Author Archives: MikeEnRegalia

Protein Calories Don’t Count

A few weeks ago I had an interesting idea which I haven’t seen formulated in any of the books on nutrition and fitness that I’ve read so far (which is about 30+ – yes, I’m kind of obsessive when it comes to this topic):

When you eat a moderate amount of protein it isn’t burned as fuel by the body – it is used to maintain lean body mass.

 It’s kind of obvious when you think about it. Yet all the popular calorie counting apps and websites ignore this fact. They simply treat all protein as a macronutrient with 4 kcal per gram, and count it towards one’s daily caloric intake.

I am currently on what authors Volek and Phinney call a “well formulated low carbohydrate diet” – one of its cornerstones is to eat a moderate amount of protein. I eat around 125 grams of protein each day, regardless of whether I want to lose, maintain or gain weight. Strength training is a factor though – I try to cycle protein intake a bit depending on whether I do strength training or sprints, and compensate by eating a little less protein on rest days. 

One of the interesting implications of this insight (should it be true) is that it would explain how some people claim that they lose weight on LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) even though they don’t eat less calories than they consume. 125 grams of protein amount to about 500 kcal of energy – if it is burned. Assuming that it is not burned, but used as building material instead, we get a caloric deficit of 500 kcal when the app shows caloric balance. This amounts to a deficit of 3,500 kcal per week, which is roughly equivalent to one pound of body fat. 

So next time you read in a forum that someone loses weight on LCHF without restricting calories, remember this hypothesis!

Scientific Facts – Do They Change?

Today I watched an episode of the BBC’s brilliant series “QI” called “Knowledge“. In it Stephen Fry made an astonishing claim:

Things we know – or think we know – will be untrue in a number of years’ time.

Jo Brand added this:

There’s no such thing as a fact.

In my opinion those are very misleading statements. Continue reading

Scientific Research is NOT Bullshit!

I subscribe to Elliott Hulse’s channel for two reasons:

  • because occasionally he has good workout advice and cool videos and
  • he’s often posting some seriously “out there” pseudo-scientific bullshit which I love to comment on.

Long story short: What do you think about scientific research – is it all bullshit?

 

On The Peaks and Valleys of Weight Loss

Hi folks,

it’s been much too long since my last post. Almost half a year ago I announced that I was about to start a new weight loss experiment (“WLE 3”). Long story short: I quickly lost my motivation. Last year (about 10 months ago) I started weighing about 108kg and lost a lot of weight until January (95kg) and then, after about a month, I reached my lowest weight ever (88kg). 

The question is: Why didn’t I finish the job? My target weight is 80kg, and I was headed towards it. I had also established new eating habits, and I was feeling fine. I think the biggest problem was that in January I started in a new job, and at least in the beginning it was quite stressful. There was also the problem of work lunches. I also wasn’t able to do as much cycling as last year because of the unusually cold and inhospitable weather in Europe this year so far. Another thing: I stopped counting calories.

So I’m now back at 100kg. Looking at what went wrong, I am going to try to reverse the situation – and this time I’ll be mindful of the things that sabotaged my diet. The good thing is that I gained only about 2kg per month. That’s about 14.000 calories, or about 500 calories a day. So theoretically I could reverse the problem until December by eating 1.000 calories less each day (totally realistic, I would still be eating more than during the half year phase before January), or still reach my goal of 80kg by December by eating about 2.000 calories less each day (possible, but not likely and probably not healthy).

So stay tuned for (probably) more frequent updates about my weight loss, but also for more posts on various topics.

Calories In vs. Calories Out

As I’m writing this I’m in week 7/10 of my latest weight loss experiment. Yesterday I decided to enter some of the data that I’ve gathered for the ecperiment so far – mainly calories in and calories out, as logged/measured via FitBit.com, but also my actual weight and body fat percentage as measured daily. The interesting thing for me was how well the actual weight loss so far matches the total caloric deficit. One pound of body fat is typically equated to about 3,500 calories in the weight loss literature. So far I’ve lost about 6 pounds, with a caloric deficit of about 22,000 calories, and as you can see, the numbers add up. Body fat percentage has also been going down, although the data is a bit fuzzy there as I’m only using a simple impedance scale, but still.

This means that at least for me, empirically, the “calories in, calories out” paradigm of weight loss is validated. If you’re new to weight loss and the various theories and books out there, this may seem obvious to you – of course you’ll lose weight if you expend more calories than you consume. The thing is that on top of the caloric balance (or even sometimes instead of it) many authors have proposed that the macronutrient composition of the diet is more important. Macronutrients are, in essence, carbohydrate, fat and protein. Some authors claim that in order to use bodyfat, you have to cut or reduce carbohydrate, while some others will make the same claim about fat. When it comes to protein, some authors will claim that you need to eat a lot more protein than people typically do (e.g. the book “Protein Power” as well as most paleo approaches), while others don’t consider that to be important.

Well, over the previous 6 weeks I have been eating all over the place, so to speak. During some weeks I’ve been eating a lot of protein, even purposefully supplementing with protein shakes. I’ve been eating a lot of “junk food” containing simple sugars and flour (pancakes). I’ve been doing intermittent fasting during some of the weeks. On some days I’ve been eating a lot of fiber – again also supplementing at times – and on other days practically zero. None of that mattered much when it comes to weight loss, and I find that interesting. It doesn’t prove anything scientifically – but it tells me that I don’t need to be obsessive/compulsive about any of the things that I’ve just listed.

These are the two things that seem to matter:

  • Caloric deficit
    Measure your caloric intake to a reasonable degree of precision (stop short of taking your digital food scale to restaurants)
    Consider using a FitBit.com tracker to gauge your caloric expenditure, or use other (free) tools that estimate it – such as websites or smartphone apps
  • Strength Training
    You don’t need to do much. But in order to improve your body composition while you’re losing weight, it’s reasonable to do some strenuous exercise here and there. That means, as the “minimum effective dose” (as Tim Ferriss would say): Some pull-ups, some push-ups, some squats, on a daily basis.

But that’s only my opinion – any comments?

Do Calories Count Or Not?

NOTE: I originally posted this in a thread over at Marksdailyapple.com.

Calories surely count – but you may lose weight without counting them. 
I won’t simply say that they count for some people, but not for others – that kind of answer is totally meaningless. I’d rather say that whether you’re going to lose weight – or more specifically, fat – depends on many factors. It depends on who you are, how old you are, what your lifestyle is, and what you’re eating, and how much you’re eating, and any other factors that I may not be thinking of right now. When you compare your situation to that of any arbitrary other person, you may very well observe the phenomenon that you have to count calories to lose weight, but the other person doesn’t. One obvious example would be that the other person doesn’t like junk food and leads a very active life, while you’re addicted to junk food and are quite sedentary. Now, I’d like to point out that I read Taubes’ books and I’m very well aware of the fact that those might be consequences rather than actual causes, but regardless, the point is that due to factors other than caloric intake, there might be persons who are prone to overeat unless they’re counting calories, and others who can manage to not overeat without counting calories. And that consideration includes differences in activity levels. For example, a person could eat a lot more than another person and thus seem to be overeating, but compensate it by burning off these calories. Only a week ago I heard Taubes himself talking about Dr. Oz and how he seems to be a person who more readily converts consumed calories into energy (activity) than others.
I think that some of us (including yours truly) need to keep an eye on caloric intake. People who claim that calories generally don’t count may have made the mistake of not accounting for all the variables. Maybe they managed to lose fat without counting calories – but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t restrict their caloric intake, or that there couldn’t have been other contributing factors which may or may not be present in other people.
Personally I’ve become a bit sceptical of the low-carb message in that it makes some promises which don’t hold for all people who follow it, and there are some claims made by its supporters which have been disproved. But I still think that it’s the healthiest choice for most people who have become overweight on a high-carb diet. Sure, this is also just a correlation and something other than the carbs could have been responsible for the weight gain. But when an obese person goes from high-carb to low-carb and then not only loses a lot of fat but also feels much better without being constantly hungry – I think that even without ever bothering about the actual science we can tell that person to keep doing what they’re doing. And if you find that merely switching from high-carb to low-carb doesn’t work and that you also need to count calories – well, maybe you’re simply not as good in eating in moderation than others. I know that it’s definitely one of my weaknesses.

Missing the Forest for the Trees

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve read a lot of health and nutrition related blogs and discussions out there which are investigating the hypotheses surrounding low-carb in excruciating detail. The following are some of the main areas of contention:
  • Is low-carb healthy?
  • How does low-carb work – by lowering insulin or by reducing caloric intake?
  • Which fats should you eat/Is saturated fat healthy?
Ok, I could go on, but you get the idea. The problem is that in most blogs whenever it comes to topics like that, people will start making elaborate posts that cite studies left and right, and quickly get to a level where it becomes next to impossible for the lay(wo)man to follow the discussion, let alone join it.
That got me thinking about how I’ll be going about with this blog. Am I going to spend hours on posts which reference dozens of studies, talk about levels of hormones and so forth? Nah – there are many bloggers out there who are much better at that than I could ever hope to be. For example, check out Healthy Skeptic.
What I’m going to do is, hopefully, to give summaries of new developments, with my two cents of common sense (with a sprinkling of skepticism) added to it.  And to get the whole thing rolling, I’ll give some quick comments on the topics I listed above. Enjoy!


Is low-carb healthy?

Sure. There are well documented societies that traditionally eat few carbs and suffer no ill consequences. A typical example are the Inuit. Could they be a genetic exception? Probably not. The thing is that when those societies are exposed to Western nutritional concepts (read: starches, sugars), they get the same problems like we do. If they were genetically so different from us that they thrive on low-carb and we don’t, how come that they react to our diet similarly to us? This is not a logical proof – it just shows that it’s not likely.
And there’s also the argument from our evolutionary history. Without going into too much detail: 100,000+ years ago we didn’t have ways to conserve food during winter. Even if you imagine an ice age as extended periods with harsh winters and not full blown artic conditions, our ancestors had to survive for months without any carbs. And when we look at what happens on a low carb diet, indeed we find that our body has mechanisms to adapt – ketosis and gluconeogenesis being the most important ones. Most of our tissue can adapt to burning ketone bodies for fuel instead of glucose (ketone bodies are made by the liver when we starve or consume very little carbohydrate for an extended period of time), and for those cells which need glucose our liver can convert protein and fat into glucose.

How does low-carb work – by lowering insulin or by reducing caloric intake?

This is a huge issue at the moment. In the previous post I comment on Gary Taubes vs. CarbSane – Taubes’s two books are based on “carbohydrate drives insulin drives fat” mantra, while CarbSane, joined by James Krieger, say that at the end of the day low-carb simply works because people involuntarily eat less on a low-carb diet, which is in part due to the satiating effects of protein and fat.
My opinion: It may be a little bit of both. First of all: the people which need to lose a lot of fat are often metabolically different from lean people. They are typically insulin resistant, and even many of those who criticise Taubes would agree that those people may react unfavorably to excessive carbohydrate, and reducing it might be instrumental in normalizing their metabolism – particularly when they’re even diabetic. But independently of all that, on top of it there’s the effect on satiation – and it even gets better. Carbohydrate and sugar are also addictive substances – that’s where the expression “sweet tooth” comes from.
So we have a three-pronged argumentation pro low-carb:
  1. Metabolism is normalized in insulin resistant persons
  2. Caloric intake is reduced
  3. Carbohydrate/sugar cravings are curbed
Now: Does it really matter so much how 1) is accomplished on the level of hormones and lipids? My beef (pun intended) with Taubes’s books is that he makes it look like the mechanism is simply “carbs -> insulin -> fat”, and since this is a gros oversimplification and essentially false, that undermines his position and essentially does low-carb a disservice.

Which fats should you eat/Is saturated fat healthy?

This is a tough one. Saturated fat gets a lot of flak from many camps, including the paleo camp and conventional wisdom. Paleo guys (with the exception of Mark Sisson and Dr. Kurt Harris) don’t like saturated fat because they claim that our ancestors ate very little saturated fat – apparently wild game doesn’t contain a lot of it. But remembering the argument from the first topic about our ancestors and ice ages, that doesn’t convince me. What did we eat in the winter? Game. Or bigger animals, but no matter which ones we ate, those critters accumulate fat in summer in order to make it through the winter. And even when they have less saturated fat than domesticated animals, if they were fatty – and hunter gatherers are known to favor the fattest cuts – we can assume that they got a lot of saturated fat for extended parts of the year.
And what does conventional wisdom say about saturated fat? Right – it clogs our arteries. The fact of the matter though – and here I completely agree with Taubes – is that most saturated fats are either beneficial or neutral when it comes to lipid profiles. Some of them raise LDL (which is the main concern), but they raise HDL along with it. And they change LDL pattern type. But hold on – now I’m about to get too technical. If find LDL pattern types fascinating, but the jury is still out there about whether “large fluffy/buoyant LDL” is really harmless. But do we really need to bother? No. If you haven’t seen the move “Fathead” – do so. Or go to YouTube and look for “Fatheadmovie” and then watch their presentation. The first part of it (and of the movie) deals with how the “lipid hypothesis” was established. Today we’re only looking at our cholesterol levels and lipid profiles because, essentially, of Ancel Keys’s seven countries study, and senator McGovern’s decision to support his conclusions before there was any evidence to do so.
I am not a doctor, and you have to decide for yourself what to do. I don’t take the cholesterol scare seriously anymore.
But I’m going to give you another argument. Imagine you’re going on an extended fast. You only drink water and don’t eat anything at all. What kind of diet are you on?
Answer: A high-fat, low-protein, zero-carb diet. Your body starts to metabolize your lean tissue (protein) and your stored fat, which is about half saturated-fat, half mono-unsaturated fat. So you’ll be on let’s say 40% saturated fat, 40% monounsaturated fat, 20% protein.
Obviously you shouldn’t be doing this for extended periods because ultimately you’ll “waste away”. But you can do like Lyle McDonald advises in his Rapid Fat-Loss Handbook and tweak the diet a little bit: You eat some protein – just enough to get your body to spare your muscle tissue. And it actually turns out that you can keep this kind of diet up for prolonged periods of time, and you’ll lose plenty of fat on it. Your lipid profile will improve, too … even though you’re on a 40% saturated fat diet.
Think about it: Why should saturated fat be bad for you if it is how your body stores energy for later use (or at least half of the energy – remember that the other half is stored as mono-unsaturated fat)? That doesn’t make any sense.

I hope you liked the explanations … please feel free to comment!