Wow! A Good Article on Calories!

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For what seems like years there has been this endless debate on calories. It probably will never end.

On one side you have charlatans that preach certain calories in excess somehow magically won’t make you fat. This belief is rampant in the low carb community. The other side endlessly repeats the Eat Less More Move (ELMM) chant and dismisses any discussion of metabolism. This side is dominated by many in the fitness field, who tend to be young and in great shape. Teenage triathlete Armi Legge recently said this asinine statement in an article fawned over by many in the blogosphere.

You could get ripped on skittles and coke (the soda).

I can’t stand either side. Idiocy on one side and arrogance on the other.

To my surprise I stumbled on an actual balanced article regarding calories that doesn’t lie, addresses quality and is concerned about metabolism. Go check out A Calorie Is Sometimes Not A Calorie by Dr. Jade Teta.

Anyone that says calories don’t matter has zero credibility. But anyone who claims calories are all that matter has even less credibility.

Here are some takeaway points from the article.

  1. Calories count.
  2. Quality counts.
  3. Combining sugar, salt and fat has a negative impact on appetite control. (For more info on this read The End of Overeating).
  4. “The standard “eat less, exercise more” approach to dieting leads to about 20-50% loss of lean tissue.”

Dr. Jade Teta’s article successfully balances the strongest points of each side while rejecting the nonsense.

When I put together my plan to lose 20 pounds, my first rule was to remove the foods that dis-regulated my appetite the most. My goal wasn’t to directly lose 20 pounds via calorie restriction. My plan was to reset my appetite via high quality, high satiety foods to that of someone 20 pounds lighter. Reduce appetite while maintaining metabolism first. Then the fat loss should follow. Calories were reduced, but not until I increased quality.

So far my diet strategy, which falls in line with the ideas from the Dr. Teta’s article is working. I’m halfway to the goal and my appetite is in check and my energy levels are fine.

Skittles

Photo by Victor. Getting ripped on Skittles! 

18 thoughts on “Wow! A Good Article on Calories!

  1. @Bill – Yes. His thoughts on hunger and appetite make sense, but he lost me with his long winded explanation of calories.

  2. Txomin

    Well, calories are just that, an energy measure obtained through a bomb calorimeter. Nutritional value, digestibility, appropriateness, context, etc, are crucial measures that are independent of calorie considerations.

  3. Interesting points, but I have to disagree with two items.

    Hunger, energy, and cravings (HEC) are your keys to understanding your metabolism and working with it, rather than against it.

    A significant portion of the population (about 1/3) do not have normal hunger responses. We get buzzed when we are not eating enough (useful in famine when you’ve got to go find food) and are at risk of eating disorders. Even a short period of calorie restriction can trigger years of semi-starvation without even realizing it. (Source: research cited at YourEatopia.com blog)

    Some people really do need to count calories to make sure they are eating enough. At least while in recovery from eating disorders (which can take years) and any time there has been a period of calorie restriction or heavy exercise or anything else (e.g. major stressor) that could trigger more restriction.

    The combo of sugar, fat, and salt will short circuit your appetite centers, turning that “cheat meal” into a cheat week, or worse.

    The experience of people recovering from eating disorders is that cravings come from restrictions. When you allow yourself to eat whatever you want, you tend to get tired of junk food after a while and end up preferring healthier foods. (It might take a few weeks or months, though.) Also, when people first start recovering from disordered eating, they tend to prefer junk food because it is easier to digest and the digestive system often cannot absorb much from healthier foods. There really isn’t any reason to be afraid of junk food as long as there are lots of healthy foods available as well and as long as you’re willing to be at your set point.

    Also, that entire article will trigger disordered eating patterns in people who are vulnerable. But most people should be safe: their bodies simply won’t let them do anything stupid for any great length of time.

  4. @Anemone – As you know from my other posts, I am concerned about metabolism. What this article makes clear is to address this first. Although the target audience isn’t someone with metabolic issues, I see the sentence about salt-sugar-fat as a pathway to short circuit appetite as potentially therapeutic guidance. Of course it is up to the reader to figure out where they are at, but that has always been true.

    The problem with almost ALL nutrition writing is it lacks context on who the audience is. The metabolic recovery writers are just as guilty. Although I am not a fan of most T-Nation content (too bro), I understand their audience is mostly young, male, healthy and somewhat educated.

    The fact we are seeing metabolism even mentioned in a dieting article on a site that promotes extreme fitness and extreme leanness is a good thing. Very few articles about dieting aimed at this crowd ever mention that dieting is more than just willpower and discipline. This article provides symptoms of a compromised metabolism.

  5. garymar

    The problem with almost ALL nutrition writing is it lacks context on who the audience is.

    This is the key. I’ve noticed in 5 years of reading heatlh blogs that they are dominated by 2 extreme groups: the very, very athletic, and the very, very ill. Even within these groups you see further divisions: on a niche blog like Body By Science the comments seem to divide into the hypertrophy or strength camps.

  6. Jay

    Dear MAS,

    I am so darn confused about diets and all of the conflicting studies/opinions that are running around which has led me to years of jumping to the latest fad, all with minimal results. I have recently bought into the low carb/ketogenic fantasy of “easy” weight loss without regards to how much I eat. .I have been on a ketogenic diet for exactly one week now. I have been feeling pretty good on this plan and have lost about 5 lbs so far. I have no carb cravings which is great, but question how long I can stick to this plan. Besides the daily diarrhea, this diet already presents challenges as I have to cook separate foods than what my family is eating, and eating out on low carbs is cumbersome. Already I question myself how long I can keep up this eating style.

    I am a 36 year old, 340lb man who is striving to lose weight for my health, and to feel better about myself. I am searching for an eating plan that I can incorporate into lifestyle. Do you have any diet/exercise suggestions for somebody in my predicament?

    Jay

  7. Karl

    As always MAS you have a reasonable and very thoughtful viewpoint. I’m stuck by how similar my nutritional journey has been to yours.

    One of the other major problems I see with so much of diet advice is how complicated it is. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world who don’t know anything about macronutrient composition, but are able to maintain a healthy weight without spending any time thinking about it. If maintaining a healthy weight requires understanding anything about metabolism, that in and of itself is a problem. That’s not to belittle how difficult losing weight is for people and I don’t mean to suggest that it’s easy to lose weight or that learning more can’t be helpful

    I’ve lived in Asia for 15 years now and to me it seems pretty obvious (and right out of “the End of Overeating”) The people who eat traditionally, which is to say food made by hand out of real ingredients don’t have nearly the problems with obesity. You see some chubby people, but never the 4-500 pounders you see in the US. I don’t think they’re better or have more willpower or anything like that. I think they have a much stronger connection to their traditional ways of eating and stay away from the real culprits like candy, snack food and sugary drinks. That’s all changing as incomes rise around the region, but traditional food culture here is still far stronger.

    We’ve lost a lot of that tradition in the US. For example, last night I went out for a fast food dinner here in south China. We had a bowls of hand made noodle soup with lung, stomach, intestine, liver and blood. Can you even imagine a fast food place in the US serving something like that that wasn’t covered in sugary sauce or deep fried, let alone using that signature dish as the basis for a multi-city chain?

  8. @Garymar – Well said. Content for the very sick and very athletic and neither disclaim to which group they are speaking to.

    @Jay – I can’t provide detailed diet/exercise advice to you. Most of what I post here is about increasing the probability of success and less about chasing the optimal. If I were 340# and didn’t have low body temperatures, I’d likely be on a low carb diet myself 5 or 6 days a week. Assuming I had good mobility, I’d be walking daily and doing slow machine based lifting 1-2 times a week. But the most important thing I’d focus on is getting deep sleep.

    @Karl – Absolutely correct. Eat the entire animal. My inner economist quickly realized that the WAPF camp was closer to the truth that the restrictive Paleo/LC diets. Nutrient density + nutrient diversification + proper preparation techniques is likely the key, because it assumes incomplete knowledge. I don’t what nutrients I need, so I cast a wider net, but do it in a way that has worked for our ancestors.

  9. Rita

    I’m new to your site & love it, btw. My interesting/weird discovery: started a resistant starch and soil-based protocol inspired by the Free the Animal discussions. Then, a horrible rash started at the back of my neck, made my face swell up, and then crept across my scalp – horrible itch and a face like a marshmallow! The doctors had no clue – just asked the usual question: have you changed your detergent, blah, blah… so, then someone suggested I research Candida and the “die-off” effect. Another person suggested more focus on healing my gut bugs. I mean, it could all just be a really bad reaction to the OFF Bug Spray I used while camping. My point is this: do you think the majority of Americans have messed up metabolisms/gut biomes that get expressed in all sorts of ways, or do you think it’s all a lot simpler than that?

  10. Allison

    Hey, I stumbled on your site looking for more info on Shangri La diet.

    Do you still do it, and if not, why did you stop?

  11. Rita

    That was a great article you linked me to, MAS, thanks! I love that you touch on the trifecta of healthy eating/knowledge of our microcosm/right exercise. Great stuff! If I may ask a follow-up question to our conversation: did you find any “die-off” effect or odd symptoms when you got off the antibiotics and started fermenting food?

  12. Michael

    “On one side you have charlatans that preach certain calories in excess somehow magically won’t make you fat.”

    it happens sometimes:

    http://www.fathead-movie.com/index.php/2013/06/10/interesting-overeating-experiment/

    In chapter 16 or 17 of Good Calories Bad Calories he talks about overeating experiments in which some subjects don’t get much fatter.

    There’s also the Documentary ‘Why are thin people not fat’ that you can watch on youtube. It was broadcasted on the BBC. They take a few college students and they make them eat twice as much calories as they usually do and some of them don’t get fat. I haven’t re-watched it lately but I think it was based on an experiment done by a swedish professor. Youth must be an important factor in this phenomenon. It’s not magic and no laws of physics were violated, it’s just a phenomenon that we don’t yet understand.

    Of course reaching a certain low body fat % – i.e. a bodybuilder on competition day – requires calorie restriction but some people can overeat and not get much fatter. Even if they are the exceptions to the rule it just goes to show you that the dogma of CI/CO is just that a dogma.

  13. @Michael – I liked the film Fathead, especially where he went after Morgan Spurlock.

    My position on nutrition is to assume incomplete knowledge. Even if it turns out there is a free path to consuming excess calories, we must assume it doesn’t exist when it comes to our own health. This is the precautionary principle. This post is about weaving a middle path between the two vocal extremes with a disclaimer that we just don’t know.

    It sounds like we agree in the sense that we don’t know.

  14. Arthur

    I’ve been lurking around your blog since 2012, and I must admit that I always found your diet posts interesting, but I didn’t understand a single paragraph of it because my problem was never losing fat, but gaining muscle.

    I’ve reading more about diet recently, and finally some of its makes some sense, but the bulk of the calories and diet debates are geared to make people LOSE weight. How do I use this knowledge to GAIN weight?

    I can easily find studies that show that loads of calories help with weight gain. But does macros matter? Could I get away with 10 tbps of oils a day? Because it would be super easy to get those extra 1000 calories a day. Should I eat carbs? Processed carbs matter?

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