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Why Burning 3,500 Calories is Not Enough to Lose a Pound

Tim Boyer's picture
Calorie burning

You’ve heard it repeatedly: You have to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound of body fat. But according to an update of that old rule, researchers are telling us that in fact it actually takes significantly more calories burned to achieve a loss of one pound.


In a recent issue of Runner’s World Newswire, the new marker of weight loss is that you have to burn approximately 7,000 calories to lose one pound of body fat.

This change in the 57-year-old 3,500 calorie rule comes in light of the National Institutes of Health weight loss Body Weight Planner. The Body Weight Planner—developed in part by weight-change mathematician Kevin Hall, Ph.D.―was recently announced by the NIH to helps dieters design a weight loss program using input about your weight, height, age and level of activity that takes the guesswork out of calorie counting.

According to Runner’s World, the 3,500-calorie rule dates from 1958, when Max Washnofsky, M.D., wrote a paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluding “that 3,500 calories is the caloric value of one pound of body weight lost.”

However, that 3,500 calorie number is roughly accurate only if you are burning a pound of fat in a laboratory. The human body on the other hand, is significantly more complex regarding the fat burning process and has to factor in multiple confounders not the least of which is that the body attempts to lower its metabolism as weight is being lost. Unfortunately, the almost magic number of 3,500 stuck and became one of the longest lasting myths of what it takes to lose weight.

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“The biggest flaw with the 500-calorie-rule is that it assumes weight loss will continue in a linear fashion over time,” says Hall. “That’s not the way the body responds. The body is a very dynamic system, and a change in one part of the system always produces changes in other parts.”

So what should dieters use as their new guideline? According to Dr. Hall factoring in 7,000 calories is more accurate for every expected pound of weight loss. However, remember that the body adjusts when weight is being lost so you may lose more initially during a weight loss program and find yourself losing less with the same amount of effort later on.

“I suppose some people will be bummed out,” Hall says. “But we believe it’s better to have an accurate assessment of what you might lose. That way you don’t feel like a failure if you don’t reach your goal.”

For more about how to go about losing weight, click-on the Body Weight Planner article link and find out what you really need to do to achieve your weight loss goal.

Reference: Runner’s World Newswire “Biggest Weight-Loss Myth Revealed