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Chapter 3: The Calorie Reduction Error

Jun 21, 2019


Click here to watch a replay of this Facebook LIVE discussion. 

You Will Learn  

  • Why calories in and calories out are very dependent variables. 
  • How our hormones, not our willpower, control our appetite and fat stores. 
  • Why the saying “a calorie is a calorie” is just plain wrong. 


About Dr. Fung, Author of The Obesity Code and The Diabetes Code

Dr. Jason Fung is a medical doctor, nephrologist by trade, who specializes in kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. He acknowledged that traditional medicine wastes time and resources attempting to treat symptoms of disease, rather than the cause of disease.  

You can purchase The Obesity Code book HERE. Most information in this post is direct from this book. 


Overview of the Book

Here is an outline of the book. Today I’m covering Chapter 3 in Part 2 of the book. 

  • Part 1: “The Epidemic,” explores the timeline of the obesity epidemic and the contribution of the patient’s family history. It highlights the underlying causes of obesity. 
  • Part 2: “The Calorie Deception,” reviews the current caloric theory in depth and highlights the shortcomings of the current understanding of obesity. 
  • Part 3: “A New Model of Obesity,” describes how hormones are involved in the development of obesity. These chapters explain the central role of insulin in regulating body weight and describe the vitally important role of insulin resistance. 
  • Part 4: “The Social Phenomenon of Obesity,” dives into childhood obesity and why obesity is associated with poverty. 
  • Part 5: “What’s Wrong with Our Diet?,” explores the role of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, the three macronutrients, in weight gain. In addition, it examines one of the main culprits in weight gain - fructose - and the effects of artificial sweeteners. 
  • Part 6: “The Solution,” provides guidelines for lasting treatment of obesity by addressing the hormonal imbalance of high blood insulin through proper nutrition, sleep, and stress management. 


Decreasing Calories In = Decreasing Calories Out 

Humans like control. We like to think that there is an internal calorie scale that we can control by how much we eat and exercise. We like to think that our body will burn the same amount of calories no matter how we eat or move, that our energy output is stable. And if that were the case then eating less food would equate in weight loss. Less coming in + same amount going out = weight loss.  

But this assumption that our energy output is stable is not true. Our energy (calorie) intake has a direct relationship to our energy (calorie) output. The amount your body burns off can go up or down by as much as 50%.  

If you eat 500 less calories a day, your body will slow down and start burning less energy, and continues to burn less energy indefinitely. That is why it is so hard to keep the weight off. You start to take on your old eating habits, but your metabolism doesn’t quite catch up so the weight comes back on plus more.  


Why the Weight Won’t Stay Off 

Dr. Fung explains very eloquently explains why it is impossible to keep weight off using the low-calorie method.  

“Assume that prior to dieting, a woman eats and burns 2000 calories per day. Following doctor’s orders, she adopts a calorie-restricted, portion-controlled, low-fat diet, reducing her intake by 500 calories per day, if not a little more. She feels lousy, tired, cold, hungry, irritable, and depressed, but she sticks with it, thinking that things must eventually improve. Initially she loses weight, but as her body’s calorie expenditure decreases to match her lower intake, her weight plateaus. Her dietary compliance is good, but one year later, things have not improved. Her weight slowly creeps back up, even though she eats the same number of calories. Tired of feeling so lousy, she abandons the failed diet and resumes eating 2000 calories per day. Since her metabolism has slowed to an output of only 1500 calories per day, all her weight comes rushing back-as fat. Those around her silently accuse her of lacking willpower. Sound familiar? But her weight regain is not her failure. Instead, it’s to be expected. Everything described here has been well documented over the last 100 years!”  

I know this concept can be hard to believe because we hear some version of eat less, exercise more so often that we don’t even question if it’s true. Instead we believe we are at fault, we are failures. But you are not a failure, you have just been given bad advice. 


The Money Analogy 

Think of a money analogy. If you were making $60,000 a year and spent $60,000 a year, how would your spending habits change if you suddenly only started making $40,000 a year? You probably wouldn’t spend $60,000 or you would go broke. Our body works much in the same way, it doesn’t want to run out of energy, so just eating less calories of the same foods will result in lower calorie expenditures.  

Different research has shown that a 30% reduction in calories in will equal a 30% reduction in calories out. Because calories are used to heat the body, pump blood, maintain blood pressure, move your body, and maintain hair and nails...reducing calories by 30% had associated symptoms of feeling cold, lower heart rate and blood pressure, feeling tired and weak, and brittle nails and hair loss.  

It becomes evident that we need to nourish our bodies. Notice that all of these processes...blood pressure, pulse, body temperature, and nail/hair growth are automatic. We can’t just will our nails to grow faster, any easier than we can will fat to come off our thighs. 


Appetite and Fat Stores are Hormonally Regulated 

Again, we love control and we like to think we have absolute control over what we put in our bodies. And while technically the act of putting food into your mouth is volitional, there are a lot of hormones in our bodies influencing our hunger and satiety signals.  

Losing weight with chronic calorie-reduction triggers two important responses. As discussed your metabolism slows down quickly and indefinitely to compensate for the reduced energy intake. Secondly, your hormones signal two responses: more hunger, and less satiety. So you want to eat, and you don’t feel full as quickly.  

That’s why if you have ever tried to lose weight by cutting calories, you found yourself thinking about food more often, wanting and craving food more often...your hormones are compelling you to replace the lost weight. 


All Calories are Not Created Equally 

I used to tell myself the lie that a calorie was a calorie. I remember thinking I could just skip dinner and eat dessert and it wouldn’t affect me any differently.  

Anyone who has studied nutrition or changed their diet significantly KNOWS all calories are not created equally.  

I’ll be brief in this post but to learn more about how the three major macronutrients - carbohydrates, proteins, and fats - have a different hormonal response, check out THIS presentation starting at 14 minutes and 50 seconds.  

Among other variables, the macronutrients have different responses on your insulin (fat create and storage) hormone as shown in the chart below. Carbohydrates specifically sugar and refined grains have a high insulin release and have a high and fast blood sugar (and thus insulin) response, causing your body to store it quickly.  

Not only that, but sugar causes dopamine (the feel good hormone) to be released in your brain, leaving you wanting more and more! With very little nutritional value or fiber, it’s easy to overeat junk food and thus quickly accumulate body fat.  

Fiber is another kind of carbohydrate but doesn’t have such a high effect on blood sugar or insulin. In fact it has a protective response against insulin so consuming fiber with your meals will help keep your bowels regular and waistline trim. 

Protein and fat cause a lower insulin response. They are also essential building blocks for your body and keep you feeling fuller, longer.  


Bottom Line 

Losing weight with chronic calorie restriction slows your metabolism and makes your body want to eat more food to regain the lost weight. It is impossible to maintain weight loss results with the eat less, exercise more philosophy (and if you do you are probably always cold, tired, and hangry!).  

Not all calories are created equally. Try to eat more whole foods that are high in fat, protein, and fiber. Try to eat less processed foods, especially sugary and starchy foods that will cause your blood sugar and insulin to spike and lead to body fat (and low energy). 



1. Chapter 3. (2016). In J. Fung, The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss. Vancouver: Greystone Books. 

2. Insulin Response Picture: https://www.diabeticstrong.com/blog/obesity-why-it-did-not-cause-your-diabetes/.

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