2 + 2 = 4ish

No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.

Albert Einstein

Anymore, I can’t resist the ads that pop up on my screen inviting me to investigate some surefire way to lose weight. I almost always know what I’ll find, and I’m always excited that it might be good fodder for the blog. Since I’m regularly researching health news now, the ads come fast and furious no matter what I’m doing.

Plus, I like to blow up online calculators.

This morning Calorie Fit!! or some such website threw a huge banner at me inviting me to input my height, weight, age, gender, and activity level. It would then, purely out of the goodness of the designers’ hearts, help me calculate how many calories I should eat in order to achieve a modest 1-pound-a-week weight loss. It would then help plan a “wealth of delicious foods to enjoy!” Or something.

How nice! I mean, why not?

The helpful calculator informed me that all I needed to do was eat 1,326 calories a day and I’d lose a pound a week. I can just barely wait to start! After all, Ancel Key’s World War II Minnesota Starvation Experiment guys were allowed 1,800 calories, and later 1,520, and they all went temporarily insane.

That study was so interesting. I’ve talked about it before, but allow me to do so again. Did you read the long summary of the study?

If you did, you’ll probably notice that before they began they had the boys follow a 3-month “standardization period.”  They did not want them to gain weight, but they wanted them not to lose it and also to be in good health. How much food did they get during the standardization period?


3,200 calories a day worth.

Stop and take that in a second. This was in the 1940s. Back then, young people were much thinner than today. Think of your granddad or his dad in his army uniform and you’ll know what I mean. Look at a photo of a group from that era and finding a fat person is a little like reading a Where’s Waldo book. Look at a photo of the participants of this study and finding a fat person is impossible.

So these brilliant researchers fed these men a standard, healthy diet designed to help them maintain their weight and get into excellent health. And in it, they assumed that the average man of their age should be eating about 3,200 calories a day.

Now these men were all different heights and weights, though they were all about the same age and all in good health. None of them were ridiculously fat or thin to start out. The average guy in the study was about 5′ 7″ and weighed about 157 pounds. According to modern caloric needs calculators, like the one I used, a man of this size, height, and weight who is moderately active needs only 2,709 calories a day in order to maintain his weight.  According to modern Calorie Math©, which is quite different from real math, these guys should have all gained 10-15 pounds during those three months.

Did they get fat? mmmmmmmm…..nope. Didn’t gain weight…

My, how confusing.

Did they get slow and lazy? Let’s ask the researchers:

During the standardization period, the men felt well-fed and full of energy. Many initially volunteered in local settlement houses, participated in music and drama productions in Minneapolis, and took advantage of the various cultural activities available throughout the city.

Well that’s funny. I thought when you overate such dangerous amounts you got all slow and fat and collapsed in front of the TV. Why you can find a bunch of sites online right now that will helpfully tell you that overeating will slow your metabolism.

I can’t figure out why these guys didn’t pork up. And why they got more energetic on this bloated, pig-out diet.

I also can’t figure out why what they later were doing at 1,800 and 1,520 calories a day is called “starvation” and is something they’re remembered for as heroes; while what Calorie Fit!!!! wants me to do at 1,326 calories a day is called “healthy dieting,” and if I don’t or can’t I’m a big, fat slob without an ounce of self-control. I also am unsure how Calorie Fit!!!!!! expects that I’ll be healthy, active, exercising, and enjoying my life at that caloric intake, when this is what happened to the guys in Minnesota:

…Carlyle Frederick remembered “… We became, in a sense, more introverted, and we had less energy. I knew where all the elevators were in the buildings.” The men reported decreased tolerance for cold temperatures, and requested additional blankets even in the middle of summer. They experienced dizziness, extreme tiredness, muscle soreness, hair loss, reduced coordination, and ringing in their ears. Several were forced to withdraw from their university classes because they simply didn’t have the energy or motivation to attend and concentrate. Food became an obsession for the participants

The men’s interest in cookbooks was described as “pornographic.” Although they were also men of strong political opinions, they stopped caring. They grew extremely angry if their food was delayed in arriving, or if another guy got an extra slice of bread. You see, they had to give some guys less food than others because they weren’t losing as much weight as they were supposed to–despite all being required to perform the same amount of exercise.


One guy was dismissed after just a few weeks. First, he had started dreaming of cannibalism. Then they found out he had been going into town and gorging on sundaes and milkshakes. When confronted about it, he broke down sobbing, then got violently angry and threatened to kill Keys and himself. They took him off the program and checked him into the psych ward, where he mysteriously made a complete and permanent recovery after a couple days of normal food.

If you look at pictures of these poor men, the only difference between them and concentrate camp victims in Europe is that the boys are clean-cut and have no open sores. Their ribs stick out in a manner that will make you cringe to see it. It’s borderline horrific–yet interestingly none of these men thought they were too thin at the time. You know what they did think?

Everyone else was fat.

Huh, again. Sounds like this.

When they were done, they weighed an average of 115.6 pounds. Their average height was the same as mine. Interestingly, Calorie Fit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! tells me my ideal weight would be 134 pounds: but that I would still be at a perfectly healthy and acceptable weight if I was 118 pounds.

Think about that for a minute.

These men were war-torn, concentration-camp victim emaciated. I am a woman the same height as they were. Women are supposed to have more body fat. If we don’t, there’s something seriously wrong. Scientists agree we should be carrying more body fat than men, though they can’t agree on how much. (Between 5 and 15%. I’m sure you’ve realized this already, but society doesn’t like that: and also your body couldn’t possibly care less what society likes.) At 118 pounds, I would be even thinner, proportionally, than these 115.6 pound men.

In fact, I just put these men’s figures into the standard government All Knowing Calculator℠ of BMI. According to the All Knowing Calculator℠, these men were just barely underweight. Just barely! Nothing to worry about folks!

Are you starting to get the picture? This is INSANITY.

Let me show you a better way.

The other day was my exercise day. That means 12 minutes of weights at very slow lifting…that’s about 20-70 calories. (I do this about once every 7-10 days) Later on I walked just over 3 1/2 miles, though that wasn’t exercise. I was going somewhere I needed to go. According to the All Knowing Calculators℠ of Calories Burned, that was another 270 calories or so. The same calculator that told me I needed to eat 1,362 calories to lose a pound a week also told me that I needed to eat about 1,660 to maintain my current weight if I was sedentary.

That day I ate about 2,800 calories worth of food.

This goes to show you one thing. It’s absolutely true that exercise makes you hungry all out of proportion to the amount of calories it actually burns. I did a reference of calories from another day, a day that was unusually sedentary because of bad pollution.

That day I ate about 1,645 calories.

On both days I did exactly the same thing–I ate as much as I felt like of any food I knew was good for me, and a moderate amount of foods that are only good for me in small amounts, like fruit or dark chocolate. Note that my spontaneous intake on a sedentary day happened to be almost exactly what the calculator estimated for me. The problem lies in the exercise–just a little bit of exertion and I spontaneous consumed 1,200 calories more.

That’s why until about 1975 or so exercise, was considered counterproductive to weight loss. It didn’t help you burn enough calories to justify the incredible increase in hunger that it produced. We didn’t think it was useful for weight loss till the mid 70s, when we decided that we could tell people to just ignore their bodies’ natural demand to increase fuel intake when increased demands were made upon it: and then told them that they’re fat, lazy slobs for refusing to exercise more and eat less.

Our great-grandparents knew this. Their doctors knew it. Reader’s Digest knew it. Then we all decided to take part in a collective delusion to pretend it wasn’t true.

So according the the All Knowing, I needed 1,660 calories for my normal sedentary life, plus another 290-340 calories to make up for my exercise if I wanted to maintain my weight. Not lose and not gain. Apparently, on exercise day I shamefully overate by about 800 calories. (Not only that, but on sedentary days I’ve been eating just what I need–nothing less. I should be remaining the same weight, and gaining after these exercise day binges.)

Oh my.

Aren’t you scared for me?

Quick! Let’s check the scale…(hang on…)

Oh dear.

I appear to be at the smallest weight I’ve ever been. And a whole pound smaller than the day or two before that.

Calorie Fit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! says they can help me lose one pound in a week by eating concentration-camp levels of calories. Oh they’ll make your plate look pretty–lots of green broccoli and orange carrots and red apples–but it’s starvation.

Apparently I’ve figured out a way to help you lose one pound in a day by eating 2,800 calories.


Perhaps the problem isn’t the number of calories. Perhaps the problem isn’t even the basic calculation of the All Knowing Calculator℠ of Caloric Needs. Perhaps the problem is the type of calories. Perhaps the problem is not having any idea how to set up the math problem to figure for such a complicated system as the human body, which is being influenced moment to moment by a myriad of factors.

Let me tell you what I ate on that big day: grass-fed butter, coconut oil, MCT oil, roasted lamb with all the fat, coconut milk, cocoa powder, eggs, Greek yogurt (full fat of course), grass-fed cheddar cheese, peanut butter, dark chocolate, maple cream, macadamia nuts roasted in coconut oil, and some vegetables and a handful of raisins.

That’s fairly typical for me, except the the cheese and peanut butter and raisins. Normally I eat only one type of dairy a day. But I was obeying my hunger signals, which can be trusted now. The peanut butter was mainly to wash down the cheese. It’s cheaper than meat, and I can’t afford to just eat meat whenever I’m hungry like that.

When I eat well over 2,500 calories a day of those kinds of food, I do not gain weight. I typically lose it.

When I eat well under 2,000 calories a day of those kinds of food, I do not lose weight. I typically retain it. Even if I eat as little as the Minnesota guys for days on end, I have no fear of starving. They were trying to mimic starvation diets in war-torn Europe: little to no animal fat and protein; lots of grain, gruel, jello, and potato garbage. I’m eating stuff that’s filling and energizing and good for me. Even when I eat small amounts, the food is good for me, so it doesn’t send my body into a panic easily. I’d lose weight eventually if I kept eating that little, but I wouldn’t look like those guys.

Folks, there’s more to it than Calories In/Calories Out. There just is.

The title of this post, 2+2=4ish, is actually a little misleading. It implies that the math isn’t accurate; that sometimes 2+2 might = something other than 4. The problem isn’t with the math. The error is because the problem has not been stated correctly.

It’s not 2+2. It’s 2+2-?+?x?=?.

A calorie=a calorie=a calorie is not an accurately stated equation. 1,500 calories of grains and potatoes and vegetables (in that order) leads to mental problems, food obsession, and death from starvation if you follow it out long enough. 1,500 calories of fat and meat and non-starchy vegetables (in that order) doesn’t.

This is a faulty equation:

Eat your pasta, people!
The Old-Fashioned Food Pyramid, recently replaced by the Food Plate, or some such nonsense.


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