Calories IN => Calories OUT. Is it?

Calories IN => Calories OUT

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We have seen in the previous post that Obesity is sky-rocketing but at the same time a lot of the people seem to be (on average in the US)

  1. Eating more fruit and veg
  2. Doing more exercise
  3. Eating less saturated fat
  4. Eating less red meat and more lean meat
  5. Eating less butter but more cooking and salad oils

Given that some (if not all the people) are following the official guidelines or doctor’s advice, it is surprising that the prescription does not seem to be working.

This post will examine the common notion that you need to spend all the calories you take in and that Obesity is generally caused because of Overeating and lack of Physical Activity. The aim of this post is to challenge existing notions and beliefs around this thinking..

Quite a few folks invoke the laws of thermodynamics to diet, exercise and weight loss. It is true but not in the sense that is normally understood. Human body is too complex  to apply the laws of thermodynamics on a simplistic basis.

I have used Gary Taubes’s notes here. Credit to Gary for helping me change my thinking around dieting and weight loss.

So to repeat once again, we have been told all along (and I bet most of us will believe this very strongly) that in general normal people put on weight because

  1. You Overeat
  2. You do NOT Exercise Enough

Stronger words have been used to describe Fat or Obese or Overweight people but we will not get into that business and you will see why. A lot of the people instinctively think of the above two reasons/factors whenever they bump into Fat or Obese or Overweight people.

Also, it is routinely assumed that if you are not spending all the Calories of Energy (taken in as Food/Drink) then you are definitely going to put on Weight to the tune of any Energy not used up.

You will see in this post that this assumption or belief or dogma is not correct and I will attempt to explain why, with some examples.

It is also highly likely that this assumption is perhaps one of the two main reasons (the other being that high fat diets are harmful (because they increase Cholesterol) and high Carb – low Fat diets are healthier) for the existing prevalence of Obesity.

Please take a look at the following slides which I have put together to provide a simple demonstration of the conventional thinking a little bit (but not too much) mathematically.

Let us look at a few examples

(I noticed a small typo in Example 2 above – it should read “2500-900-1600” = 0 and not “2500-600-1600” (will fix the original soon))

Human body is highly complex with multiple inter-dependencies between various systems and lot of this is driven primarily by various hormones – the levels of which are intricately linked. To the extent possible, the body will try to regulate the levels of hormone and the various processes in the body within a range (sometimes very tight and sometime not so tight) and it does succeed remarkably in doing so on a short term basis. The above one-way dependency is way too simplistic (that you need spend all the calories you take in and the calories you take in are independent of anything).

But if the various inputs into the system are either too high or too low (diet, exercise, stress levels, sleeping patterns, external temperature etc.) over a lengthy period of time, the hormonal regulation system can get out of whack and harm can occur to the body. This is where the Chronic aspect comes into picture.

Calories IN => Calories OUT

Regarding the above, the truth is perhaps closer to the following:

  1. Energy intake, base metabolism, energy spent on exercise and fat storage/release (the four variables used above) are dependent on one another. The level of one or more can affect the levels of the others
  2. Your base metabolism depends on how much you eat. The lower the calorie intake, the lower the metabolism (and this is proven in many studies)
  3. Regular aerobic exercise (like the 30 mins on treadmill or cross trainer) is unlikely to help lose weight in the long term (but it does seem to help in the short term)
  4. The calories you spend in working out is dependent on how much has already been stored as FAT – NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND. This is important because most of the fat storage happens within 2-3 hours of eating food and a lot of energy gets stored as fat if you eat  a high amount of easily digestible Carbs (which will increase your blood sugar levels and insulin levels). So the energy left over after the conversion into fat would be available for exercise and if there is only little left, then you do not feel like exercising or moving about (more about this later).

If you have been Overweight or Obese I am sure you have tried to reduce your intake of food/drink, tried to exercise and still struggled to lose (and maintain the loss) in the long run. Most people are conscious of their Weight these days and it is only an exception if someone has not tried to eat less or exercise. I bet most of us can relate to this.

So, to quote Richard Wade (as explained to Gary Taubes)

“You do not become FAT because you Overeat. You Overeat because you are becoming FAT”. This makes our diet related assumptions Upside Down.

But you may not be convinced by this yet.

So, let us peel the “Calories IN => Calories OUT” onion layer by layer in Part 2 of the post.



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