As a formerly obese person, I lost my weight counting calories. I did it with a high protein, moderate carb approach and it worked. I lost 100lbs this way. I lost the last 15 after going Paleo, but still counting calories.
The thing that scares me the most about un-weighed/un-measured Paleo is weight gain. I can't seem to retrain my brain to believe I won't gain weight eating all this fat.
I'd love to see research showing that calories DON'T matter or maybe I want to see something proving to me that they do. Really, I am just very worried I will gain back the weight I've lost while trying to go fully Paleo.
I want to add.
@pfw, Taubes has since admitted, in his interview with Jimmy Moore back in September, that one can store fat in the absence of carbohydrate, in the absence of glycerol 3-phosphate from glucose. We talked about this on a paleohacks thread about insulin, also back in September I believe, where Matthew got us all reading these Taubes critics who form a little circle on the web: James Krieger and adipo insights are the two I've looked at. That thread isn't around anymore because the guy who started it left paleohacks and asked that his contributions be removed.
As I always say, chapter 17 of GCBC is the best thing to read to put it all together. I'll try to to do it briefly here, which might be helpful. The key is that the equation, weight loss = calories out - calories in, will always hold, no matter what (Dave S.). But the mistake everyone makes is thinking that the right-hand side of the equation must be the cause and the left-hand side of the equation the effect. As Dave S. points out, it's usually the other way around: you change the hormones on the inside of your body, and this then has the effect of changing the difference between calories in and calories out (i.e., your body does it for you). The reason the causation often doesn't work from right to left, the reason you don't lose weight when you consciously increase calories out or consciously decrease calories in, is that these two things are not independent variables. If you consciously decrease calories in, your body can, through various techniques, decrease its calories out (CavemanJ). If you consciously increase calories out, your body will do everything it can to get you to increase calories in (make you hungrier). And on the other side of things, if you are skinny, you can increase calories in and your body can compensate by increasing calories out: you fidget, etc. (And if we want to be very precise about the equation we have to include the thermic effect of food (JakeA).) I think the most intuitive thing for understanding this is the idea of a body fat setpoint. You need to change your body fat setpoint, and this doesn't happen just by calorie restriction.
That said, of course you can lose weight by greatly limiting the amount of food you put in your body: if you are starving in the desert you will lose weight. And you can gain weight by overfeeding, even if it's all saturated fat. But two points. i. These are more drastic cases, and the setpoint theory still applies within certain bounds; if you are not underfeeding by a huge margin then your body will find ways of conserving energy and thwarting your fat loss. This makes sense; your body would have to be able to do this on its own; otherwise no one would ever stay the same weight for ten years at a time without meticulously counting calories and making sure that calories in and calories out match up. ii. In starvation and overfeeding experiments, it pretty much always happens that when the experiment ends the subjects go back to their original weight. (Usually in starvation experiments people go back to a weight slightly higher than their original weights, which explains why frequent dieting wrecks your body in the long term.) Your body will do whatever it can to get you back. In the case of underfeeding, it will make you hungry, hungry, hungry until you get back to the body fat level it wants you to be at. And then you'll stop being hungry. Voilà. So if you want to lose weight without hunger then paleo is the way to do it. Rearrange those hormones. Eat paleo, sleep a lot, lift weights.
Note that everything I've said so far was said without mentioning insulin or hyperinsulinemia. All of these points can be made in the absence of any particular theory about exactly what kind of hormonal change has to go on to gain weight or to lose weight. Is it leptin? Is it insulin? Who knows. In this respect, I think Stephan is the tops. Because he is thinking very carefully about the various factors that go into weight gain and weight loss. He does not accept the simple version of the Taubesian theory, "carbohydrate driving insulin driving fat," but he does accept the Taubesian critique of caloric restriction. So he's starting off on the right foot with respect to the calories issue, and then moving on from there to try to figure out exactly what's going on with hormones. Sorry about the long post.
It's not a question of belief. The first law of thermodynamics (energy in = energy out) cannot be violated. Even Gary Taubes and Dr. Michal Eades admit this. The point is that it doesn't give you the cause and effect relationship. Are people fat because they are lazy gluttons? The science says no. People eat too much/get lazy (slow metabolism) because of the hormonal effect of food. Insulin forces the sugar into fat cells (oversimplified, I know) - which leaves the cells hungry. Correct the hormonal problem (sugar/insulin) and the body has plenty of energy in the form of its own fat storage - and will burn this fat and not be as hungry.
Calories matter. You CAN eat paleo and not lose weight. Most people lose because they are less hungry and spontaneously reduce caloric intake. Its also okay to eat more one day and less the next. Skip meals once in a while or try IF.
I'd like to go out on a limb here and disagree with the well established laws of thermo-dynamics, but more specifically why they do not apply to biological factors so far up the scale.
I have worked with dozens of people who were trying to lose weight. Most people can do this with calories in versus calories out, however, not 100% of people can do it this way. I have worked with people who have restricted calories and increased activity levels (no cheats or any other discrepancies) and haven't lost weight. It's not many, but a single exception leads us to question the premise.
It's not that these few people are circumventing the laws of physics, it's that there are biological safe guards in place - there to prevent sudden changes in environment or sudden food scarcity from harming us. For some, restricting calories and increasing activity will shock the body into starvation mode. If this happens, your body will conserve fat to survive. It will slow down or switch off other non-essential processes. People in this state will make fewer involuntary movements, they will make fewer voluntary movements, core temp may drop, sleep may go on for longer, inhibited cognitive function, 'feeling tired'.
Decreasing calories eaten and increasing overt activity is not always effective.
FYI, for those of my clients who historically can't lose weight via calorie restriction/counting, always manage to on paleo (and that's without counting calories, because calorie counting is BORING)
Calories in/Calories out is partially true but it has two fallacies. The first fallacy is that those who promulgate this theory usually make it sound like the calories in amount is the cause of the problem. But it's not. The cause of the problem is that which makes you hungry. Then the hunger results in calories in. To solve the problem, you need to get to the root. Calories in is not the root. That which causes hunger is the root. You need to figure out why you are hungry and wish to overeat in order to have long term reliable weight control without suffering.
The second fallacy is that calories in/calories out theorists usually forget about other variables like that it's not only what calories you take in but also what your body chooses to do with them, like either store or burn them. Calories can lead to a fat butt or they can lead to increased energy and desire to get up and go. What the body wishes to do with its calories is another biological issue that is very important but typically totally ignored by many of those who like to talk about calories in/calories out. IMO, calories in/calories out is not exactly inaccurate but the idea is overly simplistic and they way it is currently promoted, also tends to mislead the public about the true reasons behind obesity.
There are people smarted than me who can explain it better. Here are some goods videos to start with:
I'm down 60 lbs without counting calories or anything else. The problem with the in/out theory is it's oversimplified and assumes a calorie is a calorie. A calorie is only a unit of heat energy and not a physical thing you can hold in your hand and eat. A slice of Wonder bread has the same calories as about two carrots (around 70). The difference lies in the package the calories come in.
It's not that calories don't matter, it's that if your body is working properly in terms of hormones and other signaling mechanisms, you should never have to count calories to get to and maintain a healthy weight. In some people, this ability is broken, and they may have to limit portions to reach these goals. In others, simply removing most of the carbohydrates from the diet will get the right hormonal state, in which eating to satiation will cause weight normalization. In fact, there are people who have purposefully overeaten by vast amounts while restricting carbohydrates and still losing or maintaining. Still others cannot overeat, even if it is just fatty meat, without gaining.
I suggest trying it with some upper bound of how much weight you are willing to gain before you decide it's not working.
All the folks here are chiming in with theory, so I thought I'd answer based on my personal experience. I lost 40 pounds in the last 7 months without ever restricting calories. In fact, beyond eliminating the stuff everyone does under paleo, I paid very little attention to what I ate; I just ate what I wanted. I should also mention that I ate plenty of fruit, so it was not particularly low-carb.
I did do IF about once a week.
I also ate A LOT of fat: butter, lard, coconut oil.. I may have gone a bit overboard, which may have been what lead to some GI issues. But overall I've never felt better.
So, in so far as I can extrapolate from my own case, it is simply not true that you need to count calories to lose weight. It is also not true that eating fat makes you fat. It seems I just feel full eating a lot less.
I think our national lipophobia is probably one of the most damaging cultural trends in recent years. Eat fat and be happy :-)
taking in more calories than you expend will add weight to your body, yes. Fact. The question Taubes deals with is why so many people's metabolism/hormonal state is such that it drives them to overconsume when they are lean, thus resulting in overweight. His book is tremendous and im excited that he's blogging and releasing another book now.
And you can gain weight eating anything. I am absolutely strict paleo - no grain, dairy, or legume. All meat and salady veg. I dont even eat starch. None. But im on a Starting Strength program and am eating BIG. Prolly in the 4k-5k cals/day range. I started the program at 154 lbs and Friday i was at 165, 11 lb gain in about one month. Im still looking to gain. Im seeing how long i can keep upping my cals, gaining weight, making progress with my poundage on strict paleo. If i stall out, ill start adding sweet potato, etc.
I personally believe that calories in and out are important and do matter. I second the law of thermodynamics post. My addition is the thermic effect of food (TEF.) A slice of wonderbread vs some carrots for the same amount of carbs/calories would not result in the same effect since our bodies do not have to process the bread as much to receive the energy. I would refer you to Martin Berkhan on this topic. Check out this post: http://www.leangains.com/2010/10/top-ten-fasting-myths-debunked.html
Martin explains the thermic effect of food in his 1st bullet point. Very informative.
I have not lost weight eating unrestricted paleo; but that was never my main goal. I actually tend to gain weight eating paleo foods that are more processed like soups and stews. I tend to lose weight and feel leaner eating more around chunks of meat and vegetables.