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In the discussion thread: Why “Clean Eating” is a Myth [View all]

Response to Silent3 (Reply #47)

Tue Feb 18, 2014, 09:12 AM

58. ...

Keeping in mind that "Fat loss is ultimately about calories in versus calories out" is important because, while it may not be a good guide to specific food choices and exercise plans, it is useful for setting boundaries that people are all too likely to ignore when they get tempted by hype about "fat-burning foods" and infomercial exercise programs that supposedly burn away pounds and pounds of fat "in only twenty minutes per day!" Too many people are either causing themselves unnecessary grief by avoiding foods that have been unnecessarily demonized, or are failing to lose weight because they consume too many calories while expecting some "superfood" that they're eating to "melt" their fat away.

One important research finding from that the author neglected to mention: people who try to lose weight by increasing exercise almost certainly fail. Another important one: people who try to lose weight by reducing calorie intake usually fail also (although calorie reduction appears to be less useless than exercise).

So, the obvious strategies suggested by the "calories in versus calories out" namely, reduce calories in and increase calories out, have been repeatedly shown scientifically to fail in terms of achieving and maintaining weight loss. In light of this, can we conclude anything other than the fact that "calories in versus calories out," while technically true, is horribly misleading slogan?

To the extent that food choices may actually change your metabolism, change the rate at which you burn calories, if such effects exist I don't know how well proven these effects are, and I doubt that these effects ever amount to much more than tinkering around the edges of the calories in/out balance sheet.

I agree that not much is known, but that doesn't mean that such effects don't exist. The thing about the literature on weight loss is that there are a lot of unknowns, and a lot that is not understood. Maybe the only thing we can say for certain is that there's a lot more to it than "calories in versus calories out". We don't have all the answers, and so anyone peddling an easy 7-day dramatic weight loss plan is a quack. But anyone pretending that it's all about calorie deficits and surpluses is also mistaken.

I looked at many of the studies that your search brings up, and what I see is a lot of "could", "may", "is associated with", etc. Some of the studies are about particular metabolic reactions, but not looking at the big picture of what's actually going on when people eat red meat. Other stuff is bigger picture, but so "big picture" that it's talking about comparing diets that are greatly different not only in the consumption of red meat, but many other ways at the same time.


The reason studies say things like "could" and "is associated with" is because is the cautious language that scientific research is written in. Particularly when it comes to diet versus heart disease, there aren't any clinical trials, only observational studies, which are theoretically unable to produce causal conclusions. That's why you get "associations" rather than direct causal links.

So, what to do with a lot of observational evidence. Well, one thing you can do is just ignore all of it because there aren't any RCTs (there also aren't any RCTs proving that smoking causes lung cancer). Or, you could look at the evidence that exists, and try and draw the best conclusions that you can. And if you do the latter, it's hard to come away with anything but the advice that it's a good idea to limit red meat consumption.

As far as the big picture, the American Heart Association recommends limiting red meat consumption. I haven't done the poll, but I would wager that if you polled top cardiologists how they feel about red meat, the consensus would be similar. And yet here is some blogger, claiming to be standing up for science, but making blanket and provocative statements that run contrary to the stated opinions of the leading scientific and medical authorities. Not the authorities are always right, but who is the blogger and why should I believe him over the consensus?

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