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There was a television commercial decades ago (from my childhood) that showed a heavy man sitting on a couch, eating pizza, watching an exercise video and looking very proud of himself because each time the video told him to "pump", he grabbed and ate another bite of pizza.
Still, there is a grain of truth to the notion that eating can burn calories; it actually does, and how many calories are consumed by eating depends largely upon the macronutrient composition of the food consumed.
Digestion and metabolism are not perfectly energetically efficient so that some of the energy (calories) in food cannot be utilized to make body fat under any circumstances, but is instead lost as heat. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the energy "cost" (in calories or as a percent of total calories) associated with eating, digesting, processing, storing and using its nutrients.
Many people have heard the claim that "it takes more calories to digest celery than you get from eating it.
The thermic effect of food is result of the fact that no process in the universe is perfectly efficient and in order to get calories from food and use or store them, we have to burn a few calories along the way. Since a dietary calorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one liter of water by one degree centigrade, it's a simple matter to deduce how many calories were in the now-burned-up food. In fact, the goal of digestion and metabolism is not to produce heat at all, but to use every possible calorie to feed metabolism and movement and, if after those processes are complete, there is any energy left over, to use those remaining calories to make body fat.
This was bad news for our ancestors who routinely faced famine, but good news for people today who are trying to lose weight. Body fat percentage is nothing more than the weight of adipose tissue divided by total weight. This effect of calorie burning from eating is known variously as the "Thermic Effect of Food", "Specific Dynamic Action of Food" or "Diet Induced Thermogenesis". The percentage of calories lost as heat varies for each macronutrient as shown in the table in the upper right.
For example, the high thermic effect of protein is one of the reasons that high protein diets tend to be helpful for weight loss. Generally calorie measurement is acheived by literally burning a precisely measured amount of food inside a super-insulated container using pure or nearly pure oxygen and measuring how much heat is thus produced. This device is called a "bomb calorimeter" and variations of it are still used in nutrition laboratories today.
Heat is produced in this process not deliberately, but rather because it cannot, by the laws of thermodynamics, be avoided.

So all we have to do to know body fat percentage is measure a person’s body fat and body weight. It does this by spraying the gasoline into a closed cylinder, mixing it with oxygen in the air and then using a spark plug to ignite the whole thing so that the explosion produced pushes a piston that ultimately drives the car. We burn them by transporting nutrients across the wall of the intestine and through the blood stream. In this case, some of the energy in the gasoline is used to move the car, and some of it is lost as heat.
The first part is very hard.A “Gold Standard” for Body Fat MeasurementWhat is a “gold standard” you ask? We burn more still in the chemical and metabolic processing of those nutrients in the liver and elsewhere. This is why the engine gets hot and why we need a cooling system to keep it from melting. Now just like the human body, the goal with a car is to use as much energy as possible for movement and waste as little as we can as heat. In short, a calorie on the plate is not a calorie on the body but is instead some fraction of a calorie.
The better we are at this, the better the mileage, but just as with the human body, there is a limit to how efficient any car can be. No matter how well engineered the car, some of the energy in the gasoline that powers it will be lost as heat.
No matter how good our bodies are at capturing calories for useful work and for fat storage, some of the energy in food is lost as heat. Because it is weighed against other weights known to be exactly one kilogram and ultimately, those weights were weighed against the world standard kilogram (a chunk of platinum located in a French vault that is DEFINED as exactly one kilogram). In other words, the only way to know how much body fat a person REALLY has is to measure that fat DIRECTLY-to separate it from everything else on the body and weigh it. It’s not so easy. You might think that all you have to do is cut off all the visible fat and weigh it.
After you carefully cut away the thick pieces of fat you’ll begin to notice that there are many more tiny threads of fat “marbled” into the meat.
You could spend hours or days carefully separating all this out and in the end you would still have missed a lot of invisible fat.To overcome this, food scientists use chemistry. Rather than mechanically trim out all the fat in food, they use a process called chemical extraction.

The raw meat is put into a very powerful high speed blender and chopped and ripped into microscopic fragments. Then they mix this smoothie with a large amount of a chemical called ether and shake the whole thing up for a really long time. Ether is an organic solvent like gasoline (and like fat) and all the fat in the meat smoothie dissolves into the ether. But, and this is important, everything in the meat that is NOT fat does NOT dissolve into the ether.
So at this point in the process, scientists have ether and fat mixed together and all the other stuff in meat separated out from it. After the mixture has settled, the valve is carefully opened and all the bottom stuff (the part of the meat that isn’t fat) is allowed to drain through until it has all left the funnel. Once all the ether has boiled away, what’s left is ALL the fat that was originally in the meat. Now, that can be weighed and, at long last we know exactly how much fat was in the original meat!Is the Human Body Just a Piece of Meat?So far we have talked about measuring fat in cow meat and we have seen that it’s not as easy as it sounds.
But what about a human body?The first and most obvious problem is that no matter how curious a human being is about his body fat percentage, he doesn’t want to be put in a blender to find out. There is no way to measure body fat DIRECTLY on a living person.But what about dead human beings?
Couldn’t we measure body fat on a cadaver in the same way we just described for meat?Yes, we could, and this HAS been done on bodies that were donated to science by their owners. THIS is why body fat measurement is so difficult.Using Our Gold Standard to Test EstimatesOnce we have a gold standard for body fat measurement, then we can use that to compare how well various less invasive estimates come to matching it. In other words, if we want to know whether underwater weighing is very accurate, lets compare it to the "body in a blender" approach. This presents another problem. Namely, a gold standard can only be determined on dead people and so unless we just happened to do underwater weighing on the person the day before he died, we won't be able to compare.

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