What about counting calories?

There seems to be confusion about having to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. Technically that's true, but how does it apply to humans in the real world.

The calorie counting concept tries to put energy in vs energy out into numbers. In a closed system that is not influenced by other factors this would absolutely work. But humans are not a closed system, our bodies regulate fat not based on calories, but insulin.

There are a few major problems with CICO (calorie in - calorie out) hypothesis:
  1. How do we store fat? Insulin does it for us. In the absence of insulin (e.g., undiagnosed type 1 diabetics) it is impossible to store fat. These people can ingest insane amounts of calories, but they will not store fat. Instead, they will drop weight quickly. To store fat, we need insulin.

  2. It is well known and accepted that cells need insulin to store fat. Unfortunately, this knowledge is not applied to the human body, a composite of cells.

  3. The body metabolizes calories from different macros very differently. 1500 calories worth of potatoes will cause a major spike in insulin. The body will be storing the energy in fat tissue and while storing fat it cannot release fat. 1500 calories worth of meat (fat and protein) only causes a minimal insulin response.

  4. In a calorie deficit the metabolism will decrease, which will require us to eat less and less calories to maintain a deficit. Of course, this would leave us hungry, cold and miserable.

  5. Most importantly, CICO does not explain anything. It is merely describing a physical law in a closed system. It does not explain WHY. Why do some people gain weight, others don’t? Why do we store fat? How can we lose fat?

How does this apply to Keto?
  • Being on a ketogenic diet will increase our metabolism because it lowers insulin levels.

  • What is known as keto breath is us actually breathing out extra energy.

  • Even with abundant food, in ketosis we tend to eat less calories, because we are not hungry.

  • The body is fat adapted and easily draws energy from fat storage, even during endurance exercise.

  • Technically on keto we do not experience a calorie deficit, because the body draws from fat storage whatever is missing from the diet, which then translates into weight loss.

So, while a calorie deficit somewhat matters, we cannot just count calories consumed and compare that to our expenditure. That is just not the whole picture.

Final thought: We do not gain weight because we overeat, but we overeat because we gain weight.


Written by Roxana Soetebeer
Fact-checked by Randy Rife, RRT, RCP. Type 2 Diabetic for 17 years.
Published: July 3rd 2021