A calorie is a unit of energy. For years, dieticians measured calorie content by burning food items in a machine called a bomb calorimeter. Modern calorimeter-like technologies work on a similar principle – ignite the foodstuff and measure the amount of heat energy released.
Why Do Health Authorities Measure Calories?
The laws of physics mandate that the amount of energy stored inside the body (presumably as fat in the fat tissue) must equal the energy going into the body minus the energy coming out of it. Hence, it is assumed that ingesting excess calories will lead to fat gain and that burning off calories will lead to fat loss.
Why Counting the Calorie Content of Food is Purposeless ?
As simple and as appealing as the caloric balance hypothesis may be, it neglects a second (and far more satisfying) theory. This idea, the lipophilia hypothesis, says that the cause and effect is reversed. In other words, when the body stores more energy, this drives an increase in food intake and a slowing of metabolism.
When the body stores less energy, this causes people to eat less and move more. The fundamental issue has nothing to do with energy – it has to do with hormones, enzymes, and other factors that directly impact the metabolism of the fat tissue.
Looking Through the Lens of the Alternative Theory
Put aside questions about fat loss and the calorie content of foods, and consider the following three factors that can drive weight gain independent of diet changes:
Menopause: Evidence abounds to indicate that women who go through menopause experience profound hormonal changes and also experience weight gain as a side effect.The conventional wisdom assumes that menopause must make these women hungrier and/or more sedentary.
But a far simpler explanation emerges when one views the problem through the lens of lipophilia. Menopause drives changes in hormones (especially insulin), which drives weight gain. Calories have nothing to do with it.
Puberty: Adolescence drives profound hormonal changes and can lead to weight gain. Again, lipophilia gives us a better explanation for why adolescents gain weight. It’s not that these kids overeat or do not exercise enough. It’s that puberty drives significant hormonal changes, which causes changes in the fat tissue, which cause changes to appetite and metabolism.Picture a child before and after puberty.
All sorts of big changes occur to her body that result in her storing more energy in her body than she had prior to puberty. These changes must be hormonally driven – no plausible theory could explain how “excess calories” in and of themselves could cause them.
Milk production: A new mother will suddenly start to produce breast milk for her child. In order to produce that milk, she will have to take in more energy than she burns off through exercise. But what causes the production of breast milk?Surely, no one can argue that “excess calories” in and of themselves drive women to produce milk.
The obvious (and conventional) explanation is that hormones, such as prolactin, stimulate milk production. The hormonal changes thus change the balance of the energy in the body, just like in the previous two examples.
Why Health Authorities Must Stop Badgering People about the Calorie Content of Foods ?
The calorie counting theory about obesity and weight loss has insinuated itself into the collective consciousness. But just because the vast majority of health authorities believe it to be true doesn’t make it so.
In fact, evidence and arguments, such as the ones cited above, suggest that public health authorities have done the scientific equivalent of looking one way before crossing a street, and Americans have all gotten run over as a result of this carelessness.