THE CALORIE THEORY
A calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water from 14° to 15° centigrade.
The human body needs energy, first and foremost to maintain its body temperature at 98.6° Fahrenheit. But as soon as the body is active, it needs extra energy to stand vertical, to move, to speak, and so on. And on top of that yet more energy is needed to eat and digest food and carry out the basic activities of life.
The body’s daily energy requirements vary according to the person’s age, sex and individual needs.
The calorie theory is as follows :
If a particular individual needs 2,500 calories a day and consumes only 2,000, a 500 calorie deficit results. To compensate for the deficit, the body will draw on its fat reserves to find an equivalent amount of energy, and weight loss will result. If, on the other hand, an individual has a daily intake of 3,500 calories when only 2,500 are needed, the excess 1,000 calories will automatically be stored as body fat.
The theory is therefore based on the assumption that there is no loss of energy. It is purely mathematical, drawn directly from Lavoisier’s theory on the laws of thermodynamics.
At this point we may well be wondering how it was that prisoners in Nazi concentration camps managed to survive for almost five years on only 700 to 800 calories a day. If the calorie theory was correct, the prisoners should have died once their body fat was used up in other words, within a few months.
Similarly, we may wonder how people with big appetites who consume 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day are not fatter than they are (some even remain skinny). If the calorie theory was correct, these hearty eaters would come to weigh 60 to 80 stone within a few years.
Furthermore, how can you explain why some people continue to put on weight even when they reduce their daily calorie intake by eating less? Thousands of people go on gaining weight like this while starving themselves to death.
The first question is: When the consumption of calories is reduced, why does weight loss not follow? Actually, weight loss does occur, but only temporarily.
The phenomenon works like this:
Suppose that an individual needs 2,500 calories a day and that, over a long period, he consumes accordingly. If, suddenly, the ration of calories drops to 2,000, the body will draw on an equivalent quantity of stored fat to compensate and weight loss will be seen to occur. However, if from now on the daily intake of calories is limited to 2,000, instead of the 2,500 previously consumed, the body’s survival instinct comes into play. It quickly adjusts its energy requirements to match the level of calorie intake: if it is only given 2,000 calories, it will only use up 2,000 calories. Weight loss will quickly cease. But the body does not stop there. Its instinct for survival will lead it to take greater precautions yet, and lay down reserves for possible future need. If from now on it is supplied with 2,000 calories, it will simply reduce its energy needs to, say, 1,700 calories and store the other 300 in the form of body fat.
So this is how we end up achieving the very opposite of the result we were aiming for. Paradoxically, although the subject is eating less, he will gradually put weight back on again.
In practice, the human body, constantly driven by its survival mechanisms, behaves no differently from the starving dog which buries its bone. Despite what we might think, it is when the dog is not fed regularly that it reverts to its inborn instincts and buries its food, saving it for the day when it may otherwise go hungry.
How many of you, I wonder, have fallen victim at one time or other to this unfounded theory of balancing calories? You will certainly have come across obese people who were actually starving themselves to death. This is especially common among women. Psychiatrists’ consulting-rooms are full of women being treated for depression induced by trying to follow such a diet. They have become dependent on this vicious circle, knowing that breaking away from it will only entail putting back on more weight than they have lost.
Most members of the ”medical” profession do not want to know. They do realise their patients are not losing weight, but they put it down to cheating and secret binges. Some slimming professionals even run group therapy sessions, at which members are applauded when they are able to show they have lost weight and made to feel ashamed of any gain. The mental cruelty involved in these practices is positively mediaeval. Moreover, stipulating a 1500 calorie diet without detailing what it is to contain is quite inadequate. It simply serves to focus on the energy value of foods without taking account of their nutritional value.
Apart from a few specialists, doctors tend to be disinclined to update their understanding of these matters and are usually not knowledgeable about them in the first place. Where nutrition is concerned, they seem to have little scientific understanding going beyond the commonly held views.
What is more, it is not a field in which doctors in general are particularly interested. I have noticed that of the twenty or so I have worked with on this book, all of them, without exception, were originally led to research and experiment in the field because they themselves had a serious weight problem to solve
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