On the surface, this conventional thinking seems logical: eat more and move less, and you will get fat. Just about everyone believes this conventional wisdom and do not question it. Heck, even The Biggest Loser, Oprah, and several medical 'experts' purport the generic advice to eat less and move more.
It all goes back to the application of the Law of Conservation of Energy: energy can not be created or destroyed, only converted from one form to another.
After Max Rubner, a German chemist, discovered the energy equivalent of fats, carbohydrates, and protein in 1900, the Law of Energy Conservation has been applied to human nutrition. It is known today as a 'Calorie is a Calorie'.
Nutritionists insist that you can not violate the Law of Conservation of Energy. And this became their basis for advising low-fat and low-Calorie diets. "Eat less Calories and you will not gain weight."
"Add a few thousand more steps in your day and you will lose a few pounds over a couple weeks." Most people would agree with these statements. This interpretation of the Law of Conservation of Energy is the cornerstone of almost all weight-loss programs.
The problem is, it is flawed. This interpretation is not supported by obesity research. But, it continues to be the basis for all obesity research and public health intervention. Why is obesity such a problem? One big reason why people don't succeed at weight loss (or are gaining more and more weight), I believe, is that we have misinterpreted the Law of Conservation of Energy applied to human physiology. Why? Well, like most ideas in science, it can get a bit complex. It is easier to learn something that is very straight-forward (but, not correct).
I have Gary Taubes to thank and his book: Good Calories Bad Calories, where he challenges the conventional wisdom of the 'science' of diet and health.
In this book, he challenges the conventional interpretation of the Law of Conservation of energy and offers an alternative hypothesis.
It comes down to, like a lot of problems in science, infering causation (i.e. something causes something else) when we have an association. Before we get into breaking this misinterpretation down, here is an example. My seven-year old son eats a lot of food. He has grown a couple inches over the last six months. All of that food he has eaten must have caused him to grow that much. If I eat more food, I will grow a couple of inches.
Obviously, in this example, my logic is flawed. The association of high levels of food consumption is associated with my son's growth, but I can't infer from these observations that the high levels of food consumption caused him to grow. It is pretty evident if I test it on myself.
In the next post we will break-down the Law of Conservation of energy and test it's association for causation. And, you thought you would never use statistics again in your life!