Calories … again and again …

      80 Comments on Calories … again and again …

Can’t say I was surprised a post about calories generated a lot of discussion. Like I said, it’s apparently the issue that will never die. Based on back-and-forth comments on the blog and elsewhere, here are some additional thoughts about the calories debate in no particular order.

Extreme positions.

As someone pointed out in comments, people engaging in the calories debate often have more extreme views than the leaders whose ideas they’ve supposedly adopted. Yup, I agree. (And for the record, I don’t believe I’ve ever written that calories have nothing to do with it. If I have, let me know — I’m not going to go check every post I’ve ever written.)

When I re-read portions of Protein Power (1996) and The Protein Power Lifeplan (2000) to pull some quotes, I was struck by how well both books have stood up over time. I didn’t come across anything that made me think, “Boy, I bet they wish they hadn’t written that.” In fact, I was reminded that Drs. Eades and Eades were way ahead of the curve. They were explaining this stuff in terms of evolution and what our Paleolithic ancestors ate long before PALEO ™ became a thing.

But just to be sure I wasn’t quoting opinions they no longer hold, I emailed Dr. Eades to check. No, he replied, I haven’t changed my mind on how calories figure into it, so quote away. Then he added this:

I do believe that you can cheat the calorie math a little on the low-carb diet front. In another early blog post I guesstimated (an educated guess, but still a guess) that people on low-carb diets could probably get away with about 300 more calories than they could on a low-fat, high-carb diet. A few years later, Ludwig and colleagues came up with almost that same number (theirs was 325 kcal, as I recall) of excess energy expenditure on low-carb diets as compared to low-fat.

Perhaps a bit of a caloric advantage when trying to lose weight on a low-carb diet. That’s a heckuva long way from calories have nothing to do with it. But I wonder how many people who are fans of Dr. Eades insist calories don’t figure into it?

On one of the low-carb cruises, someone asked Dr. Eric Westman during Q&A if calories count. “Yes, calories count,” he replied. “But that doesn’t mean you need to count them.” He went on to explain that if you adopt a diet that lowers insulin to where it should be, your appetite should naturally fall in line with your energy needs, and your weight will normalize without counting calories.

Once again, that’s not the same as calories have nothing to do with it.

Low-carb and overeating.

In the previous post, I quoted Drs. Eades and Eades explaining that they had patients who wanted to know why they weren’t losing weight on a VLC diet. Diet journals showed that these patients were consuming 4,000 or more calories per day. That’s why they weren’t losing weight.  (The pleasant surprise was that they weren’t gaining, either.)

Several studies have demonstrated that people on low-carb diets spontaneously eat less and report feeling less hungry, so what was happening with these people? Why weren’t their appetites reduced?

I remember Dr. Mary Dan Eades telling me over dinner years ago that if anything would torpedo the low-carb movement, it was all the junk-food low-carb products being sold. She explained that when they had patients who were still overeating, diet logs often showed they were stuffing themselves with processed junk that happened to be low-carb.

Unlike a lot of low-carb enthusiasts, I don’t simply dismiss Stephan Guyenet’s ideas about food reward. No, I don’t think it’s the entire answer, but this isn’t an either-or situation. The makers of processed foods don’t hire all those food-flavor scientists for no reason. In fact, for those of you who haven’t read it, here’s a part of chapter seven of the Fat Head Kids book:

The Nautilus was programmed to choose the right fuels and building materials automatically. Inside the FUD hatch, special sensors send messages to The Brain that say This is what the ship needs. You experience those messages as This Tastes Good.

When humans hunted and gathered their food, this app worked perfectly. Our taste for sweets told us to eat fruits and sweet-tasting vegetables like carrots and squashes. Our taste for fats told us to eat olives, nuts, eggs and meats. Our taste for salts told us to eat meats and seafood. Our taste for spices told us to eat plants that were full of vitamins and minerals.

But as we’ve seen, apps are designed for a particular environment. The This Tastes Good app was programmed for The Planet of Real Foods. It still worked reasonably well when we migrated to The Planet of FUD Farms. But when we migrated to The Planet of Industrial FUD, we created a huge mismatch between the app and the FUD in the environment.

The makers of food-like products understand exactly how the This Tastes Good app works. So they add just the right combinations of sweet, fatty, salty and spicy flavors to industrial FUD. When these food-like products enter the FUD hatch, our sensors tell us This Tastes Good. This is what the ship needs. That’s how The Nautilus was programmed.

But of course, these aren’t the foods the ship needs.

We are programmed to find certain flavors highly rewarding. So my guess is that if you’ve been dealing with a dysregulated appetite for years (or even if you haven’t), it’s easy to continue craving and stuffing yourself with oh-so-tasty junk foods – even low-carb junk foods – if they tickle the right part of the brain. After all, people crave and over-consume lots of substances that don’t provide calories or jack up insulin.

That’s just one guess. Another guess is that people who fill up on low-carb junk foods aren’t getting enough protein or micronutrients. As we point out in the book, your body knows what it needs. If you don’t provide what it needs, it will keep triggering hunger in the hope that you’ll eventually stumble across some actual nutrients in your food. In that case, you won’t stop until you’re stuffed. Here’s what we wrote in the book:

Food-like products can satisfy your appetite for awhile – but not because The Nautilus has what it needs. When the belly of the ship becomes full and begins to stretch, special sensors warn Marty to stop running the Get Hungry! program. But by the time that happens, you’ve probably consumed way more FUD than you actually need.

Marty has to do something with all that extra fuel. If you’re one of those lucky people (like my wife) Mary will crank up your metabolism and burn it away. But if you’re not so lucky, Marty will store the extra calories as fat.

Not exactly a calories have nothing to do with it argument, wouldn’t you say?

Why calorie math sucks, part one.

Calories have nothing to do with it is an extreme and unsupportable position. But so is The Piggy Bank Theory with its stupidly simple calories in/calories out math. Suppose you’re overweight and go online looking for advice. Here are some samples of what you’ll find.

From Shape Magazine:

In one month you can reasonably anticipate losing eight to 10 pounds if you follow a pretty strict plan. Losing one pound of body fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. To lose two pounds per week, you must drop 1,000 calories per day. Elimination can be done by cutting the calories consumed in a day or increasing the amount of calories burned during your workout.

From Good Housekeeping:

If every day you can cut about 75 calories through diet and burn about 75 calories through exercise, you’ll drop between 10 and 15 pounds in a year. It’s practically losing weight in your sleep.

From Eat This, Not That:

On average, a slice of cheese—whether it be atop a sandwich, salad, omelet or burger—has about 70 calories. Eliminate it from just three meals a week to keep 10,920 calories and keep 3 pounds off of your frame over the course of the year.

From the Centers For Disease Control:

Paul is 47 years old and weighs 240 pounds. He’s at risk for type 2 diabetes. His doctor urges him to lose 40 pounds at a rate of 1 pound a week. Losing 1 to 2 pounds a week is a healthy goal for most adults, experts say. This gradual weight loss is the way to make lasting changes. To lose 1 pound a week, Paul needs to burn 3,500 more calories than he takes in each week. That’s 500 calories per day.

The CDC then lists all kind of ways to cut those 500 calories: swap skim milk for whole milk, use reduced calorie margarine on your toast instead of butter, steam your vegetables instead of sautéing in oil, etc., etc.

From Fitness Magazine:

To lose one pound in seven days you need to reduce your net calories by 500 every day. The easiest way to do that is a 250 split: Cut half from your diet and burn the other half through exercise…. Choose one strategy from the diet and exercise columns each day and after seven days you will have cut out 3,500 calories. Losing four sticks of butter has never been such a cinch!

Heck, it’s a cinch, ya see! The article then lists all kinds of ways to cut those calories … switch from a cup of premium ice cream to light ice cream, eat an ounce of soy nuts instead of three ounces of almonds, etc., etc., blah-blah-blah. Simple math.

I could go on and on, but you’ve already seen this advice everywhere.  You’ll hear it from doctors, dietitians, trainers, workout buddies, and countless internet cowboys.  Just cut those calories, and the pounds will drop off in exact proportion to the number of calories you cut.

So people follow that advice and fail to lose weight – because our bodies don’t work like bank accounts.  But that’s just part of the problem …

Why calorie math sucks, part two

Here’s a quote from the Fat Head Kids book, after a section describing the typical “just cut one pat of butter per day from your diet!” advice:

Well, that sounds easy, doesn’t it? So according to these people, if you’re fat, it’s because you’re not willing to eat just a little less — which means you’re a pig. Or you’re not willing to exercise just a little more — which means you’re a lazy pig.

The real problem with The Piggy Bank Theory is that it gives people who don’t know what the @#$% they’re talking about a license to be judgmental jackasses. It allows them to assume that anyone who gains weight or fails to lose weight is simply eating too much and could therefore lose weight by just eating normally. That’s nonsense. Here’s a quote from the book:

In a study from the 1960s, researchers wrote about obese patients who were locked in a hospital and fed just 600 calories each day. That’s about one-fourth as much as most adults eat. And yet the obese patients didn’t lose weight. Is that because of a flaw in their character? Should they only eat 300 calories per day? Or 200?

The researchers, by the way, referred to these people as the resistant obese and thermodynamic paradoxes. They were at a complete loss to explain how anyone could stay fat on 600 calories per day.  But they did.

Here’s another quote from the book:

A documentary I saw called The Science of Obesity featured a woman who was lean until about age 35. Then she suddenly started getting very fat. She cut her calories to just 1500 per day and still got fatter.

So, was she consuming more calories than she was burning? Yes, absolutely. That is always HOW we get fat. But was consuming too many calories WHY she got fat?

No, of course she wasn’t consuming too many calories. But thanks to the belief in Piggy Bank math, doctor after doctor accused her of lying about her food intake, even though she’d been keeping detailed records. By gosh, nobody could get that fat on 1500 calories per day!

Uh, yeah, some people can. And some people don’t lose weight even on low-calorie diets. Of course, pointing that out inevitably leads to some jackass citing …

The concentration camp argument

If there’s one argument that makes me want to smack the person offering it, that’s the one.

Well, no fat people ever walked out of a concentration camp, so that proves it’s all about the calories! Huh? Huh? I bet you crazy low-carbers never thought of that one!

Ehhhhhh …

Yes, we’ve thought of that one. Here’s a quote from Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes:

Yes, it’s true: If you are stranded on a desert island and starved for months on end, you will waste away, whether you’re fat or thin to begin with. Even if you are just semi-starved, your fat will melt away, as will a good share of your muscle. Try the same prescription in the real world, though, and try to keep it up indefinitely – try to maintain the weight loss – and it works very rarely indeed.

There’s a reason it rarely works: it’s true that no fat people ever walked out of a concentration camp. It’s also true that no healthy, happy people with well-functioning metabolisms ever walked out of a concentration camp. The only reason they could be starved into an emaciated state is that THEY WERE LOCKED INSIDE A CONCENTRATION CAMP, YOU @#$%ING MORON!

There, I think that more or less expresses how I feel about it.

Ancel Keys actually conducted a useful study in the 1940s. To determine the likely effects of food shortages in Europe after WWII, he locked a group of young, healthy volunteers inside a camp and fed them 1500 calories per day for weeks on end. They lost weight. They also lost their energy, their libidos, and in a few cases, their sanity. They were miserable. They were cold. They were obsessed with food. One participant bit off part of his own finger to get out of the experiment.

When the CICO crowd insists that fat people should just starve themselves into being thin, they’re telling them to suck it up and live in a state of constant misery.

Yes, the woman who continued getting fat on 1500 calories per day probably could have starved away the fat at some ridiculously low intake of calories. She also would have been miserable the whole time, and would have had to remain miserable to avoid regaining the weight.

In a speech about what he calls “the fat switch,” Dr. Richard Johnson mentioned what happens in experiments when animals lose weight. When they burn dietary calories, they’re calm. When they start burning their own body fat, most of them remain calm. But when they start burning away lean body mass, most of them become highly agitated. That’s what happens when the body believes it’s starving.

The alcoholic analogy.

We used various analogies in the Fat Head Kids book: Saying people get fat because calories in exceeded calories out is like explaining that Donald Trump is a billionaire because he deposited more dollars in the bank than he withdrew. It’s like a plumber explaining that your toilet overflowed because more water went into the tank than drained out. Those statements are true, but they only explain HOW something happened, not WHY it happened.

Here’s an analogy I’ve used in speeches, but not (for obvious reasons) in a book targeted at kids: saying people become obese because they eat too much is like saying people become alcoholics because they drink too much. That not only fails to provide an answer, it doesn’t even ask the relevant question, which is: WHY do they drink too much? What’s the root cause of the excess drinking? Why do they crave far more alcohol than normal drinkers?

To me, arguments about calories are often as ridiculous as:

“The cause of alcoholism is drinking too much.”

“What?! That doesn’t explain anything. You’re confusing the symptom with the cause.”

“No, no, no. We’ve studied this extensively, and every time an alcoholic becomes drunk, it’s because the amount of alcohol he consumed exceeded his body’s ability to process it. So the cause of alcoholism is obviously drinking too much, and the cure is to stop drinking too much.”

“It doesn’t work that way in real life.”

“Of course it does! We locked alcoholics and normal drinkers inside a prison and gave them each just two drinks per day. At the end of each day, they were all equally sober. So that proves the cause of alcoholism is drinking too much, and the cure is to stop drinking so much. Don’t be anti-science!”

Assuming we live in an alternate universe where we can’t live without alcohol and not drinking at all therefore isn’t an option, any treatment for dealing with alcoholism would have to address the underlying biochemical drive to drink to excess. “You’re a drunk because you drink too much” isn’t an explanation; it’s just a restatement of the symptom.

“To cure your alcoholism, just drink less” would be ridiculous advice.  But it would be equally ridiculous to say “being drunk all the time has nothing to do with the amount of alcohol consumed, so nobody has to count how much they drink.”

Previous posts on the topic.

Someone mentioned in comments that there are probably people who read the previous post, but aren’t long-time readers.  Duh.  I should have thought of that.  So here are links to some posts related to this whole, never-ending debate about calories.

Toilet Humor And The HOW vs. WHY Of Getting Fat.

The Rider and The Elephant explains why we can’t just starve ourselves into being thin.

Puppies and Thermodynamics is about how we have two Rotties who eat exactly the same meals … but one has 35% more body mass, despite being the more active of the two.

Fat Accounts and the Laws of FiscalDynamics is another take on the body-as-bank-account analogy.

I hope that helps.


80 thoughts on “Calories … again and again …

  1. mabelle

    i take in around 1500 kcal (not that im counting) and stopped losing weight n even put some back on around 9 pounds on a low carb diet. i dont see myself as a big eater either. im just not active. but i would think my intake of food should still yield some weight loss

  2. bill

    ” If you don’t provide what it needs, it will keep triggering hunger in the hope that you’ll eventually stumble across some actual nutrients in your food. In that case, you won’t stop until you’re stuffed.”

    I cannot recall where I read about an experiment
    where goats were given feed lacking one nutrient.
    The goats ate more feed than normal, seemingly
    in an effort to get that nutrient. Once they were
    given feed with the nutrient restored, the goats
    did not eat excessive amounts.

    Do you remember reading this study? Do you know
    how to find it?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I don’t recall that one specifically, but I came across several studies suggesting appetite is driven by a need for nutrients, not just calories.

  3. Pierre

    “It allows them to assume that anyone who gains weight or fails to lose weight is simply eating too much and could therefore lose weight by just eating normally.”

    In fact, they eat badly and often too much. The best way to prove it is to check the contents of their refrigerators.

    In general, there will be plenty of junk food.

    Also intestinal flora is important for assimilating foods well. Natasha Campbell-McBride show that in her book. Many diseases, if not most, cause bad bacterial flora in the intestines.

    For calories, the law of thermodynamics applies to the human body.

    The Energy Balance Equation is valid :

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Just so we’re clear, you’re insisting that when a woman gains weight on 1500 calories per day, or people fail to lose weight on 300 calories per day, it’s because they eat badly and often too much?

      1. Pierre

        You can gain weight on 1500 Kcal per day. It all depends on your balance energy equation. Your body composition will adapt to your diet.

        If people can not lose weight with 300 kcal / day, then there is something suspicious.
        There is a big difference between what people say and do.

        Just simply put them in a cell and feed them with 300 kcal / day to check the result.
        I guess they’ll start to melt.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          That’s essentially what happened in the study. The researchers were flummoxed because they’d locked these people in a metabolic ward and fed them 300 calories per day.

  4. Bob Niland

    In the program I contribute to, weight loss stall is perhaps FAQ #1.

    Resolving it starts with basic due diligence on whether the individual is indeed doing the program (stealth grains, excess net carbs, insufficient healthy fat, uncorrected key micronutrient deficiencies, etc.). A number of further usual suspects then arise. All need to be considered, in no particular order:

    Meds, ℞ and OTC
    Many for optional ailments that can remiss on an enlightened ancestral diet. Wind ’em down as markers indicate.

    Some are sensitive, and a simple elimination trial can provide insight, followed by re-challenge to see if it’s beta casein A1, whey fraction, good ‘ol lactose or something else.

    Routinely mis-tested, mis-diagnosed and mis-treated by consensus medicine, pandemic hypothyroid promotes adiposity. This problem is such a scandal that non-professionals (e.g. Elle Russ) are writing books about it.

    SIBO is emerging as troubling factor here (and one not necessarily easy to resolve), but even without Candida, C.diff & SIBO, most people’s guts are well less than optimal, and antagonists abound (including chloramine in municipal water).

    Sleep hygiene
    Multiple factors here, only some of which are dietary.

    Stress/adrenal dysfunction
    which is also one of the players in the sleep hygiene problem.

    Aggravated insulin resistance

    Added/stealth Omega 6 linoleic acid
    And the FDA lately acted to perpetuate this particular problem.

    Prominently not on the list are:
    • lack of exercise,
    • excess fat consumptions, and
    • excess calories (other than exceeding net carb targets)
    These 3 aren’t ruled out. They are just the least likely explanations.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, and reducing it all to a calorie problem causes doctors and other providers to miss all the other likely explanations.

      1. Bob Niland

        Tom: «Yup, and reducing it all to a calorie problem causes doctors and other providers to miss all the other likely explanations.»

        And even then, they’re usually trying to fix one problem at a time (with largely useless dogmatic approaches that are often just symptom management). Here’s a recent report on the circadian issue from MedPageToday
        Does Short Sleep Mean Higher T2D Risk for Kids?
        Chances are they’ll “fix this” by prescribing narcotics, and long before they stumble onto the wider gang of circadian disruptors*, including but not limited to:
        full-time glycemic diet, microbiome (3 separate issues), grain proteins, hypothyroid, omega 3 DHA&EPA deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, magnesium deficiency, eating late, bright&blue light at night, added caffeine, bedroom temp, and even mere hydration.

        80% of healthcare costs are due to optional chronic non-infectious non-injury ailments, whose root causes arise from a legion of problems in modern diet, lifestyle and personal environments. Trying to fix the ailments one at a time is confounding. What’s needed is a multi-factorial approach that addresses as many modern provocations as we can identify, as fast as we can mitigate them.

        There are any number of enlightened ancestral diets that address 80% of the 80%, and get prompt results for most (but not all). None yet address 100% of the 80%, because we don’t yet know enough.

        Microbiome is particularly challenging, because we’ve no clue what’s optimal for modern humans. We only just got a testing service in 2017 (Viome) that might sequence all the life forms (not just bacteria), a fraction of which don’t even have names yet. The disparity between surviving hunter-gatherer guts and agriculturalized guts, as well as comparative prebiotic intake, is sobering. We have no test for gut flora that’s nice simple, useful metric like HbA1c, and we likely won’t for decades.
        * For anyone with ASD in the family, this, sadly, might be just the tip of your iceberg.

        1. Stephen T

          Bob, if there’s any gaps in the science, just ask a vegetarian. They can answer any question without difficulty and the reply is always the same “Meat causes diabetes, cancer, global warming, cell phone failure . . .”

  5. j

    Forgive me for being the guy that thinks a simple approach would work for most but:

    Eating LOTS of veggies, moderate amount of animal protein, a bit of fruit, and drinking only water solves many of these weight and calorie issues.
    Problem is, people always want to find ways to cheat or replace some junk food or sweet they miss.

    Or they want to consume lots of cheese, dairy, and nuts , or overdo it on the meat.

    These things are ok occasionally but not daily.

    ~;100 grams each of protein and carbs per day seems ideal for average people. (Not that I keep track)

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I agree that a simple approach works for most. Eat real food (which automatically eliminates sugars, processed grains and industrial oils), get enough protein, stop eating when you’re not hungry.

      But we can’t let our natural desire for simple answers fool us into thinking anyone who remains overweight is simply refusing to employ the simple answer.

      1. j

        I certainly wouldn’t think that in all cases it’s someone’s refusal to keep things simple. At the same time (and this is another problem I’ve noticed of healthy dieting), I don’t underestimate our desire to want to overcomplicate things.
        Sometimes we do ignore the simpler answer because we want things to be special or entertaining so to speak. So we look for that special solution or special supplement or special food.
        We think that losing weight has to be special. This is why we have a multi billion diet and supplement industry aimed at entertaining us special people with all kinds of gimmicks… gimmicks that were are happy to buy like toys.
        Ok maybe some of the toys do provide health benefits (ie. Certain vitamins or fish oils,etc).. But in many cases they are things we don’t really need to spend money on. We just tell ourselves we do.
        The bad part is when we don’t get the results we want. And then even worse when we refuse to change things that are not working. If they’re not working, stop wasting money!!!
        I personally used to be that way in regards to food and supplements when i began this journey of low carb/healthy diet. Just glad I’ve settled into something that doesn’t require so much over thinking and money. ?

        1. Elenor

          Clearly “j” never screwed up his thyroid eating soy hotdogs and pasta for years and years (TRYing to lose weight, can you believe it?!) … He (she?) has never been unable to go out in the sun without very dark sunglasses, dealt with foot pain on awakening, been hyper-hyper-sensitive to noise and cold and heat …. and always, always the deathly exhaustion: — those are all adrenal/thyroid dysfunction, NOT ‘gimmicks’ or ‘toys’ or ‘looking for entertainment’ — it’s effed-up biology!!

          Glad (lucky!) you’ve settled into something that suits your body and your lifestyle and your health! But you blithely blaming the person whose body does not react like yours sure sucks to be that person! (Talk about being born on third base and claiming credit for a triple!)

          (Oh, did I mention the irritability, too? That’s not mostly thyroid or adrenal; that’s mostly just sick-to-death of people cheerily assuring me/us that: “if only” you would do this-or-that (like *I* do!) instead of being a lazy fat slob; why, then YOUR body, too would do what we want. I WISH!)

          1. j

            Wow you certainly extracted a lot things from my statement that I never wrote. Not sure how. But in any case I’m pretty sure I..yup I certainly said it’s not all cases. That ‘not all cases’ I think would include persons with health issues or disabilities.

            I’m not trying to blame anyone..just stating the obvious about many “dieters”… Why do you think we have a multi billion dollar diet food and supplement industry? Why do you think quack entertainers like Dr Oz have a huge national audience?

            We have all these magic pills and foods and products..most of which I lean to think only provide minute benefits if any at all. And just to be clear Im not referring to any medical prescriptions or anything of that nature.

            Not sure I was born on third base..guess I was thin for the most part until a certain age. Thats when belly fat started piling on..

            I only state that I think a diet of veggies, meats, fruits, and water is optimal. Everything else is either only providing small benefits (if any), and/or is just a waste of money. And thats only an opinion..feel free to disagree and do as you or anyone else pleases. :3

  6. Vicente

    Do calories count if I want to make my muscles grow?

    Do calories count when a tumor grows?

    Do calories count when a child grows?

    “The law of thermodynamics applies to the human body”. Therefore, anyone that says “calories have nothing to do with it” is a zealot.

    Tom Naughton: “Calories have nothing to do with it is an extreme and unsupportable position

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Sure, calories count if you want your muscles to grow.

      To paraphrase Gary Taubes, for a child to grow taller, he has to consume more calories than he burns. He doesn’t grow taller because he consumes more calories; he consumes more calories because he’s growing taller. But of course, that’s not the same as “calories have nothing to do with it.” If you starve the kid, he won’t grow to his potential.

      1. Vicente

        Do calories count if you want to make your muscles grow? How exactly do they “count”? You should define what you mean with the term “<b>count</b>”.

        Do calories count when a tumor grows? How do you define “count” in this one?

        My interpretation is that what Taubes is saying is that the first law of thermodynamics is fulfilled (I have read enough from him to know he says that), but calories are not the explanation, so they don’t really count. It would be really disappointing to find that Taubes agrees with you on your “calories count”.

        I say “<b>calories</b> have nothing to do with it” because getting fat is not a thermodynamics problem (our bodies don’t respond to the total amount of calories in the food), but a physiological process. When my muscle grows, it has <b>nothing to do with calories</b> (and extreme situations don’t prove the opposite). When a child grows, it has <b>nothing to do with calories</b>. Starving a child doesn’t prove that to grow up is about calories (because calories is not the only factor you are changing in that “thought experiment”). And starvation is not the process I am asking about: you are moving the goal posts with your “starvation” answer. Do calories count in a normal situation, when a child grows up? If your answer is affirmative, I would like to have your definition of “count”.

        Do you find my arguments “extreme” or do you see me as a zealot, Tom?

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          So consider “calories” to mean “the amount you eat.” Lots of factors figure into fat growth, muscle growth, getting taller, etc., yes. Taubes likens the calories in vs. calories out argument to someone asking why a particular restaurant is crowded, and you answer “because more people entered the restaurant than left.” It’s true, but doesn’t explain why the restaurant is more popular and more crowded than the restaurant across the street.

          I’m reasonably sure he wouldn’t insist the number of people who enter the restaurant has nothing to do with it. I’m also reasonably sure he wouldn’t insist if we block the door and don’t allow people in, it won’t have an effect on how crowded the restaurant becomes.

          As for do calories count for muscle growth, here’s how you determine whether that’s true or not: have two twin guys engage in exactly the same workouts for a month, but feed one twin protein shakes that provide 900 calories per day, including 150 grams of whey protein. Feed the other twin shakes that provide 3000 calories per day, including 150 grams of whey protein. Then see if one twin ends up with more muscle growth.

      2. j

        Calories count.. But not in the 1+1=2 kinda way that CICO people think it does… There are a lot of variables. For example, eating 600 calories of chocolate, while delicious, may have a different outcome than eating 600 calories of salad (also delicious but in different way) ?

  7. Vicente

    By the way, Tom, do you think that grams count?

    May be if Dr Eades and Eades checked again those diet journals they would find that their patients were eating too much kilos. And “that’s why they weren’t losing weight”.

    Do you get fat if you eat too much grams? Do grams count?

    NOTE: the law of conservation of mass is fulfilled in people. You can’t accumulate matter in your body unless more mass comes in than goes out.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Are you asking me if a gram of celery and a gram of butter count the same? Of course not. I also don’t believe 300 calories in the form of broccoli and 300 calories in the form of Coca-Cola would produce the same effects.

          1. j

            A calorie is a calorie… That’s why when bodybuilders eat 5000 calories a day they get it from tons of candy and pizza instead of chicken breasts and vegetables..? hmmm

            1. Tom Naughton Post author

              Who are you asking? Surely you know I don’t believe a calorie is a calorie.

            2. Firebird7478

              IDK which bodybuilders YOU know, but me and the rest of us don’t junk out on pizza and candy to get to 5,000 calories per day. In my own case, I have never consumed 5,000 calories in a day.

          2. DrFeelgood

            Sounds like he’s asking if you think fat people excrete.

            That must be why Kim Jong Un has doubled in size since ascending to power. He doesn’t poop.

        2. Lori Miller

          A gram is a unit of mass (or weight, for practical purposes). People on low-carb diets typically try to keep their carb intake under a certain number of grams per day. Some go a step further and control their protein intake (also in terms of grams).

  8. Robert

    The gram discussion is relevant, because this is where low-carb gets stupid.

    “You are fat because you ate 53 g of carbs, and not <20 g"

    "You are a lazy carboholic pig because you ate a potato, containing 20 g of carbs per 100 g, and that's more than our approved limit of 5 g / 100 g. Don't fool yourself into believing it's healthy, you are addicted to carbs, and like a junkie you rationalize to get your dirty fix."

    My point is this: if you take the worst and stupidest arguments of the worst and stupidest CICO believers it will sound bad. But the amount of stupidity I've heard from low-carbers is also great indeed.

    Of course CICO is more mainstream, so you can find more examples of this stupidity.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Agree. Like I said, some people in the debate take more extreme positions than the leaders whose views they’ve supposedly adopted. I addressed the “don’t eat the potato!” argument and other arguments about ketosis back in 2014:

      A quote from that post:

      “If you feel lousy on a vegan diet but then feel better after eating a steak, it means you should eat the steak. That’s how any proponent of a paleo diet would reply.

      But if you tell some people in the everyone should be in ketosis crowd that you felt better and saw some health problems disappear after eating two or three potatoes per week, suddenly the potato becomes like meat to a vegan. No, no, no, the potato is bad! If you feel better after eating the potato, it means you’re not doing your ketogenic diet correctly. You need more fat. You need to eat nose-to-tail. Something is still broken in your metabolism, so you need to dig deeper and find the underlying issue and fix it.

      No, it means you should eat the potato.”

      1. Firebird7478


        My mom once told me a story about our pediatrician. A city doctor (Philly) with a lot of common sense. When she told him, “All he wants are peanut butter sandwiches to eat,” his response was, “That is what his body is asking for.”

        She kept feeding me peanut butter sandwiches.

  9. Mark

    “So Mr Food-Science-Weight-Loss-Guy, how did so many people stay thin before calories were discovered (invented)”? I have asked this question of a great many know-it-alls and all they can ever say is “food wasn’t as plentiful”, which is straight out wrong.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I find it amusing that since I believe calories do count (as does Dr. Eades, as does Dr. Eric Westman, etc.), suddenly I’m getting questions from people who seem to think I’ve declared it’s all about calories, period. I’d suggest you read the first two chapters of the Fat Head Kids book, which we posted online:

      The brief answer to your question is that people in previous generations didn’t eat industrial food-like products that screw up the biological software that’s programmed to match our appetites to our actual nutrient needs, and to store the amount of fat that’s required for the energy system to function, but without storing too much.

      1. Mark

        I think you’ve read my message wrong, that’s the question I’ve asked people in my real world situations. It wasn’t directed at you personally.

        1. Mark

          I have a lot of Pure CICO adherants who blame fat and lazy people for being fat and lazy. My argument is food quality has a greater effect than food quantity.

        2. Tom Naughton Post author

          Sorry for misreading your intent. The comment had my name as the recipient, so I thought you directing it at me.

          Well, it would still be my answer to anyone who DID ask it of me.

  10. Robert

    And regarding the 325 kcal advantage, I used to believe in it too. But when I looked into it, they upped protein from 20% to 30% on the low-carb diet. No wonder that they got an advantage, protein is well known to produce a metabolic advantage. Studies clamping protein and calories show no benefit carbs vs. fat.

    So call it for what it is: “a high protein diet gives advantage over a low protein diet” instead of “people on low-carb diets could probably get away with about 300 more calories than they could on a low-fat, high-carb diet”

    Now, in real life most switching to LCHF will up protein naturally and thereby reap the benefits. But then came the keto craziness, telling people to cut down on protein, and eat more nutrient devoid refined fats. This will take away the main benefits of low carb dieting.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. I agree about the benefits of protein, which I explained in a post from 2015:

      But I also believe jacking up your glucose beyond your body’s need for glucose sets in motion a whole slew of metabolic effects that encourage both overeating and fat storage. Once insulin resistance has kicked in — for whatever reason — restricting carbs leads to a metabolic state that’s more conducive to fat loss.

      As Chris Gardner’s recent work demonstrates (one of his fellow researchers spoke on the most recent low-carb cruise), some people do indeed lose more weight on a low-fat diet. So it’s not “low carb is best for everyone” by any means. But people with insulin resistance and people with a specific gene (she named the gene, but I don’t recall the name) find it much easier to burn body fat when carbs are restricted. She explained the biochemistry of why that’s the case.

      I view ketogenic diets as a tool in the toolbox, but not the right tool for everyone. Some people do amazingly well on ketogenic diets. We have a relative who’s a neurologist. He told me he’s seen ketogenic diets work wonders in his patients with brain damage, helping to restore some degree of brain function. To stay in that ketogenic state, they do indeed need to add extra fat to the diet — after all, energy has to come from somewhere.

      What I find amusing is that some of the people who think it’s nuts to add “nutrient devoid” fats to a diet think it’s fine and dandy to eat plenty of rice — which is nothing more than a nutrient-devoid source of energy.

      1. Robert

        Maybe it would be better to separate sick people from healthy, that could be two separate discussions. If we are talking about obesity, let’s talk about that. Calories is king, supported by satiety, food reward, etc. If we’re discussing diabetes, let’s talk about that, insulin then becomes a big factor.

        Weight-loss studies will usually select healthy obese people, since them being diabetic would be a confounding factor. Diabetes studies selects diabetics to study.

        You often use examples of people with some weird condition not responding as expected to the calorie counting. It’s a good argument to prove that calories aren’t everything, but it says nothing about “normal” people.

        Let’s say a personal trainer recommends doing squats for increased strength. But someone with a rare genetic muscle disorder starts to break down muscles doing this exercise, and loses muscle mass. Should we then conclude that the advice of the personal trainer is complete crap?

        In the same way, Jason Fung will argue that when you start injecting people with insulin they get fat, therefore only insulin causes obesity. No, in fact it says nothing about a normal person, which gets insulin in the natural way from his pancreas.

        “I injected morphine to feel good, it caused all kinds of health issues, therefore any activity that causes the body to release endorphins must be avoided at all costs, including sex and exercise” – same flawed logic.

        If someone is insulin resistant, persistent high insulin levels makes it difficult to access fat mass for energy, and he will be hungry a lot. Low carb (which lowers insulin) can then indeed be useful, lowering that insulin a bit, making it easier to go lower calorie. But far from every obese person is insulin resistant. Also, there are several other strategies to deal with insulin resistance.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Actually, the calorie-math equation rarely works in the linear way it’s promoted. Zoe Harcomb wrote a long post detailing how when she contacted several health agencies in the U.K. to ask for the scientific evidence that cutting 3500 calories per week reliably leads to a 1-pound-per-week weight loss (which those agencies claim in their official advice), nobody could provide it. Agencies referred back and forth to each other as sources. Someone finally sent a study in which people cut calories for several months, and they lost weight — but didn’t lose anything close to what Piggy Bank math predicts.

          People who don’t lose weight at all even when calories are cut drastically are of course unusual. But I bring them up because the CICO freaks insist their “just eat less” advice — and their assumption that all fat people are simply eating too much — has to be correct because of THE IMMUTABLE LAWS OF PHYSICS. Well, if we’re talking about THE IMMUTABLE LAWS OF PHYSICS, then they don’t apply to some people, but not to others. So the examples I cite demonstrate that the CICO freaks’ interpretation of THE IMMUTABLE LAWS OF PHYSICS is incorrect.

          And while failing to lose weight on 600 calories or becoming obese on 1500 calories may be extreme examples, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) there are people all along the spectrum from normal to extreme. I don’t think we can just divide people into two camps, one labeled “normal” and the other “unusual.”

  11. Barbara Smallwood

    Hiya – I’ve been eating Lchf for about 4 years I lost about 30kg in the first couple of years, but have since but a few kgs on. I’m very overweight and I’d say I need to lose another 50kg.
    I haven’t ‘cheated’ per day on the items I’ve eaten – but in the past 12 months my portion size has been out of control. I started again in earnest about a week ago. I have been having carb flu again. The problem is that I just don’t seem to get full. For instance, yesterdy I had half a cup of kefir, 2 tspn psyllium husk, 3 eggs with 30g cheese and tspn butter -microwaved and about 50g of Ardennes pate, 3 coffees with a total of 3 tspns cream and a tspn of butter. I also had a cup of bone broth (homemade). I ate slowly and also had a couple of pints of water. This was for my breakfast/lunch. about an hour later I was really, really hungry. I drank more water. I only became full when I had my dinner (7pm) of numerous veggies/salad and s steak. The total value of that meal was approx 1000 calories and My total calories for the day was about 2000 calories. I was 500 over for my ‘target amount’ of calories I’d eaten a ratio of 11:4:1 fat:protein:carb (~27g of carb). Nothing I ate was processed (apart from poss the pate??). None of it was junk food. WHY was I and why am I still hungry all the time??? (I generally also have apple cider vinegar in a pint of water every morning and I try to have lambs liver about once a week.)
    Ah – I’m also on a few prescribed drugs (levothyroxine, lamotrigine, sertraline, it D3, loratadine).
    My aim was to closely monitor my food (using a Carb counting app) for the first week or so, then, when I’d mastered portion size again I would go it alone.
    I’ve yoyo’d many times in the past too. I am sticking with this way of eating regardless, but I really don’t want to feel hungry.
    Please help

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I wish I could give you an answer, but there are simply too many possible causes. Drugs, disrupted gut microbiome, any number of underlying issues.

      1. Barbara Smallwood

        Thanks anyway –
        I’m pretty sure this was the reason my portion size increased in the first place. When I had a low fat diet it was the same.

    2. Bob Niland

      Barbara Smallwood wrote: «I’ve been eating Lchf for about 4 years…»

      What program?

      re: «…2 tspn psyllium husk…»

      What are you taking that for? It’s insoluble fiber (basically roughage). It has no value as prebiotic fiber for gut flora, and is an unwise bandaid long term to address, for example, constipation. (And I’m speaking as a former chronic user of it.)

      re: «I drank more water.»

      What water are you drinking and using in recipes? If municipal, is it treated with chloramine? (This is an emergent and highly persistent agent that’s an overt microbiome antagonist.)

      re: «…levothyroxine…»

      That’s T4 only, presumably for hypothyroid, and odds are it’s inappropriate for you. What are your readings for fT3, fT4, rT3, thyroid antibodies, and OK, sure, the pituitary marker: TSH?

      re: «…lamotrigine…»

      If that’s for seizure control, have you ever tried going full ketogenic, as verified by fingerstick meter?

      re: «…sertraline, … loratadine…»

      These are strong suspects for interfering with weight loss (and probably cannot be arbitrarily discontinued). I have an article summarizing the weight loss stall suspects for the program I contribute to, but you have other issues afoot where some further diet and lifestyle tweaks might both improve quality of life, and minimize meds.

      1. Barbara Smallwood

        Hiya – the psyllium husks were for constipation (self diagnosed/medicated) – I now don’t have it anymore, but am still having the husks (I’ll gladly stop).
        I was put on levothyroxine because I had a thyroid nodule removed along with half my thyroid – they found a micro carcinoma in the thyroid so are ‘suppressing’ the function of the other half to prevent any further cancer etc (?).
        The lamotrigine and sertraline are for bipolar disorder.
        The loratidine is for chronic allergies. (Since I stopped eating grains 4 years ago my asthma has vanished).
        Not sure at all what is in the tap water that I drink – I live in the UK. I’ll check it out.
        The lchf diet I followed has evolved over the years. I was first introduced to it via Fat-head, then the diet doctor, then Noakes/Proudfoot. I’ve just got the Real Meal Revolution 2 book which seemed to highlight were I’d been going wrong in the past couple of years. I’ve lost approx 7lb in the past 12 days (poss water). I’ve been having the kefir and vinegar for the gut biome (thought the husks would help that too – obviously I got that wrong 🙂 ).
        I’ll read your article – many thanks for taking the time to respond.

        1. Bob Niland

          Barbara Smallwood wrote: «…the psyllium husks were for constipation…»

          For people with intact intestinal tracts, any apparent need for laxatives or other motility enhancer/retarder agents indicates an underlying problem that needs to be corrected, and which these agents only mask. Diet and bacterial overgrowths are the usual suspects. Anyone still eating grains (esp. gluten-bearing grains, which you are not), is just asking for it.

          Here’s what I’ve been able to learn about prebiotic fiber.

          re: «I was put on levothyroxine because I had a thyroid nodule removed along with half my thyroid…»

          The consensus medical approach to thyroid amounts to malpractice. Hypothyroid is rampant due to multiple provocations (and the quacks usually won’t even ask your about your AM body temp, or iodine intake). Testing is usually limited to TSH (a pituitary test), and “normal” for that is not “healthy”. Only when it gets sky-high do they leap into action. What is usually needed is a preparation with T3+T4, but what you get is T4 only. I expect that many thyroid interventions (surgeries, rad) are actually unnecessary, but they result from consensus MDs having no clue how to assess and correct thyroid.

          You can’t at this point reverse the surgery, but you can inquire about T3. The response you get is apt to reveal more about the MD than about your case.

          re: «Chlorine and ammonia are out in the water supply in the uk…»

          So does that mean they are, or are not used? It’s a huge and under-appreciated problem here in the former colonies. It does not boil off like chlorine. You can’t make fermented food with chloramine water. Guess how gut flora do what you need them to do.

          re: «…how worried do I need to be about taking the d3 supplements that have soy oil in, or supplements that have sunflower oil in (co q 10)…»

          I would look (and have looked) for products that don’t rely on Omega 6 linoleic acid (more on that here).

            1. Bob Niland

              Barbara Smallwood wrote: «Chlorine and ammonia are PUT in our water supply, then react to form chloramine.»

              Thanks for that information, and the link to the government dissembling. I’m surprised they didn’t invoke the Official Secrets Act.

              My family is on well water, as I suspect Tom’s is. It’s a lot easier to dodge the chloramine bullet that way, but it still arises as an issue in beverages/recipes outside the home, and even in commercial ice.

              If I were on a toxinated municipal water supply, I would not consume it, without first running it through a filter that does a credible job of removing non-native halogens. People are even beginning to wonder about bathing in this antimicrobial fluid. For anyone using Mother Dirt products; do you even need to ask?

              re: «Living and eating appear to be an absolute minefield.»

              Over 98% of what passes for food-like substances in the modern market is unfit for routine human consumption, and most of it is endorsed by official/consensus diets. The consequences can be seen struggling to ambulate everywhere. It’s created a market for Tom and Chareva’s book.

              re: «…I only have tsh (0.71 miu/L) and T4 (18.8 pmol/L).»

              That TSH is actually in range for the program I work in, but it would need to be supported by in-range values for free T3, free T4, reverse T3, one or more thyroid antibodies, AM arising temp and some insight into iodine intake. That “T4” value is probably total T4, and not particularly useful.

              re: «…they told me that to prevent further cancer on my ‘active’ thyroid they are suppressing its function with the levothyroxine.»

              I’m not even sure that makes any sort of sense, medically. Normally, PTU is used to suppress {hyper}thyroid. In any case, I’m sure my approach to cancer prevention is not compatible with that of your national healthcare regimentation and rationing plan.

              Finally, we’ve been getting a bit afield of Tom’s topic here, and I want to avoid hijacking it.

              re: «Living and eating appear to be an absolute minefield.»

              They are, but battles can be prioritized, picked and won, where they provide outsized gains for the effort. If your local library has, or can get, Dr. Davis’ latest book, Undoctored, its entire purpose is to help you tiptoe through the food, supplement and medical mine fields. You can also engage on a couple of associated no-charge blogs, or the subscription site (which does have UK members).

            2. Barbara Smallwood

              Many thanks, I really do appreciate your help, the links you’ve sent and the work you are doing. I’ll certainly check the book out.
              I’ll look into water filters – I’d stopped using the ‘Britta’ type because I thought they gave out aluminium.
              Sorry for going off topic, but this has really helped. Cheers.

            3. Barbara Smallwood

              Thank you, thank you, thank you.
              In just a few days, since switching from psyllium husks to a couple of teaspoons of potato starch (in my kefir in the morning) I am now getting ‘sated’. Unbelievable.
              I couldn’t find ‘undoctored’ at our library, so bit the bullet and bought it. Excellent so far (3 chapters in).
              Like I said THANKYOU everyone.

            4. chris c

              Interesting – and probably variable depending on geography/geology, and over time.

              When I was young the water generally tasted good, except that it was often sweet especially first thing in the morning, probably a function of the lead water pipes, later replaced by copper.

              In later years, when I visited, and later still when I stayed there again, sometimes the water tasted like a swimming pool from the excessive chlorine content, and sometimes it was quite fetid, which my father was told (he knew someone who worked for the water company) was because it was pumped from sand, which contained iron, the quantity of which varied from time to time depending how long the water had been in the aquifer.

              In other parts of the country it was sometimes really clean, and varied from very soft to very hard, but never so chlorinated.

              Here it comes from chalk and is rather nice – but extremely hard. Elsewhere from various limestones it can contain higher levels of magnesium along with the calcium.

              The ammonia bit I’d never heard of before.

            5. Barbara Smallwood

              Water certainly contributes to the flavour of tea. And we are all real picky about our tea over here!!
              I’m not sure it is true, but I heard once that if water tastes sweet you could be dehydrated- might account for your taste of it in the morning. Of course, that could have been incorrect!!

          1. Barbara Smallwood

            As you said, I only have tsh (0.71 miu/L) and T4 (18.8 pmol/L).
            Like I said they told me that to prevent further cancer on my ‘active’ thyroid they are suppressing its function with the levothyroxine. Goodness knows how true this is (I’m on 150mg).

            The problem with me is that I had a great career (asst. prof at A&M) but broke down mentally and physically. I’m now back in the uk, unemployed through ill health. Loaded with tablets. And it is all a catch 22. Can’t afford monetarily and mainly, emotionally, to change EVERYTHING – trying to do baby steps, but still getting set backs. The one good thing is that if I’d been on a lfhc diet during the last 12 months (stress has increased exponentially through family I’ll health) I would have put on one heck of a lot more weight than a few kg.

    3. Pierre

      “30g cheese”

      If I were you I would try to cut all milk product except butter or ghee.

      Your problem might come from your leaky gut.

      Take a look at GAPS diet to reset your gut microbiome.

      1. Barbara Smallwood

        Yes – could well be the dairy. I’ve cut down loads and only have hard cheese now, unpasteurised, but I’ll poss have to cut it out. I’m going to throw in some potato starch and have the sauerkraut in a few days when it is fermented. I’ve stopped the husks already.
        From what has been said on here and from the links I’ve followed I’m convinced it is all down to my ‘leaky gut’. I thought I’d been sorting it over the years too!!
        Thanks all.

    4. Elenor

      Please go read around on Dr. Eades’ blog — he has discussed this several times. (I haven’t time to look it up for you but he has a search function — and his blog is brilliant, like Tom’s! {wink}) It sounds like you are UNDER-eating — not providing your body with enough food so it thinks it’s a famine and is acting very stingy! (Mark Sisson has discussed it some too in his blog.) And, without knowing how much exercise you’re doing, what stress you’re under, and so on, it’s hard to determine if you are actually starving your body. (Starving doesn’t help you lose weight faster; it STOPS you losing weight!)

      In “Protein Power Life Plan,” Mike has a (not terribly hard) mathematical equation for calculating — based on your (current) LEAN body mass (under all that fat {sympathetic G}) — how much food you should actually be taking in! If you’re UNDER-eating (and 2,000 kcals in a large body sounds like it may be way under to me!), then your body will NOT let you lose weight (and probably WILL make you crave food).

  12. Barbara Smallwood

    Sorry another quick question – how worried do I need to be about taking the d3 supplements that have soy oil in, or supplements that have sunflower oil in (co q 10).

    1. mabelle

      i had the same discovery of blackmores coq10 as well recently while i was researching on all brands of coq10 and fish oil, the source the ingredients etc.

      I avoid those. i emailed them asking about the soya oil in their coq10 and they said its in the casing of the capsule. I still feel iffy about it and so i opted for another brand. Same goes for Swisse brand fish oil containing soy oil

  13. Barbara Smallwood

    Just checked. Chlorine and ammonia are out in the water supply in the uk, they react to form the chloramines (just very quickly read this).

  14. Heather W

    Two of my friends and I were out to dinner the other night and discussing how doctors treat obese patients. My friend said something similar to what you said–she said if you told an alcoholic that all they had to do was limit themselves to 3 drinks per day, it would be a complete disaster. Yet, people who are attempting to diet are faced with this situation all day every day. And that’s the advice most obese people get–just have more self control and eat less every day. We all know this doesn’t work.

    My mom is one of those people who just can’t seem to lose weight even with severely restricted calories. She doesn’t do this on purpose–she just never has an appetite and eats like a bird. She does low-carb as well, yet she can’t seem to lose weight. She’s not severely overweight but isn’t thin either.

    It’s definitely a frustrating thing to deal with in today’s fat-shaming is still okay society.

  15. chris c

    The other day I saw a veritable man-mountain in the supermarket.

    There’s an old saying about a fat lady’s butt looking like two small boys fighting in a sack. This guy looked like two sumo wrestlers fighting in a tent, towed by a dustcart. Not only that but he was at least six foot six.

    Strangely unlike a lot of the fat people with a cart full of low fat!!! manufactured foodlike substances, what he had bought looked rather good – except for the sheer quantity. Well I don’t know how many people he was buying for, or how long the food was going to last him/them.

    To believe someone could get to that size just by eating too much and moving too little is frankly ludicrous – for starters he must use a huge amount of energy just moving his bulk around.

    It just HAS to be hormonal. Back when my mother was a teacher and fat kids were a rarity it was routinely blamed on “glands” – ie. endocrine. How much we have forgotten in the meantime.

  16. Another Mike

    I think another factor in this is leptin. Fat makes leptin and leptin is supposed to suppress appetite and boost metabolic rate. It’s part of the feedback loop that controls weight. Dr. Lustig points out that insulin resistance can cause us to gain weight to help control blood sugar, despite plentiful leptin. Insulin screws with leptin sensitivity. I suspect that may explain why some people have to count calories on low carb, and others just listen to their hunger.

  17. Sandi Percell

    Hi Tom!

    The work that Robert Lustig did that fascinates me the most is at 33:50 in this video

    The slender 13-year old had her hypothalamus nicked in a car accident, and her weight instantly exploded. Her hypothalamus could no longer see her body’s leptin, thought she was starving, and changed her metabolism to become ultra-efficient. Octreotide injections were able to interrupt the cascade of “you’re starving” biochemical signals, and she rapidly lost all of the weight. Octreotide injections had the same effect on the obese woman’s (at 35:00) “you’re starving” biochemical signals produced by her leptin-resistant hypothalamus as well.

    Dr. Lustig feels that insulin causes leptin resistance (although in the case of the boy with the tumor-damaged hypothalamus, Dr. Lustig says it was the leptin resistance due to the tumor-damaged hypothalamus that turned on the vagal nerve (32:53) and caused the insulin resistance, so he seems to be contradicting himself?). Although I have read elsewhere that excessive sugar consumption and possibly even lectins (wheat, etc.) inflame the hypothalamus and lead to leptin resistance.

    But there is another thought – that the greater cause of leptin resistance in our modern world is blue-light toxicity through the eye and loss of circadian rhythm. Sugar consumption has been dramatically dropping in the US since 2000, and yet the prevalence of obesity is still rising…

    Also, cold thermogenesis can help to overcome leptin resistance even in low-light environments.

    Interesting reads along these lines:

    The retinohypothalamic tract connects the retina to the SCN and the leptin receptor in the hyothalamus.

    SCN =

    Becoming chronically leptin sensitive by cold, results in a higher caloric-burning capacity because you become able to increase mitochondria biogenesis dramatically. It also sensitizes the leptin receptor affinity to bind leptin tightly. This increased affinity allows for leptin to induce apoptosis of WAT while Irisin rises and endothelial NOS increase the formation of brown fat to burn more fat as free heat. This is an inducible program that is activated just from the chronic cold exposure and has ZERO to do with food or calories.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, Lustig understands that consuming more calories than you burn is a downstream effect of a hormonal imbalance.


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