Fat Accounts And The Laws of FiscalDynamics

It still amazes me … Gary Taubes wrote an entire chapter in Good Calories, Bad Calories titled Energy Conservation, which explains how the laws of thermodynamics apply (because they do) to his hypothesis that elevated insulin makes us fatter. In Why We Get Fat And What to Do About It, he explained the concepts again in two short chapters titled Thermodynamics for Dummies. It’s all right there. And yet a reviewer of Why We Get Fat offered up this criticism:

There is no question that the science of nutrition needs critical review, but Taubes is just wrong. Calories-in-calories-out is the law of thermodynamics.

Anxious to share similar insights, a reader once left me this encouraging comment:

You should take your own medicine and stop posting until relatively basic concepts like thermodynamics cease to elude you.

I do, in fact, understand the “relatively basic concepts” the reader insists are eluding me. He was referring to the First Law of Thermodynamics, which Wikipedia summarizes as:

The law expresses that energy can be transformed, i.e. changed from one form to another, but cannot be created nor destroyed.

Since energy cannot be created or destroyed and we store energy as fat, the “it’s all about counting calories” crowd believes the amount of weight we gain or lose is a function of calories-in vs. calories-out. Guess what? They’re correct. I’ve never disputed that, and neither has Gary Taubes. What Taubes does dispute is that “calories-in vs. calories-out” means gaining and losing weight works like a simple bank account.

With a bank account, deposits and withdrawals are independent variables … that is, they both affect the account balance, but have no effect on each other. If I deposit $100, my account grows by $100, period. If I withdraw $25, my account shrinks by $25, period. Depositing $200 and then withdrawing $100 has exactly the same effect on my balance as depositing $100.

It’s because of the bank-account mentality that the calorie-counting crowd offers up useless advice such as, “If you just cut 100 calories per day from your diet, you’ll lose 10 pounds per year!”

What Taubes has tried to explain is that the bank-account analogy doesn’t work because in human biology, calories-in and calories-out are dependent variables — that is, when we change one of them, our bodies make compensating adjustments that affect the other. He’s also tried to explain that hormones — chronically elevated insulin in particular — can cause our bodies to store more calories as fat, which in turns affects our appetites (calories in), metabolisms (calories out) and activity levels (calories out).

Nothing he wrote in either book disputes or ignores the laws of thermodynamics. To illustrate, let’s expand on the simple bank-account idea and create a fictional banking scenario where things are a little more complex.

My arrangement with the fictional bank works like this:

1. I’m expected to make daily deposits.
2. The bank pays all my bills electronically, including a large, daily heating bill.
3. If my account runs low, the bank will call and ask me to make bigger deposits for awhile, and I’m expected to comply.

I like this arrangement. I deposit some cash and checks every day but don’t track the exact amounts, because the bank is handling my bills and I don’t like paperwork. I’m dimly aware that my average balance is somewhere around $2,000 and that’s fine by me.

In the real world, of course, we love big bank accounts. So to make our fictional banking world serve as an analogy for weight loss, let’s suppose FDR is serving his 20th term as president and just passed a new stimulus bill declaring that anyone who maintains a bank account of more than $2000 for six consecutive months is hoarding “undistributed profits,” and will face federal prosecution. So I actually open my next bank statement instead of shredding it, and — yikes! — my balance is $2234.

Unsure how to deal with this problem, I visit a financial consultant who explains that there’s a fundamental, unbreakable, empirically proven law of banking known as The First Law of FiscalDynamics. Here it is:

Money can be transformed, but cannot be created or destroyed.

(Of course, the Federal Reserve creates new money out of thin air all the time, but just go with me on this.)

The consultant explains that when The First Law of FiscalDynamics is applied to a savings account, it works like this:

The balance of a savings account is always determined by the dollars in minus the dollars out.

Therefore, if my account is growing, the root of the problem is that I’m making too many large deposits. The consultant estimates that the bills the bank is paying on my behalf add up to $200 per day. So if I just rigorously count my deposits and limit them to $180 per day, my account will drop below $2000 within one month. If I want to shrink the account even faster, he explains, I can sign up for aerobics classes and the bank will pay for them out of my account.

I follow his advice, but when I open my statement a month later, I discover that my balance is $2158. Frustrated, I reduce my deposits to $170 per day, but a month later my balance has shrunk to just $2122.

Worse, a bank manager named Marta keeps calling to say I don’t have enough liquid funds to pay my bills, and I’d better start making larger deposits again. Mystified, but unable to resist Marta’s request, I increase my deposits to $175, only to discover a month later that my account has grown to $2285. Something is clearly wrong here. I’m following the expert’s advice, but it’s failing.

So I do something nobody outside the banking industry has ever done before: I dig out the DISCLOSURE OF TERMS document I was required to sign when I opened my account, and I actually read it. I also read books on banking practices. I interview people who work at the bank.

After completing my research, I write a document titled Good Dollars, Bad Dollars in which I propose an alternative explanation for what’s causing my savings account to become bloated and why the financial consultant’s advice failed. It’s complicated, but here is the basic scenario:

The bank, as it turns out, is not a passive organization that simply takes deposits and then pays my bills. In fact, the bank is quite interested in having me maintain my savings account at the level it prefers. This is largely because the bank manager, Marta Bolism, has been around long enough to remember some serious bank failures and is therefore obsessed with cash flow. However, she’s also aware of the undistributed-profits law and knows my account shouldn’t grow too large.

For most of her long career, Marta has handled my account quite well. If my balance dips, Marta worries that I may eventually run short of funds to pay the daily heating bill …  and as I discovered on page 87 of the DISCLOSURE OF TERMS document, she not only pays the bill, she can adjust my thermostat from her office. So if I forget to make a few deposits, she responds by turning down the thermostat to reduce my bill. She also calls and reminds me to make bigger deposits, and since I’m unable to resist her, I comply.

On the other hand, if I make occasional big deposits, she turns up the heat for a couple of days to generate a bigger bill. She also has the discretion (as I discovered on page 119 of the DISCLOSURE OF TERMS document) to divert a portion of my deposits into the bank’s Building And Repair Fund as a service fee. So when I make big deposits, Marta decides the bank should replace a few loose bricks and makes a contribution to the Building And Repair Fund on my behalf, thus keeping my account below $2000.

In other words, Marta exerts rather a lot of control over my account. My deposits and withdrawals don’t affect my balance independently, because Marta adjusts my withdrawals based on my deposits, and alters her requests for deposits based on my withdrawals. She does all this to keep my account high enough to pay the bills, but not so high that I risk the wrath of the feds.

Unfortunately, Marta’s previously-effective methods for maintaining my balance have been slowly undermined by changes in the deposits I’ve been making. I used to make most of my deposits in cash. Since cash is available as soon as it’s deposited, Marta was never concerned about my ability to pay my bills, even though my average deposits weren’t very large and my average balance was below $2000.

But nowadays, most of my deposits are out-of-state checks. At first glance, this doesn’t appear to be a problem — after all, a dollar is a dollar, as the financial expert informed me. But as it turns out, my deposits are processed by an elderly account manager named Ian Sulin, and being somewhat old-school, he treats cash and checks differently. When I deposit what Ian considers too many checks, he become suspicious and puts on a hold on a big portion of the funds.

The result is a small but consistent trend towards excess savings accumulation. After I deposit several checks, my account balance may be $2205, but Ian tells Marta the available balance is only $1100. So Marta grows worried and turns down my thermostat to conserve funds. Then she calls and tells me I’m low on available funds and should make larger daily deposits.

So I do … and then I’m surprised and frustrated when my next statement shows my account balance is at $2260. I decide to ignore Marta and reduce my deposits to $170. Unfortunately, those deposits are almost entirely in the form of checks, and Ian puts a hold on most of the funds. Marta panics at my low available balance and turns my heat down even more. She cancels my aerobics classes to avoid paying for them. She decides the bank can live with the cracked bricks and stops diverting any of my deposits to the Building And Repair Fund.

I finally lose my will to ignore her increasingly desperate calls for larger deposits and raise them to $185 per day, figuring that’s still below my daily expenses. Unfortunately, Marta has reduced my bills more than enough to make up the difference, and when I open my next statement, I see a balance of $2287.

After figuring out how this all works, I realize the only way to prevent Ian and Marta from pushing my account slowly higher is to switch back to making most of my deposits in cash. So I do. The funds in my account are readily available, so Marta stops calling and asking for bigger deposits. She turns up my thermostat. She withdraws funds to re-enroll me in exercise classes and diverts some of my deposits to the Building And Repair Fund. A few months later, I find that I’m happily making deposits whenever Marta asks for them, but my average daily balance is right around $1900.

Now … suppose I present this explanation to the financial expert who told me to simply make smaller deposits. He could disagree with the explanation. He could claim Marta Bolism doesn’t manage accounts in the manner I’ve described. He could deny that Ian Sulin puts a hold on checks. He could insist that people who end up with bloated savings accounts just don’t have the discipline to count and limit their deposits, and remind me that when people are put in prison for 10 years, they end up with no savings whatsoever.

That’s not the point. The point is that nothing in my hypothesis requires money to be magically created or destroyed. Nothing in my hypothesis disputes that the size of my savings account is determined by the dollars in minus the dollars out. So no matter what other criticisms the financial consultant may raise, he can’t simply dismiss my hypothesis by claiming it violates the First Law of FiscalDynamics.

Well … he could claim that, of course. He could roll his eyes, shake his head, and say, “Dollars-in-dollars-out is the Law of FiscalDynamics. You should stop commenting on financial matters until relatively basic concepts like FiscalDynamics cease to elude you.”

But if he did, I’d seriously doubt his intelligence.


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114 thoughts on “Fat Accounts And The Laws of FiscalDynamics

  1. Amy Dungan

    This is a fantastic explanation Tom. And I’m loving Marta Bolism! 🙂

    Marta’s my favorite gal … well, after my wife, my daughters, and several friends and relatives.

    Reply
  2. Ellen

    You know how you can turn off the TV if you don’t like the information being presented? I don’t get why Carbsane and others have to have “an accounting” from one guy who wrote a book on why we get fat, in which he gives his researched opinion. What, if he doesn’t “account” for what he wrote, will the world end? Will people die in the streets? If you don’t agree, fine, state your opinion in a blog, or a post or whatever. The demand for an “accounting” seems strange to me, given the subject matter is not revealing state secrets..

    I think debate over the hypothesis he proposed is useful. I just don’t get the criticism that he didn’t consider the laws of thermodynamics. He clearly did. If some people want to dispute his interpretation of how thermodynamics applies to diet and weight loss, well and good. But nothing in his hypothesis requires calories to just disappear.

    Reply
  3. James C

    Let me tell you about about a friend I had in High School Tom. I will call her Sherry(not her real name). She weighed around 450 pounds. Needless to say she was mercilessly teased and abused as a result and I felt badly for her. She was on a strict diet that required her to consume a minimum amount of calories. That’s right I said minimum not maximum. Her problem wasn’t overeating, it was that her body was so dang efficient in processing all she ate that she didn’t need much to stay running. In fact she tried more than once to starve herself out of desperation only to end up in the hospital nearly dying from it and failed to lose any weight. That miser Ian Sulin would treat everything as out of state checks. The consequence of this was that it didn’t take much extra intake for her to add to her already large girth. Her lunch consisted of a cheese sandwich and a single serving of yogurt. She didn’t eat breakfast and calorie-wise her dinner was about the same. Of course none of her peers would believe this as everyone knows you only get fat by eating a lot of food. Even the skinniest of persons would never be able to stay on that diet. Ironically, and much to Sherry’s chagrin, her sister was the exact opposite. She could eat whatever she wanted and wouldn’t gain weight if she tried. Sherry is of course an extreme example of the range of metabolism the human body can have sister included, but she proves your point it isn’t all about calories. How the body processes what we eat is the real issue not person’s character or self control.

    I had a friend in high school who came from a family of fat people. His older sister tried starving herself thin several times. It never worked. I felt so sorry for her.

    Reply
  4. Ellen

    You know how you can turn off the TV if you don’t like the information being presented? I don’t get why Carbsane and others have to have “an accounting” from one guy who wrote a book on why we get fat, in which he gives his researched opinion. What, if he doesn’t “account” for what he wrote, will the world end? Will people die in the streets? If you don’t agree, fine, state your opinion in a blog, or a post or whatever. The demand for an “accounting” seems strange to me, given the subject matter is not revealing state secrets..

    I think debate over the hypothesis he proposed is useful. I just don’t get the criticism that he didn’t consider the laws of thermodynamics. He clearly did. If some people want to dispute his interpretation of how thermodynamics applies to diet and weight loss, well and good. But nothing in his hypothesis requires calories to just disappear.

    Reply
  5. Jeanne

    Nicole,

    I saw that TV show. In it, the Woman doctor from AHA made a bizarre statement to the effect that, since people with epilepsy resorted to being on ketogenic diets, ketogenic diets had to be” dangerous”. I almost think she was implying that ketogenic diets would make us seizure prone, but she was so incoherent that you couldn’t tell what her point was. At that point, I gave up trying to make any sense of it. Gary looked gobsmacked.

    Reply
  6. Luke

    This may be WAY out there and I’ll blame it on sleep deprivation (teething 2 yr old), but I was wondering at zero-dark thirty this morning what the government and others who consult with the government have to gain by pushing the food guide pyramid and “cal in, cal out.” I answered myself (out loud since I couldn’t get an intelligent conversation from a fussy baby) that it must come down to money. It usually does. So here’s my thought process: the government and others convince the public of “cal in/cal out” and recommend a large percent of carbs per day and more people become obese. The government then has a large (pun intended) problem to point out (not that it isn’t obvious), and therefore has more credibility in stepping in to “do” something about it. Doctors and nutritionists who recommended to the government these guidelines also have something to gain…an endless supply of patients upon whom they can push various drugs and surgeries (whether for obesity or other diet related illnesses)…so of course big Pharma also has something to gain from the whole thing too, not to mention all the aspiring doctors and nutritionists who can conduct “research” on people who are overweight in order to obtain their degrees.

    Now, do I believe this is all a result of collusion? Maybe, maybe not. I generally try to avoid subscribing to conspiracy theories, even if I did come up with them, simply because I’m more interested in the truth. But to consider motive in anything the government has done (or will do) usually involves following the yellow brick road ($). Incidentally I’ve heard an analysis of the Wizard of Oz in which the yellow brick road is a metaphor for the old gold monetary standard which leads to the Emerald City (where the road stopped). The Emerald City is a sham and lacks any real substance (they all wear green tinted glasses, the Wizard is a charlatan, etc), hence, the analysis concludes this is a metaphor for the fiat paper dollar standard. But I digress.

    Anyway, my theory may be far out of the bounds of normal thinking (or logical thinking at this point), but my disclaimer is that I only had 4 hours of sleep (got up at 1am). Thankfully though, bacon, cheese, eggs, coffee, and coconut oil have kept me running so far. We’ll just have to see how the rest of the day goes.

    Thanks for all you do,

    Luke

    I remember those sleep-deprivation days, rocking my daughter at 3:00 a.m. and trying not to fall asleep before her.

    The food pyramid was of course designed to help the USDA sell more grains, which our government susidizes as well. Beyond that, I don’t believe in any grand conspiracies, mostly because I don’t think governments are competent enough to pull off grand conspiracies. There’s shady influence all over the place, but I don’t think it’s centrally organized or planned. I think it’s just the natural and predictable result of giving government too much power.

    The original ‘Wonderful World of Oz’ book was political. The yellow brick road was the gold standard, the silver slippers (changed to ruby in the film) were the silver standard, the scarecrow represented farmers, the tin man was the industrial worker, the lion was (perhaps) William Jennings Bryan. At least those are the common interpretations.

    Reply
  7. Christian

    “That blog is degenerating into a “I Hate Gary Taubes” site. I wouldn’t bother. Some of those people claim to have read his books, yet still insist he didn’t consider the laws of thermodynamics.”

    Well thanks for the advice. After spending a day there I came to the same conclusion. Despite her knowledge about biochemistry she cannot even tear apart first and second law of thermodynamics let alone the implications and limitions of those two laws. Pretty sad actually because I think she really is right about a lot of the Insulin stuff.

    She definitely has some good stuff there, and I don’t mean to be overly critical. But I still haven’t seen a clear explanation of how Gary’s hypothesis would violate the laws of thermodynamics, and I’m not sure why she believes it does. You can disagree with the hypothesis without claiming it would require calories to magically disappear — which it doesn’t.

    Reply
  8. Jeanne

    Nicole,

    I saw that TV show. In it, the Woman doctor from AHA made a bizarre statement to the effect that, since people with epilepsy resorted to being on ketogenic diets, ketogenic diets had to be” dangerous”. I almost think she was implying that ketogenic diets would make us seizure prone, but she was so incoherent that you couldn’t tell what her point was. At that point, I gave up trying to make any sense of it. Gary looked gobsmacked.

    Reply
  9. Luke

    This may be WAY out there and I’ll blame it on sleep deprivation (teething 2 yr old), but I was wondering at zero-dark thirty this morning what the government and others who consult with the government have to gain by pushing the food guide pyramid and “cal in, cal out.” I answered myself (out loud since I couldn’t get an intelligent conversation from a fussy baby) that it must come down to money. It usually does. So here’s my thought process: the government and others convince the public of “cal in/cal out” and recommend a large percent of carbs per day and more people become obese. The government then has a large (pun intended) problem to point out (not that it isn’t obvious), and therefore has more credibility in stepping in to “do” something about it. Doctors and nutritionists who recommended to the government these guidelines also have something to gain…an endless supply of patients upon whom they can push various drugs and surgeries (whether for obesity or other diet related illnesses)…so of course big Pharma also has something to gain from the whole thing too, not to mention all the aspiring doctors and nutritionists who can conduct “research” on people who are overweight in order to obtain their degrees.

    Now, do I believe this is all a result of collusion? Maybe, maybe not. I generally try to avoid subscribing to conspiracy theories, even if I did come up with them, simply because I’m more interested in the truth. But to consider motive in anything the government has done (or will do) usually involves following the yellow brick road ($). Incidentally I’ve heard an analysis of the Wizard of Oz in which the yellow brick road is a metaphor for the old gold monetary standard which leads to the Emerald City (where the road stopped). The Emerald City is a sham and lacks any real substance (they all wear green tinted glasses, the Wizard is a charlatan, etc), hence, the analysis concludes this is a metaphor for the fiat paper dollar standard. But I digress.

    Anyway, my theory may be far out of the bounds of normal thinking (or logical thinking at this point), but my disclaimer is that I only had 4 hours of sleep (got up at 1am). Thankfully though, bacon, cheese, eggs, coffee, and coconut oil have kept me running so far. We’ll just have to see how the rest of the day goes.

    Thanks for all you do,

    Luke

    I remember those sleep-deprivation days, rocking my daughter at 3:00 a.m. and trying not to fall asleep before her.

    The food pyramid was of course designed to help the USDA sell more grains, which our government susidizes as well. Beyond that, I don’t believe in any grand conspiracies, mostly because I don’t think governments are competent enough to pull off grand conspiracies. There’s shady influence all over the place, but I don’t think it’s centrally organized or planned. I think it’s just the natural and predictable result of giving government too much power.

    The original ‘Wonderful World of Oz’ book was political. The yellow brick road was the gold standard, the silver slippers (changed to ruby in the film) were the silver standard, the scarecrow represented farmers, the tin man was the industrial worker, the lion was (perhaps) William Jennings Bryan. At least those are the common interpretations.

    Reply
  10. Christian

    Oh I just saw she posted here. Well Tom, Gary is obviously wrong because his arguments are “unsubstantiated by the totality of the evidence”. Nice. It’s like on Lyle McDonald’s forum where somebody posted a link to Gary’s blog and Lyle responded something like: Taubes is wrong about EVERYTHING. Leave this shit off my forum. 😀

    Wrong about everything? So the Lipid Hypothesis is correct and people will automatically lose 10 pounds per year if they just remove 100 calories per day from their diets? Wow.

    Reply
  11. Tyson

    Thanks for your post Tom (as always). I’m just finishing the book now (Why We Get Fat) and really appreciated how Gary simplified everything. I admit I gave up on Good Calories, Bad Calories due to it’s dense nature.
    In reading about the first law, and thinking about both sides, I’ve come up with another idea that I haven’t heard anybody address. Perhaps in your width of knowledge and depth of research you have….
    What if, when we eat fat and protein but omit the carbs, once our bodies obtain a certain limit of calories from ingestion, they begin to simply IGNORE anything after that point (calorically, not necessarily from a nutrient standpoint)? So, if I require 2000 calories a day, and I consume 4000 in protein and fat, my body pulls out the 2000 that it needs and then simply passes on the remaining, available calories (letting them go through waste)? Or perhaps less than the 2000 and decides to obtain the rest from fat stores? This does not ignore the first law and makes sense to me.

    I don’t know if the body would simply turn food into waste, but if it did, that wouldn’t violate any laws of thermodynamics. We know untreated diabetics excrete sugar in the urine, which is energy leaving the system without being used.

    Reply
  12. Christian

    @ Tyson: If you require 2000 calories a day, but consume 4000 as protein and fat, you will store 2000 in your energy storage. Thats not the point. The point is that if you are obese and require exactly 2000 calories a day, and then go on a whole-food high protein high fat diet (no sugar, no sweets, etc.) and do the good old “eat when hungry, stop when full, repeat”-system chances are that your actual energy intake will be somewhere around 1900 calories whilst feeling full and happy. The remaining 100 calories being released from fat tissue.

    Reply
  13. Christian

    The “waste”-theory doesn’t even make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Say you lived a couple of years ago in the woods and starved for a week or so. Suddenly you kill a big fat mammoth and have abundant calories in form of fat and protein. I would be really pissed if my body would only utilise the maintenance-part of the calories and not fill up storages thereby letting the excess go to waste. Wow, would I be pissed.

    Pissed, and hungry soon thereafter.

    Reply
  14. Christian

    “That blog is degenerating into a “I Hate Gary Taubes” site. I wouldn’t bother. Some of those people claim to have read his books, yet still insist he didn’t consider the laws of thermodynamics.”

    Well thanks for the advice. After spending a day there I came to the same conclusion. Despite her knowledge about biochemistry she cannot even tear apart first and second law of thermodynamics let alone the implications and limitions of those two laws. Pretty sad actually because I think she really is right about a lot of the Insulin stuff.

    She definitely has some good stuff there, and I don’t mean to be overly critical. But I still haven’t seen a clear explanation of how Gary’s hypothesis would violate the laws of thermodynamics, and I’m not sure why she believes it does. You can disagree with the hypothesis without claiming it would require calories to magically disappear — which it doesn’t.

    Reply
  15. Garth

    As a physics and math junior I can say that thermodynamics, at least the way it was taught to me, is way above the layman. The whole conservation of energy thing is very, very little used, as opposed to say the equations governing entropy, enthalpy, and free energy. Yes, I just used big words to sound smart. The point I’m trying to make is that in a biological or chemical system, we certainly don’t use just conservation of energy.

    That’s the point Dr. Richard Feinman was making in a paper I read last week. We’re living systems in constant flux, so we should be looking at non-equilibrium thermodynamics. The equations he presented in the paper were WAAAY over my head, but I get the general idea.

    Reply
  16. Alex

    I’m both pro low-carb *and* pro calorie counting, because for me, they both work. Starch makes me ravenously hungry a few hours after I eat significant quantities of it, which is why I got fat eating a new-age hippy diet of “healthy” whole grains and beans. Cutting out almost all the starch and eating more fat and protein sated my appetite completely and made me spontaneously eat a lot fewer calories, and 30 pounds dropped off in 5 months.

    Then, after eating like a bodybuilder and trying to muscle up some, I ended up paunchier than I liked. So, I settled into an ad libitum, low-ish carb paleo diet and dropped 10 pounds. After a year, I decided that I wanted to lean out another ten pounds, and my first impulse was to go extremely low carb. Not only did I not lose any weight, the headaches were unbearable. I then kept a food log for a few days and found that my ad libitum diet was a couple hundred calories per day higher than it should be. For 10 weeks, I used fitday.com and ate ~500 fewer calories per day and dropped 13 pounds. In the process, I reset my eating habits for slightly lower caloric intake, and my weight has stabilized at this new level.

    There’s nothing magical about a low-carb macronutrient ratio that means you don’t have to consider caloric intake. Even Dr. Eades points out that as you lose weight with low carb, you need to periodically dial down the calories. That’s because as you lose weight, what had been caloric deficit for your old heavier weight eventually becomes maintenance calories for the now lower current weight. Which is not to say that different macronutrient ratios don’t affect the body differently. 2000 calories per day of *any* macronutrient ratio would have made me lose weight, but low-carb meant I could actually stick to the diet because I never experienced anything but the gentlest of hunger impulses. On high-carb, you’d have to lock me up to keep me from binging. Bottom line is that you won’t burn body fat if you’re feeding the body enough calories that it doesn’t have to.

    That’s right; in the Protein Power books, Drs. Eades & Eades explain that losing weight must involve a deficit. The trick is in how to do without causing the body to panic and either ramp up hunger or slow down the metabolism, or both. If your metabolism slows down, the deficit is no longer there, or isn’t nearly as large.

    Many people spontaneously eat less once they dump the sugar and starch, which means they’re not as hungry. To use my banking example, Ian is no longer putting a hold on the funds, so Marta is no longer calling for extra deposits. I can go for long periods now without eating, whereas in my high-carb/low-fat days, the hunger was too intense to ignore for long.

    Reply
  17. Galina L.

    To tell you the truth, I don’t know what to think about the Dr.Shai research, which generally said that Mediterranean and Low-carb diets are almost equally good then low-fat one, and Mediterranean was even better for women and diabetics. I have no reason to criticize Dr.Shai’s design of the research.

    On another hand, I am a female and before low-carbing I followed Dr.Weill nutritional advice (the same thing as MD) with a disastrous result. I would be too hungry on the MD in order to sustain from a weight gain, a weight loss would be out of question. I know it from my personal experience. After reading Dr.Bernstein’s book, I can’t imagine that the low-carbing is the inferior approach.

    What to think, if some research contradicts to your personal experience and you have no reason to believe it was wrongly designed? General knowledge is a good thing, but the main reason for me to follow research in the nutrition is to use the data when I make my personal decision about my way of eating. And I have no desire to try MD again.

    I found a lot of very good and interesting stuff on the Carbsane’s blog and I will continue to go there, even though not everything there reflects my experience or perception.

    I’m a big believer in listening to your own body. That’s why I eventually dumped my vegetarian diet, despite all the advice from so-called experts who claimed it would work wonders for my health. If the Mediterranean doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. If the Atkins diet doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. Listen to your body and find what works.

    Reply
  18. Christian

    Oh I just saw she posted here. Well Tom, Gary is obviously wrong because his arguments are “unsubstantiated by the totality of the evidence”. Nice. It’s like on Lyle McDonald’s forum where somebody posted a link to Gary’s blog and Lyle responded something like: Taubes is wrong about EVERYTHING. Leave this shit off my forum. 😀

    Wrong about everything? So the Lipid Hypothesis is correct and people will automatically lose 10 pounds per year if they just remove 100 calories per day from their diets? Wow.

    Reply
  19. Tyson

    Thanks for your post Tom (as always). I’m just finishing the book now (Why We Get Fat) and really appreciated how Gary simplified everything. I admit I gave up on Good Calories, Bad Calories due to it’s dense nature.
    In reading about the first law, and thinking about both sides, I’ve come up with another idea that I haven’t heard anybody address. Perhaps in your width of knowledge and depth of research you have….
    What if, when we eat fat and protein but omit the carbs, once our bodies obtain a certain limit of calories from ingestion, they begin to simply IGNORE anything after that point (calorically, not necessarily from a nutrient standpoint)? So, if I require 2000 calories a day, and I consume 4000 in protein and fat, my body pulls out the 2000 that it needs and then simply passes on the remaining, available calories (letting them go through waste)? Or perhaps less than the 2000 and decides to obtain the rest from fat stores? This does not ignore the first law and makes sense to me.

    I don’t know if the body would simply turn food into waste, but if it did, that wouldn’t violate any laws of thermodynamics. We know untreated diabetics excrete sugar in the urine, which is energy leaving the system without being used.

    Reply
  20. Christian

    @ Tyson: If you require 2000 calories a day, but consume 4000 as protein and fat, you will store 2000 in your energy storage. Thats not the point. The point is that if you are obese and require exactly 2000 calories a day, and then go on a whole-food high protein high fat diet (no sugar, no sweets, etc.) and do the good old “eat when hungry, stop when full, repeat”-system chances are that your actual energy intake will be somewhere around 1900 calories whilst feeling full and happy. The remaining 100 calories being released from fat tissue.

    Reply
  21. Christian

    The “waste”-theory doesn’t even make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Say you lived a couple of years ago in the woods and starved for a week or so. Suddenly you kill a big fat mammoth and have abundant calories in form of fat and protein. I would be really pissed if my body would only utilise the maintenance-part of the calories and not fill up storages thereby letting the excess go to waste. Wow, would I be pissed.

    Pissed, and hungry soon thereafter.

    Reply
  22. Richard Tamesis, M.D.

    I’m sure Newton must have also gotten his fair share of fools who simply couldn’t wrap their brains around the concept of a round Earth and gravity keeping us from falling off.

    Some of these arguments remind me of the post I wrote about what would happen if nutritionists became mechanics.

    “What seems to be the trouble?”
    “My car is burning a lot more gas than it used to.”
    “Well, there’s your problem. You’re putting too much gas in it.”

    Reply
  23. Garth

    As a physics and math junior I can say that thermodynamics, at least the way it was taught to me, is way above the layman. The whole conservation of energy thing is very, very little used, as opposed to say the equations governing entropy, enthalpy, and free energy. Yes, I just used big words to sound smart. The point I’m trying to make is that in a biological or chemical system, we certainly don’t use just conservation of energy.

    That’s the point Dr. Richard Feinman was making in a paper I read last week. We’re living systems in constant flux, so we should be looking at non-equilibrium thermodynamics. The equations he presented in the paper were WAAAY over my head, but I get the general idea.

    Reply
  24. Alex

    I’m both pro low-carb *and* pro calorie counting, because for me, they both work. Starch makes me ravenously hungry a few hours after I eat significant quantities of it, which is why I got fat eating a new-age hippy diet of “healthy” whole grains and beans. Cutting out almost all the starch and eating more fat and protein sated my appetite completely and made me spontaneously eat a lot fewer calories, and 30 pounds dropped off in 5 months.

    Then, after eating like a bodybuilder and trying to muscle up some, I ended up paunchier than I liked. So, I settled into an ad libitum, low-ish carb paleo diet and dropped 10 pounds. After a year, I decided that I wanted to lean out another ten pounds, and my first impulse was to go extremely low carb. Not only did I not lose any weight, the headaches were unbearable. I then kept a food log for a few days and found that my ad libitum diet was a couple hundred calories per day higher than it should be. For 10 weeks, I used fitday.com and ate ~500 fewer calories per day and dropped 13 pounds. In the process, I reset my eating habits for slightly lower caloric intake, and my weight has stabilized at this new level.

    There’s nothing magical about a low-carb macronutrient ratio that means you don’t have to consider caloric intake. Even Dr. Eades points out that as you lose weight with low carb, you need to periodically dial down the calories. That’s because as you lose weight, what had been caloric deficit for your old heavier weight eventually becomes maintenance calories for the now lower current weight. Which is not to say that different macronutrient ratios don’t affect the body differently. 2000 calories per day of *any* macronutrient ratio would have made me lose weight, but low-carb meant I could actually stick to the diet because I never experienced anything but the gentlest of hunger impulses. On high-carb, you’d have to lock me up to keep me from binging. Bottom line is that you won’t burn body fat if you’re feeding the body enough calories that it doesn’t have to.

    That’s right; in the Protein Power books, Drs. Eades & Eades explain that losing weight must involve a deficit. The trick is in how to do without causing the body to panic and either ramp up hunger or slow down the metabolism, or both. If your metabolism slows down, the deficit is no longer there, or isn’t nearly as large.

    Many people spontaneously eat less once they dump the sugar and starch, which means they’re not as hungry. To use my banking example, Ian is no longer putting a hold on the funds, so Marta is no longer calling for extra deposits. I can go for long periods now without eating, whereas in my high-carb/low-fat days, the hunger was too intense to ignore for long.

    Reply
  25. Galina L.

    To tell you the truth, I don’t know what to think about the Dr.Shai research, which generally said that Mediterranean and Low-carb diets are almost equally good then low-fat one, and Mediterranean was even better for women and diabetics. I have no reason to criticize Dr.Shai’s design of the research.

    On another hand, I am a female and before low-carbing I followed Dr.Weill nutritional advice (the same thing as MD) with a disastrous result. I would be too hungry on the MD in order to sustain from a weight gain, a weight loss would be out of question. I know it from my personal experience. After reading Dr.Bernstein’s book, I can’t imagine that the low-carbing is the inferior approach.

    What to think, if some research contradicts to your personal experience and you have no reason to believe it was wrongly designed? General knowledge is a good thing, but the main reason for me to follow research in the nutrition is to use the data when I make my personal decision about my way of eating. And I have no desire to try MD again.

    I found a lot of very good and interesting stuff on the Carbsane’s blog and I will continue to go there, even though not everything there reflects my experience or perception.

    I’m a big believer in listening to your own body. That’s why I eventually dumped my vegetarian diet, despite all the advice from so-called experts who claimed it would work wonders for my health. If the Mediterranean doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. If the Atkins diet doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. Listen to your body and find what works.

    Reply
  26. Marilyn

    In his blog, “The Inanity of Overeating,” Gary Taubes points out that a 40 pound weight gain over the course of 20 years works out to “overeating” by 20 calories per day.

    Based on that information, a calories-in-calories-out approach would require that a) we know precisely how many calories we’re going to need for a given day, and b) we can measure the calorie values of all our foods precisely, so that we don’t exceed our needs by even a fraction.

    As those of us who have tried to count calories have discovered, such precision would be impossible The food count books and computer programs and food labels often give widely differing calories for the same foods. One could be counting calories down to the last half teaspoon of olive oil, and still be off by more than 20 calories a day.

    Exactly. People who never gain weight — my wife and son, for example — are either eating precisely the right number of calories year in and year out, or their bodies are regulating their appetites and metabolisms to maintain a preferred level of fat. I think it’s obvious the latter is what’s happening.

    Reply
  27. Richard Tamesis, M.D.

    I’m sure Newton must have also gotten his fair share of fools who simply couldn’t wrap their brains around the concept of a round Earth and gravity keeping us from falling off.

    Some of these arguments remind me of the post I wrote about what would happen if nutritionists became mechanics.

    “What seems to be the trouble?”
    “My car is burning a lot more gas than it used to.”
    “Well, there’s your problem. You’re putting too much gas in it.”

    Reply
  28. Marilyn

    In his blog, “The Inanity of Overeating,” Gary Taubes points out that a 40 pound weight gain over the course of 20 years works out to “overeating” by 20 calories per day.

    Based on that information, a calories-in-calories-out approach would require that a) we know precisely how many calories we’re going to need for a given day, and b) we can measure the calorie values of all our foods precisely, so that we don’t exceed our needs by even a fraction.

    As those of us who have tried to count calories have discovered, such precision would be impossible The food count books and computer programs and food labels often give widely differing calories for the same foods. One could be counting calories down to the last half teaspoon of olive oil, and still be off by more than 20 calories a day.

    Exactly. People who never gain weight — my wife and son, for example — are either eating precisely the right number of calories year in and year out, or their bodies are regulating their appetites and metabolisms to maintain a preferred level of fat. I think it’s obvious the latter is what’s happening.

    Reply
  29. CarbSane

    Tom said: But I still haven’t seen a clear explanation of how Gary’s hypothesis would violate the laws of thermodynamics, and I’m not sure why she believes it does. You can disagree with the hypothesis without claiming it would require calories to magically disappear — which it doesn’t.

    I don’t think I’ve ever said that Tom. I’m saying his explanation that we somehow just have the direction of causality wrong is about the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. Your bank account got “fat” from the extra deposits, not because the bank posted excess funds available and you deposited them to make them accurate. His reverse causality theory says accumulation begins first followed by the caloric imbalance. That just can’t happen because you won’t net accumulate mass unless you take in more than you put out to begin with. There’s absolutely no evidence that fat cells go awry from postprandial insulin spikes. None.

    Taubes is very inconsistent, moreso of late, on the issue of thermodynamics because in his interview with you he flat out denies that the calories in nuts and cheeses might have anything to do with stalls/gains on a low carb diet. He called that nonsense, which sounds as if his Dr. Jekyll persona hasn’t consulted the Mr. Hyde persona on the topic of TFLOT.

    Re: Your gluttony experiment, either your diet is perfect for you to keep your NEAT high or raise it more (never have questioned that) or you have fat malabsorption issues. The other mechanisms have not been demonstrated despite Dr. Eades now citing such things as fact.

    Why does the low carb community keep trying so hard to undermine the lifestyle with pseudoscience and gimmickry?

    I believe you’re misinterpreting his reply to my question. He doesn’t deny that weight gain involves more calories coming in than being used. Neither do I. He said he wants people to stop looking at calories as the variable of interest, because he believes calorie intake is a function of hunger, which is a function of calories being stored instead of burned, which is a function of elevated insulin partitioning a bit more fuel to the fat cells, which means we need to solve the elevated insulin problem. Again, you can dispute his conclusions on effects of insulin, but he’s not saying calories magically disappear.

    My bank-account analogy wasn’t about the bank posting excess funds. It was about the bank notifying me that my available funds are low and requesting extra deposits … i.e., ramping up hunger. My balance could also become “fat” if Marta reduced my expenses by a small amount while I kept making the same daily deposits. That would of course mean my deposits are exceeding withdrawals — once again, I’ve never disputed that — but the root cause in that case isn’t me making larger deposits, because I didn’t make larger deposits. The root cause is the small reduction in withdrawals.

    Boy, I wish I had fat malabsorption issues! Could’ve saved me a lot of grief in my youth.

    Reply
  30. Lori

    Galina said, “What to think, if some research contradicts to your personal experience and you have no reason to believe it was wrongly designed? General knowledge is a good thing, but the main reason for me to follow research in the nutrition is to use the data when I make my personal decision about my way of eating.”

    Joe Cullen, my thermodynamics instructor, said, “Concepts are fine, but if you can’t get the right answer, you’re no use to anybody.” A lot of things that look good on paper don’t work in real life–or work only in specific situations.

    And thermodynamics being way above the layman? Oh yes.

    Reply
  31. Rocky

    Since beginning my crusade to be healthier some months ago I’ve been monitoring a variety of parameters, including weight and body fat. Not because I’m terribly concerned about weight or body fat; it’s just a way of making sure that as I trim down I’m not losing too much muscle mass. I can’t help but notice that after losing 30 lbs in six months, my weight and body fat percentage have now been stable for three months, to within 1/2 lb and 1%.

    The only food I limit is carbs: I’m careful not to exceed a specific amount of carbs in a given day so as to control my blood glucose. Other than that, I may have 80 g of protein one day and 160 the next. I may have 30 grams of fat one day and 80 the next. And yet my weight and body fat are rock solid (my weight now being what it was my freshman year in college).

    I find it overwhelmingly difficult to believe that I’ve somehow managed to perfectly balance my calories so precisely. Perhaps I’m a savant, like Rainman, and can count calories subconsciously just by looking at food.

    More amazingly, this precise, subconscious calorie counting I’m somehow magically able to perform just happens to coincide perfectly with my appetite because since giving up high carbs, I only eat when I’m hungry and I stop eating when I’m no longer hungry.

    I’ve not done a controlled study but I predict that most people who argue strongly in favor of calories in/calories out are those who are unsuccessful at weight loss and who are desperately clinging to a model that they believe will eventually serve them, if they only they continue to self-flagellate and suffer themselves sufficiently.

    If you can count calories that precisely without thinking about it, how about you and I visit a few casinos together?

    My wife’s weight is rock-solid year in and year out. Ask her how many calories she consumes in a day and she’d have no idea.

    Reply
  32. Judy B

    The last couple of posts were really good. Check out Spacedoc for a new post from a doctor who gave up his cardiac surgery practice so that he could finally speak the truth about statins and current cardiology practices….

    Reply
  33. CarbSane

    Tom said: Exactly. People who never gain weight — my wife and son, for example — are either eating precisely the right number of calories year in and year out, or their bodies are regulating their appetites and metabolisms to maintain a preferred level of fat. I think it’s obvious the latter is what’s happening

    So how did the proportion of humans with rogue metabolisms suddenly do an uptick in the 80’s but only in some populations? How come the carbs/insulin never sent the Kitavans, Japanese and the myriad other carb consuming cultures into fat accumulation mode? For that matter, why not more in my generation (mid 40’s) when my classmates had saltines, fruit roll ups and hostess cakes for snacks, and “bug juice” (aka KoolAid) and Tang didn’t get fatter too. Here is where Taubes’ theories fall down in the simplest way. They don’t meet his own basic standard of explaining the obesity epidemic.

    Avoid liquid calories. Eat less crap. Eat more nutritious foods. Eat less. LC fits that bill but its no panacea.

    The Kitavans and Japanese didn’t consume high levels of fructose and therefore didn’t become insulin resistant. The “some populations” with rogue metabolisms did. (Surely you’re not denying the rise in obesity parallels a rise in insulin resistance?) If you read Why We Get Fat — which you said you haven’t — you’ll see that Taubes includes more information on fructose than in GCBC and agrees that fructose may the prime mover behind the rise in insulin resistance and obesity.

    How exactly does the fact that not everyone in your generation became obese prove Taubes wrong? On what page in which book did he state that everyone who eats refined carbohydrates will become obese?

    Your generation of 40-somethings has a higher rate of obesity than previous generations of 40-somethings. If you consider the fact that not all of them became obese as proof that refined carbohydrates aren’t fattening, then I’ll apply your logic and state that it also proves extra calories aren’t fattening … after all, caloric intake has clearly gone up, but many people in their 40s aren’t any fatter, so that must disprove the calorie theory.

    As for avoiding crap and liquid calories and switching to real foods, we’re in total agreement.

    Reply
  34. CarbSane

    Tom said: But I still haven’t seen a clear explanation of how Gary’s hypothesis would violate the laws of thermodynamics, and I’m not sure why she believes it does. You can disagree with the hypothesis without claiming it would require calories to magically disappear — which it doesn’t.

    I don’t think I’ve ever said that Tom. I’m saying his explanation that we somehow just have the direction of causality wrong is about the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. Your bank account got “fat” from the extra deposits, not because the bank posted excess funds available and you deposited them to make them accurate. His reverse causality theory says accumulation begins first followed by the caloric imbalance. That just can’t happen because you won’t net accumulate mass unless you take in more than you put out to begin with. There’s absolutely no evidence that fat cells go awry from postprandial insulin spikes. None.

    Taubes is very inconsistent, moreso of late, on the issue of thermodynamics because in his interview with you he flat out denies that the calories in nuts and cheeses might have anything to do with stalls/gains on a low carb diet. He called that nonsense, which sounds as if his Dr. Jekyll persona hasn’t consulted the Mr. Hyde persona on the topic of TFLOT.

    Re: Your gluttony experiment, either your diet is perfect for you to keep your NEAT high or raise it more (never have questioned that) or you have fat malabsorption issues. The other mechanisms have not been demonstrated despite Dr. Eades now citing such things as fact.

    Why does the low carb community keep trying so hard to undermine the lifestyle with pseudoscience and gimmickry?

    I believe you’re misinterpreting his reply to my question. He doesn’t deny that weight gain involves more calories coming in than being used. Neither do I. He said he wants people to stop looking at calories as the variable of interest, because he believes calorie intake is a function of hunger, which is a function of calories being stored instead of burned, which is a function of elevated insulin partitioning a bit more fuel to the fat cells, which means we need to solve the elevated insulin problem. Again, you can dispute his conclusions on effects of insulin, but he’s not saying calories magically disappear.

    My bank-account analogy wasn’t about the bank posting excess funds. It was about the bank notifying me that my available funds are low and requesting extra deposits … i.e., ramping up hunger. My balance could also become “fat” if Marta reduced my expenses by a small amount while I kept making the same daily deposits. That would of course mean my deposits are exceeding withdrawals — once again, I’ve never disputed that — but the root cause in that case isn’t me making larger deposits, because I didn’t make larger deposits. The root cause is the small reduction in withdrawals.

    Boy, I wish I had fat malabsorption issues! Could’ve saved me a lot of grief in my youth.

    Reply
  35. Christian

    Direct Quote from Carbsanity:

    “5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior.

    Undoubtedly this is the single greatest point of contention. I, frankly, see this as total nonsense. For this to be the case insulin would have to posses magical physical law breaking properties in creating net mass. ”

    I repeat “magical physical law breaking properties”. By not understanding his theory, you accuse him that it breaks physical laws.

    “His reverse causality theory says accumulation begins first followed by the caloric imbalance. That just can’t happen because you won’t net accumulate mass unless you take in more than you put out to begin with.”

    Physics tells us that fat accumulation and caloric imbalance at the fat tissue are synonyms. His theory states that different metabolic-hormonal responses in the body (don’t say the I-word, don’t say the I-word, …) because of different composition and quality of the diet may lead to different partitioning of energy when isocaloric meals are consumed for instance. Say two identical twins eat two different, yet isocaloric meals both worth, say, 300 kcal. Lets assume over a 3 hour period the metabolic rate of those twins requires precisely 300 kcal. Twin 1 who eats a healthy diet partitions the energy perfectly, leaving the body with the same amount of fat and other energy stores at 3-hour baseline. The other twin however eats a bad diet: 50 kcal of his meal are partitioned into fat storage, the energy difference is replaced by, say, glycogen. So at 3-hour baseline, the second twin is both 50kcal “fatter” and slightly glycogen depleted. Somehow the body senses the caloric deficit. Twin number 2 eats an apple worth 50kcal. And boom – thats why we get fat ;).

    By the way you don’t need to cite any studies proving that the metabolic pathways I just invented are silly, wrong or whatever. I hope they are. I just want to demonstrate that despite the fact, that Twin number 2 overate – which of course he had to – the reason was not his incabability of matching E_in to E_out and it was not gluttony or sloth but the diet composition and ultimately its effect on the body.

    Reply
  36. Lori

    Galina said, “What to think, if some research contradicts to your personal experience and you have no reason to believe it was wrongly designed? General knowledge is a good thing, but the main reason for me to follow research in the nutrition is to use the data when I make my personal decision about my way of eating.”

    Joe Cullen, my thermodynamics instructor, said, “Concepts are fine, but if you can’t get the right answer, you’re no use to anybody.” A lot of things that look good on paper don’t work in real life–or work only in specific situations.

    And thermodynamics being way above the layman? Oh yes.

    Reply
  37. Christian

    @ Carbsane. It is amazing how you completely ignore the argument that Tom made which is in favor of Taubes’s hypothesis and just state stuff that supposedly refute it. I must say, you really seem to care about “the totality of the evidence”.

    Has it ever occured to you that in the end both hypthesis may be correct? That both are needed to explain all the observation?

    That’s what I’m trying (and failing) to get across. If my savings account grows, OF COURSE my deposits exceeded my withdrawals. That’s the how, not the why. The why could be that I simply decided I like making big deposits, or I was responding to demands for more deposits by the bank that resulted from funds being put on hold, or the bank reduced my expenses below my deposits. In all three scenarios, deposits exceeded withdrawals.

    Reply
  38. Rocky

    Since beginning my crusade to be healthier some months ago I’ve been monitoring a variety of parameters, including weight and body fat. Not because I’m terribly concerned about weight or body fat; it’s just a way of making sure that as I trim down I’m not losing too much muscle mass. I can’t help but notice that after losing 30 lbs in six months, my weight and body fat percentage have now been stable for three months, to within 1/2 lb and 1%.

    The only food I limit is carbs: I’m careful not to exceed a specific amount of carbs in a given day so as to control my blood glucose. Other than that, I may have 80 g of protein one day and 160 the next. I may have 30 grams of fat one day and 80 the next. And yet my weight and body fat are rock solid (my weight now being what it was my freshman year in college).

    I find it overwhelmingly difficult to believe that I’ve somehow managed to perfectly balance my calories so precisely. Perhaps I’m a savant, like Rainman, and can count calories subconsciously just by looking at food.

    More amazingly, this precise, subconscious calorie counting I’m somehow magically able to perform just happens to coincide perfectly with my appetite because since giving up high carbs, I only eat when I’m hungry and I stop eating when I’m no longer hungry.

    I’ve not done a controlled study but I predict that most people who argue strongly in favor of calories in/calories out are those who are unsuccessful at weight loss and who are desperately clinging to a model that they believe will eventually serve them, if they only they continue to self-flagellate and suffer themselves sufficiently.

    If you can count calories that precisely without thinking about it, how about you and I visit a few casinos together?

    My wife’s weight is rock-solid year in and year out. Ask her how many calories she consumes in a day and she’d have no idea.

    Reply
  39. Judy B

    The last couple of posts were really good. Check out Spacedoc for a new post from a doctor who gave up his cardiac surgery practice so that he could finally speak the truth about statins and current cardiology practices….

    Reply
  40. Amanda

    Why do SO many people feel that they know more about thermodynamics than a physicist?? (ie Gary Taubes)

    Beats me, although he would say he’s a journalist who’s studied physics extensively, not a physicist. The people who actually study physics and left comments here have pointed out that thermodynamics is over the layperson’s head, and I’m sure they’re right.

    Reply
  41. Katie @ Wellness Mama

    Brilliant analogy! It can be a frustrating topic to discuss, especially when the whole “you obviously just don’t understand thermodynamics” thing comes up. I have a relative that has swallowed the low fat thing hook, line and sinker and is also a tenured professor in physics, so of course, she knows better. I’m passing this along to her.

    The tenured professor may enjoy this article:

    http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/1/1/15

    Reply
  42. CarbSane

    Tom said: Exactly. People who never gain weight — my wife and son, for example — are either eating precisely the right number of calories year in and year out, or their bodies are regulating their appetites and metabolisms to maintain a preferred level of fat. I think it’s obvious the latter is what’s happening

    So how did the proportion of humans with rogue metabolisms suddenly do an uptick in the 80’s but only in some populations? How come the carbs/insulin never sent the Kitavans, Japanese and the myriad other carb consuming cultures into fat accumulation mode? For that matter, why not more in my generation (mid 40’s) when my classmates had saltines, fruit roll ups and hostess cakes for snacks, and “bug juice” (aka KoolAid) and Tang didn’t get fatter too. Here is where Taubes’ theories fall down in the simplest way. They don’t meet his own basic standard of explaining the obesity epidemic.

    Avoid liquid calories. Eat less crap. Eat more nutritious foods. Eat less. LC fits that bill but its no panacea.

    The Kitavans and Japanese didn’t consume high levels of fructose and therefore didn’t become insulin resistant. The “some populations” with rogue metabolisms did. (Surely you’re not denying the rise in obesity parallels a rise in insulin resistance?) If you read Why We Get Fat — which you said you haven’t — you’ll see that Taubes includes more information on fructose than in GCBC and agrees that fructose may the prime mover behind the rise in insulin resistance and obesity.

    How exactly does the fact that not everyone in your generation became obese prove Taubes wrong? On what page in which book did he state that everyone who eats refined carbohydrates will become obese?

    Your generation of 40-somethings has a higher rate of obesity than previous generations of 40-somethings. If you consider the fact that not all of them became obese as proof that refined carbohydrates aren’t fattening, then I’ll apply your logic and state that it also proves extra calories aren’t fattening … after all, caloric intake has clearly gone up, but many people in their 40s aren’t any fatter, so that must disprove the calorie theory.

    As for avoiding crap and liquid calories and switching to real foods, we’re in total agreement.

    Reply
  43. Christian

    Direct Quote from Carbsanity:

    “5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior.

    Undoubtedly this is the single greatest point of contention. I, frankly, see this as total nonsense. For this to be the case insulin would have to posses magical physical law breaking properties in creating net mass. ”

    I repeat “magical physical law breaking properties”. By not understanding his theory, you accuse him that it breaks physical laws.

    “His reverse causality theory says accumulation begins first followed by the caloric imbalance. That just can’t happen because you won’t net accumulate mass unless you take in more than you put out to begin with.”

    Physics tells us that fat accumulation and caloric imbalance at the fat tissue are synonyms. His theory states that different metabolic-hormonal responses in the body (don’t say the I-word, don’t say the I-word, …) because of different composition and quality of the diet may lead to different partitioning of energy when isocaloric meals are consumed for instance. Say two identical twins eat two different, yet isocaloric meals both worth, say, 300 kcal. Lets assume over a 3 hour period the metabolic rate of those twins requires precisely 300 kcal. Twin 1 who eats a healthy diet partitions the energy perfectly, leaving the body with the same amount of fat and other energy stores at 3-hour baseline. The other twin however eats a bad diet: 50 kcal of his meal are partitioned into fat storage, the energy difference is replaced by, say, glycogen. So at 3-hour baseline, the second twin is both 50kcal “fatter” and slightly glycogen depleted. Somehow the body senses the caloric deficit. Twin number 2 eats an apple worth 50kcal. And boom – thats why we get fat ;).

    By the way you don’t need to cite any studies proving that the metabolic pathways I just invented are silly, wrong or whatever. I hope they are. I just want to demonstrate that despite the fact, that Twin number 2 overate – which of course he had to – the reason was not his incabability of matching E_in to E_out and it was not gluttony or sloth but the diet composition and ultimately its effect on the body.

    Reply
  44. Christian

    @ Carbsane. It is amazing how you completely ignore the argument that Tom made which is in favor of Taubes’s hypothesis and just state stuff that supposedly refute it. I must say, you really seem to care about “the totality of the evidence”.

    Has it ever occured to you that in the end both hypthesis may be correct? That both are needed to explain all the observation?

    That’s what I’m trying (and failing) to get across. If my savings account grows, OF COURSE my deposits exceeded my withdrawals. That’s the how, not the why. The why could be that I simply decided I like making big deposits, or I was responding to demands for more deposits by the bank that resulted from funds being put on hold, or the bank reduced my expenses below my deposits. In all three scenarios, deposits exceeded withdrawals.

    Reply
  45. Lori

    Another favorite quote, this one from my calculus II instructor Monica Fleischauer: “Good mathematicians are basically lazy.” In other words, they don’t make extra work for themselves.

    Optimal diet is, to me, easier to understand when you look at how humans ate, and their overall health, for most of their existence. Someone with no background in the subject can read a book on paleolithic humans and their diet and understand it. If you don’t know what to make of the lipid hypothesis, you can have your lipids tested, go on a paleo or low-carb diet for a few months, and have them retested.

    My best suggestion, if you don’t feel good on a low-carb diet, is to try to troubleshoot it with the many resources on the internet and in books. If it works for you, there’s no need to know whether it’s the macronutrients, micronutrients, calories or hormones.

    But if thermodynamics sounds interesting to you, here’s the syllabus for Thermo I from my alma mater:

    http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/Engineering/Programs/Mechanical-Engineering/CoursesMaterials/CourseSyllabi/Documents/Fall%202010%20Syllabi/ENGR%203012-Cullen.pdf

    Prerequisites: Calculus I and Calculus-based Physics I. Note, however, that NONE of the course covers anything biological. I’m not saying the thermo doesn’t apply to the human body, only that this is an advanced application of the subject.

    I’d say that course is not for the faint of heart. Or brain.

    Reply
  46. Amanda

    Why do SO many people feel that they know more about thermodynamics than a physicist?? (ie Gary Taubes)

    Beats me, although he would say he’s a journalist who’s studied physics extensively, not a physicist. The people who actually study physics and left comments here have pointed out that thermodynamics is over the layperson’s head, and I’m sure they’re right.

    Reply
  47. Katie @ Wellness Mama

    Brilliant analogy! It can be a frustrating topic to discuss, especially when the whole “you obviously just don’t understand thermodynamics” thing comes up. I have a relative that has swallowed the low fat thing hook, line and sinker and is also a tenured professor in physics, so of course, she knows better. I’m passing this along to her.

    The tenured professor may enjoy this article:

    http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/1/1/15

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  48. Lori

    Another favorite quote, this one from my calculus II instructor Monica Fleischauer: “Good mathematicians are basically lazy.” In other words, they don’t make extra work for themselves.

    Optimal diet is, to me, easier to understand when you look at how humans ate, and their overall health, for most of their existence. Someone with no background in the subject can read a book on paleolithic humans and their diet and understand it. If you don’t know what to make of the lipid hypothesis, you can have your lipids tested, go on a paleo or low-carb diet for a few months, and have them retested.

    My best suggestion, if you don’t feel good on a low-carb diet, is to try to troubleshoot it with the many resources on the internet and in books. If it works for you, there’s no need to know whether it’s the macronutrients, micronutrients, calories or hormones.

    But if thermodynamics sounds interesting to you, here’s the syllabus for Thermo I from my alma mater:

    http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/Engineering/Programs/Mechanical-Engineering/CoursesMaterials/CourseSyllabi/Documents/Fall%202010%20Syllabi/ENGR%203012-Cullen.pdf

    Prerequisites: Calculus I and Calculus-based Physics I. Note, however, that NONE of the course covers anything biological. I’m not saying the thermo doesn’t apply to the human body, only that this is an advanced application of the subject.

    I’d say that course is not for the faint of heart. Or brain.

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