What is worse for you:
- Eating 2,000 calories a day of Twinkies everyday for a week?
- Eating 2,000 calories of fatty sirloin steak everyday for a week?
Obviously eating 2,000 of calories a day of Twinkies will be worse. Why? Let me explain:
1. Calories to explain food differences as primitive.
To first illustrate, let me breakdown some calorie imaging:
- 2,000 calories: Eating ~15 Twinkies in a single day. A single Twinkie is 1.4 ounces (therefore 2,000 calories a day of Twinkies is 21 ounces of Twinkies, or 1.3 pounds).
- 2,000 calories: A single sirloin steak (3 ounces) is ~200 calories. This means 2,000 calories is equivalent to eating ten 3-ounce steaks in a single day. That is 30 ounces of steak, or ~1.9 pounds of steak a day.
Both are equal in calories.
- 2,000 calories a day in Twinkies (1.3 pounds of Twinkies, which is around 15 Twinkies a day)
- 2,000 calories a day in Sirloin Steak (1.9 pounds of Steak, which is around 10 three-ounce steaks a day)
What would you rather eat, 15 Twinkies a day, or 10 (juicy) Sirloin Steaks a day for a week? And what would be more strengthening for your health or muscle-building?
2. Calories in vs calories out is a myth.
The false claim that losing body fat is based on ‘calories in’ vs ‘calories out’.
Where do we get this overly simplistic (and false) notion? I think scientism is to blame — the notion of making the wrong scientific analogies.
For example, a lot of people treat human metabolism like a car. We think that in order to drive a car, we must “fill up” our bodies with energies/food/calories. But this is a bad analogy. Why?
3. Human metabolism is 1000x more complex than we realize
I don’t need to eat food in order to move, lift weights, or to act. Why? Our body has complex metabolic processes which allow me to produce glucose/energy from the fat stores in my body. Assuming that 10% body fat percentage (for men) is optimal, you will always have body fat for your body to draw energy from.
This process is called ketosis:
When your body doesn’t have immediate glucose in your blood to draw from, your body will draw energy from your body’s adipose [fat] tissue.
4. You don’t need to consume carbohydrates
For example, you do NOT need to consume carbohydrates to live. You can do the simple thought experiment:
If you ate nothing but sirloin steaks for an entire year, would you die? Obviously no.
Also, you do NOT need to consume carbohydrates for proper brain function. Your liver can produce ‘ketone bodies‘ which are oxidized in the mitochondria for energy.
But is ketosis ‘safe’? If you note the Inuit people, they have been in (more or less) constant state of ketosis [journal article]. While we cannot assert that by them subsisting on primarily meat and fat is “optimal” for your health, we can certainly say it is possible. For example when studying Inuit cuisine, the vast majority of their diet comes from eating meat, fat, blubber, etc. It seems that the Inuit people are the ‘black swans’ of the nutritional-society world, which proves:
Yes, it is possible to subsist (and thrive) on a primary (or even pure) meat diet.
5. Back to calories.
Why this obsession with calories? Because calories are easy to quantify. The notion is super basic:
If I put 10 gallons of gas in my car, and I drove the car (further) than 10 gallons amount, then I should “burn” fat.
But once again, it ain’t about calories. I believe it is more about hormonal responses (insulin responses), with glycemic index and food-substances. And it seems the primary culprit for putting on excess adipose (fat) tissue include:
- High-fructose corn syrups
- Syrups of any kind
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, etc). And to classify a starch-food (potato) as a ‘vegetable’ seems insanely misguided. The nutritional profile of a potato is 100000x different to that of kale, spinach, or collard greens.
- Carbohydrates in general (I believe that even eating a lot of carrots [because of the high starch content] can lead to fat-adipose gain.
6. Is calorie counting foolish?
Now this is the tricky thing:
I think that calorie counting can help you lose body fat. Why? Not because consuming fewer calories will cause you to lose body fat, but because it will probably lead you to eating less starch, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.
For example, if you’re using some calorie counting app or following some program, you will inadvertently eat fewer cupcakes, drink less beer, consume fewer candy bars, eat less chocolate, drink less soda, consume less ice cream, and other high-sugar foods.
Thus, counting calories is CORRELATED with losing bodyfat, not a CAUSE of losing bodyfat.
There is a massive difference between correlation and causation.
- Correlation: This year rainfall has increased 10%, and the rates of cancer has also gone up 10%. Thus, rain causes cancer.
- Causation: I drank 5 cups of cold brew coffee at midnight and now I cannot sleep.
The biggest problem nutritional studies make is this:
They confuse and conflate “correlation” with “causation”.
7. Studies don’t prove anything (especially the observational ones)
For example let us take a theoretical study:
In a study of people who eat at McDonalds and people who don’t eat at McDonalds, the expected life average was less in the McDonalds category. This is because McDonalds serves a lot of meat and hamburgers, and thus eating meat causes you to lower your expected life average.
But what if individuals who visit McDonalds happen to drink a ton of Coca Cola (which can CAUSE type 2 diabetes). Then maybe their early death is caused by soda, not meat.
Or also note that typically a higher percentage of lower-class individuals eat at McDonalds (compared to richer individuals). Richer individuals usually have better access to surgery and other forms of healthcare than poorer individuals. Therefore it might be a class issue, not a nutrition (meat) issue.
An observational study can NEVER prove anything. It can only show causation. An observational study (no matter how many billions of people you study) can PROVE causation!
8. What do you eat with a hamburger?
Once again — maybe it isn’t meat which is unearthly. What if if it is the bun (pure starch), or the sauces (corn syrup and sugar), or the French fries (simple carbohydrates and starch) they eat with the meal? Or because of the sugary Coca Cola they eat with the hamburger?
9. Why the caloric notion is bad and dangerous
If we assume that ~2,000 calories a day is “healthy” and “optimal”. Then let us say in a day you consume:
- 5 Twinkies (750 calories)
- 2 Cans of soda (300 calories)
- 1 Small French Fries (220 calories)
- 1 Cupcake (131 calories)
Then you are ONLY consuming 1431 calories a day! That means you have a calorie deficit of 569 calories a day, which theoretically means you will LOSE weight in the long run!
Of course then the calorie defender will say:
That is a bad example. We must account for a ‘BALANCED’ diet, with the proper “MACROS”.
But once again from a scientific perspective, if you are purely accounting only from a caloric perspective, this “calories in” vs “calories out” notion is totally bunk (wrong).
Also let us assume you eat 3 vegan-kale-bean salads a day, but still sneak in a can of soda, a cupcake, and two Twinkies. You have a more “balanced” diet, and you might still be in a calorie deficit. But I can bet you that these high-sugar offenders will cause you to GAIN excess adipose tissue [fat].
10. Why does the calorie myth persist?
Coca Cola and other corporations which sell you sugary crap, snacks, etc want you to believe in the calorie myth. Why? Then you can still consume their products as part of a ‘balanced and healthy’ lifestyle.
Consider, if sugar was the true culprit. Or any artificial sweetener (which I think might lead to similar hormonal responses as eating ‘real’ sugar). Then if it were accepted that the true cause of diseases and fat gain were sugar, high fructose corn syrup, simple starches, etc — then these companies would go out of business.
Even if overnight all of Coca Cola became sweetened with a “0 calorie” sweetener like Stevia, it is still uncertain what the health implications will be (once again, I think that the body’s hormonal response is 10000x more complicated and complex than any modern scientists are led to believe).
Conclusion: Always breed skepticism.
I’m sure 1,000 years from now food scientists will discover that nutrition, body physiology, etc is 10000x more complex and complicated than what we believe.
For example, notions of “protein”, “carbohydrates [complex and simple]”, “starch”, “fruit”, “vegetable”, “calorie”, “ketogenic” will no longer exist.
Even in my lifetime, I have witnessed the nutritional landscape evolve an insane amount. For example:
- In the past, all cholesterol was seen as bad. Now we have “good” and “bad” cholesterol (HDL=good and LDL=bad). I’m sure they will discover in the future that cholesterol is 1000x more complex.
- We were told that low-fat diets were good. and eating lots of small meals day were healthy. Then we were told a “paleo” diet was optimal, and fewer meals were better. Then ‘ketogenic diet’. Then ‘intermittent fasting’. I’m certain this will continue to change and evolve much in the future.
I know I will never gain a 100% optimal diet and lifestyle while I am still alive, but at least I will strive with all my might to fight, combat, and DISPROVE myths.
- Antifragile – Nassim Taleb
- Good Calories, Bad Calories – Gary Taubes