New Science on how we Burn Calories

An article in the latest issue of Scientific American, by Herman Pontzer, the author of Burn, covers some of his groups new data on how humans burn energy. Both are worth reading. The first half of the book is a bit of a slow burn…but packed with interesting findings with real-world applicability in the second half. I will summarize part of Pontzer’s thesis here:

  1. Human total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is higher than any other primate species.
  2. Our higher TDEE is the result of social cooperation leading to hunter-gathering culture that allowed us to collect surplus calories each day.
  3. Surplus calories lead to increased brain size and the ability to support dependents for longer (i.e. children prior to an age at which they contribute to food provision).
  4. Modern farming and food storage techniques create a far greater surplus in calories leading to the excess energy intake we have today.
  5. TDEE is proportional to body size; specifically fat-free-mass (i.e. lean body mass).
  6. TDEE is stable during adult life (between 20 and 60 years), declining 7% per decade thereafter.
  7. Our bodies will alter basal metabolic rate (BMR) and other process to stay as close to our TDEE as possible, regardless of how active we are.
  8. Based on (7) exercise is generally not an effective weight-loss strategy.
  9. The most, and likely only, effective weight-loss strategy is caloric reduction below TDEE.

Ok. There’s a lot in there, but it’s high-yield data that directly apply to anyone trying to lose weight or optimize their metabolic health.

Be well.