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Posts from the “Myths” Category

True or False: Drinking water before a meal helps you eat less?

Posted on September 26, 2018


WHEN I STARTED writing about health myths and misconceptions, I had no idea I would be writing so much about water! I reviewed my first book, 25 Ways To Cure The Hiccups: Uncovering The Truth Behind 101 Myths and Misconceptions, and found the  following:

  • Myth 6 explores whether it is possible to drink too much water when exercising.
  • Myth 14 considers the concept that we should drink 64 ounces of water a day.
  • Myth 39 examines whether we are already dehydrated if we don’t drink water until we start to feel thirsty.
  • Myth 59 investigates if water heated in a microwave can erupt and cause severe burns.

So far in this book, we have evaluated if many brands of bottled water are simply tap water (Myth 16) and if you burn more calories by drinking ice water (Myth 17). And there are more water-related topics to come!

I’ve previously shared that roughly 65% of us are either overweight or obese, so I’m seldom surprised to hear the many interesting things people do in their attempts to lose weight. The idea that drinking water before eating can promote weight loss has been around for some time, and I’ve heard more than one registered dietitian advise overweight people to try it. But is it true? I was surprised to learn that this topic hasn’t been studied much. However,I did find research conducted by Dennis and colleagues (2010) and published in the journal Obesity.

Researchers investigated whether having adults ranging in age from 55–75 drink 16 ounces of water (about two measuring cups full) prior to eating breakfast, lunch and dinner resulted in the consumption of fewer calories. Research participants were already on a low-calorie diet: 1,500 calories per day for men and 1,200 calories per day for women.

After three months of following this regimen, the participants who drank 16 ounces of water prior to eating lost, on average, 15.5 pounds compared to an average loss of 11 pounds for participants who drank no water prior to eating. So the water drinkers lost weight at a 44% higher rate than those who didn’t drink water before meals.

Other research suggests that drinking water prior to eating is effective in reducing caloric intake for individuals older than 60 who are not on low- calorie diets, but pre-meal water consumption may not have the same effect for folks in the 20–35 age range.

The idea that drinking water before meals leads to weight loss triggers my “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” reaction. But it really does appear to be the case, especially for individuals beyond age 50. What’s the explanation? According to the referenced article, drinking water prior to eating “may aid in increasing fullness, thereby promoting a reduction in meal energy intake.” Drinking water might also help decrease feelings of hunger, which could result in fewer calories consumed during  meals.

It also is possible that water consumption could replace sugary drinks people sometimes drink with meals, resulting in even lower caloric intake.

Drinking a couple of glasses of water prior to meals likely won’t lead to pounds of fat magically disappearing, but it does appear to be a reasonable and healthy way to decrease the number of calories we consume. And that calorie reduction is what could have a modest impact on weight-control efforts.

Before writing this chapter, I didn’t make it a habit to drink water before meals, but I’m going to start!

Dennis, E., Dengo, A., Comber, D., Flack, K., Savla, J., Davy, K., & Davy, B.: Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged  and older adults. Obesity (2010), Vol 18, pp. 300-307.

True or False- Jell-O is good for your knees because it has ground up cartilage in it?

Posted on August 19, 2018


We established in chapter 15 that gelatin is made by boiling the bones, skins and hides of cows and pigs. When I sent that chapter to my editor, she said it reminded her of a tape she listened to years ago that described how eating cartilage from chicken bones was helpful in preventing arthritis.

She also said she consumes two envelopes of unflavored gelatin every morning to help stave off arthritis. Let’s explore if that is really effective.

Whether you talk to highly competitive athletes or to individuals in their 60s, 70s or 80s, joint pain is a common complaint. I spoke to a group of retired educators shortly before I wrote this chapter, and following the presentation, I had a long discussion with a woman who said she doesn’t exercise at all because of pain in her knees.

As someone who has been working in the areas of health and fitness for the past 20 years or so, I can confidently say that I’ve heard this complaint hundreds of times.

When the cartilage that  covers  our  bones  (called  hyaline  or  articular cartilage) incurs damage, we experience inflammation, pain and decreased range of  motion. Because this  affects millions upon millions of people, it makes sense that we might look for simple and inexpensive remedies such as taking  gelatin.

From the reading I’ve done, it appears that gelatin is good for strengthening hair and fingernails and for protecting our joints. This might be a legitimate claim, because gelatin contains the amino acids proline and glycine, which are thought to be particularly important for healthy cartilage.

As I began conducting research for this chapter, it became obvious that there is very little published research on the topic. I did find a report of a study conducted at Ball State University indicating that a gelatin supplement improved joint pain in athletes. Unfortunately, the study was never published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, nor were the details or specifics of the study released.

Plus this particular study was funded by the company that created the supplement, raising even more questions about its validity.

In an online WebMD article, Timothy McAlindon, M.D., MPH, was quoted as saying, “If gelatin was protective [for stiff knees] there’d be less osteoarthritis in this country and not more, because it’s widely contained in foods.”

There is some evidence that pharmaceutical-grade collagen hydrolysate (hydrolyzed gelatin products) may be beneficial in the treatment of osteoar- thritis and osteoporosis. In a review article on the topic, Moskowitch (2000) stated, “Collagen hydrolysate is of interest as a therapeutic agent of potential utility in the treatment of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.”

“Is of interest” certainly doesn’t equal good scientific evidence, in my opinion. In addition, the studies conducted with gelatin supplements and pharmaceutical gelatin are using different and more-concentrated forms of gelatin then you would find in, for example, commercial Jell-O.

I will continue to enjoy Jell-O on occasion; however, I don’t believe it will improve the health of my knees, which have been subjected to a number years of self-inflicted abuse from wrestling, track and football.

Reference: Moskowitch, R. Role of Collagen Hydrolysate in Bone and Joint Disease. Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism (2000), Vol 30, pp. 87-99.

True or False- Freshman in college gain on average 15 pounds?

Posted on June 17, 2018


We often hear “The Freshman 15” to express the amount of weight supposedly gained by students in their first year of college. I’ve had the privilege of teaching health-related courses on college campuses in New York, Colorado and Wisconsin, so I’ve often dealt with this topic in classes and in my speaking engagements.

It is indeed true that most college students gain weight during their first year; however, it is not nearly 15 pounds. We’ll talk more about the actual number in just a bit.

First, I would like to explore factors that contribute to weight gain in college freshmen. One is alcohol consumption. A single drink can contain from 100–150 calories, so a student who consumes eight or 10 drinks in a night out with friends could be adding 800–1,500 calories that day. And students who have been drinking are often more likely to make a late-night food run; Taco Bell is one favorite. Those extra calories add up!

Some students get into trouble with the buffet/cafeteria-style all-you-can- eat dining services available on most college campuses. They return for two or three entrees, a variety of not-so-healthy side dishes and multiple high-calorie desserts. Who wouldn’t be tempted to end each meal with a huge soft-serve vanilla ice cream cone! Again, the new lifestyle offers lots of extra calories.

Many college students are less active than they were in high school. When I pose the question of how many students were involved in two or three sports in high school, routinely 80–90% of them raise their hands. A very small percentage of those same students compete in college athletics. They no longer engage in daily two-hour practices as they did in high school, so less physical activity means burning fewer calories.

Plus college can be hectic; many students hold part-time jobs and find  that college-level classes require more study time. Both scenarios can negatively affect their levels of physical activity.

So just how many pounds do college freshman gain that first year? A large review article published in the Journal of American College Health by Vella-Zarb and colleagues (2009) reports results from 24 studies that examined weight gain in college freshman. The authors concluded, “Weight gain occurs during freshman year, although the amount of weight gained tends to be much less than the ‘Freshman 15’ suggests. Typical weight gain is closer to 5 lbs. than to 15 lbs.”

I think it’s interesting to note that young adults 18–19 years old who don’t go to college gain about the same amount of weight as those who do attend college. So perhaps a general lifestyle change, rather than entering college, is responsible for weight gain in this young-adult population.

Vella-Zarb, R., and Elgar, F. The ‘Freshman 5’: A meta-analysis of weight gain in the freshman year of college. Journal of American College Health (2009), Vol 58, pp. 161-166.

True or False: You burn more calories when you drink ice-cold water?

Posted on June 4, 2018


Roughly 75%–80% of Americans are overweight or obese. It certainly is understandable that people would look for a variety of ways to burn extra calories and lose weight.

It is true that you burn more calories when you drink ice-cold water. The reason? Your body has to expend some energy (calories) raising the temperature of that water to bring it to the temperature of your body. However—and I’m really sorry that there is almost always a “however”—the number of additional calories we burn when we drink ice-cold water is very small and likely would not affect weight-loss efforts.

Think about it: If losing weight were as simple as consistently drinking ice-cold water throughout the day, we might actually be able to put a dent in today’s obesity rates.

Our bodies are composed of between 60% and 70% water. Were you aware that your brain is 90% water, your blood is 83% water, your muscle is 75% water, and your bones are 22% water?

Water is vital for health and necessary for most of our bodily functions. Water is important for creating saliva, protecting our organs, transporting and dissolving nutrients, regulating body temperature, lubricating our joints, circulating our blood, keeping our skin healthy, digesting and absorbing our food, and helping us fight illness.

Brown and colleagues (2006) studied water-induced thermogenesis (the number of calories we burn by drinking water) and whether the temperature of the water had an impact on calories burned. These authors concluded, “Drinking distilled water at room temperature did not increase energy expenditure. Cooling the water before drinking only stimulated a small thermogenic response, well below the theoretical energy cost of warming the water to body temperature. These results cast doubt on water as a thermogenic agent for the management of obesity.”

There is some credibility to the idea that drinking water before (or with) meals and replacing sugary drinks with water can significantly reduce your caloric consumption and aid in weight-loss efforts. But again, drinking lots of ice-cold water won’t result in burning a significant number of calories.

One final word of caution: Drinking ice-cold water can increase abdominal symptoms like diarrhea and cramping in some individuals with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Brown, C., Dulloo, A., and Montani, J. Water-induced thermogenesis reconsidered: The effects of osmolality and water temperature on energy expenditure after drinking. The Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism (2006), Vol 91, pp. 3598-3602.

True or False: Many brands of bottled water are simply tap water?

Posted on March 19, 2018


Many people believe that bottled water is a healthier option than tap water. Marketers certainly take advantage of this; you often see commercials or print advertising campaigns for bottled water that depict snowy mountain peaks and clear, glistening springs or rivers. You see healthy, active people drinking bottled water while out riding their bikes or after going for a run.

Bottled water is big business. The worldwide market is estimated to be roughly $50 billion, with the United States accounting for $9 or $10 billion of those sales. The growth of bottled water sales in developed countries ranges from 5%–20% a year.

Drinking bottled water can be expensive. We pay roughly 5 cents per ounce for bottled water ($1 for a 20-ounce bottle), whereas we can drink a gallon of municipal water out of our tap for less than a penny.

I find it a bit ironic that I am writing this chapter in an airport, and I forgot to bring my water bottle! So I had to shell out $2 for a 20-ounce bottle of water. My goal is to refill that bottle at least 20 times on the trip to get my money’s worth.

All of those plastic water bottles can have a negative impact on the environment. According to estimates, approximately 80% of water bottles are not recycled, instead ending up in forests, lakes, streams and other inopportune places. That amounts to over a million tons of plastic-bottle waste per year.

And consider the significant environmental cost of the energy needed to produce all those plastic bottles as well as to transport and refrigerate the water.

Surveys show that the primary reasons people drink bottled water are a taste preference of bottled water compared to tap water and the belief that tap water is tainted with toxins or contaminants. The sale of bottled water in a particular city or region usually spikes following problems with a municipal water source, and sales in those areas can stay elevated for years. It’s hard to regain trust after an incident with a municipal water supply.

Plus drinking certain brands of bottled water is considered a status symbol—again, thanks to advertising.

I find it interesting that so many people automatically believe that bottled water tastes better than tap water. I’ve read about blind taste tests in large cities such as New York and Cincinnati where people actually prefer the  taste of tap water.

Estimates show that from 25%–60% of bottled water is simply tap water that has gone through some type of a purification process. That is exactly the case with the water I bought at the airport; it said “Purified” in large letters on the top, but I believe it was bottled in Atlanta, GA.

Van Hulle and colleagues (2012) conducted a study where they compared the chemical quality of bottled water and tap water and concluded that the main discriminating factor for tap water is the slightly increased chloride content. It was otherwise not possible to differentiate the tap water from the bottled water, indicating that the chemical composition is not statistically different.

I’ll admit that I do buy some bottled water, but I usually buy it by the case (for cost) and reuse a bottle as many times as I can once it has been opened. I have no hesitation about drinking water out of our home tap, and I can’t tell the difference between the taste of our tap water and bottled water.

Van Hulle, S., and Ciocci, M. Statistical evaluation and comparison of the chemical quality of bottled water and Flemish tap water. Desalination and Water Treatment (2012), Vol 40, pp. 183-193.

True or False: Gelatin is made by boiling the bones, skins, and hides of cows and pigs?

Posted on February 18, 2018


Gelatin simply is processed protein. It is similar to the structural protein collagen, a tough, fibrous protein found in connective tissue such as ligaments and tendons as well as in skin, bone and cartilage in humans and many animals. Collagen gives these structures strength and in some cases, elasticity, helping them stretch without tearing or ripping.

As hard as it may be to believe, commercial gelatin truly is made by boiling the bones, skins and hides of cows and pigs. Here’s how the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia describes gelatin:

“Gelatin or animal jelly, foodstuff obtained from connective tissue (found in hoofs, bones, tendons, ligaments and cartilage) of vertebrate animals by the action of boiling water or dilute acid. It is largely composed of denatured collagen, a protein particularly rich in the amino acids proline and hydroxyproline. The process of manufacture is a complex one that involves removing foreign substances, boiling the material (usually in distilled water in alu- minum vessels to prevent contamination), and purifying it of all chemicals used in freeing the gelatin from the connective tissues. The final product in its purest form is brittle, transparent, colorless, tasteless, and odorless and has the distinguishing property of dissolving in hot water and congealing when cold.”

“Congealing” means to make thick or solidify, which is what happens when you make JELL-O. Most of us, either when we were children or as adults with our own children, have made JELL-O. The process is quite simple: Mix the JELL-O powder in a bowl with a cup of boiling water, add a cup of cold water, stir, and place in the fridge and wait. The waiting is the hard part for kids! JELL-O JIGGLERS® (you use only one cup of water and cut the chilled, firm JELL-O into shapes) are a huge hit with our three kids.

Making JELL-O or other gelatin brands is the most common use of gelatin. JELL-O was patented in 1845 by Peter Cooper, and I read recently that Kraft Foods sells over a million boxes of JELL-O a day! There is even a museum in Le Roy, N.Y., dedicated to JELL-O.

The first four JELL-O flavors were orange, lemon, strawberry and raspberry. There have been 36 flavors of JELL-O sold over the years; some of the flavors that didn’t last include apple, chocolate and coffee.

Gelatin is also used in cosmetics, shampoos, candy, photographic film and the coating on vitamins.

The process by which gelatin is made (boiling animal parts) may sound a bit disgusting to some, and it may on the surface appear to be unclean and not very safe. However, the steps are strictly regulated. The heating, treating and filtering process makes gelatin safe for consumption.

As you can imagine, many vegans avoid gelatin products because it originates from animal parts. If this is a concern for you and you’d like to be able to eat gelatin, there is a vegan version called agar that is derived from seaweed. Agar is also a good setting agent—we talked about gelatin’s congealing characteristic earlier in this chapter—and is commonly used throughout Asia in desserts. And some gelatin producers are starting to use more fish products to make gelatin.

I have to admit that prior to researching and writing this chapter, I had heard that gelatin was made from boiling the bones, skins and hides of animals, but I wasn’t certain it was true. Now that I know it is, I will think a bit differently about products with gelatin in them—but likely will still enjoy an occasional JELL-O JIGGLERS® with my kids.

Gelatin. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition; 11/1/2011, pp. 1. Columbia University Press.

True or False: Exercise after eating a meal causes food to be digested faster and fewer calories to be absorbed?

Posted on February 6, 2018


If you do a quick Internet search on this topic, it won’t take long to find recommendations to go for a walk after eating a meal. The rationale? The movement associated with walking will speed digestion and maybe even result in absorbing fewer calories.

One interesting statement I found on a website that advocates walking after eating suggests, “Getting a jump on digestion [by walking after a meal] will help continue that process through the night, burning more calories and shedding pounds faster.” This simply isn’t true.

Walking is a highly recommended form of physical activity because of its many health benefits. Walking can help us control our weight, increase our energy levels and good cholesterol, and decrease our risk for hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke.

Walking has also been shown to help reduce our reliance on medications and improve our sex life. Walking is good! However, walking after eating a meal doesn’t speed up digestion, nor does it reduce the absorption of calories. This is a topic about which there appears to be a fair amount of disagreement in published literature. As stated by the author of one of the articles I reviewed, the impact of exercise on the time it takes food to pass through the gastrointestinal tract “is a matter of hard debate.”

Some research suggests that light aerobic exercise prolongs mouth-to-cecum (first part of the large intestine) transit time; some studies suggest that gastric emptying (time it takes for food to leave the stomach) doesn’t change with exercise; and some research suggests that transit time is accelerated with activity. The components and quantity of the meal and the type and intensity of the activity certainly could be factors as well.

Robertson and colleagues (1993) published a study in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology that examined the effects of exercise on total and segmental colon transit. Their results showed that with exercise, total gastrointestinal transit time decreased in five subjects, increased in six subjects, and did not change in five subjects. They concluded, “These observations support our previous findings that physical activity to the extent that average people consider routine exercise does not necessarily improve gastrointestinal transit.”

There isn’t anything wrong with walking after eating; my wife and I often walk after dinner, and that certainly is healthier than sitting and watching television, which many people do after the evening meal. However, we don’t walk in the evenings because we think it will help digest our food or result in fewer calories being absorbed; we simply walk because we enjoy it!

Some people can experience gastrointestinal distress if they walk right after eating, so you may want to wait 20 or 30 minutes before sliding into your walking shoes and hitting the streets or the nearest walking trail.

Robertson, G., Meshkinpour, H., Vandenberg, K., James, K., Cohen, A., and Wilson, E. Effects of exercise on total and segmental colon transit. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology    (1993), Vol 16, pp. 300-303.

True or False: Wearing the proper running shoe for your foot type helps decrease injury rates?

Posted on January 9, 2018


We often hear that wearing certain types of running shoes to accommodate certain foot structures will reduce injuries. I fully bought into this idea about 12 years ago when I started training for my first marathon.

I visited a shoe store, and after a quick evaluation by the salesperson, I was told that I appeared to be an over-pronator, meaning that my foot rolled inward as I ran. To counteract it, the seller said, I should buy a motion-control shoe. Keep in mind that prior to visiting this store, I had never had a foot assessment or running evaluation, and I had never spent more than $50 on a pair of running shoes.

The salesperson fully convinced me that I needed to spend $130 for a   pair of specialized running shoes based on my foot type, so my wife and I sacrificed groceries for a week and a half and bought the shoes. After five or six weeks of nothing but trouble running in the shoes, I retired them and went back to my $50 shoes, kept training and successfully completed the marathon.

Running shoes are big business in the United States, and the sale of running shoes is increasing. In 1988 there were roughly 25 million pairs of run- ning shoes sold, a number that increased to approximately 40 million pairs in 2009. I find it interesting that even though sales of specialized running shoes continues to increase, we still have about the same number of running injuries we’ve always had.

It can be a bit complicated trying to figure out what type of shoe is right for you. Running shoes are usually categorized as either being stability, motion-controlled or cushioned shoes. Foot variations can complicate things as well. Maybe you’ve been told you have high arches or you’re flat-footed, an over-pronator or supinator, or that you have rearfoot varus or forefoot valgus. Yikes!

My searching reveals that there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of research examining whether certain types of shoes can help reduce injury rates in people with certain foot types. One of the published studies on this topic was conducted by Knapik and colleagues (2010) and appeared in The American Journal of Sports Medicine.

The authors performed foot evaluations on 722 Marine Corps recruits and issued them stability, motion-control or cushioned shoes based upon their foot type. Then authors measured injury rates over a 12-week train- ing period. Ultimately, the authors concluded, “This prospective study demonstrated that assigning running shoes based on the static weight-bearing plantar foot surface shape had little influence on injury risk during Marine Corps basic training, even after controlling for other injury risk factors. These findings are strengthened by the similar results in Air Force and Army basic-training studies.”

I’m certainly not a shoe expert, but when I buy shoes I consider the width of my foot (tight shoes hurt my feet), the weight of a shoe (I usually go for lighter shoes), and the most important factor: overall comfort. Taking five or six laps around the store in the new shoes is a good test to be sure they’re comfortable.

Knapik, J., Trone, D., Swedler, D., Vilasenor, A., Bullock, S., Schmied, E., Bockelman, T., Han, P., and Jones, B. Injury reduction effectiveness of assigning running shoes based on plantar shape in Marine Corps Basic Training. The American Journal of Sports Medicine.

True or False: Exercising on an empty stomach will burn more fat calories?

Posted on October 30, 2017


The idea that exercising on an empty stomach will burn more fat calories has been around for some time. You have maybe heard of the book Body for Life by Bill Phillips. It came out in the late 1990s, and in  it, Phillips suggests performing cardiovascular exercise in the morning prior to eating breakfast to allow your body to burn more fat calories.

The theory is that if you work out the first thing in the morning before breakfast—or even later in the day after having fasted for 6 or 8 hours—your body will have less glycogen (stored carbohydrates) to burn for fuel. As a result, your body will tap fat stores sooner during the exercise session to maintain energy levels. Theoretically, this would lead to burning more fat calories, and you potentially would lose more weight from your workouts.

It is true that during lower-intensity workouts—walking, for example— you burn from fat stores a higher proportion of the calories you require for fuel or energy, as compared with higher-intensity workouts such as running. However, the absolute or overall number of calories you burn during higher-intensity workouts is much greater than when you are doing lower-intensity workouts. That’s why even though the proportion of fat calories burned during high-intensity workouts is lower, you actually burn more fat calories overall during high-intensity workouts. I know this is confusing!
Look at it another way: If you work out prior to eating breakfast or after a 6–8 hour fast, it is likely your energy levels will be lower and you will not be able to exercise at higher intensities, if that is your goal. The result could be that you burn fewer calories (even fat calories) during your workout. Most fitness professionals recommend eating 100–200 calories prior to exercising to help you maintain your blood glucose level as well as your energy level during exercise.

Researchers have studied this topic, and a review article titled “Does cardio after an overnight fast maximize fat loss?” was published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal (Schoenfeld, 2011). The author states, “In conclusion, the literature does not support the efficacy of training early in the morning on an empty stomach as a tactic to reduce body fat. At best, the net effect on fat loss associated with such an approach will be no better than training after meal consumption, and quite possibly, it would produce inferior results. Moreover, given that training with depleted glycogen levels has been shown to increase proteolysis (muscle breakdown), the strategy has potential detrimental effects for those concerned about muscle strength and hypertrophy.”

Research has also clearly shown that if we wait for long periods of time to eat between meals, we often get ravenously hungry and overeat when we do sit down for a meal. Imagine not eating for 6 or 8 hours and then also performing a workout prior to eating something!

Safety should be considered as well. Many people get light-headed or dizzy if they try to perform physical activity on an empty stomach, which could lead to fainting and possible injury.

I certainly understand the desire to try to tweak our workout routines in an attempt to burn a few more calories or shed a few extra pounds. However, I urge you to always use the common sense test when you hear or read about new workout programs, techniques or suggestions—especially if someone is selling a new and exciting product. I know many people who tried the don’t- eat-before-working-out-in-the-morning routine. Almost all of them lost a few pounds, but the routine didn’t last. After a few weeks or a few months at most, they were back to their normal habits.


Schoenfeld, B. Does cardio after an overnight fast maximize fat loss? Strength and Conditioning Journal (2011), Vol 33, pp. 23-25.

True or False: You must burn approximately 3,500 calories to lose a pound?

Posted on October 10, 2017


YOU’VE JUST COMPLETED another 30-minute workout on the exercise bike. You worked up a good sweat, and you’re feeling great about yourself! As you climb off, you check the number of calories you burned during the workout. The digital display says 300 calories. You think to yourself, “Hey, that’s pretty good!”

Then you remember what your mother-in-law told you last week—that you have to burn 3,500 calories to lose a pound. Arrrgghh! After some quick calculations in your head (and praying she was wrong), you figure you need to climb on that bike about 11 more times to reach that number.

The calories that need to be burned to lose a pound can seem overwhelming to some, but don’t despair; it’s not as difficult as it might seem.

Your mother-in-law indeed was right: You need to burn around 3,500 calories if you want to see your scale register a pound less. An article on states, “Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilograms) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound. So if you cut 500 calories from your typical diet each day, you’d lose about 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). It isn’t quite this simple, however, as you usually lose a combination of fat, lean tissue and water.”

As stated in the article, the concept of having to burn 3,500 calories to lose a pound might be a bit of an oversimplification. Consider that there are 454 grams in a pound and roughly 9 calories in a gram of fat. It would appear that you would really need to lose 4,086 calories (454 x 9) if you wanted to lose a pound—a pound of fat, that is.

But fat (adipose tissue) contains things other than pure fat—small amounts of protein, connective tissue and water, for example. When we work out, we generally don’t burn just fat, so that is where the 3,500 number comes from. Experts have worked on highly complex calculations that attempt to determine how many calories we would need to burn to lose weight if that weight loss comes from fat, lean tissue, a combination of the two, etc. This short chapter is not the venue to fully explore these calculations, as they truly are complex and can be confusing. Although 3,500 calories might not be the exact number of calories you need to burn to shed a pound, it certainly is in the ballpark. And it is a great benchmark or place to start if you want to begin monitoring your calories for weight-loss  purposes.

So what do you need to do to achieve a caloric deficit of approximately 500 calories a day (3,500 calories a week) and lose a pound? I would highly recommend using a combination of physical activity and a slight calorie reduction. If you can manage to burn 300 calories a day from physical activity and eat 200 fewer calories (there are about 200 calories in a bagel)—and do it consistently—you should be able to lose about a pound a week. That would be over 50 pounds in a year!

Most people don’t  gain weight that fast, but many get frustrated when it doesn’t come off as quickly as they would like. I believe small, sensible changes that you can tolerate and maintain are the key to weight-loss success.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics. health/calories/WT00011. Website accessed July 20, 2012.