3,500 Calories Equals One Lie, Not One Pound

The common theory on weight loss is that it comes down to calories in versus calories out. You will lose weight with a caloric deficit and you will gain it with a surplus.

The base line that’s used is 3,500 calories, which is believed to be one pound of fat. A deficit total of 3,500 calories is supposed to cause one pound of fat to be lost.

While many claim this as fact, very little evidence is ever supplied to support it.

What Theory Suggests 3,500 Calories Equals a Pound?

The most common ideology behind it is as follows:

454 grams is a pound. Every gram of fat contains nine calories. Roughly 87% of fat tissue in humans is lipid (fat). So you take 87% of a pound, which leaves you with 395 grams. 395 grams of fat at nine calories per gram equates to 3,555 calories.

Pretty close to 3,500 calories, but 55 calories is still almost six pounds of fat in a year with the believed way of calculating fat composition. So if this is true and someone is eating with the belief that they will keep a certain weight based on 3,500 calories being a pound of fat, they would end up losing 141 pounds in the course of 25 years.

Come on, you really think that’s right?

But what if the functions of the calculation are correct? What if the percentage of lipid and the amount of calories per gram of fat can really be used to calculate the amount of calories in a pound of fat?

Let’s believe that is possible for a minute.

8.7 to 9.5 calories is what is believed as possible for a gram of fat. 72% to 82% lipid content in human fat tissue. This creates a range of 2,843 to 3,752 calories for a pound of fat.

By following the belief that 3,500 calories is a pound, you could inadvertently gain three times as much as you could lose by placing truth in this range.

So who is to say that people are really doing it right?

Understanding Other Factors of Fat Loss

Calories in versus calories out is a good way to approach fat loss if you don’t want to get technical. Usually it isn’t hard to justify that you will lose weight if you are eating less than your body needs each day. However, to be completely accurate you must understand that there are other factors and some of these factors cannot be calculated or measured.

Much of this boils down to the thermodynamics of the human body. This is something that plays a vital role on fat loss. There are many different functions within thermodynamics that may cause an increase or decrease of fat loss.


A high protein diet can increase your metabolic rate as protein requires more energy to digest.

Carbohydrates increase sugar levels, which is regulated through insulin production. This supports the absorption of fats within the cells, heading into the tissues and ending up stuck until insulin levels drop. This results in the body not being able to use fat as energy. This is a perfect explanation for why you can eat with a caloric surplus on the ketosis diet and still lose weight!

What Does This Mean?

Okay, there is no debunking of calories in versus calories out in this article. The main myth that’s being covered is the belief that 3,500 calories is equivalent to a pound. There is no solid evidence that supports this and the most widely accepted views only points to the range mentioned above.

The bit on thermodynamics shows us that fat loss cannot be controlled just by calculating a rough idea on your maintenance and activity levels. It shows us that non-calculable factors can encourage or discourage fat loss.

This also shows us that your macronutrient breakdown can have a much greater effect than you once thought. If 3,500 calories is a pound, but that deficit is done by eating nothing but carbohydrates, it’s entirely possible that a pound of fat is not actually lost based on the logic behind thermodynamics.

Even if you don’t agree with this viewpoint, you can’t even say that there is lesser evidence supporting it as false. The best you can say to not debunk the myth is that we don’t know how many calories equals a pound or if a pound can even be calculated in calories.