1. Calorie counts on labels undercount by up to 18%
2. Other factors to weight than pure calories, including genetics
3. Certain foods have low calorie counts but are worse than others with higher counts
4. Eating whole foods is better than non-whole foods and helped the subject of this article lose weight better than calorie counting & exercise
Worshipping whole foods is not the answer, you need balance. Plus who wants to live life like a Buddhist monk? Having a burger or pizza every once in a while is fun, it's just about moderation.
I'm calorie counting right now via a food journal, trying to stay under 2K a day (I also exercise 5-6 days a week, often 2x a day), and I'm oddly enjoying the experience.
One, I can't cheat myself. Before I'd get frustrated trying to lose weight and failing, feeling like I tried really hard and "deserved" it. But with the calorie count you know if you did or didn't. It's very easy to forget or not realize how much you're eating exactly, that's why you write it down.
Also, I feel rewarded if I eat salads every day, like I'm getting points in a game or something. Not everyone's brain works that way but for me calorie counting makes dieting more scientific, at least somewhat.
Articles like these are somewhat unhelpful because yes it's great to eat whole foods but so is 1) watching what you eat 2) relying on moderation and 3) exercising.
P.S. Didn't like how the article implicitly denigrates running as a weight loss tool just because this one person didn't succeed doing it -- not exactly a rigorous analysis.
I'm actually using an app that connects to Apple HealthKit (I also have an Apple Watch I specifically bought to keep me on track with my exercise). All of those things working in concert is great and they've been working for me.
How much I was eating (and moreso—what I was eating) surprised me, but it made everything make sense after I'd been working out relatively intensely for years. The strength was there, but I wasn't losing body fat the way I wanted.
Since taking up watching more closely, I've been able to start making a real dent.
Also: Being a Scots-Irish Canadian, I naturally love my beer and whisky. Thankfully I also grew up loving vegetables by product of my mother growing them and often offering only those as snacks. By counting my calories I can ascribe value to what I eat (or drink) throughout the day so that I don't have to ever really: a) give up drink for more than a month or two at a time, depending and b) I can let myself eat as many fresh vegetables as I like as long as I watch it with the olive oil.
Calorie counting isn't magic but it's helped me "price" my meals. If the little cajun fries at Five Guys are really 600 calories, maybe I can pass on those and get a bag of 90 calorie chips instead.
Now I'm no longer surprised when I step on the scale each week, I know from my weekly calorie total if I've lost weight or not.
It's like as humans we all have eating amnesia, the minute we consume something it's forgotten about -- then later we wonder why we haven't lost weight. This article is a little silly in pretending that the math of calories in/calories out isn't as viable a method as just eating whole foods.
2x a day I think is key. It worked amazingly for me. I think it just kept up my metabolism rate very high through the day. I lost weight even if I had a few days of high calorie food.
Make a diet plan. Eat for two weeks. Record result. If you are losing 2 lb a week good. If not adjust percentages. You will be hungry. The end.
Losing weight by counting kcal is a skill which requires practise and consciousness. I need to get to know what kinds of food work for me; how I handle certain situations like sickness or times with travel (anything off routine, really).
After quite a long time of doing it, I believe the reason it works for me personally, is that the accountability towards the calorie-app keeps me off chocolate (big candy-bowl at work which I pass multiple times a day).
My problem is: As soon as I stop counting, the accountability towards the counting-app is lost, and the junk-food is back on the plate. After several months I'm back to ~95 kg and it's on to counting again (usually triggered by too-tight pants).
2lb a week is very aggressive in the long run. That's a 1000 kCal deficit per day.
While it may work for some it's not generally regarded as a sustainable target deficit. It may work for a few weeks, but then it can't be maintained and weight rebounds. There are other side effects like constant tiredness, hunger, irritability, trouble sleeping, etc. that easily throw weight loss off the rails.
Again, might work for some people; but 1 Lb or 0.5kg per week is what I typically see recommended.
I recall reading about a study over the past couple years that indicated people on crash diets were more likely to hit their goals and not more likely to regain the weight. And that's much more aggressive. IMHO if somebody wants to lose weight, I would recommend they clear it with their doc and get after it with as much(little?) energy as they can muster!
Scott Alexander blogged about an hypothesis for the obesity crisis that points to high-reward, high-calorie, low-satiety foods as the problem . I find this argument compelling, as it fits well with Paul Graham's compelling thesis that capitalism optimizes for addictiveness .
> In the 1970s, scientists wanted to develop new rat models of obesity. This was harder than it sounded; rats ate only as much as they needed and never got fat... Then, almost by accident, someone tried feeding the rats human snack food, and they ballooned up to be as fat as, well, humans.
The endocrinology and psychology of "why do we feel hungry?" and "why do we overeat?" are incredibly important to weight loss.
That's not to say that you can't lose weight with caloric restriction - of course you can. But noone in the CICO* crowd can explain why most people struggle with it. It's easy to chalk it up to "weak-minded fatties". The more interesting question is - could we bolster the weak-minded through nutritional adjustment, supplements or fecal transplants?
* Calories-in, calories-out
> Most government guidelines indicated that, as a man, he needed 2,500 calories a day to maintain his weight (the target for women is 2,000)
Those guidelines alone are a recipe for rampant morbid obesity, and most people eat far more than that as evidenced by the rapidly expanding obesity rate. The majority of people are simply far too sedentary to recommend anywhere near that level of caloric intake, given the levels of obesity they could easily cut those guidelines by a third if not in half. Or even less if they wanted to promote cures to obesity related disease like type-2 diabetes.
By the way, eating about 800 calories a day will cause weight loss (not surprising, laws of physics still apply) and reverse type-2 diabetes.
Oh well, let the science denial continue. Whether it is weight and obesity, evolution, climate, pollution, biological sex, evolution, flat earth, creationism, in the modern era facts no longer matter.
You know what you do with fuzzy measurements and personal bias? You over-count calories and round up deliberately to off-set it. You know what you say when someone tells you that your micronutrient balance isn't just right? "Probably. But obesity will kill me before that will."
Source: one drunk guy who has lost >100 pounds and kept it off for 3 years.
Considering that sugary drinks tend to have very low effects on satiety, it's not surprising he was hungry all the time.
Many of the effective non-calorie-counting diets have turned out to just be good ways to reduce calorie intake.
What alternative is this article advocating?
It's obviously not an exact science.
If you go with a daily reduction of 1000 kcal, then it doesn't matter if you have an error-margin of 300-500 kcal, you still lose weight.
If you only try to save 500 a day, and maybe are not too exact in your logging, you might not see an effect at all.
I have been receiving health coaching for last 4 months or so, and most important part that working for me is to be able to be conscious about food choices, and also being able to reflect what I have been eating and doing how well I'm doing with sugar, carbs, protein, fiber, etc., rather than just looking at the calories count. (and I do eat unhealthy stuff time to time, and I don't think my health coach is necessarily against that -- unless that's my regular habit, that is. It's more important to know how they balance out in the overall intake,)
It never occurred to me before I start measuring what I eat using MyFitnessPal. But now, seeing those numbers, I tend to consciously adjust my intake, for example, I will just eat 1/5 of that chips I wanted to eat, because I had bit of carbs today, etc., etc.,
I've found the problem is that they'll also vastly underestimate the size of a serving or a product. Things will be much larger than the nutritional information would suggest. A food scale is a must.
That's not to say that he's 100% right about everything, but I think there is a very good point to be made that we ought to eat more home-cooked food, instead of fast food and processed food products optimized for production costs and shelf life.
- That fat creation is influenced more by how fast sugar enters the system (and the insulin response that follows) than caloric content.
- Simple carbs (white bread, pasta) are quickly broken down into sugar
- The rate at which sugar enters system (glycemic index) triggers a proportional insulin spike
- Excess of insulin hormone is what triggers storage of fat
- Counting calories without also considering more influential factors like glycemic index of foods plays a major role in failing of weight-loss initiatives.
- Exercise is healthy, but diet plays a larger factor in body weight: ~75% for most people.
This is the key, and completely unproven point as far as I know.
This is called the 'insulin hypothesis'.
And there's still ZERO evidence for it.
So as far as we know right now, it's all down to calories <shrug>.
The article of this post does not explicitly state that a bomb calorometer is still in use, but it is very implied. I do not really like to article because it omissions and framing like this to support its narrative.
We don't use the bomb calorimeter today, but we still use the Atwater system (with a quick tweak for fiber) for those "nutritional components." All that means is instead of burning the food ourselves we're looking at a table that the guy who burned the foods created... with his bomb calorimeter. The only reason we're marginally better now is because we're starting to take into account digestibility (e.g. Carbs have non-digestible fiber subtracted before the calories are calculated).
But still, what the gp says was that a wooden log would have a food label with a high calorie content. That is not correct.
Was the original comment edited? As it reads now, the GP makes no mention of a label, only the factually correct statement that a log "is several megacalories" (ie, hardwood releases about 20 kCal/g when burned) but "you'll starve eating it" (ie, human digestion is not able to make use of this energy).
You are right that a current nutritional label would not show the log has having any significant number of calories, but the GP's actual post never said that it would. What makes you visualize this non-existent food label and then claim it is incorrect, as opposed to accepting their statement as written?
I also do wonder about the calories in ethanol. Apparently its immediate metabolism does produce a few atp, but the fact that hangover cures are universally high calorie foods suggests that the downstream steps might be endothermic or rate limited by fat, if that's even possible
Also, get used to fasting (18 hours and more), that's actually very regenerative for the body
Written sometime back in the 1990's, the author (creator of Autocad) determined that weight gain and loss is simply a feedback and control problem. Most of us eat open loop. By counting calories in and calculating your weight trend, and adjusting calorie intake accordingly you can deliberately control your weight. Simple, right? :-)
Iv'e tried it. It actually does work. Mostly. The cool thing about it is you don't even have to count every calorie you eat. Just eat normal and start the weight trend measurements. After a while you'll see what your trend is and his online tools will calculate how many calories of intake you should reduce (or increase) to give you your desired rate of weight loss (or gain). Finding a way to cut 200 calories a day, for example, is easier than counting every calorie.
The downside is, I think, what this article gets at. Twice I've focused hard on using The Hacker's Diet and lost a good amount of weight, but as I dropped I started to get really hungry and fatigued all the time. It was weird. At first it felt really good to weigh less, but it became very hard to maintain. My best guess, and this article seems to support this, is that the composition of my calorie intake wasn't optimal (or even close to it). Both times I lost my will and gained the weight back.
It's interesting to note that he mentions in the book that he's "weird" in that he eats all his calories for the day in one big meal in the middle of the day. "You don't have to do this," he assures. And now, 30 years later, there is a loud group of people who do exactly that in order to lose weight (see: Intermittent Fasting). This article also mentions eating 3 meals with no snacking in between is better than grazing all day.
Anyway, just thought I'd share that in case anyone is interested. I have no easy answers. I'm not hugely overweight, the gains and losses I'm talking about here are on the order of 20 to 30 lbs over the course of a few years each time. Take all this as is.
1. weigh yourself everyday, calculate an exponentially smoothed moving average
True, noone can store more energy than you ingest.
But - as the article says - it's very difficult to know exactly how much you're ingesting. The calorimeter is a very blunt way of determining how much energy is "in" food - not only do food labels probably routinely understate how much energy something contains, it has no way of explaining how that energy is actually digested or metabolized by the human body.
Many people calculate their diet based on very slim (~500 kcal) margins. It's conceivable that these are obliterated by these small fluctuations in actual vs labelled calorific content.
That's without getting into issues like insulin sensitivity and so on.
My go-to recommendation for people trying to lose weight is eliminate all sugar and simple/starchy carbohydrates and start a fairly light exercise program. This will have a marked impact on appetite, and most people will naturally start losing weight. If weight loss stalls, start playing around with meal portions and feeding windows.
So far, I haven't heard of anyone who hasn't lose weight with this routine.
When I did something similar, it worked great for a while, but rather than the weight loss stalling, I started gaining weight. If I don't severely portion control basically everything except green vegetables, I gain weight.
I should note that this was just once I reached my mid 30s that this became an issue; prior to that an so long as I exercised regularly, my appetite and my weight were better matched.
For now, I think it's much more important to change your habits and mindset around eating, then see how your body responds.
The wonderful thing about physics and science is that it does not matter what you believe, fact is fact :)
Our present knowledge of how food is turned into both used and stored energy is extremely rudimentary... there's a ton of chemical processes occurring, all with various different levels of efficiencies and failsafes.
Take two humans of identical weight. Now feed them exactly the same thing. I guarantee you will not have the same outcome for both.
We are not at a place in science where human bodies are like car engines. We don't know how fuel gets combusted. We don't even know how to tell if someone is a 4-cylinder or a V8.
So, given that the user manual is basically a blank page-- how can you just claim user error? That is a gross exaggeration that trivializes the plight of many.
However, most people do not want to live the lives of professional dancers and athletes; such lives are often physically unpleasant. So they need diet plans that take psychology into account, not just physics.
When people lack the intelligence, willpower, or consistency needed to make prescriptions (of pills, exercise, or diet) work, there's not much you can do for them except lock them up and force them to do the things.
If you need to be on a diet and you can't stick to it, there's not much we can do for you except maybe come up with a pill that makes your brain hurt less when you're on the diet, like we do with curing drug addiction.
What you can do in that situation is to try to give them different advice and improve advice untill it actually works.
As far as I have read, literally no one in this comments section is arguing against the laws of thermodynamics. If you actually believe that so many people here are simply thermodynamics deniers, it might be helpful to take a step back and re-read with that in mind.
You said that, right?
(The real objection here is that chickens are not spherical. Or, less flippantly: that human bodies do not typically operate at a set efficiency with regard to thermodynamically available energy in food. The efficiency of extraction varies widely. In some cases the specific reasons are well known, and in some they are not, but assuming a set efficiency for turning food into energy (and fat) is like the physics joke "first, let's assume a spherical chicken...".)
Lastly, either you want to play manipulative games where you twist words being said to mean what they dont, or you want to discuss actual topic.
Calories in v calories out works. It really is that simple. Of course people have different metabolic rates, so you tailor your plan over time to find what works for you. It's an iterative process. If you are aiming for X lbs / week and see Y after a free weeks, then increase or decrease intake.
You brought up rare medical conditions which cause weight gain, typically due to edema or metabolic irregularity. All I said is that those conditions don't apply to the vast majority of people and, even when they do, their bodies aren't storing more energy than they intake and use.
I hope no one disputes that thermodynamics exist, but it’s much less certain that every health program receives exactly the same thermodynamic assistance from the body. Keep in mind that the majority of calories burned do not come from active exercise.
Starving people loose weight. They also develop host of problems, both psychological and physical. And our bodies have mechanisms to force is to eat by instinct to avoid that. When those mechanisms fail, we loose weight while being too tired to work, by gaining weight the first day after diet, by being dumb etc.
But beyond that, sugar is not same as same amount of calories from protein.
There is no real maximum to the amount of calories your body can waste (as heat or by excretion). Nor is there any law saying that we're all equally efficient (or even close).
Nor should you, because it is utter nonsense.
Science denial with weight loss and obesity is just as prolific as science denial with climate, pollution, evolution, flat earth, sex, evolution, and any other post-fact topic.