The Calorie Myth

The ‘calorie myth’, says Bailor, is that we need to consider calories at all, to think about and measure them. He says that if we improve the quality of what we’re eating, the quantity won’t matter so much, either in terms of our weight or our health. This is because high-quality food will get all of our hormones working properly – especially the hormones associated with appetite, digestion, metabolism and fat storage.

In particular, many people stimulate release of insulin and leptin too much, too often and for too many years, by overeating low-quality starchy carbs such as wheat and sugar. We become resistant to these hormones and the body responds to that by overproducing them. Thus, a vicious circle is created:

“Once our body is not effectively responding to hormones like leptin and insulin, we become insulin and leptin resistant, and our body starts overproducing these hormones – causing a hormonal clog. For example, some very obese people have been shown to have up to twenty-five times more than a normal level of leptin circulating in their bodies.”

Bailor reckons that at least one in four Americans is insulin resistant, so this gives you an idea of how common this can be. For anyone who finds it tough to lose body fat, some degree of insulin resistance is highly likely to be the main factor.


There is reference to research throughout, supporting these ideas. Four especially interesting studies looked at groups trying to lose weight on high-quality compared with low-quality foods. In all four studies, the high-quality groups ate substantially more calories while losing substantially more weight.

This is all fairly familiar territory, with starches and sweets singled out as the food content that most upsets our appetite hormones. As with The End of Overeating by David Kessler MD, there’s brilliant detail of impressive research, but not much for those who struggle with all this in making the necessary changes. Certainly understanding the ‘why’ of it can help a great deal, but I find people need quite a bit more ‘how’ than is provided here. (2)

For example, vegetables such as celery do have that capacity to stretch and fill our stomachs; but if what we are hungry for are gummy bears, our desire for them will not be satisfied by celery. We all know that, don’t we? Yet this is not mentioned in the book; as if a problem you ignore will just go away by itself.

What’s required is an understanding of what I call the addictive desire to eat. You could call it something else if you like, but there’s no doubt that many of us experience a compelling appetite for or attraction to food we don’t actually need. This is usually food containing starch and sugar, usually manufactured and processed, and what Bailor (correctly) refers to as low-quality.

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  1.'Anita Gandolfo

    While I totally understand Bailor’s thesis–and have known this since I first read Atkins in 1972–I STILL need to carefully count calories. For me, at least, they DO matter.

    At age 72, I’ve been maintaining a loss of close to 200 lbs for the past four years after a lifetime of morbid obesity (from early childhood). I eat very low carb (I’m carb sensitive) and focus on whole foods. Nevertheless at my age and being hypothyroid, my ‘maintenance’ level is only about 1,000 cal. Even eating mainly fish, meat, eggs, veg, I have to count calories to not eat to excess.

    My body wants to regain its lost weight, and I have to thwart its efforts because I learned that my ‘food issues’ didn’t disappear with the weight. Inclinations to compulsive overeating are common.

    By the way, your Beating Overeating provided me with the 3 principles I try to use to manage my weight–i.e., I can eat anything at any time but I ask myself whether the food will contribute to my weight management AND be consistent with my self image. That last concept is really, really helpful.

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