The calorie theory is probably the greatest "scientific swindle" of the
It is nothing more than a trap, a deception, a simplistic hypothesis,
not based on any validated scientific data. And yet it has dictated
our eating habits over the last fifty years.
Look around and you will see that the plump, the portly, even the
obese are those who religiously count the calories they consume. Everything
that has been called a "diet" since the beginning of this century,
with a few exceptions, has essentially been based on the low calorie
What a shame!
No long term or serious weight-loss can ever be reached through this
method; not to mention the dangerous side effects that can occur.
At the end of this chapter, I will get back to the scandalous "socio-cultural"
effects of the calorie theory that are a direct result of what can
be referred to as "collective conditioning."
ORIGINS OF THE CALORIE THEORY
In 1930, two American doctors, Newburgh and
Johnston of the University of Michigan, put forth the theory that
"obesity stems not from a deficient metabolism, but from a diet too
rich in calories." Unfortunately, their study on energy equilibrium was based on limited
observations and had been conducted over a period of time that was
much too short to establish any serious conclusions.
But despite these weaknesses, the publication
of their study received much acclaim and was immediately accepted
as irrefutable truth. Their word has since been considered gospel.
Several years later, however, Newburgh and Johnston, somewhat troubled
by the public excitement over their discoveries, quietly published
some serious reservations they had on their findings. But nobody paid
Today, the conclusions of their initial study
are integrated and enshrined in the curriculum of most Western medical
One calorie is equal to the amount of energy or heat needed to raise
the temperature of one gram of water from 14 to 15 degrees centigrade.
The human body needs energy, first and foremost, to maintain its body
temperature at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When the body is active, additional
energy is required to move, to speak, or simply to remain standing
in a vertical position. Then, more energy is needed to eat, digest,
and carry out the basic activities of daily life.
The body's daily energy requirements vary with age and gender,
and from one individual to another.
The calorie theory is as follows:
If an individual needs 2,500 calories a day and only consumes 2,000,
a 500 calorie deficit results. To compensate for this deficit, the
body will draw from its stored fat reserves to find an equivalent
amount of energy, and weight-loss will follow.
If, on the other hand, an individual regularly consumes 3,500 calories
whereas 2,500 would suffice, the excess 1,000 calories will automatically
be stored away in the form of fat.
The theory is therefore based on the assumption that there is never
any loss of energy. The theory is purely mathematical, directly inspired
from Lavoisier's theory on the laws of thermodynamics.
In light of this theory, we may ask ourselves, how did prisoners in
Nazi concentration camps survive for nearly five years on only 700
to 800 calories a day? If the calorie theory was indeed correct, the
prisoners would have died once their fat stocks expired-in other words,
within a few months.
Similarly, we can ask ourselves why hearty eaters who consume about
4,000 to 5,000 calories a day never grow fatter (some even remain
desperately skinny)? If the theory is true, these hearty eaters would
weigh over 1000 pounds after only a couple of years.
Moreover, how does one explain that certain people put weight even
though they restrict their diet and reduce their daily ration of calories?
Ironically, they will continue to gain weight while they are starving
themselves to death. Statistics have also proven that more than 50%
of the obese eat less than the average.
Why does weight-loss fail to occur despite a reduction in one's
Actually, weight-loss does occur, but only temporarily. The reason
why Doctors Newburgh and Johnston erred is because they conducted
observations over too short a period of time.
The phenomenon works like this:
Let us imagine that an individual needs 2,500 calories a day and consumes
accordingly. If, suddenly, the ration of available calories falls
to 2,000, the body will then use the equivalent amount in stored fat
to compensate, and weight-loss will result.
Now, if the individual continues to consume 2,000 calories every day
instead of 2,500, human survival instincts will cause the body to
adjust its energy needs according to the amount of available calories.
Since the available ration is no greater than 2000, and the individual
can consume no more than that amount, the body will stabilize its
energy expenditures by lowering its daily requirements. Weight-loss will quickly be interrupted. But the body does
not stop there. Its survival instincts will drive it to take even
greater precautions and create a stock to store potential energy.
In other words, if the body is only given 2,000 calories, well!...
it will reduce its daily needs to, say, 1,700 and preserve 300
calories every day in the form of stored fat.
So, we obtain the opposite results than we had hoped for. Paradoxically,
even though the individual eats less, the body continues to store
fat and progressively regain weight.
A human body, constantly driven by its instinct to survive, behaves
no differently than the dog who buries his bone when he is starving.
A dog who is not being well fed usually acts on his primal instincts,
and hides his food to create reserves in order to keep himself from
starving to death.
How many of you have fallen victim to this unscientific theory on
Most members of the medical profession today are hiding their heads
in the sand. They realize that their patients are not losing weight,
and accuse them of cheating.
You have surely seen obese people who are dying of hunger, especially
women. Too often, psychiatrists' offices are flooded with women with
neuroses because they rely on the calorie theory to lose weight. They
become slaves to a vicious circle they cannot escape, for fear of
gaining back any lost weight.
The number of weight-loss therapy groups-of the type "Overeaters Anonymous" is another socio-cultural phenomenon created by the calorie theory.
Members are applauded for a couple of pounds lost and put to shame
for a couple of pounds gained. The psychological
cruelty of these practices harks back to the Middle Ages.
Many doctors will hardly ever question their rather elementary knowledge
of nutrition, since the scientific basis of their understanding is
rather slim. In fact, physicians, in general, are not particularly
interested in the subject. I have noticed that, among the twenty or
so doctors with whom I worked before writing this book, all had taken
a specific interest in nutrition, and conducted research and experiments,
because of a personal weight problem.
What I find most disheartening is that the calorie theory, an unproved
theory, was able to develop and propagate itself among the general
public in such a widespread manner. Today this theory has unfortunately
become an accepted fact, one of the cultural "givens" of Western societies.
The calorie theory is so anchored in our minds that many cafeterias
or local restaurants, so that no one will feel alienated, post the
amount of calories in each dish. Every week, at least one women's
magazine headlines a new weight method based on the calorie theory
and designed by a group of professional nutritionists. These diets
usually allow a tangerine at breakfast, half a cracker at 11 o'clock,
chick pea for lunch and one olive for dinner.
We may wonder how the hypocaloric approach created a delusion for
such a long period of time. There are two answers to this question.
First, a hypocaloric diet always procures results. Food deprivation,
the basis of the approach, inevitably leads to weight loss, but
the results, as we have seen, are always temporary. A return to
the starting point is only systematic, but in most cases the gain
is superior to the loss.
The second reason is that "low-calorie" products are an important
economic stake today.
The calorie exploitation, under the guidance of "qualified nutritionists," has turned into a tremendous market, one that primarily lobbies to
and benefits the food industry as well as a few distraught chefs who
have lost sight of the true definition of gastronomy.
The calorie theory is false and now you know why. But do not
think you have overcome the most difficult part. The theory is so
ingrained in your mind that you will inevitably continue to eat according
to its basic principles for some time.
When we begin to explain the new method of eating I have presented
in this book, you may feel confused because the information here will
seem to contradict what you think you already know.
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