Tag Archives: calories out

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.


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.

Taking a Vacation from a Common Equation: Calories in, Calories Out

Myrtle, Esther and Bessie take a little trip outside of their comfort zone...

Myrtle, Esther and Bessie take a little trip outside of their comfort zone…

For the past few days, I’ve been back in Missouri.  First we went to Rolla where my husband was presented with an honorary degree for his ongoing work in computer science.  (Seriously, how cool is that?)  And now we’re in St. Louis catching up with some of our friends that we haven’t seen in a few years.  So I thought this morning I would talk about being on vacation and how it might apply to my work in size acceptance.

One thing that being on vacation can do is give you a broader perspective on how people live in other parts of the world.  One thing that I ran across this week (as I was “on vacation” from doing more productive work on my computer) was this article containing 23 photos of people next to how much food they eat per day.

Marble Moahi, Mother Living with HIV/AIDS, Botswana – 900 Calories

What struck me so much about these pictures, besides the fascinating variety of different types of food consumed was the drastic differences in calorie consumption among these people.  The Botswana woman above is pictured with the meager meals she eats each day totaling just 900 calories.  Compare that with the picture of the man below.

Willie Ishulutak, Soapstone Carver, Canada – 4,700 Calories

This fellow is pictured with over 4,700 calories which he eats each day.  Notice anything interesting here?  How about this.  Willie Ishulutak eats over 5 times as many calories as Marble Moahi.  Now there is little question that some of Willie’s calories are, um, liquid.  But he clearly consumes a lot more calories than she does.  And while Marble is somewhat thinner than Willie, neither of them appear to be particularly fat.  This goes against the grain of what many of us have been taught about bodies and nutrition right?  If we use the old adage of calories in calories out, Willie should appear a whole lot fatter than Marble.  But lo and behold, it just ain’t so.

I would like to invite you to explore this article and these photos with me.  And I would like you to join me on a vacation over the notion that if fat people just ate less and exercised more they would be thin people. These people could be lying about what they eat.  I’d love for you to take just a little time off from the adage “calories in, calories out”.

Now to be fair, this photo essay hardly constitutes a formal study on the notion of calories in, calories out.  The photo subjects could be lying about what they eat.  The photographer could have selected an atypical day’s worth of food for the photo shoot.  But we’re on vacation right?  So what if we took just a little time off from assuming that fat people lie about what they eat or that thin people exaggerate how much or how little they eat?  What if we just took a little time to assume that both Marble and Willie are telling the truth?

The next logical step might be to assume that Willie burns 5 times as many calories as Marble.  While this is certainly possible, it seems unlikely in the extreme.  If we assume that Willie is a 150 pound man (which is a very rough estimate), he would burn approximately 430 calories per hour walked at a brisk pace.  Willie consumes 3800 calories more per day than Marble.  Taking brisk walking as a calorie burning exercise, he would need to walk 8.8 hours more per day than Marble in order to burn all of those extra calories.  I suppose it’s possible.  But let’s just take a little trip past the notion that Willie walks a marathon or two every day in order to “keep his figure”.

Look, I am not suggesting that there is no relationship whatsoever between calories consumed and body size.  It seems logical to assume that some relationship is there.  But I wonder if we could agree, at least temporarily that it is not that simple.  So many of us have had “calories in, calories out” thrown at us from so many directions.  Sometimes it seems that everybody from our online haters to the surgeon general of our nation is eager to suggest that if we ate just a little less, and exercised just a little more we would be thin.  But I’d like to invite you to punch the time clock and walk away from this notion for just a little while.

I am far from expecting that I will change the world or even change your mind with my little blog over here.  But I do hope that from time to time I am able to “give you pause”.  I hope I can help you step outside of our culturally held beliefs about weight, food, exercise, health and more.  Because sometimes just a little time away is all we need to reenforce the idea that the world is quite a bit more complicated than the advice offered around the water cooler.  Sometimes life doesn’t fit into neat and tidy axioms–no matter how much money is spent trying to make them.  And while we might not be ready to give up some of these simplistic ideas completely, maybe you could try a little time off and see how it feels.  Who knows, after a few weeks you might be ready to adopt some of these new ideas full-time.


Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. I would love to invite you to take another Virtual Vacation with me on the Fit Fatties Forum!  We’re moving our bodies as we explore the world.  And tomorrow is the last day for super early bird pricing!  CLICK HERE to learn more.

Also, if you’d like to learn more about fitness and health and get FREE STUFF, be sure to join my mailing list here.  Let’s keep in touch!