Macronutrient Mea Culpa

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned.

In my prior blog post, “The Skeptoid Diet,” I championed the maxim “calories in, calories out.” In doing so, I did not address all the nuances of weight loss; I did not offer an entire theory of good nutrition; I failed to recognize the nuances of nutritional needs; and I lacked a comprehensive eating plan that would satisfy those looking for permanent weight loss success. The were failings on my part, and I am repentant. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. 

As an act of contrition, I am here today to acknowledge my errors and to accept the ways in which my championing of the “calories in, calories out” maxim was flawed.

I acknowledge that the Skeptoid Diet is not a complete diet plan, and I in fact am not writing The Skeptoid Diet! nor The Skeptoid Diet Cookbook! The Skeptoid Diet was meant to be a bit of satire on the way these diets all present themselves. I had mistakenly assumed that the satire would be obvious and that no reader would actually think I was offering up a manifesto of lifetime good health. I was wrong in that assumption.

I acknowledge that, for long term health, macronutrients are important, and that trying to live on nothing but Twinkies for an entire lifetime would be unhealthy. There are recognized heath problems resulting from extreme deficiency of proteins, fatty acids, and carbohydrates, and no rational diet would exclude them completely (even Atkins includes “good carbs” in its diet). But those really are long term effects. None of them would prevent short-term weight loss from calorie restriction — this was the whole point of the original Twinkie Diet story. And even in the long term, balanced macronutrients alone won’t prevent weight gain if calories aren’t also controlled.

I acknowledge that different calories may burn differently and thus can effect rate of weight loss. Two commenters and one private message each shared an article titled “A Calorie is Not a Calorie” with me, in which it is explained how not all calories are created equal and, yes, it is possible that eating the wrong calories can diminish the rate of weight loss. Of course, to get to that part of the article one must read past the part where it said “the actual diet doesn’t matter so long as you actually reduce your calorie intake and do more exercise,” and the part where it said “research did find that the differing proportions of carbohydrate, protein and fat didn’t really matter in terms of weight loss”. But still, it was an interesting article, and thanks for sharing.

I acknowledge that concentration camp survivors, morbidly obese little kids, and anorexics are all exceptions to the “calories in / calories out” maxim, though I’m not sure how often any of these groups are considered likely audiences for fad diets. Starvation and morbid obesity can both wreck the way that metabolism works, and it is true that those extreme situations require different nutritional approaches, usually with medical supervision. The average fad dieter is neither a bulimic teen nor the World’s Fattest Woman, though, and so their metabolisms should respond typically to a caloric reduction.

And so I prostrate myself in front of the world. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. In the name of the Fatty Acid, the Protein, and the Holy Carb, ramen. 

Here’s the funny thing, though. Nothing I said above makes fad diets any more legitimate, which was the rhetorical point I was aiming for. More importantly, as of yet, no one has provided me with evidence that, for an average overweight dieter, “calories in, calories out” isn’t the vital dietary variable. Even in angry screeds against the “calories in, calories out maxim, the authors are forced to admit:

The first law of thermodynamics tells us that energy can not be destroyed, it can only change form. So if the energy that is entering the body is greater than the energy leaving the body, then the body will store the energy, usually as body fat.

If we take in more energy (calories) than we expend, we gain weight. If we expend more energy than we take in, we lose weight. This is an unbreakable law of physics and isn’t even debatable.

It seems to me that many of the contributors to the comments section of “The Skeptoid Diet” were not actually taking issue with whether “calories in, calories out” is true, but that by not going beyond that, by not endorsing some particular method of controlling calories, I was somehow “wrong,”or that by not going into the details of how different calories burn I was “wrong,” or that by not promoting one macronutrient or decrying another I was “wrong.” But was I wrong? Or just incomplete?

Details are details, but the basics remain unchallenged. Eat less than you burn. It’s a commonsense simple truth about losing and maintaining a healthy weight. In deciding what you should actually eat, I defer to Michael Pollen: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Beyond that, it’s all up to you.

 

About Alison Edwards

Ali Edwards is a writer, blogger, and educator living near Ann Arbor, MI. She blogs regularly at http:/transgenderscience.info, and tweets @ariamythe.
This entry was posted in Pseudoscience and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Macronutrient Mea Culpa

  1. Christian says:

    I thought the satire was obvious, the replies you got seem to prove again that most people trawl the web looking to make their pet point and seeing everything they read, through that filter.

  2. Jim Clewell says:

    Fad diets flourish in a world full of people who sit more than they walk, and yet eat as if they have to run 50km a day to follow a herd of grazers……

    We as a society can afford and acquire more calories than ever, yet have to exert ourselves less than ever to survive……..

    And it is attractive to our cognition of self to fantasize that we can continue to do so as long as we eat in a certain ritual pattern……

    It’s our nature….

  3. Stephen Propatier says:

    Sorry Ali
    I should have jumped in a little sooner on your other post but the article a “Calorie is Not a calorie” is completely wrong and based on a poor understanding of nutrition science. It is true that bodily absorption affects true calorie usage. The data that you are reading about the calories and the food we eat IS scientifically adjusted for the difference in absorption. It is in fact as accurate as possible. Calories are adjusted after correction for the coefficient of availability. The calculated availability of the mixed diets agreed closely with the actual availability as found by experiment.
    With the use of the Atwater general factors, metabolizable energy is calculated as 4.0P + 9.0F + 4.0TC, where P is protein (P = 6.25 × nitrogen; in g), F is fat (in g), and TC is total carbohydrate (in g, calculated by dry weight difference). Not only have these factors been applied to the total amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrate in a mixed diet, as Atwater and Bryant had intended, but they have also been used, and continue to be used, in assessing the energy value of individual foods.
    Yes calories are an average, no you cannot assume because something is structurally more complicated you extract less chemical energy. The differences are too small to have an impact on total kCal balance.
    I have reviewed the link and the giveaway about the pseudoscience is the referenced to “processed food” being higher in calories. Complete and utter bunk-o. If you drink 100kCal of unprocessed milk you get exactly the same number of calories that you do in 100kCal of pasteurized/homogenized milk. The numbers are an estimate of value not a statistical absolute. There is no way to scan your food as you eat it and gain an accurate evaluation of how much energy you extract. Time of day, fluid intake, baseline metabolism, and Gi mobility all play a role in absorption. You cannot measure the energy in a apple without destroying it. You can more precisely calculate the calories in Twinkies because it is manufactured. In fact it is Easier to track calories with processed food not “natural food”. This why the macro-nutrient theory is mostly useless, you cannot accurately calculate most “natural food”. So there is a Huge fudge factor on an individual food basis. It is not useful for one item. As a group, keeping track of your total calories(it is an estimate) and you calories burned(it is an estimate), works NO Matter What You Eat! The end, period. There is absolutely no evidence that eating 2500 calorie atkins diet works better than a 2500 calorie fat free diet, or that 1500 calorie ADA diet works better than eating 1500 calories of cupcakes. If you eat a bag of giant oranges it has much more energy than a bag of small oranges. That does not mean that small oranges will make you lose weight faster.
    The biggest effect is that a orange is greatly filling compared to a candy bar of the same general calorie range(and better for you).

    The “processed food has more calories” theory is based upon the useless concept that because natural is complicated, and it takes more energy to digest. Processed is less complicate therefore you get more kCals. A complete and total lack of understanding about calorie calculations. Calories are a guideline based on evidence not a precise formula to calculate your metabolic needs.

    So yes if you burn a table spoon of olive oil you will get more energy than if you digest it. This has been scientifically adjusted for. Macroneutrient superiority is pseudoscience and unsupported by reliable testing. Thinking that “if I just eat the right foods I will lose weight faster”, is dietary pseudoscience and completely unsupported in controlled studies.
    Diets work by tricking our satiety response not because we eat “better” nutrients.Long term, a well balanced moderated diet has the greatest success. Don’t let the Diet-ideology sway you.

    • Alison Edwards says:

      Dang it! Now I have to issue an apology for my apology! ;)

      • Reg. says:

        Not at all. There is a lot to be learned from someone making a small or large mistake, as long as the Flight Data Recorder survives.

      • CarbShark says:

        Don’t be so hasty. You are right and Stephen is wrong. The Atwater factors are based on averages, and they are averages based on experiments done on foods over 100 years ago, which were not as highly refined as todays.

        http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/6/1649.full

        This is also proven by the implementation of the Specific Atwater factors. These were developed when food manufacturers were able to demonstrate that the Atwater Factors significantly and consistently overestimated the caloric content of specific foods. They lobbied the USDA/FDA to allow them to use their specific numbers rather than the Atwater averages. This allowed them, for example, to sell larger hamburger patties for school meals where the total calories were limited.

        It’s very likely that many other foods are just as far off, but there is no incentive for food manufacturers to lobby to get higher (more accurate) calorie estimates for their foods. So there is a bias built into the system.

        Stephen is trying to wrap the alternate theory in the naturalistic fallacy (and some are guilty of that on both sides of the issue) but that doesn’t make the Atwater factors any more accurate. But he is missing some obvious facts. Whole foods, like corn kernels, for example, have nutrients bound with fiber. The assumption that Stephen is making is that all of those bonds are broken during digestion. By his estimation, eating a the x amount of corn on the cob, produces exactly the same calories as eating x amount of corn, that has been highly processed so that none of the nutrients are bound with fiber. This is demonstrably false and the differences are significant. It’s not that “Natural is better,” it’s that the refining process breaks the bonds with fiber and nutrients and make the food easier to digest and the calories more accessible.

        If you believe in the calories in/calories out model, then even small errors (5 to 10%) could make a huge difference. The progression to obesity is a gradual process where people generally add around 5 pounds per year as they age. The calories needed for that much extra weight, equal about one extra bite of a big mac every day, or could be more than the difference between the actual caloric content of food and the average calories derived from the Atwater calculations.

        • Stephen Propatier says:

          “Stephen is trying to wrap the alternate theory in the naturalistic fallacy”
          Incorrect you are extrapolating from what I said incorrectly. The thought that one calorie is significantly different than any other is in fact untrue. Caloric measurements are in fact an estimate. Following them works.
          In the only randomized controlled double blinded studies done to date show that varying nutrients had no effect of weight period. Not weight loss weight. If you eat 1500 calories per day and vary the nutrients there is no difference in final weight. Either High carb, high fat, or high protein were the variables mixed. the controls were people that ate whatever they wanted but restricted to the same number of calories. They all calculated out the same number of basal metabolic and activity calories. The findings show no deviation in weight. If what you were purposing were true different nutrients would have resulting in differing weights at the end of the study.

          The fallacy you are guilty of is the no true Scotsman fallacy, and the ecological inference fallacy.
          What you fail to comprehend is that being able to determine an individuals caloric absorption of any food is impossible. It can only be based on nutrient estimates. There is no way to accommodate or control for all the factors that go into human metabolism. There is no reliable way to precisely estimate an individuals caloric absorption. Impossible to calculate what you propose is true. Statistically diets vary the caloric measurements by about 200 kCals. That has nothing to due with effectiveness. There is now doubt that measuring caloric intake and output and balancing to greater output allows you to lose weight. Claiming that a particular nutrient is superior way to take weight off is a practical impossibility. You can never know even on average that one nutrient will result in a metabolic statistically significant difference. There are too many variable in both the food and the individual to make that claim.

          A short list of human variables that affect absorption and metabolism of food. Time of Day, Gastric motility, fluid balance, caffeine intake, water content of food, recent exercise, Stress level, sleep, physical fatigue, Age, Sex, Height and weight. Length of intestinal tract, Insoluble fiber, environmental temperature,
          Plus that ignores the food. A piece of bacon is not similar to another piece of bacon size, structure, fat content, muscle composition and salt content are all extremely variable. Even olive oil is not a uniform substance.

          Calories are estimates. They work, When nutrients are varied they don’t change outcomes. Period. Diets don’t work they are temporary solutions that don’t give anyone the tools they need for sustainable weight management. Arguing my diet is better than your is pointless and dysfunctional. Unless it happens to be a pattern of eating you like long term they fail. They all fail. You have to find a way to put you likes and dislikes into a calorie plan that controls your weight with a specific exercise routine. No short cuts work. No tricks or pills or machines work it is all temporary trip unless you find a way to like it.
          Related to low carb diets specifically metanalysis by clinical journal of nutrition. 2.1% are below starting weight at 5 years. IF they maintain diet 75% are below weight. Only 2.1% of people can stick to the diet. It is just not practical solution long term.

  4. Michael says:

    Personally I was delighted by your article. Satire is rapidly becoming a lost art and one now begins to see why.

  5. Stephen N, Australia says:

    Referring to Stephen Propatier’s comments, I’m out of my depth on the calculations for “If you eat a bag of giant oranges it has much more energy than a bag of small oranges.” Per gross volume, what are the comparable percentage lost volumes for gaps and skin (zest and pith)? A simple explanation please.
    Or did you mean something like “If you eat a giant bag of oranges it has much more energy than a small bag of oranges”?
    Apart from that the article and comments are appreciated.

  6. ES/CarbShark says:

    “There is absolutely no evidence that eating 2500 calorie atkins diet works better than a 2500 calorie fat free diet, or that 1500 calorie ADA diet works better than eating 1500 calories of cupcakes.”

    Absolutely no evidence? Here is anecdotal evidence that shows exactly that.

    http://www.dietdoctor.com/overeating-carbs-worse-overeating-lchf-diet

    And, here is links to peer reviewed published evidence on this page:

    http://www.dietdoctor.com/science

    Some of the RCTs linked to are isocaloric (same amount of calories).

    What exactly does “work better” mean? Can we agree on the following:

    The problem for overweight and obese people is too much stored fat (as opposed to too much muscle).
    The criteria for judging a diet’s success should be:

    –Maintains or improves overall health
    –Reduces risk factors for chronic disease (CVD; T2D; Metabolic syndrome; etc.)
    –Reduces stored fat while preserving or building lean tissue.
    –Practical and sustainable (it’s relatively easy to follow and stay with)

    Using those criteria, the science is clear that LCHF diets “work better.”

    • Alison Edwards says:

      That feels a bit like moving the goalposts, as Stephen’s comments were clearly — if you read the discussion that precedes the quoted lines — about calorie burning. I could redefine “works better” in my own way, too, and show my preferred plan superior.

      In general, Ed, I’ve got to say: from your posts, it’s clear you’ve got a bit of Atkins Evangelist in you. Would you ever, under any circumstances, allow that Atkins may not be as great as you seem to think it is?

      • Nice article :-) Diet Doctor had to admit that “works best” wasn’t what was said after all in the latest Swedish publication. On his Swedish language site. It never made it to the English language site for obvios reasons.

  7. es says:

    —”That feels a bit like moving the goalposts, as Stephen’s comments were clearly — if you read the discussion that precedes the quoted lines — about calorie burning. I could redefine “works better” in my own way, too, and show my preferred plan superior.”

    So you don’t agree with that criteria for what makes a diet successful? What, then, are your criteria, and how are they better?

    I’m not moving the goal posts, those have long been my criteria. I just disagree that “calorie burning” is a good criteria. Weight, is not a good criteria either, since weight loss can come from both lean tissue and fat. (But, that said, LCHF diets have been shown to be better in both those categories than calorie restricted diets.)

    —”Would you ever, under any circumstances, allow that Atkins may not be as great as you seem to think it is?”

    Yes. I could be proven wrong. Just as I was proven wrong when I used to scoff at Atkins and other diets that violated the caloric balance principle (as you do now). In fact for the longest time I was one good peer-reviewed study from ditching the diet. Instead every study that was done and showed it to be superior. At this point it would take more than a single study (the link I posted earlier has links to 18 peer-reviewed RCTs that show LCHF to be superior than any other diet they’ve tested, and there has not been a single RCT to show any diet superior to an Atkins style LCHF diet.)

    So, under what circumstances could your embrace of the “it’s all about the calories” model be replace? What would it take to falsify your hypothesis?

    • Alison Edwards says:

      It *is* moving the goalposts, if the comments were made in the context of calorie reduction and you ignored calorie reduction in your response by redefining “works better” when providing evidence that your preferred diet plan works better. That’s the very *definition* of moving the goalposts

      Regarding my “hypothesis”: I love how you’ve fixated on that one line from the last article as though that statement was made as a definitive statement about quality dieting or that I have not said repeatedly, in both this post and the comments sections of both posts, that my understanding of diet is more nuanced than “only calorie reduction, ever.” However, in general, I do believe that “calories in, calories out” is the first and most important principle of good eating, yes; and I do believe that no eating plan of any kind can succeed without also reducing calories to a level lower than calories burned.

      So, what would it take to falsify my views? Easy. Show me a controlled study where average eaters with a normal functioning metabolisms gained weight after reducing calorie consumption, regardless of the diet used. That’s it. I would even be open to a hypothetical situation, if the explanation were supported by actual science.

      • Stephen Propatier says:

        Researchers with the Laboratory of Human Behavior and Metabolism at New York’s Rockefeller University conducted a carefully controlled study that kept 16 people on diets with just enough calories to maintain their current weight but that varied the ratios of fat, protein and carbohydrates. After 33 days, those assigned to a no-fat diet were still at their pre-study weight. So were those who got 70% of their calories from fat. Percentages of carbs and protein didn’t matter either. The results were published in 1992 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

        The studies are well structured and have been reproduced several times.

        All diets have short term success. 3 years out bypass has greatest success rate at a meager 12% weight watchers has 10% all others no more than 5%. Total behavior modification is required for sustained weight loss. Anything else is just window dressing to psych yourself and trick your satiety. The % that succeed at a no carb diet at 3 years, terrible 1.25%. So what are your numbers and research ES?

        • ES/CarbShark says:

          If the study you’re referring to is the one I’m thinking of (you didn’t provide a link) then it’s a very small study, with a limited time (only some made it to 33 days, others were there less) and the lowest carb group still had 15% of calories from carbs. On Atkins and similar LCHF diets you need to start the diet with less than 5% of calories from carbs, most from complex carbs, in order to go into ketosis. (Do you have a source for your claims on diet success?)

          I’ve posted these before, the first is a systematic review. The second is a page with a collection of links to peer reviewed studies that include 18 random control trials where LCHF diets were compared with various other diets. No other diet was better than LCHF diets in weight loss or any other measure, and LCHF diets did better than all others in a number of measures.

          LCHF should be the default diet. The first option recommended for the overweight and obese. It’s clearly the healthiest.

          Systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials of the effects of low carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk factors

          http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2012.01021.x/abstract;jsessionid=7396D07C42DB2B84642D35158B132AF9.d04t04

          A systematic review and meta-analysis were carried out to study the effects of low-carbohydrate diet (LCD) on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors (search performed on PubMed, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials and Scopus databases). A total of 23 reports, corresponding to 17 clinical investigations, were identified as meeting the pre-specified criteria. Meta-analysis carried out on data obtained in 1,141 obese patients, showed the LCD to be associated with significant decreases in body weight (−7.04 kg [95% CI −7.20/−6.88]), body mass index (−2.09 kg m−2[95% CI −2.15/−2.04]), abdominal circumference (−5.74 cm [95% CI −6.07/−5.41]), systolic blood pressure (−4.81 mm Hg [95% CI −5.33/−4.29]), diastolic blood pressure (−3.10 mm Hg [95% CI −3.45/−2.74]), plasma triglycerides (−29.71 mg dL−1[95% CI −31.99/−27.44]), fasting plasma glucose (−1.05 mg dL−1[95% CI −1.67/−0.44]), glycated haemoglobin (−0.21% [95% CI −0.24/−0.18]), plasma insulin (−2.24 micro IU mL−1[95% CI −2.65/−1.82]) and plasma C-reactive protein, as well as an increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (1.73 mg dL−1[95%CI 1.44/2.01]). Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and creatinine did not change significantly, whereas limited data exist concerning plasma uric acid.

          Science and Low Carb / Paleo | DietDoctor.com
          http://www.dietdoctor.com/science

  8. Jim Clewell says:

    please don’t restrain yourself from using satire to make a valid point, science needs humor, even if the tin-hats in our world cannot appreciate satire.

    Fact remains as I stated that calories are more readily available than ever and activities leading to burning of calories less necessary in daily survival than ever…. and yet we’ve got a physiology directed at storing fuel which isn’t used.

    This combination leads to obesity and ill health in any model. No need to add nuance to that discussion, it is what it is.

    Our society eats too much and moves too little!

    • ES/CarbShark says:

      Nobody’s complaining about the use of satire or discouraging it. Satire is perfectly acceptable. Some of my best friends are satirists.

      But, satire is an effective rhetorical tool that can be used to make a point or persuade. But you shouldn’t use it as a shield to hide behind when people disagree or criticize the point you were making.

      You used satire to make your point about calories and energy balance. No one is arguing about your use of satire, we’re disagreeing with your position.

      And, no, calories are not more readily available than ever. We had food a plenty in the US throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. The obesity epidemic began in the late 70s, following the introduction of the USDA guidelines.

      • Reg says:

        “And, no, calories are not more readily available than ever. We had food a plenty in the US throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. The obesity epidemic began in the late 70s, following the introduction of the USDA guidelines.”

        Such an outlandish statement should not go unchallenged. The obesity epidemic began well before that. It began with the proliferation of cane sugar and the commercial opportunity it represented.

        The never-ending drive for growth has escalated beyond the wildest dreams of the simple consumer and slaves were its first victims. The short-term starvation imposed on the Dutch population during WWII has been shown to have a lasting genetic impact on the families who lived through it. We must then ask what impact the availability of sugar and sugarcane had on the slave population that had been subject to its imbalance for generations.

        Satire becomes a tool of manipulation when it is used to heap scorn on those fat persons who raise their voices against the excesses of commercially greed. What would some fat-bastard know anyway. ;-(

  9. ES/CarbShark says:

    “It *is* moving the goalposts, if the comments were made in the context of calorie reduction and you ignored calorie reduction in your response by redefining “works better” when providing evidence that your preferred diet plan works better. That’s the very *definition* of moving the goalposts”

    So, again, what are your criteria for what works better? If you can lose weight but increase your risk factors for chronic disease, is that working better? If you can lose weight but are hungry and lethargic all the time and can’t wait to go off your diet, is that working better?

    “Regarding my “hypothesis”: I love how you’ve fixated on that one line”

    I don’t even know what line you’re referring to.

    “Show me a controlled study where average eaters with a normal functioning metabolisms gained weight after reducing calorie consumption, regardless of the diet used. That’s it. I would even be open to a hypothetical situation, if the explanation were supported by actual science.”

    So changing calories in is all that matters?

    Here’s a hypothetical: A diet program where people reduced energy consumption and stopped exercising all together and gained weight. You need to think that through a little, no?

    Also, we’re are discussing weight loss not weight gain.

    I’m wondering if the results from this guy’s n=1 experiment were replicated in an RCT if that would do?

    http://www.dietdoctor.com/overeating-carbs-worse-overeating-lchf-diet

    • Alison Edwards says:

      LOL Congrats for catching me in a poor wording. I assumed it would be obviously implied that I meant a study that maintained the calories in / calories out maxim that was at the heart of the debate, but I guess that wasn’t so obvious. So let me rephrase.

      “Show me a controlled study where average eaters with a normal functioning metabolisms gained weight after reducing calorie consumption WHILE BURNING MORE THAN THEY ATE regardless of the diet used. That’s it. I would even be open to a hypothetical situation, if the explanation were supported by actual science.”

  10. ES/CarbShark says:

    Fixing your wording now makes your argument a straw man. If you’re burning more than you ate, you’re burning stored energy (fat or lean tissue) and no one is saying that burning fat is not burning stored energy.

    I also noticed you didn’t answer my questions about a hypothetical or the n=1 experiment results.

    • Ali says:

      But Ed, calories in / calories out is the only point I’ve been arguing for all this time. It is LITERALLY the only point I have been defending. So I guess at this point I’m not entirely clear why we even have a debate, except that, as I’ve noted in previous comments, you seem really upset at the fact that I won’t acknowledge that your preferred explanation for the modern obesity epidemic is the correct one, or that your preferred method of calorie control is the right one (even though you seem to want to avoid actually saying out loud that the low carb diets involve calorie control). I’m just not interested in that debate, if its sole purpose is to get me to say “I agree with the Atkins diet!”

  11. ES/CarbShark says:

    Upset? Hmm. You’re not answering questions, you’re not discussing hypotheticals you said you were open to. And your criteria for proving that reducing calories works better is that it reduces calories. Got, thanks for trying.

    • Ali says:

      As I said, a prolonged debate about the nuances of diet plans was not something I was aiming to get into, especially since diet evangelists can be notorious Gish Gallopers. I called you on the “works better” thing because you were moving the goalposts. I don’t feel like moving them myself.

      As for the “experiment” you linked to … it was a single pro-low carb blogger (with his own diet book to sell) in a non-blinded, uncontrolled situation. We have no idea whether he was actually controlling for variables, accurately recording what he ate, etc. Good for him for trying something and recording his experiences. I do the same thing every day along with thousands of others at My Fitness Pal.

      • ES/CarbShark says:

        I was just asking what your goalposts are, and offered a reasonable criteria for success. You have still offered no criteria for success beyond a meaningless tautology.

        And yes I referred to the experiment as anecdotal evidence and an n=1 experiment, but the question you ducked was: If his results were replicated in a RCT, wouldn’t that negate your calorie is a calorie approach?

  12. Alison Edwards says:

    The funny thing is you ask me that question in the comments section of a post where I say “I acknowledge that different calories may burn differently and thus can effect rate of weight loss.” Besides, my approach in these two pieces has not been ‘a calorie is a calorie” it’s been “calories in, calories out.” In both that blogger’s experiments, overeating caused him to gain weight.

    Can anyone, anywhere, provide an actual researched example of someone eating more than they burn and still losing weight? It hasn’t yet surfaced.

    • es says:

      “Can anyone, anywhere, provide an actual researched example of someone eating more than they burn and still losing weight? It hasn’t yet surfaced.”

      And that is, of course, a strawman. Stored fat is stored calories. So is muscle and other lean tissue. If you consume more calories than you burn you will either add to your fat stores, build muscle or add to your lean tissue, and you will gain weight. No one is arguing that is not the case.

      The argument is if you can extrapolate that simple interaction of physics into diet advice. If saying things like “it’s the calories stupid” is helpful or even relevant.

      No where else in medicine is a fundamental law of physics applied to a complex bio-chemical process.

      I heard a great analogy the other day. Your argument that it’s all about calories in calories out, and weight gain is a mere caloric imbalance, would be like arguing that constipation is simply a fecal imbalance.

      It’s all about food in and poop out, in this analogy. And if you’re constipated, all you have to do is eat less and poop more.

      Which is perfectly consistent with the laws of physics, but that advice for constipation is just as helpful as your advice on diet and nutrition.

      • Alison Edwards says:

        What makes that a false analogy is that I have complete control over what I eat. I do not have complete control over my bowels, which is part of the autonomic function of my body.

        So this conversation has devolved into a discussion of poop. I guess that means it’s gone to shit …

        • es says:

          But you do not have control over how the energy from those calories are partitioned. You do not have control over how much fat is stored in cells. You do not have control over how much your total energy expenditure or resting energy expenditure.

          I would argue that even your control over how much you eat is not complete. Certainly not how many calories you eat.

          You can influence many of those things (including your bowels), but control (much less complete control) is an illusion.

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