Fairy Tale Kings

The Simplicity of Obesity and the Magic of Nutrition

Welcome to a world of magic. In this world, obesity is simple. One pound of fat is the result of eating 3,500 calories. In this magical kingdom, the exalted Mayo Clinic tells us:

Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight.

Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound.

Magical Thinking Never Dies

More than a quarter of a century ago, David Garner and Susan Wooley wrote that dietary approaches to obesity, by themselves, are inadequate for solving the problem.

And yet today, we have this revelation in a new paper by David Benton and Hayley Young:

Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Body Weight

Sadly, that thought still counts as a radical idea. Professor Emily Dhurandhar tells us that she encounters shock when she teaches about the interaction of calories and human biology:

Energy balance is dynamic and adaptable, but it is not above the first law of thermodynamics. You should see the look on their faces when I tell them the 3,500 calorie rule is wrong.

Shock and anger make people resistant to learning. And thus we have policies to address obesity that have had little apparent impact. Public health experts tell us that we need only to cut 41 calories per day from the diets of  children to solve the problem.

So we should not be surprised that obesity continues to rise, even among young children. Until we face facts and discard magical thinking, we will have little luck with reducing the health impact of obesity.

Obesity is complex. Nutrition is important, but it isn’t magical.

For the paper by Benton and Young, click here. For more on the intersection of statistics, science, and magical thinking, click here.

Fairy Tale Kings, Painting by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis / WikiArt

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October 28, 2017

4 Responses to “The Simplicity of Obesity and the Magic of Nutrition”

  1. October 28, 2017 at 9:00 am, Susan Burke March said:

    Well said. All good info, a description of the evolution of science based on hypotheses, research, and credible evidence. Of course, here in Cuenca, where the conspiracy theorists abound among expats, I’m waiting for comments such as “see, you dietitians don’t know anything” and “the AMA is only in it for the money.”

    • October 28, 2017 at 9:19 am, Ted said:

      Yes. “They’re out to get us” gets a little old.

  2. October 28, 2017 at 6:21 pm, Kate said:

    Gold – yet when I have these discussions and present the science it really feels like I am a salmon swimming in the wrong direction.

    I appreciate your blog, it helps.

    • October 28, 2017 at 7:20 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Kate!