8

votes

How does "too few calories" lead to weight gain?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created June 24, 2012 at 2:57 PM

I have seen several threads about weight gain, here and in other forums, where people are asking about why they are gaining weight/fat and a common answer is "you aren't eating enough calories". I don't get it. The rules of physics still apply, yes?
I just can't get my brain around this concept, someone please break it down for me.

458b7bac46cb9d6110245305ce8fae44

(88)

on May 21, 2013
at 12:41 AM

Hey Foreveryoung, You commented on a question I had, and sent me some info, but I lost it... do you think you could again? I really would enjoy having the opportunity to talk to you/learn from your experience

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on October 17, 2012
at 01:28 PM

Borofergie - I didn't say it was wrong. Perhaps you should read my response instead of having a knee jerk reaction? I'm saying that more comes into play than just fuel in > fuel out.

B3173217a49b5b0116078775a17eb21d

(11488)

on October 11, 2012
at 08:02 AM

Once you've finished proving that the First Law of Thermodynamics is wrong, why don't you have a dabble at Gravity? That one must be ripe for plucking (since you'll be able to prove that it can't fall off a tree of it's own accord).

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19463)

on June 28, 2012
at 08:35 PM

lame, the calories in/calories out theory is a myth.

81fca18329e68e227cdfef3857bfef96

(1320)

on June 26, 2012
at 04:52 PM

@Joshua I did not once question your comprehension level nor adopt the condescending tone you have in your response. I am more than willing to engage in intellectual discourse but have no desire to feed the trolls on the internet.

81fca18329e68e227cdfef3857bfef96

(1320)

on June 26, 2012
at 04:46 PM

@Joshua I recognize that there is a lot of pseudoscience in nutrition literature and many people on this thread (most of whom are STILL obese) spout this ideology (which is what it is). As far as me being a "Google PhD"...yes, I am guilty of not taking the word of a self proclaimed 'expert' and doing my own research. I responded to your comment, not the thread which is why it was not a separate answer.

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on June 26, 2012
at 04:03 PM

And - to top it off, it isn't relevant to the thread. The original poster wanted to know why **we** on PaleoHacks normally suggest someone who is undereating and seeing no progress, to eat more. I answered that question.

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on June 26, 2012
at 04:01 PM

FFS Mark - Starving people are skinny because *long-term*, caloric restriction does induce a lower body mass (including a loss of muscle mass, hormone function, etc). IF your thread reading comprehension was anything NEAR what your "I got my PHD from Google" degree got you, you'd see that I posted that calories are still relevant, just not the only thing relevant, when weightloss is concerned.

81fca18329e68e227cdfef3857bfef96

(1320)

on June 26, 2012
at 02:16 PM

Just Google starvation mode, search for scholarly articles, and the studies show that the metabolic rate does not lower enough to prevent weight loss when energy consumption is limited. Referring to my original question, if the metabolic rate lowered substantially in response to caloric restriction to prevent weight loss, then why are starving people (CR diet) skinny?

81fca18329e68e227cdfef3857bfef96

(1320)

on June 26, 2012
at 02:13 PM

Starving people are very skinny, no? CR will always lead to weight loss. Yes your metabolism slows in response to lower energy consumption but not by much. Energy intake only accounts for 20-30% of your base metabolic rate. Activity, behavior, and genetics account for the remainder. Your personal anecdotal example is just that, anecdotal. The law of thermodynamics is universal and applies to the human body. It is a statement of energy conservation and definitely applicable to the human body.

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on June 26, 2012
at 05:51 AM

To whomever decided to throw a downvote - cheers! Why don't you explain why you disagree instead of just pushing a button. I'd be happy to talk about it.

B0fe7b5a9a197cd293978150cbd9055f

(8938)

on June 25, 2012
at 01:06 PM

Absolutely adore the summary, finally someone that brings metabolism into the picture and not just calories.

11838116de44ae449df0563f09bd3d73

(655)

on June 25, 2012
at 12:00 PM

Because ultra efficient metabolism are never seen in metabolic studies.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 25, 2012
at 01:27 AM

If you continually under feed yourself your metabolism simply slows down to compensate for the energy shortage. To a point of course. But this is what is happening with chronic dieters who stop losing weight after an initial loss.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on June 24, 2012
at 11:39 PM

I started out obese Joshua and got entirely different results - for a while. I could undereat, lose weight rapidly and not feel all that hungry. But past a certain point - around 190 lbs - hunger set in, and in order to continue losing I had to rely on exercise. So in a roundabout way I was eating more to lose weight, but my metabolism was boosted by exercise to use up the additional food. I postulate that when I was obese I was comfortable eating at my normal weight RMR because I was depleting fat stores for fuel, and past 190 that fat was becoming uncomfortably scarce.

Cccb899526fb5908f64176e0a74ed2d9

(2801)

on June 24, 2012
at 06:15 PM

Brilliant summary.

B0fe7b5a9a197cd293978150cbd9055f

(8938)

on June 24, 2012
at 04:50 PM

When I'm thinking weight loss, calories is the last thing on my mind.

11838116de44ae449df0563f09bd3d73

(655)

on June 24, 2012
at 03:38 PM

People don't gain weight from eating too few calories. They gain by binging after under eating calories (as well as from other stressors).

Dd74e6399ae697d8603dc9aa74fbafae

(695)

on June 24, 2012
at 03:26 PM

Not to mention that lean body mass, muscles, are converted into fat during this state of starvation and no external calories are therefore needed in order to add fat. As your body is storing a great deal of energy instead of making it availabe to be used, you will feel sluggish and sick and your temperature will drop.

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10 Answers

24
246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on June 24, 2012
at 03:26 PM

From a personal experiment standpoint, here were my personal findings.

Background: I am a muscular male with considerable bodyfat remaining (even though it is 150lbs less than what it was, I'm still fat).

As a personal experiment, I decided to follow an IF protocol, paired with fairly heavy caloric restriction. To top it off, I was eating in Paleo compliance. Two meals a day, eating about 700-800 calories per.

On sub-1700 calories /day, while still being relatively low carb (>75gm of carb/day). I did not gain, nor lose weight. I did this for 3 whole weeks where I may have had a single day exceeding 2000/calories. I was physically active (yoga in the morning, weightlifting twice/weekly, daily walks or swimming for 30-min or so). To top it off, I was miserable. My hands/feet were ice cold constantly, I had zero libido, couldn't sleep more than 5 hours, and lost my temper at the drop of a hat (I HATE HATS!).

When I realized that wasn't working, I went back to barebones primal/paleo. As soon as I hit 2300-2400 daily calories, I started losing weight again.

Taking this experiment further, I bumped the calories up to 3400/day. Same weightloss stalemate as the caloric restriction, I didn't gain - nor did I lose.

So, on recovery days I might eat 3000 calories, but otherwise I eat around 2400/cals a day and I'm thriving. Less than that I stall, more than that and I stall, and I gain when I binge on really bad foods.


The point?

The law of thermodynamics is great when you are talking about fuel combustion, but it's a mistake to adapt that law to the human body (in my opinion). The world is still under the impression that the flammability of a food (calories) is the only thing relevant to weightloss. While calories are still relevant, this is a grave simplification of the complex metabolic workings of the human body, considering that we are not furnaces, we have regulatory processes and evolutionary conditioning to thrive a certain way. We don't incinerate food in our guts, we break it down to it's primary constituents and absorb them. If thermodynamics was the only factor in animal metabolism, then the most efficient food we could eat would be crude oil and lumber.

But vitamins, minerals, and toxins are really what we should be looking at.

Eating adequate calories, the right kind of calories, when coupled with attention to foods that cause inflammatory or other physical response, results in a reduction of physical and mental stress. Your body thrives, and it makes itself healthy again. For many people (not all, mind you), inflammation and stress are the most considerable factor in weight gain.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on June 24, 2012
at 11:39 PM

I started out obese Joshua and got entirely different results - for a while. I could undereat, lose weight rapidly and not feel all that hungry. But past a certain point - around 190 lbs - hunger set in, and in order to continue losing I had to rely on exercise. So in a roundabout way I was eating more to lose weight, but my metabolism was boosted by exercise to use up the additional food. I postulate that when I was obese I was comfortable eating at my normal weight RMR because I was depleting fat stores for fuel, and past 190 that fat was becoming uncomfortably scarce.

Cccb899526fb5908f64176e0a74ed2d9

(2801)

on June 24, 2012
at 06:15 PM

Brilliant summary.

81fca18329e68e227cdfef3857bfef96

(1320)

on June 26, 2012
at 04:52 PM

@Joshua I did not once question your comprehension level nor adopt the condescending tone you have in your response. I am more than willing to engage in intellectual discourse but have no desire to feed the trolls on the internet.

B0fe7b5a9a197cd293978150cbd9055f

(8938)

on June 25, 2012
at 01:06 PM

Absolutely adore the summary, finally someone that brings metabolism into the picture and not just calories.

81fca18329e68e227cdfef3857bfef96

(1320)

on June 26, 2012
at 02:13 PM

Starving people are very skinny, no? CR will always lead to weight loss. Yes your metabolism slows in response to lower energy consumption but not by much. Energy intake only accounts for 20-30% of your base metabolic rate. Activity, behavior, and genetics account for the remainder. Your personal anecdotal example is just that, anecdotal. The law of thermodynamics is universal and applies to the human body. It is a statement of energy conservation and definitely applicable to the human body.

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on June 26, 2012
at 05:51 AM

To whomever decided to throw a downvote - cheers! Why don't you explain why you disagree instead of just pushing a button. I'd be happy to talk about it.

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on June 26, 2012
at 04:03 PM

And - to top it off, it isn't relevant to the thread. The original poster wanted to know why **we** on PaleoHacks normally suggest someone who is undereating and seeing no progress, to eat more. I answered that question.

81fca18329e68e227cdfef3857bfef96

(1320)

on June 26, 2012
at 02:16 PM

Just Google starvation mode, search for scholarly articles, and the studies show that the metabolic rate does not lower enough to prevent weight loss when energy consumption is limited. Referring to my original question, if the metabolic rate lowered substantially in response to caloric restriction to prevent weight loss, then why are starving people (CR diet) skinny?

81fca18329e68e227cdfef3857bfef96

(1320)

on June 26, 2012
at 04:46 PM

@Joshua I recognize that there is a lot of pseudoscience in nutrition literature and many people on this thread (most of whom are STILL obese) spout this ideology (which is what it is). As far as me being a "Google PhD"...yes, I am guilty of not taking the word of a self proclaimed 'expert' and doing my own research. I responded to your comment, not the thread which is why it was not a separate answer.

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on June 26, 2012
at 04:01 PM

FFS Mark - Starving people are skinny because *long-term*, caloric restriction does induce a lower body mass (including a loss of muscle mass, hormone function, etc). IF your thread reading comprehension was anything NEAR what your "I got my PHD from Google" degree got you, you'd see that I posted that calories are still relevant, just not the only thing relevant, when weightloss is concerned.

B3173217a49b5b0116078775a17eb21d

(11488)

on October 11, 2012
at 08:02 AM

Once you've finished proving that the First Law of Thermodynamics is wrong, why don't you have a dabble at Gravity? That one must be ripe for plucking (since you'll be able to prove that it can't fall off a tree of it's own accord).

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on October 17, 2012
at 01:28 PM

Borofergie - I didn't say it was wrong. Perhaps you should read my response instead of having a knee jerk reaction? I'm saying that more comes into play than just fuel in > fuel out.

8
510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20888)

on June 24, 2012
at 06:34 PM

I've written about this a couple of times on here before:

here http://paleohacks.com/questions/129309/science-behind-4500-cal-diet/129341#129341

and here http://paleohacks.com/questions/41372/calories-combustion-versus-digestion/41533#41533

and probably a couple of other places.

While the laws of thermodynamics are true, the only thing you have control on is what you put in your mouth. You may think you have control on calories out by exercising and such, but you really don't. Your hormones control your metabolism and how much you actually burn. So if you do take in too few calories you'll burn even less if your hormones are telling your body to store energy.

8
6b1e308ead300a922b7cc1ba8ad01dc1

on June 24, 2012
at 03:07 PM

One reason can be that your body thinks it is a time of famine. When that happens, it starts protecting whatever it has, metabolism slows down, and your weight goes up. Even worse, the next time you eat more, your weight goes up even more, because your body thinks "great, food, let's hoard and prepare for the next famine!"

Those are typical starvation diet symptoms. But I honestly have no clue where that starvation mode starts in terms of calories.

Oh, and I know people who are nowhere near starvation mode, yet gain weight until they start eating more fat. Hoping that "It all starts with food" might shed some light on that... currently reading. :)

Dd74e6399ae697d8603dc9aa74fbafae

(695)

on June 24, 2012
at 03:26 PM

Not to mention that lean body mass, muscles, are converted into fat during this state of starvation and no external calories are therefore needed in order to add fat. As your body is storing a great deal of energy instead of making it availabe to be used, you will feel sluggish and sick and your temperature will drop.

6
B0fe7b5a9a197cd293978150cbd9055f

(8938)

on June 24, 2012
at 04:37 PM

I don't see why this is impossible? People who undereat likely lower their metabolism by doing so. If you got a serious thyroid issue you might not lose weight even if you really restrict calories. And if you do lose weight, it's probably muscle.

11838116de44ae449df0563f09bd3d73

(655)

on June 25, 2012
at 12:00 PM

Because ultra efficient metabolism are never seen in metabolic studies.

3
Eac59ebb584cc10fe6a1937496f85fe6

on June 24, 2012
at 06:00 PM

I think there have been a lot of good responses so far, and I would particularly agree with the comments some have made about metabolism going down when you starve yourself.

Above and beyond that, I'll make another observation: there's a whole lot of biochemistry happening in our intestines that is directly influenced by what we eat, and it varies tremendously from person to person depending on which gut flora dominate. Certain bacterial species (e.g. Bacterioides) are relatively good at converting "indigestible" things (like fiber)into starches and sugars that we can metabolize. This is more likely to occur in situations where we're cutting back on the sugars and such that would normally be keeping e other bugs happy and dominant. Estimates for how much extra energy that can be produced by gut flora vary, but it might easily be a couple hundred kCals. Obviously this can't account for the total lack of response even when you've dropped your dietary caloric intake to seemingly ultralow levels, but it might still be a contributing factor--you could be getting a few more "effective calories" than you think you are, and conversely, under other circumstances the gut flora might be chewing up more calories than they would in a starvation situation.

3
Fdf101349c397fbe1ecb98b310fb3737

(358)

on June 24, 2012
at 04:29 PM

I'll put a slightly different spin on the answer.

  1. If you coinsistently eat fewer calories than you burn, you will over time lose weight. The rules of physics apply.
  2. When you go hypocaloric--eating less than you burn--several things happen including: your basal metabolic rate frops somewhat and your body burns its own mass for energy. This is good usually, if it's fat mass that you are burning.
  3. Some people who go hypocaloric do not do so with good quality foods or with macronutrients that encourage fat burning. To prevent muscle wastage, you need to have either 50+grams of carohydrate, or tons of protein.
  4. Some people who are hypocaloric binge.

So to sum it up, the trules of physics apply, hypocalric eating will reduce your metabolism, macronutrients matter in hypocaloric eating, and bingieing can do you in.

Hope this helps.

Tony

2
3a06e12ae08c66fb5f3f085f8cc39b21

(20)

on April 25, 2013
at 02:09 PM

I've never seen FAT starving people....have you ever seen people in a concentration camp? Not a fat one amongst....

2
7e6644836cdbcbe2b06307ff7db92d31

(693)

on June 24, 2012
at 04:55 PM

To prep for "The Machinist", each day Christian Bale had a cup of black coffee and either a can of tuna or an apple.

He didn't gain any weight.

(Wouldn't recommend that approach)

0
1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

on April 25, 2013
at 02:19 PM

It doesn't lead to weight gain- it leads to diminished body composition.

How? Your body is smart. When you start restricting calories heavily, it triggers a "famine response" in your metabolism. What this means is that your body starts becoming more efficient at operating on fewer calories. It does this by using its most metabolically expensive tissue for energy (muscle) and hording its least metabolically expensive tissue (fat). It does this via ketosis- meaning the inefficient break down of fats for energy, so you don't run through your long term reserves (body fat) so fast and die.

So, certain things become less efficient (the break down of fats for energy), but this is what makes you more efficient at operating under starvation conditions.

458b7bac46cb9d6110245305ce8fae44

(88)

on May 21, 2013
at 12:41 AM

Hey Foreveryoung, You commented on a question I had, and sent me some info, but I lost it... do you think you could again? I really would enjoy having the opportunity to talk to you/learn from your experience

0
01adafcb4dd4147c6af543f61eee60a8

on June 25, 2012
at 08:07 AM

Eat less burn more and you will lose weight.

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19463)

on June 28, 2012
at 08:35 PM

lame, the calories in/calories out theory is a myth.

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