Why Calories In-Calories Out is a Fallacy

It's been fascinating to see how The 4 Hour Body has provoked arguments and disparaging comments in virtually every online fitness community. Typically it looks something like this:

  • Original poster: Hey, I am trying Tim Ferriss's fat loss program in The 4 Hour Body, and I am losing a lot of weight. It's great. What has been other people's experiences?
  • Response #1: weight loss is a simple matter of calories-in, calories-out. If you want to lose weight, you take in less calories, or put out more calories. I don't need to spend $14 to learn that.
  • Response #2: Who are you to be posting in our community? I've never seen you post here before.
  • Response #3: What is it with all these people posting about The 4 Hour Body? I think Tim Ferriss must be paying people to go around posting.
I've seen it in Reddit Fitness, and at least a half dozen other communities. As someone who understands online communities, and as someone who is new to fitness via The 4 Hour Body, I think it's an interesting issue to observe.

Someone who had not been into fitness, perhaps because they haven't had success with diets or exercise programs before, tries The 4 Hour Body, has success, and is excited and wants to share their experiences. The established community sees a bunch of newcomers spouting off about some counter-intuitive fitness information, may have heard some controversy about Tim Ferriss or the 4 Hour Body, and so rejects the new community members summarily.

I want to address just one part of the conflict, because it's typically the first issue raised: the established community says something to the effect of: "Weight loss is simple, you either reduce calories in, or you increase calories-out." That's what they say, but what I think they mean is closer to: "You either eat less, or you exercise more."  

There's two reasons why this statement is in conflict with the principles of The 4 Hour Body:
  1. The 4 Hour Body fat loss program doesn't require restricting food intake. In fact, Tim says, "If you're hungry, eat more."
  2. The 4 Hour Body fat loss program doesn't require people to spend time exercising, although you can do 2 to 3 minutes of exercises before each meal for more rapid results. But 2 to 3 minutes of exercises does not equal 60 minutes on a stationary bike, or 30 minutes running.
Here are just a few of the differences:
  • The 4HB fat loss section emphasizes eating more protein, and no grains, sugars, or fruits. Protein itself has less available calories (3.2/gram) than is normally listed as (4.0/gram), and so it's already a win over carbohydrates.
  • On top of that, the body directly excretes up to 1/3 of excess protein that can't be used, whereas the equivalent in carbs would be more efficiently converted to fat.
  • By ensuring that people eat higher quality foods (protein, legumes, vegetables), they have more energy, and can more easily cut the snacking cycle. This may indeed reduce calories-in greatly, but it's vastly different than just telling people to "eat less".
  • The use of a high protein diet stimulates metabolism, increasing calories-out without the use of exercise.
  • Similarly, cold therapy stimulates metabolism and increases calories-out without the use of exercise.
  • GLUT-4 exercises (2-3 minutes of fast paced exercises) redirects incoming calories to muscle development rather than being stored away as fat, a term that Tim calls body recomposition. It is far easier to do and to sustain 2-3 minutes of exercise before a meal compared to taking 60-90 minutes out of your day to "go exercise", and so most people wouldn't consider this as exercise per say.
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