The thing about calories…

…is that whether you are looking to lose weight or gain weight or even maintain weight, calorie intake matters.

What is a Calorie anyway?

Calories are a unit of energy and the calorific value of a food is the amount of energy it could give our body. Our body uses this energy to perform voluntary and involuntary functions. Any extra calories get stored for future use.

Whether anyone counts calories or not, the ONLY reason they gain/lose/maintain weight is this balance. Yes… even for any of those restrictive diets that cut out food groups or prescribe specific food intake and specific timings…. They all work ONLY in accordance with this energy balance. So it is of interest to understand what parts on this balance we can manipulate and how.

Caloric Intake:

All the components of this part are under our control simply by controlling what we eat/drink and how much. Each of these parts “Carbs”, “Protein” and “Fat” are different and have different important roles in our diet. Body weight comprises of water, fat and lean mass(muscle, organ, bone etc). Which macro nutrients we eat has an influence on what kind of weight we lose/gain/maintain. However, that’s a topic in its own right. Our food intake also has a part to play in the other side of the see-saw as you will understand below.

Total Energy Expenditure(TEE):

This is the other side of our energy balance see-saw. Unlike caloric intake, some parts of this is not under our voluntary control.


RMR/BMR – Resting or Basal Metabolic Rate is the energy burned by our body for regular housekeeping and organ operation. This energy is spent even if you are at bed rest or comma. It depends greatly on our current body composition as well as diet history(what our body has gotten used to eating) and genetics. This cannot be changed instantaneously. However, improving our body composition by increasing muscle mass and bone density will increase our RMR/BMR.

The single most important activity which promotes increase of muscle mass and bone density is progressive resistance training. However, proper dietary intake is necessary to increase muscle mass. It is not possible to grow muscles or bones while starving. We need to have sufficient food intake to get essential macro and micronutrients so that our body is not fighting just for survival but also able to focus on healing and growth. Also certain compounds such as amino acids(derived from proteins) are very important for growing or even maintaining muscle mass.

Physical Activity

Any form of physical activity requires energy. However, some of our daily activities are involuntary and others are voluntary. Involuntary activities are dependant of things like energy level, mood and stress. Voluntary activities include exercise and non-exercise activities(like standing, walking, climbing). Increase in all voluntary activities will result in some increase in energy expenditure.


TEF stands for Thermic effect of Food. This is the energy spent while trying to metabolise food. Different foods have different thermic effect for different people. So it is not accurately predictable. However, mixed meals comprising of all three macronutrients and less processed components are found to have higher TEF. Among the macronutrients, protein is found to have higher TEF. So, someone looking to lose weight is better off eating mixed meals with whole foods and focussing on protein intake.


As you can see, dietary intake is the only mover on one end of the energy balance see-saw and it has a part to play in the other end of the see-saw as well. Resistance training is a prime mover on the other end of the see-saw since it improves our metabolism as well as burns energy.

To know how to plot our goal and create a diet, click here.

To understand how to create a workout plan as a complete beginner, click here.

The thing about calories…

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