7 Common Calorie Myths We Should All Stop Believing

Uncover The FactsMany people think weight loss is simply about cutting calories. They believe that to lose weight, you must reduce calories (either eat less or burn more), to gain weight you must add calories, and to maintain weight you keep calories constant. To these folks, calories in, calories out is the only thing that matters. They usually oppose the Primal Blueprint because they assume that we “deny” the importance of calories in weight loss.

Well, they’re wrong. I don’t deny the importance of calories. Calories absolutely count. And if someone has lost weight, they have necessarily expended more calories than they consumed. That said, there are some major misconceptions about calories, body weight, fat loss, and health. These calorie myths are often rooted in truth but presented in black-or-white terms that are useless at best, harmful at worst, and do little to help the average person lose body fat.

Let’s dig right in.

Calories in, calories out is all you need to know.

Simple is nice. Simple is good. But overly simple is dangerously inaccurate, so let’s break this statement down.

What does “calories in” refer to?

Calories in — what we eat. We can’t metabolize sunlight or oxygen. We can’t feast on the souls of the damned. The food we eat determines “calories in” entirely. Simple.

“Calories out” is where it gets confusing. There are several components to “calories out”:

  1. Resting energy expenditure — the energy used to handle basic, day-to-day physiological functions and maintenance
  2. Thermic effect of food — the energy used to digest food and process nutrients
  3. Active energy expenditure — the energy used during movement (both deliberate activity like lifting weights, jogging, and walking, plus spontaneous activity like shivering and fidgeting)

Not so simple, is it? There are a lot more variables to consider.

Oh, and about those variables…

Calories in and calories out are independent variables.

That would be nice. You could drop energy intake and maintain your resting metabolic rate while burning the same amount of energy digesting food (even though you’re eating less of it) and working out. The fat would melt off at a predictable, constant rate. Anyone with basic arithmetic skills (or a calculator) could become a successful weight loss coach and very few people would be overweight.

In reality, the amount and type of calories we eat affect the amount of energy we expend:

  • During calorie restriction, the body “defends” its body weight by lowering resting metabolic rate and reducing spontaneous physical activity. To keep weight loss going, you often have to lower food intake even more (to counteract the reduced metabolic rate) and remind yourself to fidget, tap your feet, twiddle your thumbs, and shiver (to recreate the missing spontaneous movement). And you have to do it again when the body readjusts.
  • Whole foods take more energy to process and digest than processed foods. In one example, subjects either ate a “whole food” sandwich (multigrain bread with cheddar cheese) or a “processed food” sandwich (white bread with cheese product). Both meals were isocaloric (same number of calories) and featured roughly identical macronutrient (protein, fat, carb) ratios. Those eating the multigrain sandwiches expended 137 calories postprandially (after their meal). The white bread group expended only 73 calories, a 50% reduction in the thermic effect of food.
  • Protein takes more energy to process and digest than other macronutrients. Compared to a low-fat, high-carb diet, a high-protein diet increased postprandial energy expenditure by 100% in healthy young women. And in both obese and lean adults, eating a high-protein meal was far more energetically costly (by almost 3-fold) than eating a high-fat meal.

Calories in affects calories out. The two variables are anything but independent of each other.

Weight gain is caused by eating more calories than you expend.

Calorie fetishists love pointing out that weight gain requires overeating. That is, everyone who gains weight necessarily ate more calories than they expended. Okay. We’ve established that everyone agrees on this. But it’s just restating the issue. It doesn’t tell us anything new or useful. It’s merely descriptive, not explanatory.

To show you what I mean, let’s do the same thing with other phenomena.

Why was Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated? Because someone pointed a sniper rifle at him and fired it.

Why did Usain Bolt win the 100 m final in the Beijing Olympics? Because he crossed the finish line first.

Why is the restaurant so crowded? Because more people entered than left.

These are technically true, but they ignore the ultimate causes. In King’s case, they fail to discuss racism, the civil rights movement, or the motivation of the shooter. They don’t mention Bolt’s training, genetics, or his childhood. They don’t discuss why the restaurant has attracted so many customers — new menu, Valentine’s Day, graduation? They simply restate the original statement using different words. They just describe what happened.

I’m interested in what truly causes us to eat more than we expend and/or expend less than we eat. I don’t care to merely describe weight gain because that doesn’t help anyone.

A calorie is a calorie.

Look. I loved Carl Sagan. Like everyone else, I got chills when he’d wax poetic about our place in the universe and our shared origins as “star-stuff.” But just because steak comes from the same star-stuff as a baked potato, isocaloric amounts of each do not have identical metabolic fates in our bodies when consumed.

We even have a study that examined this. For two weeks, participants either supplemented their diets with isocaloric amounts of candy (mostly sugar) or roasted peanuts (mostly fat and protein). This was added to their regular diet. After two weeks, researchers found that body weight, waist circumference, LDL, and ApoB (a rough measure of LDL particle number) were highest in the candy group, indicating increased fat mass and worsening metabolic health. In the peanut group, basal metabolic rate shot up and neither body weight nor waist size saw any significant increases.

Does this invalidate the relevance of energy balance? Of course not. Since the peanut group’s metabolic rate increased, they expended more calories in response to added calories, thus remaining in balance. But it does elegantly and definitively invalidate the simplistic notion that all calories, especially added calories, are treated equally by the body.

Weight loss and fat loss are the same thing.

People don’t want to lose weight. “Losing weight” is common parlance, but we really want to lose body fat and retain, or gain, muscle. And studies indicate that the macronutrient composition can differentially affect whether the weight lost is fat. It’s not just about total calories.

Take the 2004 study from Volek that placed overweight men and women on one of two diets: a very low-carb ketogenic diet or a low-fat diet. The low-carb group ate more calories but lost more weight and more body fat, especially dangerous abdominal fat.

Or the study from 1989 that placed healthy adult men on high-carb or high-fat diets. Even though the high-carb group lost slightly more body weight, the high-fat group lost slightly more body fat and retained more lean mass.

Just “weight” doesn’t tell us much. What kind of weight? Are we losing/gaining fat or muscle, bone, sinew, organ? Are we increasing the robustness of our colons and the number of bacterial residents (who, though small, carry weight and occupy space) from added prebiotic fiber intake? These factors matter for health. I’d argue that they’re the only factors that actually matter when losing or gaining weight because they offer insight into our health and body composition.

Exercise helps you lose weight only by burning calories.

Most people think of exercise as a way to mechanically combust calories. And that’s true, to a point. Exercise does “burn” calories, and this is a factor in weight loss. But it does lots of other cool things to our physiology that can assist with improving body composition, too.

Compared to something high intensity like burpees or something aerobic like running a 10k, lifting free weights doesn’t burn many calories when you’re lifting them. But it does improve insulin sensitivity, which reduces the amount of insulin we secrete for a given amount of carbohydrate and increases our ability to burn body fat. It increases muscle mass, which uses calories (protein). It strengthens connective tissue, which also uses calories. It even preserves metabolic rate during weight loss and boosts it for up to 72 hours post-workout. All these changes affect the fate of the calories we ingest.

If calories burnt were the most important factor, then the best way to lose weight would be to hammer it out with as much endurance exercise as you can withstand because that’s the most calorie intensive. But studies show that combination training — aerobic and resistance training — leads to greater reductions in body fat than either modality alone.

Even aerobic exercise isn’t just about mechanically burning calories. It also preferentially targets the reward regions of our brains, reducing the allure and spontaneously lowering our intake of junk food.

Counting calories allows us to accurately monitor food intake.

You’d think that, wouldn’t you? Most foods at the grocery store have labels. Even restaurants are beginning to emblazon menus with calorie counts for each item. As humans, we implicitly trust the printed word. It looks so official and authoritative, and it spells out with great specificity exactly how many calories we’re about to eat.

Except studies show that’s not the case. Whether it’s the nutritional information provided by restaurants, the calorie counts on supposedly “low-calorie” foods, or the nutritional labels on packaged foods, calorie counts are rarely accurate. Food manufacturers can even underreport calories by 20% and pass inspection by the FDA.

Maybe that’s why people have so much trouble sticking to their allotted number of calories. If only reality would bend to the will of the label!

You may roll your eyes at some of these ideas because they’re so preposterous, but consider where you’re coming from, where you’re reading this. This is how the general public – and, often, the experts and physicians advising their patients and writing policy — approaches the question of fat loss. Sure, not everyone immersed in conventional wisdom holds every one of these myths to be true. And when they’re actually faced with the statement, few will claim that a calorie of steak is metabolically identical to a calorie of white sugar or that weight loss is the same as fat loss. But when calories in, calories out is the first line of attack against excess body fat, these are the kind of myths that become entrenched.

It’s important to take them head-on.

No one wants to be fat. The obese know they’re obese. They’ve had “calories in, calories out” drummed into their heads for years. If it were really as simple as eating less and moving more, they wouldn’t be obese. And yet here we are. That might be the biggest danger of the continued propagation of these myths — they convince people that they’ve failed at something simple, basic, and central to being a healthy, moral human being.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care and be sure to let me know what you think of these calorie myths in the comment section. And check back soon. I’ve got more calorie myths on the way.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

TAGS:  calories

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

221 thoughts on “7 Common Calorie Myths We Should All Stop Believing”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Not only do the calories and macro nutrients effect it but the times at which you eat it. I tend to eat one large meal per day. It keeps me pretty well satisfied and let’s my body return to a fasting state as soon as possible.

    1. Hi Groktimus – I am looking to transition to one large meal a day too – how did you determine how big your one meal should be? Is it just experimentation – i.e. eat a fairly large meal and see how long it lasts? Do you time it so you don’t get hungry at inopportune times (i.e. middle of the night?) I’ve always been squarely in the 3 meals plus snacks camp but have been reading more about the great effects of fasting – but the whole concept of ‘how to’ is a little new to me.

      1. I’ve been doing this for years. I eat until I’m good and satisfied. When I eat it depends mainly on life circumstances. I keep it fairly low carb and I don’t usually get too hungry. Not eating stimulates my appetite less than eating does. For me food is an addiction (mainly carb addiction) so the fewer times I take the tiger out of the cage the better I do since complete food abstinence is impossible.

        1. This is interesting. This must have a huge impact on your metabolism? No headaches, constipation or depression troubles?

        2. I’ve always had a lot of headaches but that was even when I was a kid and eating “normally”. As I’ve gotten older I do deal with occasional constipation too but overall I feel better when fasting. I think the 3 meals a day thing might be another food industry invention. It is also necessary if you live as a sugar burner. I think if a lot of people tried it they would actually like it. If I could eat anything I wanted, whenever and not gain weight it would be different but I enjoy the time saving and simplicity. I suspect hunter gather’s probably did the gorge/starve thing quite a bit out of necessity.

          1. Three meals a day doesn’t match the lifestyle of our ancient ancestors. I’m particularly suspicious of claims that eating breakfast is important. In the wild, animals don’t wake up and eat. It feels more natural to me to skip it.

            However, I do think that not eating when you’re hungry is problematic. If eating one big meal seems natural to you, that’s different than someone who fights cravings all day then pigs out.

        3. I have had several athletes move to 1 meal per day when they are cutting weight for the UFC. Usually the meal will start off with a superfood smoothie and then will be followed with some type of meat. Grass fed beef, fatty fish etc. As they get deeper into the weight cut, they may move to leaner cuts of meat and white fish.

          The point I am making, is that high level athletes can use one meal per day and still be successful.

      2. One meal a day doesn’t work for everyone, particularly if you do it cold-turkey. Try for two meals minus snacks. If you increase your fat and protein intake slightly and keep grains and sweets to an absolute minimum, you should pretty well lose the desire to snack. Snacking definitely stimulates the appetite, whereas giving the body a daily break by eating less frequently seems to be more healthful.

        I usually eat a fairly high-protein breakfast/brunch around 11 am, and then dinner around 6 pm. I don’t eat anything after dinner and seldom eat anything between meals unless it’s a small piece of fruit. The main thing is, you need to experiment a little. No two people are exactly alike in their meal requirements. Instead of focusing on what others recommend, do whatever makes you feel the best.

        1. Thanks Shary – appreciate the advice – yes I was going to transition slowly into it. When I eat primally I don’t get the sugar crashes and ‘Hangry’ feelings that I used to, and have been reading more about the benefits of IF so wanted to give it a go.

    2. I recently transitioned from 3 to 2 meals while on holiday at all inclusive resort. I ate as much as I felt like at breakfast (8am) and dinner (6:30pm) – I literally ate as much as I could, but focused on “decent” food (protein, veggies, some fruit). Guacamole and salsa at each meal (yes even breakfast!).
      I didn’t skimp on food: I had two full, overbrimming plates at dinner (many fat Americans were ogling my plate) with fish, chicken, roastbeef, lots of veggies and I also slept 8 hours every night.
      I am an under 9st female and lost 5 pounds in two weeks.
      Although I normally exercise, I didn’t even exercise at all during the holiday because I hurt my foot pretty badly on the first day.
      I do think the eat fast eat approach did work its magic on insulin sensitivity, though the good travel probiotic I took also probably helped.

      However, I am finding very hard to stick to the plan at this very moment (couple of days) as I am ravenous (due to period) and I just cannot seem to eat enough. I am even hungry during exercise and after eating eggs AND a large vegetable “smoothie” with 3 different protein powders. It is sooo much easier to be male.

      1. Hello 🙂 I am a male so I don’t know this from personal experience; a female friend of mine told me this – Taking an iron supplement (and maybe Vit C too) at that time of the month helped her a lot. She suspected that the food cravings were being induced by low energy due to lower iron level from blood loss. Might be worth a try…..

        Good luck

    3. Nutrient timing makes absolutely zero difference in any, way, shape or form. Eating a heavy meal late at night is actually beneficial as you sleep better and are satisfied.

      Eat late, and wait until later into the day to eat for the first time.

      1. This is such a relief to read!
        To them boost metabolism, would you consider a high protein more efficient than a high fat or keto-like diet?
        Thank you,

  2. I love the “cause” analogy, that could not be more true. Calories do matter to some degree of course, but people often don’t understand what that really looks like both in the body and from a real food perspective. Also reminds me of a training plan (I was just doing one!) where you don’t start with the number of miles you want to hit per week, but focus on quality workouts to grow fitness organically, and the mileage total will most likely be on target with the result in mind.

  3. I guess some “authority” somewhere decided we didn’t need to worry our pretty little heads over the details…sheesh! These same authorities (or their successors) have no idea how the internet works either.

  4. This is a great article, wouldn’t it be nice to see an article like this show up on Yahoo news and really reach the masses!

  5. Well there’s one line I guess I shouldn’t repeat around here again, even if it seems to be applicable enough for me.
    Usually I don’t get too swamped with fine scientific details and as a result could say some inaccurate things. Life’s short and I’m not a speed reader with a brainiac’s memory capacity.

    1. Also, I’ve never counted calories, except roughly once in a while for say a meal or snack, basically out of curiosity and boredom.
      When I think calories in calories out I don’t take it too literally. I think of it more like Mark’s advice to find out how much to feed a dog: if it’s getting skinny, feed it more, and if it’s gaining fat, feed it less.
      For humans, less would mean less “calorie” macronutrients first of all: fat and carbs. I think it’s difficult to overeat whole food protein. And you can always stuff yourself with leafy greens or something if needed to help fight a food craving. I don’t seem to gain fat when eating all the lean / somewhat lean meat I can handle as my dietary base. Often I’ll get sick of the food before I can eat too much, especially with fish.Times like that I tend to get leaner.
      Personal conclusion I better start buying more good food when I can afford it in a few weeks and cut back on the luxurious stuff like wine because I’m sick of living off overly processed foods from charity / food banks and having to eat a bunch of extra calories and in some cases synthetic toxins to get my nutrition. And get my own apartment soon if possible instead of shelter hopping – then come spring I can go on bicycle road trips and visit all the local food banks to try to get the best stuff from them or at least just have an excessive food stash like I’m preparing for the apocalypse and burn plenty of calories in the process. I call it foraging.

    1. Assuming that a calorie is a calorie is how you GET Spherical Physicists!

    2. To put it in a scientific way, 0.75 gallons of gasoline is about 2,000 dietary calories (kcal,)

      By the crazy logic of “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie,” then should the USRDA of gasoline be about a cup?

      (I just want to add that petroleum is poisonous. Don’t drink it. I’m just pointing out the really really stupid idea of calories being calories.)

  6. By the calories out vs. calories in line of reasoning, I should be morbidly obese. Instead I’m barely above the official BMI for normal weight. Beyond the known differences in resting metabolic rate, is it possible some of the calories consumed are not metabolized, passing through the gut underutilized in much the same way fuel passes through a combustion engine unburned. I’ve never seen a study addressing this possibility.


    1. Some theories assert that in cold adapted ketosis, excess ingested fats are converted to heat rather than stored as fat.

      1. I know you’re right about the “passing through” part– before my Celiac Disease was diagnosed I think I had to eat half again as much as most people my size to keep from wasting away, & even so I was anemic & short on many other nutrients.

        It actually took a little while after going GF for me to realize that I didn’t have to eat so much when my digestive system was working properly!

    2. “The food we eat determines ‘calories in’ entirely. Simple.”

      Right. The calories in-calories out folks love the analogy of the car. Gas in/energy out. Even this simple minded example is wrong. Millions of cars with their gas caps on loosely, engines out of tune and wasting gas out the tail pipe. Etc. Same with food energy. Resistant starches. Your body can’t use them very much as food but the critters in your gut can. Many more examples.

      1. I use this example often in my experiences training and advising clients. Only with the added analogy of the type of gas. You can go to the crappy old station outside of town with watered down and/or low-quality gas and pay less. Or you can get good, clean gas and pay a but more. But your engine will certainly know the difference when your valves take a beating!

  7. Great article, one I will be sharing both on my blog and personal fb page. I love that my cardiologist who has seen me lose about 150 pounds since he became my doctor, asks – so you are still counting calories, right? Because I broke a plateau (after losing about 88 pounds with the moderate carb program I use), and then began losing again by setting a daily calorie limit (over 120 since I began doing so).
    I laugh and say “yes, but you wouldn’t like what it is I’m eating.” I simply have used it for portion control. I had to relearn what a normal portion size was. But..I eat protein and low carb veggies for 2 meals a day and any snacks, I cook from scratch, I get organic, local grown as often as I can, I only eat grass-fed beef, use evoo, extra virgin coconut oil, bacon fat, etc.
    It so so so matters, to my body, what kind of food I eat – not how many calories it has.

    1. Congratulations! And thank you for the reminder that for many of us, we really really need to be mindful of the quality and type of calories we’re consuming. I find myself always making excuses for eating lower quality food and I needed this reminder.

    1. Weeell, technically, souls are low-calorie. But thanks to political pressure on FDA regulations, the manufacturers of edible souls can report zero calories. Diet souls, however, are completely devoid of everything that is good and right with the world.

    2. 🙂 that made my day, I’m smiling, not done that in a long while! Thanks

  8. Excellent content and well written. I’ve run three marathon, which involved 30-40 miles per week of running. After each one, I’ve had to stop running for a short period so I could lose weight. Most people assume I’m kidding when I say this, but it’s true.

    I’m now a bit wiser and incorporate a lot more weight training and a lot less processed carbohydrates. Thanks Mark for your positive influence on my health and appearance.

  9. For 30 years I counted calories in. I had to run to get some back out. When I couldn’t run I had to starve a little. It was 5 pounds lost, 10 gained, maybe 12 more lost but then gain 7. For years.

    Then I went Primal and quit counting. Never hungry. Lost about 25 pounds and it’s staying off with no hunger, no effort and no chronic exercise.

  10. Great information! Makes so much sense. Thank you for providing. Under my own power several years ago I lost 157 lbs thru diet and exercise. I truly believe exercise is important for your health and helps somewhat with burning calories, BUT avoiding things like sugar is the real key to satisfactory and long term fat loss, as is weight lifting. I’m in the process of going Primal and have therefore been devouring everything I can find. I’m enjoying your emails and website. AND I need to say how much I appreciate the ‘written word’ instead of videos for everything you put out! They seem to be the ‘thing’ right now and I don’t know about anyone else, but I can read much faster than listen to a video – especially when its sole point in the end is just to try and sell me something I don’t need in the first place. Please keep up the good work Mark!

    1. DEB
      “written word” Right on!!!
      I have gotten to the point that I dropped some people I follow because more than half of what they put out is video. Knowing them, I am sure the stuff I am missing is valuable, but the aggravation is not worth it.

  11. The calories in calories out crap also fails to account for substrate usage. Yes that steak would produce 800Kcal in a BOM caloriemeter…but your body does not work like that. You dont convert EVERYTHING to energy immediately…the body uses some of it to build stuff. 🙂

    Part of why processed foods make you fat. Energy is just about the only thing it is good for.

  12. Isn’t the real issue calories out of your digestive track and into your system, rather than the calories taken into your mouth? For example, it is common to have undigested food in one’s stool. Even your articles on resistant starches indicate that these starches are not digested, so their calories don’t count.

    1. No. The real issue is calories (or energy, or fat) into fat cells vs. calories out of fat cells. When you get right down to it, you get fat when more fat enters the fat cells than leave the fat cells.

      So, what causes that to happen?


      Get your insulin under control and you’ll get the fat in vs. fat out (of the fat cells) going in the right direction.

  13. Dear Mark,

    Thanks for the very nice information. I have a question outside the calorie issue.

    An old man (87 years with great health), was telling me once that I need to check food comes from source that lives long. Olive is an example. its tree lives long comparing to other plants. Have you been to such a subject? Eating things living long to live long!!

    Please advise if it has any scientific research for such a subject. Do we really need to find out what food/trees live?


    1. That’s an interesting question. I hope someone has looked into it. I wouldn’t doubt that there is some positive psychological effect–not to be discounted, since the placebo/nocebo effect is powerful.

      1. Thank you for the reply!

        I was wondering if Mr. Mark has any answer or research for this issue.
        I hope he can write an article about this issue as It might be important.

        I have met this gentlemen 3 times (he is 87 years old). He was jumping on the ladder! very fast in walking and he looks like 60. He depends on his food on eating food coming from long life plants!

        All the best!

  14. As a chronically morbidly obese person, between 270 and 340 lbs at 5’9″ from mid 20s to 48, hunger was a constant. I went from 285 to 165 this past year and half without calorie counting a single day. My hunger has disappeared.

    Here is what I pieced together happened. I was a carbolic. Constant insulin production. It would not surprise me if it was 24/7. So food was getting constantly stored, hence less nutrients for me. Also it was not nutrient dense food. So my body needed more food. Hence always hungry.

    Gut bacteria was probably majorly messed up. So I was less able to absorb nutrients even with the higher nutrient foods I sometimes ate. I was eating a lot of processed food and I sometimes wonder if the body knows this and stores even more as fat so that it at least gets the toxins out of the bloodstream.

    In any case my body had way too much glucose on a daily basis to do anything but store it (thankfully in many ways) to keep me alive. I was probably close to being diabetic.

    In any case with nutrient dense Primal food and as importantly with the good stuff there was less and less and then eventually none of the bad stuff, everything healed. My body wasn’t producing insulin all the time. I started to up-regulate my mitochondria and probably started getting more of them.

    My gut healed from IBS. I am sure I changed my gut biota. And yes my appetite went naturally down.

    What word am I using most often here? Heal, healing. Just eating less of the SAD crap would never have healed me and led to all the cascade of changes that NATURALLY led me to a reduced appetite.

    So now it is no problem to maintain because I am literally a different person, metabolically, gut wise, mitochondria wise, etc. True healing and weight loss result from this approach. The calories will take care of themselves. Putting calories first. How well is that working for the sickest and obese global population ever?

      1. I think we just had one, on a Wednesday. Good timing, too, because I needed to read another good one. Great results. Thanks.

    1. What a great story. Healing can happen, and it isn’t about counting calories.

  15. I’m ecstatic to know that these souls I’ve been consuming are 0 calories!

  16. Fun to read this as I just heard on CBS This Morning that the best diet is Weight Watchers with The Biggest Loser close behind and that it is ALL about “calories in, calories out”, getting on the treadmill, will power and discipline. HELLO? Have these folks ever questioned this dogma? Apparently not. We are just a nation of gluttons and sloths.

    1. Lynn, I saw that too on CBS this morning and all I could do was to shake my head. I was first introduced to Mark’s website in 2012. Depending on whether I am liftinfg weights or not, my sustained weight loss varies between 20-30 pounds and I keep the weight off through maintaining this way of eating.

  17. Hey guys, happy new year first off!

    I think what’s key is recognizing how a foods calorie number has been attributed to it. I’m sure it’s been covered on here at some point but to discover the calorie content in a food the item in question is turned into a freeze dried powder of sorts and is incinerated in a device that measures the increased temperature of water surrounding it.

    The problem is our body doesn’t incinerate food, it digests it. And it responds to food differently in variety of different ways and situations. We’re not machines or calculators we are biological organisms. The idea of calorie measurement became and is such a real danger that is very unnecessary. Articles like this really help in getting people on the right track.


  18. Gary Taubes in ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ and ‘Why We Get Fat’, debunked the calories in, calories out years ago in that classic book.

    Kudos to recognizing that most people just want to lose weight and don’t mention anything about muscle lost. I’ve known several folks who lose both, and it looks really unhealthy.

    1. Calories in vs. calories out ISN’T debunked though. If you eat a small caloric deficit then you will lose fat. If you weight lift and eat sufficient protein then you will preserve your muscle or even gain some while doing so. This is common knowledge in more athletic circles, so I thought people here would know it too, but I guess not.

      1. I think you missed the point. Read all these comments today and read the books.

        1. I’m not missing the point. The fact of the matter is that if you measure the whole foods you eat, estimate your calories used, and eat less than needed, then you WILL lose fat. Saying otherwise is biologically incorrect.

      2. Go ask a hundred fat people if they’ve ever tried cutting calories or increasing output.

        Or better yet, you’re so smart, why not start a weight-loss clinic and serve the first hundred fatties for free. Then show the world your 100 success stories and the rest of the obese world will beat a well-beaten path to your door and you’ll become famous and fabulously wealthy.

        I only wish I had your intelligence and could have solved the world’s obesity problem with a five-line comment on a blog.

        I bow down to your genius.

        PS – In case your knack for sarcasm is as limited as your weight-loss expertise, I’m kidding of course. Your little five-line comment neglected to mention the single most important factor in obesity: insulin.

        I could get any fat person to lose weight by feeding them 2 slices of bread per day and forcing them, at the point of a gun, to exercise 12 hours per day. But that’s not a very pleasant life. If you want to help someone lose weight and not be miserable, you absolutely must get their insulin under control.

        1. Wow, people are really sensitive. Nocona was basically agreeing with what Mark wrote in the blog post, by pointing out the calorie in/out “myth”, and gets harped on. I guess either people disagree with Mark’s blog post and well or else didn’t quite comprehend either the blog or Nocona’s comment…

        2. Man, you are taking this waaaay too personally. I’m sorry man, but eating less than you need will lead to fat loss, it’s biological fact and is why we have fat in the first place. Just because people lacked the ability to put down the fork and properly calculate the calories you needed to eat to lose weight (not a perfect science, but if you aren’t losing weight on your numbers then either exercise more or eat less, it’s simple) doesn’t mean the system is broken. Nor does it require starving yourself like you think it does.

          My guess is that most of them saw that they were 10% body fat after a week and gave up rather than realizing that weight loss takes time.

      3. I’m mystified by this as well. One must create an energy deficit to lose weight. I grew up in an African culture where the staple diet of our tribe was very high carbs. I was never overweight and didn’t ‘formally’ exercise. We just walked around alot out of necessity(easily 5-8miles most days). Max weight was 130 and I honestly thought I was fat. All my friends were slimmer.

        After moving to the US, I quickly shot up to 165 from reduced activity, driving everywhere plus junk food. After cutting out junk and going primal, I lost some weight but stalled at 145-150 for the last 6 years because I wasn’t exercising and hated it.

        I was thinner on an African high-carb diet than on my current primal one simply because I was expending all the energy intake. The best of both worlds for me will be reintroducing some of those carbs that I’ve denied myself and really loved and just moving my butt a lot more. Calories out must exceed calories in for weight loss.

        1. Keep in mind that the “food” you are getting in America has been genetically engineered and treated very differently than food around the world. There are a lot of reasons Americans are so unhealthy, and the carbohydrate content of out food is only part of the problem. The genetics and processing is also a huge problem. Please don’t consider only calories, there are many variables involved, here.

      4. Nigel – You act as though the human body is a simple bucket…calories go in, and calories go out. Figure out the equation and fix obesity. Your arrogance is astounding. There are probably more than a hundred million obese people in the US. Do you think they’re all so stupid that they lack the intelligence to figure out your simple calories in/calories out equation???

        Come on man, check your premises at the door, because they’re wrong. Obesity has very little to do with calories in/calories out and nearly everything to do with insulin. Look in the history books and find some pictures of type 1 diabetics before insulin was discovered. Let me know when you find a fat type 1 diabetic.

        Dig a little deeper than calories in/calories out. What causes fat to enter fat cells? What causes it to leave fat cells? Those are the critical questions, not your simple-minded equation.

        I don’t know a single overweight person that hasn’t tried eating less to solve his/her problem. Not one. I also don’t know a single overweight person that hasn’t benefited from getting their insulin under control.

        I know you think you have all the answers. But people have “known” what you “know” for decades…yet somehow the obesity problem just keeps getting worse.

        1. then you don’t matter,as simple as that,most of obese people remain obese because they can’t stick to their diet for months or years(depending on the starting point) and most actually start eating as much as they were before they lost the weight after their “diet” is done.

          and calorie balance is what is used by body to use fat,as simple as that,all meta analysis have shown this exact same thing.

  19. What about #4 on the “calories out” mode?

    #4 is defecation of undigested foods. I am pretty doggone sure that some people are more efficient at gleaning available/digestible calories form foods than other people are. I own livestock and know for a fact that it is true for them. If you crap the food out before it enters your blood stream it can’t do much for weight gain.

    1. Dumping calories is real but I think this is how it’s handled in the equation:

      As it’s dumped it’s not counted as calories in ( so doesn’t have to be listed as calories out ).

      This means #1 ( the calories-in description ) is incomplete: it should be calories eaten that is absorbed into the blood stream via the gut (dumping them is not calories-in) – but we don’t measure dumped calories (a variable amount) so never really know calories-in.

      There are other calories-in complexities which I won’t bother getting into – it all gets too hard – too hard to properly track and count everything.

  20. I ate according to the Primal Blueprint for two years and I struggled to maintain the five pounds I had lost at about six months in. I kept faithfully going, thinking at some point the rest of the fat I wanted to lose would eventually disappear (as described in so many Primal success stories.) It was only after beginning to count calories that I was finally able to lose another fifteen pounds and significantly reduce my body fat percentage. I had to decrease fat and increase carbohydrates to experience satiety. For me, the more fat I eat, the more fat I crave… I couldn’t get enough bacon!

    1. I really do think that one “style” of eating doesn’t work for everyone. Everyone’s body is a bit different and people need to find what works best for them.

  21. I lost 35 lbs doing calorie counting with a really fun app that kept track of everything. I had lost weight in the past using low carb but it always came back with a vengeance when I started eating carbs again. Calorie was helpful in teaching me portion control. Also, I liked that if I strayed a little and indulged in a candy bar, french fries or a glass of wine, I just factored it in to my daily total. It gave me a little freedom to not feel so deprived, which is part of the psychology of dieting for me. I am fine with my weight now, but hearing this explanation of the difference in energy expenditure of the types of foods eaten gives me inspiration to try a new direction in maintaining my weight by not worrying so much about a higher calorie count if I want to eat some nuts or 2 eggs instead of 1, etc. Also, a goal this year is to be more concerned with the quality of the food I eat so I can give my body what is best for optimum health. Thank you Mark. You never cease in keeping us informed with another side of the story!

  22. Hi there,

    I have a question regarding weight lifting. I am in the fitness industry myself and realized the importance of weight lifting, but unfortunately I never enjoy lifting weight. I would like to walk my talk but at the same time, I would like to do something that I enjoy as well both for my mind as well as for long term compliance. My question is in your literature reveiw, have you come across any that talk about the effects of using your own body weight as resistance type of training? if not, do you think it is as effective as weight lifting.

    Thanks and Happy New Year


    1. I’m so with you there, Daisy– weights are my nemesis. In fact, that’s the focus of my challenge goal.

      By the way, if you’re in on the 21-day challenge, there are some nice videos there on bodyweight moves, with variations for folks starting at different levels of strength.

    2. Hi Daisy,
      I don’t know of any specific literature, but resistance exercise should be considered weight lifting. Many folks who do yoga (no weights involved) have fabulous muscle tone. I love yoga, which supports all 3 areas of fitness: strength, endurance, and flexibility. That’s my two cents worth anyway. Kim

      1. I was going to suggest yoga as well. There are different types of yoga though and, particularly in the U.S., some is more cardio-focused while other types are more strength/isometric muscle use focused. I can tell you that yoga, done right, is not easy, like some people seem to think it is 🙂

        And there has been stuff written about using your own body weight as resistance. I remember reading an article on this blog about it with several links to other sites. Maybe you can either search this blog or someone with more specific info will post a link for you 🙂

    3. Hi,
      Absolutely body-weight resistance is effective. External weights are, in part, the carrot to help spur us on. We see the weight go up and down and it is satisfying and provides a nice framework of accomplishments.

      What matters most, from my direct experience, is the intensity of lifting –whether your own body weight, weights at a gym, or that stiff your boss told you to whack for “knowing too much”. Once you reach a certain level of physical effort to move whatever weight, then you signal the body to make changes –i.e you’re basically telling it: “Man, I’m losing this battle today. I need to get stronger for next time”. That plus adequate REST is key. Ciao!

  23. Good, no nonsense article as always, Mark. I have most of your books and two of your cookbooks. I also have a husband who not only “brings home the bacon” but he brings home chips, cake, cookies, donuts knowing I have an eating disorder!
    Can anybody out there help me convert him to a primal diet?

    1. Hi Sonja, I am wondering if we are married to the same man!!!
      My other half constantly undermines my efforts to lose weight while complaining about my weight. Aghhh.

  24. The calorie in calorie out corundum is only meant to be an approximation, just like those equations that calculate your BMR or TDEE. As an approximation they work well to give you an idea, especially if you have a sedentary lifestyle. Where things get dicey is when you begin to account for calories when you exercise and that is where the epic failures are seen. Some people try to account for the calories by whatever a machine or heart rate monitor displays and those numbers are never accurate, as a matter of fact in most cases they are a gigantic exaggeration of reality. The calories you will expend while exercising unfortunately are tremendously affected by the efficiency of your metabolism and the fiber composition of your muscles. If you have been doing the same type of workout for a while and your metabolism has adjusted to it, the calorie expenditure could be minimal. So in summary, you can use the calorie in calorie out equations to get a basic idea of the amount of food you should consume but to adjust for energy expenditure and exercise you need to do it by trial and error or you can take the scientific route and get a BMR analysis and a DEXA scan done to assess your oxygen utilization and the composition of your muscle fibers.

  25. This is a great article that bashes “conventional wisdom” in the face. So often, people like my dad have had it en”grained” in their minds about calories in and calories out and how many calories you burn during the exercise. I love these articles because it reminds us that we can’t just look at a menu or watch a tv commercial and believe everything you see and trust it implicitly. Thanks for a great article once again, Mark!

  26. The details are nice to know but still, for people wanting to lose weight, calories in/out is still the most important message. Everyone knows that real food is better than processed food. If they eat more real food and exercise more, they will lose weight.

    1. Not for me. I tried that for years and years and was always at least 25 or 30 pounds overweight, creeping upward every year. I had to eat every couple of hours and was usually exhausted and headachey in the afternoons. This was eating normal quantities of good quality real food cooked at home, not junk, and doing a reasonable amount of exercise. I did lose 20-30 pounds three or four times, but the weight always came back immediately. Counting calories was always a full time job, and not one I could see taking on for the rest of my life. Cravings and lack of appetite suppression must be one of the main reasons a higher carbohydrate diet fails for most people in the long term.

      Going Primal helped me a lot, though weight loss was only around 10 pounds. Eating a very low carb ketosis diet has been like rocket fuel for weight loss. It’s become clear that for me, weight loss is only achieved and maintained when I eat a lot of fat and cut the carbs down to the bone. I’ve effortlessly lost nearly 45 pounds since starting Primal and then keto. Do I eat fewer calories? Definitely. Do I try to eat fewer calories? No. I just don’t want to eat more. It’s the kind of calories I’m eating that make all the difference. The irony is that I wasn’t trying to lose weight. I have a health problem that improves with keeping my blood sugar as low as possible.

      I’m not recommending my diet to anyone. Different people seem to thrive on different diets, probably because of our gut bacteria. But it seems to me there is a good reason that telling people to count calories, exercise more and eat real food has failed pretty magnificently as a real world basis for long term weight loss.

      1. Exactly! No matter how you went about it, ultimately, you ate less calories based on the type of foods you chose. Another person can choose to eat more/less carbs/fat/protein foods that they like and still lose weight if they’ve created a deficit one way or other from food/exercise.

        1. Wow. That’s not what she said. She said that counting calories did not effectively lower her weight until she ate the right foods for her body. Yes you have to lower calories to lose weight but counting calories is rarely enough to cause weight loss on its own. That’s why conventional weight loss has a 98% five year failure rate. Calories in and out is only scratching the surface.

        2. I mean, does it really matter if someone is consciously ‘counting’ or eating the right or wrong foods? A calorie deficit is a calorie deficit. Of course one can make it easier on themselves by eliminating calorie dense carbs but if they ‘can’t’ get through life without eating bread daily and they are able to tolerate it with no ill effects and are active enough to burn it off, they can make it work.

          I think many people fail at weight loss due to underestimating calorie intake and overestimating expenditure. How many overweight people people swear up and down that they ‘barely eat anything’?

        3. Counting calories did help me to lose weight. Again, and again, and again. The problem was always the rebound weight gain, because counting calories was:

          1. A huge, boring amount of effort every single day,
          2. Not successful at reducing food cravings, and
          3. Not successful at reducing appetite or managing hunger

          It seems I am not unusual in finding this to be a difficult way to live.

          Altering my macronutrient ratios has worked because it solves all three problems. Now I automatically limit my calories without thought or effort, and weight loss is a side effect.

      2. The weight probably came back because you began overeating once you hit your “goal”. The thing with counting calories is that it works great, but if you lack the ability to maintain a normal weight without it then you always have to do it. This is true for me as I lack the off switch for my appetite even on a paleo/primal diet, but too many people seem to think “I lost 20/40/100 pounds so I can eat whatever now!” and revert to the habits that got them fat in the first place without realizing that such an action will get them fat again. They then lament the failure of calorie counting and blame their failure on that rather than the fact that they themselves shot themselves in the foot.

        I am glad that primal worked for you, but the failure of calories in vs. calories out doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work (it’s biological fact, it works), just that you found it unhelpful for your weight loss due to the inconvenience. I think this is a distinction that too many people seem to be unable to make on here.

        1. I really wish you would check your “biological facts” before posting, yet again, Nigel. Please study Insulin and Leptin. 300 calories of bread and 300 calories of a juicy grassfed steak will not provoke the same insulin response. As insulin is the fat storage hormone, it does not matter if you are in a calorie deficit- insulin will shuttle the excess blood glucose into the fat cell. The body is very efficient at solving the immediate problem of excess glucose. This is the point-choose your food wisely. It’s not calories in/calories out. It’s all about managing your insulin response.

  27. So, to summarize:
    1. Calories matter; you can’t gain weight unless calories IN is greater than calories BURNED. HOWEVER>>>
    2. You can’t accurately measure calories IN. You’d be lucky to be within 20% which would be many pounds per year.
    3. You can’t accurately measure (or control) calories BURNED.

    So I guess…don’t worry about calories!

    Doc Jim

    1. 2 is entirely wrong. You can’t be sure that processed foods aren’t the exact number provided, but you can Google whole foods (meat, eggs, dairy, vegetables) and use a small scale to get very accurate calorie values. Not worrying about calories is what has gotten America fat in the first place.

      1. A pint of hot milk has more calories than a chilled pint of the same milk.
        Are you measuring of the temperature too?

        Meat has variable amounts of fat ( much more calories in fat weight) – do you cut out ALL the fat and measure it?

        1. Assuming what you said is correct (couldn’t find anything about it on Google so I am skeptical), the difference would be negligible at best. You estimate the amounts, and go off of that. Sometimes your estimates will be high, sometimes low, but over the meals it will equalize to a reasonably close value, especially with the wealth of nutritional information that things like Wolfram Alpha has. And, if you find that you aren’t losing sufficient fat or are even gaining it, then decrease your calculated calories by some more. It’s really not difficult or that variable, even with some small variations listed by you and the article itself.

        2. re: Assuming what you said is correct (couldn’t find anything about it on Google so I am skeptical)

          I assume you mean the hot/cold milk comment.
          Yeah the macro calories are the same (carb, fat, protein), but it hot it took energy calories to get it hot (so it has more energy calories ).

          Is this relevant? for a glass of milk to a person it wouldn’t count as much.

          But heat in/out does matter to the body – a person burns calories to maintain temperature.

          If a worker outside in winter is in a tee-shirt. He needs to eat more (or same amount but hot food/drink instead cold food/drink) to maintain temperature and body-weight than if he does the exact same stuff in a pullover/jacket.

          Temperature of food/drink matters if your in temperature extremes.

          If you’re in freezing in a survival situation with only a gallon of water a day (no food), whether the gallon is frozen/very-cold or warm, will have a difference in body-weight over time and survival (yet pure water has no food calories)

        3. Jim’s second point was :
          “2. You can’t accurately measure calories IN. You’d be lucky to be within 20% which would be many pounds per year.”

          You said:
          “2 is entirely wrong…….

          …..You estimate the amounts, and go off of that. Sometimes your estimates will be high, sometimes low, but over the meals it will equalize to a reasonably close value

          ……….. And, if you find that you aren’t losing sufficient fat or are even gaining it, then decrease your calculated calories by some more…….”

      2. Not counting calories is what got America fat???!! REALLY?
        How do wild animals or bushmen stay thin?!!

        Our ancestors must have been hugely fat as they did not count calories. The term was not even invented until a couple centuries ago or so.

        1. I think it was a bit different in tribal times. Food was not easy to come by, it took a lot of effort to get hold of it and people lived very active lifestyles. Just getting a drink of water required a lot of effort. Same goes for animals today. Food is not everywhere and animals must expend a lot of energy to stay alive. Unhealthy overweight animals will just not survive.

        2. Bushmen and wild animals stay thin because they use up a lot of energy from all the hunting. Whether or not they’re aware of the concept of counting calories, is not relevant. Their bodies are doing the math.

        3. Exactly, Kim! Their bodies did the math. Wondrously.

          There are about 3500 calories per pound of fat. So if you are gaining a pound a year, that is 10 calories per day. Nobody can use those paper calculations to figure out their needs so closely, yet that is a typical story for Americans in their 20’s and 30’s. Even when you are gaining 10 lb a year like menopausal women, the body is only off by 100 calories per day.

          Few bodies gain weight any faster than 10 lb a year.

          When a person diets and loses weight–why is there a rebound effect?

          If a normal body can “do the math” so wondrously, whatever throws it off?

    1. That is certainly an interesting study. One thing I make of it is that the foods called “junk,” while vile, are not as bad for you as refined grain products or a number of other things.

      But mainly, the prof succeeded in losing weight by counting calories. Every fatty has managed the same thing. Temporarily.

      How do we restore the body’s natural ability to balance food and nutrient intake resulting in an attractive bod?

      Paleo has worked for some, getting a stand-up job instead of a desk job worked for one man I know, and I read a library book by a hugely fat man who got in shape with wholesome home-cooked meals.

  28. Calories in: A cup of gasoline has 485 calories, if I drank 10 a day I should gain a pound, but I’m pretty sure that would not be the result. What’s that you say, it depends on what form the calories are in? Thanks for playing.

    Calories out: Poop burns.Because it has calories in it. I suspect a person on a high fat diet will have some really flammable poop. You could probably use it as fuel – which brings us back to the gasoline issue again.

    1. Not that this is relevant to your point, but you reminded of something else. Did you know the most efficient antioxidant is carbon monoxide? So, not all antioxidants are created equal either.

    2. I’m not entirely sure what point you are trying to make, unless you entirely misunderstand what foods we can actually digest and which we can not. We can not metabolize either the calories in gasoline (a cup of which actually contains 3875 kcal, not 485) or the calories (mainly in the form of fiber and dead bacterial matter) in the poop, so hopefully you’re trying to be funny and not actually trying to argue that drinking gasoline would do anything but kill you.

      1. It’s no fun if I have to explain it to you. But I did mean to write “an ounce of gasoline”…

        1. Well, even that was wrong, lol! I thought there were 64 oz in a gallon for some reason.

    3. Reminded me of something a history teacher said that (I think) the Nazis did in World War 2: harvested poop to extract explosive chemicals from it to use in their bombs. I think the chemicals were nitrates.
      So, a paraffin candle alternative?

      1. Most cultures burned animal dung at some point in their history, but meat eater dung is probably only really flammable when they are losing weight. While most of the weight is lost in breath, some of those fatty acids are sure to make it to the excrement.

  29. All book sellers try their best to twist facts, but the fact is NO ONE has ever been able to prove you can over eat above your caloric maintenance day after day and NOT gain weight, It’s funny how we all agree 3500 cals make a pound of fat , but not to lose it…

  30. On weeks I don’t eat that much I do not lose weight. On weeks when I eat more food I lose 2 lbs. I’m talking about Paleo foods here.

  31. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t like Weight Watchers when they had “points”. Sure, the leaders talked about nutrition at the meetings (lots of whole grains), but points in chocolate cake compared to the same points in a pile of cucumbers slices is all the slippery slope I needed to work the system 🙂

  32. I personally think all of these are minor factors compared to calories. Counting calories is only useless if you measure vs some arbitrary value that determines the amount you need. Instead, track your cals every day and in the same manner, and see compare your intake to your avg weight inc/dec over that time. If you gained weight, you know you should cut back and vice versa.

    I do agree that 2000 cals of candy isnt the same as 2000 cals of nuts, but who really eats like that? All this stuff is important to take it to the next level, but calorie intake is #1. Its like buying really high end painting supplies, but you dont know how to paint.

    1. This is similar to what I addressed in my comment. At the end of the day, calories in vs. calories out still holds fast, even if the minutiae changed the exact difference you need between the two to gain or lose weight.

  33. This is one of the few places that I disagree with Marky Mark. On one hand he is totally right that it’s not as simple as calories in and calories out in terms of fat and muscle gain and fat loss due to a variety of factors, including the thermic effect of food and how different calories react with the body and whether they are utilized for energy or for structural purposes. However, it’s still by far the most reliable method for both, so the system still works in the end if you follow it. It’s not perfect since calories are estimates at the end of the day (though whole foods aren’t underreported like processed ones often are, so it’s easier with those in my opinion), but I’d take it any day over his “do whatever as long as you eat what I say is healthy” method of eating because that doesn’t work for me. I already eat like that due to my mom raising me right and I still gained a good 20 pounds over the summer last year because I just eat too much and have trouble with my appetite. I need a more concrete method for controlling my food intake, even if his way works for other people, and I think it’s irresponsible to present calories in vs. calories out as inherently incorrect and his way as correct simply because it more closely agrees with what he already thinks.

    This is also one of the cases of Mark cherry picking his data, which bugs me a lot since he is usually fairly good about this. For example, he cites a study comparing overweight men being put on a ketogenic diet compared to a high carb, low fat diet that showed that the men on the ketogenic diet lost more weight despite eating more. What he doesn’t mention is that ketones, once produced, have to be used as energy or else they are expelled in the urine as a waste product. Unlike fatty acids and glucose in the blood that are circulated for energy, which can be reconstituted back into fat if unused, your body expels these sources of energy in the urine if they are not used up by the body, and ends up actually using more energy to do the same things due to being unable to recycle the ketones. It’s why a ketogenic diet functions so well for weight loss, as your body routinely overproduces ketones to ensure that it has enough of them, but it still follows the principle of calories in and calories out, just with your BMR effectively being increased due to a higher energy usage by your body.

    He also misrepresents how quickly your BMR and energy levels drop due to a caloric deficit; it takes a couple of weeks of consuming a caloric deficit of 1000-1500 for your body’s BMR to drop a significant amount, and even then the effect is usually only a few hundred calories drop. Your body still has to function and only so many corners can be cut metabolically. Furthermore, he keeps representing weight loss as just that: weight loss, when the majority of people use it as ignorant short hand for fat loss. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that when I say “lose weight” I most definitely mean lose fat.

    1. I have had this argument with my daughters boyfreind, think the mistake you make is the same as his.
      Yes calorie counting is good IF you eat the right types of calories then use them/system. If you just eat any and restrict to your 2500/2000 whatever it wont work, hasnt for 99% of the population of dieters.

      1. It’s not a problem with calories in and calories out, it’s a problem with a bad diet and lack of will to not shovel everything that’s not nailed down into your mouth. Losing fat is not that difficult if you make small changes over time and eat a small caloric deficit with light exercise like walking, and the fact that people can’t handle eating less or not eating all the time does not mean the way to lose weight has changed.

    2. I say eat what is healthy and do a few other things correctly and you should be good to go. Sometimes simple trumps everything else.

        1. I eat what is healthy, even by primal/paleo standards, I just do not have an appetite “off-switch” and I never have so the idea of “just eat this way and you’ll be fine” does not work for me.

          On average I drink a gallon to a gallon and a half of water a day, not counting tea, so I do not think that is it.

      1. On the contrary, both he and you are refusing to understand that the calories in vs. out model is oversimplistic and does not adequately describe the processes needed for fat loss.

    3. Do children grow because the take in more calories than they expend?

      1. children grow due to hormonal changes. You can’t feed a kid tall. However providing adequate nutrition while in a growth phase can have an influence on their growth.

  34. I don’t think point #3 is a myth. Eating more calories than we expend does cause weight gain. There could be a lot of causes for eating more calories, But the above statement is not a myth.

    1. But it does not address what is done with that energy. Nor the absorption. Nor the partitioning.. How the body uses it or if it wstes it as heat dissipation, poop it out etc. Nor does it address what form of mass could potentially be gained.

      This is VERY important!

    2. I don’t see the evidence matching that. You can gain fat while eating a calorie deficit. You can loose fat eating an excess. That’s why some medications are notorious for causing weight gain. They are not literally reducing your energy expenditure. They are changing your body chemistry and directing it to favor one outcome over another.

      If my calorie expenditure was a magical fixed 2000 calories per day and I added an additional 100 calories a day of sugar or leafy greens they would not produce the same results as they would trigger entirely different metabolic and chemical reactions.

      And since there is no such thing as a fixed metabolic rate and food interacts with this variable, we can safely say that using “calories in verses calories out” is entirely meaningless to the point that it should be a myth.

  35. As a competitve sod/cyclist will you stop with this. I dont want the simple truth coming out! Please let them watch/eat calories all 2000 in cake a day,

    Then they can watch my skinny arse.

    However when I try telling my kids, and the 18 yr old powerlifting uk champ, gym instructer boyfriend to not to eat the pyramid 5 a day calorie counting nonesense then, Then I need your help.

  36. You actually don’t have to move much more to counter and overcome the fall in BMR from calorie restriction. Sure, one may be disinclined to move more, but then one may be disinclined to eat less, too. : )

  37. Will be sharing this with a group I’m currently in where we are all trying to lose weight. One woman in the group posted today that she ate an apple, a small portion of chicken and veggies from Panda Express, and watermelon (for dinner!) yesterday, only to wake up the next morning to see she had gained a pound. So yes, calories in/out is firmly entrenched in our “dieting society” and nothing good is coming from it. It breaks my heart to read comments like hers that just seep of frustration, despite the person thinking they are doing things right.

    If I can get even just one person in that group to start the Primal Blueprint, I’ll be a happy gal.

    1. The problem is that when you eat a small portion of chicken from a fast food place like Panda Express you have no idea how much fat or salt is that chicken cooked with. I remember in my consulting travelling days ordering what I thought was a light grilled fish fillet with veggies only to find out that it contained almost 1000 calories most of them from the obscene amount of oil and butter that was used to cook the stuff. So don’t feel bad for your friend. Sounds like she is digging her own grave. If you want to know what you are eating you can’t go to a restaurant, especially the fast food kind.

      1. I concur. The salt alone could cause 1 pound of water weight retention. But then again, who has a scale so accurate that you can accurately claim a pound either way. Weighing yourself everyday sounds depressing. I don’t have a scale. When I’m really curious I go to Bed Bath and Beyond and try three of four digital scales and take the average. I don’t want to go to Bed Bath and Beyond, so therefore I don’t weigh myself very often.

      2. The point is she just doesn’t really know any better. She’s fed into the conventional wisdom of “eat less, move more” and truly believes that’s how you’re supposed to lose weight. So when she has a day like that then “sees” weight gain — it’s frustrating. So I DO feel bad for her, because I’ve been there (empathy and compassion can go a long way in helping people). My hope is through this challenge I can help her and several others find their way to Mark’s site and a primal way of living.

    2. A pound in weight change in a day is meaningless. I can lose two to three times that from using the restroom in the morning, and can gain the same amount from dinner or drinking water. It’s why you’re not supposed to measure your weight daily as progress, and instead either do it weekly or take the average of daily weight measurements to see if you are making long term progress.

      1. yes, *I* know this, but she doesn’t…which is one of the main reasons I’m part of the group and sharing blogs and articles like Mark’s.

  38. So, long story short…if you want to lose fat and gain muscle:

    – Eat a caloric deficit of whole, nutrient dense foods, including a good amount of protein. Still need a deficit, but focusing ONLY on calories won’t get you very far.
    – Exercise and be sure to include resistance training.

    Later, rinse, repeat.

  39. It is now well known in the research that fructose is the most problematic nutrient. It doesn’t trigger leptin to tell the brain that you are full, and is mainly processed by the liver into triglycerides, and then also LDL small particles. Normally our bodies convert 3 percent of the glucose in our blood into fructose. However, when someone is insulin resistant, their body converts 30 per cent of the glucose into fructose, which increases insulin resistance, and hence our risk of diabetes, dementia, obesity, depression, and many other deseases. Minimising fructose is crucial. There is an excellent short video at nofructose.com.au which explains how fructose is extremely inflammatory.

  40. Now compare this with all the metabolic ward studies that have been done over the years and you will see that this article is not correct.

    Every metabolic ward study shows that eating less calories will cause you to lose weight and eating more will cause you to gain weight and it doesn’t matter what the ratio’s of fat, carbs, or protein are.

    You can’t argue with the facts all you can do is deny them.

    1. Wonderful tautology. If you call something a fact, who can argue with you? Unfortunately, it’s too simplistic but maybe that’s what you’re aiming for. The “fact” is that body chemistry, mainly insulin, will look to store some types of calories (fructose is the perfect example) as fat in the liver and will not store other types of calories (protein, fats) as fat in the liver. Your ratio argument is plain wrong – the ratio absolutely does matter for whether the calorie is stored as fat or used for other purposes or expelled. That’s what Mark is saying about the complexity of calories out. But not sure you like complexity

      1. Your reply is even more simplistic and erroneous then his calorie in calorie out formula. First of all, insulin has very little to do with the absorption of fructose since fructose has fairly moderate glycemic index. Second fructose is going to be converted to fat only in a state of calorie surplus. If you are eating less then you burn you should be in a deficit and under the circumstances the liver will convert fructose into glycogen so that it can be use to produce ATP, not fat.

      2. Have you every read one of the metabolic ward studies that proves weight loss is about energy in/out? not Bro-science.

        I’m not talking about the science of how calories work in the body, your over complicating things.

        It’s very basic, the metabolic ward studies are done by unbiased scientists who control everything in what you do for a month and you can’t leave the compound, they take you out of the picture so real science can be done.

        Every one proves by science that calories do matter in weight loss.

        If you want to read a real science review of how weight loss really works you need to read “The Fat Loss Bible” by Anthony Colpo

        Even Taubes is trying a metabolic ward study, but I bet he will never publish unless he messes with the data because it will prove that his metabolic advantage doesn’t exist.

        1. I enjoy your last statement where you give away your rigidity. If Taubes study shows something with which you disagree, it’s because he “messed with the data.” Nice open mind Troy.

          You have set upa strawman for your argument. Neither Mark nor i said calorie in/calorie out is not the case (re-read the article, Mark says flat out “this is technically true). But you totally miss his second point that calorie in affects calorie out. That’s why you’re ratio point is simplistic. Are you truly argiung that two people of the same weight, one composed mostly of lean muscle mass and one composed of substantial adipose tissue have the same basal metabolic rate? And what is metabolic rate but shorthand for calorie out? Are you also then arguing that type of macronutrient consumed (calorie in) has zero effect on body mass composition? Really? Then we should tell every nutritionist in the country that they are quacks and frauds, i.e. There is no such thing as healthy eating. Troy said so. To boldly assert that type of calorie has no effect at all on body composition and therfore metabolic rate is pretty strong stuff.

          I don’t think you’re saying that and massive studies would show otherwise. Look at the studies cited at the end of a Dr. Robert Lustig presentation. Or maybe he and all of the authors cited “messed with the data” too.

        2. Bob,

          I understand what your saying and I agree with some of it, but in my comments to you I’m not going into detail just basics.

          I know that every body is different and have different BMR, TDEE, and metabolic rates, etc.

          In the metabolic ward studies they take all this into affect and all things being equal if you eat what your maintenance calories are you will not gain or loss weight.

          No, I’m saying Taubes is dishonest and since he will not be able to disprove the science that has been done already in the countless ward studies, that he fill fudge his data to make it look good.

          Read this for the real science of calories:

        3. That is incorrect. Overfeeding studies have been done. This ward research is DECADES OLD.. Furtehrmore, we are NOT talking about weight loss, we are talking FAT MASS LOSS – specifically. two different things.

          The conservation of energy does NOT at all address what FORM of mass SPECIFICALLY is lost.

          The scientists do not support what you are saying… I have talked to over 50 physcists and biophysicists about this issue or non-issue

          And please do MNOT cite “Anthony COLpo”. The scientific community IGNORES that crank. He gets OS muc wrong. ALL the phsycists I talked to say he is ABUSING the first law of thermodynamics.

          Colpo does not understand it is a STATE EQUATION- NOTHING MORE. FEYNMAN KNEW THIS!

        4. I want to make clear to you that I have communicated with the researchers Anthony Colpo cites. They do not appreciate him MISREPRESENTING their research, NOR do they appreciate Colpo ABUSING./TOTALLY MISUSING the first law of thermodynamics in an erroneous attmpt to blame and patronize obese people.

          Colpo’s ward studied are EXTREMELY OUTDATED research. MUCH NEWER research has come out by Rosenbaum et al showing the body HAS A MIND OF IOTS OWN indeopendet of your eforts.

          Furthermore, other NEWER research includes overfeeding studies. ENORMOUS VARIATION is response to overfeeding. Colpo’s laughable dictum that obesity is a simple condition of overeating has been shwon FALSE BY SCIENCE.

          The first law of themrodynamics does NOT AT ALL address what FORM of mass is ganied or lost SPECIFICALLY . Obesity is about TOO MUCH FAT specifically.

          I bet it would chap Anthony Colpo’s butt and his followers’ buts to LEARN that Dr. James Levine and Dr. Geiorge Bray AGREE COMPLETELY with my assessment of the conservation of energy principle. As Bray said himself: It is a STATE EQUATION ONLY and CANNOT and DOES NOT say ANYTHING whatsoever about where the energy ios stored , nor where it came from…

          itis valid for life. , It is relevant and necessary in the backgrond HOWEVER, it DOES NOT AT ALL address fat cell regulation/dysregulation SPECIFICALLY, NOR how the body partitions uses and absorbs energy, NOR does it address how the body has numerous INVOLUNTARY defensive responses out of your control to extert ITS control over body mass.

          Relevant , NOT NEALRY SSUFFICIENT. To make clear tot he public Dr. Bray does NOT AT ALL agree with Anthony Colpo. The scientific community IGNORES him because he is a CRANK. Your hero is a total manipulative charlatan PREYING on the public’s LACK of science literacy…. Please see the light. LOOK INTO RICHARD FEYNMAN

          Thank you.

          Brett Michaels

        5. EVERY single physicist ( 50 in all over 7 years) I talked to from Alex Filippenko to Phil Plaitt AGREES 100 % UNANIMOUSLY AND EMPHATICALLY with Gary Taubes’ assessment of the first law of themrodynamics- even if some is indrectly. I have the e-mails.

          There is not a single physcist who think obesity is about physics and basic themrodynamics. They emphatically STRESSED IT IS NOT. They stressed It is a super compl.

          Overfeeding studies show the HUGE variations in responses to overfeeding ( 5,000 extra calories) . Naturally thin guys gained MUSCLE and very little overall weight ( including the muscle)

          Mentioning the laws of themrodynamcis are POINTLESS. The conservtaion of energy, while relevant in the background for all life, is NOWHERE NEALRY SUFFICIENT to EXPLAIN obesity- too much fat specifcially . Science needs DEEP EXPLANATION. Colpo is NOT doing science. he has NO DEEPLY EXPLANATORY THEORYLook into PAUL LUTUS- a real scientist.

          Energy is conserved whether we gain ANY form of mass, lose ANY form of mass or go skydiving while simultaneously singning Led Zeppelin songs.

          “Laws” do NOT EXPLAIN. They DESCRIBE. Further, Colpo is ABUSING this conservation principle.

          I am sorry, but Colpo et al has taken you for a ride. Colpo has ZERO support from actual physicists and Adam Kosloff is coming out with a post containing their replies whioch REFUTE Colpo et al completely. Challenge Colpo..

        6. Dude, what you have been told by your biophysicist friends, but you either didn’t understand it or they are not as smart on this subject as you think. Yes, obesity is a problem with overfeeding, that is why you are not going to find obese individuals in 3rd world countries where people are starving. What invalidates any studies done on obesity is the fact that the metabolism of an obese individual is damaged and they don’t process food the same way as a normal person. The calorie in and calorie out corundum is perfectly true and in the end to loose fat you need to eat less than what you burn. What most people fail to understand in that calorie outs are a moving target and never truly static. They are greatly affected by your hormones and how your body regulates them. I was training a young athlete that seemed to be so sensitive to carbs that the moment he ate too many he would blow up like a balloon. problem was that low carb diets affected his performance. We analyzed his hormone and quickly found out that his liver was over-converting testosterone into estrogen. We put him on a mild AI and his problem with carbs were gone. In the end the first thing that people that want to lose weight need to is to get a good understanding how their body is working. Go to an endo and get a complete panel of your hormones. make sure your liver and your thyroid are working properly. Then try to understand your muscle fiber composition and how efficient your metabolism is at burning calories. The more efficient you are the less you need. I can guarantee you that your body does not have a mind of its own. I have competed as a bodybuilder for years and I was always able to gain muscle when I wanted to and cut to ridiculous low levels of body fat. If my body had a mind of its own I would have never been able to do that.

    2. That is incorrect. Overfeeding studies have been done. This ward research is DECADES OLD.. Furtehrmore, we are NOT talking about weight loss, we are talking FAT MASS LOSS – specifically. two different things.

      The conservation of energy does NOT at all address what FORM of mass SPECIFICALLY is lost.

      The scientists do not support what you are saying… I have talked to over 50 physcists and biophysicists about this issue or non-issue

      1. Thanks Brett,

        For letting me know about Anthony, he definitely is not my hero. I just read his book and trust the science he quotes.

        I’m just a laymen trying to understand human physiology when it comes to weight loss.

        I definitely do not believe the paleo dogma about metabolic advantage.

        Right now I trust and would follow Lyle McDonald at bodyrecomposition on the web.

        I believe what he says because it’s based on human studies and real science.

        Go to his site and search for “The Energy Balance Equation” I would trust this before any paleo dogma about how we lose fat.

        1. Hi XFCE,

          I saw the article. The physicists told me Lyle’s singular equation is far too simplistic. To account for the every last bit of the energy bnalance of the body would require many equationS, not just one. They would all be exceedingly hellishly complicated. They’d have to account for various efficiency factors, energy being transfered to and from the system which includes nutrtients etc.

          The conservation of energy is valid, thus far, but there are problems accounting for all of the energy, Feynman goes into this in his books. He uses Denis The Menace’s “blocks” ( he sues 28 of them as an example) that are missing. Eventually they’d all be accounted for which is all the first law says.

          None of the scientists I talked to could give me the equations and explicity said so. But they know Lyle’s formula is not really accurate.

          There e are problems accouting for every last bit of energy coming into and leaving the system of humans.

          Lyle does not understand that physics is not done by fiat.Nature does not have to conform to anything we dictate. Laws or more accurately, principles, remain always tentative, provisional and perfectible. David Gross talks about this.

          The final chapter has not been written even on the laws of themrodynamics. In the case of Black Holes , as we approach the even horizon, these laws completely fall part. Plenty of physics out there left undiscovered.

          Best wishes,

    3. Agreed. All of these small caveats and examinations of the minutiae of weight gain and loss is interesting, but it doesn’t change the simple fact that eating less than you need will lose fat and eating more than you need will either gain you fat or muscle (depending on if you exercise). People denying this are just denying immutable biological fact, as well as the reason as to why we have fat in the first place.

  41. Those of you thinking it is still calories in calories out consider this. The average American is consuming 400 more calories a day then 3 or 4 decades ago.

    Multiply that by 365 then divide by 3,500. CICO predicts a gain of 42 pounds a year. Yes CICO tells us the average 40-50 year old American should be around half a ton or more.

    Clearly to me our bodies do a darn good job trying to be an optimal weight but they can only do so much on a SAD, HFCS, processed food nightmare.

    Interesting Sam Feltham mentioned that Britain has cut calories the last few decades. BUT they eat way more processed junk now. This overrode the fewer calories. Clear to me is food quality and insulin for weight.

    1. You do realize that as you get fatter, your BMR increases as well? After a certain point of overeating their way to being significantly overweight, those extra 400 calories would only equate to the BMR of the fat person since their BMR does not remain static. I get what you are trying to argue, but you did not think it through at all if you think this actually helps oppose the idea of calories in versus calories out. If anything it only supports it since the extra calories get people fatter until they hit the higher BMR that leads to the extra calories only maintaining weight.

  42. There’s another factor and that is binging when you are metabolically healthy. It seems I can consume almost an unlimited amount of calories in one sitting, even loaded with grains and dairy, and feel great the next day and be exactly the same physically (fat /lean muscle). Somehow my body just uses it up. Now if I did that everyday I’d pay the price but once in a while I’ve seen no effect at all. I don’t think a metabolically damaged person would have the same results.

  43. I feel that losing weight is the combination of many things. It’s attitude, a nutritious diet, exercise and ensuring you are getting in proper supplements. So I agree with you that it’s not just about cutting calories, in fact some people may need to increase calories, but just ensure they are QUALITY calories. I always like to say “eat with a purpose.” Thank you for the great post, looking forward to more to help me in 2015!

  44. Thanks Mark for reminding folks that not all calories are created equal. In my practice I am seeing remarkable results in people eating substantial amounts of calories.

    I test metabolic rate using the Korr Reevue and have seen rmr go up with 20+ pound weight loss based on body composition and caloric composition changes. Very cool stuff and very gratifying.

    I would also like to cite the Annals of internal Med study from Sept 2014 showing a roughly 8 pound greater weight loss in the low carb group than in the low fat group.

  45. Nope. I disagree with Mark completly. The Calorie Myth is just that- A Myth.

    The question (Just to show how wrong this Calorie stuff is) is what calorie did Mark mean? The large calorie, kilogram calorie, dietary calorie, nutritionist’s calorie, nutritional calorie, Calorie (capital C) or food calorie? Actually we should be working with Joule or was it joule and has it´s place right next to Ohm and Volt which measure- Electricity! Which means we should be electricians, at least we could ditch the Doctors and just go to the next electrician!

    Anyway. Flawed science bent into complicated mathematical conversions.

    1. As Richard Phillips Feynman noted it is an embarrassment to physicists that we have all these unit terms for energy such as watts, joules etc. . They are all the same thing.

      “Nobody actually eats a thing called calories. When you hear of calories , that is merely the heat energy in the food.”
      – Richard Phillips Feynman

      The human body derives its energy from the chemical energy contained in the chemical bonds of the food we digest. This is then CONVERTED into heat and kinetic energy ( and thought)

  46. Great article Mark and rather timely as there is much heated discussion in your forum the past few weeks regarding this very topic.

  47. Another thing to consider is your internal calorie sensor – whether you’re hungry or full. If you count calories, you’re ignoring that internal calorie sensor. Eventually it stops signaling. It’s like filling up your gas tank based on what you think it should hold, rather than based on when the gas pump turns off. You end up with spilled gasoline or a half-empty tank.

    If you eat 1500 calories a day and are hungry all the time, your body will activate various starvation responses that will make it harder to lose weight. I’ve read of people sleepwalking to the fridge after prolonged starvation dieting. If you eat 1500 calories a day and are full, you’ll be fine.

  48. Perhaps you’re not what you eat but what your body absorbs.
    Some things go straight through me very quickly.
    The end result will often tell you how good your intake was the day before.
    Processed sugars and starches are the body’s downfall.

  49. This has been a very interesting conversation, thank you one and all. However one thing that isn’t really talked about enough is how the metabolic health of someone impacts the utilisation of these pesky calories. Iffy thyroids, deaf hypothalamus’, menopause, leptin issues. All these hormones and no doubt more all contribute to the complete inability of some people to lose weight, whether they count calories or not.
    I know this frustration so well. At the moment I am concentrating on the health of my thyroid to try and at least maintain weight when menopause hits. Have a thought for people with hormone dysfunction before labelling them as sloths. Also some drugs, like steroids that are life saving for some make weight gain truly inevitable. Mark was right, oversimplification helps no one.

  50. I would like to add 2 “calorie” myths of my own.

    1. Calorie is actually a UNIT of energy (yes, joule is another). Units should be used with respective numerical values, such as 2000 kcal. There are also other units. Thus, we would not say: “It took me a high secuntic period to get to work today.” But we would be talking about how long of a TIME it took us to get there. Similarily, we would not say: “How high centimetric baby Mary has become since I last saw her!” But we would be talking about how TALL she has become. It should not be any different with calories. So next time you are talking about ENERGY, you could just use the word ENERGY.

    2. One calorie, or even 1000 calories, is an extremely tiny amout of energy. Many/some people actually consume daily food with closer to 2000-2500 kilocalories (kcal) worth of energy. That equals to 2000000 calories (cal). One kilo (k) translated to English means one thousand. So next time you explain how you consume only 1500 calories (=1.5 kcal) a day and still can not lose weight you just might think again. 1.5 kcal can be easily obtained from 0.6 grams of bread, and I just would not believe you ate that little.

    Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine 🙂

  51. Decades ago, I realized that if a pound of fat is 3500 calories and there are 365 days a year, then a typical adult gaining a pound a year was off only 10 calories a day. Even gaining 10 lb a year is only off 100 calories a day and that is still closer than you can estimate your calorie needs from all those charts and things. Even a horribly fat body is still remarkably skilled at matching calorie intake to needs over time.
    Yet even today, many adults maintain proper weight for a lifetime. No smart-aleck doctor or expert can come remotely close to that feat by means of calculations.
    Overweight is a disease. Proper weight is from good health, which seems to come from a low-stress lifestyle with exercise and quality of food that provides all needed nutrients within something less than ideal calorie intake.

    1. The only problem with that realization is that it is formed under incomplete information. As you gain weight, your BMR increases as well, so that the 100 extra kilocalories consumed a day would gain you less and less fat until they didn’t gain you anything due to the raised BMR required by your body. By my math, at my current stats of: male, 200 lbs, and 6′ 1″ with a BMR of about 2100 calories a day, I would gain at maximum 15 pounds total (not necessarily in a year) before those extra calories would match my BMR of 2200 at 215 pounds. That of course is assuming that I consistently ate the same number of calories every day without any adjustments off of my initial caloric needs. The system still works just fine, it’s just that many people, yourself included, don’t understand it and chalk their failures up to the system’s imagined inadequacies rather than their own poor understanding.

  52. I expect some people will disagree with mark unless they see the results themselves. As someone who loves food, it is clear to me that eating primally allows me to never be hungry while being as slim again at 50 as i was at 20. Getting sugar cravings/insulin under control must have been key for me – there is no way this could have been done without changing the type of food i was eating.

    1. I disagree with Mark for two reasons: one, caloric restriction will lose you fat without question, it’s a biological fact. Two, paleo/primal did nothing to help my messed up appetite and I am just as constantly ravenous on it as I was on a diet with more grains in it.

      1. More of a physics fact, losing weight (calorie deficit) will make you lose weight; that’s all the equation says. There is no causation in the overly simplistic equation, which is the problem when you apply it to a complex biological system.

  53. This is why we’re fat. In the public’s minds eye, half the stuff they think is healthy isn’t, and half the stuff they think is bad for them isn’t.

    If people only could get the right information, or if they knew that much of the ‘study’ and ‘medical breakthrough’ information they get is useless weak correlation, I know many would do much better.

    Right now people look at a breakfast of special k and orange juice and think its a very healthy breakfast, then look at a lunch of a burger and fries and think the meat and cheese are the problem.

  54. There is N-O-T-H-I-N–G in the cosnervation of energy primnciple that deals with fat mass SPECIFICALLY.

    While it is relevant for everybody in the background, it is not ANYWHERE NEAR SUFFICCIENT … FARR MORE is going on n here than MERE energy balance. This is what EVERYBODY on the Internet gets wrong and cannot see.

    That is just one important facet. MUCH more is going on here as far as FAT gain specifically.

    There are humans who are SMALLER but still very fatty vs LARGE LEAN prime Bo Jacksons and Arnold types… One can lose ‘weight’ from shoulder msucle mass and RETAIN big fat saddle bags- this IS consistent with energy balance but NOT the result anybody wants.

    I have talked to over 50 physicists over the last 6 about this and know far more than Mark Sisson on this issue.

  55. The body has a MIND OF ITS OWN regarding weight- ITS OWN AGENDA INDEPENDENT of what you are doing. This is not going away. This has been put to the test over a dozen times very carefully by Rosenbaum et al…..

    There has been an identified INVOLUNTARY SYSTEM ( starting with Douglas Coleman in the 1950’s) which counts calories for us and FAR more accurate than any human could. Further, calorie labels are OFF by as much as 85% as Dr. Friedman notes.

    Even when you are countign claories you are NOT. It is an illusion. No human could match the 12 million taken in to expended over a decade YET most remain weight stable. Studies from all over the world show thi as Dr. jeffrey Friedman notes.

  56. “Eating less and moving more” has been scientiifcally tested and FAILED badly over the long term. it is not a solution for obesity.

    No, this does not “contradict” the first law of thermodynamics, only the childish understandiong most people have of it. This method’s failure has to do WITH with the BODY’S INVOLUNTARY RESPONSES which are NOT dealt with by the conservation of energy. Everybody MISSES this!

    The first law of thermodynamici is merely a STATE EQUATION and says NOTHING about wjhere energy is stored or where it came from. it does NOT at all deal with WHAT FORM OF MASS is lost ( muscle, bone, organ fat or all) Much more is going on with fat loss and uimproved body composition than MERE energy balance. Energy balance is necessary BUT NOT NEARLY SUFFICIENT!

    Energy is conserved whether we stay the same, lose any form of mass, gain any form of mass or go skydiving while singing led Zepplein songs while rubbing our bellies. POINTLESS to mention it…

  57. So you’re saying we really can’t feast on the souls of the damned? Rotten luck.

  58. I lost 35 pounds about four years ago over the course of ten months by counting calories (1100 to 1200 a day) and exercising. When I quit counting, because I felt deprived and because it was such a pain to track it all the time, I gained it all back.

    Now I’m trying again. I’ve lost 16-18 pounds in the last year and it’s been a struggle every inch of the way. The difference is that now I have empirical evidence that I am well on the way to being a Type 2 diabetic, with fasting insulin levels of about 12 and fasting blood sugar that rarely drops below 105 (I’ve been tracking this for about three months). My naturopath has told me point blank that unless I get my circulating insulin levels down I have a snowball’s chance in hell of losing the 40 pounds of extra fat on my 5’4″ body.

    So I track my fasting blood sugar numbers like a hawk, and what I’ve found is that they totally depend on what I ate the day before, not on how much. If I eat wheat (which I rarely do, and then no more than one cracker-sized bite), they go up. If I eat dairy, the number shoots up 20-30 points, same with corn. Wine not so much. I eat very little sugar anymore. So I think my high circulating insulin levels are absolutely caused by insulin resistance due to inflammation from ingesting foods that my body can’t tolerate. And that I have no chance of losing weight unless I cut those foods out.

    Those of you who have tried Primal and found it doesn’t work like it should, might consider that dairy or some other food that ought to be good for you just isn’t, and is standing in the way of your progress. You may find like me that those are the foods to which you are most addicted. Cheese is absolutely my crack.

    And if you believe in the calories in/calories out hypothesis and it doesn’t work for you long term, you might consider there is something else going on biochemically with your body.If you think calories in/calories out does work for you, I suspect you are likely young, male, and without other health issues. My observation is that for those people, just cutting out junk food can make a dramatic difference, and as a result they believe that fat loss should be that simple for everyone. It’s not, so please consider cutting the rest of us some slack.

    This is why I scan the MDA comments section for posts by women, particularly post-menopausal women, because they are facing the same issues I am. They’ve been where I’m at, and I appreciate every tidbit of insight they can provide. Ladies, keep posting!

  59. Thank you for distinguishing this to the public. Not many people are aware of how weight loss works and that certain foods react differently in the body.

  60. To nigeltheoutlaw, In response to “do ‘not have an appetite ‘off-switch'” and drinking plenty of water “not counting tea.” Sounds a lot like me and my tea drinking, though I’m much slimmer today (down 100 pounds).

    Tea is a big problem for stimulating the release of insulin, Nigel. You’ll have better luck with losing weight if you’ll cut out real tea entirely. (I’m not talking about infusions of herbals, just the real tea plant kind of tea. I still drink plenty of herbals and even nice green tea once in a blue moon, but much real tea always makes me hungry. The herbals work nicely to keep your hands busy putting things in your mouth.)

    If you have an insatiable appetite, you are also very likely to have a metabolic syndrome disorder, perhaps on your way to diabetes. Do your fat deposits give you a pear shape? (Rhetorical question only; no need to reply at all.) Read Richard K. Bernstein’s work that’s written for diabetics; it’s basically a version of paleo. Your appetite will likely decrease some if you’ll start taking in no more than 30 g of carbs per day, or even less if you don’t spread those carbs out into three meals.

    You don’t have to be declared diabetic by a doctor to be on your way to becoming one. You can block that worsening of health by paying attention to the eating advice Dr. Bernstein gives out. (See his free website info; there’s lots of it, and a reference to a book I’m glad I bought for myself. Find his YouTube videos too.) Best of luck!

  61. I tried the lower calorie diet before. Sure I lost some weight but I was almost always hungry. Why? Because I was still eating quite a lot of processed foods. I think Mark is once again “spot on”. Great article Mark!!

  62. Ok, so I kind of need some help with this. I’ve read everything I can get my eyes on about quality and type of calorie vs. type of energy expenditure, etc.
    As of today I need to lose 35 lbs. I’ve been tracking everything I eat for the past 3 weeks and I’m keeping my food intake at :fat 75%, protein 20% and carbs 5%.
    AND I’ve been counting calories (a requirement to get the other numbers).

    Now, I’m trying to stay around 1533 calories per day as theoretically that will result in 1lb per week of weight loss.

    That has happened somewhat spontaneously…
    But I still eat on average more than that. About 1700-ish.

    In 3 weeks I’ve lost 5lbs. I’ve not noticed any change in anything else. My measurements about the same, and this past week no weight loss.

    So, here’s the $64,000 question: should I count calories or not?

    If I stop keeping track, but keep eating the same LCHF diet where will I be in 3 more weeks?

    I’m very afraid of just “listening to my body” because previously my body has been prone to saying things like, “just order a pizza.”

    I don’t want a month to go by with no results because I ate too many nuts or something.

    So, what’s the best practice here?
    (And Nigel I think I know your answer, so I’m hoping for some responses from the other team.)

  63. “No one wants to be fat. The obese know they’re obese. They’ve had “calories in, calories out” drummed into their heads for years. If it were really as simple as eating less and moving more, they wouldn’t be obese.”

    Wrong. Simple =/= easy. The choice isn’t simply be obese or don’t be obese. The choice to not be obese involves some other sacrifices such as giving up enjoyment of unlimited quantities of food, or having the freedom to be a couch potato if one doesn’t like being active. Obese people have made a value decision to prioritize the “benefits” of being obese over the “sacrifices” required to regain and maintain a healthy weight.

    Anyone who desires it enough can live at a healthy weight. The path to weight loss really is as simple as eating less and moving more. The obese choose not to take that path.

  64. Great post!!!
    A lot of people following the “My Fitness Pal” account and relying on calorie counting while managing the macros unwisely.
    This analysis about calories gives a such an interesting perspective on the foods we choose to eat and the fat our bodies get to burn….
    Thank you!

  65. Thank you so much for this post. This has been a battle ground for me for the last couple of years. Trying to get ppl to realize that the type of food you eat is way more important then the amount you eat. What I have found concerning this issue is that when you eat whole foods you naturally without special effort, eat the correct amount of calories for your body. My husband read this article and it really helped him understand something I’ve been trying to communicate to him for over a year. This issue is so huge and I am so thankful you are tacking it!

  66. You may want to consider changing “Calories in –what we eat.” and “The food we eat determines “calories in” entirely.” to include “things we drink”, or “liquids we consume”, or something like that, as well.

  67. Hi, Mark
    Great article.

    I did not know about the fact that different foods requires different amounts of energy in order to be digested. This could most definitely explain a lot. You see, the first time I embarked on the paleo diet I lost a significant amount of weight, while maintaining muscle mass and strength (and I did not even try nor did I need to lose weight. It just happened). Maybe the point I mentioned above could be part of the reason why I lost so much weight. Additionally, I actually consumed less calories on the paleo diet compared to when I was eating a more regular diet, and I assume that had something to do with the weight loss as well.

    Keep on writing great posts, you are a true inspiration

  68. A calorie or Calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise 1g of water 1 degree C or 1kg of water 1 degree C. It is a unit of heat energy. All calories are equal. Not all food is equal, but a calorie is a calorie. End of story

  69. The book “The Fat Loss Bible” by Anthony Colpo is a big proponent on just worrying about calories and even advises to disregard the “low carb” approach. He’s written a few articles poking fun of the “low carb” idea. It saddens me that so many are being so misled.

  70. Great article and I always inform my patients to eat real, quality food and exercise when appropriate (no physiological or physical issues). Your body will always respond accordingly to the quality of food you put into it.

  71. Hi Mark,
    This was a most enlightening article. It debunks many myths associated with calories and weight loss. glad I have come across this article. I’m going to subscribe to your blog right away. I’m also going to display your website in my blog’s link collection.. would be very useful for my visitors. Fat people shouldn’t have low self esteem. in fact, many fat people have made historic deeds. you can find the full list of 31 Famous fat people in my website

  72. Calories in, calories out. It works. The rest is just will-less drones lying to themselves. It depends on this and that and wahhhh “I can’t do it! It’s so difficult!” You want it? You do it. End of story. Stop whining! i quit smoking after 32 years cold turkey. i wanted it so i did it. i hit 220 pounds and i couldn’t stand the fat loser looking back at me in the mirror. i wanted to lose weight so i did it. By doing one and only one thing. Counting calories in and calories out. i’m also a vegan so i don’t eat red cancer meat, Neu5Gc(discovered in 2014) is a sugar in red meat linked to all sorts of cancer growth, baby calf growth fluid which you sickos call milk, unfertilized chicken ovaries which you sickos call eggs, or processed food with stupid crap like MSG, TSP, BHT, Sulphites or any of that other GARBAGE that interferes with a HEALTHY body. My advice, stop whining. Calories in calories out has worked since the dawn of time. It’s not broken, just the tenacity of a weak, modern society.

  73. How many calories should I eat per day? and Please tell me that how can I calculate the Calories per day? Thankyou Very Much

  74. lost 14kg form 82kg to 68kg counting calories over 3-4 months. Generally under 2500 per day trying to get under 2000 per day.
    then have been eating 3000 to 4000 for next 3 – months and only gained 3kg. Male, 182cm high, reasonably active.
    I believe the reason I did not put kg back on is because during the calorie counting I changed my diet. Less and less processed sugar. Mainly because if I ate a few cakes and biscuits it meant I had to skip tasty delicious nutritional meals because my calorie count for the day was nearing the threshold.

  75. One large meal a day would not be the solution for me although, I do have my own measure since I am over 67 years, and already had cardiovascular correction with a stent recently.
    I paid heed to the advice Dr. Oz gave on TV once, that was.., “Most Obesity is not due to the quality of food but, rather the quantity we eat and how often.” He explained that we often eat too much when we eat, which stretches our stomach and intestines and each time we do, they never return to their original size. Hence we progressively eat more. Because we eat more, we consume more calories. In addition to this we stick to this routine of “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner” eating times.., instead of eating only when you are hungry. So.., I changed my habits;
    – I reduced the size of my meals.., and at first my stomach complained because it wasn’t the routine but I stuck to it.
    – I also only ate when I felt hungry; this one surprised me because it wasn’t too hard to eliminate at least one meal a day.
    – then I paid a little attention to the types of food I ate but, I wasn’t altogether strict with this one, after all, unhealthy food has been around since Adam was a boy.
    – Before long it felt as though my capacity had shrunk and this was my norm’ and I have no trouble sustaining regular weight and good health and that seems to do me just fine.

    Try it; it may work for you too..!!

  76. We should all stop believing in everything we read. A good calorie calculator can resolve this issue.

  77. for sure counting calories must be your first step toward your goal which is fat loss with out it you could get lost in the way

  78. Wow! I’ve been overweight most of my adult life, and now at age 64 and being 5 ft. 6 and weighing 215 pounds I am clinically obese. We just welcomed our first grandchild and I wish to be around to experience her life. In all my years and in all my extensive reading on the subject of weight control, I have never encountered a more concise discussion of the subject. Not a single wasted word and every challenge to accepted doctrine cogently explained and supported. Brilliant, sir!

  79. Genuinely a useful piece of information. But I would like to look forward to more of women-centric articles so that we ladies could also get inspired from you.
    Thanks a lot!

  80. Hey Mark,

    Great read! I enjoyed your post but I am worried that you might be over-complicating things in order to not oversimplify them whereas an oversimplification of certain principles is what sometimes helps people the most.

    At least that was the case for me.

    Yes, the thermic effect of food, basal metabolic rate, daily activity levels and other aspects determine your caloric needs, but it’s REALLY simple to nail down a good weight loss number. It’s only 3-4 critical steps that anyone can start right now.


    Are you super active? Remember the number 15.

    Are you half active and half sedentary? Remember the number 14.

    Are you 100% sedentary? Remember the number 13.


    Remember your number from above? If you’re more than 30 pounds overweight simply multiply your ‘number’ by your GOAL bodyweight. Simple.


    Simply multiply your ‘number’ by your CURRENT bodyweight.

    Example: I am 194lbs. My ‘number’ is “14”. I am under 30 pounds overweight. I multiply 194×14 to get 2700 calories. That’s my maintenance calories.


    Multiply your maintenance calories by 0.75 to get your daily deficit. Induce the deficit for as long as needed to lose all the weight you could ever want.


    Use intermittent fasting to make the induction of the deficit much easier!


    After losing 2-4 pounds per week for 12-20 weeks, you should be as shredded as you want. Enjoy!

  81. ??
    here everyone?tries to attract? and impress?
    ???everyone ???
    By their comments
    but I’m not going to do so
    ?”Because I’m per?fect as I’m” ?

  82. HI Mark,
    I am turning 50 in August. I have prided myself on being healthy and active. I ran the Chicago marathon in 2014. From then I gained 15 lbs slowly. Last August I have been trying to lose the weight. Lost 8 and have not budged since. My friend told me about you and raising my fat. He told me he only listens to you. I have been conditioned to only worry about calories and low-fat. I am completely hooked and trying to learn everything I can. This article was helpful because I want to understand why we need to eat more fat, how our body works and how calories are burned. I also bought your cookbook, ketchup, bbq sauce, and your starter kit. I am really excited about this journey.

    1. Julie, it’s great to have you here. I’m glad your friend referred you my way. I can’t tell you the number of stories I’ve heard over the years from folks who have been heavily involved in distance running and higher level athletics but still struggled to achieve/maintain their optimum body comp because conventional dietary principles were holding them back. I invite you to read more on the blog about diet & training and to check out the Primal Endurance podcast and book. Best — M

  83. You’re wrong, sorry. It really IS as simple as calories in calories out. If you are fat, and I lock you in a cage for two months and only give you chicken soup to eat twice a day, you will become skinny. I guarantee it 100%.