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nikipedia's avatar

In your experience, is weight gain/loss a simple ratio of calories in to calories out?

Asked by nikipedia (27454points) May 31st, 2012

I had an interesting conversation with a scientist recently who told me about research showing that obesity increases when certain kinds of bacteria in the gut are eliminated. (She didn’t give me a citation, but here is an article for those interested.)

I think this is interesting because it really challenges the idea that weight change is simply a matter of how many calories you eat and burn. And could perhaps account for at least part of the rapid rate of increasing obesity.

What do you think? In your experience with weight gain/loss, has it been simply a matter of how much eat or don’t eat, and work out or don’t work out? Do you think research like this distracts from the real issue (eat less, exercise more) or could it be an important consideration in solving the obesity crisis?

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18 Answers

josie's avatar

When all is said and done, it is still calories in vs calories out. Certainly some people find it harder to burn calories than others, but it does not mean they can not do it. The excuse makers will follow, but it finally gets down to eat less and exercise more. Otherwise, all those fat guys in basic training would not have gotten skinny. Sorry.

SpatzieLover's avatar


I have a food diary, an exercise diary (online with my Fitbit) and a doctor that can disprove that one.

I eat about 1000–1500 callories less per day than I burn and I lose zippo. So far this month, I’ve burned 20,000 more calories than I’ve eaten.

My doc now has me on even more probiotics than I was on before. And, yes @nikipedia, he thinks my gut issues are keeping me from losing/maintaining my weight.

abysmalbeauty's avatar

One would think that is the case but the human body is quite a marvelous machine with all kinds of quirky rules.

In my own personal experience I lose more weight and I lose it quickly on a higher carb and higher fiber diet that is low in protein primarily animal proteins. I actually lose more and very quickly eating this way then following the popular low carb diets. Obviously that is my body, not necessarily everyone else. When I would just reduce calories but not pay attention to where they came from I lost so so slowly. (and I was meticulous with tracking so it was not due to hidden calories that is for sure.)

JLeslie's avatar

In my experience yes calories in calories burned. But, I find this very interesting as generally I am obsessed with infectious disease and think microorganisms affect us in many many more ways than ever thought. Usually my focus is possible underlying infection to explain rheumatic diseases, and infectious links to cancer, I had not heard of this before. Although, I will mention that there is a belief among some doctors that deteriation of the normal flora can cause absorption problems in the gut. They usually talk about it in terms of vitamins and minerals, but it is also thought of in regards to calorie absorption in general. That a person can fail to thrive because they don’t probably absorb, and begin losing weight. That contradicts what you are saying in a way, but actually might support the idea that bacteria matters one way or the other or both.

I could not read anything on your link, might be my iPad, but I am going to do some googling of my own. Do you mind telling me which bacterias are implicated?

@spatzielover How are you counting the calories you burn? Are you including what is estimated for what you burn doing nothing? What we burn just because we are alive? Or you are saying you burn that much with activity and exercise and not even counting the minimum calories we need to live on even if we didn’t move off the couch.

Fly's avatar

Not at all. I have a very difficult time losing weight on my own for this reason. My sister can just eat better/less and exercise, and the pounds just melt off. I, on the other hand, find it extremely difficult to lose weight because just eating better/less and working out does almost nothing for me. I’ve gone through periods of time when I ate extremely well and exercised regularly, and I lost zero weight.

I’ve only ever been successful when I did Weight Watchers, and I lost weight very quickly with that and I am thinking of trying it again. I found that my success in this program had a lot more to do with the composition of the food that I consumed than the calories consumed; I could eat fewer calories and burn more calories when dieting on my own than what I consumed/burned on the program, and I would still lose no weight at all.

Blackberry's avatar

In my own experience, yes. But as @SpatzieLover demonstrates, it’s not like this for everyone. A couple of years ago, I didn’t have a car, so I had to ride a bike everywhere, including to the gym to workout and riding to work after the gym. I was also really poor at this time and wasn’t eating enough to begin with. I started to lose weight even though I didn’t want to because I was burning too many calories and not eating enough. I had to kind of force myself to eat more so I wouldn’t turn into Christian Bale in The Machinist.

Once I got a car again, I burned less calories (because I wasn’t riding the bike anymore). Then I started eating more and I gained more weight back. I could do this again if I wanted to, but wtf would I do that, lol.

mangeons's avatar

For me, that’s pretty much how it is. I started eating much better and working out five days a week back in January, and I’ve been extremely successful in losing weight. But as others have said, it’s not the same for anyone, I am just speaking from my own personal experience.

wildpotato's avatar

No, it is not in my experience. I can eat and eat and not gain any weight because I can’t digest most of it. I suspect this is due to some irregularity with my gut flora. As far as working out, I sometimes go months without budging from the couch, but at other times I have exercised regularly – this seems to make little difference.

I think research into GI microbes is a significant part of solving the nutrition crisis. I see how this might distract from the importance of eating responsibly, but I don’t think that should affect whether such research takes place.

I’d be interested in reading the article, but I can’t access it through that site. Could I possibly get the citation so I can try to look it up through my school?

LuckyGuy's avatar

In my experience, Yes. When I spend my time doing normal activities I need 2200 calories per day. If I start putting on weight, I back off a little and the weight goes down. It is easy to regulate.
A couple of times a year I am in a cold climate under extremely stressful conditions with lots of physical activity. During those days I consume 4500 -5000 calories per day and still maintain my weight.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, I have lost 15 lbs. in less than 4 months by just counting calories, sticking to around 1500 per day. I used to walk and run 3 miles a day for years but have fallen off that wagon the last couple so gained some weight. Interesting article though, maybe I should get back on some probiotics.

Ponderer983's avatar

I think it’s a combination of the 2. I have recently gone on a doctor supervised weight loss program. It begins with cleansing the body and removing these toxins from your body to get it working properly. Combining this with less calories per day (than what I was eating, but probably more in the normal range for most people), eating smaller meals more often, and getting active, it has caused me to start dropping pounds.

Mariah's avatar

Ooh not at all, not that I’m representative. I’m not a very active person yet gaining weight is extraordinarily difficult for me. And when I’m sick I hardly get off the couch, yet the pounds just fall off me, I guess because my absorption is poor.

Sunny2's avatar

Lower the calories and raise the exercise rate works for me. The main problem is maintaining control and not succumbing to every temptation. An occasional temptation is fine, when you’ve been successful in taking off a few points or your weight is where you want it to be. Somethings I limit to 3x/year, and I stick to it. Things like fried calamari and a hot fudge sundae.

nikipedia's avatar

Citation: Greenblum S, Turnbaugh PJ and Borenstein E. (2012). Metagenomic systems biology of the human gut microbiome reveals topological shifts associated with obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. PNAS, 109(2): 594–599.

I can pdf it to you if you can’t get it.

Mariah's avatar

@nikipedia A pdf would be fantastic. I didn’t realize this study was related to IBD, that makes it even more interesting to me.

Keep_on_running's avatar

I think it has more to do with where the calories come from.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Keep_on_running Well, yes. Which is why you need to learn to avoid sugar and fried foods and stuff.

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