Calorie Counting: A Rebuttal

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
Max Planck

Not long ago, there was a New York Times review of a book on manipulative practices by the food industry.

One passage in the review (comparing foods by calorie count) jumped out at me:

Perhaps unwittingly, the commentator has echoed one of the great misconceptions of modern nutrition. Namely: calorie counting as valuable for weight control, including deciding what (and what not) to eat.

As we’ve often seen, it’s a strategy that sets millions up for an endless cycle: of tantalizing losses, then heartbreaking gains. Their up-and-down struggle can go on for years, if not decades.

And each time, they blame themselves, and their lack of “willpower.”

What if it’s not their fault? After all, they’re simply following what they’ve been told to do — by “experts.” Experts … whose advice too often fails them, again and again.

So instead, let’s look at an alternate explanation for those cycles of failure:
Simple biochemistry.

Again, from the review:

Now ask yourself which is more likely to make you fat. From a purely nutritional perspective the answer is easy … if weight gain is your worry, you should eat the potato chips.

That “a purely nutritional perspective” even hints that potato chips are a healthier choice at all … merely shows how questionable conventional nutrition thinking can be.

Let’s break this down, as an example:

  • Potatoes are composed largely of starches.
  • Starch molecules are, in reality, loosely-bonded chains of glucose molecules.
Starch (wikipedia.org)
  • Starch, once in the digestive system, is quickly separated into those individual glucose molecules.
  • Glucose, once in the bloodstream, raises blood sugar levels.
  • Elevated blood sugar levels trigger the body’s insulin (hormonal) regulatory response.
  • Insulin lowers blood sugar, often overcompensating (due to the initial surge in blood sugar level), while also commanding fat cells to STORE that extra energy as fat.
  • Lower blood sugar, in turn, leads to a ghrelin (hormonal) response … which makes us hungry again … re-triggering the entire cycle.
The hunger cycle

Consumption of fat and protein, on the other hand, triggers a leptin (hormonal) response — which makes us feel satiated.
The cycle is broken.

This is a story of hormones … and their manipulation by industry, for profit — not the (massively oversimplified) notion of counting calories. The human body is a complex set of biochemical processes — not an adding machine.

And that may be the biggest reason so many people struggle with losing weight.

Postscript
Note that potato chips are just one example of thousands of different food “products,” of many different varieties, formulated and peddled by industry.

And the standard refrain of “a calorie is a calorie”literally, that it doesn’t matter what type of food you eat, as if they’re all interchangeable — easily seduces us into choosing mass-manufactured, cheaply-produced, colorfully-packaged, highly-profitable commodity foodstuffs, some of which are designed to be highly addictive … instead of real food.

Moral:
If you want to lose weight, then be wary of the false equivalence in equating calories, especially of very different foods. And skip the potato chips … or low-fat pasta, for that matter … or “low-fat” anything.

Focus on the macronutrients that actually satiate hunger, ideally in the forms provided in nature.

And last: beware the notion of exercise as a good way to burn off calories. Exercise gives us some remarkable health benefits — but counting calories expended is still … Calorie Counting. It’s easy to fall back into the very same line of thinking.

Of course, that’s just what companies that sell “foods” that aren’t actually foods produced by nature … and are even bad for us … want us to do:

… And they’re very sneaky at it. See how they misdirect our attention from what’s actually in it, and how those ingredients affect us?

For even more insights, please see the resources below.

Very best wishes to you (and those you care about) in your journey back to health.

EDIT (11/2022):
Investigative reporting shows largest nutritionist association has significant conflicts of interest with “Big Food” companies.
(U.S. Right to Know)

“The problem is not people being uneducated.
The problem is that people are educated just enough to believe what they have been taught, and not educated enough to question what they have been taught.”
— Richard Feynman

REFERENCES

DOCUMENTARIES

DISCLAIMER
The above is not and should not be taken as medical advice.
Get professional advice from a practitioner you trust.
➤ Individual situations may vary.
➤ Always do your own due diligence as to what’s best for you and your specific circumstances.

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Ron Diamond

Ron Diamond

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Personal blog (from a guy who’s made software, and video, and other stuff too). rondiamond.net