The CICO diet simplifies weight loss and allows you to eat your favorite foods.
Weight loss is a common fitness goal for many individuals. It’s often achieved during the cutting phase in bodybuilding. This phase involves shedding excess weight while preserving muscle mass, aiming for a defined and chiseled physique (1). Over the years, there have been many methods proposed as a way to lose weight. However, all experts agree that your diet, besides exercising and cardio, is crucial in weight loss, and many now believe it’s the most essential aspect of losing weight and body fat. Some popular dieting options include keto, low-carb, low-fat, and CICO.
The CICO diet has only gained popularity recently. Exponents of this diet claim it offers more longevity than other diets, but are they right? This post shares essential information about the CICO diet and how it can help you lose weight.
What Is the CICO Diet?
The CICO diet stands for calories in, calories out. And yes, it’s as simple as it sounds, with the CICO diet emphasis on counting your calories. The goal is to lose weight by taking in fewer calories than you burn daily. This puts you in a calorie deficit to lose weight. Research shows that eating more calories than you burn can lead to weight gain (2). In that vein, taking in fewer calories than you burn yields weight loss.
How Does the CICO Diet Work?
The number of calories you burn daily depends on age, gender, body composition, height, weight, BMR, and physical activity. The calories you consume are energy for bodily functioning, work, workouts, and other daily tasks. The excess calories you eat past what you need for your daily functions get stored as fat.
So, the CICO diet emphasizes the number of calories you consume to manage weight. To practice this diet, you need to track your food and the number of calories you take and ensure that it’s less than the number of calories you burn.
For CICO, you get started by knowing your BMR (basal metabolic rate). This will tell you the minimum amount of calories your body needs daily to stay the same weight, as your BMR is how many calories you burn at rest. BMR varies by person, so we discuss calculating yours as the next subtopic.
Next is to know your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). This involves the calories you’ll burn when doing physical activities for a day and BMR combined. Some physical activities include walking, running, exercising, and weight training, all burning different calories. It also depends on the exercise intensity and training duration to determine the energy expenditure.
Once you know how many calories your body needs to function on average, CICO proposes eating less to lose fat. For example, if your body needs around 2200 calories to carry out your daily activities, you must eat less than 2200 calories daily to lose weight.
Also, with the CICO diet, the quality or source of your calories is not a concern. Again, the focus is on the calories. So you can eat whatever you want to meet your calorie goal. As long as you stay under the limit, you’ll still lose weight. Of course, it’s important to note that healthier options will be best for your overall health, and eating more nutrient-dense foods makes consuming fewer calories far easier than processed foods.
Knowing Your Basal Metabolic Rate
Your BMR is the calories your body burns to perform essential life-sustaining functions. This includes breathing, circulation, digestion, and other cell processes. Your BMR is sometimes called your RMR (resting metabolic rate) and is the number of calories you burn without doing anything. This is calculated based on weight, age, gender, and body fat. The more muscle one has, the faster their metabolic rate will be.
Some online calculators will give you a fair estimate to calculate your BMR. You could also apply the Harris-Benedict formula, which uses your weight, height, age, gender, and constants to calculate. Doctors, however, use breathing machines to get more accurate values.
Does the CICO Diet Work?
The concept of the CICO diet works well. Consuming a smaller number of calories should lead to weight loss, and since there’s no emphasis on the type of food you get your calories from, your current lifestyle doesn’t have to change much. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that things can be a bit more complicated than that, aside from metabolism.
Life happens, and calculating how many calories you’ll need daily doesn’t guarantee you won’t consume more on occasion for different social events. Science is also learning that calories aren’t as one-dimensional as believed previously. So, ultimately, what you eat does matter.
For example, your body absorbs more calories from processed foods than natural food. Plus, research shows that you produce more ghrelin, a hormone that makes you hungry, when you eat ultra-processed foods (3). As a result, you could eat more than you would with a more well-balanced diet.
So, Should You Throw Healthy Eating Out the Door?
Well, from the above research, the consensus is absolutely not! The CICO diet is excellent for tracking your calories, but food sources are essential for your health and fitness goals. Picking healthier options will be the best for your health if you have to choose between junk food and nutrient-dense foods for your calorie needs.
The overall danger is also of being obsessed with your calorie count long-term, which could lead to binge eating or other unhealthy eating patterns and cause you not to sustain your weight loss journey for long. If you discover yourself refusing to eat or exhibiting different harmful responses to dieting, it might be time to get expert guidance. However, adding the CICO diet to a healthy diet of lean proteins, quality fats, carbs rich in fiber, and other healthy options can help you lose weight healthily.
- Lenzi, J. L., Teixeira, E. L., de Jesus, G., Schoenfeld, B. J., & de Salles Painelli, V. (2021). Dietary Strategies of Modern Bodybuilders During Different Phases of the Competitive Cycle. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 35(9), 2546–2551. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003169
- Howell, S., & Kones, R. (2017). “Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories. American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism, 313(5), E608–E612. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00156.2017
- Hall, K. D., Ayuketah, A., Brychta, R., Cai, H., Cassimatis, T., Chen, K. Y., Chung, S. T., Costa, E., Courville, A., Darcey, V., Fletcher, L. A., Forde, C. G., Gharib, A. M., Guo, J., Howard, R., Joseph, P. V., McGehee, S., Ouwerkerk, R., Raisinger, K., Rozga, I., … Zhou, M. (2019). Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell metabolism, 30(1), 67–77.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008