“The Calorie Myth” – book review
According to Alan Watts, a philosopher who translated Eastern religion to Western terms, “a myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world”. This could describe the calorie theory. This article reviews the book, “The Calorie Myth“, by Jonathan Bailor, published in 2014. The author points out that:
- There is no proof of the calorie theory.
- Not all calories are equal.
- The calorie theory overlooks nutrition, micronutrients (minerals and vitamins), and the metabolic hormones of the individual (biochemical individuality).
According to the calorie theory, weight loss depends on burning more calories, for example via exercise, than consuming calories in foods and drinks. This theory overlooks the quality of the calories and another theory of what causes someone to become or remain overweight.
The calorie theory is often cited by suppliers of sugary, starchy foods. It it is nonsense. Regarding health, weight loss, and longevity, different foods, even with the same number of calories, can have different metabolic effects:
- Some make you feel full, while others make you want more.
- Some make you or keep you fat, while others do not.
- Some nourish you, while others are devoid of nutrients (“empty calories”).
- Some give you quick energy, while others give you more energy over the day.
Feeling full (satiety)
Many foods can fill your stomach, but then you do not feel satiated for long. To feel satiated, you can drink more water before your meal, and eat more fiber and protein. What is fiber? It is the portion of your food that you do not absorb, but you do excrete. Fiber is found most of all in fresh (not canned) fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, onions, bananas, apples, and sweet potatoes. Protein is found in many foods, but concentrated in eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, and meat. To repeat, water, fiber, and protein make you feel satiated. Sugary, starchy foods, such as bread, potatoes, and cakes, do not.
As Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghaledj MD points out in his book, “Your Many Cries for Water“, you may think that you are hungry, when you are in fact thirsty. The sensation of thirst can be the last sign of dehydration, not the first. What to drink? How much to drink? This depends on the individual and on other factors, such as the climate and exercise. Drink well, when you first wake up at the start of your day. Eating limited amounts of salt makes it possible to retain water.
Sugar and fat
It is sugar that makes you fat else prevents weight loss. It is devoid of nutrients removed in the refining process. It interferes with optimal digestion. It is an anti-nutrient in the sense that minerals and vitamins are required to excrete it. By contrast, the same number of calories found a tablespoon of sugar but instead from a green smoothie or steamed vegetables. Do your own research. Do not believe everything you read in the newspapers or hear on television. Cursory results from a search engine is not adequate research.
Nutrients not calories
Some foods may have the same number of calories, but are not the same in nutrients. For example, the calories from a tablespoon of refined sugar are not the same as the calories from a bowl of steamed broccoli with olive oil and rosemary. The refined sugar lacks the minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients. Calories from bread, even “whole grain” bread, is not the same as calories from a handful of almonds. The calorie theory completely overlooks nutrients, minerals, and vitamins.
Even when you rest, you consume energy at a certain rate. Most of your calories you consume at rest. This is known as your “base metabolic rate”. The author refers to the “set point”, which is related. The lower your base metabolic rate, the higher your set point, and the less energy you produce from your food. This rate can indeed be measured in calories. Depending on what you drink and eat and do not drink and eat, you can gradually slow down or accelerate your base metabolic rate. Sugary, starchy foods and dairy can slow it down, clogging your digestive system and causing inflammation. Fresh fruits and vegetables tend to increase your metabolic rate, besides containing minerals and vitamins. In general, optimal digestion is regular, perhaps rapid digestion, depending on the individual.
Calories and metabolism
Certain foods and their calories, such as sugar and starch, can increase your blood glucose more rapidly than others. Other foods, such as nuts, seeds, certain grains, beans, and legumes, can give you energy gradually over hours. The calorie theory overlooks this. In other words, nuts and seeds are digested more slowly than sugar and starch (or fruits and vegetables).
- reduction in metabolic rate that causes long-term weight regain, even if a low-calorie lifestyle and exercise are maintained, and
- development of gallstones in a substantial proportion of people.
If you lose, say, fifty pounds (twenty-three kilos) by cutting calories, a combination of fat and muscle loss since about a third of weight loss is muscle, that reduces your metabolic rate by 25%, and then regain fifty pounds, the weight you put back on is all fat, making future weight loss efforts difficult or impossible: less muscle, lower metabolic rate. And it’s horrifying just how many people develop gallstones by cutting calories.”
Vegan or paleo?
HealthViaFood is vegan-agnostic. Veganism is healthy for some people, but not for everybody.
It simply reviews and presents ideas you can use to gain health and to lose weight. For example this article simply reviews, summarizes, and simplifies the book that questions the calorie theory.
When I wake up in the morning, I often drink a liter (+/- quart) or more of a smoothie that includes a lemon, spinach, red beet or carrot or apple, ginger, stevia, a few walnuts or hemp seeds, and water. Then I wait ten to twenty minutes. Next, I often steam and eat broccoli with olive oil and rosemary. If I am in a hurry, I eat broccoli steamed the night before. Lastly, for breakfast, I often sauté an onion and mushrooms or spinach with eggs, fish, turkey, or meat.
All three of these dishes – the smoothie, the steamed vegetables, and the main dish – can be relatively cheap and quick to prepare, depending on fresh local supplies, preferably organic, as much as practical. I am not suggesting that you try this for yourself, but paleo, or mostly paleo, works for me. We are all mortal, but I am happy to be healthy and hope to stay healthy until the end. Paleo makes this possible for me. It may or may not work for you.
If you are a vegan, then you could simply substitute certain grains, beans or legumes for the eggs, fish, or meat. Many healthy vegans substitute oatmeal, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, spelt, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), adzuki beans, other beans, tofu, rice or lentils. Veganism can be healthy for many people, but probably not for everybody.
Paleo eating habits, or mostly paleo, work for me, but they may not work for you. It is simply an option to try instead of believing in the nonsense of the calorie theory and weight gain or loss.
Dr. Stefan Domenig MD in his book “The Alkaline Cure” also points out that it is not necessary to count calories, compared with a balance between alkaline- and acid-forming portions of what you eat. This idea is known as the acid-alkaline balance.
As Professor Roger Williams, PhD, author of “Biochemical Individuality“, notes, “the idea that a piece of pie or a slice of bread or a hamburger contains a specific number of calories, and that these figures can be used to calculate one’s calorie consumption is ridiculous”.
Bailor, Jonathan, “The Calorie Myth“, 2014, HarperWave, video review
Lustig MD, Dr. Robert, Is a Calorie a Calorie? Processed Food, Experiment Gone Wrong, 1:39 lecture
Taubes, Gary, “The Quality of Calories: Competing Paradigms of Obesity“, fifty-two minute lecture
Taubes, Gary, “Good Calories. Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom“, Knopf, 2007, audio
Berry MD, Ken, “Counting Calories is Stupid!“, eleven-minute lecture
Banting, William, “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public“, Mohun, Ebbs, and Hough, 1863, facsimile of original
Lustig MD, Dr. Robert, “Is a Calorie a Calorie?: Processed Food, Experiment Gone Wrong“, 1:40 video
Spector, Tim, “The Diet Myth“, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2015
Yeo PhD, Giles, “Why Calories Don’t Count“, Pegasus, 2021, :50 video, related
Bailor, Jonathan, “Debunking the Calorie Myth“, :34 video