Carbs, Calories and Cruise-Sized Meals

During a Q & A session on the low-carb cruise, someone asked Dr. Eric Westman if calories count.  Of course calories count, Dr. Westman replied – but that doesn’t mean you need to count calories.

Yes, I know that may sound strange, but my own experience on this year’s cruise is a perfect example of what he’s talking about:   I ate a lot, more than I eat at home, but didn’t gain an ounce.  (Last year I lost a pound, but I figured that could be water weight.)  Here’s what a typical day’s intake looked like for me during the seven-day cruise:

Breakfast: a big pile of scrambled eggs, three sausage links, four slices of bacon, four slices of Canadian bacon, coffee with cream.

Lunch: Greek salad with feta cheese and a big plate of tandoori chicken, tandoori beef and tandoori fish.  The tandoori was oily and delicious.

Dinner: Usually two appetizers (cream soup, shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms, salad, etc.), entrees (sometimes two) consisting of steak, lobster, pork chops or lamb, steamed vegetables with lots of butter, plus a cheese plate for dessert.

Late-night snack: two cheeseburger patties with grilled onions on four nights, pizza toppings on another night.

I also drank red wine every night, at least a few glasses, and more than a few on one evening. (Jimmy Moore told me he got an “I love you, Man” from me four times that night.)

Some people insist a low-carb diet is just low-calorie diet in disguise, and that certainly can be the case.  Studies have shown that people who adopt low-carb diets often eat less spontaneously, even if they’re not told to restrict calories, and I believe that alone means something beneficial is going on.  If you eat less without consciously counting calories, it means you’re not hungry.  Diets that require you to go through life perpetually hungry are a prescription for failure.

But there’s no way my diet on the cruise was a low-calorie diet in disguise.  It was a high-calorie diet, period.  Ask anyone who sat at my table during dinner or any of the Swedes who joined me for late-night cheeseburger patties.

Two days before the cruise, I weighed myself at the gym:  190 pounds.  Two days after the cruise, I weighed myself at the gym again:  190 pounds.

I mentioned in a post awhile back that my size 36 pants are a bit too loose these days, but size 34 pants are bit too tight, so I’m probably a size 35.  (I peaked at size 40 pants several years ago but wore size 38 pants for most of my 30s and 40s.)  A few days after returning home from the cruise, I slipped on some jeans and was disappointed that they were just a wee bit tight.  Rats, I thought, maybe I did gain a bit on the cruise.

Nope.  I looked at the tag and saw I was wearing a pair of size 34 jeans – and they were just barely tight.  After I wore them for a couple of hours, they stretched a bit and fit just fine.  Meanwhile, my size 36 jeans are noticeably loose.  That’s after a week of eating like a king on the cruise.

So what’s going on here?  Does my cruise experience mean calories don’t count?  Did the excess calories disappear into thin air?

No, of course not.  Calories don’t disappear.  But my body found some way to use up those calories, so I stayed at the same weight despite eating more than usual.  No laws of physics were violated in the process.

There’s been an ongoing debate about whether or not a ketogenic diet provides some kind of metabolic advantage that allows people to either eat more without gaining weight or lose weight without restricting calories as much as on other diets.  I don’t know if there’s a true metabolic advantage or not, and I haven’t much cared one way or the other.  If I can eat until I’m satisfied and still get a little leaner over time, that’s good enough for me, even if the weight loss is 100% due to unintentional calorie restriction.

People have sent me links to studies that supposedly disprove the existence of a metabolic advantage, but they were all studies of semi-starvation diets, somewhere in the 800-calorie-per-day range, with carbohydrate intake ranging from 20% to as high as 50%.  The average weight loss was the same across the high-carb and low-carb groups.  Well, here’s the trouble with those studies:  At 800 calories per day, even 50% of calories from carbohydrates only works out to 100 grams per day.  That’s a ketogenic diet.  Comparing one semi-starvation ketogenic diet to another semi-starvation ketogenic diet doesn’t disprove that a ketogenic diet might provide a metabolic benefit in other circumstances.

If there is a true metabolic advantage (and that’s a big if) with a ketogenic diet, I suspect it shows up at higher calorie intakes.  In one study I read, three groups of young men went on 1800-calorie diets for 9 weeks with protein held constant at 115 grams per day, while carbohydrate intake was set at 30 grams, 60 grams, or 104 grams.  The 104-gram group lost 26 pounds on average, the 60-gram group lost 28 pounds, and the 30-gram group lost 35 pounds.  A metabolic advantage?  Maybe, but it was a small study and the researchers wrote that they didn’t track physical activity.

But so far we’re still talking about weight loss.  I don’t care how many carbohydrates you do or don’t consume, you won’t lose weight without giving your body a reason to tap your stored body fat.  Way back in the first Protein Power book, Drs. Mike and Mary Dan Eades made that clear:  shedding body fat requires a calorie deficit.  The point of a low-carb diet, as they explained, is to make it easier to tap your stored fat once you create that deficit.  If you can’t tap your stored body fat, eating less will just create a fuel shortage at the cellular level, and your body will respond by slowing your metabolism, converting the protein in your muscles to glucose, or both.  You’ll also be ravenously hungry.

In the same book, however, they wrote about the phenomenon that I experienced on the last two cruises:  some people on low-carb diets seem to be resistant to gaining weight, even when they’re clearly eating more than they need.  One patient complained to them that her weight hadn’t budged after several weeks on a low-carb diet.  When they checked her food log, they ran the numbers and found that she was consuming around 4,000 calories per day.  Of course she wasn’t losing weight.  But strangely, she wasn’t gaining either.  Perhaps that’s where an actual metabolic advantage shows up:  as a resistance to gaining weight.

So out of curiosity, I emailed Dr. Mike Eades, Dr. Richard Feinman and Jonathan Bailor (author of The Smarter Science of Slim) about my cruise-ship overeating experience and asked for their comments.  Here’s what they had to say:

Dr. Mike Eades

I’ve had many patients and readers who have had the same thing happen.  They eat a ton of low-carb food and don’t lose weight…but neither do they gain.  I think there is indeed a metabolic advantage that kicks in with these excess calories.  I know some people claim to be able to gain huge amounts of weight eating strictly low-carb – and maybe they do – but that hasn’t been the experience in the case of the patients and readers I’ve dealt with.

In the overfeeding studies, subjects never gain as much as their caloric intake would predict, and this is even with high-carb foods.  Obviously the body has a way to deal with excess calories, and I think whatever this mechanism is kicks in in spades when the overeating is basically very restricted in carbohydrate.

This is the kind of study Gary Taubes is trying to get funding for.

Dr. Richard Feinman

I got into this field almost ten years ago over thermodynamics, which is frequently brought up.  Like most people who have actually studied the subject, I am quite modest about my own understanding but I could see that the nutrition world needed help.

I knew I was on the right track when my brother said that he had been at a conference where they had a buffet and he had pigged out on lobster and roast beef but had not gained any weight. That is what a metabolic advantage is.  It’s more striking if you are overweight, of course.

As for why it is not apparent when you are at home is unknown — the key thing is that it can happen.  If we could get people to focus on it — my gift to the nutrition world was under-appreciated — then we could find out exactly what the important parameters are.  Two things we know for sure: 1. nobody has ever been on any cruise diet that was a “low-calorie diet in disguise,” and 2. nobody has ever said: “I don’t understand. I was at this conference and they had a buffet and I really pigged out on pasta but when I got home I hadn’t gained any weight.”

(Actually, I have noticed the same phenomenon at home — I just don’t eat cruise-sized meals at home.  But if we go out for dinner and I chow down on steak, lobster, shrimp, etc., it never seems to put any weight on me.)

Jonathan Bailor (quoting from his book)

Let’s return to the idea of a clog. If you pour more water into an unclogged sink, then it will drain more water. You will only see water build up if you put more water into a clogged sink. Our fat metabolism system works the same way. If you put more food in an unclogged fat metabolism system, then it will burn more calories. Body fat will build up only if you put more food into a clogged fat metabolism system.

In a Mayo Clinic study, researchers fed people 1,000 extra calories per day for eight weeks. A thousand extra calories per day for eight weeks totals 56,000 extra calories. Everyone gained sixteen pounds—56,000 calories worth—of body fat, right?

Nope.

Nobody gained sixteen pounds. The most anyone gained was a little over half that. The least anyone gained was basically nothing—less than a pound. How could that be true? People are eating 56,000 extra calories and gaining basically no body fat? How can 56,000 extra calories add up to nothing?

That’s because extra calories don’t have to turn into body fat. They could turn into heat. They could be burned off automatically. Researcher D.M. Lyon in the medical journal QJM reported: “Food in excess of immediate requirements…can easily be disposed of, being burnt up and dissipated as heat. Did this capacity not exist, obesity would be almost universal.”

Eating more and gaining less is possible because an unclogged fat metabolism system has all sorts of underappreciated ways to process excess calories other than storing them as body fat. In the Mayo Clinic study, researchers measured three of them:

1.    Increase the amount of calories burned daily.
2.    Increase the amount of calories burned digesting food.
3.    Increase the amount calories burned via unconscious activity.

Bailor included a chart of data from the Mayo Clinic study showing that the increase in calories expended from the three factors listed above added up to more than 1,000 calories per day in some people. In other words, their bodies reacted to 1,000 extra calories by burning somewhat more than that.

Now, I’m pretty sure if I kept up my cruise-ship diet for weeks on end, I could overwhelm my metabolism and start gaining weight at some point.  I don’t plan to find out.  I’m happy enough knowing I can eat like a king for a week and come home weighing no more than when I left.  Considering that a cruise director once told me the average cruise passenger gains a pound per day, no change is definitely a victory.

Speaking of the cruise, Jimmy Moore managed to get me an audio file of the roast that he stripped from his iPhone video.  There’s still some room echo, but not as much as on my camera.  I’ll get it all put together and post it over the weekend.


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109 thoughts on “Carbs, Calories and Cruise-Sized Meals

  1. Rebecca Latham

    A fascinating subject, as usual, Tom! I can never resist dropping everything to read a good “calories in calories out” article. Of course, it would be a lot easier if we could just depend on cutting 3500 calories to lose a pound, but it just doesn’t work out that way in real life, does it?

    Nope. If it were that easy, there would be far fewer obese people.

  2. Jennifer Snow

    Wow, that’s all quite interesting. Every day it seems like this low-carb journey of mine takes me somewhere new. Today I noticed that my leg joints no longer pop and hurt when I push my legs straight against resistance. (My calf muscles don’t cramp painfully, either.) This week, my mood has been very up overall, and I’m waking up early (well, early for me) without effort. I don’t feel like I want to take a nap later, either. I feel like I have so much time on my hands, so I keep wandering around finding things to do with that time. The house has never been so clean.

    Too bad you don’t live nearby, I’d let you fill your time cleaning my home office. It’s gotten a bit messy.

  3. JonMarc

    Great post Tom! I totally agree and my experiences corroborate yours. I think you did a good job at presenting the possible explanations. There may be a true “metabolic advantage” and there may not, but nevertheless SOMETHING is going on.

    The great thing about this hypothesis is that there is room in it for calories to count and for the anecdotes to count of people who have had success counting calories (for e.g. maybe they are genetically predisposed to have great insulin sensitivity).

    However, the “calories are all that matter” hypothesis, on the other hand, does not have room for an explanation of why some people simply cannot lose weight no matter how big of a calorie deficit they create. I have months and months of food and exercise logs showing the huge calorie deficit I created and maintained – sorry, it just doesn’t work for me.

    I have battled with weight since around 1997 and suddenly in the past 5 months was able to lose (50 pounds) and manage it with ease (despite not counting calories, ever being hungry, or needing to exercise) by going high-fat/low-ish-carb paleo.

    It may still be an appetite/calorie deal, but nevertheless, something is influencing the way my body handles the calories it takes in.

    I think that’s what confuses people. If you lose weight, of course you burned more calories than you took in. But you may have burned more calories because your metabolism revved up. By the same token, you can cut calories and your body may respond by slowing down. No laws of physics are violated in either case.

  4. Becky Gandy

    SAME for me, sort of (I lost!) I was on this same cruise. I ate a LOT more than I normally do at home. I came home 1.8 pounds LIGHTER. 😀 I love my “cruise” diet. I KNOW that I cannot eat like that all the time, but it was certainly good to defy the usual adage that people usually gain a pound a day while on a cruise. AND, I felt great throughout the cruise!

    Well, that’s it: we all need to live on a cruise ship for a year. Tell Jimmy to line up 500 speakers and we’ll go for it.

  5. Randy Harris

    Cream soup? Flour is one of the ingredients.

    Great post, great success.

    It didn’t taste like there was much (if any) flour in it.

  6. Carol

    I went to the Dominican a week before the low carb cruise and I gained 10 pounds! I did drink A LOT of pina coladas everyday. I was surprised that I lost my 10 pounds within a week with no effort unlike all of my previous trips.

    Sweet drinks can definitely do it.

  7. Ash Simmonds

    Here’s my anecdotal evidence – as soon as I went ketogenic I lost ~15kg/30lb in under two months. I don’t calorie count, I just eat like a king on steak and drink a lot of alcohol, mostly gin/vodka and dry wine.

    However now I have 5-10kg/10-20lbs of fat left to lose, I’ve been stuck on a plateau. It doesn’t matter if I eat nothing for three days or eat 6000 calories every day for a week, I stay within 2lbs of this current weight – but the thing is I still drink a lot which is what I’m attributing the blunting in lipolysis to.

    So yeah, calories count for almost nothing as far as I’m concerned. In ketosis your body will return to a “normal” BMI readily, but in order to shed the rest you need to curb the grog. Not sure how I’ll do it, but I’m keen to ditch the last bit and see some abs in the next couple months, so I’ll have to say “no” to a few drinks now and then for a while.

    Alcohol can shut down fat-burning, so yes, if you want to shed that last 20 lbs, you’ll probably have to give it up or cut back quite a bit.

  8. Dr Dea Roberts

    The topic makes my eyes cross. I’ve twisted myself into a pretzel trying to write about the “a-calorie-is-a-calorie” hot button issue on my blog. It is important because I see it as the main cause (excuse?) for the dismissive attitude in mainstream circles about low-carb nutrition. Whether to try to win them over or to wait until the public just speeps past them — ahh, that is the question.

    People like the “calorie is a calorie” idea because it’s easy to grasp and saves them from thinking in more complex terms.

  9. Andy

    I did my own overeating experiment in Vegas back in March. Seven days of gorging, including tons of carbs. Hit the gym daily as I normally do at home. Started the trip at 170.5, ended at 173.5, and was back to my pre-vacation weight by the following weekend. Best experiment ever!

    I’d gain more than three pounds if I gorged on carbs for a week.

  10. Lynda

    We are off on a two week cruise to the Mediterranean soon and also a week in Italy. Your post gives me hope 🙂 I know the food on the ship will be easy as it is a 5 star cruise liner with top food – I can chose lobster, steak etc and a good cooked breakfast etc. My only worry is pasta and pizza in Italy… you know the saying – when in Rome 🙂 I’m really hoping that I can avoid it altogether as I’ve been wheat free now for 9 months. I’m thinking that with all the extra walking and touring we’ll be doing any excess will be burned off that way.

    Oh and I too will have the cream soup – the amount of flour in that would not bother me on the odd occasion.

    Pasta doesn’t even appeal to me anymore. I hope you can resist.

  11. Jamie Hayes

    Tom,

    Great post, but can eating 100 g a day be ketogenic?

    “At 800 calories per day, even 50% of calories from carbohydrates only works out to 100 grams per day.  That’s a ketogenic.”

    At or below 125 grams is considered the ketogenic level. Whether or not that will actually produce a high level of ketones depends on the individual.

  12. Benji

    Somebody needs to show this guy Anthony Colpo. Eades got eviscerated by him a couple years back for spouting that metabolic advantage nonsense.

    I remember that battle.

    No, don’t show it to Anthony. Getting into a debate with him is like getting into a debate with CarbSane: it’ll go on forever, and I don’t have time for endless, meaningless debates with people who apparently have nothing to do all day besides engage in countless rounds of arguing.

  13. Rebecca Latham

    A fascinating subject, as usual, Tom! I can never resist dropping everything to read a good “calories in calories out” article. Of course, it would be a lot easier if we could just depend on cutting 3500 calories to lose a pound, but it just doesn’t work out that way in real life, does it?

    Nope. If it were that easy, there would be far fewer obese people.

  14. Jennifer Snow

    Wow, that’s all quite interesting. Every day it seems like this low-carb journey of mine takes me somewhere new. Today I noticed that my leg joints no longer pop and hurt when I push my legs straight against resistance. (My calf muscles don’t cramp painfully, either.) This week, my mood has been very up overall, and I’m waking up early (well, early for me) without effort. I don’t feel like I want to take a nap later, either. I feel like I have so much time on my hands, so I keep wandering around finding things to do with that time. The house has never been so clean.

    Too bad you don’t live nearby, I’d let you fill your time cleaning my home office. It’s gotten a bit messy.

  15. JonMarc

    Great post Tom! I totally agree and my experiences corroborate yours. I think you did a good job at presenting the possible explanations. There may be a true “metabolic advantage” and there may not, but nevertheless SOMETHING is going on.

    The great thing about this hypothesis is that there is room in it for calories to count and for the anecdotes to count of people who have had success counting calories (for e.g. maybe they are genetically predisposed to have great insulin sensitivity).

    However, the “calories are all that matter” hypothesis, on the other hand, does not have room for an explanation of why some people simply cannot lose weight no matter how big of a calorie deficit they create. I have months and months of food and exercise logs showing the huge calorie deficit I created and maintained – sorry, it just doesn’t work for me.

    I have battled with weight since around 1997 and suddenly in the past 5 months was able to lose (50 pounds) and manage it with ease (despite not counting calories, ever being hungry, or needing to exercise) by going high-fat/low-ish-carb paleo.

    It may still be an appetite/calorie deal, but nevertheless, something is influencing the way my body handles the calories it takes in.

    I think that’s what confuses people. If you lose weight, of course you burned more calories than you took in. But you may have burned more calories because your metabolism revved up. By the same token, you can cut calories and your body may respond by slowing down. No laws of physics are violated in either case.

  16. Becky Gandy

    SAME for me, sort of (I lost!) I was on this same cruise. I ate a LOT more than I normally do at home. I came home 1.8 pounds LIGHTER. 😀 I love my “cruise” diet. I KNOW that I cannot eat like that all the time, but it was certainly good to defy the usual adage that people usually gain a pound a day while on a cruise. AND, I felt great throughout the cruise!

    Well, that’s it: we all need to live on a cruise ship for a year. Tell Jimmy to line up 500 speakers and we’ll go for it.

  17. Randy Harris

    Cream soup? Flour is one of the ingredients.

    Great post, great success.

    It didn’t taste like there was much (if any) flour in it.

  18. Carol

    I went to the Dominican a week before the low carb cruise and I gained 10 pounds! I did drink A LOT of pina coladas everyday. I was surprised that I lost my 10 pounds within a week with no effort unlike all of my previous trips.

    Sweet drinks can definitely do it.

  19. Ash Simmonds

    Here’s my anecdotal evidence – as soon as I went ketogenic I lost ~15kg/30lb in under two months. I don’t calorie count, I just eat like a king on steak and drink a lot of alcohol, mostly gin/vodka and dry wine.

    However now I have 5-10kg/10-20lbs of fat left to lose, I’ve been stuck on a plateau. It doesn’t matter if I eat nothing for three days or eat 6000 calories every day for a week, I stay within 2lbs of this current weight – but the thing is I still drink a lot which is what I’m attributing the blunting in lipolysis to.

    So yeah, calories count for almost nothing as far as I’m concerned. In ketosis your body will return to a “normal” BMI readily, but in order to shed the rest you need to curb the grog. Not sure how I’ll do it, but I’m keen to ditch the last bit and see some abs in the next couple months, so I’ll have to say “no” to a few drinks now and then for a while.

    Alcohol can shut down fat-burning, so yes, if you want to shed that last 20 lbs, you’ll probably have to give it up or cut back quite a bit.

  20. Dr Dea Roberts

    The topic makes my eyes cross. I’ve twisted myself into a pretzel trying to write about the “a-calorie-is-a-calorie” hot button issue on my blog. It is important because I see it as the main cause (excuse?) for the dismissive attitude in mainstream circles about low-carb nutrition. Whether to try to win them over or to wait until the public just speeps past them — ahh, that is the question.

    People like the “calorie is a calorie” idea because it’s easy to grasp and saves them from thinking in more complex terms.

  21. Andy

    I did my own overeating experiment in Vegas back in March. Seven days of gorging, including tons of carbs. Hit the gym daily as I normally do at home. Started the trip at 170.5, ended at 173.5, and was back to my pre-vacation weight by the following weekend. Best experiment ever!

    I’d gain more than three pounds if I gorged on carbs for a week.

  22. Bob Johnston

    My feeling is that (and I have exactly zero scientific evidence of this whatsoever) is that every body has a set point for fat – a set point that is based upon a number of factors like insulin resistance, insulin levels, blood sugar, thyroid levels, etc. and that your body automatically sets itself weight-wise and fat content-wise (and perhaps even lean body weight as well) according to these various levels. So if you keep your hormone levels where they’re supposed to be it’s damn near impossible to get fat. Add some carbs to the mix and the set point rises.

    Now if you’ve broken your metabolism via a lifetime of high carbs there’s no guarantee you’ll be lean once you make corrections but the set point will still be there, just at a higher point than if you’d never abused carbs.

    Anyhow, obviously just a hypothesis but I think it makes a bit of sense intuitively, provided you’re not caught up in conventional wisdom and have an open mind.

    I think it’s obvious we have something like a set-point. How else do we explain that many people remain remarkably weight-stable even when trying to lose or (like my son) gain weight?

  23. Lynda

    We are off on a two week cruise to the Mediterranean soon and also a week in Italy. Your post gives me hope 🙂 I know the food on the ship will be easy as it is a 5 star cruise liner with top food – I can chose lobster, steak etc and a good cooked breakfast etc. My only worry is pasta and pizza in Italy… you know the saying – when in Rome 🙂 I’m really hoping that I can avoid it altogether as I’ve been wheat free now for 9 months. I’m thinking that with all the extra walking and touring we’ll be doing any excess will be burned off that way.

    Oh and I too will have the cream soup – the amount of flour in that would not bother me on the odd occasion.

    Pasta doesn’t even appeal to me anymore. I hope you can resist.

  24. PB

    My own experience is I cannot put on any extra weight no matter how much food I eat-HFLC style of course.
    Our family layers the butter on our eggs, vegies/greens and even dip our meat in the left over butter. After every meal I feel satisfied and never have cravings.
    I was thinking the other day when I was younger and just started work I walked around with a foggy head all day almost in a zombie trance.
    Now I wake up before my alarm every day recharged and ready to go. In a nutshell LCHF diet makes you an active, especially mentally active.

    Venturing into another realm now, would it be possible the government like to keep
    us in our Zombie trance not questioning their motives for pushing law upon law on us that seems to restrict our freedoms. *****Twilight zone music fades*****

    I don’t the government is keeping us in a zombie state by recommending a bad diet. That would require planning and foresight not usually associated with government.

  25. Mats the swede

    Interesting post. When I started to eat LCHF 5 or 6 years ago I remember having the feeling of glowing from inside. One question that popped up when I read your post. If you burn off the excess calories as heat, should you perspire (is that the correct word? ) anyway sweat more? Not that it bothers me, just a thought I have. I really enjoy reading your blog and I came here through Mr Eenfeldts Kostdoktorn.se =)
    Cheers!

    We tend to perspire when we’re quite warm. The rise in body temperature in response to overeating probably isn’t that dramatic, although I have woken up in the middle of the night before feeling distinctly warm. That usually means removing a blanket for me.

  26. Amber

    The important metabolic advantage in my opinion is not how *many* calories get used, but how. If your body is not hormonally in fat storage mode, and you take in more calories than you needed, you could, for example, build muscle, or think more, or spontaneously desire to take your sweater off. In other words, what your body is choosing to do with the calories is of major importance.

    The idea that fat storage is the default has started to seem absurd to me. Fat storage happens when the body is signalling for it to happen. But if there is a stronger signal to use calories in a different way, such as for growth, or repair, or activity, then it would seem natural for extra calories will be directed that way.

    Bingo. Storage is not the only option.

  27. Per Wikholm

    Tom,

    It just stuck me… the Low Carb cruise is getting bigger and bigger every year. Maybe on next years cruise we could conduct a fullblown, randomized, controlled study.

    The theory of food reward, promoted by Stephan Guyenet and others could be tested. We simply randomize the low carb cruisers (kind of like the lottery we had on this cruise) to two arms. One of them eat the Carnival food the regular way.

    The other arm gently ask the Carnival crew to put all the food from their menu of delicious things like lobsters steaks and vegetables into a food processor and serve it as a shake eaten with a straw. Then we could evaluate the numbers of calories taken in and the effect om weight.

    Great idea… or perhaps not?

    Great idea — except for the people randomized into the “eat through a straw” group. I don’t think they’ll be happy.

  28. Jamie Hayes

    Tom,

    Great post, but can eating 100 g a day be ketogenic?

    “At 800 calories per day, even 50% of calories from carbohydrates only works out to 100 grams per day.  That’s a ketogenic.”

    At or below 125 grams is considered the ketogenic level. Whether or not that will actually produce a high level of ketones depends on the individual.

  29. nonegiven

    “I don’t the government is keeping us in a zombie state by recommending a bad diet. That would require planning and foresight not usually associated with government.”

    I wouldn’t put it past big food.

  30. Benji

    Somebody needs to show this guy Anthony Colpo. Eades got eviscerated by him a couple years back for spouting that metabolic advantage nonsense.

    I remember that battle.

    No, don’t show it to Anthony. Getting into a debate with him is like getting into a debate with CarbSane: it’ll go on forever, and I don’t have time for endless, meaningless debates with people who apparently have nothing to do all day besides engage in countless rounds of arguing.

  31. js290

    Tom,

    “Calories” are a necessary effect of the Conservation of Energy. It’s no the cause, or as Art Devany calls it “command and control.” It’s pretty clear that energy input and energy output are coupled (in the mathematical sense), meaning they cannot be treated independently as calorie counters mistakenly do. If the reduction of energy input can slow down metabolism, then it stands to reason that increasing energy input can speed up metabolism. As you well know, it’s all about the hormones. We can rest assured our hormones will not violate the 1st law of thermo or any other laws of science. Drew Baye had a really good analogy:

    “Talking about ‘calories’ is basically very, very loose and sloppy way of talking about energy balance. It’s like using ‘handfuls’ to measure water being poured into a cloth bag. You don’t know exactly how much you’re putting in, or exactly how much is going to stay in, but it kinda, sorta, puts you somewhere in the neighborhood.

    “Hormones are like the porousness of the cloth. Most of what is absorbed versus excreted and how it is used depends on them.”

  32. FrankG

    Do I see the germ of a new T-shirt slogan in “No laws of physics were violated in the process.”? Perhaps something like “No laws of physics were violated in the making of this physique”;-)

    I don’t think we need look any further than the Mayo Clinic study you cite above, for a clear metabolic advantage…

    1. Increase the amount of calories burned daily.
    2. Increase the amount of calories burned digesting food.
    3. Increase the amount calories burned via unconscious activity.

    From my own experience I can relate to years (decades) of trying to restrict calories in and/or increase calories out but it was only after recognising the role of sugars and refined starches and their effect on insulin that I was able to switch my body from fat-storage mode to fat-burning mode AND I have also spontaneously become far more physically active… everything from looking for excuses to go for a walk or just fidgeting at my desk job.

    While I accept the idea of having a set-point I am not convinced that concept requires an overarching brain mechanism. An analogy I like to suggest is that of a lake in the wilderness: the water inputs may include local precipitation, springs, rivers/streams carrying water in from more distant precipitation or melt water; while the outputs includes rivers running out, seepage into the ground and evaporation. That lake will have a fairly well established shoreline that hardly varies season to season, year to year (although it may change over decades, centuries etc…). And yet there is nobody there with a set of water pipes, valves, drains or measuring sticks to determine and manage what that shoreline (or set-point) should be… it just arises naturally out of the relatively simple, local balancing forces.

    That’s a good analogy.

  33. marilynb

    I had the same experience on the LC cruise. I easily ate 2-3 times what I normally eat but didn’t gain an ounce (2/10ths of a lb. lost if you want to count that close). I even splurged on a giant hunk of not-low-carb strawberry cheesecake on the last day. I don’t think I was any more active on the cruise or excursions than I am at home, either. What a wonderful thing to be able to enjoy a vacation without the weight gain!

    I didn’t go on excursions and I certainly wasn’t more active on the ship. At home, I manage to get in at least 18 holes of frisbee golf on most days, often 36. My exercise on the ship, other than walking to meals and activities, consisted of one Slow Burn workout with Jimmy Moore.

  34. Jo

    My story: I went on a 2 week tourist holiday to China. Stayed in posh hotels, mini bussed everywhere so not much exercise. Ate a cooked breakfast every morning and two generous restaurant meals a day (the Chinese are always generous with food!). Every day I was stuffed and I imagine I ate around 3000-4000 calories most days. When I weighed myself a week after I got home and had lost 14lbs!!!!! I never did figure out why. Maybe the food kick-started my metabolism. I did have rice, but not much. Maybe it was lower carb than my usual fare (I wasn’t low carb back then). It was definitely high fat, and freshly cooked of course, so maybe that helped. I would love to see more work on this. I NEVER lose weight cutting calories or exercising. Tried it many times.

    This trip was the catalyst for me questioning the whole calorie-in-calorie-out model which I followed (and failed) for 20 years.

    Chronic calorie restriction can definitely slow your metabolism, so perhaps your metabolism was kick-started when you ate plenty of high-quality food.

  35. damaged justice

    When someone says “A calorie is a calorie”, I reply, “A boy is a rat is a pig is a dog.”
    If they actually ask what I mean, I ask them, “Do you really believe a calorie of steak is the same to the human body as a calorie of liver, is the same as a calorie of broccoli, is the same as a calorie of sugar?”

    When it comes to weight loss, they believe exactly that.

  36. Mats the swede

    Interesting post. When I started to eat LCHF 5 or 6 years ago I remember having the feeling of glowing from inside. One question that popped up when I read your post. If you burn off the excess calories as heat, should you perspire (is that the correct word? ) anyway sweat more? Not that it bothers me, just a thought I have. I really enjoy reading your blog and I came here through Mr Eenfeldts Kostdoktorn.se =)
    Cheers!

    We tend to perspire when we’re quite warm. The rise in body temperature in response to overeating probably isn’t that dramatic, although I have woken up in the middle of the night before feeling distinctly warm. That usually means removing a blanket for me.

  37. Per Wikholm

    Tom,

    It just stuck me… the Low Carb cruise is getting bigger and bigger every year. Maybe on next years cruise we could conduct a fullblown, randomized, controlled study.

    The theory of food reward, promoted by Stephan Guyenet and others could be tested. We simply randomize the low carb cruisers (kind of like the lottery we had on this cruise) to two arms. One of them eat the Carnival food the regular way.

    The other arm gently ask the Carnival crew to put all the food from their menu of delicious things like lobsters steaks and vegetables into a food processor and serve it as a shake eaten with a straw. Then we could evaluate the numbers of calories taken in and the effect om weight.

    Great idea… or perhaps not?

    Great idea — except for the people randomized into the “eat through a straw” group. I don’t think they’ll be happy.

  38. gallier2

    There’s another calorie sink that is oft neglected but shouldn’t in the case of a high fat diets: excretion. Experts believe that the fat content of feces is very low and can be neglected. But this is only true when the daily caloric intake is around the daily mean. I found once a paper on pubmed about the butyric acid content of feces, which is a fat normally synthesized by gut bacteria on high fibre diets. But therein was an interesting table that was not about the main subject of the study that listed the content of other fatty acids and it showed that it was clearly related to the fat content of the diet. The study authors mentioned “en passant” that the amount of fat can amount to several hundreds of calories. Unfortunately I didn’t bookmark the study and all my efforts to find it failed yet. As soon as I find it I will send it to you.

    As many people have pointed out, the first law of thermodynamics is about closed systems. We’re not closed systems. We breathe, give off heat, and excrete.

  39. nonegiven

    “I don’t the government is keeping us in a zombie state by recommending a bad diet. That would require planning and foresight not usually associated with government.”

    I wouldn’t put it past big food.

  40. John

    Awesome article, Tom. This is the sort of stuff I’d like to see more of- people who are clearly “overeating” calorically, but not gaining fat. Maybe you even needed a week of cruise sized meals to break thru a plateau- after all, you did say that your sized 34 pants fit afterwards. I’ve noticed myself that after a bigger meal nowadays, I’ll be giving off more body heat myself.

    I’m also interested in the competitive eaters that take in an ENORMOUS amount of calories in a very short period of time, but remain relatively thin and weight stable over time. Guys like Joey Chesnut and Kobayashi. An interview or study with those guys would be fascinating. I think Joey Chesnut even mentioned that he used fasting as a technique to prepare and stay leaner.

    I believe occasional high-calorie periods can be useful for avoiding a slowdown in metabolism, especially if you’ve been calorie-restricted for awhile.

  41. Howard

    As I detailed in my blog, I did a deliberate over-feeding N=1 experiment on the cruise, and gained just shy of one pound. Which was gone two days after I got home. I like Dr. Feinman’s observation that “nobody has ever been on any cruise diet that was a ‘low-calorie diet in disguise'”! Although I have no idea how many calories I ate during the cruise, I’m certain it was substantially more than I normally eat.

    BTW, the weight gain figure I heard was 8 lbs on a 7-day cruise, on *average*. Since I only gained a pound, somebody else must have gotten the other 7.

    I saw the guy who got your 7 pounds. He was eating pastries.

  42. Galina L.

    I have been on a LC diet from November 2007, it worked like a charm from the beginning, but later in my diet I had to limit the amount of food I eat in order for a weight loss to continue. It was easy to do due to the hunger-suppressive nature of my diet. Similar to your Cruise experience, Tom, I survived 4 Christmas Seasons without a weight-gain despite eating more of food (LC, of course) during such times. There are plenty of comments on LC forums made by people who can’t loose weight while cutting their carbs content to almost zero, but eating a lot of fat cheeses, using cream in generous amounts, snacking on nuts ets.(I have to stay from nuts – can’t stop eating it) Such people feel lost and discouraged, almost like I used to feel when somebody reported loosing 50 lb by cutting on sodas and starting to walk around the block, while I ate only self-cooked meals all my life and did more than 10 hours of cardio per week (before LC). I always comment in return my advise to eliminate snacks and limit the amount of times when they eat. One of main advantages of my diet – the ability to eat less without being hungry and miserable. For many loosing weight is harder than for others on any diet, just look at your friend Jimmy Moore. He is, unfortunately, one of examples when LC diet is not enough to prevent a weight gain after a weight loss. I want to give him a lot of credit for reporting his experience. It should help others who in the same situation not to feel alone. I reached my weight goal last April, and a weight-stable since while eating approximately 3 – 4 times less then your Cruise menu within 6 – 8 hours of eating window.

    Sure, as you lose weight you have a smaller body and therefore need fewer calories for maintenance (all other metabolic factors being equal, of course). People who think they can pig out on cheese and nuts and still lose weight because those foods are low-carb are kidding themselves. You may not gain, but you won’t lose if you don’t give your body a reason to tap stored energy in your fat cells.

    Some people definitely can gain weight even on a very low-carb diet, and I suspect it’s more common among those who were once very overweight. Once you’ve been 100 or 200 pounds overweight, you’re metabolically different from those of us who’ve been 20 or 30 pounds overweight.

  43. gallier2

    If people state “a calorie is a calorie” propose them to eat wood and drink diesel fuel. Wood is a polysaccharide chemically very close to starch (they differ only in the angle of the bond between the sugar molecules). Diesel is an oil mix with a very similar energy content to (edible) oils.

    Another funny example is the energy content of a cookie compared to the same amount of TNT. The cookie has nearly twice the energy content of the TNT. There effects are slightly differenct though 😉

  44. Mike

    This article just confuses me a little bit.

    I am on a 1250kcal/day and have been doing it for about 2 weeks now and every day i run 5km and do some light weight lifting… my BMR is around 2200, so with running, my deficit is more than 1000kcal on those days.

    My max carbs a day are 16g. I have been doing fairly well, but I am just confused now. I have lost 20lbs in exactly 30 days so i dont really want to change what I am doing, but I dont know if i am eating too little, there are times i am really hungry but i am adamant on staying below my kcal goal and hitting my p/f/c limits.

    Am I eating too little that it’s causing “a fuel shortage at the cellular level, and your body will respond by slowing your metabolism, converting the protein in your muscles to glucose, or both. You’ll also be ravenously hungry.” ??
    I feel great so far, I notice my biceps are huge now and I dont generally feel tired or lazy (just in pain from post-workouts and generally exhaustion from the heat here).

    DO i keep doing what I am doing or should I make my calorie deficit higher?

    If you’re able to tap enough body fat to make up for the calories you’re not consuming, you won’t experience the fuel shortage at the cellular level because you’re “eating” fat from your fat cells. If you’re hungry all the time, however, I’d consider upping the calorie intake. People who are chronically hungry — like the contestants on The Biggest Loser — have been known to end up with a slower metabolism as a result.

  45. FrankG

    Do I see the germ of a new T-shirt slogan in “No laws of physics were violated in the process.”? Perhaps something like “No laws of physics were violated in the making of this physique”;-)

    I don’t think we need look any further than the Mayo Clinic study you cite above, for a clear metabolic advantage…

    1. Increase the amount of calories burned daily.
    2. Increase the amount of calories burned digesting food.
    3. Increase the amount calories burned via unconscious activity.

    From my own experience I can relate to years (decades) of trying to restrict calories in and/or increase calories out but it was only after recognising the role of sugars and refined starches and their effect on insulin that I was able to switch my body from fat-storage mode to fat-burning mode AND I have also spontaneously become far more physically active… everything from looking for excuses to go for a walk or just fidgeting at my desk job.

    While I accept the idea of having a set-point I am not convinced that concept requires an overarching brain mechanism. An analogy I like to suggest is that of a lake in the wilderness: the water inputs may include local precipitation, springs, rivers/streams carrying water in from more distant precipitation or melt water; while the outputs includes rivers running out, seepage into the ground and evaporation. That lake will have a fairly well established shoreline that hardly varies season to season, year to year (although it may change over decades, centuries etc…). And yet there is nobody there with a set of water pipes, valves, drains or measuring sticks to determine and manage what that shoreline (or set-point) should be… it just arises naturally out of the relatively simple, local balancing forces.

    That’s a good analogy.

  46. marilynb

    I had the same experience on the LC cruise. I easily ate 2-3 times what I normally eat but didn’t gain an ounce (2/10ths of a lb. lost if you want to count that close). I even splurged on a giant hunk of not-low-carb strawberry cheesecake on the last day. I don’t think I was any more active on the cruise or excursions than I am at home, either. What a wonderful thing to be able to enjoy a vacation without the weight gain!

    I didn’t go on excursions and I certainly wasn’t more active on the ship. At home, I manage to get in at least 18 holes of frisbee golf on most days, often 36. My exercise on the ship, other than walking to meals and activities, consisted of one Slow Burn workout with Jimmy Moore.

  47. damaged justice

    When someone says “A calorie is a calorie”, I reply, “A boy is a rat is a pig is a dog.”
    If they actually ask what I mean, I ask them, “Do you really believe a calorie of steak is the same to the human body as a calorie of liver, is the same as a calorie of broccoli, is the same as a calorie of sugar?”

    When it comes to weight loss, they believe exactly that.

  48. Lauren

    Here’s my thought process.

    When you eat the SAD, you’re always hungry. At least, I know that I am. When you try to diet on the SAD you’re really, really hungry. Eating Paleoish, your body feels satisfied.

    When your body is constantly in starvation mode, of course it’s going to try to hang on to every bit of calories that it comes across. However, once your body realizes that you’re not going to starve it, it feels fine to let some of those calories slide.

    I’m sure there’s a scientific way to explain this, but I’m just picturing your little fat cell/insulin guys seeing some nutrition go by and thinking “meh, I’m good.”

    Yup, I believe it largely comes down to how much fuel is actually available for cellular energy.

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