CALORIES IN, CALORIES OUT: The main components that determine weight loss (or weight gain)

The main components of CICO (calories in, calories out)
The main components of CICO (calories in, calories out)


The standard advice for weight loss is to eat less and move more. This is technically true because you need to create a calorie deficit in order to lose weight.

However, the advice is too vague to be helpful to most people, and can actually end up being demotivating. Just moving a bit more than you currently move and eating a bit less of what you currently eat is setting you up for failure.

This infographic outlines the components of your lifestyle you need to focus on to lose weight successfully and keep it off.


Psychological factors

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Eating as a distraction from negative emotions, to relax or to feel better (instead of to satisfy physical hunger)

Appetite (hormonal)

  • Increased by a diet heavy in ultra-processed foods, poor sleep and high stress
  • Also increased by physical activity and loss of body fat, but smart food choices can mitigate this

Environmental factors

  • The tempting, calorie-dense foods you're surrounded by every day at home and at work
  • The people you spend time with (and who bring you cookies)
  • The media you consume (with incessant food ads) also influence how much you eat

Metabolizable energy

  • The energy left over from digestion, minus poop, pee and gas
  • The unmetabolizable fibre in the veggies, fruit and whole grains you eat leaves you with less excess energy to store as fat


BMR (basal metabolic rate)

  • The energy your body needs to function just to sit on the sofa, doing nothing
  • This accounts, approximately, for a whopping 70% of total calories burned
  • Having more muscle mass increases BMR

TEF (thermic effect of food)

  • The calories you burn digesting food
  • Varies according to the macronutrient composition of your diet
  • Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbs or fat (25% of its calories are used up digesting it)
  • Also affected by your gut microbiome which is influenced by diet quality

NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis)

  • The energy expended doing everything that isn't planned physical exercise, eating or sleeping
  • Includes fidgeting, typing, gardening, doing the dishes, walking to work


  • Planned physical activity: running, lifting weights, sports, yoga (kinda)