• Robb G. Best

The Calorie Myth, or, Jeans Theory

There are a couple of things you can go to the bank on:

Any major city with a sports team is going to hit up its populace to fund a new and improved stadium. Everything causes cancer, including sitting in sunlight.

And a calorie is the holy measurement that determines whether or not you’ll fit into your skinny jeans. You know that 3500 calories always add up to a pound, and a couple extra pounds add up to an uncomfortably tight waistband. I suppose we could call this Jeans Theory if we want to get technical.

Hold on to your calorie horses, says Jonathan Bailor in The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise less, Lose Weight, and Live Better. Armed with an impressive array of clinical studies done at Harvard, Stanford, and many other prestigious learning institutions, Bailor is prepared to turn the idea of a calorie on its tiny little head.

Did you know?

  1. Eating fewer calories does not necessarily cause long-term fat loss.

  2. Eating more calories does not necessarily cause long-term fat gain.

  3. Eating less calories does not force us to burn body fat. It forces us to burn fewer calories.

In contradiction to what many weight loss regimes advocate, it’s not a simple equation of calorie intake vs. exercise logged.

For example, Bailor explains that since 2006, the average American has ingested an additional 570 calories a day without any appreciable difference in their rate of exercise. If calorie math were true, then the average person would have gained 476 pounds over the last 8 years. Many of us have put on a pound here or there, but I’m guessing for the most part, we’ve kept it to 475 or under.


A calorie may be a calorie, but how your body treats them is downright discriminatory. When you eat, your metabolism can either burn a calorie in activity, store it as fat, or pass it out of the system through elimination. How your system makes that call depends upon what the calorie is made of and how many of a certain kind you’ve ingested.

If you consume 300 calories of protein, the body will burn much of it in processing, until only about 100 calories remain to store as fat. If, on the other hand, you consume 300 calories of starch (i.e. sugar or grains), a whopping 211 calories are left over for fat storage.

That means starch is a 2 to 1 bet over protein for ending up on your hips. We could consider this a fundamental law when it comes to Jeans Theory.

Law number 2 might be to respect the power of fiber. High fiber food confounds the digestion system, which struggles to absorb it, fails (a lot of fiber can’t be digested or stored), and is left with no option but to pass it back out.

And surprisingly, fiber tends to grab up and eliminate some of the nearby calories when it leaves. This is why drinking a glass of orange juice is nutritionally similar to chugging orange soda, but eating an orange, with all its juicy fiber, isn’t such a concern.

It turns out a calorie is not a calorie, you’re getting a new sports stadium, and it’s prudent to stay out of the sun. When it comes to Jeans Theory, keep an eye on your waistband—and hold the starch.


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