After yet another CICO flame thread on Mark’s Daily Apple, I finally got tired of reading people make up what they pretend to be data supporting their claims and decided to do something about it.
First, a little background. CICO stands for Calories In, Calories Out. It is often distilled to “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie”, meaning that all calories consumed by a person are metabolized identically by the body. Well, at least for the purpose of weight loss or gain, since protein is not utilized by the body as energy except as a last resort. And even though it makes logical sense that it ought to take consumption of an extra pound of fat to gain a pound of fat, the idea that it takes a pound of fat (3500 calories) to put on a pound of muscle (660 calories) besides being weird, has no theoretical basis.
For CICO proponents, there is one and only one solution to obesity: ELMM or Eat Less, Move More. For proponents of CICO, weight gain is a direct result solely of eating too much and not getting enough exercisee, while weight loss is always directly proportional to a theoretical calorie deficit.
Therefore, behind this hypothesis is the idea that people who are obese are obese because they are lazy gluttons, and if they’d stop eating and get off their butts, they’d lose weight, just like that. Exercise some willpower for a change, man! In the end, CICO makes obesity into a moral flaw or depravity.
Of course, there is lots of data supporting the theory that weight gain, loss, and management are a lot more complex than this. And lately there have been many articles written about this. But CICO proponents are unable to let go of their theory that if millions of Americans hadn’t suddenly decided to become lazy gluttons, obesity wouldn’t be an issue in this country, even as they have to constantly tweak their hypothesis to account for reality.
Here’s Part 1 of four parts of a series on this topic at Gnolls.org. You will find links to subsequent articles at the end of each article. Here’s another article on The Poor, Misunderstood Calorie, and an article on The Scribble Pad.
But the thing is, people who support this are practically cultic about it. Given the low quality of nutrition studies that are usually run and the expense of doing real, meaningful research, support for the idea that there is one way and only one way to lose weight (usually given as conventional wisdom, which means a low fat high carb diet with calorie restriction through calorie counting, with lots of cardio to “burn fat”) is very limited. So proponents of this theory usually make up data. They say that “millions of people” have lost weight doing [pet technique here], when the long-term success of weight loss dieting is actually so dismal as to be an unqualified failure. Would you have an operation done by a surgeon who could only promise a 2% chance of success? I don’t think so, and that’s the long-term success rate of dieting. If the goal is to reach your target weight and keep the weight off indefinitely, it happens so rarely as to be insignificant.
Concentrating on blaming dieters for being lazy gluttons rather than finding out why people have been gaining weight in the past few decades has delayed meaningful research that might lead to a real solution.
Of course, I don’t think “try harder next time” is any sort of solution at all.
But anyway, rant over for now, a troll posted that
Let’s say you have 2 twins who are the same weight and gender and are fed the same amount of calories and exercise the same exact amount. If you feed 1 a high carb diet and the other a low carb (primal) diet, they will both lose the same amount of weight.
This is what is called “making up data”. It’s not a fact, it’s not a finding. It’s a hypothesis. If an experiment were run based on this (provided you had such a pair of twins, or more meaningfully, multiple such sets of twins, and they were all willing to give up months of their lives to participate), we would get real data, which might or might not support the initial hypothesis.
But beyond that, each and every one of us is capable of producing real data. If you are careful in designing your experiment, you can generate data that can indeed support a hypothesis. Or it might not support that hypothesis.
And while such an experiment run on a single person (n=1, or “the number of experimental subjects is one”) is limited, if multiple people run such an experiment, enough data could be collected to be useful. If the majority of a large number of participants had very similar results, it could indeed suggest something that researchers should explore.
So here’s what I wrote:
The experiment is so easy to run that I am surprised no one seems to have run it on themselves.
The easiest way to do this is to keep exercise constant through the duration of any feeding phases of the experiment.
Record and track everything. Weight should be taken daily, measurements weekly, including body fat. All daily menus should be planned in advance to keep your intake of macros on target. All food should be accurately weighed or measured. Record all foods eaten for future reference. Record exercise, too. Other parameters may come in useful: sleep, FBS, ketones, etc.
Planning: Set a goal level of protein that you will maintain throughout the experiment. Set initial carb and fat targets. Also differentiate carbs between starches and sugars when collecting data.
Phase 1: Establish your RDI by estimating your probable required calorie intake. Maintain this level for a week, then adjust as needed. When your weight is stable (for a week, two is better) you are ready to move on to the next phase.
Phase 2: Now cut back your calories to a target below your calculated RDI which is calculated to result in 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week. Keep your protein intake constant while varying your carb vs fat ratio. Do two weeks each of moderate (50:50 carb and fat calories), VLC, and very low fat. Also, do two weeks each where you attempt to get all of the carb calories from starch, and another where all of them come from fruit.
A month would be better, if you have the patience and the weight to lose. Or you could just keep repeating the experiment until you have reached your weight loss goal.
Of course, by the time you finish Phase 2 of this experiment you will have the data necessary to test any sort of diet, macro, or exercise variation or hack that you see, or to reproduce any experiment you read about.
I’m looking forward to reading your data.
I was actually considering doing something like this already, and I was considering starting today, because it’s Monday. If anybody else wants to take part, let me know.
I’ll be posting updates here.