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Can a weight loss of one pound a week be achieved with a 3500-kcal deficit? Commentary on a commonly accepted rule

Abstract

Despite theoretical evidence that the model commonly referred to as the 3500-kcal rule grossly overestimates actual weight loss, widespread application of the 3500-kcal formula continues to appear in textbooks, on respected government- and health-related websites, and scientific research publications. Here we demonstrate the risk of applying the 3500-kcal rule even as a convenient estimate by comparing predicted against actual weight loss in seven weight loss experiments conducted in confinement under total supervision or objectively measured energy intake. We offer three newly developed, downloadable applications housed in Microsoft Excel and Java, which simulates a rigorously validated, dynamic model of weight change. The first two tools available at http://www.pbrc.edu/sswcp, provide a convenient alternative method for providing patients with projected weight loss/gain estimates in response to changes in dietary intake. The second tool, which can be downloaded from the URL http://www.pbrc.edu/mswcp, projects estimated weight loss simultaneously for multiple subjects. This tool was developed to inform weight change experimental design and analysis. While complex dynamic models may not be directly tractable, the newly developed tools offer the opportunity to deliver dynamic model predictions as a convenient and significantly more accurate alternative to the 3500-kcal rule.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Dr Amy O Johnson-Levonas and Kathleen Newcomb, Merck, Whitehouse Station, NJ for their skillful assistance with preparing the manuscript for publication. DMT is supported by NIH R15 DK090739. CKM is supported by NIH grants DK089051, HL102166, P30 DK072476, and U01 AG20478. TC is partially supported by NIH HL102166. CB is partially supported by NIH HL45670 and the John W Barton Sr Chair in Genetics and Nutrition.

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Correspondence to D M Thomas.

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Diana Thomas is a consultant for Jenny Craig. The remaining authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Thomas, D., Martin, C., Lettieri, S. et al. Can a weight loss of one pound a week be achieved with a 3500-kcal deficit? Commentary on a commonly accepted rule. Int J Obes 37, 1611–1613 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2013.51

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2013.51

Keywords

  • 3500-kcal rule
  • Wishnofsky’s rule
  • dynamic model
  • energy balance
  • first law of thermodynamics

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