100-Calorie Nonsense

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The nutrition experts at MSN’s health & fitness channel offered up some advice recently on easy ways to cut 100 calories from your daily diet.  Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Ditch the Pop-Tart for a slice of high-fiber toast with strawberry jam.
  • Top your waffles with Reddi-wip instead of syrup.
  • Go ahead and have that piece of birthday cake –just scrape off the chocolate frosting first.
  • Pass on the à la mode and savor that brownie au naturel.
  • Can the cone. Have your ice cream in a bowl.
  • Slather your bread with mustard rather than mayo.
  • Two or more pizza slices? Blot off the grease with a napkin.
  • Swap low-fat cottage cheese for whole-milk ricotta when you make lasagna or stuffed shells.
  • Lay off the Lay’s Classic potato chips and have a handful of Rold Gold pretzels.

Hmmm … bread, waffles, ice cream, cake, brownies, pasta and pretzels.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, apparently it’s fine to eat a diet loaded with carbohydrates –as long as you cut 100 calories per day, preferably in the form of fat.  The theory, of course, is that if you just make this tiny sacrifice, you’ll shave 36,500 off your calorie intake for the year and lose a bit more than than 10 pounds.  All from just blotting the grease off your pizza!

Yeah, right.  Sure, it’s that easy.  That’s why there are so many people who are fatter than they want to be — because despite hating the way they look in the bathroom mirror, they’re just not willing to eat ice cream without the cone or skip the mayo when they eat a yummy white-bread sandwich.  They could eat all that sugar and starch and still lose weight if they’d just consume 100 fewer calories per day.

I hate to break it to you, but if all you do is eliminate the mayo from your sandwich for a year, you won’t lose 10 pounds. You won’t lose any pounds. You’ll just end up eating a lot of dry sandwiches — and if you’re insulin-resistant (like most fat people), you’ll also get an insulin spike from the white bread that will tell your body to store fat.

People who’ve been brainwashed in nutrition classes may believe in the 100-calories-per-day theory, but your body doesn’t.  It’ll simply adjust for the difference, probably by producing a teeny bit less heat while you’re sleeping.  

People on low-calorie diets often complain of being cold.  Ever wonder why?  It’s because that cranky old super who lives between their ears decided to turn down the thermostat until he gets his back-due mayonnaise.

I sometimes wonder if these “it’s all about the calories” theorists live in the real world — or even talk to real people.  Maybe they should do a little research on my son, who is naturally lean — complete with six-pack abs — and always gets exactly the same reading when he steps on a scale, year in and year out.  (He did not inherit this blessed trait from me.  I got fat as an adolescent.)

He consumes at least 3000 calories per day, which is more than 1.1 million calories per year. To gain just five pounds in a year, he’d only have to consume an extra 17,500 calories. That may sound like a lot, until you consider that it’s only 1.6 percent of 1.1 million.

So according to the “it’s all about the calories” theorists, my son manages to avoid gaining so much as five pounds by calculating his daily calorie needs and then eating exactly that amount – with better than 98.4 percent accuracy.

But since he never gains or loses more than two pounds, he’s even more precise than that!  Yup, my boy manages to eat exactly the right number of calories, year in and year out, with 99.4 percent accuracy.

Pretty darned good for a guy who’s never read a nutrition label.  He must be the Rain Man of dieting.  He looks at the meal spread out before him and says, in a nasal but charming monotone, “Seven hundred twenty five and one-half calories.  Gotta, gotta eat fast.  Judge Judy is on in three hundred and ten seconds.”

When my son was playing high-school basketball, his coach wanted him to gain weight so he’d have some extra heft to toss around under the basket.  He tried, but couldn’t.  Same thing happened when he was in basic training.

And as Gary Taubes recounts in his book Good Caloies, Bad Calories, the same thing happened to a group of naturally-lean prisoners who agreed to consume an extra 1000 calories per day for six months as part of a research project.  They gained a few pounds (which should’ve been 50 pounds, according to the “it’s all about the calories” goofs), then lost them as soon as the experiment was over.

If you really believe being thin is all about counting calories, do yourself a favor:  Find someone whose weight never fluctuates.  (My wife’s weight never fluctuates, but she’s busy trying to pack up our house, so find someone else.)  Pick out that guy at the office who always looks great with his shirt tucked in and won’t wear a jacket unless it’s really cold outside.  Then walk up to him and say, “Hey, Joe,” – if his name isn’t Joe, you should probably use another name – “if you don’t mind me asking, how many calories did you consume for lunch?”

If Joe is like most thin people, his answer will be, “I have no idea.”  That’s because Joe, like my wife and son, has a body that doesn’t want to store fat.  He doesn’t count calories … because for him, they don’t count.

If you enjoy my posts, please consider a small donation to the Fat Head Kids GoFundMe campaign.

26 thoughts on “100-Calorie Nonsense

  1. Pingback: 100-Calorie Nonsense | Low Calories

  2. Jade

    All of my immediate family’s like that, and it gets me so frustrated. I mean, there are so many cooler things that can occupy the brainspace required to compute my lunch calories (and now macronutrients too). Sigh sigh.

    Maybe it’s not all bad. If I couldn’t gain weight, lord knows what I’d be eating these days. As I’ve warned him, just because you’re thin, it doesn’t mean you can’t end up with diabetes or heart disease.

  3. Debbie

    LOL, your son sounds like my brother-in-law: 6’3″ and 160-something pounds, and just can’t put on weight no matter what be does. When he was in his 30s he was trying to bulk up, and wanted to get his weight into the 180s. In addition to his regular diet (which normally includes 3-4 sandwiches for lunch every day, for example) he was consuming a few thousand calories a day in protein shakes also. But still never gained an ounce. People told him, “you’ll be sorry some day when you are older and can’t eat the way you do now”. But he is now 53 and still as skinny as ever, with no effort on his part.

    Me? I’ve always been the proverbial sort who could “gain 5 pounds just walking past a bakery”. Even now, after 13 weeks of being *very* strict low carb and watching every bite I eat I’m only down 14 pounds (which is a mere drop in the bucket, alas)

    I remember skinny guys in high school who used to live on french fries, ice cream bars, and sodas. Meanwhile I had a fat friend who was limiting himself to 1600 calories per day and losing a little, but not much. His sister was on the same diet and not losing at all. I knew even then there was more to this than simple calorie-counting.

    Fourteen pounds is nothing to sneeze at, by the way.

  4. Dave

    My son subscribes to the opposite strategy when he goes to birthday parties: He scrapes off the cake and eats a bit of the frosting. The parents are usually aghast: “You don’t want more cake? Really? Have some more cake! Everybody likes cake.”

    You’ve raised him right. My girls ask us pretty-please if they can have the extra fat from our steaks. You should see the looks if we have company.

  5. OhYeahBabe

    Never liked frosting, except grandma’s butter cream… I always liked the cake part best. Better yet, pass me some good quality cheese and I won’t get all cranky on ya from a sugar crash.

    Great post!

  6. Mark

    Wonderful post, Tom.

    On a side note – I finally got around to seeing Supersize Me. I can now fully appreciate why you decided to make Fathead. Thanks – it’s perfect respoinse to a movie that really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    I need to go watch Fathead again – clean out my arteries from the Supersize’d viewing I had.

    I give Spurlock credit for making an amusing film, but there was just too much nonsense to take it seriously.

  7. Dave Dixon

    Both of my kids are the same way with bacon. They pretty much stick to the “white part”. I need to find a source of righteously fat bacon. The usual store-bought has too much “red stuff” for their satisfaction.

    Anybody who tries to get the extra fat from my steak is likely to lose a finger 🙂

    I try not to go after her fingers, but she has learned to ask first before taking my steak fat. She’s also learned she can’t just open the fridge, grab the butter, and bite off the end. I don’t mind her eating the stuff, but I don’t like seeing teeth marks on the stick.

  8. Annie

    Hi Tom. Loving your blog and this one makes so much sense.
    Thought you might like to know that Fat Head is showing on pay tv documentary channel here in New Zealand this weekend! Can’t wait to see it.

    I’d heard the film was going show in New Zealand. Let me know how it goes over, if you hear any reaction in the press or otherwise.

  9. Keith Norris

    If you happen to live in the south, “fat back” is the way to go. It’s great to cook with as well.

    The notion that a living organism operates as a closed, simple engine — which is what the calorie-counters have to believe in order for their “reasoning” to make any sense at all — is so totally flawed as to be laughable. I always tell people that if you must simplify the body’s regulatory actions vis-a-vis nutrient intake in order for it to begin to make sense to you, use the analogy of a capacitor. That will at least get you in the right metaphorical ball park.

    BTW, I love the Rainman inference. Classic.

    I guess we like simple explanations. Too bad they don’t actually explain the results.

  10. KiwiVicky

    Saw a screening of “Fat Head” on our documentary channel tonight. Don’t know if this is the first time it has screened in New Zealand or not, but presume it was. Fantastic stuff. Well done you. Thought provoking too. Cool!

  11. KiwiVicky

    Also, I was interested in the part, right at the end about the extra month you did and how it lowered your cholesterol etc. Do you have more detail on this site somewhere about what you ate, why, how you felt etc? Thanks!

    I didn’t keep a food log for that month. (My fast-food log is available in the links section.) In retrospect, it would’ve been a good idea. I ate what would be considered an Atkins or Protein Power induction diet: my carbs were limited to a bit of low-sugar fruit or green vegetables. I probably consumed no more than 20 carbs per day. Lots of meat, cheese, cream and butter, but no “Frankenstein fats,” such as soybean oil.

    I felt good, my cholesterol dropped, and I even lost a couple of pounds, despite all the food.

  12. Jacinta

    A really interesting post! I’m from New Zealand and just caught the end of Fat Head as I was heading to bed. I was intrigued enough to do some searching online for more information behind it… and here I am.

    I’ve always believed the “it’s about calories in versus calories out” mantra. And it’s made me miserable. I just could not understand why I was not losing weight when I was eating far less than the recommended daily amount. I am so incredibly glad that I decided to switch on the TV before heading upstairs… it’s long past time that I was reaquainted with cake and toast with actual, real butter on it!

    I’d just like to let you know how much I enjoyed the little that I did see of your movie. I will certainly be purchasing a copy so that I can see the bit that I missed. It’s a great thing that you’ve done in spreading the message to stop fighting food every minute of every day. There is no point in struggling against how our body is naturally meant to be. And I’d like to thank you for allowing me to realise that.

    We’ve all tried the “calories in, calories out” theory, but few people have any long-term success with it. You just can’t fight your body like that. It’s not natural to put your body into what it considers a period of famine.

    I hope the film will be available on DVD in New Zealand soon. Perhaps it’ll show again on TV soon. Glad you enjoyed what you saw.

  13. Dan Rosencrance

    I saw a couple of the “Fathead” trailer clips on You Tube and purchased “Fathead” from Amazon. We just finished viewing it. Well done!! Now we have to take “Fathead” around to all of our kids who’ve bought the “low fat” BS.

    We were Atkins fans years ago and took off 55 (me) and 40 (wife) lbs. Unfortunately prostate cancer distracted us and for the last few years I’ve not been as disciplined as I should be so put some of that poundage back on. However the only failure is to quit and that’s not an option. “Fathead” was just the motivator that we needed to return to a more disciplined food regimen.


    If this film motivates you to get back to a diet you already know works, then I’ve done my job. Hope you can get the kids to see the light.

  14. kathryn

    Hi Tom Watched your doco last night on TV here in New Zealand. What an eye opener! Having recently been told I have high colesterol am now wondering if I should just carry on as normal with my regular sat fat diet. Sure the doctor will say otherwise!
    Find it amusing how once your American doctors/researchers come up with a theory it seems to be immediately adopted around the world because Americans can never be wrong!
    Anyway really enjoyed it way more than that “other” movie about mcdonalds.

    I’m not supposed to give medical advice, but I can tell you a friend of mine dramatically reduced his so-called bad cholesterol by cutting all sugar and starch from his diet.

    Yes, the doctors here have a hard time admitting their pet theory is wrong. It’s always been wrong, but too many people have built careers on it.

    Glad you enjoyed the film.

  15. Anna

    Caught Fathead on TV in New Zealand last night as well, really fascinating and thought provoking.
    My partner and I tried Atkins a few years ago and both lost several kilos each which was great. Fell off the low carb wagon due to finding it hard to fit low carb food into our lifestyle. I only get a short amount of time at work to grab and eat lunch so usually go for a sandwich or toast as it is quick and easy. Also being really into sport we are told that we “need” to eat carbs. How does a low carb diet fit into an athletic lifestyle? After seeing your film we both really want to get back into it.

    Keep up the good work, hope more people get to see your film!


    From what I’ve read, your body will adjust to a low-carb diet, even if you’re very active, but it can take a month or so. We were meant to be fat burners, but if you’ve conditioned your body to burn primarily glucose, you will need to swtich it back to fat-burning. I lift weights and take long hikes without eating carbs to speak of.

    Considering that early humans used to chase down big game without the benefit of carbs in their diets, I doubt we need them to be fit and strong. Jimmy Moore has interviewed some very athletic people who don’t eat carbs. You can find his site listed in our links section. It’s titled Livin’ La Vida Low Carb. It’s a treasure trove of good information.

  16. Paul


    First off – I really enjoyed the film. Thanks for making it!

    I’m adding you to my list of must-read bloggers right alongside Dr. Eades, Dr. William Davis, and Jimmy Moore.

    I can relate to your butter anecdote. My Mom tells me I used to eat sticks of butter like they were candy bars. I should have known then I was detined for low-carb!


    I’m honored to be on a must-read list with people like Mike Eades and Jimmy Moore. They’re both great bloggers.

  17. Rob

    Like a few other Kiwis here, I saw the film yesterday on the doco channel. A very thought-provoking film which opened my eyes. The one thing I really liked was the explanation (and graphics) of how insulin works. It makes a lot of sense now. As a big guy who could afford to shed quite a few kilos, it has given me an idea of where I should start cutting back.

    BTW, have you come across any food apps which cater to a low-carb style diet? After watching the film, my wife downloaded a diet tracker for the Mac and when I put 250g of bacon into it, a big red alert came up saying that bacon is verboten because the government says so.

    And there is no way I’m giving up bacon. 🙂

    I’m not aware of any low-carb software applications, but I haven’t looked.

    My composer and my sound mixer both lost 20 pounds after watching the film and cutting back on the carbs. Can’t hurt to try, no matter what the government says.

    Give up bacon? Never!

  18. TMouse

    Hi, another ‘Kiwi’ here. Loved your film, loved it loved it loved it!

    From February to December last year I followed a low carb eating plan and lost 50kg (well over 100 pounds). One sister lost 40kg, another lost 20-something kg. In my case my fasting glucose also dropped from ‘pre-diabetic’ to ‘normal’.

    Everything you said matched my own experience of the past year. Oh, and I also exercised a lot during that time with som pretty intence weight training with no problems whatsoever. In fact it’s only been the last few weeks since I have ‘relaxed’ and allowed more carbs back into my diet that I have struggled with lightheadedness and my body not being able to work as it should during a workout – I guess there’s a lesson there! So I’m back to my low carb plan as of this morning. And even better, husband and daughter are keen to cut their carbs this time too 🙂

    All the best

    Glad you liked the film, and congratulations on the impressive weight loss. If you get a chance to see “My Big Fat Diet,” about the native Canadians who lost weight and improved their health after giving up sugar and starch and returning to their native diet — which is full of fatty meat — it’s pretty instructive. One poor woman had tried Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, etc., and barely lost any weight, despite being hungry all the time. She swears she wasn’t cheating. Then she cut the carbs and lost 60 pounds.

  19. Sue

    Hi there Tom,just to let you know my partner and i watched your doco here in NZ sunday morning
    I am a type 1 diabetic (48yrs)-blah blah …high carb ect diet
    Well it has only been 34 hrs into low carb and my BS are stable to the point I suspended my pump at 3.00pm this afternoon as my BS is a NORMAL 6 !!! My insulin needs have halved!!! I AM NOT HUNGRY OR TIRED !!!
    we are celebrating…lol……
    thank you from the bottom of my heart
    Got to buy the books!!!!!…LOL

    kindest regards

    I’m delighted to hear about your results. Dr. Jay Wortman developed type II diabetes in his 40s, cut his carbs down to nearly zero, and was able to give up all the medications. We have a link to his blog in our Links section.

    Check the Recommended Reading section if you haven’t already. We list some excellent books there. I chose to turn this topic into a film, but I love books, and a film can only cover a fraction of what a book can.

  20. Sue

    ohh oh yeah also forgot to say although i was eating low fat-high carb and very restricted caloric-i was still putting on weight over the last 10 years-i guess due to the carb/ insulin ……..problems… i am not worried about my weight /although i was beginning to wonder where it would end in another 10 years if it didnt stop increasing-How the heck was i going to cut more calories from a supposedly healthy diet….lol….grrrrr

    Yup, that is (unfortunately) a common result of those low-fat, high-carb diets. You get insulin spikes, the insulin tells your body to store more fat, and you gain weight, or fail to lose weight despite the restricted calories. I’m amazed that the Diabetes groups still diabetics to eat food that metabolizes into sugar.

  21. TonyNZ

    Another Kiwi convert here.

    I loved your documentary, it was the best thing I’ve watched in ages. Will definitely be recommending it to everyone I can. From a person with a postgraduate chemistry degree, the science aspect was great and very well presented from someone that (I presume) is a relative scientific layperson.

    As one of the University orientation events in my first (Freshman) year we were subjected to watch Supersize Me, which I was very critical of at the time (and even more so now). I think half the reason that people grasped so hungrily (pardon the pun) at Supersize Me was that many people hate (for better or worse) big chain corporations, therefore it gave them vindication.

    I am 179cm and 63kg (roughly 5″10 and 130-140lbs). I live on a diet heavy in cheese, meat, eggs, butter, milk, oils etc and have done for some time, as well as being reasonably active. I have had annual blood and fitness tests as I believe “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Always had perfect cholesterol and blood sugars so never felt compelled to change. Maybe there’s something more to it than good genetics…

    Keep up the good work.

    Lovin’ hearing from all these “kiwi converts”! Yes, they also show Super Size Me in high school health classes in the U.S., which just galls me. You’d think at least one teacher would question the math. But I think you’re spot-on; people love having their hatred of large corporations validated.

    I am a scientific layperson. But I’m also a software programmer, so at least the math in a scientific paper doesn’t scare me off.

  22. Holly


    It’s pricey but try guanciale. It’s extremely fatty, indulgent and I bet your kids would love it.

  23. Bubba

    Uh, no, if you stop eating, you will lose weight, although that is not a recommended strategy.

    Anorexics often start out at a normal weight and then lose weight as they take in fewer calories. What wouldn’t that same phenomenon apply to fat people?

    If you don’t like eating sandwiches without mayo, then stop eating so many sandwiches. That would be a start. You might try getting some actual exercise while you are at it.

    And no, most normal people don’t count calories, but maybe YOU should.

    It would be nice if losing weight were that simple. But mountains of research say it ain’t so. In their own scientific journals, obesity researchers admit that the calories-in/calories-out equation simply doesn’t hold true for most fat people. Calorie-restricted diets have about 1% success rate over time. If the insulin imbalance that drove fat accumulation in the first place isn’t addressed, the body will simply adjust to the lower food intake and continue to fight to maintain the fat stores.

  24. Bubba

    Don’t just leave the mayo off the sandwiches, cut back on the sandwiches. And get some exercise.

    Your problem is that you save 100 calories by leaving off the mayo, but then make up for it by eating more of something else. If you don’t count calories, how will you know?

    So what YOU need to do is figure out exactly how many calories you are actually eating, and come up with an honest estimate of how many you actually burn. Then make a cut in your consumption, while getting some more exercise. You might find that 100 calories less per day really is enough, but you must be honest with yourself about your caloric intake.

    That most normal people don’t have to count calories to maintain a healthy weight is irrelevant to what YOU have to do.

    Normal-weight people will lose weight if they eat less. It happens all of the time. Why wouldn’t that apply to fat people?

    If insulin-resistant people (most obese folks are insulin-resistant) don’t bring down their insulin levels, they literally can’t burn their body fat for fuel — high insulin blocks the fatty acids from exiting their fat cells. So if they simply eat less, their bodies experience a fuel shortage and react by slowing down their metabolisms. That’s the last thing a fat person needs. Without addressing the insulin problem, pretty much any diet they try will fail.

    Normal-weight people usually are NOT insulin-resistant (thus the normal weight), so yes, if they eat less, they lose a little weight. Then they assume if eating less works for them, it should work for their fat friends. But it simply isn’t true.

  25. Nathan

    I loved the movie. It made things make more sense to me – how skinny people never seem to put on weight, why I seem to put on weight despite dieting.

    I was just wondering, what about the sodium content of your foods. I know fast food has a LOT of sodium. I would’ve thought sodium would have effects on your blood pressure.

    Or is this more bologna?

    Sodium only seems to raise blood pressure in people whose kidneys are damaged, something like 1/5 of all people with high blood pressure. For the majority of us, it’s not an issue. In clinical studies, cutting sodium intake drastically has reduced blood pressure by just two or three points — hypertensive people with kidney damage being the exception.

  26. C

    I always thought that was complete bogus. Not even just because of metabolism or what kind of calories it is. Let’s say that totally randomly, a person burns like 2,400 a day. Now let’s say he’s an overweight person eating like 3,500 calories. That’s 1,100 more than he needs. If he cuts out 100 calories, he’s still going to gain weight. It’ll just be he gains 10 less pounds in a year.

    And that’s assuming it’s all about the calories. If he eats too much sugar, he probably won’t gain any slower.

    It’s like in that commercial for Splenda. They use the 100 calorie example, because Splenda is 0 calories. First of all, it’s assuming you’re eating 100 calories of straight, granulated sugar in the first place. Second of all, what I’ve always found funny, is that they say “…which can HELP you lose UP TO ten pounds in a year”, a.k.a. you can lose ten pounds in a year but there’s a very slight chance.


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