Thermodynamics rules

Calories are not broken; the uses to which we put them may be

There's a long and throughly-researched article at Mosaic, 1 the Wellcome Trust's website, explaining Why the calorie is broken. The standfirst expands:

Calories consumed minus calories burned: it’s the simple formula for weight loss or gain. But dieters often find that it doesn’t work.

The article is by Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley and is based on a recent episode of their Gastropod. I read the article before I listened to the episode, and as I read it I grew upset by what I saw as a bait-and-switch. The premise of the article, and the promise of the episode, is that dieters who think all they need to do is expend more calories than they consume are somehow getting short-changed. That thread, and two hapless dieters, run though the argument like fudge and peanut butter though a large tub of Chubby Hubby.

The bulk of the story, though, is about how to measure calories, human basal metabolism, the avaliable energy in food prepared in different ways and all that. In other words, about how the calories you read on a label or ignore on a menu should all be taken with a pinch of salt.

And that, it seems to me, is an entirely different story: the calories displayed by labels and apps are untrustworthy. A good story too, and well told, but not exactly what had been promised. 2

Maybe not quite so easy to pitch though, and that's the problem. I could possibly accept a click-baity type headline that fails to deliver on its appeal. But that isn't the case here.

The case remains, that if you expend more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.


  1. And many other places. 

  2. To be absolutely honest, my immediate expectation was a discussion of the whole Good Calories, Bad Calories thing. 

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