How Do You Change The Weight of the “Water Weight?”

— It has been a very long time since I’ve seen anything new. This is new.

It must have been sometime in 2008, 15 years ago….

About a year prior, concerned about my shrinking clothing, I started going to the gym, met with some initial success, blogged about it here, and someone commented that the stuff I was kinda sorta figuring out on my own sounded a little bit like this Art DeVany guy.

The rest is the history where I lost a bunch of weight, became one of the influencers in the burgeoning paleosphere, and so on.

Looking back, I didn’t really get caught up too much in the obsessions on both sides over calories. Yea, sure, I initially discounted them, then did an about-face and said they do matter, but the overall paradigm was one of human evolution where, rather than obsessing about calorie counting, you simply note that obesity and all that goes with it is a wholly modern and very recent phenomena.

In other words, whether calories count a great deal or not a wit doesn’t matter. There used to be food ways that never required counting anything and nobody was obese. So, figure out what that was and kinda do that, see how it works. And of course, for those reenacting Grok, it’s a pretty wide range of food, as I used to harp on over and over…from arctic to antarctic and sea level to 16,000 feet, and everything in-between.

… Getting back to the first sentence, about 15 years ago I was wondering about all this calorie is a calorie, in-out = energy-balance stuff and I read some post by Lyle McDonald on it. Big calories count guy. I recall adding a comment to the post along the lines of “how about the weight of the food itself?”

It seemed silly to me to even ask it, and it wasn’t answered, and I put it out of my mind.

Until last week.

Where did the weight go?

Take 1 kg of water at 100C. Let it cool to 20C. By the definition of calories, it has “lost” 80 kilocalories. Then how come the water still weights the same 1 kg?

Well, you could say that it weighs the same because calories in equals calories out; that is, a certain amount of energy was required to get it to 100 and that’s the exact amount it lost returning to 20. But then someone could be a smart aleck and ask, “okay, smarty-pants, then exactly how do you change the weight of the water?”

Hold that thought.

Thought experiment number 2: Capture a volume of air that you exhale by blowing up a balloon. Pour liquid nitrogen (-196C) on it. It won’t pop. Rather, it turns the oxygen to a liquid and the carbon dioxide to a solid. Now, the balloon’s captured mass is visible.

Same mass (weight) as before—even though it has lost a lot of calories—but now you can see the mass. You see evidence of the caloric loss because of the change of states—from gas to solid and gas to liquid—but you can’t see the calories lost. You can only see the mass lost from the body by means of exhaling air.

That mass remains identical regardless of the calories in (to change its state to gaseous), or the calories out (to change its states to liquid and solid).

That CO2 loss is weight (mass) loss. Atmosphere is 0.04% CO2. That’s four 100ths of 1%. Not a lot. That’s what you inhale. When you exhale, the CO2 fraction is 4-5%. That’s a 100 to 125-fold increase in CO2.

This is your weight loss—every time you expel a breath.

Yes, there are other [weight] losses (pee, poop, sweat, tears, blood) but in most cases, that’s going to balance out to only miniscule differences from what’s input in terms of solids and liquids. The gut biome is literally a different animal. That requires some sort of adjustment calculation with variable input parameters like BMI, etc., since the dead bacteria or parasites in your poop is not you. But everything else is going to balance out really, really damn close.

The weight loss variable is the mass of your exhaled CO2.

And that mass—that weight loss—has nothing, that I can see, to do with calories.

So how about that?

Full circle? Calories don’t count?

Not so fast.

It’s simply contextual, or a matter of perspective; or, even, a matter of approximation. You can think of it as a map. The map is not the territory; and yet, you can follow it and get where you need to be.

In fact, enough metabolic-ward studies have been done to reasonably establish that caloric intake is a decent analog or derivative for predicting weight loss or gain when calculated against energy expenditure.

But, food metabolism that provides the energy input we need to live is nothing like the manner in which the caloric content of food is determined in a lab. Food metabolism is a chemical process that provides energy by means of breaking chemical bonds (much gentler than breaking atomic bonds, rest assured).

To get the caloric content of foods, they burn it, and the thermal energy it gives off is recorded, calculated, spindled, and mutilated…until they have a figure that’s close enough for rocket science. You can do it yourself in a home lab.

So, when they talk about “burning calories,” it’s a manner of speaking that caught on simply because that’s how they calculate it in a lab; and not because what our bodies do with food, which, again, is to break it down biochemically.

So the way I look at it is as a tool. Since it’s a tool we use to gain information, a decent analogy might be a measuring tape. There are different sorts of measuring tools. A rolled up metal tape is convenient and useful. It’s suitable for most applications. On the other hand, it’s not a laser-based measurement device, or even machine-grade calipers or micrometers.

Is there a better way to look at it?

Dr. Michael Eades believes there might be.

I knew he had recently attended one of those low-carb conferences to give a presentation; and while I’ve watched many of his presentations and even attended some in person, I figured it would probably be the standard “LC Dog & Pony Show,” if you know what I mean.

It wasn’t, and that’s where all this comes from. So damn, I don’t get to claim any credit if you find this interesting.

Here’s the video, about an hour.

The water experiment begins here (18:32), and the balloon experiment begins here (22:46). But there’s a lot more to the presentation, so I heartily encourage you to watch it in full.

There’s a question session at the end and one of the questioners asked what I thought was an interesting question. I posed my take on it to Mike in an email.

Hey Mike,

Just watched your presentation as I was eating this:

That’s pork loin sliced into steaks ($4.69 / kg) and air fried, then seared; roasted potatoes (tossed in coconut oil), onions fried in coconut oil, and massaman curry, which is the paste + coconut milk.

Pretty high fat.


Very intriguing and thought-provoking, and I was reminded of when I was way dumb about all this stuff, 2008 or so, reading a CICO post by Lyle McDonald and I posted a comment basically asking “how does the weight of the food play into all this?”

I never got an answer and put such a “silly notion” out of my head and never considered it again until just now.

I found the clever ‘usefulness’ question by the guy intriguing.

What DOES happen if you eat 1 pound of cellulose, 1 pound of steak, or 1 pound of cake? Or, what happens afterward in terms of behavior?

Cellulose: you’re not eating it again, probably ever; negative satiety; so dismissed

Steak: it’s going to be a fair while until you’re hungry again

Cake: you’re going to go into a coma, maybe take a nap, and when you wake up you’re going to be ravenous for another pound of cake

So… this really does offer a great new way of looking at it that makes more sense, and it fits right in with what we know or suspect about the various hormonal activity. Instead of saying that junk carbs make you consume more energy, we say they make you want to consume more weight sooner and if you chronically consume too much weight every day, you’re going to retain some of it.

Too much, too often.

Also, perhaps the most valuable slide is this one:

Watch the corresponding part that begins here (33:56)

That’s an enormous difference in, let’s say, “actionable weight,” since water doesn’t do anything one way or the other.

The wheat flour could be cake (minus the eggs). Use all the sugar you want for frosting, same same.

THAT’S A 42% DIFFERENCE IN ACTIONABLE WEIGHT!!! And it should be intuitively obvious that such consumption predominately and chronically is going to equal mass gain and, correspondingly, predominant consumption of the steak is going to equal mass loss.

And the double-whammy kicker is that hormonally, the steak is way more satiating than the cake (which is really negative satiety past an hour or two).

So many ah-has here.

For me: maybe piling on added fat isn’t such a big deal if carbs are kept moderate.

Perhaps for you: lower than moderate carbs is probably a big chase of diminishing returns. That is, it’s washed out by simply keeping steak high enough.


My final dot-connecting synthesis

You’ve got the base-CICO-driven crowd who’re agnostic amount much of anything else. Eat whatever, count calories, determine baseline energy output, and eat an amount of whatever calories well below that. It works pretty easily if your diet is good and you’re getting replete micronutrient nutrition. It works like shit if you eat a junk diet, and you’ll surely fail.

You’ve got various incantations on low-carb, keto, carnivore, paleo, targeted-to-high protein…and amongst those, nuances in terms of whole foods, reenactment foods (almond flour, cauliflower mash), approved candies and snacks—with all imaginable manner of sweeteners without calories…lists multiply and go on.

You’ve got the behaviorists. Those are the neuroscience peeps talking about food reward and such.

You’ve got the endocrinologists. Those are the people wanting you to test all of your hormones.

If I think about this new thing, but not too hard, my intuitive sense is that the calorie debate mucks things up and that’s why I’ve largely shied away from it while acknowledging its usefulness as a tool.

But if I think just a teensy bit harder, I realize that what I’ve been saying for years about eating too much, too often, really dovetails a lot better with the actionable weight of the food (the weight less water) rather than it does the caloric energy of the food.

And guess what? The weight of food corresponds pretty well with what your plate looks like. That’s not so with calories, which is why we have the common parlance, “hidden calories.”

My bottom line is still the same, just with a cleaner and clearer way to look at it.

Rather than saying things like “don’t eat too much, too often, you’ll overconsume calories if you do it all the time,” I can say: it’s too much food…fucking look at your plate…do you even need to weigh it? And you’re doing this stupid shit all the damn time, and you can plainly see it with your own eyes!

You get the idea, so consider this last thing: how many people get away with let themselves off the hook when eating a ton of food because it meets caloric limits in some way (low fat, low-carb, low sugar, low protein…low calories).

And one last last thing. Food companies sell food by weight. So, if you’re in the business and looking to maximize profit, then maybe you can more easily sell a ton of food by the pound if you can exclaim that it’s low in calories!

UPDATE: For those of you who’d like a detailed outline of what’s going on with this, Dr. Eades has written it up in his latest newsletter.

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  1. Charles Richardson on February 17, 2023 at 01:56

    Okay, yeah. I think I get it and I’m going to have to think about this for quite a bit to really feel it. I think you’re right; that slide showing ribeye and wheat flour is is the core of it. Actionable is a good term. Now, I think there are some other things going on hormonally and at a phenomic level (the over# or under-expression of certain genes) But I think those things are what make this way of eating easier, and aren’t the core processes. So you’ve got both things going on, the physiological mass in mass out thing, and the behavioral drivers. I think ketogenic and/or low carb diet brings those things in harmony so one isn’t fighting the other. Hi carb low fat diets by contrast have those forces fighting each other. So while the physics maybe simple, and I think this is a great theory, the behavioral aspects add some complexity.

    Great stuff, thanks for putting this up there. I like Mike but his newsletters have gotten a little too polemic for me lately so I haven’t been reading them.

  2. Matt Miller on February 19, 2023 at 04:06

    “reenactment foods”


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