Five things wrong with calorie-counting.

We Zcers are only human. Most of us have wanted, or still want, to lose a little or a lot of the excess baggage. Many of us have tried the conventional CICO (calories in, calories out) approach, as espoused by WeightWatchers TM, most doctors, some academics, many reality TV shows, and my mum.

Then people try ‘keto’, or IF (intermittent fasting), or a combination of both or even, gasp, ZC, and as their eyes fall upon their scales, the scales fall from their eyes. I’ll give you a moment to appreciate the pyrotechnic brilliance of that last bit of wordplay.

OK, back to it. Reducing or eliminating carbohydrate from your diet is what will bring about long term weight loss. It’s ironic that many, many people desirous of fighting the flab use exercise as their first port of call, when it is more likely to have the wrong effect.

  1. So the first thing wrong with CICO is that attempting to increase the CO bit – exercise –  is usually doomed to failure. (99%, by some estimates!). Metabolically, there are two main effects of exercise – more resting, and more eating. Our BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) accounts for a much larger part of our energy burn than we often realise, using up to 80% of our daily energy. Generally, exercising weightlossers think they’re burning more calories than they actually are, and not eating them back up again, when the truth is that they’re not burning much and they are eating them back and then some. Something as apparently innocuous as a double latte could wipe out a moderate gym session, while compensatory resting and calmer demeanour – less fidgeting etc – reduces the BMR burn. We coaches have long said, ‘You can’t outrun a bad diet.’
  2. CICO is often equated to Newton’s 1st Law of Thermodynamics. Many people find it satisfying and sensible to apply a physics concept that refers to closed systems with zero energy leaks to something which is a long way, like about a million miles, from being a closed system, our weird and wonderful human body. ‘It’s simple physics’, they say, as if everything in the world is ‘just physics’. No, it’s physiology. And biochemistry. And biology. You can tell from their names that they aren’t physics.
  3. The delusion that your body operates according to calories alone is off-the-scale stupid. Are you saying that 200 calories of 7-Up and 200 calories of tuna and 200 calories of celery will all be treated the same by your metabolism? Give me a freaking break. As they say. They will not, and cannot. The 7-Up will bring about a huge spike in insulin levels. The tuna won’t cause a spike, and will be absorbed quickly in the small intestine. The celery won’t cause a spike, and will go and sit and stew in the large intestine for a day or so. Your body knows perfectly well what to do with these food items but doesn’t, as Dr Jason Fung picturesquely says, give two shits about the calorie content. So why should we pay attention to it?
  4. Calorie counting is code for calorie reducing. (not insulin reducing). Here’s the thing. Someone who eats a standard western diet and is overweight and lowers their calorie intake while keeping to a standard western diet will still be giving their systems a hit of insulin every day. Insulin prevents fat from being burned. If you’re used to eating 2000 cals/day, your body wants to burn 2000 cals each day, and if you go down to 1500 cals/day but deny access to fat stores then there is a problem. For a while the person loses weight, until their metabolism adjusts downwards to 1500 cals/day, at which point there is no deficit and weight loss stalls. Then the person becomes cold, hungry, jittery, miserable, demotivated, bitter, frustrated and resentful. 99% of the time the person eats above 1500 cals/day and regains fat.
  5. For the past 60 years or so, the bulk of scientific ‘expert’ guidelines on weight loss have been CICO. Over those past 60 years or so, obesity and type 2 diabetes have risen to epidemic proportions. Could this mean that CICO is plain wrong? Yes it could. If you want to lose weight, don’t go down the CICO route, it’s as simple as that.

Till next time.


One thought on “Five things wrong with calorie-counting.

  1. Michelle August 13, 2018 / 11:18 am

    Reblogged this on UK Carnivore Club and commented:
    ‘Calorie counting is code for calorie reducing. (not insulin reducing). ‘ Well said Huw!
    A fantastic post that explains why CICO doesn’t matter.


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