The 3500 Calorie Fallacy and the Invisible Man

Lord knows I don’t often agree with Dr. Sharma.  His views on bariatric surgery are very different than mine, thus I will not be providing a link.)  But this week in his “Obesity Notes” he presented something that got me quite jazzed.  (By the way, as a music major, I would suggest that the “Obesity Notes” are F-sharp and B-flat.)

Some “obesity notes”…

This week he talked about the 3500 calorie weight loss fallacy and about how even the top medical journals seem to fall into it.  This old chestnut (which has to have been quoted by trolls in the millions of times) goes like this:

If you cut 500 calories per day, which adds up to 3,500 calories per week, you will lose a pound per week.

Which on it’s face seems pretty logical, right?  I mean science says that one pound of fat has a caloric content of about 3,500 calories.  So logic dictates that if you cut 3,500 calories from your diet, you will lose 1 shiny, gorgeous pound.

3500 glisteningly gorgeous kilocalories…

Heck a patient  information page found in even that most sciencey of the scientific magazines JAMA says:

A total of 3500 calories equals 1 pound of body weight. This means if you decrease (or increase) your intake by 500 calories daily, you will lose (or gain) 1 pound per week. (500 calories per day × 7 days = 3500 calories.)

Seems  logical, right?  Except for just one problem.  It absolutely doesn’t work.  As one doctor pointed out in a letter to the editor, the fallacy is pretty obvious if you think about it.  1 pound a week is 52 pounds per year.  Not only is this far above and beyond what the average dieter loses in a year, it leads to a conclusion that is patently absurd.  If this equation were linear in just a few years, many dieters would have zero pounds and would simply disappear.

Hmmm, maybe if we feed trolls a little less…   But alas no.  There are no disappearing dieters running out there, because OBVIOUSLY as a person begins to lose weight, certain metabolic changes start happening in the body that make it harder to lose weight.  This is because the body doesn’t want people to starve OR disappear.  The body wants to self-regulate to manage through times of want and times of plenty.  This is an extremely well-known and well documented scientific fact.

Yet many, many trolls (and apparently well-known scientific journals) are inclined to say things like, “Duh, it’s thermodynamics!  If you eat less, you will lose weight.  Just cut 3500 calories and you will lose a pound you (insert insult-y troll name for fat person here).”

But if you feel inclined, and if you have the spoons, you can feel free to tell those trolls that while we wish it were that easy to make some people disappear, it just ain’t so.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want me to talk about the 3500 calorie and other great stuff at YOUR school or organization?  Click HERE for my speaker page.

P.S.S. Want to have help getting into exercise?  Click HERE to buy my book or DVD.

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