Calories In/Calories Out (CICO) aka “The Calorie Theory” may be the most repeated and most accepted phrase in diet studies and theory. It’s also sure to spark a huge debate any time you wish to challenge it, or maybe even press people for details on what it really means.
The truth about it is-it’s crap. Calories In/Calories Out is basically garbage in/garbage out. The phrase/theory or whatever it is has been so misunderstood and abused that I’m not sure if it is even salvageable. It could be that the whole idea just needs to go into the recycle bin.
CICO Means What?
The above is a simple representation of what diet folks have been telling people for decades. It basically states that body weight is changed when calories change by a specific ratio of 3,600 or 3,500, depending on what the source is.
This gets repeated over, and over, and over.
I picked one example from The Mayo Clinic-
…Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight.
Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound. So if you cut 500 calories from your typical diet each day, you’d lose about 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories).
Cutting calories doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it can be as simple as:
- Skipping one extra high-calorie indulgence a day
- Swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options
- Reducing portion sizes…
So, What’s the Problem?
It simply does not work that way. The Mayo Clinic author that wrote that is an idiot.
Weight is far, far more complicated than a simple equation with calories as the only inputs. It neglects types of calories, hormones (which actually manage weight), and it is a mis-application of the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy).
As other researchers have pointed out, the animal world does not and could not work this way. Animals that hibernate do not simply pig out before the winter by instinct to prepare for the winter. It’s done with hormones. Fat storage and weight maintenance in humans is mostly hormonal too. It’s not some linear day-by-day addition or subtraction of calories.
A Video You Really Should Listen To if You Want to Understand It-
I was googling around for a better explanation, and the best single page I found has a video by Zoe Harcombe called “Thermodynamics and Weight Loss.” It’s just under 7 minutes and well worth the time.
A short summary of what Harcombe is saying is that CICO is fundamentally flawed because it attempts to use the first law of thermodynamics (which applies to a closed system) to humans, which are not closed systems. You can listen to the rest and make your own conclusions. I’m not sure this video completely explains everything we are interested in, but it more than does the job as far as putting CICO to bed.
The Problem When Everyone Has Their Own Definition-
Before writing this blog entry, I thought I would drop the question on the smart folks over at Marksdailyapple Forum and see where it goes. As of this writing, the topic ran on to 14 pages, and my conclusion is that even people that are pretty good at staying on top of diet topics get completely scattered and confused when CICO comes up.
Part of the problem is the lack of a specific definition, and part of it is that the concept is so stupid to begin with, that people make up what they want it to mean for themselves and just dig in. When that happens, I wonder if the concept has any use at all, because everyone is on a different page anyway and no one will ever sort it out.
Here are just a few observations from the CICO question from Mark’s forum:
- CICO really just means the more you eat, the more you gain. That should be obvious. Why even bring it up? People who don’t want to believe CICO are just lazy and want to eat all they want and not gain.
- CICO works under normal conditions, it just doesn’t always apply, so what’s the problem? So what if there are exceptions?
- CICO says if you eat more you gain, but the concept is useless because it does not explain why.
- CICO is not specific enough, a better equation is Energy In (corrected for digestion) = (BMR/RMR + TEF + TEA + SPA/NEAT) + Change in Body Stores (click this link for a source and definitions.)
- CICO works and the hormone thing is accounted for in calories out. (But, it isn’t, if you read the Mayo Clinic nonsense or even look at the calorie theory formula above, CICO uses calories differences only.)
This is just off of one discussion. Obviously what people think it means is scattered all over the place, hence the whole concept is useless.
A Simple Thought Experiment-
I put this on the discussion on Mark’s forum to illustrate how it is impossible to account for what happens with weight by calories alone-
Say you have a large number of identical twins, and they are selected because their weight matches, and their health is pretty much the same.
Now for each of the identical twins, one eats Primal (healthy, pretty much low carb), and the other eats crap every day, but they eat the same number of calories. The one that eats crap drinks a lot of sugar soda, twinkies, pasta, bread, and stops at McDonald’s every day. They do exactly the same amount of activity as pairs, running, sports, whatever.
Continue this for years.
At the end, will they weigh the same?
Of course not! They ate the same number of calories, expended the same energy, but no way in hell will their weight be identical. It’s impossible.
That to me proves calories in/calories out is false.
Why will their weight not match? Because all calories are not the same. Borrowing the explanation in Taubes’ “Why We Get Fat,” the higher-carb twin that gets calories from sugar and junk food will produce more insulin, and insulin is the fat storage hormone. It’s not a calorie calculation, it’s hormones.
CICO pretends hormones do not exist. It can’t work.Share on Facebook
I thought it might be fun to write a quick summary of the best and worst stuff I have seen about health and nutrition online in the past week or so. These are not necessarily new articles, just stuff that I ran across, or someone else mentioned-
Mark Sisson takes a shot at higher carb diets and people that are against Primal (his word for Paleo).
A Metabolic Paradigm Shift, or Why Fat is the Preferred Fuel for Human Metabolism
…It boggles my mind that such a large segment of the so-called health and fitness community would continue to defend high carbohydrate diets with such tenacity…
Here’s one of those sites where the writer has a pic of his muscles so you are supposed to think he knows what he is talking about. Plus, the references at the end are typical “professional” associations, the last people you want to believe. Groups like this are too political and its where most of the bad and damaging advice comes from. (To be fair, this guy also makes the “Best” list below because I happen to kind-of agree with another one of his rants.)
“Insulin Resistance? Stop the Nonsense”
…Most promoters of low carbs to no carbs diet, or no starches want you to believe two things. The first is they want you to believe that insulin resistance is ‘an absolute’ and a modern probability of genetic predisposition. Secondly, they want you to believe that ‘man in nature’ ate primarily a carbs-free diet. Well neither of these two assumptions is true…
This guy gets completely in over his head, and he’s making a strawman argument anyway. Low carbers do low carb because it works. They are typically basing everything on insulin resistance. Some hardly talk about it, some do, but not like this guy says-hence-it’s a strawman argument.
“Saturated Fat and Heart Disease”
…The bottom line is that there is no connection between the intake of saturated fat and heart disease or stroke. But there is a connection between the currently recommended high carbohydrate diet and heart disease and stroke.
So enjoy bacon and eggs and forgo the oatmeal and bagels, your LDL will come down your HDL will go up, your weight will go down and your satisfaction with your diet will go up. The low fat diet is the worst dietary advice in the last 50 years and it is the proximate cause of our epidemics of heart disease, diabetes and obesity…
There is so much wrong with this one I couldn’t finish it. This is basically some idiot spending way too much time trying to nit-pit everything they can about the Primal/Paleo approach, and it makes weak or false arguments.
“THE PALEO DIET: FAD, RELIGION, OR SOLUTION?”
…The true defining hate in the Paleo Diet is that of grains (as well as beans, legumes, and some starch vegetables) we are told to avoid. This isn’t the only place where we find this. Over and over again we find a writer after writer demonizing the grain, sugar, and starch carbohydrates. Their technical data for this is actually remarkably small. In fact, the data that exists against the use of grains or starch vegetables is limited to a very small set of studies and always in large epidemiology research (which has too many variables to take without a grain of salt). The majority of it uses small or special populations to make invalid points…
Remind me to not believe anything this moron writes!
This one is from the blowhard that wrote about insulin resistance (see above), but this one I think deserves to make the “Best” list.
“The Calories Myth”
…Calories-in, Calories-out: Stop the Nonsense
I’ve known competitors who became so calories-balanced-obsessed that they cut broccoli spears or green beans in half so it measures “right” on the scale. This is what the myth of the calories-in, calories-out logic leads to. And it’s too bad because it’s much ado about nothing. It’s a lot of mental stress over an illusion of control that simply does not exist. But the calorie balance emphasis “seems” like it exists because the industry uses it with a focus entirely in the “immediate” realm of time. But there are three realms of time the body adjusts for: the immediate, the residual, and the cumulative. And if you look at the calories-in and calories-out, calories-balance logic, over the long term, the cumulative term, it all breaks down, and it all makes little sense…
Overall, good job. I’d like to see more like this one. He goes on to plug his book, which I don’t care to read, but I think this one is good.Share on Facebook
Upside Down Pizza-Omlette
Here’s a simple thing you can do with eggs if you are bored-
Butter or olive oil
Link-type sausage (I used Bilinski’s Cajun-Style Andouille Chicken Sausage)
Romano or Mozzarella
Whatever else you like in omlettes
This is really just an omlette that you don’t fold over. The trick is in the order in which you make it. I’ll write how I made this one, but it’s easy to customize.
Slice up the sausage into thin circles, and warm up in a small frying pan in a little butter. Shred Romano cheese, enough to fill the gaps between the circles.
Fry that carefully until the cheese melts and starts to brown a little.
Scramble the eggs and pour that on top, then cut up the avocado into little bits and put that on top.
For this one, I waited until the egg was nearly cooked, and flipped it over. You could also just wait until eggs are cooked and not flip it.
Serve it upside-down. (See above pic)
This is another all-Earth Fare recipe. I got everything at the local Earth Fare.Share on Facebook
A couple of months ago news of a diet from France coming to America had the websites buzzing. It’s here, and (unless I missed something) it didn’t make much of a big splash. The “Dukan Diet” was tagged “The French Atkins” for it’s low carb, high-protein, multi-step approach. Dukan’s has some differences from Atkins, so lets see what they are, and what people are saying.
Disclaimer-I didn’t read the book. I’m basing this off of what I’m reading from the Dukan website, and from news accounts and reviews. I’m not going to say for sure that the program is great or terrible just based on what I’m seeing online.
In general, the Dukan Diet is low carb, low fat, and has 4 phases to work through. Dukan says you can eat what you want as long as you stick to his list. Here’s an unofficial copy of Dukan’s 100 foods list. (It’s interesting to read the comments too.) This diet is basically a high protein diet that has some ways to lower calories and help keep people feeling full (like oat bran).
From the New York Times-
…For years, critics have dismissed the Dukan diet as a warmed-over version of early Atkins: a simple protein-centric method that divides foods into good and bad categories and relies on the claims of a medical doctor who is long on enthusiasm and short on scientific research.
Asked about Atkins, Dr. Dukan acknowledged that it was a source of inspiration. “I am built on the shoulders of Weight Watchers and Atkins diets,” he said. But he criticized Weight Watchers for its emphasis on quantity sizes and calorie counting, and Atkins for allowing unlimited consumption of fat. “I have a lot of respect for Atkins,” Dr. Dukan said. “He was a legend in his time.” But now, he added, “Atkins is dead.”
His own diet’s high-protein, low-fat approach is organized into four phases: attack, cruise, consolidation and stabilization…
Four Phases, and something missing:
What’s the deal with all these phases? Getting the right food in the right amounts shouldn’t be a phase. Your body doesn’t know what phase you are in, your mind does. These phases seem like ways to encourage behavior changes, but I don’t like them. I would rather know what works long term and not have the pressure to fit some plan. To be fair, phases are nothing new. There is something to them when you are talking low carb, but you only need two-very low carb, and minimal carb.
The main thing I see missing, and it’s an issue for Atkins as well, is some clarity on healthy vs unhealthy for a specific food item. For example, in the above food list, it has pre-cooked ham, chicken, and turkey slices-very popular in Europe-just go there and look at any breakfast at the hotel. Ever try to read the ingredients on the package of that stuff? They look like a syllabus for an organic chemistry class. Beware. Lean, fresh protein is far more healthy that deli slices, even if protein and calories are the same. This diet doesn’t seem to even pay attention.
Paleo/Primal diets will tell you right away about getting healthy lean protein. It does matter. Dukan just seems to be helping to step through bad food choices to find the least bad.
What’s the deal with oat bran? Dukan’s site has a graphic to show how it can help you feel full. Eat some oat bran, and drink a lot of water. The other benefits are questionable. Leave oats for the horses. Diets need to support the right blood chemistry, and should not have to be modified to add expanding goo in your gut to help you feel full so you eat less!
Atkins vs “French Atkins”
Low carbers that are Atkins fans won’t like Dukan because Dukan is a bit more low fat. In this view, it’s fat that helps you feel full, and fat doesn’t make you fat-carbs do. This approach can have issues too, because you have to know your fats. Piling on the bacon simply does not work for everyone, no matter what the proponents tell you.
I didn’t see any references to the glycemic index on what I read about Dukan so far. Dukan seems to just have a list of what is OK to eat, and phases to tell you when. It makes you wonder if any research at all went into this diet, or is it all just herding people into a structured high protein plan-which anyone could do really.
A Stupid Critic:
Dukan’s plan may be just a simple way to get people to eat low carb, and high protein (which will get results), but I’ll take it over the stupid ideas that come from Kathleen M. Zelman, writing about Dukan for WebMD.com.
…You’ll certainly lose weight on The Dukan Diet because it cuts calories drastically. The lack of carbs also helps keep hunger at bay. But the bottom line, experts say, is that this eating plan does not include all the nutrients you need for good health…
…Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet, but it cannot stand alone. A truly healthy diet includes all the food groups — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy and healthy fats along with lean protein. Your body needs the nutrients these foods provide…
Another asshole repeating the food group thing! Please! Whole (or processed) grains are not food. The food groups are a lie. You don’t really need dairy either-which Dukan has a lot of!
The Dukan Diet is a variation of Atkins. A high-protein, low carb diet, in general, will work. Do you need this plan to tell you that? No. Does it have the technical detail to really help you develop a new way of eating that is the most healthy? No. Can you lose weight on it? Yes.
Dukan Diet (Official US Site)
Dukan Diet 100 Foods List (Unofficial)
Message Board Discussion on it (This is where I read about it first)
Typical stupid review from a CW (Conventional Wisdom) site
The fact that doctors, public health organizations, dietitians, and nutritionalists have made a gigantic mistake in the previous decades that has resulted in widespread obesity and health problems is a bold claim, but it’s true. No one has done a better job of dropping a bomb in so-called “conventional wisdom” (CW) than Gary Taubes.
Taubes has published important articles and 2 books about this, and the public and health folks are still arguing about it, and trying to digest it. It’s heavy duty stuff, and takes some getting used to since it’s going against what just about everyone is saying.
Dr Michael Eades, of www.proteinpower.com has written an excellent explanation-
Of all the dangerous ideas that health officials could have embraced while trying to understand why we get fat, they would have been hard-pressed to find one ultimately more damaging than calories-in/calories-out. That it reinforces what appears to be so obvious—obesity as the penalty for gluttony and sloth—is what makes it so alluring. But it’s misleading and misconceived on so many levels that it’s hard to imagine how it survived unscathed and virtually unchallenged for the last fifty years.
It has done incalculable harm. Not only is this thinking at least partly responsible for the ever-growing numbers of obese and overweight in the world—while directing attention away from the real reasons we get fat—but it has served to reinforce the perception that those who are fat have no one to blame but themselves…
The thing in a nutshell is this:
-Fat doesn’t make you fat.
-Calories in/calories out is the wrong explanation for obesity, because it fails to take into account how bodies actually store energy. (duh!)
-The correct explanation is metabolism, and it’s driven by insulin, aka “the storage hormone,” not calories from fat.
-Carbohydrate drives insulin, and that drives fat.
Simple. If you want to store less fat, take in less carbohydrate.
Skipping to the important part in Eades review-
So, why do people get fat? Let’s look at it as Gary does and start from the beginning.
When we talk about obesity, we’re talking about the excess accumulation of fat. The excess fat is stored in the fat cells (adipose cells), which, collectively make up the adipose tissue. With that as our starting point, where do we go?
If we ask how the fat gets into the fat cells, we will discover that all the pathways of fat storage were worked out years ago and are so uncontroversial that they’re described in detail in every biochemistry and physiology textbook currently in use. It’s well known that the metabolic hormone insulin stimulates an enzyme on the surface of the fat cell that moves the fat into the cell.
So if insulin moves fat into the fat cells, it would seem that a lot of insulin would move a lot of fat into the fat cells. And indeed it does. Given this, the rational person trying to figure out the previous step in our progression would ask What causes a lot of insulin? Or the rational person, should he/she have been steeped for a lifetime in the marinade of ‘fat is bad’ might ask, What about fat? If there is a lot of fat in the blood as a result of fat in the diet, wouldn’t that fat get into the fat cell? If so, then doesn’t dietary fat lead to fat?
A good question, but the answer is no. Type I diabetics can have a lot of fat in their diets and in their blood, but if they have no insulin, they can’t store that fat. In fact, most pre-diagnosis type I diabetics lose enormous amounts of weight despite eating ravenously because without insulin they can’t store the fat. So dietary fat itself – even large amounts of it – won’t find its way into the fat cell without the help of insulin.
When you hack through the thicket of all the biochemical pathways involved in the metabolic process, you find that insulin is the primary force involved in the storage of nutrients. Insulin is the body’s storage hormone: it puts fat in the fat cells, protein into muscle cells and glucose into it’s storage form, glycogen. Insulin, along with its counter-regulatory hormone glucagon (the Yin and Yang of metabolism), are involved in nutrient partitioning – the process of stashing nutrients away in different parts of the body and/or harvesting them for the body to use as energy…
One should read the whole thing.
One point that is worth noting- It’s true that eating carbs raises insulin. Insulin stores fat. Critics have also noted that eating protein raises insulin, but Eades answers that this way-
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Some people with a little learning may be quick to point out that protein drives insulin up as well. This is true, but with a catch. Protein drives both insulin and glucagon up, so you don’t have the pure insulin effect. Only carbs will give you that. With carbs, insulin goes up while glucagon goes down. With meat and other proteins, the effects of the elevated insulin are muted by the concomitant rise in glucagon. (Glucagon isn’t called insulin’s counter-regulatory hormone for nothing.)
I guess it’s time to start a recipe category.
I like to go to the local Earth Fare (Huntsville) and just look for things to invent a new recipe. Here’s one from some stuff I found yesterday-
This one is quick and simple, and you can modify it easily. It’s really just a sausage dog with a long grilled sweet pepper for a bun.
For this one, I used-
Bilinski’s Cajun-Style Andouille Chicken Sausage (or use anything similar really)
Sunset “Ancient Sweets” long sweet peppers
Grated gouda-style goat cheese
Spices, turmeric, basil, black pepper, curry, and a bit of salt (add or subtract spices for preference)
Double-sided grill (a cheap George Foreman works fine)
Pre grill the sausage a bit to warm it up (it’s pre-cooked, this is just to warm it
Slice the peppers and clean out the seeds
Mix spices in the grated cheese
Put the cheese and the pre-warmed sausage in the pepper (like making a hot dog), and grill just long enough to heat up the peppers.
That’s it! Easy.Share on Facebook
If you have been reading all the buzz about getting more vitamin D and haven’t done it yet, what are you waiting for? More are more experts are getting on board, and it works.
It seems like vitamin advice goes in cycles. There was a time when people would say vitamin C does miracles. Then it was vitamin E. Then, whatever. In recent years, more experts have been noticing the benefits of vitamin D, noting that most people are low, and the recommended supplement is increasing. Going out to get some sun just doesn’t cut it.
Even when the evidence for getting vitamin D levels up is getting stronger, we still have “head in the sand” experts that go out of their way to give bad advice. Here’s a good blog entry that disputes the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board report saying “that taking more than 800 IU of supplemental vitamin D was unnecessary and could even be harmful.”
Should you ignore this report? Simply put, yes. It lacks any basis in the latest scientific research, ignores the “real world” findings of medical practitioners who routinely prescribe higher doses of vitamin D and see dramatic results in their patients, and it fails the common sense “sniff” test. Let me explain.
The Smart Nutrient…
The committee only looked at the amount of vitamin D known to be needed for strong bones. That’s like evaluating an iPhone based solely on the ability of its built-in calculator to add and subtract. The calculator is one tiny feature of the iPhone, but it’s hardly a complete picture of what a good smartphone can do.
Similarly, vitamin D is important for strengthening bones, but that’s only one of the many important things this miraculous “smart” nutrient does.
Vitamin D expert William Grant, PhD, puts it this way:
“The health benefits of vitamin D extend to at least 100 types of disease, with the strongest evidence for many types of cancer (breast, colon, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and rectal), cardiovascular disease, diabetes types 1 and 2, respiratory infections such as type A influenza and pneumonia, other infections such as sepsis, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.”
Vitamin D is not just a vitamin. It’s a hormone that does a lot of important things.
The preferred approach would be to know what your vitamin D levels are from blood tests, and take a supplement based on that. Not everyone is going to run out and do that, so a good rule of thumb is to take about 2,000 IU a day, and next time you are at the doctor for something and they do a blood test, ask that vitamin D is included so you can work from there.Share on Facebook
If you have been trying to sort through the eat carbs/don’t eat carbs, eat fat, don’t eat fat, eat more protein/don’t eat more protein nonsense lately, don’t feel alone. It seems like everyone has an opinion, and they are all different. This blog seeks to figure out who to believe, and one recent study this blog agrees with says the answer is, for losing weight, more protein, less carbs.
A 26-week study in Europe took some dieters that were restricting calories and lost weight to start with, and then put them on 4 different diets and didn’t restrict calories. The intent was to see which combination of high/low protein and high/low glycemic (carbs) worked the best at keeping weight down.
I saw a summary on Dr Jonny Bowden’s blog about it, and he summed it up-
Researchers looked at four different diets in an attempt to identify which program would have the best chance of keeping weight off.
The clear winner: a low-glycemic, higher protein diet.
This approach isn’t that hard to do. Just eat a bit more protein, and learn the GI index and work the foods high on the list out of your life.
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One of the most encouraging pieces of information to come from this study is that it doesn’t take an “extreme” diet to produce benefits. This “high-protein” diet really wasn’t so high, and the glycemic load really wasn’t all that low. But merely moving in the direction of more protein and less sugar appears to have benefits even if you don’t take it to the extreme.