AHS16 – Stephan Guyenet – Calorie Intake – A Cornerstone of Ancestral Health

This is an excellent talk by Dr. Stephen Guyenet at this year’s Ancestral Health Symposium held recently in Boulder, CO.

It’s all about how caloric intake trumps all other things we believe are important factors for health.

Even in the first five minutes of the talk, he shows how calorie intake even trumps junk food as a negative determinant of health, by highlighting a self-experiement I covered briefly way back here.

~ Well I suppose I ought to say something about The Twinkie Diet before I get yet another email about it, a tweet, or a comment on one of the other posts. I guess I missed the ball on this one; because I thought it so obviously dumb that no one would take much interest in it, I didn’t bother to say anything, ridicule it, break out the BULLSHIT! horn or anything. Guess I was wrong. There’s a number of good blog posts about it. Stephan Guyenet at Whole Health Sourcet. RG at Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger. Don Matesz at Primal Wisdom. The bottom line is that in relatively healthy people without broken metabolisms, calories do count a great deal. If you increase or restrict so much that you override your body’s natural energy homeostasis, you’ll gain or lose weight.

So, I guess even as far back as 2010 I was already beginning to dispense with the nonsense that calories don’t count.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 1.11.01 PM

Pretty amazing results for a low-calorie junk food diet.

So, to really summarize what Stephan is getting at in that presentation, there is a sort-of mismatch, illustrated well by this slide.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 1.14.27 PM

Stephan’s core argument is that of all these factors or determinants, caloric intake is so profound is that it tends to make all the others somewhat irrelevant—and not only for weight loss, for health factors themselves.

Of course, you can still eat well and you should, but if you focus on nutrient dense foods, turns out you can eat less of them, be leaner, and be healthier.

Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. The cost of two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance the travel to write, photo, and film from interesting places and share the experiences with you.


  1. Bret on August 26, 2016 at 16:55

    Hear, hear. The lowest weight I’ve ever been as an adult (even including high school) was after a three-month spell of limited eating and plenty of walking at age 30. It took a little bit for me to adjust to theh lower-calorie intake, but adjust I did, and it was no problem. I didn’t starve myself, but I figure I had cut my calorie intake by roughly a quarter of its previous level.

    Carbs were plentiful, and there was even a good bit of ice cream and some steady sugared sodas. This was after some weight loss and a stall on very-low-carb.

    Of course there will always be the chicken-or-egg argument of which factor is more foundationally relevant: quality or quantity. But one thing is for sure: My metabolism did not “shut down” because I ate less than my body needed for weight maintenance.

    Was my metabolism broken before the low-carb? Maybe. But I really think the key factor was overconsumption associated with an illogical, inexperienced fear of tolerating some hunger, which turned out to be slight and temporary.

    CICO matters. Eat like a pig, and you’ll look like one, very much regardless of macronutrient ratios.

  2. Tim Steele on August 26, 2016 at 16:56

    I wish Guyenet would have addressed the Biggest Loser phenomenon in which people have a drastic reduction in the way their body burns calories. While Guyenet is correct, anyone who has tried long-term calorie restriction and calorie counting knows it is sometimes not as simple as it seems. Thank doG, too. This is what the diet industry relies on, lol. Keeping people on a perpetual “diet.”

    • Richard Nikoley on August 26, 2016 at 17:34

      It’s true Tim, but this is where True Paleo integrates. Real, whole food, everything and you may find enlightenment.

  3. thhq1 on August 27, 2016 at 06:08

    The great appeal of restricted carbohydrate diets is unlimited eating. Since the cause of modern obesity is unlimited eating LC solves a modern problem. The claim that this is the way our ancestors is a stretch. LC and paleo are modern diets which depend on easy access to global fresh food sources and the money to buy them.

    Our ancestors ate what was available that they could digest. Foods which could be preserved easily were prominent in the diet. Grains, cheese, and dried fruits and meats have been major components in the human diet for the last 10,000 years. We’ve adapted to trhive on these foods. While eating fresh whole foods is good for health it isn’t necessary.

    • Steve on August 27, 2016 at 18:43

      You can still get fat on a low carb diet if you eat a surplus of calories. I’ve gotten lean with ease on a high starch diet.

  4. Steve on August 27, 2016 at 18:38

    I’ve achieved my leanest physique by just focusing on maintaining a calorie deficit each week. Currently, I like to eat a deficit mom-fri and eat a surplus on the weekend. The deficit is easy to achieve with potatoes. I never felt hunger. Potatoes, beans, oats, cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs, and popcorn are my staples on deficit days. Supplementing with rs and other prebiotic fibers helped also. Thanks Richard, Tim, and Wilbur for the great advice. Getting lean has been a breeze because of the info I’ve gotten from Freetheanimal and vegetablepharm.

  5. Will on August 27, 2016 at 22:56

    Again, there is no one size fits all. A little story: Back in 80’s, I was living in New Orleans. NO is a major party town, and I fell right into the local culture of eating some of the tastiest food I ever experienced, and drinking seemingly endless amounts of beer. The result was that I shot up to 250 lbs, on a 6’4″ frame. Anyway, one day while at a dentist appointment, I read an article about racewalking, and all of its glorious benefits, including weight loss. What I found was that I enjoyed the hell out of racewalking, as it beat the hell out of running, or jogging. The downside was that I didn’t lose so much as a pound. Then, I decided to take a leave of absence of the bar, and cafe scene, and go on a diet. I started with 1300 calories per day for about a month or so. I then increased to 1600 calories, and peaked out at 1800 calories until I was finally down to 200 lbs. As my racewalking mileage increased, I found that I could eat as many calories as I wanted, and not gain any weight. For ten years I racewalked 8 to 12 miles a day, seven days a week, and never gained any weight.

    • thhq1 on August 29, 2016 at 05:56

      I use a combination of daily biking and walking to maintain weight. I count bike miles at half of walk miles, and in the summer this totals about 15 per day (5 walk, 20 bike). I have to restrict the amount that I eat (currently 2300-2400 calories), and I wake up hungry every morning.

  6. LaFrite on August 29, 2016 at 02:45

    As far as I am concerned, when I look back at my nutritional journey (from no starch to VLC to primal to peasant to just moderate eating today), it has ALWAYS been about calories. My metabolism is far from being broken and I simply loved to eat too much, coupled with a lazy attitude since I was a teenager.

    I got lean by:
    – getting rid of the laziness
    – restricting junk foods and appreciate true hunger once in a while (*)
    – respecting my sleep
    – not stressing for anything

    (*) I suspect that if I lived in an environment where food supply wasn’t for granted (supermarkets, etc), I don’t think I would appreciate that true hunger feeling very much …

  7. Skyler Tanner on August 30, 2016 at 14:38

    Calories: the universally permissive variable.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.