A Calorie is Not A Calorie - A Discussion of Thermodynamics

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #142

Why do proponents of CICO (the weight management hypothesis) consistently declaim opposition as denial of the first law of thermodynamics? As if CICO = the first law. There are many reasons to condemn CICO (the weight management hypothesis) that have nothing to do with the first law.


If you read nothing else in this paper, read the Discussion


To the best of our knowledge, this study is the longest follow‐up investigation of the changes in metabolic adaptation and body composition subsequent to weight loss and regain. We found that despite substantial weight regain in the 6 years following participation in “The Biggest Loser”, RMR remained suppressed at the same average level as at the end of the weight loss competition. Mean RMR after 6 years was ∼500 kcal/day lower than expected based on the measured body composition changes and the increased age of the subjects.

(Bunny) #143

Thinking of this in the terms of voltage, wattage, amperage, resistance and impedance rather than gas?

1 calorie is 4.184 J (1 Electron volt (eV) = 1.602176565 x 10-19 joules (J))) <==== how much of this is already on-board (muscle, liver glycogen, sorbitol fructose pathway in the brain and gluconeogenesis from dietary protein and body parts; nitrogen balance?) before you put more into it?

How much time would it take going from a solid to a liquid and then a gas?

Does it matter if it’s a protein, fat or carbohydrates?

NO it does not!

If we remove macro nutrients, vitamins minerals and trace elements from the picture?

And you eat one donut a day, you will go into ketosis anyway? As you lose body fat or skeletal muscle mass you can keep adding donuts?

Why? It is because the volume and density is not enough to sustain the previous system or energy balance so it will go into ketosis and burn/oxidize body fat or stored lipids any way?

All the processes that happen with eating only protein and fat will occur with eating only a carbohydrate also?

A calorie is a calorie?

Just like only eating animal proteins can do magical things when you play with IGF-1, but when you keep trip hammering it long-term, it will do the polar opposite. It’s the blackest magic you can practice with dietary nutritional science and comes with severe consequences If you believe in the law of cause and effect?

And also there are calories within calories when your talking about carbohydrates?

Us human beings are nothing more than a vapor that includes bones and teeth.

(Kevin) #144

Hey, we are back. :speak_no_evil: :smiley_cat:

Short version reply: because the sometimes faulty weight management hypotheses you speak of are not really at issue on this forum, while the first law of thermodynamics is violated, both directly and by implication, in a substantial number of posts by a substantial number of people on this forum.

A logical query. I think this does go to ‘the larger scientific picture,’ critical thinking, and examining ourselves as a group.

From what I have seen, you want to limit CICO to ‘weight management hypotheses’ that can be knocked down easily. “Eat less, move more,” or “Count calories, cut calories.” As simple as that; nothing more required, and so forth.

I think everybody is aware of these notions and that to this day they exist in literature and in the minds of some people ‘out there.’ Yet the members of this forum don’t really make those arguments nor advance them as universally suitable hypotheses. If that’s not true, then who do you see advocating for them?

There have been at least four threads in the last month that encompass similar themes to this one. What posts have you seen that argue for those hypotheses?

So then, the first law of thermodynamics. Plenty of posts that deny things, there.

(Okay, so not for human metabolism?)


(I don’t have a huge quarrel with this one. It does seem to denigrate things on the basis that “science is hard,” however, while I think a more overarching truth is that - even if its hard for us to count something - the scientific laws will still be there.)

:smile: (Who says it’s not thermodynamic?)

(Same thing - “the science is hard, so physical laws don’t apply” approach.)

(The first law of thermodynamics remains well satisfied, nonetheless.)

:slightly_smiling_face: (This was meant in humor and good-naturedness, so once again I can’t be too critical. As above, here I’d only say that (as ElmoUzi noted) everybody should intuitively know that the laws of conservation of energy and matter will be satisfied, and that they apply as much in our lives as anywhere else.)

@amwassil Michael, in your own posts you have kept away from directly denying the first law, there, to the extent I’ve read. It’s more that you’ve sometimes had the attitude that just because it may be difficult to measure energy, it then follows that considerations of the energy balance are faulty.

I don’t think that’s the right way to say it. It definitely isn’t going to ‘evade’ the first law, regardless of what ‘side’ of a discussion one is on. This should be a necessary logical conclusion in the first place. So, no matter what we say about CICO, acting like the first law doesn’t apply will be incorrect.

It’s incorrect to say, “To lose weight, all anybody needs to do is count calories.”

It’s certainly incorrect to say or imply that the first law of thermodynamics isn’t true, doesn’t matter, will be violated by such-and-such, etc.

(Bunny) #145


(Hagen) #146

No, I think you’ve established yourself as a master. :wink:

I felt compelled to give a ‘Like’ to that post. I sense a lighthearted and playful sense in there somewhere. :woman_red_haired: :slightly_smiling_face:

And -

  • are we talking about outright ‘magic’? :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

For a minute there, I had visions of our fat cells not actually having fat inside them, and being encased by parts of other cells (that do have fat in them). :japanese_ogre::ghost::japanese_goblin: (Why don’t we have a ‘Witchdoctor’ icon?)

NCC-1701 Trekkie

To be totally serious, yes.

This is part of it too.

This is good, this brings us all closer together (I think :grin:) in our thinking. I for one would always vote for “hard” science over everything else. This forum is better than any other I know of, but it has its share of opinion stated as fact, logical fallacies/moving the goalposts, generalizing from the particular, etc.

This is part of it too.

(Bunny) #147

Thank you your Majesty! Curtsies!

(Bacon by any other name would taste just as great.) #149

Well, actually, proper nutrition science is extremely difficult, as Gary Taubes points out. To conduct a true double-blind experiment is impossible in many cases (people can usually tell whether most of the food they are eating is carbohydrates or fat, for example). And forcing people to eat a certain way and making sure they eat that way all the time is difficult and expensive. Do you want to be locked up in a metabolic ward for three or four months? And a proper long-term study would last at least two years, so . . . .

This is why we rely on epidemiological data, short-term experiments with small study populations, and small effects that may be statistically significant but not necessarily clinically relevant. If you’ve got some way in mind of getting us better data, I’d bet a lot of people would be interested to hear it.

If you cannot measure accurately, you don’t know what you are doing. That’s elementary carpentry, as well as elementary physics.

I think that when some of us make points about the inaccuracy of measuring energy intake and expenditure, it’s in response to people who think they can calculate their macros and their energy use to the last calorie. And the point of refuting that view is that energy in and energy out need to come within 0.2% of each other or—by the standard CICO view—the person will gain or lose fat. (And that’s assuming the standard figure of 3500 kilocalories to a pound of fat is correct, which it probably isn’t.)

As Taubes points out, we are speaking here of one mouthful of food, or less. So how are you going to know whether this mouthful should be your last or if the previous one should have been—given the impossibility of making precise measurements? So our point is, why not give up the chase for precision and relax? Or better yet, why not let it all be handled by the same bodily mechanisms that served our ancestors so well?

And yet, that is the notion for which the acronym CICO is shorthand. Many people repeat this incorrect idea, including government health authorities the world over. Not to mention such respected bodies as the WHO, the American Heart Association, the American Dieticians’ Association, the American Diabetes Association, and their equivalents around the world.

You and we are actually in agreement about what CICO should mean. The problem is that the rest of the world uses the term “CICO” and the phrases “a calorie is a calorie” and “eat less, move more” in a way that neither you nor we agree with. So when you see disparaging remarks about CICO on these forums, please bear in mind that we are disagreeing with them and agreeing with you. We are not disagreeing with your notion of what CICO should mean, we are disagreeing with how they use the term and agreeing with you that they are using it wrong.

Keto activists maintain that the First Law certainly operates, but that it says nothing about the direction of causality. We assert that the notion that the sheer quantity of calories eaten determines what our body does with the food we eat is inaccurate and misguided. To say this is certainly not contrary to the laws of thermodynamics.

Energy balance is indeed a factor in what happens, but the body’s hormonal response to the foods we eat is going to determine both the rate of energy expenditure, and also whether we will gain or lose lean tissue and/or gain or lose fat stores. Moreover, it is whether we are in gain or loss mode that will determine the energy imbalance, not the reverse. (And furthermore, if we are in fat gain mode, the hormonal response will also determine where in the body the extra fat will get deposited.)

All that people who advocate a ketogenic diet are saying is that the energy-balance model is too simplistic. The First Law of Thermodynamics alone cannot explain how someone like Sam Feltham was able to able to eat 5000 kilocalories a day for a month on a low-carb, high-fat diet and not get fat. (He did gain a few pounds of lean tissue while losing a few pounds of fat at the same time. So he ended up a few pounds heavier and a bit thinner. But overall, his weight remained remarkably stable.) His similar experiment with a high-caloric, high-carb, low-fat diet yielded much different results. So obviously, while the laws of thermodynamics apply, they cannot be the whole story.

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #150

I think several posters seem to define CICO - the hypothesis and diet/weight management systems - in a manner influenced by their knowlegde and possibly reluctant acceptance of at least some, if not all, of the insulin/hormone hypothesis that is the basis of keto. They’re essentially trying to combine both into something they can intellectual accept as valid. I can understand that, since keto actually works long term and CICO diets have a long term fail rate of 99+%. Hence they keep harping on the first law of thermodynamics, which no one denies, and add whatever hormonal influences and effects that they can not ignore because they explain the reality of metabolic management better than simple calories in and calories out.

I have no objections to they’re doing so and in fact wish them well in their efforts. However, they persistently criticize those of us who disagree as simplifying and misunderstanding REAL™ CICO when we actually state the mainstream understanding and interpretation. I for one quote and paraphrase the actual things proponents of CICO say about it, using the same terminology and understanding of that terminology. I know others here do so as well. We are not misunderstanding CICO and our critics simply undermine their own credibility by harping on it. Long upthread I challenged one these critics to cite something/anything that supported his interpretation and use of CICO terminology that contradicted my use. He has yet to do so. On the other hand, I have posted multiple citation from CICO researchers and commenters that use the terminology exactly as I do.

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #151


(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #152


The Insulin/Hormone Hypothesis includes all the first law stuff that’s in CICO. So all you folks arguing pro CICO based on the first law are howling at the moon.

The Insulin/Hormone Hypothesis does not deny the first law, it simply recognizes that the first law by itself is not sufficient. The article I linked in the OP offers an explanation why not. It may or may not be valid, although I suspect it is. First law just says overall energy must remain but says nothing about the final distribution of that energy. The OP argues that the second law explains how the energy distribution ends up and why that’s significant to metabolic management.

(Doug) #153

Tell you all what - I’m glad I don’t have e-mail notifications turned on for this thread. :smile:

Hey old boy, you’re confusing two different groups. The people who are proponents of that aren’t here. The people realizing that any argument that involves denying the first law of thermodynamics is necessarily faulty are here.

If we don’t keep those separate then surely we’ll just go around and around forever.

Billy Preston, baby - Will it go round in circles? Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky?

(@KetoGolem - good answer.) Is anybody saying that CICO = the first law? Not on this forum, I think, and not out there in internet land even if they’re claiming that “watch what you eat” is the friggin’ Holy Grail. CICO only tells us so much (surely we can all agree on that…?).

My issue with this thread and the second law is that it doesn’t address anything anybody’s said on the forum about the quantities in CICO. In the end, I do agree with the article’s authors - there are different amounts of dissipation of energy that will occur as the different macronutrients are digested (and metabolized). However, this is a given. The authors do say “The analysis above might be said to be over-kill” - so I think they are aware. To be really complete and correct about the conclusion, then, we need to say that, “From the standpoint of the second law of thermodynamics, not all calories are the same in relation to what percent of available energy will remain after digestion/metabolization.”

Meanwhile, anybody can point to the first law, and say that it proves that “a calorie is a calorie,” and be just as correct. Thus, no big resolution here. We could all post articles about the first law and claim that calories are the same.

@amwassil - also, hey man, I’ve frequently been your antagonist on this forum, but in catching up on posts today I saw you say that you’re around 14% body fat. :sunglasses: That’s excellent, and really the most important thing for all of us, I think - to find out how to be healthy and remain active and capable for a long time. There are a lot of us that haven’t done as well as you have, there. So, no matter what, you deserve a huge :clap: (and in a non-Covid environment a :raised_hands:).

Paul, indeed - and while the forum was down I was reading something that mentioned at least one of the articles we’ve been talking about in this thread; there were ‘competing’ papers and other authors who disagreed, and there was back-and-forth stuff going on between the two groups, and it bears on the subject and like an idiot I didn’t make notes or write it down. It was enough hours ago that I’m totally blank on it… :cry: I don’t where or what the **** it was…

Anyway, yes - it does look like there was a ‘dialogue’ going on between authors/scientists. You’re also correct about the need for things “to be spoken about carefully, to prevent misconceptions from arising in our thinking.” Surely part of this debate is philosophical, and very sensitive to initial conditions, i.e. our viewpoint and how we approach the subject both loom huge. As individuals we’re going to be different there, to begin with, so it’s hard to bridge all the gaps, even if everything goes perfectly afterwards. And of course it never does. :smile::stuck_out_tongue::wink:

(Doug) #154

:smile: You gotta admit this was a funny one. :smile::smile:

(Bunny) #155

It’s always has been about lowering sugar (fructose/sucrose?) intake and not about insulin?

Diabetes is not really per say a glucose (fructose/sucrose?) problem, it is an insulin problem, lack of enough insulin or resistance to insulin.

Keeping insulin low by keeping glucose (fructose/sucrose?) intake low also keeps the brain from making fructose and the only organ in the body that can use fructose is the liver which it turns into visceral fat in excess or glucose?

Glucose, sucrose and fructose are three (3) different things?


[1] ”…Glucose was first isolated from raisins in 1747 by the German chemist Andreas Marggraf. Glucose was discovered in grapes by Johann Tobias Lowitz in 1792 and recognized as different from cane sugar (sucrose). …” …More

• Chemical formula: C6H12O6

• Solubility in water: 909 g/L (25 °C (77 °F))

• Heat of combustion, higher value (HHV): 2,805 kJ/mol (670 kcal/mol)

• Heat capacity ( C ): 218.6 J/(K·mol)

[2] “…Because fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion from pancreatic β cells, the consumption of foods and beverages containing fructose produces smaller postprandial insulin excursions than does consumption of glucose-containing carbohydrate. …” …More

[3] “…How is fructose different from glucose? High-fructose corn syrup is cornstarch — glucose — with enzymes added to convert some of the glucose into fructose. The sweetener contains around 55 percent fructose. The new study — drawing on clinical trials, basic science, and animal studies — concludes that fructose is more damaging to health than glucose. …” …More

[4] “…Is fructose as bad as glucose? Your body converts fructose to glucose in the liver to use it for energy. Excess fructose places a burden on your liver, which may lead to a series of metabolic problems (13). …” …More

[5] “…Fructose is only harmful in large amounts, and it’s difficult to get excessive amounts of fructose from fruit. Summary Evidence suggests that fructose can cause harm when consumed in excess. However, there is not enough fructose in fruit to cause concern. …” …More

Is a carb a carb by any other name
(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #156

Thank you for that, Doug. But I have to admit that I don’t really have to do much and I really admire all the folks who struggle and do have to work hard. There’s lots to be said for genetics. I suspect it’s at least as important as either law of thermodynamics.

(Bacon by any other name would taste just as great.) #157

You, too, huh?

Hey, all you kids out there—don’t get old, okay?

(Now, what was I talking about?) :grin:

(Kevin) #158

Aye, but that doesn’t mean the concepts or the theories are wrong (if nothing else, at that point it remains to be seen), nor that physical laws don’t apply (they do).

Not necessarily true, and the principle is the same - difficulty in measurement may or not be an issue. In no way does that determine the physical reality of what is going on, nor does it affect the applicability of laws in accordance with that reality.

For most of human history, we didn’t know about viruses and bacteria, but they were there. For hundreds of years - from Newton through Einstein - we couldn’t measure gravity’s effect on light, though there were theories rooted in calculus (and possibly an intuitive grasp of physics) that predicted it. It wasn’t until the Eddington/Dyson experiment that it was measured (which lent additional credence to Einstein’s general theory of relativity as well).

'Not measuring" may not even matter at all. Often, generalized truth through algebra or calculus can be had, i.e. for example “For all X and Y, the following equation will be true…” Variables are likewise considered in calculus as its applied to physics and other sciences. They literally are variable, changeable, fluctuating, etc., i.e. a quantity or function that may assume any given value or set of values. Once again, that does not change the truth of the formulas, theorems, etc.

Has nothing to do with the applicability of physical laws, as above.

There is no reason to refute it - it doesn’t matter when it comes to what we’re talking about. To say that difficulty in measurement = not knowing what you’re doing, is incorrect. The ability of a given person to exactly measure energy or not doesn’t affect the physics involved.

How close would satisfy you? It’s been discussed on these recent threads already - the human mix of triglycerides in stored fat averages just under 9 calories per gram. Our fat tissue is ~87% fat. Do the math and you’re right there.

It seems that people conflate the admitted faults in just “counting calories” for weight loss with the value of knowing what’s happening with energy. You mention Sam Feltham eating 5000 calories a day and not getting fat. So, “calories” really isn’t a “dirty word.” Likewise, it’s common to have it brought up how the ‘Biggest Loser’ contestants had an average slowdown of ~789 calories per day in their metabolisms. So if we want to talk about calories, we can; no harm, no foul.

With Sam’s example, what was his energy expenditure doing? That would (obviously) be the first place to look, if we’re raising our eyebrows at his slight weight change. Beyond that, whether we have an accurate overall conception of what was going on with him or not, it, his example would not necessarily apply to people as a whole.

Asked and answered in this thread, several times, actually.

What percent of people know the ‘normal’ earthbound acceleration due to gravity? Not a big one. What percent know the formula for gravity or Newton’s law of universal gravitation? A truly tiny one.
What percent could calculate it or measure it? Exceedingly tiny.

And of course gravity is just as valid and operative, regardless, and regardless of what group a person is in. I make the first cut, but the last two are way beyond me, at least from memory. But I know that the physical laws will still be served, and I don’t pretend that it affects the validity of any truthful statements about gravity.

Those remarks are not what the issue is on this forum.

If it was just people saying, "What’s wrong is this -> “you need do nothing more than count calories to lose weight, no matter who you are,” (as one example), then there wouldn’t be all the posts about the matter. We’d all just agree and go on about other business. Yes, that’s definitely wrong.

While I don’t see you personally really doing this, what starts a good many of the arguments are untrue assertions (often involving necessary denial of the first law of thermodynamics), or just plain errors in logic or mathematics. We’ve all got opinions, blah blah blah… But logic and math really can be argued, eh?

  1. Okay - both ‘sides’ in this forum debate agree that there’s a better, more complete conception of CICO than the “eat less, move more” or otherwise too simplified or outright faulty interpretations of it.

  2. Both sides agree that “eat less, move more” or “just count calories” etc., won’t work for everybody and frequently is not a suitable long term weight loss approach for people.

Yet neither of those is really an issue on this forum.

What’s left is addressing what we do say, here, and where there is disagreement.

Okay, good - no argument on this except perhaps that there’s an implication that the direction of causality would matter. If we’re talking about the validity of physical laws, then it wouldn’t, and the same for the three conditions of CICO (i.e. what’s going to happen for weight loss/gain/no change) even as quoted by those on the “anti-CICO” side here on the forum.

I think we all are agreed. (?) There is certainly more to it than that, and no apparent physical impossibility there.

Once again I’m getting pressure from my wife to quit this. :smile: And I didn’t even spend much time on it yesterday. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: The Big K better go save his marriage pretty soon.

The state of the energy balance is an observation, not a necessary cause. Hormonal effects fit right in there with everything else - this is me saying ‘everything else.’ Hormones are without question a cause at times, i.e. yes indeed - being in loss or gain mode makes a big difference. While the energy balance doesn’t directly tell us what’s going on with hormones, the effects are there. If we’re using fat for energy and the stores of it are declining, then that’s easily detectable after a point, and the same for if stores are increasing.

Just what the energy balance tells us IS part of the issues in all these forum posts. Can we agree on where energy goes, to start with?

If something substantial is missing here, what is it or what are they? It’s been asked before, and I’ve never seen a good answer.

(Bacon by any other name would taste just as great.) #159

All right, it’s clear that you are missing the point of what I’m saying. Of course, energy expenditure was relevant, because his weight changed. The point is that the weight change was not what a CICO interpretation of the physics involved would have predicted. Since you do not appear to be having the same conversation I’m having, I will bow out at this point.

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #160

Some folks just can’t take ‘yes’ for an answer.

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #162

@Consistency Please start your own topic if you want to discuss capitalism and the search for happiness. This topic is not the place for it. Thank you.

(Bunny) #164

As the heated debate gets deeper and juicier, a deeper dive into thermodynamics:

Brown adipose tissue in metabolic physiology:

Brown adipose tissue (BAT) occupies an unusual role in mammalian physiology. Although BAT possesses an oxidative capacity comparable to tissues like striated muscle and liver, it is incapable of producing ATP in any great quantity.1 Indeed, much like the extra-ocular superior rectus muscle (heater muscle) of Billfish such as Blue Marlin and Swordfish, BAT functions like a heater organ in mammalian endotherms. Intriguingly, like the Billfish heater muscle, BAT hails from a skeletal muscle lineage.2However, this is where the similarity ends. Unlike the heater muscle of Billfish, which generates heat through increased ATP hydrolysis on account of an inefficient sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ ATPase,3 BAT mitochondria are equipped with a specialized protein that functions as an energy transducer, short-circuiting the electron transport chain and turning the mitochondrion into a biologic furnace.4

Uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1), originally termed thermogenin owing to its role in non-shivering thermogenesis (NST), resides within the inner mitochondrial membrane.4 When activated, UCP1 permits significant inner membrane proton conductance, uncoupling mitochondrial fuel oxidation and respiration from ATP production.5 In keeping with the laws of thermodynamics, the electro-chemical potential generated by fuel oxidation in BAT mitochondria is largely dissipated as heat as opposed to being used for ADP phosphorylation. Thus, when switched on, UCP1 turns BAT mitochondria into small, internalized radiators - which can assist in maintaining the core temperature of endothermic mammals.1 While this role of BAT in NST has long been appreciated in certain mammals, only very recently has BAT been shown to be present and functional in adult humans.6 This has rekindled interest in a putative role for BAT in human energy metabolism, arising largely from the desire to manipulate BAT as a strategy to increase energy expenditure and substrate metabolism in the context of obesity and its metabolic complications. …” …More


[1] Beneficial Role of Bitter Melon Supplementation in Obesity and Related Complications in Metabolic Syndrome

[2] Momordica charantia (Bitter Melon) Reduces Obesity-Associated Macrophage and Mast Cell Infiltration as well as Inflammatory Cytokine Expression in Adipose Tissues

[3] The anti-adiposity effect of bitter melon seed oil is solely attributed to its fatty acid components