A new 3,500 calorie formula?

A paper was published on 9th April 2018 entitled “Simulating long-term human weight-loss dynamics in response to calorie restriction” (Ref 1). It caught my eye because the senior author was Dr Kevin Hall. Kevin Hall has long been interested in the 3,500 calorie formula, as have I. I complimented Hall’s research in my 2010 book: The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it? I have since blogged on his work a few times. I thoroughly enjoyed Hall’s review of what happens to The Biggest Loser contestants after the cameras stop rolling (Ref 2). I was less positive about the ‘low fat’ vs. ‘low carb’ diet study, when first announced at a conference (Ref 3) and at final paper publication (Ref 4).

Hall wrote an article in the March 2008 International Journal of Obesity entitled, “What is the required energy deficit per unit weight loss?” (Ref 5) Hall opened by noting that the 3,500 formula is “one of the most pervasive weight loss rules” and referred to it as “this rule of thumb”, which he then proceeded to show is anything but. As I showed in The Obesity Epidemic book, this formula cannot be a rule of thumb when its chief proponents confirm that weight loss might be approximately 17% of what the fat loss alone should be (Ref 6). In this 2008 article, Hall tried to come up with an alternative to the 3,500 ‘rule of thumb’. In my view, this continues to miss the point that the body does not adhere to mathematical formulae. As Hilde Bruch noted in The Importance of Overweight, (1957), “human beings do not function in this way.”

Hall and I were quoted in the same article, The Sunday Times, 4 April 2010, where the reporters said of me “Her analysis of the scientific evidence is supported by other researchers. Kevin Hall, a physicist and investigator at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, said that because the body becomes more efficient at conserving energy as calories are reduced, it would take five or even 10 years to achieve the weight loss promised in just 12 months under the formula. ‘The amount of energy your body burns when you decrease the number of calories goes down,’ he said” (Ref 7).

Thus Hall and I share the view that the 3,500 formula is inaccurate in the extreme. My fun, at the expense of the authorities, on the subject of the 3,500 calorie formula is here (Ref 8). Hall’s latest paper shows that he continues to seek a formula to use instead of the 3,500 calorie formula. I don’t consider this to be possible or helpful. Anything that ‘promises’ that a specific calorie deficit sustained for a specific period of time will elicit a specific weight loss is a) a lie b) a cruel lie and c) a driver of unhelpful and unsustainable behaviour.


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