CICO (calories-in-calories-out) is one of the simplest weight-loss diets. But this popular diet’s straightforwardness ignores some critical aspects of long-term weight loss and health. Read more to learn about the CICO diet, how it works, its potential benefits, and downsides to watch out for.
Bodyweight only changes when energy balance (energy intake vs. expenditure) changes. For CICO to work, energy use must be greater than energy intake. Energy expenditure occurs through exercise and rest (resting metabolic rate). If you plan on using CICO to lose weight, we recommend working with a doctor or nutritionist to ensure that you aren’t deficient in any important nutrients. Must read about
How CICO Works
Clever marketing, not clever advice. The attractiveness of the CICO diet is more of an endorsement to clever naming than anything else. It doesn’t promote any particular strategy, it doesn’t offer advice of any kind, and here’s the big secret – every diet throughout history is built on the foundation of running a calorie deficit to diminish stored body fat.
All the cells in our body require energy to function. This energy (which can be measured in calories) is constantly powering important reactions and processes in the body. We provide this energy to the body through food and burning stored fats. Any unused energy remaining in the body becomes stored as fat.
The calories-in and the calories-out principle is a basic equation. Calories-in refers to the consumption of food and drinks, where energy is being added. Calories-out refers to the energy that is being used in the body during activity and rest. If more energy is used than added, fat stores are burned away as extra fuel.
Is Losing Weight Really About Calories??
Yes. Losing weight actually does come down to burning more calories than you consume. It’s about as close to fact as we can get in nutrition science. As we address in our guide How to Lose Weight (The 5 Rules of Weight Loss), our bodies obey the Laws of Conservation of Energy and Thermodynamics: To lose weight, we need to burn more calories than we consume regularly. With this knowledge, it makes sense to design a diet specifically around this principle: match the calories you eat (in), with the calories you expend (out).
Here are some of the things that influence “Calories In:”
How hungry we are is going to drastically affect how many calories we consume. Hormones, our body composition, and tastes and preferences will all impact our appetite.
- Calories absorbed:
The preparation of food will affect the bioavailability of calories. For example, cooking starches (like potatoes) generally increases the calories available. Your own individual gut microbe can also influence the amount of energy extracted during digestion. So will the macronutrient content of the food you eat.
- Psychological considerations:
Your stress levels, sleep quality, and certain conditions like PCOS can all impact the regulation of hormones, which can influence your metabolism and appetite.
Here are some of the things that influence “Calories Out:”
- Energy burned while resting:
your Basal Metabolic Rate is a count of how many calories you burn at rest and will be controlled by your age, weight, height, biological sex, muscle composition, etc.
- Energy burned through Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT):
Do you fidget a lot? That upsurges your NEAT or the energy you burn doing stuff other than exercising. Think to tap your feet, twirling your hair, using your hands when speaking, etc. Even just an hour of this kind of movement can accumulate an extra 300 calories burned.
Of course, how much you intentionally exercise will impact your calories out, although perhaps not as much as most people think (more on this later).