Eight tips to crack the complexity of CICO!

CICO is an acronym for the concept we all have come across. It stands for Calories in, Calories Out and is the fundamental concept of how our metabolism works as it applies to weight loss. Simply put, it means that if we want to lose weight, we consume less than we burn; if we want to maintain weight, we balance both sides of the equation, and if we want to gain weight, we consume more than we burn. Easy peasy! So if this energy balance equation is so simple as a concept, where is the complexity?

If the CICO concept truly works, how do we make sense of those lucky people we all know who seem to eat more and never gain weight? Or some of us who eat a few extra servings and gain weight immediately. What’s going on from the CICO perspective in these cases? There’s more than what meets the eye here 🔎. Let’s dissect it.

We learned the law of conservation of energy in school. It states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. ENERGY IN = ENERGY OUT is a principle of thermodynamics that is applicable in the context of weight loss, as well. To make the most of this science, we should examine both sides of the equation further and understand how one can leverage it.

The left-hand side of this equation – “ENERGY IN” is pretty simple. There are two leverage points – what you eat and what you drink. Therefore, it’s the total of all calories coming in via food and drink. That makes this straightforward to calculate, and we can kind of guesstimate how many calories we are consuming. Although, I want to caution that if you are like me at all, you might be underestimating what you are consuming. I only realized after I tracked for a week. Although it’s very cumbersome to track calories daily and probably is overkill, I encourage you to log your intake for at least 2-3 days and get your baseline. I have used Myfitnesspal and plain old Excel in the past. Your net consumed calories is a number that will help you plan for your goal accurately.

The right-hand side of this equation – “ENERGY OUT” is where the fun begins. It is all calories expended via the total of RMR + TME + TMF + NEAT. A lot is going on here! Let’s take a closer look and understand these four buckets –

  • RMR – Resting metabolic rate. This is how many calories your body needs for basic functions if it were resting. It varies based on gender, age, height, and like it or not, genetics 😀! This can only be changed over the long run and only to a certain extent. For example, if you add more muscle, you could give your RMR a little boost.
  • TME – stands for Thermic effect of EXERCISE. It means all the energy burnt with exercise – think strength training, HIIT, running, swimming, or whatever your favorite form of exercise is. Even a 10-minute weight training session can effectively contribute to this bucket.
  • TMF – stands for Thermic Effect of Food. TMF is an interesting one because it’s a reward for consuming foods that need the body to burn higher calories to digest and assimilate nutrition from the food.
  • NEAT – stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. NEAT is a great opportunity area. It’s less focused and has immense potential for us to leverage. The core idea is to move more through the day outside of designated workouts. So think of ideas like taking the stairs more often on purpose, or use the farthest restroom in the house, or just standing and moving more during work breaks.
Although the math in this equation is undeniable, if you understand the science, leveraging the two sides is simpler and doesn’t have to feel like walking a tight rope 😀.

To up your ENERGY OUT, incorporate the following eight tips and enjoy the difference they make!

  1. Include high thermic foods – Think ginger, eggs, beans & legumes, avocados, nuts & seeds, dark chocolate & green tea. Incorporate as many as you can in your day!
  2. Purchase a spare set of weights – Keep them at your desk or to use inside the house. Get in a few sets in the middle of the day to get those muscles fired up. This doesn’t feel like dedicated exercise and contributes to NEAT.
  3. Resistance bands – Buy a few and use them around the house. It is a different challenge for those muscles, very transportable, easy and safe to use, and helps with upping your total energy expenditure.
  4. Fidgeting – It’s backed by science now that even small movements like fidgeting are known to increase your NEAT. So if you can get up and walk as many times as possible, that’s great! But if not, just fidget more 😀!
  5. PH balance – Include leafy greens, ACV shots, or lemon juice to tilt the body to alkalinity. Being in an alkaline state helps with oxygenation and improves fat burning.
  6. Oxygenation – Incorporate 5-6 rounds of 1-minute deep breathing sessions. It is a proven technique to increase blood oxygenation and helps with fat burning.
  7. Cortisol – Reduce cortisol as that’s a huge hindrance to fat burning. Do this by practicing play, laughter, dance, music, or walking. Or maybe one of these every day of the week. Whatever your jam, spare a few minutes for this. Consuming tea, dark chocolate, berries, and water also helps with cortisol reduction.
  8. Insulin – Managing insulin is a big and important one! Limit refined and processed foods to avoid big insulin spikes. Instead, choose whole foods for a meal. As they say, all calories are not the same, and quality differentiates the good from the bad. A hundred calories from a piece of cake are not the same as a hundred calories from an apple. Even if you put the nutritional benefits aside, the apple will cause a smaller spike in insulin, helping you remain in an optimum state for fat burning. Eat well and avoid constant munching to allow insulin drops throughout the day.

None of the above require much time, but with a little effort, they contribute significantly to the number of calories you burn. Calories burnt varies from person to person, but these tips can get you an extra anywhere in the range of 200-800 calories, depending on what and how you do. Do make the most of it!

And yes, coming back to the lucky few who seem to defy CICO, they are probably unknowingly leveraging some or all of these 😉 !

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