25 Percent of American Adults Are Obese

July 19, 2008    By: Geoff J @ 12:26 am   Category: Life,Mormon Culture/Practices

A new report from the Center for Disease Control is out announcing that for the first time more than 25% of adult Americans are officially obese. Now you may be thinking, “my friends may be a little overweight but I’m glad they aren’t obese.” But of course this study is using the BMI index definition of obese. In that definition your chubby friends very well could be officially obese. Here are some examples of obese people:

- Anyone who is 6′ 2″ and more than 234 lbs.
- Anyone who is 6′ 0″ and more than 221 lbs.
- Anyone who is 5’10″ and more than 209 lbs.
- Anyone who is 5′ 8″ and more than 197 lbs
- Anyone who is 5′ 6″ and more than 186 lbs
- Anyone who is 5′ 4″ and more than 175 lbs
- Anyone who is 5′ 2″ and more than 164 lbs

Do you know anyone who fits that bill?

Yeah, I know the BMI is a very crude measurement that calls zero-body-fat muscle heads obese. So if you are a muscle head ignore this measurement. But for the other 99+ percent of us I suspect we would do well to put less pie in the ol’ pie holes.

I’ve seen all kinds of weight related articles in the news lately. One pointed out that with the exception of trans fats (which apparently do make you fat) — a calorie is a calorie when it comes to gaining or losing weight. That is, it boils down to calories in and calories out in the end. To gain weight just consume more calories than you burn. To lose weight burn more calories than you consume. (Revolutionary, no?). Another set of articles reported that the Atkins diet isn’t any worse for you than other diets. But the one I liked best came out about 10 days ago and reported that dieters who wrote down what they ate lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t keep a food journal. I’m 6′ 0″ and my weight had slowly been drifting into the 184-185 pound range. According to the BMI index I am officially “overweight” at 184 lbs. So a week ago Tuesday I started writing down everything I ate to see what would happen. So far so good; I’ve cut more than 5 pounds. It is amazing how writing down everything I eat reminded me when to say when as I ate. Or how it gave me willpower to ignore the cookie on the counter (I didn’t want to have to admit in writing that I snarfed it). And it turns out I am not hungry with these fewer calories coming in in the last week and a half. I apparently was in the habit of eating even when I was not hungry before. A side benefit has been that once I got in the groove of the food diary I started trying to get a couple of walking miles in with the iPod or whatever exercise I could squeeze in too (now that I was paying attention and all). Anyhow, I recommend giving the food journal thing a try.

You would think that with all of our “your body is a temple” rhetoric and our occasionally self-congratulatory attitude about the Word of Wisdom that we Mormons would be generally less fat than non Mormons. But my eyes tell a different story. We seem to fit in with the rest of America just fine in the porkiness category. I bet we would start losing weight if President Monson announced that being obese was against the Word of Wisdom… I can think of all sorts of good that could come from that. Maybe we should all pray and see if we can talk God into having President Monson implement such a policy. I think it might be good for me the next time my weight and waistline begin to drift…

[For an associated musical number click here at your own risk]

51 Comments

  1. — a calorie is a calorie when it comes to gaining or losing weight. That is, it boils down to calories in and calories out in the end.

    My husband believes this mantra, and it is such crap. I am sure it is the cause of many divorces.

    Because while this may be true for men, who are relatively unfettered by hormonal fluctuations, it is decidedly not true for women. Women suffer serious menstrual-cycle related shifts, different dynamics related to childbirth and breastfeeding, and the changes of menopause are just brutal.

    When I hit menopause, I had to cut my caloric intake almost in half, double exercise to 1.5 hours 5 days a week plus strength training thrice weekly and I am still 10 pounds above where I should be. Clearly it isn’t calories in/calories out or I would be a model.

    Turns out that there are all kinds of studies demonstrating that sedentary women who start exercising at menopause can avoid much of the weight gain, but there is little research into women who were already active.

    My husband has ice cream daily and cookies occasionally, and still wins the battle of the scale.

    So it ISN’T simply calories in, calories out. You risk getting slapped by women when you try to preach such falsehoods.

    Comment by Naismith — July 19, 2008 @ 5:35 am

  2. It is difficult to become over weight while eating diet low in animal, high in vegetables with some fruits, nuts and grain thrown in. Obesity may not be against the Word of Wisdom, but actually observing D&C 89 is a good way to help control your weight.

    Comment by Howard — July 19, 2008 @ 6:40 am

  3. “I didn’t want to have to admit in writing that I snarfed it”

    Good stuff, Geoff. I’m thinking this would also work for practical morality. What if we wrote down every last little thing we did in a day? I wonder if people wouldn’t be purged, to some degree at least, of little dishonesties, unkindness and so forth.

    Comment by Eric Russell — July 19, 2008 @ 6:40 am

  4. But where can the mass come from if your body uses more energy than is supplied by your intake? 100% of the energy we expend comes from breaking chemical bonds in organic matter and we void the waste products. If the energy content of the organic matter that we take in isn’t sufficient for our energy expenditure then the energy has to come from breakdown of molecules we’ve been storing. And won’t that inevitably lead to decreased body mass? If you void more mass than you take in you have to lose weight (ignoring fluctuations in water retention).

    I’ve been thinking about this as my wife has had a harder time losing weight than I did. I need to look into the science here. Maybe baseline metabolism can go way down in some people and that’s why they can work and diet like Naismith did and not lose weight. Maybe it’s still the case for such people that a net deficit of 3500 calories will result in 1 pound loss but it’s really hard to get a net deficit of 3500 calories, or even a net balance of zero, because their baseline metabolism isn’t contributing much.

    When I changed my eating and exercise habits last year I immediately started losing 6 to 10 pounds per month. I lost 65 lbs. in 8 months and I’ve stayed at that level for another 9 months. My wife’s decrease since she started trying in earnest a couple months ago has been more gradual. She has doubted me when I’ve repeated that a 3500 calorie deficit always results in 1 pound lost. But she hasn’t slapped me yet.

    Comment by Tom — July 19, 2008 @ 7:13 am

  5. Naismith, it is calories in, calories out pure and simple. Everyone just needs a different amount of calories. And due to changes in your body and age you may need more or less than you normally do. Some people also have a much faster metabolism meaning they burn calories faster than others. If you have a slow metabolism you need to cut out more calories than is standard practice to lose weight. One other thing I wanted to add is eat a balanced diet. I know Geoff said the protein diets aren’t better or worse–and that may be true–but there is a reason we have carbs and protein. They work together.

    Comment by flip flop mama — July 19, 2008 @ 7:47 am

  6. Naismith,

    I’m afraid that with the exception of factors like water retention, obesity really is a matter of calories consumed vs. calories burned. Study after study has confirmed this obvious fact. Flip flop mama and Tom have a point about differing metabolisms and thus each person must account for how quickly their body is naturally burning calories, but the principle is simple in the end. Of course there are occasional studies that dispute the obvious but it seems to me that they are touted by groups with a product or service to sell obese people. (And that is a target market of hundreds of millions as of 2007).

    You risk getting slapped by women when you try to preach such falsehoods.

    Hehe. Well that is the beauty of blogs, no? You can say the obvious truth with no fear of a self-deceived person trying to physically assault you… (The Emperors New Clothes come to mind on this subject.)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2008 @ 9:07 am

  7. Eric — I have been thinking along the same lines recently. The power and accountability a food journal provides is a cool thing. But a food journal works because it is pretty easy to honestly and accurately write down what I chow on every day. Accurately and honestly tracking words, thoughts, and deeds wouldn’t work. I don’t think I could remotely accurately make a record of my daily actions since I, like most people, am a master of justifying my own thoughts/words/deeds in the midst of doing them.

    Tom and flip flop mama — Thanks for the comments. I heartily agree with both of you.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2008 @ 9:14 am

  8. Don’t worry, if Geoff gets too out of hand I’ll just hurl myself at him and start shoving kripsy kreme donuts down his throat.

    I am annoyed with his 5 lb weight loss in the past couple of weeks. In order for me to lose that much I have to run 40 miles, do 500 flying high kicks, and eat no more than 2 almonds a day. Then, if I happen to just walk by some magically delicious food my hips seem to swell with happiness and joy.

    I agree that it’s calories in calories out, it just sucks that men need 2000 calories a day while women only need 10.

    Comment by kristen j — July 19, 2008 @ 10:06 am

  9. So I thought I was trying to eat well before I started writing it down. But there is nothing like keeping accurate records to reveal the truth. Here is what I wrote for the first half of my second day:

    Blueberry muffin, cinnamon roll, granola bar, PB cookie

    Uhh… Why was my weight creeping up again?

    The next day included this gem:

    diet coke, 2 Krispy Kreme Jelly Doughnuts

    The next eight days have been healthier when it comes to what I am jamming in my mouth.

    It turns out I played the role of the family leftover vacuum before too. With 4 kids that means there are a lot of leftovers for me to snarf. Funny how knowing you have to include “3/4 of a hamburger” or “1/3 of a burrito supreme” in your food log gives you willpower to just say no.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2008 @ 11:23 am

  10. lol, Kristen. That’s so true. I FINALLY lost the last few stubborn pounds of baby weight from 10 months ago, but only after I started running 30 miles a week. It feels good to have my abs back, though.

    I’m not overweight, but I sympathize with how difficult it has become to eat the right amounts of healthy foods and to get enough exercise. It’s really tough.

    Ever watch The Biggest Loser? I wish every obese person had the opportunity to do something like that, because that show demonstrates the brutal reality that every single person can and will lose weight with diet and exercise. Now, TBL takes it to extremes, but it’s an important lesson.

    Great post!

    Comment by ECS — July 19, 2008 @ 1:01 pm

  11. I’m afraid that with the exception of factors like water retention, obesity really is a matter of calories consumed vs. calories burned. Study after study has confirmed this obvious fact.

    Not true. There have been numerous studies demonstrating that men and women have different patterns of weight loss.

    Indeed, the very study you quoted, published in the August 2008 American Journal of Preventive Medicine Volume 35, Issue 2, Pages 118-126, shows less weight loss for women than men, when both are following a similar program.

    The authors observe, “The adjusted association between activity and weight loss was stronger for men than for women. On average, men weigh more and have greater muscle mass and might therefore burn more calories in a given period of exercise. Several previous studies in both humans and animals have shown that a given increase in physical activity leads to greater weight loss in males than females, and this relationship may have a biological basis.”

    And they go on to quote various previous studies with similar findings.

    While it is tempting to dismiss this observed phenomenon as women being more likely to cheat on their food diaries or somehow not exercise as hard on the same piece of equipment at the same level (ugly assumptions!!), it holds true in studies of male versus female rats as well, where food consumption and exercise can be carefully measured and controlled. Caloric restriction studies consistently show that females rats conserve energy more efficiently, showing a higher resistance to weight loss.

    I am not disputing that calories in/calories out might be true for men, and if that’s all you care about, fine. To claim that it works the same for women is not backed up by peer-reviewed scientific research.

    Comment by Naismith — July 19, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

  12. Actually, I do think the food diary is helpful, and the study does support its efficacy.

    But the study does NOT promote a simple calories in/calories out concept.

    Comment by Naismith — July 19, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

  13. Caloric restriction studies consistently show that females rats conserve energy more efficiently, showing a higher resistance to weight loss.

    Okay, but doesn’t this mean that it’s harder for women to lose weight because their slower metabolism means they must eat fewer calories than men?

    Comment by ECS — July 19, 2008 @ 1:09 pm

  14. I think that we eat a lot for fun rather than nourishment. It’s actually amazing how tolerable it is to eat just a little bit of food.

    However, it’s amazing how much exercise it takes to burn 300 calories.

    So, I think that reducing calorie intake is the key to losing weight.

    Also, lifting weights seems to increase metabolism.

    Comment by California Condor — July 19, 2008 @ 1:18 pm

  15. Naismith, unless you have evolved the ability to do photosynthesis, calories in/calories out applies to you. (Even with photosynthesis, you would still be obeying the calories in/calories out rule, but calories in includes energy from the sun instead of just food–so there really is no escaping it!)

    The study you cite in no way whatsoever disputes this. In fact, it even says, “On average, men weigh more and have greater muscle mass and might therefore burn more calories in a given period of exercise.” They are saying that the reason for the difference in men and women isn’t a violation of calories in/calories out, but simply that men have more calories out (lb per lb, muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue). kristen j said it best! “men need 2000 calories a day while women only need 10.”

    As far as how to approach this from a practical perspective, it is a good idea for women to incorporate weight lifting and other strength training as part of their workouts, to build up that muscle mass that burns calories more effectively (even while you sleep!). We are at a disadvantage, to be sure, but that has nothing to do with “calories in/calories out” being a lie.

    Comment by sister blah 2 — July 19, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  16. Naismith, unless you have evolved the ability to do photosynthesis, calories in/calories out applies to you.

    Hehehe. Amen.

    Naismith — What ECS (#13) and sister blah 2 (#15) said.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

  17. The study you cite in no way whatsoever disputes this. In fact, it even says, “On average, men weigh more and have greater muscle mass and might therefore burn more calories in a given period of exercise.” They are saying that the reason for the difference in men and women isn’t a violation of calories in/calories out, but simply that men have more calories out (lb per lb, muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue).

    But they are not saying that is the ONLY possible reason. There are clearly other issues between men and women.

    There are lots of studies that point to the hormonal issues with women. For example, women who go through surgical menopause in their 20s and 30s are likely to experience the same weight gain as women who go through menopause in their 50s, suggesting it is hormonal rather than age related.

    Many pregnant women are able to sustain a pregnancy while consuming (um, keeping down) very few calories in their first trimester. The hormones of pregnancy have a protective effect, keeping her from losing weight when she really should, based on a calories in/calories out scenario.

    And many breastfeeding women are unable to lose weight despite intense exercise, because the hormones of lactation prevent their body from letting go of the fat deposits (I still recommend exercising during nursing so one has the muscle mass for later).

    The rat studies are particularly interesting because they reduce caloric intake below a “safe” level. And yes, those levels are adjusted for gender; they are generally based on ad libitum caloric intake for the same animal previously, or sibling controls. What happens is the male rates lose weight at a rate that causes damage to their organs. Females don’t lose as much weight, which is protective of their organs, and actually a healthier option.

    Comment by Naismith — July 19, 2008 @ 2:48 pm

  18. Hehehe. Amen.

    So clearly I must be a stupid, fat, lazy bitch.

    Comment by Naismith — July 19, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

  19. If it is simply a matter of calories in/calories out, then how do you explain my significant reduction in calories and significant increase in exercise accompanying such a weight gain?

    I realize that muscle weighs more than fat, and we gain weight with exercise, but that isn’t muscle around my waist.

    It is the menopausal pattern of weight gain, which has to do with my female hormones, and with which men don’t have to contend.

    Comment by Naismith — July 19, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

  20. Naismith,

    First, I have no idea if you are a “stupid, fat, lazy bitch” or not. I prefer to assume not. But me saying “amen” to the statement that “unless you have evolved the ability to do photosynthesis, calories in/calories out applies to you” really has nothing to do with your intelligence or character.

    Second, physics apply to us all. As Tom mentioned, a pound of fat equals about 3500 calories. Period. If one wants to lose a pound of fat one must burn 3500 more calories than one consumes. I am on board with the idea that men could burn more calories in their sleep than women do. But as others have said, that just means we all ought to adjust our caloric intake to our metabolisms.

    Look, I understand there are outlying factors like pregnancy and nursing and menopause, but the laws of physics don’t change because of those situations.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2008 @ 3:05 pm

  21. If it is simply a matter of calories in/calories out, then how do you explain my significant reduction in calories and significant increase in exercise accompanying such a weight gain?

    That could be explained by decreased basal metabolism leading to a net surplus of calories. If it’s only costing 800 calories a day to beat your heart and run your brain and such, you could do 500 calories worth of exercise per day, which is a lot, and you’d still have to be on a pretty strict diet to get a net calorie deficit. I don’t know if the 800 cal per day figure is reasonable, but the principle holds: you can increase exercise and decrease food intake and still gain weight if basal metabolism rate decreases. I’m sure that hormones, aging, menopause and other factors beyond our control all play some role in basal metabolism. They also play a role in patterns of fat deposition and muscle morphology, so one could change shape in the absence of a net caloric surplus.

    Hormones and aging can’t change the law of conservation of matter, but they can affect how much fuel your body uses to stay alive.

    Comment by Tom — July 19, 2008 @ 6:02 pm

  22. I know I would have a very hard time if I had to restrict myself to 1300 calories per day just to maintain my weight. So I feel for anyone who has very slow metabolism. I really love my big dinners with seconds and thirds (I can eat my big dinners because I don’t eat breakfast or lunch—just snacks of fruits, veggies, bread, yogurt and such).

    Comment by Tom — July 19, 2008 @ 6:07 pm

  23. Second, physics apply to us all. As Tom mentioned, a pound of fat equals about 3500 calories. Period. If one wants to lose a pound of fat one must burn 3500 more calories than one consumes.

    Saying this over and over does not make it true. Many exercise physiologists and biochemists do not believe it. See for example,

    Nutr J. 2004 Jul 28;3:9. ” ‘A calorie is a calorie’ violates the second law of thermodynamics. By Feinman RD, Fine EJ.
    Department of Biochemistry, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY 11203 USA. rfeinman@downstate.edu
    The principle of “a calorie is a calorie,” that weight change in hypocaloric diets is independent of macronutrient composition, is widely held in the popular and technical literature, and is frequently justified by appeal to the laws of thermodynamics. We review here some aspects of thermodynamics that bear on weight loss and the effect of macronutrient composition. The focus is the so-called metabolic advantage in low-carbohydrate diets–greater weight loss compared to isocaloric diets of different composition. Two laws of thermodynamics are relevant to the systems considered in nutrition and, whereas the first law is a conservation (of energy) law, the second is a dissipation law: something (negative entropy) is lost and therefore balance is not to be expected in diet interventions. Here, we propose that a misunderstanding of the second law accounts for the controversy about the role of macronutrient effect on weight loss and we review some aspects of elementary thermodynamics. We use data in the literature to show that thermogenesis is sufficient to predict metabolic advantage. Whereas homeostasis ensures balance under many conditions, as a general principle, “a calorie is a calorie” violates the second law of thermodynamics.

    Comment by Naismith — July 19, 2008 @ 7:05 pm

  24. 234? Are you kidding? I’ve been 230. I would hardly call an extra 4 pounds would have tipped me into obesity. That’s a really liberal definition of obesity.

    Comment by Kim Siever — July 19, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

  25. Naismith,

    Interesting citation. It looks to me that the point of the study is to show that a simple 1:1 calories in and calories out ratio is not the way things really work with weight loss. I readily concede that point. For instance I think there really is something to the notion that a body goes into conservation mode sometimes, making weight loss harder in that mode.

    But the general calories consumed vs. calories burned principle is not really questioned there as far as I can tell. Rather I think they are trying to show that there is more nuance to the subject than a simple “a calorie is a calorie” approach.

    Are you claiming that some people (some women? all women?) are completely exempt from the general principle of calories burned vs calories consumed when it comes to weight loss? Or are you just saying that the 1:1 calorie ratio is wrong?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

  26. Geoff,

    Great post and congratulations on 5 lbs. I have always been able to eat obscene amounts of food with no fear of weight gain but I am getting a bit older and I am starting to pork up now. Luckily I think some course correction now can keep me off the obese list. I like the food journal idea but I don’t know if I’ll be able to sustain it (especially if it is anything like keeping a regular journal). I may give it a shot though.

    Naismith (#18),

    I am very confident saying that no one here means to be attacking you personally. I am reminded of my post on all personal problems being fundamentally similar and your comment there. Although I agree with Geoff on the calorie thing, I would never conclude from that position that it is just as easy for you to control your weight as it has been for me most of my life. Luckily, I have lots of other struggles that allow me to admire your efforts on this front.

    Kristen,

    Your comment reminds me I am remiss in putting up my post lamenting your exit from blogging. I have a fever, and the only prescription is more Kristen J!

    Comment by Jacob J — July 19, 2008 @ 10:28 pm

  27. I’m saying that it isn’t simply a matter of calories in vs. calories out.

    This is also questioned in today’s New York Times.

    Comment by Naismith — July 19, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

  28. But as others have said, that just means we all ought to adjust our caloric intake to our metabolisms.

    While this would seem to make sense in theory, the other limiting factor is that there is a lower limit of safe caloric intake. Below that, one doesn’t lose weight because the body shifts into starvation mode, and you can cause all kinds of damage to body organs and suffer permanent hair loss.

    I think of this every Christmas when I hear the Carpenter’s holiday album again, and think of Karen Carpenter dying of a heart attack caused by weight loss.

    I’ve been told that I should not consume less than 1,200 calories per day, unless I am willing to curtail my physical activity, although I do sometimes go down to 1,000.

    I can’t afford really cut down on my physical activity, since part of it is commuting to work and walking with friends.

    This is the pattern of physical activity on which I gained 10 pounds around my waist:

    Mon: 30-minute aerobics class
    9 mile round trip miles cycling commute
    1 hour elliptical machine

    Tues: 9 mile round trip cycling commute
    1 hour treadmill or stairstep machine

    Wed: 30-minute aerobics class
    1 hour walking with friend

    Thurs: 9 mile round trip cycling commute

    Friday: 1 hour aerobics class
    11 mile round trip cycling commute

    Saturday: at least 1 hour of hiking, cycling, or aerobics class or machine

    Sunday: 45 minutes of walking while listening to General Conference on ipod.

    Also, I do a lot of errands by bicycle, and since we don’t have cable TV I will sometimes watch a movie at the gym while working out for two hours: an hour of eliptical, half-hour bicycle, half-hour treadmill (got to watch BSG Razor that way…)

    Since I also do strength training thrice weekly, I am sure that if I ever do lose any weight it will be fat, not muscle.

    But I can’t see where to fit any more exercise in, without cutting down on sleep, which is also bad for losing weight.

    Comment by Naismith — July 19, 2008 @ 10:44 pm

  29. Second, physics apply to us all. As Tom mentioned, a pound of fat equals about 3500 calories. Period. If one wants to lose a pound of fat one must burn 3500 more calories than one consumes.

    The application of physics is rather more complicated than that. Just for one instance, the square/cube ratio of surface area to volume and how this affects the body’s heat balance also applies.
    Physiological factors affect the physics in other ways as well. Body shape, proportion of muscle, differences in male and female physiology, effects of aging, the body’s temperature control mechamisms, and the type of food being digested are all significant factors in determining the details of how diet and exercise relate to achieving or maintaining a given weight.

    Comment by Confutus — July 20, 2008 @ 12:01 am

  30. Naismith,

    I think we’re really talking about different things. I think I speak for everyone when I say that nobody is claiming that losing weight is simple, or that failure to lose weight is just a lack of willpower, or what have you.

    I feel really bad that you felt personally attacked enough that you posted your (very impressive BTW) workout schedule to defend yourself. If I contributed, I’m sorry.

    “Calories in/out” being true does not diminish the problem it is for some to increase their calories out while maintaining constant or decreased calories in. Many studies have shown that the body actively, even viciously, fights our efforts to so. We cut calories, the body cuts metabolism to match, and maybe even then some, so the weight stays on. We don’t keep a thing down because we’ve got horrible morning sickness, and the body slashes metabolism to prevent too much weight loss (for some people). These are very real, very biological (not “willpower”/etc) problems.

    I just don’t think any of them refute the calories in/out thing. Rather, they are painful illustrations of how little control we may have over the calories out. The NYT article, in my opinion, seems to bear this out. See, for example:

    Scientists now believe that each individual has a genetically determined weight range spanning perhaps 30 pounds. Those who force their weight below nature’s preassigned levels become hungrier and eat more; several studies also show that their metabolisms slow in a variety of ways as the body tries to conserve energy and regain weight. People trying to exceed their weight range face the opposite situation: eating becomes unappealing, and their metabolisms shift into high gear.

    It is talking about a genetically programmed weight range that we cannot leave–not because calories in/out doesn’t apply, but because when we try to change the calories in/out ratio enough to leave our range, our body says, “over my dead body!” (um, pun intended, I guess…) and does everything it can to stop us.

    Comment by sister blah 2 — July 20, 2008 @ 12:19 am

  31. I just don’t think any of them refute the calories in/out thing. Rather, they are painful illustrations of how little control we may have over the calories out.

    So what I hear you are saying is that when the stairstep machine says that I have burned 489 calories based on my age, heartrate, and time worked, I haven’t really burned that many. I can accept that, and I will poke around campus for a study that might allow me to measure exactly how many calories I do burn with various exercises.

    But really, the biggest challenge to the calories in/calories out concept comes on the intake side. The study I posted questioning whether a calorie is a calorie–and there are dozens like that–came about from considering the effect of diets with the SAME EXACT CALORIES but different macronutrient composition.

    If a calorie is a calorie, then it wouldn’t matter what those calories were comprised of, but in fact many people can lose weight by shifting their diet WITHOUT cutting calories or increasing exercise. In particular, it is the success of diets that consider glycemic load which have challenged this assumption (and there is a sex-linked pattern in how females are affected by glycemic load).

    And I am talking only about the peer-reviewed scientific studies in which nobody makes money, of which there are many, not claims made to sell products.

    But we would never know about the effect of glycemic load on weight loss if researchers had not challenged the assumption that “a calorie is a calorie.” The very claim that Geoff makes in his original post.

    Comment by Naismith — July 20, 2008 @ 4:47 am

  32. Naismith, Yeah that one citation you gave was interesting. I struggled to figure out exactly what they were saying from that summary abstract. Maybe some foods take more energy to convert from their present form into energy? Or maybe some foods are more likely to pass through the system and out the other end, thus not contributing to actual calorie intake? Those both seem like very plausible scenarios that would violate the calories in/out thing.

    For sure some diets are easier to stick to than others that have the same calories. Like I imagine having lots of umami helps people feel less like they’re on a diet. Atkins diets are packed with it.

    Comment by sister blah 2 — July 20, 2008 @ 8:20 am

  33. I completely agree with the comment sister blah 2 made in #30.

    Naismith: “a calorie is a calorie.” The very claim that Geoff makes in his original post.

    Actually, here is the claim I made in the post:

    That is, it boils down to calories in and calories out in the end. To gain weight just consume more calories than you burn. To lose weight burn more calories than you consume. (Revolutionary, no?).

    I stand by that specific claim wholeheartedly and nothing you have provided here disputes it (as is noted in #30). Rather, you have shown that there are a lot of complications in the process of burning calories.

    Also, I think you might have given an overly simplified response when you said in #31: “you are saying is that when the stairstep machine says that I have burned 489 calories based on my age, heartrate, and time worked, I haven’t really burned that many”. I suspect it is more likely that your metabolism slows to such a degree in defense against weight loss that it counterbalances the 489 calories you actively burned by reducing the amount of calories passively burned.

    Last, the Karen Carpenter example you gave is sad proof of the overall validity of the calories in vs. calories out principle. Clearly the principle can be taken way too far (as with eating disorders) but I think it also shows that nobody is exempt from this overall principle (despite the complications we have conceded).

    Comment by Geoff J — July 20, 2008 @ 11:41 am

  34. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that the way we measure calories in food doesn’t accurately reflect the physiologically relevant energy content of the food. If that’s the case, the calories in/calories out thing could be more precisely stated as “available energy in/energy out” and it’s a deficit of metabolically available energy that would lead to weight loss. I would think, though, that caloric content as we measure it would represent an upper limit in terms of available energy and that if anything we overestimate the relevant energy content of our food when we count calories.

    Comment by Tom — July 20, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  35. Jacob J, you are too sweet. I do plan on posting again. Right now I spend most of my time hiding from 4 bored kids shouting, “Entertain me mom! Entertain me mom!” (Only 2 weeks until school starts!). Maybe I can find an extension chord so I can write posts from the crawl space under the house. I’m sure no one would find me there.

    Naismith, I’m amazed at your exercise schedule. You sound like one tough chick. You may want to cut back on working out so much. Your body may be in survival mode thus burning even less calories because it thinks you are in a stressful time with all of the exercise.

    I just remember a story a friend told about her friend who worked out like crazy and couldn’t lose weight. After going to her doctor he told her to cool it on so much exercise. She cut back and then began to lose weight. Or maybe you should get your thyroid checked.

    Comment by kristen j — July 20, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  36. Oh yeah, my mom says that after menopause you only need 2 calories a day.

    Comment by kristen j — July 20, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  37. Naismith, I just got back from this gym this morning. Just so you don’t feel alone, this is what I’ve had to do to lose the last five pounds I put on during pregnancy.

    Weights:
    10 Bicep curls 27.5 pounds x 2
    10 Tricep curls 20 pounds x 2
    10 Side rows 30 pounds x 2
    10 Tricep dips x 3 (unassisted)
    60 bicycle situps x 2
    30 pushups x 2
    10 standing situps (I hang onto the bar and pull my legs up) x 3
    15 side situps x 3 (holding 25 pound weights)

    5 miles on the treadmill in 36:05 minutes

    I do this workout three times a week and then run 12 miles on Saturday morning. I’ve used a food diary and I eat between 1500-1800 calories a day.

    Some of us have a very difficult time losing weight, and it’s a lifelong commitment to maintain a healthy weight. It’s not easy, under the best of circumstances. No wonder why so many people are overweight.

    Comment by ECS — July 21, 2008 @ 5:24 am

  38. Ever since I quit playing organized competitive sports during my college years I have struggled with my weight.

    I am currently about 10 lbs heavier then my playing weight in HS/college. Since 1996 my weight a has a 60 pound swing. Usually I get heaviest about 6 months after a baby is born. We are about to have child #5 so I hope my weight stays OK.

    Since 2003 I have had things under control but its been a real struggle. Below you will see my intense exercise regimen

    1 hour full court basketball 5-6 times a week at a high level. Usually against current and former college bball players and former Dallas Cowboys.
    5-7 sets free weights each muscle group weekly
    50-75 ab exercises daily.

    My wife lost 75 LBS after our twins were born in 2004. It was strictly the result of….

    Food Journal, watching calories
    Exercise

    Comment by bbell — July 21, 2008 @ 8:24 am

  39. I have not read every comment, but I would like to quickly chime in.

    The first law of thermodynamics will always hold IMO. Energy in minus energy out equals the change in energy stored. This is simple accounting. Saying that body somehow generates energy on its own in some form is like saying you discovered a perpetual motion machine. Not possible.

    But that doesn’t mean it is simple. And something that I did not see mentioned is what goes down the toilet. I have always been painfully skinny, and I have always felt that much of what I eat goes through my body very quickly and ends up going down the toilet. My sh** doesn;t even stink! (hehe). A co-worker of mine is a member of the church and is quite obese. I can say by sad experience that his sh** stinks like crazy! I have wondered if the food he eats goes through very slowly, and his body stores all it can, and what goes down the toilet has nothing usable left in it.

    There is more to energy out that exercize.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 21, 2008 @ 8:47 am

  40. Eric,

    I was thinking of mentioning that as part of the calorie-in/calorie-out discussion but I couldn’t think of a delicate way to put it. I see from your comment that this was not a requirement.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 21, 2008 @ 11:47 am

  41. Oh you just all wait – Kristen J.s mom nailed it with her 2 calories a day after menopause. For men over 50 our need drops down to 37 calories a day but our mouth is still chewing at 2000 cpd.

    Comment by Hal — July 21, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

  42. Stinkless poo… I’ll just have to take your word on that one Eric…

    Comment by Geoff J — July 21, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

  43. Jacob: Sorry if that was too crude. I was trying to be colorful and funny. Perhaps that backfired. Feel free to delete the comment if you like.

    Geoff. I should say doesn’t stink as much. When my fat friend uses the restroom at work we literally put up a red flag (a ref shop towel) to warn people to NOT go in there….Whew!

    The point however is that energy in minus energy out is the change in energy stored. Simple accounting. Energy in is simple enough. Energy out is not just exercise but also what goes down the toilet. The difference is what get’s stored in the body. The principle is simple but applying it can be complicated. The internal processes that decide what goes through and what gets stored can be different for everyone (and probably does have some second law involved). Also, the body is such an efficient machine that it takes an immense amount of exercise to make up the difference in energy stored.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 22, 2008 @ 5:30 am

  44. Yes, the issue of fuel absorption is an important question. (I was only kidding around in my last comment.)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 22, 2008 @ 8:57 am

  45. On NPR the other day I heard about some study of the bacteria in thin people’s intestines vs obese people, and they found a certain strain was common in the thin but not obese. IIRC, they weren’t sure about the direction of causation (does the bacteria flourish in intestines that don’t have a lot of junk food, so thin->bacteria? or does the bacteria help you stay thin by being like a constant low-grade ‘stomach flu’ infection, so bacteria->thin?)

    Comment by sister blah 2 — July 22, 2008 @ 9:54 am

  46. More perspective on the BMI (as if it were needed):

    I’m six-foot four. I lost a lot of weight on my mission and came home at 180. According to the BMI, I was “normal”. Everyone else thought I looked like a Holocaust survivor.

    According to the BMI, I’d have to be 151 pounds before I’d be officially “underweight”.

    Comment by JimD — July 22, 2008 @ 12:12 pm

  47. I suspect that 40 years ago no one would think it was weird that I would cross the “overweight” line at 6’0″ and 184 pounds. At 184 I am getting a gut and a small spare tire so it seems about right to me.

    The sad thing is that even on at that weight I am considered pretty thin by most people I know. I’m certainly more thin than most of my fellow Gen X friends and acquaintances. My experience has been that I can’t even mention that I am trying to cut a few pounds without someone telling me I am crazy for wanting to do so at my weight. I suspect it is because overweight is now the norm and anyone who is not overweight these days is considered too skinny. (I think something like 2/3 of American adults are overweight by the BMI measurement). Maybe begin obese will be the norm in another 10-15 years…

    Comment by Geoff J — July 22, 2008 @ 6:18 pm

  48. > Maybe being obese will be the norm in another 10-15 years…

    Geoff J, this post has been contentious enough without bringing WALL-E into it!!

    ;-)

    Comment by sister blah 2 — July 22, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

  49. Well, inspired by this post, I decided to keep a sort of mental food goal for the week. I didn’t write anything down and I just kept an eye on my carb intake (basically, I cut out french fries, potato chips, soft drinks and substituted bread for tortillas) and I lost 7 pounds this week. So thanks for the challenge Geoff.

    Comment by matt W. — July 27, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  50. No problem Matt.

    Not surprisingly my body is now putting up a fight. I have plateaued in the last week. I expected that though. (Isn’t that what always happened on the Biggest Loser? Big losses in the first week theen a plateau?) With any luck I’ll fight through the plateau and cut another 5 lbs. or so in Aug.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 27, 2008 @ 4:33 pm

  51. A couple of observations. While it may be true that a pound of fat equates to 3500 calories, simply cutting your diet by 3500 calories over a given period does not mean you will lose a pound of fat. You may lose approximately a pound of weight, but that will be a combination of various things from fat, fluid, and muscle. Ultimately you will just end up with a smaller version of yourself, which I do not believe is most people’s goal when they want to lose weight. Anotherwords, if you were a soft pudgy person when you began, just cutting calories will make you a smaller version of that same soft pudgy person. If your goal is some variation of looking good naked, then cutting calories alone will not accomplish that goal, neither will simple cardio exercises.

    Also cutting calories is a loser’s gambit in the long run. Your metabolism will adjust itself to your calorie intake. Weight will come off (more than just fat), your metabolism will become more efficient, and you will require fewer calories. Even at your reduced calorie load you will eventually start to gain weight back. So what most people do is reduce calorie intake even more and the cycle repeats. Your results may differ but most people tend to bottom out and return to their original calorie intake, gain the weight back, and because their metabolism is now being overloaded they gain some more weight and end up heavier than when they started.

    Cardio in and of itself is a hard way to lose weight as you really do not burn that many calories for your effort and as you get lighter you burn less. Even if you put forth an hour a day (and how many people will honestly put forth an hour’s effort every single day) and burn 300 calories, do you realize how easy it is to consume an extra 300 calories? That isn’t very much – like downing a sports drink when you are done. An energy bar, a muffin, etc.

    Basically, instead of reducing calories below normal levels, try just increasing your energy burn through intense exercise like short intervals on the bike or track. Lot less time to get great calorie burn. Increase your muscle mass by lifting weights, especially the women. More muscle means more calories expended throughout the day. Women should not worry about becoming all muscular, because unless you are some genetic freak it isn’t going to happen. Cut out the sugars, eat lean meat, and consume way more vegetables (not corn or potatoes). Split your meals into 5 or 6 small ones throughout the day.

    Of course your individual results may vary, and I could just be full of it. But if all else has failed, just try it for a few months and see for yourself.

    Comment by TStevens — July 30, 2008 @ 6:48 am