Flaky Fringe or Cutting Edge? (Part 3)


One of the ideas currently being floated is that energy balance might be more complicated than was previously believed, and there may be more “players” in the game than previously recognized. Or, as Ryan Andrews expresses it:

The standard ‘textbook’ view of energy balance doesn’t offer consistent explanations for body composition changes… While nutrition and health experts simply blame weight gain on calories, that doesn’t paint the whole picture… Blaming weight gain on calories is like blaming wars on guns.

This is big news, because it upsets the well-established calories in/energy out paradigm. Which is, at bottom, all about energy. First it comes in, via the calories in food, and between 90-99% of it is absorbed into the digestive system. Also, energy goes out, and here things starts to get complicated. The fuel is used for three “energy out” purposes: work, heat, and storage, and they each have branches too.

Work is physical activity or exercise, and it is a “metabolic intervention” because it causes chemical changes in the body. The second item is heat management, including the heat created by physical work. Even if no work is being done, the resting metabolism must be taken into account.

And then there is TEF, the thermic effect of food. Also, adipose creation and thermoregulation. It takes energy to make fat, but then the adipose tissue returns the favor by storing energy. Storage is the third “energy out” item.

Andrews explains why calories in/energy out might not show the whole picture:

Our energy balance is regulated and monitored by a rich network of systems. There’s a complex interplay between the hypothalamus, neural connections in the body and hormone receptors. Information is received about energy repletion/depletion, the diurnal clock, physical activity level, reproductive cycle, developmental state, and acute and chronic stressors. Moreover, information about the acquisition, storage, and retrieval of sensory and internal food experiences are relayed. These signals can impact energy balance.

Let’s be fanciful for a moment and propose a theory that could account for the discrepancies. The modern world is quite different from the past, full of technology and machinery, and the consequent despoliation of water and air. Maybe in the past, everything could be explained by the simple form of the energy balance equation. Maybe in the old days, people got fat or skinny for the most elementary reason. They took in a certain number of calories and expended a certain amount of energy, and the result was simple math.

That is exactly why many health professionals and others are alarmed about pollutants in the air, water, food, etc. In their view, something is going on, so evil it is even capable of corrupting biological formulas that functioned well for eons. The threat seemingly violates the laws of thermodynamics. In this scenario, the chemicals and rays and noise, and a hundred other newly invented hazards bathe us in a ubiquitous sea of toxins.

No matter how well the human body might have handled its energy balance a thousand years ago, that was then and this is now. The intrusive forces are messing with our bodies and brains in unprecedented ways.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “All About Energy Balance,” Precision Nutrition, 09/21/09
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