Where do calories go?

Last Monday’s newsletter was the 400th! I started the Monday note in January 2011 and so I’ve just reached this landmark. I thought it might be interesting to look back to see what the first note was. It turned out to be an answer to a question that was posted in our online forum (, which was set up in 2010 to help people to eat real food and to develop a better relationship with food.

The question was posted from “Laura” and she asked: “Let's say I eat 100 calories (just a number) of fat and my body only actually needs 50cal to function on that day what happens to the remaining 50cal? Not having had carbs means I wouldn't have produced insulin so my body shouldn't have been able to store the extra 50cal of fat... well then where would it go?”

My reply

Thank you Laura! This is the best question to start with, as it’s the one we all need to change our views on. I’ll start by giving you the answer you would get from virtually every other person working in the field of obesity. 99% of dieticians, obesity advisors etc believe what is known as “The Calorie Theory”. This means that they believe the following:

1) 1lb of fat is 3,500 calories; (not even this bit is true!)

2) If you have a deficit of 3,500 calories you will lose 1lb of fat;

3) If you have a surplus of 3,500 calories you will gain 1lb of fat;

4) A calorie is a calorie – it doesn’t matter what you eat.

They usually ignore the detail, but (2) and (3) are only supposed to be about the loss or gain of pure fat. They rarely, if ever, take into account the fact that you will lose or gain lean tissue and water as you lose or gain fat. This should add about 15% more to the formula – so you should lose 1.15lbs or gain 1.15lbs – all approximately, but don’t worry, because it’s all completely wrong anyway. (Apologies in advance to our European and Australian friends who work in kilos – the entire calorie theory is done with the imperial system – that should tell us something.)

A calorie theorist would find the answer to Laura’s question easy – you eat 50 calories more than you need and so you store 50/3,500 of a pound of fat. So Laura – you gain 0.014lbs – answer done. They might add – and this will happen every single time you do this. This is where you see the daft snippets in magazines saying ‘just cut out one 50 calorie biscuit a day and you will be 5lbs lighter by the end of the year’ – (that’s 50*365/3,500 – the maths is simple).


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