July 3, 2015


In response to a couple questions recently asked of “The Healthy Omnivore” I would like to do a short series on the “Calorie In/Calorie Out” Myth.

The “thinking” goes something like this:  All you have to do is eat less (caloric restriction), exercise more (caloric expenditure)  and you WILL create a caloric deficit.  And because of this, you will lose weight and be more healthy.  Now, if  YOU fail to lose weight, it  means that YOU lack the will-power to make the “Calorie In/Calorie Out” program work.

With this type of approach there are only two variables:  1.  How much you consume, and 2. How much you expend.  That is it!

No metabolic advantage.  No metabolic disadvantage.  No other variables to consider.  Your weight loss is just one simple addition and subtraction problem.  There are no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts.”  Just you eating less and burning more.  Period!

This is not a new issue to “The Healthy Omnivore” as you can find a few past posts that refer to this myth here:  “Eleven Health Misconceptions” and “The Law of Thermodynamics

As a health professional, I owe it to you to give you the truth!  (and, unfortunately, I am finding that the “mainstream” media isn’t helping!)

And the truth is this… basing weight loss, let alone good health, on the “Calorie In/Calorie Out” Myth supposedly explained by the “Law of Thermodynamics” is just plain WRONG!

I mean, it is beyond wrong, it is IDIOTIC!  And, it is DANGEROUS.

Hopefully, if you didn’t before,  you now have a good idea where I stand on the “Calorie In/Calorie Out” Myth.

calorie in/calorie outIn case you are wondering WHY I am so upset with the Calorie In/Calorie “Movement,” let me spend the next three posts on giving you a better idea.

Here is an example of MOST conversations between trainers and their clients in gyms all across the United States:

TRAINER:  “You didn’t lose any weight this week, how come?”
CLIENT:  “I have no idea, I ate all the proper amounts of food and did all of the workouts that you asked of me.”
TRAINER:  “That is impossible.  If you ate what I told you to and you did all of the workouts, you would AT LEAST lose two pounds a week.  You would have to because you would have created a caloric deficit of 7000 calories!”
CLIENT:  “Well, is there any way that the human body doesn’t work that way?”
TRAINER:  “No.  It is a law.  And the law is called the “Law of Thermodynamics.”  You didn’t lose weight because you ate too much and you didn’t workout hard enough.  It is as simple as that.”
CLIENT:  “Okay.  I will eat less this week, plus I will work out more.  Thanks for the advice.   I really appreciate your expertise.”

What expertise?

Expertise in “destroying your health” and “developing emotional and mental trauma”?

Let’s get this straight.

Trying to use the “Laws of Thermodynamics” to explain human biological functions is pure folly.   Scientific laws only apply to laboratory situations where variables are controlled and systems are closed off from all other systems.

The human body is NOT a closed system and our lives DO NOT take place in laboratories. To put it simply, calories are units of heat, not measures of potency.


When it comes to attaining optimal health and  weight loss, there are a number of variables that are just NOT the same from person to person.

Remember, we are not inanimate objects and we are not living in a closed system.

Here is a short list of examples of the variables that create challenges for the “calorie in/calorie out” myth:

First, we are each unique.  You may have heard this called; biochemical individuality.


  • Genetics

What is your ancestry?  Are you from a cold climate or warm climate?  How does your body handle starchy carbohydrates?  How does your body handle fatty proteins?   How do you do with the sun?  Etc. Etc. Etc.

Secondly, physiologically, how have we handled our environment and time.


  • Sleep  (Are you allowing your body to recover?)
  • Toxins (Tobacco, Alcohol, Sugar, Artificial Sweeteners)
  • Food Sensitivities  (Gluten, Soy, Dairy, etc.)
  • Medications (Over The Counter, Prescription)
  • Stress  (Chronic and Acute)
  • Quality of Health (Recent Illnesses, Immune System Health, Degenerative Disease, etc.)
  • Hormonal Health (Insulin, Cortisol, Glucagon, Leptin, etc.)
  • Age (Menopause, Andropause, Accelerated Aging)
  • Past Caloric Restriction History (Dieting, Bulimia, Anorexia, etc.)

You starting to get the point?

Because of this:  A Calorie is NOT a Calorie!

To put all of the onus on the individual of losing or gaining weight because of the “Law of Thermodynamics” just doesn’t hold up.  Your health and fitness expert may think they sound smart by pushing the “calorie in/calorie out” hogwash on you, but to me, it is just a sign of ignorance and laziness.

This ignorance and laziness concerning the “calorie in/calorie out” myth has only gotten worse with all of the “weight loss” reality shows.  TRUST ME.

It is an utter embarrassment that personal trainers are simplifying weight loss down to creating a caloric deficit by starving their clients and training them like animals!

What ever happened to Safe?  Effective?  Long Term? Sustainable?  I don’t know either.

But as you can see, if the trainer’s client isn’t successful, the failure is all on the client for not complying.  Not on the trainer for being open to a slowed metabolism or improper diet/workout routine.  NICE.

So, there you have it, a couple more reasons whyt “The Healthy Omnivore” has some real issues/challenges with the “Calorie In/Calorie Out” Myth.

Thanks for reading the first post of three concerning attaining optimal health and proper weight loss vs. The “Calorie In/Calorie Out” Myth.

If you have any questions or comments on the “Law of Thermodynamics” and/or the “Calorie In/Calorie Out” Myth, I would love to read them.

Kevin McCauley (The Healthy Omnivore), is a Lifestyle and Wellness Coach that prioritizes attaining optimal health with real proactive health care.  Kevin is the sole operator of the “THE GET HEALTHY CLUB” an online Health Care Solutions site that enables people to work with their own Nutritionist, Personal Trainer and Lifestyle Coach to attain their personal health and fitness goals.   If you would like to Feel Great, Look Amazing and even Live Longer… look no further!  The Healthy Omnivore has numerous affordable options for you to attain optimal health at the The Get Healthy Club.

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About Kevin McCauley

I am a Lifestyle and Wellness Coach, as well as the owner/operator of a Nutrition And Exercise Curation Blog and an Attaining Optimal Health Membership Site. I am passionate about not only helping people be proactive with their health but also, attaining the finest health possible; minus the drugs and procedures. For more information on working with your very own affordable health and fitness professional: THE GET HEALTHY CLUB


  1. Ron Dorazio says:

    Gary Taubes, a well known scientific journalist, has written a 600 page book (“Good Calories, Bad Calories) in which he uses nearly every weight loss study done in the last 100 years, plus a densely scientific explanation of how carbs and fat are used differently by the body, to show that the law of thermodynamics doesn’t work concerning weight loss.


    Kevin McCauley Reply:

    Ron Dorazio » Well done! Thanks for the comment.


  2. Rob Blok says:

    I believe the calorie in vs calorie out still goes, you just added a few variables but you don’t disprove the fact that is about burning more then you consume.

    I 100% agree that there are more variables and that weight loss is not linear (lost 60lbs and now lean 6 pack guy) I did it in a year counted my calories did my rowing and weight training. It is not about the actual numbers as we all burn at different rates (read somewhere that there is a 20% mbr difference between people with high and low thyroid). But once you figure out how much you need to stay on weight you also will loose weight if you take less as that amount. That amount is different for us all.

    Sure your food should come from quality foods whole foods ect but in the end you can get fat from too much good food too. So it still is input vs output.


    Kevin McCauley Reply:

    Rob Blok » Thanks for the comment. Sure, to lose body-fat we will need to “burn” more fat than we “store.” But, it is clear that not all calories are created equal (affect on hormones (insulin, leptin, ghrelin, glucagon, etc.), iso-caloric vs. iso-metabolic, biochemical individuality, environmental challenges, history of starvation/dieting, metabolic challenges, poor gut health, etc.). I guess I am trying to make the point that the issue goes far beyond “calorie in/calorie out” or that because of the Law Of Thermodynamics we can just measure/calculate our intake and expenditure via addition and subtraction and have any idea of how close we are to creating a caloric deficit. What I see all too often is a “personal trainer,” or “nutritionist” telling their client that they have not lost weight or they have gained weight ONLY because they ate more than they were allowed or they didn’t work out hard or long enough. “Brutal” in my opinion.


  3. So tell me this why for years upon years upon years have people been losing weight with calories in calories out or where scales, skin fold calipers and before and after photos designed to trick us? Evidence speaks for itself and yes some peoples bodies are different but for the majority of people cals in/out work.


    Kevin McCauley Reply:

    D, actually there is very little information/science out there that is more than anecdotal that tells/shows us that a calorie IS a calorie. For example; consuming fat creates satiation, consuming protein helps with fat burning (glucagon), consuming refined sugars creates a release of a fat storing hormone (insulin). Let alone the 7 calories a gram that make up alcohol. And, this isn’t even mentioning the issues with focusing on calorie counting, such as: quantity over quality, caloric deprivation, inaccurate calorie estimation, low-glycemic vs. high glycemic foods, etc. Here is an excellent article that talks about the different metabolic affect of a high fat vs. a low fat diet: http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20120626/all-calories-not-created-equal-study-suggests . Plus, a scale only tells you if you have lost weight, and NOT fat. A skin caliper can tell what percentage of weight you lost is fat and what percentage is muscle, but it has nothing to do with a “calorie is a calorie,” let alone the “Law of Thermodynamics.” Don’t even get me started with the infamous “before and after” picture. Please be aware that the foods that tell you have the amount of calories on them are never as healthy, or of a high quality, as real whole foods. I think “Big Food” and the “Supplement” companies may have pulled one over on us by having us prioritizing “calorie counting” vs. food quality and portion control. Thanks again.


  4. Matt Briscoe says:

    Calories In/Calories out absolutely works. I lost 80 pounds doing this. Genetics and metabolism do matter, but that’s just part of the calories out side of the equation.

    Put an overweight person in a calorie restricted diet clinic and they will lose weight every time.

    I find that people underestimate their calories in and over estimate their calories out which is a hard thing to estimate anyway.

    After taking 4 semesters of engineering physics (including thermodynamics), losing 80 pounds myself (260 down to 180) and helping multiple people do the same thing…I think I’m a pretty good source.


    Kevin McCauley Reply:

    Matt Briscoe » Congratulations on the weight loss! Unfortunately, I just can’t agree with you. What works in the lab in a closed system has very little to do with what works in real life in an open system. Plus, there are a number of reasons that a “calorie is not a calorie,” including: the energy needed to metabolize different macro nutrients, caloric restriction slows the metabolism, each macro nutrients has specific benefits, some foods can reduce caloric absorption, and even meal timing. Combine in our genetic and environmental differences and it is clear that we can’t just say; “a calorie is a calorie.” Once again, congratulations on your weight loss, but as you get leaner you will find that what “used to work,” will “no longer work.” Why? Well, for one thing, “a calorie is NOT a calorie” when it comes to fat loss. Thanks for your comment!


  5. Jack Cameron says:

    A clear example that proves the fallacy of the “calorie in, calorie out” theory is the excessive intake of linoleic acid (LA) which contributes to increased in obesity. LA is the precursor to arachidonic acid (AA) which is the backbone of the endocannibinoids (Ecbs) anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonylglycerol (2-AG) which are mild opioids that activate the same sensors activated by marijuana. ECB/ marijuana sensores exist in the gut, brain and liver. Intake of LA has increased from about 2% of calories to 8% of calories within the last century resulting in increased AA and increased Ecbs in the liver and brain that increase food intake and increase fat synthesis by the liver. Weight gain results from both increased food intake AND AN INCREASE IN WEIGHT GAIN PER CALORIE OF FOOD INTAKE. Calories in calorie out is not working here.

    Increased LA intake is a cause of fatty liver. Omega-3 fats have been successfully used to treat fatty liver because the reduce the level of AA thereby reducing Ecbs.


    Kevin McCauley Reply:

    Jack Cameron » Thanks Jack! Yes, another excellent example. There are so many variables at play and your points are well taken. Thanks again!


  6. The reply to a reply code seems broken, so I have to respond to myself.

    Sorry about my impolite reply; I have a bad habit of responding passionately after I’ve been drinking :/

    You can use my 3/4 baked (I think it’s more than half baked :) ) insight in any way you wish; it’s certainly not fully fleshed out nor is it unique information.

    I recently saw the results of a basal metabolic rate study in the Wikipedia article on BMR, which goes to show how wrong it is to insist that a trainee has not followed the trainer’s plan:
    “For instance, one study reported an extreme case where two individuals with the same lean body mass of 43 kg had BMRs of 1075 kcal/day (4.5 MJ) and 1790 kcal/day (7.5 MJ). This difference of 715 kcal (67%) is equivalent to one of the individuals completing a 10 kilometer run every day.”

    I definitely agree with you, I just can’t stand quietly while the laws of thermodynamics being unfairly tarnished LOL.

    I think that anyone thinks this issue is simple is very ignorant of the complexity of the universe. I’m an engineer and have a technical interest in many things, and my minds keeps being boggled by how complex “simple” things actually are.


    Kevin McCauley Reply:

    MiG » No worries! I appreciate passion… thanks for the reply (and the additional info)!


  7. Your complaint is correct but your reasoning is as flawed as if you got the answer from a crystal ball.
    The laws of thermodynamics are not a lab curiosity, they are universal laws that withstand our best efforts to circumvent them.

    Because there are no nuclear reactions within us, it’s ultimately it’s a balance of the energy in the bonds between atoms of EVERYTHING that goes in and out of us. I hope you understand that that’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to quantify, and that’s why the simple formula is abused.

    The biggest problem is that assessing “calories out” is almost impossible, and “calories in” is also subject to assumptions. The basic equation is sound, but the inputs are never correct.

    If you don’t extract all the energy that the calorimeter says you consumed, it will come out of you one way or another. There is no disappearing energy! However there are plenty of asinine simplifications, assumptions and ignorance. Digestion differences and heat output from person to person will change “energy out” in ways that pathetic statistics based formulas will not account for! You’d need to know the exact change in potential energy stored in the person’s body (either by fat or other biological processes), the exact heat loss, the exact potential energy lost in EVERYTHING that comes out of them. We’re talking knowing the amounts and composition of the gasses, solids and liquids that come in and out of a person. For example, our digestion can produce methane. Methane is energetic and reactive enough that it’s called a fuel!

    If everyone just avoided the pseudo physics the world would be a better place. An analogy of sorts to what the fitness world is doing with physics, is taking an out of context quote from a philosophy book as an unequivocal argument.

    All I want if people to realize that you can only apply “energy in – energy out” to complex systems in an approximate way, and that is *not a flaw in the laws of thermodynamics.*


    Kevin McCauley Reply:

    MiG » Thanks for the comment! Excellent, excellent, excellent! I believe we are in total agreement, and in all honesty, your explanation is much more eloquent than mine… but in the end, we are trying to get people to understand the same thing. I hope you don’t mind if I use some of your insight for future posts, articles and videos. Thanks again!


  8. Let’s start with the premise that the only energy sources available to our bodies are the energy we take in through food and our energy stores in their various forms. I think we can agree that this is true. Now, if you expend more energy in a given timeframe than you take in, that deficit must come from somewhere else. This ‘somewhere’ must be your energy stores as there is no other source. This is a fundamental fact. To quibble with this is to go of into the realm of pseudoscience and magical thinking. The only question can be: how off of the norm is your BMR and how much are you actually burning through your activities? There is nothing else.

    This article seems only to attempt to say that “some people are different”. So? They aren’t magic. If their body Burns more than it takes in they will lose weight. You only need to see someone without access to food as proof of this.


    Kevin McCauley Reply:

    James, thanks for the comment. My premise isn’t so much that we won’t lose weight if we be burn more than we consume… my challenge with the “health and fitness” industry is that the supposed professionals out there believe they have a way to measure how much we consume/intake (assimilate would be a better term here) and more importantly how much we burn/expend (no chance). I have been doing this for a long while now, and in the same way that I am overly disturbed by a trainer telling his/her client that they had a great workout if they are sore, I am just as greatly disappointed in a trainer who blames their client for not achieving proper weight loss because of improper caloric consumption or exercise intensity/frequency. We are not a closed system (more than two variables) and we do not live in a closed system (lab) where the Law of Thermodynamics might make some sense. Here is a pretty good article that might better explain some of the challenges that I have with the basic premise of this “law.” http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2008/10/first-law-of-thermodynamics-in-real.html As far as psuedoscience is concerned. I remember when I first started training in the mid-80’s. Over 50% of the medical doctors in the United States surveyed believed that Anabolic Steroids were no better for athletic performance and muscle building than supplements, as they worked only because of the placebo effect. Remember the 90’s? Don’t eat chicken eggs, but go ahead an cook with poly unsaturated fats and use plenty of trans fats. Look, in this industry you will have to keep an open mind or you will just be a robot that the weekend personal training certifications want you to be. I have over eight years of college education, over a dozen certifications, over twenty years of experience, and have put in 1000’s upon 1000’s of additional hours into my own research ( and I am still amazed at how little I know). Some science is wrong (misleading/misinterpreted/etc.), and some is just not complete. Do you really think that organic foods are not more beneficial for your health than conventional foods? That being said… when it comes to proper “fat” and “weight” loss all professionals need a basic understanding of insulin, ghrelin, cortisol, leptin, adrenaline and glucagon, and all of of the systems that are involved in day to day life. So, without a proper understanding of the adrenal and endocrine systems we are lost when it comes to proper weight loss. The reason I bring this up is that not all people lose weight in the same capacity (indviduality), meaning because of their genetics (intolerances/allergies/sensitivities), their health level (insulin resistant/leptin resistant/energy efficient/starvation mode/proper function vs. improper function) and their past experiences with dieting (weight gain/weight loss/starvation mode/etc.) no one loses weight exactly the same. Boy, wouldn’t it be great if we were just a simple addition and subtraction problem as the LOT would have us believe. But, we are not! That being said… this article has more to do with health professionals being lazy and putting the onus on the client and not themselves when their clients quit achieving the results desired. I hope this helps… if not, I do thank you for your comment!


  9. Great article!
    The two problems I’ve always had with the cal in/cal out dogma are this. Calories in a lab are burned. Your body does not burn (in the traditional sense, i.e. fire) food. And, if it is as they say. Then I could live my day swimming in chocolate ice cream, taco bell, and dark beer. But as long as I exercised and burned more than I ate I would not be obese. That right there should tell you it’s just not that simple.


    Kevin McCauley Reply:

    Well said! Thanks!!!


  10. Your blog is strongly written and looks to have done a great job of fending off opposition, but really all you’ve done is give false hope to those who deep down are looking for something easier or just an excuse as to why (& probably again) the rules just don’t apply to them. I don’t think you or anyone else can in they’re right mind deny the method of cal in/out ratio is full proof for the majority of people who do not cheat and ignore what they really take in in a day. Its simple fundamentals and thinking it has to be so much more complicated than just plain old math, hard work and dedication is wrong. I wonder how many people who like most us could have uncovered what works, whats simple and has health benefits proven to boot have just been steered the wrong direction for a lifetime of never quite figuring it out. Let people give it a try. Its no mystery that tons of people eat more than they really need. For god shake do you take your car to the mechanic to figure out why the gas gage is on empty or do you try some gas first! Do humanity and curious overweight googlers a favor and admit its not a “myth” but if it should fail.


    Kevin Reply:

    Rustin » Thanks for the comment, and sorry for the delay. I am sorry. I disagree. Though I am a huge fan of personal/individual responsibility, I don’t believe it is fair to lead people astray regarding proper weight loss. There are way too many variables within proper weight loss to turn it into a simple mathematical equation. To just have people reduce caloric consumption and increase caloric expenditure until they lose weight is ridiculous, if not on par of medical malpractice. The human body just doesn’t work that way… far too many variables. Some people are more efficient than others, that is just the way it is. Some others have damaged their metabolisms and can’t lose weight while only consuming 1200 calories. Should they work out more? Consume less? And, that isn’t even bringing into the equation the low quality of food consumed while people are trying to reduce their caloric intake. Most health and fitness experts will tell people in a supposed caloric deficit to just take a one-a-day vitamin/mineral, to make up for the lack of nutrients. Really? I created another blog post, and in the near future I am going to speak to the challenge of measuring caloric intake and expenditure. Here is the last post: http://www.the-healthy-omnivore.com/improper-weight-loss/ Thanks again. Kevin.


    Steve Beisheim Reply:

    I hate to bring up this point… but maybe food is secondary fuel, and not primary fuel.. That’ll make you think….

    Also, different people handle different foods differently.. This is a fact… Do the research on Lectins… anyway… I hope your readers make smart choices for themselves and follow their gut instincts.. that should lead to optimal health, often resulting in weight loss…


    Kevin Reply:

    I just read a nice little article recently that had a pretty good little short list on why a calorie isn’t a calorie, which would go hand in hand with your idea on Lectins. They brought up our new found understanding of food Intolerance; like gluten (which I have) and lactose. Let alone people’s Leptin and Insulin Sensitivity levels (i.e. Insensitivity). I do believe these things can be controlled with an improved lifestyle (including nutrition/hopefully “individualized” nutrition), but we seem to have gotten away from this approach and put our hope in drugs and procedures.



  1. […] and intake: of course, in the simplest sense, you require a caloric deficit to lose weight. Although the calories in/calories out method isn’t quite as effective as we all think, monitoring your intake and controlling portions is a good way to make sure you’re not […]

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