A Calorie is Not A Calorie - A Discussion of Thermodynamics

(Elmo) #22

No, no, no… :face_with_raised_eyebrow: First of all, it’s “calories in, calories out.” Furthermore, consider something where we will have no disagreements about the terminology (I hope, anyway… :smile:) - let’s try “Dollars in, Dollars out.” There is no necessary equivalence here. If we’re talking about a budget or balance, then one side can be bigger than the other.

Nope, that’s not CICO (you’re only looking at the 'in"). But to continue being logical about it, don’t you agree that if one maintains the hypocaloric diet for long enough, one will necessarily lose weight?

:wink: No, no, good gravy, no. “Calories in, calories out” does not pronounce that macronutrients do not matter. It’s just saying, “Here’s where you are as far as calories.” The type of calories is a separate matter. From ‘CICO,’ while we can infer certain other important factors that relate to metabolism and weight, there is not enough information given to address macronutrient type.

Same as above. No, that’s not “calories in, calories out.” You have changed to the assumption that the “in” will be less than the “out.” This is right after you were pretending there was an ‘equals’ sign in there. Honestly… :roll_eyes:

You are conflating humanity’s difficulty with maintaining a prescription for weight loss with the prescription itself.

That’s hopelessly confused. We begin with the law of conservation of energy. CICO fits right in. Beyond that, we can go on to other considerations, and you reflect that, below. Knowing only ‘CICO’ and relating it to time, we can infer to a high degree of confidence that weight change is occurring. This is demonstrated by endless studies, as @ctviggen’s, above. It also should be intuitive and self-evident, i.e. how could it logically be otherwise? This is not saying that caloric change will directly relate to weight in a linear manner (this too, as above). But weight change (if any) and energy expenditure will explain almost almost all the goings-on in the human thermodynamic realm. Here I mean that there is not much left, at all - a comparatively very, very little amount of energy in waste, normally. Liquid waste normally has essentially zero energy (or fat, protein, carbs if you wish) in it. Human stool normally has a very limited amount of fat, around 10-25 grams per day, almost no protein at all, and 1 or 2 grams of digestible carbs. So, in considering exogenous food, “calories in” either goes to metabolism or fat storage. Those are the 2 elephants in the room, there. On the “out side” is metabolism, standing alone, pretty much. If we’re getting energy from our fat stores, then that becomes part of the “in” side while that is true. The whole package is “in,” then either metabolism, storage or excretion (waste).

Sure - we’ve seen this before, and this is better than pretending that some permanent imaginary equals sign is actually there. Now we are going on to other considerations, and don’t those relationships make sense? We could as well go farther, to the movement of calories by macronutrient type.

For those 3 equations, aren’t they self-evident, if one looks at a long enough time?

Or, how long could a human satisfy the equations without having the stated conclusions be true?

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #23

Please read the article and direct your comments to refuting the authors’ terminology, claims and conclusions.

Until and unless you can cite some evidence, I think you are just making up your own definitions of various common ideas used by the proponents of CICO to define and explain their theory and methods of weight management.

Specifically, refute the following:


A review of simple thermodynamic principles shows that weight change on isocaloric diets is not expected to be independent of path (metabolism of macronutrients) and indeed such a general principle would be a violation of the second law. Homeostatic mechanisms are able to insure that, a good deal of the time, weight does not fluctuate much with changes in diet – this might be said to be the true “miraculous metabolic effect” – but it is subject to many exceptions. The idea that this is theoretically required in all cases is mistakenly based on equilibrium, reversible conditions that do not hold for living organisms and an insufficient appreciation of the second law. The second law of thermodynamics says that variation of efficiency for different metabolic pathways is to be expected . Thus, ironically the dictum that a “calorie is a calorie” violates the second law of thermodynamics , as a matter of principle.

… Metabolic advantage with low carbohydrate diets is well established in the literature. It does not always occur but the important point is that it can occur. To ignore its possibilities and to not investigate the precise conditions under which it appears would be cutting ourselves off from potential benefit. The extent to which metabolic advantage will have significant impact in treating obesity is unknown and it is widely said in studies of low carbohydrate diets that “more work needs to be done.” However, if the misconception is perpetuated that there is a violation of physical laws, that work will not be done, and if done, will go unpublished due to editorial resistance. Attacking the obesity epidemic will involve giving up many old ideas that have not been productive. “A calorie is a calorie” might be a good place to start.

(bulkbiker) #24

No thats exactly what doesn’t happen over time due to metabolic slowdown… it might work in the short term but eventually (for some sooner rather than later) then the metabolism will slow thus you’ll stop losing. Then if you can’t speed it up again you’ll start to re-gain even on the reduce calorific intake and that’s when you are truly screwed.

(Bunny) #25

What I’m gathering from this awesome debate is:

How can something be thermodynamic that is not thermodynamic unless you are dealing with brown adipose tissue?

You put food into steel chamber turn up the heat and the protein, fat or carbohydrate explodes and you get numbers for units of energy?

We are not steel chambers and cannot get hot or have the thermal capacity like a steel chamber calorimeter to measure the heat involved in chemical reactions?

If you could heat up a plastic bottle of water with your bare hands then your talking thermodynamics?

White adipose tissue is strictly or mostly chemical reactions, not thermal?

Brown adipose tissue requires cold conditions that create a chemical reaction that generate heat in the brown adipose fat UCP-1 (phosphorylation) which drains glycogen storage in muscle then uses fat to burn and brown neighboring fat by filling it with iron rich mitochondria? All electrical and thermodynamic?

Do we really think that counting calories 9, 4 and 4 and burning/oxidizing them with heat adequately is going to happen in the human body especially under white adipose tissue conditions? Hell no!

”…According to a 2010 study in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, “exercise in the heat—40 degrees Celsius [or 104 degrees Fahrenheit]—increases muscle glycogen oxidation and reduces whole-body fat oxidation in comparison to the same exercise intensity performed at 20 degrees Celsius [or 68 degrees Fahrenheit] …” …More

Counting Calories vs. Mass ?

Mass vs. Thermal?

Chemical vs. Mass?

(Hagen) #26

That’s not answering the question. You’re talking about where it’s not maintained. The question was about if it was maintained.

You’ve switched from


Two different things.

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #27

@Festus I think @MarkGossage answered the question concisely by stating an unfortunate, although predictable fact. Most folks who stick with CI < CO long enough lose weight and there are hundreds of folks on this forum who did so on various renditions of CICO diets. BUT in the process they also slowed their metabolisms to the point of not being able to sustain themselves at that lowered energy level. You can’t eat CI < CO forever. At some point you have to stop or die. Once these folks ceased and started eating a bit more - even still much much less than originally - they quickly gained all the weight back and then some more. Many folks did this multiple times during their lives causing themselves all manner of harm.

Here’s what the National Health Service of UK recommends as a healthy diet:

Here’s the way they deal with the obese consequences of their healthy diet:

The plan is designed to help you lose weight at a safe rate of 0.5kg to 1kg (1lb to 2lb) each week by sticking to a daily calorie allowance.

For most men, this means sticking to a calorie limit of no more than 1,900kcal a day, and 1,400kcal for most women.

learn how to count calories on the plan

Looks a lot like CICO. No mention of differential metabolic processing paths for carbs, proteins and fats. No mention of the role of insulin in controlling glucose and storing/freeing fats…

(Hagen) #28

He answered a different question. Sure, we’ve all heard about metabolic slowdowns, etc., the ‘Biggest Loser’ people and whatnot. Mark changed the question to “If one maintains a hypercaloric diet for long enough, one will necessarily gain weight?” The answer to this one is a bit different. For most people, yes - (as with a slowed metabolism (eventually) meaning weight gain; what’s being described is a hypercaloric situation). Same case for just increasing calories, no diet beforehand required. An exception would be if the metabolism increased enough to cover the increased calories, and stayed there forever.

The answer to the original question is obviously just “yes.”

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #29

A Calorie Is Still A Calorie

Why Keto Does Not Work



…The rationale and features of the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis postulate that carbohydrate restriction confers a metabolic advantage. According to this model, a large amount of fat intake is enabled without weight gain. Evidence concerning this possibility is detailed…Results from a number of sources refute both the theory and effectiveness of the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis. Instead, risk for obesity is primarily determined by total calorie intake.

(Doug) #30

There’s a big difference between having a general awareness of the science, with the admitted limitations therein, and having an opinion and then groping toward something that sounds sciency and at least superficially, at first, appears to support one’s opinion. Logical fallacies do seem to come to the CICO debate, like moths to a flame.

I was thinking about the mass vs. energy thing - just enumerating calories certainly is not a complete view, given what can happen downstream, but the mass of macronutrients consumed is an even more complex thing. Would this really catch on? Some people really break things down already, bodybuilders, those who just love all the data…

I’m going to read it too, Paul. Entropy is unavoidable, right? :stuck_out_tongue:

If we’re talking about “entropic loss” in reactions, would that not just always be going to “calories out” or “energy loss” or “waste” - things we already consider to be there?

(Bunny) #31

If you think about it, it makes sense if you look at the amount of food a bariatric patient can eat?

Bariatric diet demonstrates to me logically that we eat way more food than we actually need?

It is hard to believe if you were a prisoner of war starving in a concentration camp that there would be obese people walking around who do not lose body fat?

Then you have centenarians in Okinawa who do not eat until full and they eat very little meat and when they do it is usually pork and fish and mostly carbs like an endless variety of veggies, sea weed (high iodine) and bitter melon which is a brown fat activator?

Look at how long they live with no health problems? And past 100, one of them lived to 115 and one that lived to 125 which is not so well known?

Hara hachi bun me: According to the Japanese saying ‘Hara Hachi Bu’, eat until you are 80% full. Experts say that this is the key to a long, healthy life. The residents of Okinawa Island in Japan have the longest life expectancy in the world. They live up to 100 years. …More

How Okinawan People Live SO Much Longer Than Everyone Else | Longevity Film

(Gregory - You can teach an old dog new tricks.) #32

Why all the question marks?

(Bunny) #33

Y is a crooked letter!

(Bob M) #34

They eat meat. No one seems to be able to say how much.




They are also known for being small and hunched over. Only 5.5 feet for men:

Maybe long life has more to do with the culture and/or genetics?

(Bob M) #35

That’s because CICO IS a logical fallacy.

(Gregory - You can teach an old dog new tricks.) #36

No. S is a crooked letter.

(Bob M) #37

My problem with CICO is that it’s a tautology: One can just keep saying “you lost weight because you ate less” or “you gained weight because you ate more”. It’s self-fulfilling and also ignores any complexity.

For instance, we have three birthdays in a row in my house, one per week in July/August. We usually get ice cream cake. I had one piece of ice cream cake each time. Even after 6.5+ years of low carb/keto, many 3-5.5 day fasts, many IFs, I STILL get hungry about an hour after eating ice cream. I had to eat something each time (usually, ham).

From my perspective, the type of calories do matter. And I know by eating a very high saturated fat diet, that this kills my appetite for quite a while. On the other hand, I always eat more if I eat breakfast, eat bacon, eat high fat that’s not high saturated fat, nuts, etc.

The type of calories matter.

Furthermore, it’s basically impossible to determine calorie expenditure or inputs. I spent the weekend doing projects around the house. Saturday, I normally do HIIT bike riding + abs, but decided to get a start on projects instead. I ended up doing projects Saturday, night swim in the pool with the kids, worked all freaking day Sunday until 7:30pm finally finishing the projects. Got up Sunday to ride my bike, but was too stiff and beat. Started project instead. Beat today.

How many calories did I expend? No idea.

And without a good idea of how many calories I’m expending, there’s no reason to count calories, as I can’t balance the two.

Let’s not even discuss trying to track intake, and the inability for websites to determine the same calories for the same item.

If someone wants to track calories and thinks it’s beneficial, I have no problem with that. But, as with everything else, “calories” are complex and for me not a useful tool.


Higher Sirt3 expression increases lifespan.

Similarly, HFD-induced brain oxidative stress was significantly reduced by BM(Bitter melon) supplementation with a concomitant reduction in FoxO, normalization of Sirt1 protein expression and up-regulation of Sirt3 mRNA expression.

(Bunny) #39

Bitter Melon is interesting stuff, it gets even more potent if want to oxidize white adipose body fat with brown fat if you drop your body temperature to around 40 degrees (or outside ambient entire body temp).

Here’s a bigger list:

“…Scientists have pinpointed some of the specific cellular changes that occur with caloric restriction. The most practical ways of achieving these benefits are:4-10

1. Boosting function of sirtuins , proteins that regulate cellular health,

2. Increasing activity of AMPK, an enzyme that regulates metabolism,

3. Reducing activity of mTOR, a protein linked to aging and chronic disease,

4. Blocking cellular senescence, when older cells become dysfunctional, and

5. Encouraging autophagy, cellular “housekeeping.”

These actions protect against many forms of chronic disease and accelerated aging.4,6-10

Caloric Restriction and Intermittent Fasting “Mimetics”

Sticking to a restrictive diet is difficult.

It can also be unpleasant. For some, substantial caloric restriction may lead to loss of strength and stamina, loss of libido, loss of bone density, depression, and other undesirable effects.1

Research is increasingly finding that there are alternatives to severe dietary restriction. Several compounds have been shown to target some of the same cellular pathways as caloric restriction, without side effects.5,7-9,11

These compounds are known as caloric restriction mimetics. A mimetic is something that mimics the effects of something else.

Some of the nutrients found to be caloric restriction mimetics are health-promoting polyphenols.

For each of the five major cellular changes spurred by caloric restriction, science has discovered mimetics that have the same effects. …More

(Ideom) #40

Well of course they do, but nobody is saying that CICO defines what type of calories they are. There is a prevalent strain of strawman arguments at work that involve “putting words in the mouth” of CICO.

You are saying that “CICO is no more complex than it is” - there’s a tautology. How does “what one says,” there, necessarily matter? Maybe a person did lose weight because they ate less. Or maybe there were other causes, and they didn’t eat less. This says nothing against CICO; CICO will change right along with the various cases. Maybe some bloke is correct about what went on, or maybe he’s incorrect. The possible error in human perception is no argument against the science.

This is almost exactly the same as what @amwassil was saying on the ‘Stokies…’ thread.

We all should know that we actually can determine things quite exactly. That we can’t natively do it in this case doesn’t alter the reality of what’s going on. We couldn’t see bacteria until the 1600s, but they were there, nonetheless. Sure, we are not generally directly doing accurate calorie summations while we do projects around the house, etc., but this does not mean we should stick our heads in the sand, declare the science “invalid”, stomp our feet and declare that the earth is flat.

And that’s fine. You don’t have to count them. Personally, I’ve never wanted to do anything like that, “count calories” or weigh food, etc. But that doesn’t mean that the underlying physical truth of what’s happening isn’t there.

This is the same thing. We don’t know the exact insulin level while we do projects around the house, etc. Joe Blow can say, “You lost weight because your insulin level went down.” Same as above, maybe that is the case, and maybe not. That Joe isn’t the final arbiter of all things, or that without being aided by technology we can’t get a really accurate fix on our insulin level, does not mean that the underlying reality of events changes or is somehow “unreal.”

Okay, very reasonable. That’s much different from saying that an energy accounting “violates laws of thermodynamics” or is “invalid,” etc. There are lots of complaints that CICO is “too simple” and then lots of complaints that it’s “too complex.” :smile: So, if somebody else is doing the counting or theorizing, how much accuracy is good enough? In the end it really isn’t very complicated.

(Bunny) #41

Calories are complex maybe because our human minds want to believe we are a steel container that blows stuff up (calories in calories out) when it really is about MASS?

There can be no thermodynamics if the thing your putting into is not completely thermodynamic?

It is more Chemical and Mechanical?