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Calories Don’t Count, but CALERIEs Do

Posted on July 16th, 2013 by Matt Schoeneberger

Let’s talk about this paper, part of the CALERIE studyEffect of Calorie Restriction with or without Exercise on Body Composition and Fat Distribution

I made a promise to myself, and may have mentioned it here, that I would no longer review single papers without also discussing the body of evidence. Today, I’m breaking that promise because I want to highlight this study as an example of what I feel is great control of important variables for the topic.

The deets:

  • 35 overweight participants (16 males, 19 females)
  • 25% calorie deficit reached one of two ways: calorie restriction (25%) or a combination of calorie restriction and exercise (12.5% + 12.5%).
  • CR + EX participants were allowed to choose their own exercise intensity and duration was adjusted to burn an appropriate number of calories.
  • Weekday breakfast and dinner were eaten at the research center and snacks, lunch and weekend meals were provided for take-home. During a 10-week period in the middle of the study, this was discontinued and subjects were given dietary guidelines to follow on their own. The diet was 55/15/30 PRO/CHO/FAT
  • Weekly meetings using cognitive behavioral therapy to improve motivation and teach people to eat and exercise. Pretty cool, huh?

Next to a metabolic ward study, where participants live in a hospital and all food intake and activity are monitored, this design is about the best you’re going to find in the exercise and nutrition literature. The fact that all meals and snacks are provided greatly increases the ability of the participants to adhere to the eating plan. We know that people often under-estimate and therefore under-report their calorie intake so this is a very important variable to control. (Hill 2001)

This goes the same for the exercise – 3/5 exercise sessions per week were supervised and all others were recorded using portable heart rate monitors. Excellent! This is far better than researchers telling subjects “we want you to do x number of minutes at x intensity on your own” and then praying it gets done. Cuz researchers pray – scientists are almost all religious…


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