

    Even in this small group, women with PCOS had a lower measurable BMR, and those who had PCOS *and* were insulin resistant had (in some cases) as low as ~1000 calorie BMRs. By our known method of BMR measurement, at least.

    If the evidence about the so-named “resistant obese” in the study you reference tells us anything, it’s that there are things going on that we can’t properly measure, and therefore will definitely have trouble accounting for. Sex hormone balance and insulin sensitivity are but two factors that have an effect, but I don’t think for a second that they are the only things. And I don’t think we (collectively, scientifically) have even a clue about what some of the others might be.

    Sorry to write you a novel here, but as a formerly obese person who *did* live on less than 600 calories daily for quite a long span of time (and, in fact, developed a serious eating disorder to cope with the fact that I was fat – and so treated like a fat person – but also with the fact that eating anything close to a normal amount of food put weight on me like crazy) I really think that our culture’s mindset toward the overweight and obese is largely a cruel, victim-blaming attitude. It drives me crazy that some people think that just because it would take THEM a massive, intentional effort to gain lots of weight that others must be doing that themselves.

    And there’s no financial incentive (follow the money!) for any of the manufacturers or producers of food to care, either. See, if it’s all *our* problem, our character flaw, our laziness or lack of willpower that leads us to buy one of those absurd boxes of oreo thin crisps 100-calorie packs and be unable to eat ONLY one, then they are completely without blame or responsibility. I’m not saying the producers of food ARE completely to blame, but the ENTIRE atmosphere surrounding commodity crops, the USDA, food manufacture/production, conventional nutritional “wisdom”, fat-shaming, the fetishizing of inhumanly thin bodies, even healthcare in some cases is like one giant, unintentional conspiracy that wont resolve itself until the big money somehow is in doing the right thing…which it may never be.

    PS: Yes, low-carb is what took the weight off me. From 265 to 145 at my best. Though I’m constantly fighting with the last 15-20lbs. And yes, I had undiagnosed PCOS/IR and lived in poverty as a child/teen on ramen noodles and foodbank mashed potato flakes without even butter and milk to cook them with, without medical care. It has been one of the most agonizing, frustrating experiences of my life to try to explain to people AGAIN and AGAIN that some of our bodies care FAR more about the quality than the quantity of our food, and that I wont participate in fat-shaming because most fat people that I’ve met have tried a dozen things to try and lose weight and have either given up in despair or are still actively trying (and not succeeding).

    • Tom Naughton says:

      I know you’d like to lose that last 20 lbs (you and millions of others), but if you’ve dropped 120 pounds, you are already an astounding success. Thank you for the thoughtful and informative comment — I’m adding that study to my database.

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