Elective 2 / Lesson 1

Why Counting Calories is Literally Impossible


Jonathan: Hey everybody, Jonathan Bailor and Carrie Brown back with…

Carrie: What do we do? Who are you? Bailor? Who’s Bailor?

Jonathan: We’ve been doing a bit of a recording marathon, dear listeners. Hopefully this episode is as fun for you as it will be for the loopy Carrie Brown and Jonathan Bailor, coming to you with another Smarter Science of Slim show. But the good news is, friends, that while we may be not fully cogent, the thing we’re talking about today is actually a very, very cool subject and I think will be very empowering for you, so that’s good news.

Carrie: You don’t talk about anything that isn’t cool.

Jonathan: Well, I think this is exceptionally cool because it again will blow up some of these calorie myths, which also happens to be the name of my new book, so please do check that out. It’s like these things that seem reasonable, but when you take a step back they’re not reasonable at all.

Carrie: Awesome. Let’s talk about unreasonableness.

Jonathan: Unreasonableness. One of the major reasons that calorie counting is ridiculous is because it’s impossible.

Carrie: It is?

Jonathan: Well, for example, let’s forget about calories in for a second and let’s just talk about calories out. Calories out is – to appropriately count calories you would need to know the amount of calories you are eating and the amount of calories you are burning. But the first problem is when you change the number of calories – you take the same diet, the same quality of foods and you just eat less of them – you burn fewer calories. If you just eat more of them you burn more calories.

Carrie: So there’s no base line: this is how much you burn. When you see those charts that say you burn X calories while you’re sleeping, that’s not a constant.

Jonathan: That’s exactly right. That is the fundamental – one of the myriad fundamental misassumptions underlying the calorie myths, and that is the body is a fixed system. It’s not. The body is an adaptive organism. If you go outside and it’s warm, you sweat. Your body isn’t just like, my core body temperature is just going to raise indefinitely. Your body’s like, oh my gosh, it’s hot so I’m going to do things to counteract that. Let’s say, hypothetically, that you need 2,000 calories per day to maintain your weight.

Carrie: Okay.

Jonathan: Okay, you need 2,000 calories of energy. What the traditional calorie myths tell us is if you eat 1,500 calories, you will continue to burn 2,000 calories and therefore you will burn 500 calories of fat per day, and therefore you will lose a pound of fat per week. That’s the conventional theory.

Carrie: Wait, if you can’t calculate accurately how many calories you are burning, how do you ever know?

Jonathan: Not only that, Carrie, which is spot on, but that’s actually just not true. It’s not true that if you eat 2,000 calories, then in response to eating 2,000 calories you burn 2,000 calories. That’s true in this situation: when you eat 2,000 calories you burn 2,000 calories. What is false is when you eat 1,500 calories, you will continue to burn 2,000 calories. Right? In fact, what your body will most likely do and what studies show is it will simply burn 1,500 calories.

Carrie: Right.

Jonathan: Because it will try to match calories in with calories out automatically. That’s that regulation system within your body.

Carrie: Right. So because our body is…

Jonathan: It is adaptive.

Carrie: It’s there to regulate, so it’s trying to keep the status quo, and if you change what goes in then it will try to change that – appropriately, relatively.

Jonathan: Exactly. Really this is…

Carrie: How clever is that?

Jonathan: It’s amazingly clever, and we all understand it with every other aspect of our lives. This is kind of a dumb example but it’s cool to see if you’ve not done this before. Go into your bathroom at home andstand right in front of the mirror and turn the lights – so go in with the lights off and have enough light in the room so you can see your pupils, the black part of your eye. In the mirror you will notice they are huge because it’s a dark room.

Flick the lights on and watch them shrink. It’s a cool experience if you’ve never seen that before. But that’s how every system in your body works. When there’s less light coming in to your eyeball, it’s going to automatically try to take more light in. When there’s more light coming in, it will close off and let less light in. When you take less energy into your body, it will conserve energy, and when you put more energy into your body it will, for lack of better terms, waste energy.

If you want to experiment with this, eat dramatically more food and notice how much more you go to the bathroom.

Carrie: Got it.

Jonathan: More in means more out. Less in means less out. Literally I was visiting my parents a few months ago, Carrie, and I was going to take a picture of this, and I should have but I didn’t. There was a sign at my mom’s gym which was “weight loss: simple.” It had this little graph which was 2,000 calories in, 2,000 calories out, weight stays the same. Two thousand calories in, 2,500 calories out,or something like that, weight goes down and then blah, blah, blah.

Anytime you see a chart, a graphic, anything like that, it’s assuming the body is a fixed system. It’s not. That’s the difference between biology and math. Biology adapts to change and that’s why eating less will never work in a practical and permanent fashion.

Carrie: Got it. While we’re on the subject, I have a lot of people who read my blog and they go for the recipes. They email me and say, can I add the calories to the recipes so they know how many calories there are. Of course I won’t do that. One, because calorie math doesn’t work, and we don’t count calories, and we don’t need to. But also the problem is that I could calculate the calories in what I’ve made, but you have to bear in mind that if I’m using, for example, the specific whey protein powder that I use versus another brand, and you’re using another brand, the caloric value of that is going to be different.

So, any calorie value I put on a recipe with my whey powder in is going to be different than yours. Automatically that number that I’ve given you is not true. If you’re using different brands, if you’re using different – you know there’s so many variations within a recipe, particularly if you are using a different brand of a particular ingredient, to me it makes that number useless. Yes, there’s a number, but it may not be the same as the number you would get when you make that dish. And anyway,counting calories – we don’t need to do it.

Jonathan: Building off what Carrie just said, so two other reasons she does not and will never and nothing we ever put out will have calorie counts next to it, first thing is this gets back to a show we did recently where we talked about when you eat SANEly you will naturally stop eating at an appropriate time period. Let’s say Carrie gives you a recipe and it has 1,000 calories in it. That just means you will eat 1,000 fewer calories later in the day, because your body will naturally stop eating when it’s reached the amount of energy it needs. Your body is smart. The reason people think they need calorie counts is they think they can trick their body.

They think they can be like, ha ha, I’m only going to eat brownies that have a hundred calories. I am going to have a hundred-calorie snack pack and that will make me eat – I would normally eat 200 calories worth of Chips Ahoy cookies, but instead I’m going to eat 100 calories because I’m only going to eat a 100-calorie snack pack. My body is just going to be like, oh, that’s fine. I’m okay with eating a hundred fewer calories. That is false.

You’re either going to be hungry as hell, your metabolism is going to slow down, you’re going to burn off your muscle tissue, or you’re just going to eat the 100 calories from another source later. Why would Carrie ever give you a calorie count when your body is automatically going to count calories? If you eat a light breakfast you’re just going to eat a heavy dinner, whereas if you eat a heavy breakfast you will naturally eat a light dinner. That’s why it’s irrelevant.

The other reason it’s irrelevant is because… I don’t remember the second one now. I should have written the second one down. Ah, man. Carrie, fill in the gap and I will think of the second reason.

Carrie: What, do you want me to sing? Or no, that wouldn’t be a good option.

Jonathan: Well, friends, I am sure I will remember it in the future. But the key thing again: knowing the calorie count is irrelevant because you’re not going to trick your body into not needing energy. Your body will continue to demand energy until it has it, and we just need to appreciate the brilliance and the automatic regulation that takes place in our body and ensure we are eating the foods to facilitate that. Carrie, back to calories out here for a second.

We just talked about the first reason that calories out just can’t be calculated, and it’s irrelevant anyway and it’s not fixed. Anything you do to calories in will automatically change calories out, so you’re working against a moving target. You really can’t, taking a step back, you cannot calculate it. When you think about calories out, you think about things like, oh how much did I move today? But you don’t think about things like, how many calories did I burn digesting food? This is called diet-induced thermogenesis, and the average person burns about ten percent of the calories they burned throughout the course of the day just digesting food.

Carrie, as we know, we can manipulate the efficiency of calories and foods we eat, thereby increasing or decreasing that number. No heart rate monitor will tell you how many calories you burned digesting food and that’s a big number.

Carrie: There’s so many variables in this. Why drive yourself mad with numbers that don’t actually make sense and don’t matter? It’s crazy.

Jonathan: It’s also like just – I don’t know everyone understands just how little – of the total number of calories we burn per day, about 70 percent or more have nothing to do with physical movement at all. Your liver just being your liver burns five to six hundred per day, just from being a liver.

Carrie: I’m sorry.

Jonathan: Do you know how much you would have to jog to burn 500 calories?

Carrie: I’m a liver. I burn 600 calories a day. Sorry. It just amused me.

Jonathan: No, no, and someone could say, okay, well that’s at least consistent. But another amazing burner of calories is your body rebuilding itself. Your body’s constantly turning over protein, meaning it’s rebuilding itself. This is called muscle protein synthesis. One of the reasons we talk about doing resistance training and needing high-quality protein in certain doses of twenty to thirty grams depending on your body size is so that you trigger muscle protein synthesis.

Now you can imagine how many calories – so your body can build 250 grams of new you per day. Two hundred and fifty grams of new body basically every single day. Do you know how many calories it takes to build a person? A lot.

Carrie: Yeah. I would think so.

Jonathan: A lot. I mean for – this is kind of a dumb example but when a women is growing another person, she eats a lot. There`s a reason she eats a lot: because she is literally creating another human. Well, you don’t have to be pregnant to build a person because you’re always rebuilding yourself if you’re eating properly. Researchers estimate that if you trigger muscle protein synthesis at the rate at which would be optimal for health, which is anywhere from three to six times per day, simply synthesising and creating the new healthy version of you can burn up to a third of all calories you burn throughout the course of the day.

So, up to 700 calories a normal person would burn. Not only does it have nothing to do with physical movement, it’s no way calculable because those are calories being burnt on these deep biological processes which are synthesising – they are literally synthesising new tissue.

Carrie: That’s amazing. I’m just sitting here in wonder now.

Jonathan: Let’s get even deeper with it, Carrie. Again the absurdity of trying to count calories. Say you’re a bald man. I would imagine that growing hair also costs a lot of calories. Does becoming bald – again all of these things,or people whose nails grow quickly.

Carrie: They’re going to get fat because they’re no longer growing hair.

Jonathan: See that’s the fundamental problem. That’s why you need to get hair transplants because if you don’t, you’re not going to burn enough calories, and you’re going to gain weight, right? False.

Carrie: That’s funny. I like that one. I like that.

Jonathan: Just so much beautiful biology going on here. We’ve got three reasons. The first one we talked about was that anytime that you manipulate anything about your body, everything else changes. It’s a dynamic system…

Carrie: And you can’t stop that.

Jonathan: You absolutely cannot stop that. You’re exactly right, Carrie. You’re always working against a moving target, so why aim for that target? Because you ain’t going to hit it. Secondly, the visual here is, Carrie, okay, there’s this target and it’s just moving. It’s just moving crazy. You’re trying to aim at it. You can’t hit it. We just talked about you can’t calculate calories out anyway, so not only is the target moving around in the distance but the room is also pitch black. There’s a target moving out there and you can’t see it.

Carrie: Awesome. Do you want a challenge, people?

Jonathan: Here the coup de gras, or the icing on the cake or the xylitol-sweetened icing on the coconut-flour-based cake because we want to stay SANE here, is that even if you did hit that moving target that you can’t see, and you did consume fewer calories than you were burning, that does not mean you’re going to burn body fat.

Carrie: Ta da!

Jonathan: It means your body will adapt in some way, right? We’ve talked about this law of thermodynamics previously. There is no law of thermodynamics, there’s four. The two that apply to energy balance tell us energy cannot be created nor destroyed. It can only change forms. People who don’t understand science say that that proves that if you eat less and exercise more and you create a caloric deficit, meaning you are burning more calories than you’re eating,you have to burn body fat. That’s false.

Carrie: I know for a fact that ain’t true because I tried it for a long time. I know a lot of you lovely listeners also did. You know it’s not true because you’ve all eaten nothing and cycled for miles liked me and gained weight.

Jonathan: Here’s why it isn’t true. You’ve experienced it firsthand; we’ve all experienced it firsthand. When your body doesn’t have enough energy – remember, it’s an adaptive system – it will just burn fewer calories. What the applicable laws of thermodynamics tell us is that if we enter a state of caloric deficit, our body will do something. They do not prove that something is burn body fat. If we are eating the conventional high-edible products, starch and sweet diet it’s literally impossible for our body to burn body fat because when we have insulin flowing around in our blood stream, you cannot burn body fat when insulin is produced in excess.

So you can be in a caloric deficit all day and twice on Sunday, and if your insulin levels are going bonkers because you’re eating too much sugar and starch, you ain’t burning body fat. You’re slowing metabolism down and you’re burning a bunch of muscle tissue. If you want to doom someone to be sick and heavy for the rest of their life, slow down their base metabolism and burn off their muscle tissue. That’s why please, please, please free yourself from these calorie myths. You’re literally aiming at an incorrect, invisible, moving target.

Carrie: I may be your cohost and I may be sitting in the studio with you but I love listening to you.

Jonathan: Yay!

Carrie: You just make everything so clear and easy.

Jonathan: Well, Carrie, you’ve earned your paycheck for this week.

Carrie: My what?

Jonathan: I am going to quadruple your salary. Listeners, four times zero is still zero. Note that my salary is also getting quadrupled and will also result in a net nothing increase. Hopefully we have a net positive for this podcast because I think this was fun and hopefully helpful for our listeners. Carrie, what do you think?

Carrie: If it was helpful for me, I’m sure it was helpful for all our lovely listeners out in podcast-listening land.

Jonathan: So remember folks, your body is brilliant, it’s beautiful, it’s not broken, and it will seek to balance you out automatically just like every other system in your body works. Remember, go in the bathroom, stare at the mirror, keep the lights off, turn the lights on, watch while your eyeball adapts and understand that’s how the rest of your body works as well. Always adapting, beautiful, brilliant just like you. Don’t starve yourself, don’t shrink yourself, be the best version of yourself, and eat more and exercise less, just do that smarter. Chat with you soon.

Carrie: See ya.
[Audio Ends 19:59]

Jonathan: Wait, wait don’t stop listening yet.

Carrie: You can get fabulous free SANE recipes over at carriebrown.com.

Jonathan: Don’t forget your 100 percent free eating and exercise quick start program as well as free fun daily tips delivered right into your inbox at bailorgroup.com.

This week Carrie and I cover why the “Calorie Out” portion of the calorie math myths is simply absurd from a science perspective.