The X-Men Diet

The other day, I was inspired to think about creative ways to lose weight. “Creative” meaning solutions that allow one to eat tasty food. That pretty much leaves us with quackery or increasing energy expenditure. Unfortunately, quackery, being quackery, generally does not work, and increasing energy expenditure usually means doing things that are either boring (e.g., jogging) or hard work (e.g., jogging) or both (e.g., jogging).

What really increases your energy usage, isn’t boring, or hard work? Shooting energy beams from your eyes, like Cyclops[1]. Shooting energy beams from your eyes has to require lots of energy, doesn’t it. I mean, they are beams of energy. And, Cyclops always seems to be in pretty good shape. Could the two be connected? Where does the energy for the beams of energy come from?

The lowest threshold for a militarily useful laser is 100 kilowatts (kW) or 100,000 joules/sec (J/s). Cyclops’ energy beam definitely seems to meet any threshold for military utility. The original explanation for his energy source was that he absorbed energy from the sun. The sun provides about direct irradiance of about 1kW per square meter. The human body has roughly 1.5-2 square meters of surface area. Cyclops is a good-sized dude. So, assuming 2 square meters of Cyclops and that he absorbs 100% of the sun’s energy, he can absorb about 250J per second during the day. He would have to sun bathe[2] for almost 2 minutes for every second he uses his energy beam at this minimally effective level. Depending on how he stores energy, he could run out pretty quickly at night.

Direct solar power defeats our fitness goals anyway. Maybe Cyclops is photosynthetic and stores the solar energy in a chemical form. A single calorie (cal) is defined as the amount to energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree celsius and is equal to 4.2J. The “calorie” we traditionally deal with on our food packaging is a “large calorie” (Cal), which is equivalent to 1000cal or 4200J. One second of 100kW laser output needs ~24 Cal, the caloric content of about a third of a strip of bacon.

Burning 24 Cal per second activity seems like a great weight loss plan. A lot more efficient than jogging (~1 Cal/s) and a lot more fun.

Unfortunately, that cannot get us to Cyclops’ reported upper range of power of 2GW (2,000,000,000J/s) or 20,000 times more powerful than the military threshold. At those levels, one second of use would use 100 days of typical caloric intake for non-American adults[3]. Directly converting his own mass into energy (E=mc^2) could generate much more power and achieve weight loss goals. One second of 2GW laser usage would require about 10 micrograms (1/1,000,000th of a gram) of mass. Even assuming that Cyclops’ energy beam is running at full power all day, every day – as the comics do, which is the reason for his ruby visor – this only requires 1 gram of mass per day.

So, guy must work out. Damn.


  1. I am treating Cyclops’ energy beams as if they were a laser. I know that they are not a laser. It’s not actually very clear what they are supposed to be, as comic book authors don’t seem to be very clear on what energy is. Cyclops’ energy beam may be something like a particle beam, as it provides concussive force, not heat. Though, a laser can push things, so I consider the debate open. Treating it as a laser, however, simplifies the calculations. A particle beam of equal power would require even more energy input due to the acceleration of the particles required to create the concussive force.
  2. This explanation was abandoned. Instead, the comic books seem to know be favoring some version of interdimensional energy channeling in Cyclops’ eyeballs. I was hoping to come up with something a bit more biological.
  3. 50 days in the case of US citizens.

Author: Josh Witten

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