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Keepin’ It Simple: The 3,500 Rule

Keepin’ It Simple: The 3,500 Rule

In today’s society, 2/3 of America’s population is considered overweight, while 1/3 is considered obese.Therefore, it is no secret that a majority of people’s fitness goals are to lose weight. The problem is, people often do not know where to begin. Recent research suggests that although exercise is responsible for a countless number of physiological and psychological benefits (see “benefits of exercise” blog post), it is not the primary contributor of weight loss. In order to lose a significant amount of weight while also achieving the benefits of exercise, exercise must be paired with a change in diet.

Still, weight loss is neither easy nor simple. There are a number of different contributing factors that can interfere with reaching your weight loss goals, such as hormones, medications, sex, age, gender, genetics, metabolic rate, body composition, etc. However, despite these unavoidable factors, there is indeed a way to simplify it.

In the simplest of forms, weight loss occurs when energy expenditure exceeds energy intake. In other words, if you burn off more calories than you consume, your body will be forced to use the energy from your fat stores to compensate for the lack of calories you are eating/drinking. So how many more calories should you expend than you consume?

In 1958, Max Wishnofsky calculated that a pound of fat consists of 3,500 calories. So how does someone lose one pound of fat? By consuming 3,500 calories less than you expend and/or expending 3,500 calories more than you consume. Obviously this cannot be done in one day, so here’s how you could break it up in a week:

  • 3,500 calories/ 7 days = 500 calories/day 
  • - 500 calories/day  ➡️ 1 pound of weight loss/ week
  • -1,000 calories/day ➡️ 2 pounds of weight loss/ week

 So, once you are at a balance of energy intake and energy expenditure, the next step would be to either increase your energy expenditure by 500-1,000 calories per day, decrease your energy intake by 500-1,000 calories per day, or a combination of both. A few simple ways to decrease your energy intake are to:

  • Decrease your intake of sugary beverages (i.e. soft drinks, juices, etc.)
  • One cup of orange juice contains 122 calories
  • One can of soda contains 136 calories
  • Decrease your portion sizes
  • Fill up on nutritionally-dense, fiber-rich foods

Again, keep in mind that there are several other factors that contribute, but this rule can be used as a simple framework if weight loss is your goal. Additionally, weight loss is known to plateau after a given amount of time; this could be attributed to the nature of your body’s “new” weight,

which now requires less calories to sustain than before the weight loss. Therefore, even less must be consumed or more be expended in order to maintain this trend. Lastly, although 1-2 pounds per week may not seem like a lot, healthy weight loss is a process that must be taken slowly and gradually.

To account for the other contributing factors, recent equations have been developed to calculate a more realistic weight loss number. Check out this link to calculate your own!


Stephanie Spoto, Personal Trainer

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