A Calorie is Not A Calorie - A Discussion of Thermodynamics

(Bunny) #102

Exactly and that is where the tail might be wagging the dog?

(Kevin) #103

She was talking about adipose tissue, though - and we don’t whack many of those cells. They stay around for like 7 years or more, mostly just swelling with fat or shrinking as they release it. Adipocytes have only a thin outer layer that’s the cytoplasm, where the amino acids are. I wonder what happens in true starvation.

(Kevin) #104

Too long/don’t want to read summary = critical thinking identifies this as slanted and selective. They don’t have a good view of the entire picture, probably by design. It’s just an article - I don’t know why it’s so half-a$$ed.

Continuing to read the Abstract, there, it says, “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.”

Okay, true or false? Before we answer that…

A lot of good questions and thoughts. As far as I know, nobody here is getting paid to type or to read posts. Nobody has to do this. We do it because we want to.

So - can we get a good handle on the dietary context, is it possible to view human metabolism fairly completely, are we forgetting anything substantial if we say “yes,” do we need to measure or even care in the first place, is it “too stressful” to have the overall picture, and can we be satisfied with our understanding?

Most of us are here because we do want to know more, to understand the science, rather than myth and fantasy. “Show Me the Science” - this appeals to most of us.

Are we able to think critically? Can we be independent and contemplative? Can we get the ‘bigger picture,’ rather than what somebody might want us to think?

Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not.

I didn’t come up with those three italicized lines there, I just copied it. Seems very applicable to this thread.

So, true or false: “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.”

It’s obviously true. But only because of the way they worded it. It does not present the entire picture. They are only talking about “a number of sources.” I would guess that most people on Ketogenicforums already would realize that something’s not right here. Perhaps even a majority of those people have already directly experienced proof that it’s not. It is a certainty that ‘many’ of those people have.

One of the ‘best’ pictures I’ve ever seen (certainly one of the most important).

Insulin can make an enormous difference. It may not in one given person, and it may not in some studies where insulin isn’t a problem in the first place. The article mentions studies that were woefully short - 24 hours, or 4 weeks of high-carb then 4 weeks of low-carb. It also talks about a larger group of studies of longer duration, at least 6 months, but these were comparisons of “low fat” diets with “normal” fat diets.

If we’re really going to test the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis, then let’s test people for a long enough time (months, to allow for fat-adaption, etc.), and let’s have it truly be low-carb, i.e. ‘ketogenic low-carb,’ so < 20 grams of carbs a day, or even zero. Hey, let’s really put it to the test.

The article talks about Atkins and a generalized ‘carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis’ (CHO), specifically it is claimed that both Atkins and CHO maintain there is a metabolic advantage from eating low-carb, that means “large amounts of fat could be consumed without significant weight gain.” In another place it is phrased as “a large amount of fat intake is enabled without weight gain.”

I don’t know about that - maybe Atkins did say something along those lines. But if we are keeping track of energy, if we’re thinking thermodynamically, and we’re giving the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis a fair chance, then let’s make insulin the variable. It has to change, or else the study isn’t going to address it in the right way. This doesn’t mean cherry-picking only a select few people - there is a very significant portion of the population that would qualify. Then let’s make things really low-carb, for a long enough time.

I thought the article was actually a pretty interesting read. There is some thought-provoking stuff in there. Yet I would say that it was crafted with a particular aim in mind - to argue against the CHO, rather than take a good look at the entire picture. And it’s sloppy - what does a “a large amount of fat” mean? We all know there is going to be an eventual limit, no matter what. Given the cherry-picking of studies they do, they could quote 36 references or 360 - it doesn’t matter. They are ignoring the evidence that insulin does make a meaningful difference for many people. People don’t generally start eating keto because they want to eat “large amounts of fat with no weight gain.” They do it because it may enable them to LOSE fat, improve their blood sugar control and other hormonal issues, etc.

The rest of the Abstract: “One of the central tenets in obesity prevention and management is caloric restriction.” – Yes - as stated that’s true. Like it or not, etc., it’s true.

“This perspective presents salient features of how calories and energy balance matter, also called the “calories in, calories out” paradigm.” – It’s also very slanted; one thing that really is prominent and conspicuous, i.e. ‘salient,’ is the lack of addressing what occurs in insulin-resistant people when by dietary means their average and fasting insulin levels are lowered. Considering the energy balance is all well and good - but let us not forget that we are postulating a change in the energy balance due to the beneficial effects of lowered insulin. If this occurs - which all of us here know does happen for many people - then it’s not only a change, it’s things happening in opposite directions, fat coming out of storage rather than going into it, making for a change in the net result between the two conditions that is twice the magnitude of the individual changes. Huge sentence, I realize, and a simplified view - I just mean, for example, that if we want to lose weight, then if we gain a kilogram of fat versus losing one, we’re 2 kilograms “to the bad.”

“Determinants of energy balance and relationships to dietary macronutrient content are reviewed.” – Same as above; they miss the part about insulin resistance and amelioration of it. Some people will respond as the article claims, i.e. no big difference where their calories come from. But the CHO doesn’t say that everybody on earth is any one way. CHO addresses what occurs when the energy balance does change due to macronutrient type.

“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.” Cherry-picked evidence that ignores some facts that we here know to be in evidence. Because of that, we have a more complete picture, we have a better view and consideration. We don’t say the article is wrong about all people, but we know it’s wrong about some people.

“The relationship and application of the laws of thermodynamics are then clarified with current primary research. Strong data indicate that energy balance is not materially changed during isocaloric substitution of dietary fats for carbohydrates.” Again, that should be “cherry-picked data.” :wink: They conclude that changing the caloric intake makes for comparatively modest changes in energy expenditure. :slightly_smiling_face: Finally, something I do agree with, even though I think that should be expected.

A Calorie Is Still A Calorie - Why Keto Does Not Work :confounded:

World peace is the opposite of capitalism. So it’s the end result. Not what’s missing.

It’s a hidden question with a (complex) hidden answer.

To satisfy the mind therefore it stops asking irrelevant questions.
To satisfy the mind therefore it doesn’t care about “want” material possessions.
To satisfy the mind therefore it doesn’t keep searching for the perfect stimulant, food, diet, joke, etc…

A desire for blissfulness.

It doesn’t seem like the majority would be able to accept the complex answer after their mind has been conditioned with incorrect information. Cognitive dissonance would kick in and they would defend and accept their previous belief.

People don’t know what they want because it’s all based on assumptions. The perfect job, the perfect car, the perfect house with the white picket fence, the perfect relationship, etc…

I can’t deny the last part you wrote because it is self-evident.

I have a question though. Do you believe that it’s better to have loved oneself and then been broken than to never have loved oneself and be completely oblivious to what’s missing?

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #106

@KetoGolem In the OP of this topic I posted the link to an article by Feinman and Fine noting the characteristic feature, ie specifically ‘a calorie is a calorie’, of so-called CICO theory of dietary management violates the second law of thermodynamics because it ignores the observed fact that the macronutrient composition influences metabolic processing and resultant energy balance. In addition to posting this article, I quoted significant points from the article, and expressed agreement with its overall content and conclusions. I also noted that the statement ‘a calorie is a calorie’ represents CICO as a whole since it is the fundamental characteristic of the theory and methods of dietary management based on it.

I expected general agreement with the views I expressed as they are the generally accepted definition of CICO theory and diet management. Yet, I was attacked vehemently by several posters. They accused me of misunderstanding, misrepresenting and oversimplifying not only CICO but the first law of thermodynamics. You can read their posts above to get the gist of their complaints so I won’t repeat them here.

I took this criticism seriously and did a literature search to determine whether or not I had, indeed, misrepresented CICO theory, method and how its advocates talk about it. I had not. CICO advocates and researchers equate ‘a calorie is a calorie’ with ‘calories in calories out’. They assert that the only thing that matters in weight management is overall energy balance and generally agree that any effects attributable to different macronutrient composition are small and inconsequential. In other words, they generally dismiss the Carbohydrate-Insulin (Hormone) hypothesis as much ado about little or nothing.

I posted the link to the contra article you note in your post to demonstrate to anyone interested, that the general description of CICO and the ‘Hormone’ hypothesis by CICO advocates is precisely as I have described it in my posts above in this topic. And precisely as most folks on this forum would describe it. This article has 36 links to other CICO papers that describe CICO and the ‘Hormone’ hypothesis in the same terms.

In fact, I find it rather bizarre that I was attacked and ridiculed by certain posters for posting and agreeing with a paper that lends support to the Hormone hypothesis upon which the ketogenic diet is based. Many hundreds of folks on this forum have first-hand experience with the failures of CICO diets, many of them multiple times. Many have sustained metabolic and overall physical damage from such diets. Most, if not all, have found improved health and permanent weight/fat loss from keto. Yet, my critics here seem to be defending and advocating CICO on the basis that I have misrepresented it by not understanding the first law of thermodynamics and not appreciating the complexity and sophistication of CICO overall.

Finally, I created another topic here to discuss the article you linked in your response above. It supports and advocates CICO and claims to refute the Hormone hypothesis. I wondered if my critics here would be my critics there. So far crickets. So they must find the CICO supporting paper agreeable.

(Bunny) #107

I love that statement, awesome!

I’m going to make a T-shirt with that printed on the back and front…lol

And underneath that it’s going to say:


(Bacon by any other name would taste just as great.) #108

George Cahill’s starvation experiments were written up in Starvation in Man, which was published in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. His conclusions have not yet been refuted by later research.

(Bacon by any other name would taste just as great.) #109

This is not an inaccurate picture of what low-carb researchers actually do say. There are recorded lectures by Dr. Phinney, for example, in which he states that one of the reasons that a well-formulated ketogenic diet works appears to be because fatty-acid metabolism increases on such a diet. This is heresy, according to the energy-balance hypothesis that is the dominant nutritional paradigm.

The mechanistic explanation, part of it anyway, is that elevated insulin levels trap fatty acids in adipose tissue, and low levels permit lipolysis (the process of breaking down triglycerides into their component fatty acids and glycerol backbone), thus freeing fatty acids from the adipose tissue to make their way to liver and muscles to be metabolised. We are leaving out considerations of ectopic and liver fat, insulin resistance, mitochondrial uncoupling, and other phenomena related to insulin levels, to glucose levels, or to dietary patterns that may elevate insulin or glucose but that have a more direct effect on fatty-acid metabolism.

(P.S.—Personally, I’d have given the name “triglyceridolysis” to the process we call lipolysis, and applied the term lipolysis to what we call “fatty acid metabolism,” but they failed to consult me when they coined these terms.)

(Bacon by any other name would taste just as great.) #110

Michael, Michael, Michael! You’ve been a member of these forums for how long, and you still expected differently? While I feel your pain, brother, I have to say that you need a far thicker skin if you want to post a thread involving CICO and the Laws of Thermodynamics and expect to live to tell the tale. But God bless you for trying. :+1:

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #111

Paul, I survived to tell the tale. Although, I have to admit that I never expected such advocacy of CICO on this forum. I admit, though, that it did get to me being accused of not understanding the first law. Thanks.

(Bacon by any other name would taste just as great.) #112

It does surprise me just how deeply CICO thinking permeates even these forums. Think, though, how much worse it must be elsewhere. :scream:

(Bunny) #113

Here’s my angle on CICO:

All your measurements can look correct and logical mathematically but you have no idea what is going on, on the other side of the fence?

You could be over over-supplying a system that already knows what to do and furthermore confusing it by trying to makes calculations we are not capable of understanding because of the vast cascade of the variables and the biological pathways involved?

Too much of one or two calories is going destabilize the system and give you what you think is a favorable result temporarily, but then it will start to switch rails in the long-term…

That said when you try to re-introduce the other required or missing part of the machinery, guess what? PERMANENT DAMAGE?

(Kevin) #114

Good point. I just couldn’t tell how much they were talking about. Phinney says it increases, so there too - how much? It all seems very vague and liable to enable claims from both sides, so to speak. Small increases of any nutrient often don’t make much difference. But even many strictly low-carb and fat-adapted people will gain weight eating “large amounts of fat” - it just has to be enough to do it. I don’t think we can generalize about anything from all this.

I certainly agree that lowering the insulin level can (and often does) make a significant difference for lipolylis,even a massive difference, so I disagree with the article’s statements about that. But this isn’t the same thing as being able to eat “a lot of fat without weight gain,” especially if they mean hypercalorically (and there too I couldn’t tell for sure what was meant).

I am totally lost here. Why did you bring this up? Did I say something against Cahill’s findings? All I can remember is that it was an important study and there was stuff in there about the body losing fat and protein… I remember seeing charts taken from that study on this forum but it’s been a long time.

Taking these in reverse chronological order… That statement is only sometimes true (that “risk for obesity is primarily determined by total calorie intake”). I don’t doubt that the studies the article mentioned did have that as a finding, but we also know that insulin is a driver of change, often, and it looks to me like the article’s authors deliberately cherry-picked around any that demonstrated such.

I have yet to read it, and it’s late here, I only glanced over it - I will read it in the future. And that’s quite a sentence there; like something I’d come up with. :blush: I do think you are missing the overall picture. “A calorie is a calorie” appears there, but you are the one inserting CICO - not the authors of that article (I did not see them address it, anyway). “Calories in, calories out” is a statement of two mutable quantities - there is nothing saying the quantities have to be the same nor that a single calorie has to be exactly the same in every way, versus another calorie. Everybody knows they come in different configurations, as a starter, no? I don’t see people arguing that. I do see people claiming that physics don’t apply, and this would definitely be a problem.

As critical as I am of the article in your post #92, it at least does address the energy balance - I think they miss the point about how insulin really can change things, but on a physical level they seem to be fairly sane about how the body works. I’ve yet to see whether the one in your OP does.

I think you are mistaking “calorie restriction as primary” - that weight loss paradigm, with the overall energy balance, and they are not the same. Just “cutting calories” works for some and of course does not work for some in the pursuit of weight loss, especially over the long term. The most frequent reason is (as you evidently know) because one’s metabolism can decline, changing the energy balance. This is a change also in “calories in, calories out,” but there’s nothing there that says ever individual calorie is indistinguishable from every other. Saying “a calorie is a calorie” really has nothing to do with the energy balance.


So, yes - it’s not that people are arguing about what “a calorie” is or one versus another. It’s physics - and we can talk about the thermodynamic laws to be sure - and the reason CICO comes up so often is not because “a calorie is a calorie.” The concept runs through several threads, i.e. a unit of insulin is a unit of insulin, a shekel is a shekel, etc. Saying that really doesn’t address anything at issue. It is the quantities of them, and the changing quantities, that matter.

Because it’s as if you have some “crusade” against CICO and in your zeal you mischaracterise it. It’s often as simple as just disregarding the “calories out” part and the fact that it, as well as the “in,” can change.

You ought to find studies that address the energy balance and the changeable nature of both the “in” and the “out” if you want to address CICO.

Where is that? I’ve missed it thus far.

Again, I think the error in trying to see and state things too simply lies with those who are “anti-CICO.” I don’t know all what you mean about the first law, there. Can you state your understanding of it as it applies to human metabolism, in a few sentences? I’ll do it too - we all can. Gotta go for now; really getting biyatched by my wife.

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #115

Maybe it seems like a crusade. In my personal relationships I have known folks who stuggled with weight via CICO diets and mostly failed big time. Repeatedly. This affected them psychologically as well as physically. I have also read the accounts and tribulations of folks on this forum who have done the same. I’m a logical person, and something that fails repeatedly for many different unrelated and unconnected folks leads me to conclude that the method is flawed, not all those folks who tried the method. The first law of thermodynamics does not redeem the universal failure CICO. No one is going to eat a caloric deficit unto death.

CI = CO means no weight change (neutral energy balance)
CI > CO means weight gain (positive energy balance)
CI < CO means weight loss (negative energy balance)

Show a discussion of CICO that says anything different, aside from my critics in this topic who seem to have developed their own ‘combo’ version of CICO that attempts to impute macronutrient complexity not mentioned by other CICO advocates. Other advocates and researchers make the point that macronutrient composition is irrelevant or insignificant to weight/fat considerations. See here (Instead, risk for obesity is primarily determined by total calorie intake.) and the linked citations.

I understand the first law of thermodynamics. CICO uses calorie restriction to create a negative energy balance. It does not differentiate where the calories come from, since it considers all calories thermodynamiclly identical, 4.186 joules. A calorie is a calorie, after all.

To what other weight/fat maintenance system than CICO does ‘a calorie is a calorie’ apply? The total interchangeability of one calorie for another is the essence of CICO. The insignificant effect of source macronutrients is the hallmark of CICO. A calorie is a calorie is CICO.

(Bunny) #116

What can the system DO endogenously that your already putting into it?

Endogenous Conversionary Synthesis:

• Make Glucose & Fructose?

• Make Non-Essential Fatty Acids?

• Make Non-Essential Amino Acids?

• Make Non-Essential Micronutrients/Vitamins?

‘a calorie is a calorie?’

What can the system NOT DO endogenously that your already putting into it?

Non-Endogenous Conversionary Synthesis:

• Make Essential Fatty Acids?

• Make Essential Amino Acids?

• Make Essential Micronutrients/Vitamins/Minerals?

”…A homogeneous mixture is a solid, liquid or gaseous mixture that has the same proportions of its components throughout any given sample. Conversely, a heterogeneous mixture has components in which proportions vary throughout the sample. …More

Thus ‘a calorie is (can be) a calorie?’


‘a calorie (cannot be) a calorie?’

All calories (units of energy composed of a mixture of compounds, elements and substances) are inclusive or non-inclusive in the endogenous and non-endogenous (exogenous) system?

Density (mass) and Volume = PORTION SIZE?[•]

[•] Mass Per Unit Volume Divided by Timing (when should I eat again? should I slowly reduce in increments the volume in equal calories? “occasionally restrict elements of the diet?” or “occasionally pull axis 3?”[2]) Then maybe I won’t be so hungry? Or long-term sustainability (equilibrium)?

Dr. Peter Attia[2]


[1] Does being in ketosis automatically translate to fat loss? NO - Dr. Peter Attia

[2] My nutritional framework - Dr. Peter Attia

[3] When somebody loses weight, where does the fat go?

(Bunny) #117

I think it depends what we think a calorie is?

What is it actually?

If it is electrons within units of energy how do you know what those electrons are going to do in relation to insulin?

Do proteins, fats or carbohydrates have different electrons?

(Bacon by any other name would taste just as great.) #118

I mentioned Cahill in a reply to that post of yours, in which you wrote, “I wonder what happens in true starvation.” So I was referring you to Cahill to find out.

I generally try to quote posts rather than rely on the Discourse thread-following features. I don’t know why I didn’t do that, in this particular instance, sorry. But if a post is written in reply to another post, you can always click on the previous poster’s icon at the top of the reply and re-read the original post. This is Discourse’s way of allowing people to follow threads within a topic. (If you click on the downward V associated with a quotation, it will reveal the entire post from which the quotation was taken, by the way.)

Likewise, you can jump to the responses to a post by clicking on the down-arrow below the post.

(Elmo) #119

The other side of the fence is part of CICO. If you don’t measure both sides then you “have no idea,” (at least for a while). Like with a household budget - you have to consider all of what’s going on. Dollars in, Dollars out. Or insert the currency of your choice. If you don’t keep track of expenditures, then obviously things are not what they should be, i.e. just saying, “But I have this much money coming in,” is not a complete picture. You have to consider expenditures as well.

No, the system doesn’t know what to do, given human behavior. It’s not infinitely adaptable; it can’t maintain a constant or “normal” or desired weight, necessarily (and/or the same for blood sugar), and that’s what brings most people to this forum.

It’s like you want to make things both more simple and more complex than they really are. More simple by just looking at “calories in” while not considering “the other side of the fence.”

More complex by saying “we are not capable of understanding because of the vast cascade of the variables and the biological pathways involved.” That’s not true - there are calories in (or ‘energy’ if you don’t like saying ‘calories’ or we could also say ‘grams’ or ‘ounces,’ etc.). And then there is metabolism, storage and excretion. Correct? Or are we missing a substantial, meaningful quantity there?

It’s really not that complex or ‘unknowable.’

You have your own “unique” way with words and syntax, so I’m not sure what you’re saying. Taking it at face value, one or two calories isn’t going to meaningfully alter the situation, is it?

Then I think you are referring to people losing weight at first, and later stopping the weight loss or regaining weight. Sure, this happens. This is nothing against CICO. You’re describing two different conditions. You’re really talking about “calories out” changing, no? Well, nobody says it can’t change - by definition here it can change.

This is a logical fallacy. You’re stating your conclusion (that CICO means ‘a calorie is a calorie’) in your premise (circular logic). In reality, the article does not mention CICO.

The article immediately explains what it means by ‘a calorie is a calorie’ - "that weight change in hypocaloric diets is independent of macronutrient composition."

Or later, “The most common meaning is that is it impossible for two isocaloric diets to lead to different weight loss.”

Correct me if I’m wrong - I think we can all agree that those two statements are false. But this is no “failure” of CICO. CICO can be a cause or a result.

An example of it being a cause - a person cuts the “calories in” enough and for a long enough period of time that they lose weight. The ‘in’ is below the ‘out.’ I think we can all agree that in that situation weight loss will indeed occur.

An example of it being a result - (with the statements from the article in mind) a person eats 2200 calories per day, with two different situations being considered. The first is 700 calories protein, 300 calories fat, 1200 calories carbohydrates. The second is 700 calories protein, 1500 calories fat. So, isocaloric but with different macronutrient composition.

In the first case, the person loses a small amount of weight over time. Their average energy expenditure was 2200 calories per day, and there was a very small amount of waste.

In the second case, the person loses a greater amount of weight. The difference in carbohydrate consumption made for less insulin response and a lower overall average insulin level. The body spent less time in “energy storage mode,” and the average energy expenditure was 2600 calories per day, and there was a very small amount of waste.

The numbers could be different, but here too I assume that we all can agree that such can occur. We are disagreeing with the article’s statements; we are saying that weight change may not be independent of nutrient composition, and that that two isocaloric diets can lead to different weight change.

Anybody that gives credence to the carbohydrate-insulin theory can only logically agree with the above. We have a more complete picture than do the two statements from the article. This says nothing against CICO. With the different composition diets, CICO did not predict there would be a difference in the weight losses, and it did not claim to predict it. In that situation, CICO was a result, not a cause. CICO didn’t “fail,” there. CICO reflected the change in energy expenditure, and the changes in the fat storage levels.

(Bunny) #120

Depends on the input?

Volume of input ====>system over-load===>storage capacity===>excess storage===>sublimation to oxidation===>time

(Elmo) #121

You tell me. My point was that you said the system already knows what to do.

So, under what conditions are you wrong?