Doubling Down on Energy Balance vs Untold Truths

  • “…changes in body weight are expected when the macronutrient composition of the diet is altered, even when the energy content of the diet is held constant”
  • “weight change may not directly represent energy imbalances, particularly over the short term.”
  • “even with weight stability, ‘perfect’ energy balance over the long term does not occur in most older adults”


Last, week, I came across this press release from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM): Diet or Exercise? “Energy Balance” is Real Key to Disease Prevention.

The piece is about “the October 2012 expert panel meeting titled ‘Energy Balance at the Crossroads: Translating the Science into Action’ hosted by ACSM, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Agriculture Research Service.”

Here are a couple of snippets,

According to research, energy balance is a viable public health solution to address the obesity epidemic.

“It is time we collectively move beyond debating nutrition or exercise and focus on nutrition and exercise”

Did you get that? Their great new strategy is to stop arguing whether exercise OR nutrition works better to get us all into shape, and instead focus on BOTH.

Energy balance seems not to be working very well, according to them, so they need to train public facing nutrition and exercise professionals better and harder, so they learn it better I guess. This supposes that they didn’t really understand it before, which I doubt. I don’t see how “eat less, move more” is all that different from “eat less AND move more.”

Train the trainers harder to go forth and teach the masses better. That’s what I hear.

The other half of their strategy is to develop better messaging, promotion, standards, and programs to teach the American public and school kids about energy balance more effectively, since what they are doing now is not working.

The full paper, Energy Balance at a Crossroads: Translating the Science into Action, in the ACSM journal, does bring up an interesting point about trying a new approach to motivate people to practice energy balance:

One promising approach may be to shift the focus away from the emphasis on health (e.g., appropriate diet and PA) to discussing other benefits, such as improved learning, cognition, and productivity in the workplace.

The main focus of the paper, however, is to teach energy balance better by focusing on what they call dynamic energy balance.

By definition, energy balance is a dynamic, not static, process, in which altering one component of the energy balance paradigm can affect the physiological and biological components of the other in an unpredictable or unintended way.

Perhaps I should see this as a step forward, acknowledging that what you put in can affect what comes out, but what does “in an unpredictable or unintended way” mean? That what you put in can lead to random, chaotic outcomes?

They are making this sound more complicated than it is, or needs to be.

Dynamic energy balance instead of static — Is this better?

Just saying changing energy input affects energy output without explaining how or why or what foods do what—is hardly an improvement. Plus, how are you going to teach this complexity to the public and children when they don’t even understand static energy balance (“e.g., 3500 kcal = 1 lb”)?

These “experts” are doubling down on energy balance.

Ugh. Enough.

How about some better science and thinking on energy balance?

Energy balance and its components: implications for body weight regulation
Hall KD, Heymsfield SB, Kemnitz JW, Klein S, Schoeller DA, Speakman JR: Energy balance and its components: implications for body weight regulation. Am J Clin Nutr 2012, 95:989–994.

If you read only one article on energy balance this year, read this one. Highly recommended.

The paper was the report of A Consensus Conference entitled “The Role of Energy Balance in Health and Wellness” was organized and funded by the ASN [American Society for Nutrition] and the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI North America).

Despite being partly sponsored by ILSI (think Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Danone, etc.), it’s got some amazing stuff in it.

Here are the untold truths in the paper:

  • “Therefore, changes in body weight are expected when the macronutrient composition of the diet is altered, even when the energy content of the diet is held constant.”
  • “The long-term stability of body weight is often considered a marker of zero Es [Energy Storage], and thus energy balance. However, as described above, changes in body weight also include changes in body water, which may be variable, and therefore weight change may not directly represent energy imbalances, particularly over the short term.”
  • “Thus, even with weight stability, “perfect” energy balance over the long term does not occur in most older adults”
  • “Energy balance is thus highly variable over a 1-d period, and this variability is shown in dynamic changes in Es [Energy Storage]. Most adults also vary their daily eating and activity patterns; thus, Es also varies from day to day, with energy balance achieved only when averaged over longer time periods.”
  • “…energy balance as a concept depends on the time domain over which it is considered. We are always in energy imbalance, but the relative imbalance is greater over the short term than over the long term”

Body weight changes are expected when you change the macronutrient ratio of your diet, even with the same energy content. Who knew?

And weight change may not directly represent energy imbalances.

Who still believes in energy balance?

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2 thoughts on “Doubling Down on Energy Balance vs Untold Truths

  1. Hi, Kenny –

    “Body weight changes are expected when you change the macronutrient ratio of your diet, even with the same energy content.” Right – that’s not what they want to publicize, is it?

    I’m glad I found your site (I saw your post on Caloriegate and came over to check it out) and I need to spend some time poking around later today.

    Cheers!

    1. Sorry for the delay. I’m still a bit new at this, but I’m learning.

      Yup, I was kind of amazed when I came across the quote you mentioned.

      Seems like they are saying the type of food matters, doesn’t it?

      Thanks for coming by!

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