Broscience – The Energy Balance Edition


Dave is a part-time blogger that writes about whatever suits him at the time.

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21 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    People need to eat less. The issue is that eating is one of the great pleasures in life for most people especially when we lead busy lives. Taking an hour lunch break to do exercise is virtuous but not as fun as going to a nice meal. It also means leaving later.

    The thing that probably gets in the way of exercise the most is the business of life. The best time for most people might be at the end of a very long work day or very early in the morning before work.Report

  2. greginak says:

    I don’t’ want to sound intemperate but the GEBN people need to be hit with a shovel upside the head. Hard. What pathetic shills. The fact, which you accurately note, that diet is far more important than exercise isn’t even news anymore. It’s a standard knowledge. Although there are so many charlatans out there peddling crap i know people think they can exercise away their flab. What they seem to be pushing, and many people don’t get, is how hard to you have to work out to burn significant calories and even then diet is still more important.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to greginak says:

      There’s a reason I switched to diet drinks. If I’m gonna drink that stuff, there’s no point in drinking empty calories. *shrug*.Report

      • greginak in reply to Morat20 says:

        There are no empty calories. Just empty bottles of diet soda piled up next to me.Report

        • Troublesome Frog in reply to greginak says:

          I don’t drink a lot of soda, but when I do it’s generally diet. My tastes have changed to where the “real” stuff just feels to heavy afterward.

          When Alton Brown lost a bunch of weight, he noted that one thing he had to do was cut out his beloved Diet Coke. It wasn’t because of fear about some voodoo third order effect on metabolism or anything like that. He said it was just recentering his tastebuds’ assumptions about how sweet food should be. He found that once he cut that out, a lot of healthier foods that seemed too bland before were just fine, and sugary foods that tasted good before started to taste too sweet.Report

          • Yeah… I find sugared soda overly sweet. It’s to heavy for me. I used to eat PBJ for lunch but in the last few years i find all jelly is just way to sweet for me. I ended up trying to spread the jelly so thin you needed an electron microscope to see it and that didn’t work well either.Report

      • Robert Greer in reply to Morat20 says:

        Be careful here too: Recent research has shown a link between artificial sweeteners and metabolic disorders. Water is best, unsweetened (or lightly sweetened) tea or coffee is best. I’ve found that hibiscus tea is pretty sweet without getting much real or any artificial sugar. If you’re really trying to satisfy a sweet tooth, consider a juicy piece of fruit instead of a beverage.Report

    • Dave in reply to greginak says:


      I think an axe would be more appropriate, or maybe, just maybe, I’ll let you use my banhammer. 😀Report

    • Dave in reply to greginak says:


      I almost didn’t write this post because the rebuttal is so obvious, but the fact that corporate shills are trying to pull this kind of crap really got under my skin.Report

      • greginak in reply to Dave says:

        @dave What i think is most frustrating about this is how it will only exacerbate the fears and cynicism of many people against other none related things. Here we have some apparently decent scientists with good credentials that are hitting Hyper-Shill levels of bs. Sure they are being called out, i’ve seen other doctors reaming them out. But for anti-gmo or anti-vac or even the Mercola acolytes this just feeds into a disbelief in fancy scientist guy saying things they don’t agree with. Why not just always blame so and so being in the pocket of Big Whatever when it is so easy to find an example like this.

        And while i’m pretty sympathetic to liberal complaints about big business, this kind of thing really really plays into liberal mistrust of big corporations. I love me some diet coke or coke zero. Coke makes plenty off of me. But i also don’t like being bullshat. They could try the ” lets build trust in our consumers and not seem evil” idea. But no, they go straight for “lets try to con them.” It should be easy to see why many liberals are suspicious of big business and stuff that comes out of their lie holes.Report

        • Robert Greer in reply to greginak says:

          FWIW, as a GMO skeptic, I think pro-GMO scientists and the pro-Coke scientists are in a totally different league. The former mean very well, but many of them have a tendency to downplay the harms of their own micro-fields, and discount the relevant big question marks in the literature (you’re much more likely to see support for GMO crops from a Ph.D. in plant genetics than from a Ph.D. in plant ecology, for instance). The pro-Cokers, on the other hand, have to intentionally ignore a lot of VERY well-designed research that seems to answer the relevant questions pretty conclusively. Pro-GMOers are typically just imprudent (in my eyes), while pro-Cokers are much closer to deliberately spreading misinformation.Report

  3. Burt Likko says:

    I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight since June. I’ve done it principally by eating less. Moderate exercise helps, but until I restricted my diet, exercise only helped me sort of hover at my too-far-overweight level rather than continue to gain. Indeed, I was probably exactly at the low calorie surplus obscured by moderate exercise level that the OP describes, resulting in a slow creep up the scale until other ill effects of obesity began to rear their heads and I did something to correct my course.

    There is nothing special about me; I’m a pretty typical American male. I’ve got no significant physiology abnormalities. I like burgers and pizza and beer. And I’ve had to teach myself that these things are special treats, not everyday consumables. Your body won’t behave exactly like mine will — but in all likelihood, it’ll be similar enough that the broad generalizations above will be true for you, too.

    Want to lose weight? Eat less. Do you drink sugared sodas? You still can — you just have to see it as an occasional treat, and not something to wash your daily Big Mac down, if you want to lose rather than gain.

    It isn’t magic, and you didn’t need scientists to tell you that.Report

    • greginak in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Yup. Exercise will help anybody be healthier in many ways. There is a avalanche of good studies showing that. But the exercise doesn’t do much for weight loss on its own.

      If you are into some types of athletics there is strong positive feedback loop to having fun when skiing or running or etc and controlling diet. This leads to having more athletic fun and focusing more on diet and then having more fun. Most people aren’t lucky enough to get that benefit though. Gosh knows that positive feedback loop is the most important thing to my health and keeping a good weight.Report

    • Dave in reply to Burt Likko says:



    • North in reply to Burt Likko says:

      The savage equation I curse every day is 80/15/5… weight gain/loss is 80% diet, 15% activity level and 5% genetics.. damn curse biology for ever.Report

  4. Troublesome Frog says:

    So, their argument seems to be that A = B – C and that there’s no evidence whatsoever that increasing B should be at all correlated with increasing A. I hate reading this stuff because I feel shame on behalf of those who can’t feel it for themselves. I’m cringing right now. This is also why I can’t watch Presidential debates.

    The response may be obvious, but I think it’s good for you to post it anyway. People who want to lose weight really need to remember that it’s a *ton* easier to add 100 calories to your diet than to burn off the additional 100 calories with 100 calories in extra exercise. I could walk downstairs right now and consume 900 calories in a few minutes with hardly any effort at all. If I wanted to burn it off running, I’d probably have to go about 8 miles. There’s a huge asymmetry here.Report

  5. Kazzy says:

    And, Dave, I’d go further and argue that even YOUR examples are overly simplistic (though I realize that was probably intentional).

    As you note, 3500 calories approximately equals a pound. Which means the person overconsuming by 10% (200 calories) is going to gain almost 2 pounds a month and about 20 a year. This isn’t the case for most people. Odds are people are overconsuming, on average, less than this. They’re actually probably at or around a balance, maybe gaining a few pounds a year but certainly not 20 (this would lead most people to double their weight in a decade).

    Then they start doing moderate exercise. They hop on the treadmill for 20 minutes, get a decent sweat, and think, “Wow… I really burned some calories today. Let me grab one of them shakes from the Fit Bar.” Those shakes easily have over 400 calories in them. So now they are far more out of balance. They do this for two weeks, say, ‘Hey, I ain’t losing any weight,’ and quit.

    These changes should always be done gradually. Even if I’m getting back into it after a brief layoff, I need to remember to work on one thing at a time. Get eating back under control OR exercise… but not both. If I go from a couple of weeks of 2500+/2000- and immediately try to flip that to 1800+/2400-, it is too big a shock for the system.

    These things are simultaneously simple and complex and this group is trying to sell the simple while leaning on the complex to act as if they have some authority.Report

    • Dave in reply to Kazzy says:


      Yes, it was a very simplistic example, but if I went the other way, the point of the post could have gotten lost in the details with the point being that exercise does very little to bring people into balance.

      That said, the real problem with energy balance is the two-headed monster you mention: one head being the fact that people are woefully bad are estimating how many calories they consume and the other being the propensity to overconsume after a workout under the belief that the food was “earned”. People burn 100 calories, consume 400, wonder why there’s no change in weight or body comp and quit.

      Then there are those that try to go on diets, create unrealistically high deficits, screw around with the macros too much (i.e. cutting out too many carbs), throw training on top of it to further boost the deficit and end up all out of whack when they binge eat.

      Are those numbers your intakes for training vs. non training days?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Dave says:


        Oh, yea, I wasn’t meaning to criticize. My comment was more, “You shot their argument to shit and you didn’t even use your best guns.”

        Those are not my actual numbers. They were just hypotheticals. To be honest, I don’t keep track. I have a tendency towards being compulsive (not in a clinical sense… at least I don’t think) and tracking everything I eat would probably put me in an unhealthy place. I don’t even weight myself anymore. Generally speaking, I try to eat as many vegetables as possible, lotsa fruit, lotsa lean proteins, and whole grains for carbs. I avoid processed stuff as much as possible. And I drink a lot of water and that is really the only beverage I intake (unless you count the fruit-and-veggie smoothies).

        I’m pretty in tune with my body. If I tracked things I’d end up chasing numbers and that isn’t good for me. If I feel out of whack, I usually know why. I let how I feel during/after a run or a workout or meal guide me rather than strict adherence to a numbers game. Which isn’t to criticize that approach, but simply acknowledge what works for me.

        Also, at the risk of sounding arrogant (WHEN DOES KAZZY NOT RISK SOUNDING ARROGANT?), I consider myself fairly blessed in the ‘genes’ department. If I want to lose weight or build muscle or shave down my run times, I can usually do it pretty easily. I can get away with not being super precise in a way that most people can’t which allows me to be a little sloppy.Report

  6. Fnord says:

    1) Coke is unhealthy (almost certainly diet coke, too, sorry). People using the uncertainty about dietary science to push soda are shills. But, frankly, it’s not terribly helpful to push back against that by pushing simplistic models. The energy balance things, while trivially true, unhelpfully conceals the important bits about energy and appetite and metabolism. If anything, the simplistic perspective lets coke off the hook. If energy balance were all there was too it, then calories from coke would simply be calories. Though we don’t know the whole story of why people get fat, plenty of hypotheses would make calorically dense, liquid, highly flavored, nutritionally empty things like coke significantly worse than the equivalent number of calories from other foods.

    2) Exercise is still super important., even though it doesn’t much help you lose weight. It’s ironic (and kinda depressing) that everyone is focusing on the weight aspect. Because Coke would be on much firmer ground comparing the health benefits of daily exercise to the health benefits of quitting soda (though obviously doing both would be even better, and I guess admitting that might be a problem for Coke).Report