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Moving On. . .

Two days ago I wrote a post on my Facebook page talking bout how people shouldn't reduce weight loss simply to calories in versus calories out (you can read this post here and drop a like also if you haven't already) and I might also add to my statements that not all calories are created equal.

This post was inspired by a recent pubmedding session I did regarding calories and the thermic effect of different nutrients. I came across this great review discussing the exact topic I had hoped to argue.

Now I am no Isaac Newton and I have yet to have a formal education in Physics (got physics I to look forward to this semester) this paper clearly shows us that based on physical properties that calories are not created equal, macronutrient composition  play a huge role in the overall metabolic effect, and finally that altering macronutrient composition is more effect than caloric restriction for weight loss.

My own anecdotal experience with weight loss, calorie restrictions, and low carbohydrate diets all agree with the statements and conclusions made in this review. Needless to say this "Calorie is a Calorie" thing really gets under my skin and I absolutely hate all the emphasis people put on calories in versus calories out when trying to lose weight.

I mean seriously get your face out of your fitness pal app or whatever calorie tracker you use and start spending your efforts seeking out better quality food. Perhaps maybe just try loading your plate full of meats and veggies on a regular basis. Now I am no carb hater! I love bread! But it seems to be well supported in literature that ketogenic approaches are very effective for weight loss in addition to a few other benefits offered. Yet don't go overboard I said for weight loss not all goals.

Okay I got a bit off topic there this isn't about the validity of low carbohydrate diets, but about the invalidity of the concept that a "calorie is a calories" which directly violates a law of thermodynamics.



"A calorie is a calorie" violates the second law of thermodynamics

by Richard D. Feinman and Eugene J. Fine

published 2004 in the Nutrition Journal


Reviewers note that the recent increase in awareness of the epidemic that is obesity seems to coincide with or even possibly may have contributed to an increase in the popularity of a variety of low-carbohydrate diets. This switch in dietary habits by a large part of the population and the revolution in the food industry is unusual as it stands in opposition to long standing recommendations of the majority of the nutritional and medical establishment.

Reviewers note that despite isolated examples there is little real acceptance by nutrition professionals and health organizations. They also state that one aspect of these low-carbohydrate diets that has been controversial is the so-called Metabolic advantage, or the idea that more weight may be lost calorie for calorie compared to diets of higher carbohydrate composition.

The reviewers states that they have reviewed the literature regarding the so called Metabolic advantage. They note that there is a sufficient number of reports in the literature to establish the existence of metabolic advantage and that tabulated results from ten or more studies demonstrate that low carbohydrate diets can lead to greater weight loss than isocaloric low fat diets.

The reviewers note that the studies they have reviewed often are contradicted because the critics state that the data can not be correct due to it violating the laws of thermodynamics. Critics claim this due to the fact that all though low carbohydrate diets and low fat diets consumed equal amounts of calories the low carbohydrate group lost 6 more pounds than the low fat diet.

The reviewers state that in their review of the metabolic advantage they shoed that there is no theoretical violation of the laws of thermodynamics. In addition the reviewers propose a plausible mechanism for these results. Simply put the reviewers states that the biochemical pathways for gluconeogenesis required to supply obligate glucose combined with protein turnover account for the missing energy between the groups in the aforementioned studies.

Reviewers explain that the phrase "a calorie is a calorie" is meant to mean that it is impossible for two isocaloric diets to lead to different weight loss. They notes that this concept is supported frequently through the laws of thermodynamics, but a direct connection between the two has never been officially established. Reviewers states the previous researchers have used the law of energy conservation in previous studies which would only be including the first law of thermodynamics.

The reviewers state that by doing this they are limiting themselves in their evaluation and further study into this concept. Reviewers note that the major flaw is that there exist more than one law of thermodynamics and that by including understanding of the second law of thermodynamics it is possible to understand the differential weight loss between isocaloric diets and show that it is not at odds with physical principles.

Reviewers note that the first law of thermodynamics is very different from the second law. The first law deals with conservation saying that the form of energy may change, but the total remains the same. The second law is the dissipation law and defines entropy which identifies most closely with disorder or high probabilities. Second law explicitly defines that in any irreversible process balance is not expected.

Reviewers make it clear that the most important thing to understand is that the second law drives chemical reactions. It tells us whether a reaction is likely to occur and if it does what the distribution of the forms of energy will be. Reviewers states that in chemical reactions the Gibbs free energy sign predict the direction of the reaction and magnitude indicates maximum work realizable.

Reviewers go on to tell us that the second law was developed in context of the industrial revolution in an attempt to understand the efficiency of machines. The law allows us to describe the theoretical limits on the efficiency of engines and can be applied to living systems as well. The second law explains that no system can be completely efficient. Available energy is lost as heat and in internal rearrangements of chemical compounds along with other changes in entropy. The efficiency of a machine or in this case a biochemical machine depends on the nature of the fuel and the process enlisted by the organism. In weight loss diets inefficiency is desirable because it results in additional lost energy and this inefficiency is tied to hormone levels and enzyme activity.

Reviewers continue by noting that in nutrition a component of inefficiency is the measured thermogenesis or the heat generated from processing food. Much literature exists on this subject and has concluded that thermic effects of nutrients are 2-3% for lipids, 6-8% for carbohydrates, and 25 to 30% for proteins. Reviewers note that with this information alone it should be enough to explain metabolic advantage as they state that if you set a defined number of calories as well as nutrient composition and calculate the theoretical yield for such a diet you can see that the wasted calories due to thermogenesis increases as carbohydrates are reduced.

Of course the reviewers note that there will be metabolic accommodations and you can't predict that the ratios will stay the same over time for a long diet, but the numbers demonstrate the possibility of a metabolic advantage.

Continuing the reviewers note that the common recommendations for fighting obesity frequently call for small reductions in calories and that given the resistance of steady states systems to small perturbations it is doubtful that such a strategy will work.


Reviewers conclude that a simple complete look at the law of thermodynamics state that weight chance on isocaloric diets is not expected to be independent of path and such a general principle would violate the second law. Homeostatic mechanisms are able to insure that a good deal of the time weight does not fluctuate much with changes in diet but they are also subject to many exceptions. The second law of thermodynamics state that the variation of efficiency for different metabolic pathways is to be expected thus calorie is a calorie can't stand on any principle without violating another.


1. Low carbohydrates demonstrate a metabolic advantage over other forms of diets for weight loss meaning that the more you reduce the composition of your calorie intake away from carbohydrates the more inefficiency you can create through directing your metabolism to a more inefficient pathway resulting in excesses calories lost through heat.

2. It is unlikely that caloric reductions will have a positive effect on weight loss due to the nature of systems that rely on homeostatic mechanisms to prevent such changes in weight. A technique that the human body is well adapted at to survive in periods of drought and famine.

3. Composition of your diet is a more important consideration regarding weight loss than total caloric intake.

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