Calories In Versus Calories Out

Certain hyper-efficient microbe species in our guts could be the reason why some people gain weight and others don’t, proving once again how much influence the microbiota has in our lives. Unfair as it is, some of us seem to put on weight just by looking at a pizza while others can munch away with…

Specific Gut Bacteria Extract More Energy Which Seems to be Associated with Obesity

Hello Dazzle! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I want to talk about obesity. Often times when people find out that I am obese, and once was morbidly obese, they will usually give me some speech about “calories in and calories out.” Well, this idea that balancing the same amount of calories in with the amount of calories out is a kind of a myth.

The first thing to talk about is that a calorie is a unit of energy equivalent to the heat energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 °C. This means that the measurement of energy has nothing to do with the human body and has been rather arbitrarily applied to nutrition. The only reason that calories are used for the measuring of energy in food is because it can be measured. A sample of the food is placed in an insulated, oxygen-filled chamber that is surrounded by water. The sample is then burned completely. The heat from the burning increases the temperature of the water, which is measured and which indicates the number of calories in the food. Every degree the water temperature rises equates to a calorie. Clearly, this in no way correlates to how the human body interacts with our food.

The reality is that measuring the amount of energy received from our food is complex and different for everyone. This research highlights that not everyone gets the same amount of energy from the food that they consume. It isn’t just our microbiome that effects how we absorb our food. There are numerous variabilities in digestion that effect how well a person can absorb nutrients. There are numerous disorders that impair a person’s ability to properly digest food. Some are so severe that they pass undigested food in their stools. Counting calories also cannot account for things like vomiting or having gastroparesis. The human body is complex and the calorie is much too simple to accurately express the interaction between humans and their food.

The limitation of the calorie as a unit of measurement and the reality that everyone’s body is different when it comes to the way that we absorb nutrients means that there isn’t a way to really measure the amount of energy that a person is taking from their food. We use calories because we have nothing better. But the truth is that it really doesn’t tell us much about how a bit of food interacts with the person who eats it.

Add to that the reality that we also cannot accurately measure the amount of energy that is burned when you engage in a particular exercise. There has been a ton of research that has gone into this in order to attempt to create a chart that reflects the amount of calories burned for various activities. The result of that research is The Adult Compendium of Physical Activities. Despite more then 20 years of research going into this, their site includes the disclaimer that “individual differences in energy expenditure for the same activity can be large and the true energy cost for an individual may or may not be close to the stated mean MET [metabolic equivalent of task] level as presented in the Compendium.” This means that experts in physical activity aren’t able to accurately estimate the amount of calories spent during exercise. How is an individual supposed to do it?

Well, if you look it up on the internet, it is quite simple! Most every web site gives the advice to use the values listed on the Adult Compendium of Physical Activities, monitor your heart rate or use an phone app. Most phone apps use the data from the Adult Compendium of Physical Activities which those creating it indicate isn’t accurate for individuals. Monitoring your heart rate isn’t any better. There are numerous things that effect your heart rate other then the amount of effort you are putting into your exercise. Things like your emotional state, medical conditions and hydration level can greatly effect your heart rate. According to heart rate monitors, I should be rail thin given that I am tachycardiac more often then not.

Despite the science clearly telling us that weight management isn’t as easy as “calories in versus calories out” almost every web site talking about weight management makes reference to this faulty idea. This is a disservice to those of us who would like to loose weight as it doesn’t actually present the science that would help us achieve that goal. It also serves to further the stigma that surrounds obesity as a problem that is limited to those of laziness and weak will.

The evidence suggests that the advice of calorie counting, either in or out, is far too simplistic to be accurate. However, an increased understanding about diet and exercise is important. Diets without exercise is not optimal. Exercise without consideration of what you eat is also not optimal. Do both, in moderation. Eat generally healthy, but don’t be obsessed with calories. Try to be more physically active. There is no point in tracking numbers that are inherently inaccurate.

Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

Additional Reading

  1. The research being referenced in the above article: Stool energy density is positively correlated to intestinal transit time and related to microbial enterotypes
  2. “A calorie is a calorie” violates the second law of thermodynamics
  3. The Carbohydrate-Insulin Model of Obesity Beyond “Calories In, Calories Out”
  4. Is physical activity in weight management more about ‘calories in’ than ‘calories out’?
  5. Macronutrients and obesity: Revisiting the calories in, calories out framework
  6. No More “Calories In Equals Calories Out”: Resistant Starches and the Gut Microbiota
  7. Calories in crisis
  8. How calorie-focused thinking about obesity and related diseases may mislead and harm public health. An alternative

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.