What Is The CICO Diet (Calories In, Calories Out) And How Can It Help You Lose Weight?


What is The CICO Diet?

The CICO Diet, also known as the Calories-In-Calories-Out diet, is a way of thinking about dieting that boils weight loss down to “first principles” thinking. Essentially, it removes all the other aspects of food and focuses just on the calories in your food, nothing else. 

When following a CICO diet, the exact nutrients you consume, the quality of the food, and other aspects of the food, like how processed it is, are not primary factors that are considered when deciding what to eat. The calorie content of the food is what matters the most

This view on dieting is incredibly powerful as it can help you remove all the noise about things like what foods are good or bad for you, what foods are best for burning fat, or why certain foods may spike your insulin levels. 

Approaching your diet for weight loss from the perspective of the CICO diet can allow you to lose weight with a lot of flexibility in your diet.

How Does The CICO Diet Work?

The CICO diet works on the principle of energy balance, which is the fundamental reason people gain or lose weight. 

Weight loss and weight gain can be boiled down to a very simple idea: the difference between the amount of energy you consume from food and the amount of calories your body expends determines whether or not you lose body weight and body fat. 

The CICO diet focuses on this aspect of weight loss and essentially allows you to just worry about whether or not your calorie balance is positive, negative, or neutral. 

calories in calories out CICO graph

When you follow a CICO approach to dieting, you do not need to worry about the exact macros you are consuming, the nutrients in your food, or the quality of the food consumed. You just need to focus on the total calories you consume in a day.

What is most interesting about the idea of a CICO diet is that it works even when it is taken to the most extreme versions, such as only eating twinkies, or ice-cream, or potatoes. Yes, you read that right, in theory you can lose weight only eating twinkies, ice-cream, or potatoes.

However, just because you can lose weight with highly processed, nutrient poor foods, does not mean that you should. These examples just provide evidence that the underlying concept of “calories-in-calories-out” is the true fundamental factor that dictates weight loss.

Can The CICO Diet Help You Lose Weight?

Not only can the CICO diet help you lose weight, but if you distill all diets that work and help people lose weight down to their “first principles” of how they work, they all end up creating a calorie deficit.

Additionally, understanding the main principles of how a CICO diet works can allow you to lose weight while following a dietary pattern that fits your lifestyle at any given time. Furthermore, you can adapt any type of diet you want to follow, such as vegan, keto, low-fat, mediterranean, or any other diet within a CICO framework and have amazing results.  

Pros and Cons of The CICO Diet

The pros of the CICO diet are that it can help people understand the core principle of weight loss which is energy balance and can often help people change their mindset about food and help them remove labels such as calling foods “good” or “bad”. It can also provide a lot of flexibility in your diet and can help make dieting more sustainable for many people. 

The cons of following a CICO diet is that it can make your approach to food too simple and misses some of the most important aspects of nutrition, such as meeting micronutrient requirements, consuming adequate amounts of macronutrients, and selecting food choices that promote satiety and are otherwise health promoting. 

The other potential cons of following a CICO diet is that, in some cases, it creates a mindset that food is only about calories when food is about a lot more than just the energy it contains. 

Tips for Practicing CICO

When it comes to putting the CICO diet into action, there are some practical tips and strategies that can help you achieve success. These guidelines will assist you in maximizing the benefits of this weight loss approach while maintaining a natural and balanced lifestyle. Take a look at the following tips:

Keep a Calorie Journal

Tracking your daily calorie intake is key to practicing CICO effectively. Whether you prefer using a dedicated app, a physical journal, or an online tool, keeping a record of the calories in the foods you consume will provide valuable insights and help you make informed decisions about your diet.

Set Realistic Caloric Goals

It’s important to set realistic calorie goals that align with your weight loss objectives. Gradually reducing your calorie intake to create a moderate calorie deficit is a sustainable approach that allows for steady and healthy weight loss over time.

Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods

While the CICO diet emphasizes calorie balance, it’s essential to understand that food is not solely about energy intake. Opting for nutrient-dense foods can contribute to a well-rounded and balanced diet. These foods offer numerous health benefits, such as reducing the risk of chronic diseases, supporting digestion, and promoting optimal energy levels. Nourishing your body with a variety of nutrient-dense options can have a positive impact on your overall well-being.

Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to hunger and satiety cues. Eating mindfully and stopping when you feel satisfied, rather than overly full, can help you maintain a healthy relationship with food and prevent overeating. Additionally, staying hydrated and getting regular physical activity can support your weight loss journey.

Seek Professional Guidance

If you have specific dietary concerns, medical conditions, or are unsure about how to implement the CICO diet correctly, consider consulting a certified nutrition coach. They can provide personalized advice and guidance to ensure that you’re meeting your nutritional needs while following the CICO approach.

Other Methods of Dieting

While it is true that all diets that result in weight loss essentially fall under the “CICO” paradigm, there are many other approaches to getting results. 

There are other “quantitative” methods of dieting, such as counting macros which follows the CICO framework but gets more specific and focuses on the macronutrient requirements and then backs into total calories. 

macro calculator | Macros inc

There are also qualitative methods that don’t involve counting calories or macros. These methods can often look like food group restrictions like vegetarian/vegan, keto, carnivore, or diets like Whole30, Paleo, and other options. 

The Wrap Up

The CICO diet is an approach that boils weight loss to “first principles” which is energy balance. It essentially takes all other contexts about a food and sets it aside to really teach you, as a person, about the concept of Calories-In-Calories-Out. 

While this approach is very effective and provides a lot of flexibility and food freedom, there are important aspects about food that are not directly related to calories that you should consider. Those include things like nutrients, satiety, and the overall health profile of a given food. 

CICO is a tool that can be used to great effect for weight loss but may not be the perfect solution for every person. 

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