Sunday, October 26, 2014

Energy Balance: Neither Hypothesis Nor Trivial Tautology

In an article published in the British Journal of Medicine, Gary Taubes claimed that what he calls the energy balance “notion” is both a hypothesis and an uninformative tautology.  In this article I will show that the energy balance equation is not a hypothesis nor uninformative tautology.

Hypothesis and Uninformative Tautology?  Source: CDC


Taubes wrote:

"Since the 1950's, the conventional wisdom on obesity has been simple: it is fundamentally caused by or results form a net positive energy balance––another way of saying that we get fat because we overeat.  We consume more energy than we expend." 

Directly under the heading "Energy balance hypothesis" he goes on:

“Despite its treatment as gospel truth, as preordained by physical law, the energy balance or overeating hypothesis of obesity is only that, a hypothesis.”

Thus, he appears to maintain that the idea that organisms gain weight because they consume more energy than they expend is only a hypothesis.  This implies that in his view, it is hypothetically possible for an organism to gain body mass without sustaining a net positive energy balance.

Maybe it is also possible for me to gain in wealth without sustaining a net positive income balance?  Wouldn't it be great if you could grow your bank account while spending more than you earn?  Did the editors of the BMJ really believe that Taubes discovered some new laws of nature and mathematics?

To understand why the energy balance equation is not a hypothesis, we need to understand 1) the concept of hypothesis and 2) the first law of thermodynamics.

A hypothesis is a speculative explanation for a phenomenon, generally based on observation of the behavior of the phenomenon in question.  A hypothesis is potentially falsifiable. 

For example, based on observations, I may speculate that diets containing 25% plant protein are more satiating than diets containing 5% plant protein. I can state all hypotheses in “maybe” statements, e.g. “Maybe diets containing 25% protein are more satiating that diets containing only 5% protein.” I can then construct an experiment to test my hypothesis.  The results of the experiment may confirm or cast doubt on my hypothesis.

Thus, if the energy balance equation is merely a hypothesis, scientists would state it as follows:

"Maybe changes in body mass equal the difference between net energy intake and net energy expenditure."

In addition, if this is a hypothesis, as claimed by Taubes, scientists should be engaged in attempts to test or refute it, and it should be possible to create an experiment which could produce a result that would refute it. 

Regarding the first alternative, it is quite obvious scientists do not use the energy balance equation as a “maybe” statement.  As a matter of fact, scientists state the energy balance equation in mathematical form as follows: 

ΔEbm = Ei – Ee

Where Ebm is the energy stored in body mass, Ei  is energy intake, and Ee is energy expenditure. 

Translated to prose, this equation states:

Any change in body energy stores is equal to energy intake minus energy expenditure.

Furthermore, no scientist is spending his/her time testing and attempting to refute the energy balance equation.  On the contrary, this equation is assumed and used as the very basis for investigating and shedding light upon the various processes that affect net energy intake and expenditure.

Now, someone might say that scientists are supposed to question every thing and not assume anything.  So the question arises, do scientists need to test this energy balance equation before assuming and using it in their investigations? 

To answer this question we need to understand the law of conservation of mass and energy.

The conservation law of thermodynamics states that neither energy nor mass is created or destroyed in any physical process.  Although this law may look like a hypothesis –– which would be stated “maybe energy and mass are conserved in all physical changes” –– in actuality it is not potentially falsifiable because it is in principle impossible for any experiment to refute the law. 

Refutation of this law would require an experiment during which some bit of either energy or mass was ether created out of nothing –– that is, independent of change in any other phenomena –– or destroyed without residue or leaving any trace––that is, again, independent of changing any other, related phenomena.  I would have to either produce or annihilate some thing without transforming any other thing. 

It is in principle impossible to create or observe such an event, because it is the very nature of things (phenomena) to be dependent upon and derived from (transformations of) other, related things.  A observable thing that arises or disappears independent of changes in other things is logically impossible and in principle unobservable.

Basically, any appearance can be viewed as a type of increase, whereas any disappearance can be understood as a species of decrease.  It is impossible for an increase (appearance) to occur without a corresponding and related decrease (disappearance), just as it is impossible for a mountain (increase) to appear without the simultaneous appearance of a valley (decrease).  It is also impossible for a decrease to appear in one location without a corresponding increase in another.  (Buddhist thinkers call this the principle of dependent origination).

It is impossible demonstrate something arising out of nothing because to do so we would have to first create or demonstrate a field of nothingness.  Such a field would have no characteristics or features, margins, size, shape, or location.  Consequently, it could not be an object of perception.  Since it is impossible to see, hear, smell, taste, or touch nothing, it is also impossible to show some thing (mass or energy) arising out of nothing.

Further, any observation involves changes in the observer's perceptual apparatus, hence it is in principle impossible for for something to appear (be noticed) without the appearance of that thing causing changes in other things (at a minimum, the perceiver's sensory organs).

This leads to the most important point that the law of conservation of mass and energy is an essential foundation to scientific knowledge of phenomena.  If phenomena did not conform to the conservation law, no scientific knowledge of phenomena would be possible. If things popped into and out of existence at random, it would be impossible to account for or control changes in phenomena.  This law simply describes the basic, unalterable nature of phenomena that makes scientific knowledge and technological control of phenomena possible.

Now, the energy balance equation is nothing more than a specific restatement of the conservation law.

As a matter of scientific principle, if the energy balance law did not apply to phenomena, it would be impossible to track flows of energy and mass in the environment or body, because energy or mass could suddenly come into existence or disappear into nothingness at any point in time.  From this it would follow that it would be impossible to control the flow of energy and mass in the environment. 

Refutation of the energy balance law would require an experiment in which a change in body energy stores is produced without an equivalent change in difference between energy input and expenditure.  In other words,1) an experiment wherein people accumulate body energy stores while while energy intake is either equal to or less than energy expenditure; or 2) an experiment wherein people lose body energy stores while energy intake is either equal to or greater than expenditure.

For example, an experiment where people fast and yet either maintain or gain weight; or an experiment wherein people consume more calories than they expend, yet either maintain or lose weight. 

From this it follows that in claiming that the energy balance equation is a hypothesis, Taubes conceptually allies himself with breatharians who claim that people can maintain body weight and health without food intake.  Apparently, the editors of the British Medical Journal consider the reasoning processes of the breatharians worthy of scientific attention.  They are apparently more gullible than the producers of 60 Minutes who put the scam artist to the test.

Taubes seems to be suggesting on one hand that "maybe" fasting, undereating, or eating foods rich in carbohydrates activates hormones or "lipophilic adipose tissue" in such a way that people will gain weight despite low food energy intake.

On the other hand, Taubes appears to venture the hypothesis that "maybe" obese people can starve the "lipophilic adipose" and lose weight by consuming lots of fat and calories.  Strangely he seems to think that "lipophilic" i.e. fat (lipo-) loving (-philic) adipose doesn't love dietary fat. 

Makes perfect sense, right?

What a magical world he lives in.  Applying his reasoning to other phenomena, I venture the following hypotheses:

Maybe the best way to stay optimally hydrated is to limit all water intake (including food source water) as much as possible, and dehydration is caused by drinking water.

Maybe the best way to accumulate wealth is to spend every penny one earns, and the best way to go broke is to save more than you spend.

Sarcasm aside, in stating the energy balance equation, no scientist is hypothesizing that the “change in body energy stores” is “the difference between energy intake and energy expenditure.”   

On the contrary, we use this equation to guide investigation and control of changes in body mass.  If someone’s body mass goes up, we look for increases in energy intake, or decreases in energy expenditure.  If someone’s body mass goes down, we look for decreases in energy intake, or increases in energy expenditure.  If we want to reduce body mass, we reduce energy intake or increase energy expenditure; if we want to increase body mass, we increase energy intake or decrease energy expenditure. 

In other words, we use this equation the same way we use the second law of motion––F=ma–– to understand or control the motions and impacts of objects.  This equation tells us how to increase or decrease forces by manipulation of mass or acceleration, just as the energy balance equation tells us how to increase or decrease body mass by manipulating energy intake or expenditure.

Trivial Tautology?

Taubes contends that “the energy balance notion has an obvious flaw: it is tautological.  If we get fatter (more massive), we have to take in more calories than we expend––that’s what the laws of thermodynamics dictate––and so we must be overeating during this fattening process. But this tells us nothing about cause.”

In this statement, Taubes shifts from calling the energy balance equation a hypothesis to saying that it is dictated by the laws of thermodynamics, contradicting his own claim that it is a hypothesis.  But now he thinks he can dismiss it because it is a meaningless tautology.

So now we need to understand tautology. 

A tautology is a statement that is true under all circumstances by virtue of its logical structure.

Before going any further, I want to point out that Taubes calls energy balance both a hypothesis and a tautology, but it is impossible for any statement to be both a hypothesis and a tautology, because a hypothesis proposes a possibility, and may be refuted, but a tautology is true under any and all circumstances, so can never be refuted.

Anyone who calls the energy balance law both a hypothesis and a tautology reveals an incorrect understanding of both types of statements and a very poor grasp of fundamental principles of logic, epistemology, and science.  Anyone who allows someone else to publish a paper in BMJ with this fundamental contradiction is similarly lacking. 

Some frequently discussed examples of tautology are:

This mystery is unsolved.
A bachelor is an unmarried male.
Red is a color.
It is either raining outside, or not raining outside, right now.
I think, therefore I am.

Now, let’s take a look at these four examples, asking, are these all tautological for the same reason?  The answer is NO.

The first example–”This mystery is unsolved”–is called a rhetorical tautology. Since a mystery is by definition unsolved, the statement is true under all circumstances and provides no new information.

“A bachelor is an unmarried male” is tautological by definition.  We don’t need to refer to experience to confirm this statement, by which I mean that we don’t confirm it by examining unmarried males, in an attempt to confirm that every one of them is a bachelor.  This statement is a tautology because by convention, we assign the same meaning to the word “bachelor” as to “unmarried male.”  We could just as easily decide to henceforward use the word “pixidingdong” as synonymous with “unmarried male.”

“Red is a color” is tautological because red belongs to the class “colors.”  Therefore,  the statement is not informative because saying red is a color does not give new information about red.  Notice that this is different from “A bachelor is an unmarried male” because while ALL bachelors are unmarried males and vice versa, red is a color, but not all colors are red. 

“It is either raining or not raining outside right now” is true under all circumstances because it is a statement of jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive alternatives.  The general form of such statements is "A or not A."

Finally we get to Descartes’s famous dictum “I think therefore I am.” This has also been called a tautology on the grounds that the statement “I think” is said to already include the statement “I am.”  In other words, it is claimed to be without information because if I say “I think” I am already saying “I am.”

However, people who make the claim that this statement provides no information seem to have missed something very important.  How does one know the meaning and relationship of the statements “I think” or “I am"?  Does one merely look it up in a dictionary?  Did you have to be taught that “I think” includes “I am” the way that you had to be taught that “bachelor” means “unmarried male,” or “color” includes “red” or “mystery” means “unsolved”?  Is “I think” arbitrarily related to “I am” as “bachelor” is to “unmarried male”?  Is “I think” a species of “I am” as “red” is of “color”?

It should be very clear that meanings of "I think" and "I am" are neither arbitrarily derived nor arbitrarily related like "bachelor" and "unmarried male."

Try as one may, it is impossible to give a meaningful lexical definition of “thinking” or “being.”  These concepts derive their meaning directly from our direct experience of being and thinking.  Moreover, one knows that “I think” includes “I am” not by mere analysis of terms, nor because someone told us so, but by direct experience.   

Further, Descartes was not a stupid man who spouted uninformative bullshit.  He did make some mistakes, but unlike those who attack his statement as a trivial tautology, he was astute enough to see that the statement “I think, therefore I am” conveys profoundly important information about the structure of experience and the relative ontological status of one’s own self in comparison to the objects one observes, as well as the vast difference in epistemological status between this statement and statements about the observed world, like "The sky is blue."  

Descartes saw that "I think therefore I am" conveys the important fact that one’s own existence is certain beyond doubt, because one’s existence is the necessary condition for one’s doubting (thinking); whereas the statement "The sky is blue" is not beyond doubt, and in fact is contingent upon a certain condition of one's eyes.  By the latter statement I simply mean that if we had eyes with some different conditions, the sky would not appear to us as what we now call blue. 

Hence, although it is in a sense correct to call “I think, therefore I am” an analytical truth or tautology, this statement is very, very different from “the mystery is unsolved,” “a bachelor is an unmarried male,” “red is a color,”   or “A or not A.”

I discuss this last example extensively because it shows that some so-called tautologies are not trivial statements, but in fact convey information about the fundamental structure of our experience.  

Now, as I stated above, the energy balance concept is actually a physical science equation. 

ΔEbm = Ei – Ee

If this is a tautology, then so also are other such equations, such as:

E = mc2

F = ma

In the case of “a bachelor is an unmarried male,” we arbitrarily establish an equivalence between the word “bachelor” and the status “unmarried male.”  But when Newton formulated the equation “force equals mass multiplied by the acceleration” he was not arbitrarily defining “force” as “mass x acceleration,” and Einstein did not define E as mc2 on a whim.  On the contrary these scientists discovered these equations only after very hard work attempting to understand the behavior of phenomena.

Further, neither F=ma nor E= mc2 is a statement of class inclusion like “red is a color.”  Nor do these equations state jointly exhaustive alternatives, like “it is either raining or not raining outside right now.” 

Someone might try to argue that in physics the word “force” has the same meaning as “mass x acceleration” and therefore that the equation F=ma is a tautology.  Let's accept this.  Would this deprive this equation of its immense scientific importance and power?   

In fact, each of these equations mathematically expresses the behavior of phenomena and enables us to understand and control the behavior of phenomena.
Source: Physics UMD

For example, F=ma states that the existence and magnitude of any force depends upon  i.e. arises from a mass and acceleration.  Knowledge of this tautology enables us to answer questions.

If I ask the question, “If I drop a feather and a boulder from the same height to the earth, why does the feather hardly disturb the  earth while the boulder leaves a crater?”  The second law of motion provides the answer that although both feather and boulder are subjected to the same acceleration, the boulder hits the earth with more force because it has a greater mass. 

If I ask the question, “How can I increase the safety of resistance exercise for the joints?”  the second law of motion provides the answer:  Reduce the forces to which you subject the joints by reducing the acceleration applied to the resistance.  In other words, gradually apply force to the resistance when starting movement, and at turnarounds in the range of motion, ease into and out of the ends of the range of motion, never yanking on the resistance or letting it drop.

In his BMJ article, Taubes wrote:

“If we get fatter (more massive), we have to take in more calories than we expend––that’s what the laws of thermodynamics dictate––and so we must be overeating during this fattening process. But this tells us nothing about cause.  Here’s the circular logic:

Why do we get fat? Because we overeat.

How do we know we’re overeating? Because we’re getting fatter.

Andy why are we getting fatter?  Because we’re overeating.

And so it goes, round and round.”

Is this circular reasoning?  No.  Circular reasoning occurs when someone makes an argument that includes the dubious conclusion as one of the premises.  The statement "We grow fat because we overeat" is not an argument, nor is it logically reducible to either "We grow fat because we grow fat" or "We overeat because we overeat."

To clarify, by Taubes's reasoning the statement "My car starts because I turned the ignition switch" is circular logic, and reducible to "My car starts because my car starts" or "I turned the ignition switch because I turned the ignition switch."  If he believed what he wrote, then he was at the time incapable of distinguishing a causal statement from circular reasoning.  This would make it difficult for him to pass a basic logic course.

Now, suppose you went to a physicist and said:

“If I want to reduce the forces acting on my knee joints, I have to either reduce my body mass or my acceleration––that’s what Newton’s second law states––and so I must be reducing my mass or my acceleration during this force-reduction process.  But this tells me nothing about cause.  This is the circular logic:

Why are my knees subject to high forces?  Because of high mass or acceleration.

How do I know mass or acceleration is high?  Because my knees are subject to high forces.

And why are my knees subject to high forces?  Because of high mass or acceleration.

And so it goes, round and round.” 

Would the physicist now throw up his hands and say “Oh my stars, you have just shown that F=ma is just a trivial tautological hypothesis and circular logic!”?  Emphatically not.  Instead, he might say “Idiot!  All you need to do is reduce your acceleration, more specifically you should decelerate as you come into contact with the earth.  For example, walk with gentle steps, don’t run or jump.  Or you could eat less and lose 40 pounds. What’s the matter with you?”

If you retorted with “But I want to know what will cause me to walk instead of running, or cause me to eat less and lose 10 pounds.  This equation doesn’t help me”  the physicist might wonder how anyone who appears to have control over his speech could not understand how to control his speed of locomotion or the trajectory of hand to mouth. 

Similar to F=ma and E= mc2, in the energy balance law,  we aren’t arbitrarily equating “change in body energy stores” as “the difference between energy intake and energy expenditure” in the way that “bachelor” is arbitrarily defined as “unmarried male.” 

Nor are we stating that “change in body energy stores” belongs to the class “the difference between energy intake and energy expenditure” as in the tautology “red is a color.” 

On the contrary, the energy balance equation expresses a natural law that describes the behavior of phenomena within a particular realm. Although it may be said to satisfy the criteria for a tautology because of the meanings of the terms, the meanings of the terms are not arbitrary but derived from and representative of a basic, unalterable feature of our experience.  Hence, it is both an analytical truth and a phenomenologically grounded truth, discovered only after extensive scientific study of phenomena, not arbitrarily created. One of my mentors, physicist and philosopher of science Ramakrishna Puligandla Ph.D. correctly classifies these statements as phenomenological-analytical truths.

Far from trivial and uninformative, Newton’s apparently tautological second law of motion tells us the necessary physical conditions for manifestation and alterations of physical forces, and opened up a whole world of physics and engineering that was unknown before Newton. 

Similarly, the energy balance law It tells us the necessary conditions for change in body energy stores:  a difference between energy intake and energy expenditure, and made it possible to discover the various factors that affect net energy intake and net energy expenditure.

Consequently, like all other scientific laws and equations, although the energy balance law appears analytically true or tautological, it is not trivial or uninformative, because it is grounded in the structure of our experience. 

Key Points

It is impossible for any statement to be both a hypothesis and a tautology.

The law of conservation of mass and energy is not a hypothesis but is true of any and all phenomena at all times and places because it is the very nature of phenomena to be dependent upon and derived from (i.e. transformations of) other phenomena.

The energy balance equation is a specialized statement of the law of conservation of mass and energy.

Not all tautologies are trivial and uninformative.  Modern science owes much of its power to the discovery of natural laws which can only be expressed in apparently tautological form.

One must understand the difference between a hypothesis and a tautology, and the differences between various types of tautologies especially in regard to their origins, in order to have an accurate understanding of the principles and practice of science.

Although Gary Taubes hoped to dismiss the energy balance law as trivial and uninformative by calling it both a hypothesis and a tautology, he only thereby revealed a lack of understanding of the terms he used and of the basic principles of natural sciences.


GK said...

You've completely demolished an argument Taubes never made. You made a mistake I've seen many times. Taubes firmly believes that "Ein - Eout = deltaE". What he argues against is "Ein -Eout causes deltaE".

They're not the same thing.

But thanks for writing the post, you've finally motivated me to post on my own blog to attempt explaining this whole thing. See it at

Don Matesz said...

Income minus expenses most certainly causes changes in my profits. If my income goes up while expenses stay the same, this causes my profit to increase. If my expenditures go up while my income stays constant, this causes my profit to decrease.

Just the same, when intake of food energy exceeds energy expenditure, this causes accumulation of body fat. Period.

If you want evidence, just take a look at Sumo wrestlers. They deliberately overeat, and they get fat. Hence, they prove beyond a shadow of doubt that excess energy intake causes accumulation of body fat. Period.

And if you want evidence for the reverse, just watch bodybuilders get lean for contests. They cut their calories and they lose fat. Hence, they prove that limiting energy intake to less than expenditure causes reduction of body fat.

As did the Minnesota Starvation experiment. When those men were limited to 1500 kcal per day, they lost body mass; and when they refed, they gained body mass.

Don Matesz said...

Taubes tries to argue that fat accumulation is not caused by overeating, but the reverse, that overeating is caused by fat accumulation.

Supposedly "lipophilic" fat cells are dragging nutrients out of the blood, causing people to overeat to satisfy these dysfunctional fat cells.

And, according to him, these fat cells are dysfunctional lipophilics solely because of dietary carbohydrates.

Or, because of hormones. So he brings up squirrels, implying that hormones will make them fat regardless of whether they overeat or not. And he brings up people who have unusual fat distributions, implying that since their fat distribution is odd, it can't be that the fat on their bodies came from an intake of energy in excess of expenditure.

He makes feeble arguments against energy balance because he needs to convince you that a diet high in fat and hence in calories does not cause fat cells to accumulate fat.

He tries to convince you that there is something wrong with the idea that overeating makes people fat, or that eating less calories and fat can make you thinner, as it serves as a red herring to distract you from critical analysis of his ideas.

Don Matesz said...

He implies that the fat cells become "lipophilic" when the diet is carbohydrate-rich EVEN IF energy intake is equivalent to or less than expenditure. This is why he refers to poor women who are fat but have undernourished kids. It is very clear that he is trying to imply that the undernourished kids are evidence that these people don't have enough food, and the overweight mothers are evidence that the high carbohydrate content of this food can make you fat even while making your kid undernourished. He never explains why the implied low energy high carbohydrate diet makes the mothers overweight but the children skinny. If a high carbohydrate low fat low calorie diet makes fat cells lipophilic in adults, it should make fat cells lipophilic in the children of those adults also. The kids should be as fat as their mothers.

According to his theory, consuming carbohydrate should be observed to depress energy expenditure, because it causes the energy ingested to be stored (rather than expended).

But it has been well established by numerous experiments for many years now that ingestion of carbohydrate actually stimulates carbohydrate oxidation, and generally raises energy expenditure by about 10%; whereas ingestion of fat DOES NOT stimulate fat oxidation, and has essentially no thermogenic effect. This lack of significant thermogenic effect of dietary fat is due to the fact that fat can be stored as fat with practically no energy expenditure (no conversion to fat required).

Taubes simply favors the idea that changes in energy balance (via depressed expenditure or increased intake) are driven primarily or exclusively by ingestion of carbohydrates.

And he wants us to believe that dietary fat has little or no influence on net energy balance. Hence, avoid carbohydrates (plants) and eat fat (primarily, meat).

The problem is, there is a huge body of evidence contradicting these two key claims of his theory.

Further, this causal relationship (the law of energy balance) has allowed scientists to discover many factors that influence energy intake and expenditure. Some include the following factors that have been shown to increase food and energy intake beyond needs for expenditure:

1) Wide variety of food
2) High fat content of food
2)a) High energy density of food
3) Lack of adequate sleep
4) Lack of early morning bright light exposure
5) Very low physical activity levels
6) Liquid delivery of carbohdyrate
7) Refining of food (reduction of fiber content)

Conversely, eating unrefined foods increases the energy cost of digestion, therefore increasing expenditure.

To name a few. There is no lack of knowledge about or research into causes for increased energy intake or depressed energy expenditure.

But people also overeat just because they like to eat what they are eating. Period.

In summary: Excess of energy intake relative to energy expenditure CAUSES increases in body mass. Many factors influence energy intake and expenditure, it is false to imply (as Taubes does) that no one has looked for or discovered any causes for increased energy intake or depressed energy expenditure.

Stating that the difference between energy intake and expenditure causes changes in body mass does not stop anyone from looking for factors that influence either energy intake or expenditure. Positive energy balance causes weight gain, and negative energy balance causes weight loss. But all scientists know that energy intake and energy expenditure are also influenced or CAUSED by other factors, INCLUDING choices we make about what to eat and how much of it to eat. And even those choices may be influenced or CAUSED by other factors. Science is all about looking for causes. Hence it is just sophistry to say "Energy balance doesn't tell us anything about cause." and especially to imply that up until Taubes came along, no one was looking beyond the energy balance equation for influences on energy intake or expenditure.

Gary Katch said...

Nope. You still haven't got it. In fact, right from the top you repeated the same mistake I pointed out to you (in my blog): "Income minus expenses most certainly causes changes in my profits." There's that word "causes" again. That should be: income minus expenses equals profits.

If the cash flow had been more or less constant (as in a regulated system, like body energy) we have to explain why there is more cash coming in, or fewer expenses.

If more profits are caused by a change in cash flow, you still haven't addressed the cause of the change in cash flow. (In any case, the bank account analogy is not the best, since the balance in not usually regulated automatically.)

I will write a post in regulated systems.

Don Matesz said...

You are just mincing words and ignoring the bulk of my posts. You wrote:

"If the cash flow had been more or less constant (as in a regulated system, like body energy) we have to explain why there is more cash coming in, or fewer expenses."

No kidding. I abundantly addressed the issues of causes affecting changes in income or expenses. It seems Taubes and perhaps you think that no one except Taubes has realized that changes in energy intake or expenditure are effects of other causes. LOL. I gave multiple (7) examples of explanations (causes) for changes in net caloric intake, or decreased total energy expenditure. Including simply consciously choosing to restrict or increase either intake or expenditure, or simply not giving a crap about either and enjoying eating energy dense foods while sitting on one's ass 24/7.

I wrote:

"when intake of food energy exceeds energy expenditure, this causes accumulation of body fat. Period. "

"Causes" just means "results in."

"When over a period of time net average intake of food energy exceeds total energy expenditure, this results in accumulation of body fat."

There is NOTHING wrong with that statement.

Compare to:

"When over a period of time net average intake of food energy exceeds total energy expenditure, this equals accumulation of body mass."

This sentence is awkward at best for the very simple reason that in logic, "equals" (=) is taken to mean "is defined as," but "accumulation of body mass" is not necessarily defined as "net positive energy balance."

That "body mass accumulation" is not merely defined as (i.e. "equal to") "positive net energy balance" is evident from the fact that people understood the term "body mass accumulation" (i.e. growth) for millennia without having any understanding of "positive net energy balance." Even today there are many people on this planet who can understand the idea of "body mass accumulation" without having any understanding of energy balance.

In other words, the term "body mass accumulation" can be defined without any reference to "positive net energy balance" so the term "equals" is not appropriate.

"Body Mass accumulation" =(df) an increase in an organism's mass over a defined period of time.

Similarly, the other terms "net energy intake" and "total energy expenditure" can be defined completely independently of the concept of "body mass accumulation."

The word "causes" is appropriate whenever the interaction of factors ("net energy intake" and "total energy expenditure") over time produces or results in another phenomenon (body mass accumulation).

"X conditions cause Y effect" simply means that when X conditions obtain, Y effect will result or manifest.

You can keep substituting "equals" for "causes" all you want. As I said, this is nothing but word mincing and refusing to use the word "cause" where it is appropriate.

Don Matesz said...

Cash flow is nothing but the movement of money into or out of a business. Therefore, there can't be a change in profits without a change in cash flow, i.e. a change in either or both income or expenses.

"If the cash flow had been more or less constant (as in a regulated system, like body energy) we have to explain why there is more cash coming in, or fewer expenses.

"If more profits are caused by a change in cash flow, you still haven't addressed the cause of the change in cash flow. "

Here it looks like you have tried to imply that there can be a change in profits without a change in cash flow. If cash flow is "more or less constant" then it follows that there is no change in income or expenses, but you imply that cash flow can be constant while income is increasing and expenses are decreasing. If income is increasing, and expenses are decreasing, cash flow is not "more or less constant."

More profits is ALWAYS caused by a change in cash flow.

And this shows again that like Taubes you want to maintain that body fat can accumulate or decline without changing "cash flow" i.e. energy intake or expenditure.

I will say one more time: If you read every thing that I wrote, I have fully agreed that we can and should try to understand (i.e. find the causes for) changes in energy intake or energy expenditure in humans. It is simply false to suggest that no one other than Taubes has realized that this is necessary, or that no one has made attempts or discoveries in this regard. The scientific literature is full of reports of discovery of the factors that influence the food intake and energy expenditure of humans.

The problem is, the vast majority of these investigations do not support Taubes's claim that carbohydrate intake is the primary or exclusive cause for increased energy intake or decreased energy expenditure. Therefore he throws up this smoke screen, and tries to imply that no one has been looking for causes of increased energy intake or decreased energy expenditure in the right place. Except for some preWWII Germans. And his "evidence" to support this claim is that people are still getting fatter and don't often succeed in maintaining weight loss on commonly prescribed diets.

It is all just smoke and mirrors.

This is like saying that the fact that most inhabitants of the U.S.A. lack basic fitness provides evidene that no one knows what causes or has even discovered how to reliably produce strength, flexibility, or cardiorespiratory fitness. LOL.

Some accomplishments simply take a dedication, concentration, and consistent application of knowledge such that only a small portion of the population is willing to do the work.

Don Matesz said...

A couple of additional points:

1) The energy balance EQUATION states that the difference between net energy intake and total energy expenditure EQUALS energy balance (either positive or negative).

It does not in itself say that a change net energy balance results in a change in any specific body mass.

If a body has a net positive energy balance, this could RESULT in, for example:

a) an increase in body temperature
b) an increase in body activity
c) an increase in protein stores
d) an increase in carbohydrate stores
e) an increase in fat stores

A net positive energy balance is a NECESSARY but not SUFFICIENT condition (cause) for any of the above effects. Which of the above effects manifests depends on other factors (causes), including the source of the excess energy intake (C, P, or F) and the demands put on the whole system (e.g lack or presence of resistance training).

Don Matesz said...

2) In this statement:

"If more profits are caused by a change in cash flow, you still haven't addressed the cause of the change in cash flow. (In any case, the bank account analogy is not the best, since the balance in not usually regulated automatically.)"

You seem to be assuming and implying that unlike cash flow of a business, energy balance of the human body is "regulated automatically."

This is in fact begging the question, and I realized that this is what Taubes does.

As a matter of fact, it is well established that not all factors affecting in human energy balance are "regulated automatically."

The human and mammalian physiology does regulate carbohydrate and protein balances relatively tightly, but it DOES NOT regulate fat balance tightly. Whereas both carbohydrate and protein intake stimulate oxidation of these nutrients, fat intake does not stimulate fat oxidation. The body does not have a mechanism for adjusting fat oxidation to fat intake. Fat oxidation is only indirectly regulated by total energy and carbohydrate intake (i.e. fat oxidation only increases in response to a negative energy balance and a decline in carbohydrate availability).

"Under normal conditions, carbohydrate, protein, and alcohol are not converted to fat. Glycogen and protein stores are closely controlled, and increasing the intake of nonfat nutrients stimulates their oxidation rates proportionally. Thus, chronic imbalance between intake and oxidation of nonfat nutrients cannot lead to obesity. On the other hand, fat stores are not controlled and their capacity for expansion is enormous. Because an increase in fat intake does not stimulate fat oxidation, a positive fat balance results, which has the potential to become chronic. Obesity is therefore due to a long-standing positive fat balance, which may simply be due to a high-fat diet. The use of the fat-balance equation instead of the energy-balance equation adds another option for the treatment of obesity--that of changing the quality of the diet, ie, lowering the fat content."

"However, in the long term, the respiratory quotient (RQ) is closer to the food quotient (FQ) for subjects eating high-fat diets than it is for subjects eating high-carbohydrate diets. For high-carbohydrate diets, the RQ is lower than is the FQ, indicating that subjects must mobilize body fat. This is supported by data on body weight loss in subjects changing from a standard maintenance diet to a low-fat diet, even while energy intake was increased with nearly 20%."

Mammals do not regulate fat storage because in wild environments there is no survival advantage to do so. In wild environments fat is scarce and acquired only by relatively high energy expenditure, and food supplies (i.e. total energy intakes) can fluctuate widely. However, protein and carbohydrate are abundantly supplied in plants, which make up the vast bulk of edible biomass available to any primate including humans. In such environments natural selection favors those who have an unlimited ability to store fat and a resistance to fat oxidation (for survival during lean times), but an ability to dispose of the potentially excess intakes of protein or carbohydrate that are available in flush times.

Taubes of course ignores this whole body of research and the evolutionary basis because it refutes his hypothesis that carbohydrate is the most fattening of nutrients. He simply ASSERTS, ASSUMES, or SUGGESTS that fat oxidation or accumulation is tightly regulated, when in fact it has been shown that it is not.

Bottom line, it is simply wrong to suggest that all factors affecting energy balance are tightly regulated in mammals or humans.

Don Matesz said...

Just to make point one completely clear, it is not correct to say "Net energy intake minus total energy expenditure EQUALS a change in body mass" because it does not.

Net energy intake minus total energy expenditure EQUALS energy balance.

What the body does with that (positive or negative) energy balance is not stated by that equation.

A negative energy balance can RESULT IN or CAUSE conversion of body mass to energy (i.e. weight loss) OR a compensatory reduction in energy expenditure OR both.

A positive energy balance can RESULT IN or CAUSE accrual of glycogen, accrual of lean mass, accrual of fat mass, increase of body temperature, or increase in energy expenditure, or some combination of the above, depending on what other factors interact with the positive energy balance and what nutrients provide the positive energy balance.

Therefore it is wrong to say that a change in energy balance EQUALS a change in body mass. But it is correct to say that a change in energy balance is a NECESSARY CONDITION for a change in body mass.

And a NECESSARY CONDITION is a cause, i.e. a factor that contributes to the manifestation of an effect.