How Many Calories in a Pound?

How Many Calories in a Pound?

Weight management always comes down to how many calories you eat versus how many you burn. Fad diets all promise removing every carbohydrate you avoid and replacing it with a grapefruit means you just torch fat away.

It's simply not right.

Related - TDEE Calculator: How Many Calories Do You Burn?

For a long time, we assumed 3,500 calories makes up a pound. Since we are all different, some researchers are saying that this is no longer the case.

But it's worked so well in the past.

Let's go over what losing body fat entails, what a calorie actually is, and if you can really lose weight by cutting 500 calories out of our daily intake.

What is Body Fat?

In 1958, a scientist named Max Wishnofsky held some research in his lab. He concluded that one pound of body fat lost or gained contained 3,500 calories.

At the time, the scientific evidence available was what he had to work with. As the decades pass, technology has gotten better. Now people are questioning whether or not 3,500 calories are accurate.

It's basically common knowledge that 3,500 calories equal a pound, right? Well, there are a few researchers out there debunking this myth.

In general, we can assume this about a pound of fat:

  • There are 454 grams in one pound.
  • Pure fat contains 8.7 to 9.5 calories per gram.
  • Body fat tissue varies but is around 87% fat.

If we go off of above, we can conclude that a pound of fat is around 3,436 to 3,752 calories.

Body fat consists of fat cells called adipocytes which contain some fluids and proteins in addition to fat. This is why scientists are starting to re-think the 3,500 calorie calculation.

Amby Burfoot over at Runner's world explains why she thinks we should ditch the old calculation and embrace a new one:

“The biggest flaw with the 500-calorie-rule is that it assumes weight loss will continue in a linear fashion over time,” says [mathematician Kevin] 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.”

What’s realistic? According to Hall, in the first year of a new weight-loss program, most overweight people will lose about half the weight that the 3,500-calories rule predicts. In other words, over 12 months, the new rule is 7,000 calories = one pound.

The math changes slightly over shorter and longer periods of time, with few managing to lose weight beyond 12 months.


Losing Body Fat

If you and your buddy have ever tried losing weight and one of you is more overweight than the other, you've seen that the heavier person has lost more weight.

It's not necessarily that you did something wrong, it's just that heavier people take more energy to fuel their body.

This is why it is harder to lose weight as you get closer to your "ideal weight." It simply doesn't take as many calories to lug around a 180-pound person than it does a 300-pound person.

Weight Loss Versus Fat Loss

While losing fat makes you lose weight, weight loss and fat loss are two different things.

Unfortunately, not all weight loss is pure fat. In fact, one unwelcome side-effect of losing weight is losing precious muscle. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to mitigate muscle loss.

That includes lifting weights.

Studies show that resistance training is incredibly helpful in preventing muscle breakdown while losing weight. In fact, it's so helpful that for the more part, overweight people can build muscle and lose fat at the same time.

Eating plenty of protein is the second part of maintaining muscle mass during a diet. A high protein intake makes your body less likely to break down muscle for energy.

Both of these strategies are effective, although doing both will keep your metabolism going and helps maintain an aesthetic appearance.

You don't want to be skinny-fat.

The 500-Calorie Myth

If you don't know what the 500-calorie "myth" is - Eating 500 fewer calories each day equates to 3,500 calories per week. So, one pound per week, 52 pounds per year.

So now that you have heard about the new calculation, is it safe to assume maintaining a 500-calorie deficit will still make you lose 1 pound per week?

For moderate weight loss and obese people, this holds up fairly solid.

What this doesn't account for is how your body responds to your diet and new body composition.

Reducing calorie intake eventually makes you burn fewer calories. This is due to your body being more efficient.

The same amount of work doesn't burn the same amount of calories as your heavier self.

Wrapping It Up

Losing weight isn't linear. In fact, it gets harder to lose weight as you get closer to your "ideal weight," so don't get discouraged when things slow down.

Consistency and accuracy are two important things when you are trying to lose weight.

You want to eat the proper nutrition, you have to get up and move, and you should lift weights. If you do this consistently, watch your progress, and consistently strive to do better... there is no reason why you won't lose weight.

In Order to Start Losing Weight Today, This Is What You Need to Do:


  • Eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Drinking more water
  • Choose more fresh foods
  • Being more conscious about what you are eating
  • Walking more - a few steps add up
  • Lifting weights - you'll burn calories and build muscle
  • Putting your knowledge to use


  • Drinking your calories
  • Eating as much processed food
  • Using food for comfort (this one is hard, trust me)

Write Down

  • How much you eat - measure, weight, etc
  • Keep a journal and write out how you feel - use this instead of food for comfort
  • Keep track of your exercise

All of this done consistently will lead to weight loss.

You can slowly make better food choices by recreating your favorites that your normally eat out. You'll be able to up the flavor and nutrition while perfecting your cooking.

Weight loss is all about making mostly healthy choices and moving. It's not hard unless you don't stick with it. Just because you kicked butt in the gym doesn't mean you should eat some cake.

Trust me, rewarding yourself with food for trying to lose weight isn't the best.

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