Why are we still Counting Calories? (History vs. Science)

Why are we still Counting Calories? (History vs. Science)

August 28, 2019 100 By Jose Scott


“Biggest Loser transformations have astonished
and challenged a nation. In ten seasons, they’ve lost over 10 tons.” In 2016, a paper from the Journal “Obesity”
was released titled “Persistent Metabolic Adaptation 6 Years After “The Biggest Loser”
Competition”. You may have heard of it as it appeared in
a report on the New York Times, and it received coverage on ABC news: “News from the world of weight loss – scientists
followed contestants from the TV show the Biggest Loser and they found that when the
cameras went off, the weight often came back on.” The phenomenon the study is discussing is
called “metabolic adaptation,” which is where resting metabolic rate dramatically
slows down in response to weight loss. Meaning, after losing a bunch of weight on
a calorie restricted diet, the person’s body burns less calories, so in order to maintain
their weight after the weight loss, they have to either exercise a lot more or eat several
hundred calories less than someone of the same weight who didn’t have to lose any
weight in the first place. “In order to just maintain my weight, I
have to eat less than 1400 calories a day. …it’s almost nothing. I’m not full, and I find myself in a constant
“Well maybe I shouldn’t eat right now and…” Not only is the amount of calories burned
at rest drastically reduced in these people, they are objectively hungrier. A look at the hormones circulating in their
bodies would show clearly that have less energy and have more hunger than others of the same
weight. As an October 2011 study in the New England
Journal of medicine says: “Caloric restriction results in acute compensatory changes, including
profound reductions in energy expenditure and levels of leptin and cholecystokinin and
increases in ghrelin and appetite” Less energy expenditure makes you more lethargic,
less cholecystokinin means more hunger, less leptin signalling means more hunger and more
ghrelin also means you’re hungrier. “This is something that has been known in
the medical and scientific community for almost 20 years, If you take two individuals, both
weighing 200 pounds, the person who’s lost weight at 200 pounds has a slower metabolism,
they burn fewer calories, they are hungrier than a person at the same weight.” So what do we do? This is something I’ve discussed in other
videos of mine so I won’t get into it too much, but we know that people’s hunger actually
decreases when they eat nothing rather than restricting calories, thanks to Ghrelin levels
decreasing the longer people fast. And, Ironically, while eating less slows down
metabolism, eating nothing raises metabolism. As this study shows, resting energy expenditure
actually goes up while fasting. But, prolonged fasting is obviously not always
the best choice. Luckily, intermittent fasting and low carb
or ketogenic diets get you to a similar physiological state that keeps your hunger hormones in check
while you lose weight. This study has found that a ketogenic diet
can prevent the hormonal changes that cause people to be hungrier after weight loss. People’s subjective experience of hunger
and levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin were lower on a ketogenic diet. This kind of information reveals how important
hormones are when it comes to effective and sustainable weight loss. For example, it’s also been known for a
long time that the hormone insulin promotes the accumulation of fat. Given all this, why are so many health experts
and people in the medical establishment so focused on calories as the primary focus for
weight loss? Why isn’t the focus to eat in such a way
that modulates your hormones to where you store less fat, burn more fat and be less
hungry? It might be a simple case of first come first
serve. Most historians would consider the 1860’s
to be the birth of modern nutrition- this was around when German researchers pioneered
the use of room-sized devices called calorimeters. This allowed them to measure precisely how
much energy humans or animals expended under different conditions. Nutrition researchers were very interested
in the requirements of children, soldiers and athletes in terms of vitamins, minerals,
protein and of course calories. Almost a 100 years later, Rosalyn Yalow, a
medical physicist, and Solomon Berson, a physician, invented the radioimmunoassay in 1960. This new technology allowed researchers for
the first time ever to measure accurately the level of hormones circulating in the bloodstream. By the time this was invented though, the
calorie cutting approach to weight loss had strongly taken root. Of course the laws of thermodynamics can’t
be broken, but why not just eat in a way that makes you less hungry? And, why would anyone recommend cutting calories
when it’s been clearly shown that it will make you hungry and lethargic? Well, it might have something to do with the
fact that nutritionists had almost a 100 year head start to think about diet in terms of
calories, rather than hormones. This video was sponsored by Audible… which
is actually something I use almost every day. I’ve gotten a lot comments before asking about
my research process. And, honestly most of it is just reading all
the time and taking notes. A lot of my reading is actually listening
to non-fiction books on Audible. I usually set the playback speed to 2x and
when I come across a bit that sounds important, I use the bookmark function to leave a note. I really like their non-fiction selection,
but they have an unmatched selection of all kinds of audiobooks, original audio shows,
news, comedy, and more. I listened to the book “The Case Against
Sugar” by Gary Taubes several months ago, and several points in the book stood out in
my mind for quite a while, like Chapter 5 is where Taubes talks about how the practice
of measuring calories came much earlier than measuring hormones. In the book, Taubes lays out the history of
sugar and its many unexpected uses, for example as a preservative or as an additive in cigarettes. He also very thoroughly clarifies the arguments
against sugar and corrects many misconceptions about it. If you’d like to check it out, go to www.audible.com/whativelearned
or text ‘whativelearned’ to 500-500 to get an exclusive 30 day free trial and one
free book.