Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why Calories Count

The first Law of Thermodynamics states that "energy cannot be created or destroyed; rather, the amount of energy lost in a steady state process cannot be greater than the amount of energy gained" (wikipedia.org). With regards to nutrition, this law is the foundation of the calories in vs. calories out philosophy of weight management. Before I go any further guys, let me be clear about something; we are not dealing with a theory but a foundational law of science that "[a]t present, it is unquestioned"(wikipedia.org). There are those that disagree with it, but that in no way invalidates it, and also note that there are very few nutritional scientists who don't subscribe to this law.

To take a quote from Dr. Ellis's Ultimate Diet Secrets, he states:

By the 1960’s the outcome of 100 years of research into the validity of the calorie theory had given the First Law of Thermodynamics a universal finality, much like that of the sunrise and sunset. (407, emphasis added)
Anthony Colpo in the first chapter of his Fat Loss Bible states, "Anyone who tells you cutting calories does not produce weight loss is utterly ignorant of scientific reality"(1).

OK, why am I starting the post off like a freshman college essay? Well, I don't think that the layman fully understands the importance of why calories count and how there is no serious debate among nutritional scientists about this. Part of the reason is that you are bombarded everyday with diet plans on TV that tell you that there is no need to count calories, and then they proceed to do it for you.

I laugh every time a Jenny Craig commercial comes on. They proudly proclaim that you don't need to count calories, but in the fine print they tell you that there program is a "calorie restricted" one. Another one that just flies in the face of the "calories don't count" crowd is weight loss surgery (WLS). These folks have gone to the extreme to not consume as many calories as they once did, and guess what? They lose weight! And, lots of it because of their very sparse caloric intake. If you know anyone who has had WLS, please ask them do calories count.

Now, before my brethren and sistren from the LC community start sending me emails or posting comments about the review studies done in 2003 (Feinman) and 2006 (Krieger) showing that people on LC diets lose more weight eating more calories than dieters on other plans, please understand that these were not metabolic ward studies, which is when the participants are confined to a hospital ward or research institute and are basically treated like a lab rat. In these experiments, their food is measured and their activities are monitored; there is no way that they can mis-report how many calories they've consumed. On the other hand, there are those studies, like the ones I mentioned above, that are done with "free-living" participants, who are either assigned a diet or given food to take home with them. They go about their daily lives and are expected to honestly report their food intakes. It's no wonder that with these "free-living" style studies, you see a difference with LC dieters, but under strict metabolic ward studies, you don't. And, that's because the Law of Thermodynamics is irrefutable.

Burn this into your conscious fellas and don't be suckered in to thinking that there's some sort of metabolic advantage to eating any type of food or following any particular diet. There's no free lunch my friends. What your doctor tells you at your yearly physical, "Eat less and move more", is actually true, but it's only half of the story.

What s/he forgets to tell you is that there are formulas for you to calculate approximately how many calories your body needs on a daily basis to stay at your current weight. Forget about the usual, cookie cutter recommendation that men on a diet need to consume 1500 calories to lose weight lunacy most dietitians prescribe! What if at your current weight, you need 3000 calories to feed your metabolic engine? Do you really think that you can deprive your body of 1500 calories daily and not feel the disastrous effect?

Here's what I want you to do. First, if you don't know what your body fat % is, then use this online calculator to determine your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). This calculator uses the Mifflin formula, which has shown to be more reliable than the older Harris-Benedict formula that most online calorie calculators use. However, if you do know your body fat %, you will want to use the Katch-McArdle formula which you can find here.

Now, before you think about slashing your caloric intake, do me a favor and move your ass more first! Guys, get up off the couch and start with something as simple as walking for 20 minutes, 5-6 days a week. If you are too large to walk right now and it hurts your knees, no problem. Use an exercise bike or find a pool and walk in the pool for 20 minutes. If you keep your caloric intake at the maintenance level that you've calculated and walk 5-6 days a week, I guarantee (in my best cajun voice) that you will lose weight because you're burning more calories than you are consuming. However, don't expect great amounts of weight to pour off of you because you're not burning a lot of calories.

After you have established a walking routine and dropped a few pounds and want to increase your weight loss, then it's time to go back, reformulate your caloric needs and cut no more than 300 calories from your maintenance level and up your walking routine to 30 minutes. (Keep in mind that this is a suggestion for someone who has been sedentary for a while and is just getting started with trying to lose weight)

Finally, one thing that most guys don't know is that as you lose weight, you will need to make adjustments to your caloric intake. As you get smaller, your metabolic engine will require less energy. So, it is vitally important that you periodically go back and reformulate how many calories you need for your size/weight. This is the missing key for a lot of fellas that want to lose weight. You are your own weight loss experiment and must adjust your calories accordingly.

I've written it once and will continue to tell you that losing weight and keeping it off is not as easy as the weight loss industry makes it out to be. If it was, then why are two-thirds of the nation fat? While it's not impossible, as my weight loss story shows, it will require work on your part, and counting calories is one of the most basic and fundamental rules in losing weight.

So, if you thought that counting calories was only for women on Weight Watchers, get over it. Start a food journal, write down everything you put into your mouth, and go to this site to determine how many calories are in the food you've eaten.


Anonymous said...

Great post, man! Sounds like you've thoroughly read 'The Fat Loss Bible' by Colpo, eh?
While I do understand the importance of calories and do not discount counting them at all, my thinking about the whole process is still ongoing (as is my weight battle, heh heh heh) and quite the learning experience as well. I enjoyed reading your words because you simplify things to basics and explain the terminology with a sort of older-brother tone--and it's appreciated!
Keep up the good work, friend!

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

LOL! Adam, thanks for your comment. Yep, I've read Colpo and Ellis's works more than once. ;) Honestly, after reading Ultimate Diet Secrets and The Fat Loss Bible, there isn't much else that a person needs to know about losing and maintaining his/her weight. This may seem like a bold statement, but my results speak for themselves. Also, I try not to suggest anything on my blog that I haven't tried or don't do myself. And, yes, I count my calories . . . ;) Take care.

Lowcarb_dave said...


Where do carbs fit in here?

Are you going to do a post about how many carbs you recommend??

I know you eat paleo, but does that mean fruit etc?


Mr. LowBodyFat said...

Hey Dave. Personally, I rarely eat fruit, and when I do, I usually go for berries and other fruit low in fructose. I've done this from the beginning of my journey, but that's me. If you eat fruit, just figure them into your overall daily carb count, which I suggest should not exceed 100g a day. Ellis and Colpo have differing opinions on how low you should go with your carbs; nevertheless, I'll do a future post about this--thanks for the suggestion.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely with you on that one; I personally think fruit is a waste of time, phytochemicals and antioxidants and all. I'm not disputing that berries and other certain fruits contain these wonderful and powerful ingredients, but when you think about it, I think the reality is you'd have to consume a high volume in order to obtain a therapeutic amount of the cancer-fighting, artery-saving natural chemicals. And what happens when you're forced to consume these huge amounts? Yep--more calories and more sugars.
I'll stick to my megadoses of vitamin C and get my nutrition from the protein and fat in my steaks;-)

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

That's a damn good point Adam. Also, when you throw in that each fruit, even from the same tree, will have differing amounts of phytonutrients, antioxidants, sweetness, etc., it makes you wonder. There is a debate as to whether fructose actually goes straight to fat storage and is not used for energy like glucose. Since I've done well with eating very little fruit for the last 4 years, I don't see the need to start worrying about them now. And, I think that eating my green veggies give me all the antioxidants and phytonutrients I need without the fructose.

Anonymous said...

You're a step ahead of me, friend; my wife constantly busts my balls about eating green veggies--I'm of the same school as you; I've done well recently without overloading on the veggies and I'm hesitant to start now. I basically will have something green or a salad just to offer up a little variation to the protein that usually dominates my plate (I said 'dominates' heh heh...sorry bout that...)
And forget about the fruit,just forget it for me--Grapes, pineapples and watermelon ain't safe around me;-)

With regard to the comment you left at my blog, I wish I was where you are now; i.e. a better place regarding the heavy duty stuff (the grains, the bread, etc.) because one of the tragedies of my life is the constant, constant longing for a dirty slice of pizza or a whorish cheeseburger...wow...I'm getting turned on!

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

Adam you are a fool! LMAO! Hey, keep in mind that I've been on this journey for more than 4 years. My current eating habits didn't happen overnight bro.