Calorie-Count Menu Laws – A Load Of Bologna

In my last post, I mentioned that several states have recently enacted laws that will require restaurants to list the calorie counts of everything they sell – right on the menu, or on the menu board in the case of fast-food joints.  These laws are, of course, being promoted as a tool to help battle the obesity epidemic.

This menu is supposed to help cure obesity.

This menu is supposed to help cure obesity.

Confronting people with calorie counts isn’t going to make them lose weight, and I’ll explain why shortly.  But first, I want to talk about the politics behind these idiotic laws.  I usually save my political opinions for my other blog – I’m perfectly aware that people who share my beliefs about nutrition may be annoyed by my libertarian political beliefs – but I can’t help it in this case.  We are, after all, talking about politicians trying to legislate behavior.

So if political discussions aren’t your cup of tea, skip down to the END OF POLITICAL RANT and pick up the nutrition discussion from there.


As a libertarian, I believe government’s primary function – one of its few legitimate functions – is to prevent people from harming each other, whether by force or by fraud.  (This was also the clearly-stated belief of The Founders, by the way.)  But in the past century, this beautiful, freedom-promoting concept has become so mangled, people now believe government’s job is to force other people to give them what they want.

If a restaurant doesn’t share nutrition information with you, you are not being harmed – you’re just not getting what you want.  If you believe you can’t make healthy choices without that information, you are free to take your business elsewhere.  The restaurants know this, so it’s in their interest to keep you happy. That’s why nutrition information is easily available online and in pamphlets – because enough customers demanded it, not because politicians did.

But most customers are not clamoring to have the calorie counts shoved in their faces when they visit McDonald’s … and that’s exactly the problem:  the nutrition nannies have realized that – gosh darn it! – many people don’t care about calorie counts and don’t bother to look at them, no matter how little effort it takes.  So now the politicians want to force you to view the calorie counts, whether you like it or not. 

In other words, while this battle is usually presented in the media as a case of the caring politicians cracking down on the evil, calorie-hiding restaurants, these laws are not actually aimed at the restaurants – they’re aimed at you.  They’re nothing more than an attempt to control your behavior.  The restaurants are simply the tool of control. 

Meanwhile, these laws force sit-down restaurants with large menus to conduct a lot of expensive lab tests on their food to determine all the calorie counts, which will drive up prices.  The end result:  you’ll pay more for your restaurant meals …  and fat people will still be just as fat, long after these laws take effect.  But gee whiz, the politicians will get to feel good about themselves, and that’s all that really matters.


These menu laws aren’t going to make us any thinner, because they’re based on a theory that simply isn’t true:  if you just cut back on calories, you’ll automatically lose weight.  With this theory embedded in their busy-body brains, here’s how the politicians and the nutrition-nannies believe those calorie-count menu boards will make us thinner:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “Oh my gosh!  I had no idea there were so many calories in this meal!  I’m going to order a Filet-O-Fish and a bottle of water.”
  • Fat Customer is satisfied with this low-calorie meal and, thanks to the menu board, begins eating low-calorie meals at restaurants from this point forward.
  • Fat Customer loses weight, as do millions of other fat customers.
  • The obesity epidemic is solved.  Rates of heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes plummet.  Medicare expenditures drop by 50 percent. 
  • Millions of formerly-obese citizens march on Washington to express their gratitude.  Hallelujah, hallelujah!  All praise the wise and wonderful politicians and Kelly Brownell and CSPI for saving us from our ignorance and gluttony!
Kelly Brownell, the obesity expert at Yale, who thinks these menus will make you eat less.  Please note hes obviously obese.  Why doesnt he simply eat less?
Kelly Brownell, the obesity expert at Yale, who thinks these menus will make you eat less. Please note he’s obviously obese. Why doesn’t he simply eat less?

The trouble with this happy scenario, of course, is that calorie-restricted diets have been a colossal failure.  They lead to long-term weight loss about 1 percent of the time, and many people actually end up fatter after trying them.  Here’s why:

Fat people don’t eat “too much” because they’re unaware of how many calories they’re consuming, nor because they’re gluttons.  They eat “too much” because if they don’t, their bodies run out of fuel and begin to starve at the cellular level.  In fact, from an energy-balance standpoint, they’re not eating too much at all – they’re eating exactly the right amount.

Most fat people are insulin-resistant, so their bodies have to produce a higher level of insulin to keep their blood sugar down.  Unfortunately, the elevated insulin also commands their bodies to store calories as fat, which means those calories are not available as fuel for the muscles and organs. 

As a result, fat people have to eat more to avoid running out of fuel.  If they simply eat less, their cells begin to starve.  The urge to eat eventually becomes overwhelming – that’s Mother Nature doing her job, protecting the organism.  If fat people ignore this powerful, primal urge, their bodies respond by slowing down their metabolisms, which means when they finally give in and eat more, their bodies will store even more fat than before.

Still with me?  Good.  Now let’s return to that calorie-count menu board and predict what will actually happen when we harass a fat person into eating less:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “Oh my gosh!  I had no idea there were so many calories in this meal!  I’m going to order a Filet-O-Fish and a bottle of water.”
  • Fat Customer eats the lower-calorie meal.
  • Fat Customer’s chronically elevated insulin causes his body to store a disproportionate share of the Filet-O-Fish calories as fat.
  • Fat Customer’s cells run low on fuel and send a telegram to his brain that reads:  “Dear Ass#%&*:  WHAT THE @#$% ARE YOU TRYING TO DO, KILL US?!!  WE’RE @#$%ING STARVING DOWN HERE!!  EAT SOMETHING, YOU DUMB @#$%!!”
  • Fat Customer stops at 7-11 on the way home for a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and a pint of Chunky Monkey, which he consumes in front of the TV within minutes after walking through the front door.
  • Feeling disgusted with himself and depressed, Fat Customer watches a re-run of Oprah and learns from Dr. Oz that he’s overeating because he has unresolved issues from childhood.
  • Fat Customer swears he will eat less tomorrow.  He does, and his cells soon run low on fuel.  They send another telegram to the brain, but Fat Customer grits his teeth and ignores the message. 
  • Fat Customer’s body protects itself from starvation by lowering his body temperature and slowing his metabolism.
  • Still hungry and still fat, Fat Customer yells at the kids and kicks the dog.

Here’s an even more likely scenario:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “I don’t give a @#$%.  I’m famished, and I want the Double Quarter Pounder value meal.”

So how can the restaurants help us lose weight?  They can’t, and it’s not their job anyway.  It’s ours.

Last week, my wife and I had dinner with Drs. Mike and Mary Dan Eades at a lovely restaurant high in the hills near our home.  We had crab-stuffed mushrooms for appetizers, salads, steaks or fish for our main courses, with steamed, buttered asparagus on the side.  (There may have been one or two adult beverages in there, too.)

We said no thanks when the dessert tray came around.  But I’m guessing if we’d loaded up on insulin-spiking bread or potatoes, those desserts would’ve looked pretty darned tempting.

It was a big, delicious meal.  So how many calories did I consume?  I have no idea; I didn’t ask, and the restaurant didn’t tell me.  I also don’t care.  Despite the high calorie count, this was not a fattening meal, because I didn’t consume any sugar or starch.  I kept my insulin down and therefore didn’t send my body into fat-storing mode.

That was my choice.  If everyone made the same choice, there would be far fewer obese people and far fewer health problems.  But you can’t legislate people into making those choices – and the politicians should stop wasting their time and our money by trying.

p.s. – You can look up nutrition information for hundreds of restaurants on this web site, which somebody took the time to create without any interference by politicians.

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

26 thoughts on “Calorie-Count Menu Laws – A Load Of Bologna

  1. Vin |

    Great post Tom! Quite humorous too!

    I agree that showing calorie counts is not the answer. Even if people did pay attention to them, it just encourages more of the calorie counting obsession that is driving some people to starve themselves.

    If the government was really concerned about preventing obesity and disease, they’d start severing the drug industry’s influence on medical schools and would start insisting that doctors learn the basics of healthy living and pass the knowledge on to their patients. But since the drug industry has influence on the government as well, we know this won’t happen anytime soon.

    Besides, with the amount of garbage that’s in fast food, the excessive calories are a small concern.

    Libertarian, eh? Are you a fan of Ayn Rand?

    The government is also heavily invested in selling grains, so I don’t expect them to support low-carb eating anytime soon.

    I liked Atlas Shrugged, but some of Rand’s positions are a bit extreme, even for me. I don’t think we can support necessary government functions (and there are some) solely with fees for enforcing contracts, and I don’t think the market alone provides sufficient punishment for businesses that knowingly commit fraud. I’m all for prosecuting fraud.

  2. Rob

    This post/rant is a thing of beauty. Well done.

    That’s why my wife is glad I started blogging. I mostly rant in print now.

  3. Jason Sandeman

    Excellent posts and points Tom. Political beliefs aside, agree it is not the government’s job to tell me what to eat, or what to say on my menu.

    Funny part is, I can easily give nutrition info, but a LOT of stuff is not accurate in the database mantained by the USFDA. (Whatever they are called these days.)

    I agree that carbs can be a killer. I have one question that has bothered me though…

    In Asia, you would be hard pressed to find a load of meat and fat like over here. The Asians eat a LOT of rice. Again, a LOT of rice. Basically, you would get a little strip of beef for the day, and be like, “Oh thank you!!!!”

    It is really only since the Asians hav e become westernized that they are now getting obese. They are now eating more corn syrup, empty carbs, etc than ever before.

    Now, the question: Would you say that the rice would be a “good” carb???

    Asians did eat rice, but they also didn’t eat very much in total. From what I’ve read, the typical day’s consumption for an Asian male was around 1600 calories before the invasion of Western foods. Some of that was protein and fat, or they would’ve died. (The Okinawans also cook with quite a bit of pork fat, from what I understand.)

    So if you run the numbers, they were consuming fewer carbs than we are now, even with the rice. The typical American now consumes around 400-500 carbs per day, which is 1600-2000 calories all by itself.

    It’s also likely that since rice is an ancient food in that part of the world — way older than grains are in our part of the world — we’re talking about people who’ve had time to adapt. The more recently a particular population started eating grains, the more problematic they seem to be. The Plains Indians didn’t eat grains until we forced them to just a few generations ago. The results have, of course, been disastrous.

    If I had to eat rice or wheat, I’d choose rice. Wheat is much more likely to cause leaky gut problems and the resulting autoimmune diseases.

  4. Josh Goguen

    This is only the first step. I mean, it’s good, but it relies on the customer to do math, which as we all know, only stupid people eat fast food. What if some poor fatso is forced by the advertising to tack on an apple pie or McFlurry to his combo?

    Are they supposed to actually add that calorie count up in their head? These people are going to be humiliated by their inability to calculate and will just order the fattening foods while acting like they know what they’re doing to avoid embarrassment.

    What we need is for the cashier to announce just how many calories are in that meal before actually finishing the transaction.

    “Will that be all?”
    “That will come to 1880 calories. Do you wish to continue?”

    Then, after that’s in place, we’ll have daily caloric debit cards that will allot you say 1800 calories per day. The fast food meals will be deducted from your totals and if your debit card is empty for the day, you’re being saved the excess. If you really want something else, just burn a few hundred calories on the treadmill which can also be equipped with a card swiper that will add credits to your card.

    Then the world will be perfect with the coupling of a nanny state and technology. Heck, we might get it in place cheap too. Maybe $700 billion or so.

    Whoa, careful, Josh … you’ll give Kelly Brownell and CSPI ideas for their next legislative agenda.

    And don’t forget, the $700 billion could simply be labeled as a stimulus package.

  5. Nick

    Hi Tom,

    I picked up your movie on Amazon and got a real kick out of it! My favorite line was when your wife deadpaned, ‘are you a moron’? Totally killed me. Got a few friends who think I am off the deep end (low carb, no grains) to watch it.

    I live in Dr. Eades favorite state, California. I get to watch big budget anti-smoking commercials paid for by the state taxpayers, funded by a proposition (99) that won’t go away.

    Can’t say I am a liberterian, but have to say Ann Rand’s books opened my eyes years ago. I could give a flip about calorie counts, except it is a total waste of our money, and, of course, raises costs for the business owner and thus prices. Damn, I guess I do give a flip.

    Rant on.

    Glad you enjoyed the film. My wife didn’t much care for that scene — she’s not the type to call me a moron, ever — but she finally came around when she heard the big laughs during some showings. (I’m a standup comedian, she gets the biggest laugh in the film … howdaya like that?)

    I also live in Dr. Eades’ favorite state, but not for long. We’ve pretty much had it with California. Too bad; it was no doubt an awesome place before the politicians spent it into bankruptcy.

  6. TonyNZ

    Jason – The Kendrick and Taubes articles (2nd and third recommended readings down the LHS of this site) offer interesting alternate explanations when it comes to the Mediterranean/Asian diet conundrums.

    I think there are a number of factors to consider:

    Many of the Asians are less sedentary. The rise in obesity could also be attributed to the rise in computer or automobile use.

    The segments of society that are less well off would tend to bulk up their meals with rice, the same people that work jobs that woiuld let them burn off the carbs through the day. More affluent people would have more veges, meat, coconut cream etc. In my experience, good oriental food has seldom more than half rice.

    I’m not a super low-carber, and my views are that constant carb snacking + sugary drinks have the biggest effect on insulin resistance, not meal hits. Soda also flourished with fatty diets at around the same time in Asia.

    I could go on, but good rice (Jasmine/Sasmati) is lower GI and more proven in the diet than most carbs, so I think its one of the better things to have if you have carbs (I have rice once or twice a week.)

    Like Nick, I wouldn’t identify myself as a libertarian (personally I think politics is too multidimensional to have “categories” that remain meaningful) though many of the features of libertarianism I find are the best ways of doing things. I havn’t seen Tom make any political statements I disagree with (and if he did it wouldn’t stop me coming here).

    “We’ve pretty much had it with California. Too bad; it was no doubt an awesome place before the politicians spent it into bankruptcy.”

    You could say the economy got ‘Terminated’. You can use that in your stand-up, though I don’t know why you would want to be booed of stage, so you probably won’t.

    I’ve never been booed off the stage, but I have performed for what appeared to be mummified humans before.

  7. Cynthia

    Don’t think I can agree with you on this one (and I’ve been known to have libertarian leanings). I don’t think restricting knowledge is the answer. Some people, maybe many, will ignore this information, but maybe others will find it helpful. Even Dr. Eades agrees that too much calories is not a good thing, no matter what form it’s in. It’s precisely when you feel you’re starving that you need that bit of reality check. Of course, what I’d prefer would be carb, fructose and vegetable oil/omega-6 fats amounts of the foods on the menu.

    That said, did you see the lame response of George Bray to Eric Westman’s letter in the NEJM? I think you might have fun with this (remember they measured weight loss on 4 diets that turned out to be almost identical in composition, and concluded that a low carb [43%!] diet wasn’t any more effective than a low fat diet, and all that is important is calories.) Bray said they designed the study that way because they didn’t think people could actually eat low carb long term.

    That is a lame response … we didn’t test a very low-carb diet because people wouldn’t stick to it anyway? Most people fail to quit smoking the first time they try as well; I guess there’s no point testing the health benefits of quitting.

  8. Dave

    Anecdotally, the development of obesity and metabolic syndrome in a culture seems to closely follow introduction of wheat. Wheat and refined sugar usually show up simultaneously, so there’s confounding. Wheat is higher in compounds called lectins than grains such as rice and corn, which are proteins that bind to specific sugar complexes, particularly those that make up hormone receptors. Lectins also have an annoying way of passing through the intestinal lumen intact and entering circulation (most proteins are broken down into amino acids for digestion) which presents the possibility for considerable mischief.

    Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), for instance, binds to a wide variety of hormone receptors. It’s so good at this that scientists use it for studying said receptors in the test tube. Leptin and insulin receptors are included in this list. In the test tube, when insulin binds to an insulin receptor, the whole complex is swallowed up by the cell, amongst other things causing it to store a bit of fat. When WGA binds to an insulin receptor, it just sticks there, and the fat cell keeps storing more fat. Circumstantial, but food for thought.

    A recent study in China adds some fuel to this:

    One striking difference between the least and most obese quartiles is the replacement of rice with wheat. Oh, and the most obese quartile also had the greatest level of physical activity.

    One final tidbit: the Aztecs, who ate corn, definitely got fat:

    They had tooth decay and other diseases associated with consumption of a high-carb/low micronutrient diet. Yet they did not document diabetes, which was known in other wheat-based ancient cultures (e.g. Egypt and India). The distant descendants of the Aztecs, tradtional Tarahumara in Mexico, eat a relatively high-carb diet based on corn, squash, and beans, but have one of the lowest rates of Type II diabetes in the world. They’re not terribly healthy otherwise, but manage to avoid metabolic syndrome that otherwise ravages Mexico.

    There’s an unfortunate dearth of real science studying the metabolic effects of grains, and that’s not likely to change soon. But the circumstantial evidence should give pause for thought. And remember, whatever causes metabolic syndrome, once metabolism is broken it has lost the ability to effectively deal with large quantities of carbohydrate, regardless of the form.

    My favorite lunch now: 2 In & Out 3×3’s protein style (for those who don’t live in California, a 3×3 is three burger patties and three slices of cheese; protein style tells them to hold the bun). That’s in the ballpark of 1500 calories. Just lost 5 more pounds. What do you suppose the calorie nerds would have to say about that?

    Great info, Dave. And since I’ll only be in California a little while longer, I think I’ll go have one of those delicious protein-style 3x3s while I still can.

  9. Laurie

    ‘Fiaf ‘at “Hyperlipid” I challenge you to read this and not come away intrigued, disturbed or startled.
    FIAF = fasting induced adipose factor- (aka a starvation hormone). There are 5 posts with ‘Fiaf’ in the title (and the comments are cool too). The one about memes and Fiaf especially blew me away. I interperet his basic idea is that just as genes are biological entities, memes are cultural units. He links this all together to suggest how our current, unhealthy, meme “eat-low-fat” came to be and most importantly why it now persists so doggedly. I read these 5 posts like I was glued to looking at a train-wreck. Could not look away. One poster asked how the ADA and AHA, folks who put things like the Heart Healthy logo on Froot Loops and encourage diabetics to eat sugar, sleep at night. How does Kelly Brownell, the himself obese! obesity expert at Yale, sleep at night?
    To quote Regina Wilshire:

    “How this expert committee sleeps at night, I don’t know!”

    It’s obvious, by eating carbs at bed time…

    Very intriguing stuff. Here’s a link so others can read the articles.

  10. LPrice

    Ask the vast majority of people what a calorie is and they can’t tell you.

    They may have heard they are supposed to consume “x” amount of calories in a day but they really don’t have the faintest clue what that means.

    I do not know a single person who knows how a caloric total is calculated. These are people who are well-educated, read labels, are “concerned about their health” and “watch their weight”.

    Most people don’t have even a basic understanding of the micronutrient composition of the foods they eat. If I had a dime for everytime I hear, ” I didn’t know fruits and vegetables were carbs” . . .

    Even people who apparently care about how many calories they ingest don’t seem to have any context for the numbers anyway but hey, I am SURE this will make a huge difference in the lives of so many.

    Thanx for the rant Tom

    Unfortunately, there’s nothing easier than spending other people’s time, money and resources while pursuing a goal, so these goofs will stay at it forever. When this expensive new policy accomplishes diddly, it’s no skin off their noses — they made the restaurants bear the cost and inconvenience.

    If they had to pay for this nonsense themselves, they’d probably want to do something crazy like test to see if the theory actually works before imposing it.

  11. Dave Dixon

    Ironically, the goofs will wind up paying for this nonsense. Given the rate of obesity in Congress, I would guess they spend plenty of time hammering down restaurant junk food as well. Of course, they can just give themselves a raise, at our expense . . .

    I’m pretty sure from this point forward, they’ll roll all their raises into a “stimulus” package.

  12. Sherri

    I’ve always been confounded by how the calorie is supposed to have any relevance to the human body. It is a measure of how much energy is given off by BURNING the food. You more scientific types would say that differently but the gist of my point is that the human body does NOT burn food.

    I don’t deny that the energy value in the food has some relation to what our body does with the food (afterall, put someone on a VERY low calorie diet of any macro-nutrient composition and they will lose weight) but it is NOT the simplistic calories in, calories out. Our bodies are WAY more complicated than that.

    Our bodies are also different. And then there is the point Dave made about once the system is damaged by excess insulin, you probably can’t fix it.

    That’s why I get so annoyed with these youngish male fitness types who exist around the edges of the low carb community who insist in the end it is all about calories. And they always point to the few metabolic ward studies which were conducted on YOUNG NORMAL WEIGHT people. Exactly what has the to do with how food is handled by anyone else other than that category?

    Tom, I read a comment on another blog that was reviewing your film (unfortunately, I don’t remember the blog) by just one of these types. He was insisting that the reason you lost weight during your experiment was that your calorie count was low. But then he went on to say he had a problem with your numbers! Uhm, because you lost more weight than the simplistic calorie counting implied?

    Strange, isn’t it? People can accept that your gas mileage will vary depending on whether you’ve had a recent tune-up, the pressure in your tires, the speed at which you drive, the type of fuel you burn, etc. But with food, it’s supposed to be this rock-solid equation of 3500 calories = 1 lb. fat, so cut 500 calories from your diet and you’ll lose 1 lb. per week. Last time I checked, the human body was a bit more complex than an automobile powertrain.

    Your body can burn the fuel provided by food, but it can also build and repair tissue, make hormones, all kinds of other things. It’s not all turned into fuel by any means.

    I’ve had to chuckle at a couple of reviewers who pooh-poohed Fat Head by saying, in effect, “All the guy proved is that eating less and exercising will help you lose weight.” Of course, all Morgan Spurlock proved is that stuffing yourself with ungodly amounts of high-sugar, high-starch food will make you fat, but they treated him like some kind of revelation-giving genius. Go figure.

  13. Nate

    Tom, I thought of Fat Head last night (and laughed) as I watched a Domino’s ad for pastas that they bring to you in a breadbowl. Amazing. No calorie count in the ad, though (yet).

    Wheat served in a convenient wheat container. Any chance I could get that with a cream of wheat sauce on top? I’d like to perforate my intestinal wall before dessert.

  14. Eric

    Great post! As much as I do love seeing nutritional info at restaurants (BD’s Mongolian Grill is great about showing carbs & sugar in their sauces), I would never look to the government to force my preference on private business owners.

    Re: Ayn Rand. I believe Rand was clear that charging for contract enforcement was only one example of how a government could be funded voluntarily. From what I remember of the Virtue of Selfishness, she recognized it was a complicated problem that rational men could work together to solve without forced taxation.

    Also, she included fraud as a form of force that citizens should rightfully be protected against by the government. So knowingly committing fraud would be a jailable offense, not just subject to market forces.

    Been quite awhile since I read Virtue of Selfishness — must be 25 years now. (Hey, when did I get old?!) Thanks for the clarification.

    I take long walks at night, partly for the exercise and partly because I enjoy them, and I ended up listening to Atlas Shrugged last year during my walks, after downloading it from

    I think having nutrition information easily available is great, but like you, I don’t believe my preference justifies government force. When some restaurants started posting their information, I favored them with my business. So did a lot of other people, which is why it became a trend in the industry.

  15. TonyNZ

    LPrice, I have been asked what a calorie is before, my response? ‘4.18 kilojoules’. Yeah that confused them. Then again, I’ve done postgraduate chemical thermodynamics so I probably don’t fit with the majority.

    LPrice and Sherri: There has been some attempt to correct for the errors in using bomb calorimetry for nutritional advice, though until they can sequence someones genome and put it on a disk for them to analyse on a PC, these can never be 100% accurate.

    My approach to food choices? Make sure I get whole protein, avoid sugar and refined carbs and eat as many colours as possible (as colours correspond to metal species/vitamins etc. that we need. I tried gaining weight by stuffing myself with extra following these guidelines (3500 cal) and nothing happened until I started doing weights. According to calorie counters I should’ve gained 3 lbs per week. As it is now, I’ve only gained 8 lbs in 4 months following this diet.

    You sound like my son. He can’t gain weight even when he tries. His body refuses to store more than a minimal amount of fat. People think we look alike from about the neck up.

    What’s the career path for someone studying chemical thermodynamics?

  16. TonyNZ

    Oh and Dave, where did you get your information from? I tried to find out a bit more about the nutrient profile of rice etc. yesterday when Jason first posted, but all I could find was info like “Rice is a carbohydrate with a GI of 52. It is low in fat. You should eat lots of rice if you are trying to lose weight”. Well… no. Rice is not a carb, it is a high carb food. As for the rest, usual church for living a long life dogma.

    Anyway, your post was quite informative, do you have a source or are you just trained in that area?

    Dave has as PhD in physics and is interested in quite a few areas of science, including nutrition. (Sorry to answer for you, Dave; feel free to chime in.) Since you’re a science hound as well, I think you’ll enjoy his blog.

  17. TonyNZ

    It was part of my course, not all of it. Basically I did a year of half research/half studying specialist topics. Thermodynamics is pretty damn important for synthetic chemistry, as if the reaction is not thermodynamically favourable, then you’re going to have a hard time. I could get into a lot of specifics, but for supramolecular chemistry, there is a lot of thermodynamic vs. kinetic control aspects, so it becomes important. As for career choices… Well being an academic is one, but I’m not learning all the stuff that is on this site so I can become a nutritionist or a doctor either. I just like knowing things.

    It all breaks down to the same thing though. Enthalpic energy (heat, essentially) is given off when bonds form, taken from the environment when bonds are destroyed. There is less energy in the bonds of CO2 and H2O than in carbohydrate and O2, therefore energy is taken out of the molecule and put into the environment. When burned (as in a bomb calorimeter) this is given off as plain heat, which from the heat capacity of the system and temperature rise, you can calculate the energy in kilojoules (or calories if you hate the metric system).

    In the body, the energy is transferred by coupling to other reactions in most cases. This is very abbreviated, and if there are any biochemists about, don’t get angry with the level of this.

    But lets say we have 5 kJ of carbohydrate that our body metabolises. This reaction can be coupled (with enzymes etc.) to a reaction that is thermodynamically unfavourable, such as ADP -> ATP (ATP is the basic ‘energy currency’ of the cell). Now lets say that of the 5kJ of energy liberated from the CHO, 4kJ goes into converting ADP to ATP, 0.8 kJ goes into other molecular byproducts and 0.2 kJ goes to heat. Now that ATP could be used for muscular contractions or other metabolic processes, all of which have differing energy demands and differing activity profiles depending on situations. And this isn’t taking into account that the human body just excretes what it doesn’t need.

    Basically, as Sherri put it, the human body does not “burn food”.

    Don’t tell Kelly Brownell and The Guy From CSPI that the body doesn’t just burn food; they could be come suicidal.

    On the other hand … naw, I can’t be that mean.

  18. Sue

    Regarding the “what about the Asians and all the rice they eat”.

    Dr Eades is in Hong Kong at the moment and had a post about the lack of rice at a Hong Kong restaurant:

    “Our host apologized because he said the restaurant wouldn’t be serving rice like we were used to in Chinese restaurants in the US. He said the notion that people ate a lot of rice over here is not true – at least not in Hong Kong and the parts of China to which he travels often. ”

    “We ate mountains of various kinds of meat and fish and ended up with a giant plate of Peking duck, which we were almost (but not quite) too full to eat. During this entire feast, the servers brought only one vegetable dish to the table. Sauteed, not steamed, broccoli. Delicious. Not a single grain of rice did we see. A few noodles, but not even many of them. And no bread.”

  19. KD

    Fat Customer’s cells run low on fuel and send a telegram to his brain that reads: “Dear Ass#%&*: WHAT THE @#$% ARE YOU TRYING TO DO, KILL US?!! WE’RE @#$%ING STARVING DOWN HERE!! EAT SOMETHING, YOU DUMB @#$%!!”

    This made me laugh so hard that my co-worker asked what was wrong with me. I will forever picture my cells yelling at my brain if I feel tempted for a high starch meal and I thank you for that.

    Regarding if anyone tells you to keep your political opinions to yourself, I once commented on Dr. Eades blog when people were telling him to stay away from discussing politics that I thought it was highly ironic low-carb followers were trying to suppress an unpopular opinion, because if low-carb bloggers/doctors did not talk about their unpopular opinions, we might not have any low-carb forums at all! Of course I might be biased because I agree with you 100%. The only thing that knowing the number of calories in the milkshakes I used to drink made me do was criticize myself for drinking it, not actually, you know, not drink it.

    I can also confirm what Sue mentions about Dr. Eades post; I returned from a trip to China not to long ago and if we were not at a touristy restaurant, my group would have to specifically request or order rice.

    I don’t think the calorie counts prevent anyone from pigging out, either. When I get in that “must have pizza and beer” mood, say two or three times per year, nothing is going to stop me.

    And as someone who failed on several diets, I know the self-criticism only makes things worse.

  20. Laurie

    Thermo and simple arithmetic. One calorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temp of 1 gram of water 1 degree C, absolute T. (specificically from 14.5 C to 15.5C). I teach thermo and other stuff to pre-med women at a college and I am on a rampage since reading Taubes and seeing FATHEAD. I am injecting some of these new-found gems into my lessons. Maybe someone will go on to be a Doc with a nutritional clue. I can dream.
    Now for the simple arithmetic. In a lab, in a bomb calorimeter, burned fat yields 9 cals/g and burned protein and carbs yield 4 cal/g. IF (big if) all ingested calories were converted to stored fat and if it was 100% conversion (just for simplicity sake) and you eat 10X the amount of grams of carbs as you eat of fat, then you can easily store 4X more calories as ‘carbs’. Ever overeat Krispy Kreme donuts? I can easily do that and I cannot overeat meat and greens. There was one section of Taubes where he describes an experiment where they tried to overfeed folks on fat and another group on carbs. The fat eaters COULD NOT consume more than 2000 cals/day as fat. They just couldn’t do it. The carb-eaters could pack away up to 10,000 cals/day and by the evening, they said THEY WERE STILL HUNGRY! That’s 5X the amount of calories easily consumed in a day on carbs. There are things so much more interesting going on in human physiology and dynamic thermo. than that a cal in = cal out.

    Mike Eades made that point in one of our interviews: Nobody ever binges on burgers or steak or eggs. He treated thousand of overweight patients in his practice, and when they confessed to binge eating, it was always a high-carb food — or a high-carb, high-fat food, the worst combination.

  21. Dave Dixon


    Stephan at the Whole Health Source blog has posted information on relative lectin contents of grains and other foods. I’ll try digging it up if I have time (5 straight hours of meetings today – bleah). I scrounged up info on WGA by googling. Have a link at home discussing test-tube experiments with WGA and fat cells, again will try to look up and post as time permits.


  22. Monica

    I demand to know the calorie counts of everything I buy at the farmer’s market before I buy it. After all, how am I supposed to know the difference between the calorie count of a tiny tomato vs. a huge tomato?


    I understand the concern. The difference could be as much as 20 calories, I’d think. If you’re not paying attention, those 20 calories could put an extra 10 pounds on you over the next five years, according to the calorie-control freaks.

  23. M Lewis

    Don’t worry about talking politics, Tom. As soon as we have Nationalized Health forced on us, everything you’ve written here and your great movie will be political. The calorie debit card will appeal to government people when forced weight loss becomes “necessary” to control costs.

    I’ve enjoyed watching your movie, and so did my kids, multiple times. Singing a little of the “Sugar” song has been very effective to remind them when they’re loading up on fattening stuff. They love the “Guy from CSPI” sections and want to know if we can get t-shirts. Have you looked into Merchandising?

    Years ago, another comedian and I produced a radio show titled “The Slagle-Naughton Report.” One of our continuing bits was about the Health Care Police, running around busting people for unhealthy habits. (One guy who got busted had sneaked some coconut oil into a movie theater to drizzle on his popcorn.) The announcer’s refrain: “Health-care criminals steal from all of us.”

    The trouble with using exaggeration to illustrate a point is that pretty soon the reality catches up and you’re not exaggerating anymore. In Washington, they are already talking about “harmonizing” medical care, which is a polite way of saying “Follow the guidelines we dictate to you, or lose your license.”

    I’ve been tellling my composer he needs to turn that “Sugar” diddy into a full song. It’s catchy.

    We’ve kicked around the idea of merchandising, but of course the focus for now is getting more of the media to notice the film. On the other hand, someone walking around with a Guy From CSPI t-shirt might just spark some interest.

  24. Walter Bushell

    “Kelly Brownell, the obesity expert at Yale, who thinks these menus will make you eat less. Please note he’s obviously obese. Why doesn’t he simply eat less?”

    What kind of question is *that*, rhetorical?

Comments are closed.