When people hear the term Unified Theory, some times called the
Grand Unified Theory, or even "Theory of Everything," they
probably think of it in terms of physics, where a Unified Theory,
or single theory capable of defining the nature of the
interrelationships among nuclear, electromagnetic, and
gravitational forces, would reconcile seemingly incompatible
aspects of various field theories to create a single
comprehensive set of equations.
Such a theory could potentially unlock all the secrets of nature
and the universe itself, or as theoretical physicist Michio Katu,
puts it "an equation an inch long that would allow us to read the
mind of God." That's how important unified theories can be.
However, unified theories don't have to deal with such heady
topics as physics or the nature of the universe itself, but can
be applied to far more mundane topics, in this case nutrition.
Regardless of the topic, a unified theory, as stated above, seeks
to explain seemingly incompatible aspects of various theories. In
this article I attempt to unify seemingly incompatible or
opposing views regarding nutrition, namely, what is probably the
longest running debate in the nutritional sciences: calories vs.
One school, I would say the 'old school' of nutrition, maintains
weight loss or weight gain is all about calories, and "a calorie
is a calorie," no matter the source (e.g., carbs, fats, or
proteins). They base their position on various lines of evidence
to come to that conclusion.
The other school, I would call more the 'new school' of thought
on the issue, would state that gaining or losing weight is really
about where the calories come from (e.g., carbs, fats, and
proteins), and that dictates weight loss or weight gain. Meaning,
they feel, the "calorie is a calorie" mantra of the old school is
wrong. They too come to this conclusion using various lines of
This has been an ongoing debate between people in the field of
nutrition, biology, physiology, and many other disciplines, for
decades. The result of which has led to conflicting advice and a
great deal of confusion by the general public, not to mention
many medical professionals and other groups.
Before I go any further, two key points that are essential to
understand about any unified theory:
* A good unified theory is simple, concise, and understandable
even to lay people. However, underneath, or behind that
theory, is often a great deal of information that can take
up many volumes of books. So, for me to outline all the
information I have used to come to these conclusions, would
take a large book, if not several and is far beyond the scope
of this article.
* A unified theory is often proposed by some theorist before
it can even be proven or fully supported by physical evidence.
Over time, different lines of evidence, whether it be
mathematical, physical, etc., supports the theory and thus
solidifies that theory as being correct, or continued lines
of evidence shows the theory needs to be revised or is simply
incorrect. I feel there is now more than enough evidence at
this point to give a unified theory of nutrition and continuing
lines of evidence will continue (with some possible revisions)
to solidify the theory as fact.
"A Calorie Is A Calorie"
The old school of nutrition, which often includes most
nutritionists, is a calorie is a calorie when it comes to gaining
or losing weight. That weight loss or weight gain is strictly a
matter of "calories in, calories out." Translated, if you "burn"
more calories than you take in, you will lose weight regardless
of the calorie source and if you eat more calories than you burn
off each day, you will gain weight, regardless of the calorie
This long held and accepted view of nutrition is based on the
fact that protein and carbs contain approx 4 calories per gram
and fat approximately 9 calories per gram and the source of those
calories matters not. They base this on the many studies that
finds if one reduces calories by X number each day, weight loss
is the result and so it goes if you add X number of calories
above what you use each day for gaining weight.
However, the "calories in calories out" mantra fails to take into
account modern research that finds that fats, carbs, and proteins
have very different effects on the metabolism via countless
pathways, such as their effects on hormones (e.g., insulin,
leptin, glucagon, etc), effects on hunger and appetite, thermic
effects (heat production), effects on uncoupling proteins (UCPs),
and 1000 other effects that could be mentioned.
Even worse, this school of thought fails to take into account the
fact that even within a macro nutrient, they too can have
different effects on metabolism. This school of thought ignores
the ever mounting volume of studies that have found diets with
different macro nutrient ratios with identical calorie intakes
have different effects on body composition, cholesterol levels,
oxidative stress, etc.
Translated, not only is the mantra "a calorie us a calorie"
proven to be false, "all fats are created equal" or "protein is
protein" is also incorrect. For example, we no know different
fats (e.g. fish oils vs. saturated fats) have vastly different
effects on metabolism and health in general, as we now know
different carbohydrates have their own effects (e.g. high GI vs.
low GI), as we know different proteins can have unique effects.
The "Calories Don't Matter" School Of Thought
This school of thought will typically tell you that if you eat
large amounts of some particular macro nutrient in their magic
ratios, calories don't matter. For example, followers of
ketogenic style diets that consist of high fat intakes and very
low carbohydrate intakes (i.e., Atkins, etc.) often maintain
calories don't matter in such a diet.
Others maintain if you eat very high protein intakes with very
low fat and carbohydrate intakes, calories don't matter. Like the
old school, this school fails to take into account the effects
such diets have on various pathways and ignore the simple
realities of human physiology, not to mention the laws of
The reality is, although it's clear different macro nutrients in
different amounts and ratios have different effects on weight
loss, fat loss, and other metabolic effects, calories do matter.
They always have and they always will. The data, and real world
experience of millions of dieters, is quite clear on that
The truth behind such diets is that they are often quite good at
suppressing appetite and thus the person simply ends up eating
fewer calories and losing weight. Also, the weight loss from such
diets is often from water vs. fat, at least in the first few
weeks. That's not to say people can't experience meaningful
weight loss with some of these diets, but the effect comes from a
reduction in calories vs. any magical effects often claimed by
proponents of such diets.
Weight Loss Vs. Fat Loss!
This is where we get into the crux of the true debate and why the
two schools of thought are not actually as far apart from one
another as they appear to the untrained eye. What has become
abundantly clear from the studies performed and real world
evidence is that to lose weight we need to use more calories than
we take in (via reducing calorie intake and or increasing
exercise), but we know different diets have different effects on
the metabolism, appetite, body composition, and other
Brink's Unified Theory of Nutrition
...Thus, this reality has led me to Brink's Unified Theory of
Nutrition which states:
"Total calories dictates how much weight a person gains or
loses; macro nutrient ratios dictates what a person gains
This seemingly simple statement allows people to understand the
differences between the two schools of thought. For example,
studies often find that two groups of people put on the same
calorie intakes but very different ratios of carbs, fats, and
proteins will lose different amounts of bodyfat and or lean body
mass (i.e., muscle, bone, etc.).
Some studies find for example people on a higher protein lower
carb diet lose approximately the same amount of weight as another
group on a high carb lower protein diet, but the group on the
higher protein diet lost more actual fat and less lean body mass
(muscle). Or, some studies using the same calorie intakes but
different macro nutrient intakes often find the higher protein
diet may lose less actual weight than the higher carb lower
protein diets, but the actual fat loss is higher in the higher
protein low carb diets. This effect has also been seen in some
studies that compared high fat/low carb vs. high carb/low fat
diets. The effect is usually amplified if exercise is involved
as one might expect.
Of course these effects are not found universally in all studies
that examine the issue, but the bulk of the data is clear: diets
containing different macro nutrient ratios do have different
effects on human physiology even when calorie intakes are
Or, As The Authors Of One Recent Study That Looked At The Issue
"Diets with identical energy contents can have different effects
on leptin concentrations, energy expenditure, voluntary food
intake, and nitrogen balance, suggesting that the physiologic
adaptations to energy restriction can be modified by dietary
The point being, there are many studies confirming that the
actual ratio of carbs, fats, and proteins in a given diet can
effect what is actually lost (i.e., fat, muscle, bone, and water)
and that total calories has the greatest effect on how much total
weight is lost. Are you starting to see how my unified theory of
nutrition combines the "calorie is a calorie" school with the
"calories don't matter" school to help people make decisions
Knowing this, it becomes much easier for people to understand the
seemingly conflicting diet and nutrition advice out there (of
course this does not account for the down right unscientific and
dangerous nutrition advice people are subjected to via bad books,
TV, the 'net, and well meaning friends, but that's another
Knowing the above information and keeping the Unified Theory of
Nutrition in mind, leads us to some important and potentially
* An optimal diet designed to make a person lose fat and retain
as much LBM as possible is not the same as a diet simply
designed to lose weight.
* A nutrition program designed to create fat loss is not simply
a reduced calorie version of a nutrition program designed to
gain weight, and visa versa.
* Diets need to be designed with fat loss, NOT just weight loss,
as the goal, but total calories can't be ignored.
* This is why the diets I design for people-or write about-for
gaining or losing weight are not simply higher or lower calorie
versions of the same diet. In short: diets plans I design for
gaining LBM start with total calories and build macro nutrient
ratios into the number of calories required. However, diets
designed for fat loss (vs. weight loss!) start with the correct
macro nutrient ratios that depend on variables such as amount
of LBM the person carries vs. bodyfat percent , activity levels,
etc., and figure out calories based on the proper macro nutrient
ratios to achieve fat loss with a minimum loss of LBM. The actual
ratio of macro nutrients can be quite different for both diets
and even for individuals.
* Diets that give the same macro nutrient ratio to all people
(e.g., 40/30/30, or 70,30,10, etc.) regardless of total calories,
goals, activity levels, etc., will always be less than optimal.
Optimal macro nutrient ratios can change with total calories and
* Perhaps most important, the unified theory explains why the
focus on weight loss vs. fat loss by the vast majority of people,
including most medical professionals, and the media, will always
fail in the long run to deliver the results people want.
* Finally, the Universal Theory makes it clear that the optimal
diet for losing fat, or gaining muscle, or what ever the goal,
must account not only for total calories, but macro nutrient
ratios that optimize metabolic effects and answer the questions:
what effects will this diet have on appetite? What effects will
this diet have on metabolic rate? What effects will this diet
have on my lean body mass (LBM)? What effects will this diet
have on hormones; both hormones that may improve or impede my
goals? What effects will this diet have on (fill in the blank)?
Simply asking, "how much weight will I lose?" is the wrong
question which will lead to the wrong answer. To get the optimal
effects from your next diet, whether looking to gain weight or
lose it, you must ask the right questions to get meaningful
Asking the right questions will also help you avoid the pitfalls
of unscientific poorly thought out diets which make promises they
can't keep and go against what we know about human physiology and
the very laws of physics!
People that want to know my thoughts on the correct way to lose
fat should read my ebook Diet Supplements Revealed, see this
If you want to know my thoughts on the best way to set up a diet
to gain weight in the form of muscle while minimizing bodyfat,
consider reading my ebook Muscle Building Nutrition (AKA Brink's
Bodybuilding Bible) at this web site:
BTW, both ebooks also cover supplements for their respective
goals along with exercise advice.
There are of course many additional questions that can be asked
and points that can be raised as it applies to the above, but
those are some of the key issues that come to mind. Bottom line
here is, if the diet you are following to either gain or loss
weight does not address those issues and or questions, then you
can count on being among the millions of disappointed people who
don't receive the optimal results they had hoped for and have
made yet another nutrition "guru" laugh all the way to the bank
at your expense.
Any diet that claims calories don't matter, forget it. Any diet
that tells you they have a magic ratio of foods, ignore it. Any
diet that tells you any one food source is evil, it's a scam. Any
diet that tells you it will work for all people all the time no
matter the circumstances, throw it out or give it to someone you
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