Calories In, Calories Out (CICO): Does it Work? Let’s Weigh the Potential Benefits & Harms

Like so many others, you may have stepped on the scale recently and been disappointed at the number staring back at you. You may also have already tried a variety of fad diets and seen less-than-desirable results, which is probably what led you to this article about CICO—another form of weight loss that has been gaining internet popularity over the past few years (which, technically, makes it a fad diet).

However, the concept of CICO is based on scientific fact and has been proven to work. That doesn’t mean CICO is a one-size-fits-all solution for weight loss. Nor does it mean that this approach isn’t without its pitfalls. Let’s dive a little deeper:

What is CICO & How Does it Work?

CICO expands to “Calories In, Calories Out” and adapts the simple concept that consuming fewer calories than you burn will lead to weight loss.

The most attractive feature of a CICO diet is that it doesn’t restrict what you eat, unlike other popular diets such as keto or paleo. You can combine CICO with intermittent fasting, a low-carb meal plan, veganism, or anything else your heart desires. You just need to make sure that your total calorie consumption is below your daily calorie needs. Heck, according to the CICO approach, you could survive on potato chips and still lose weight!

To understand how this works, you must understand how the human body burns energy. When you eat food, your body extracts energy from it and uses it for daily tasks, including rest and sleeping. When you consume more calories than your body burns in a day, the excess is stored as fat. Conversely, when you consume fewer calories than your body needs, it uses its fat reserves to provide energy, causing you to lose weight.

To calculate how many calories you need to eat in a day to lose weight with CICO, you must use a calorie calculator. This calculator considers your BMI and activity level to provide a baseline.

Benefits of CICO

Helps Keep You Accountable

Weight loss is hard and confusing. When starting a weight loss journey, it can be difficult to ascertain whether you’re doing the right thing because it doesn’t happen overnight. As a result, people tend to fall off the wagon. CICO helps keep you accountable by providing a simple, actionable plan for weight loss. Hitting your calorie goal every day can give you the feeling of achievement, motivating you to keep going.

It’s Scientifically-Backed

While CICO has gained popularity recently, it’s a concept that has been around for a long time. Most experts, including the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agree that calorie reduction is an effective way to lose weight.

Improved Relationship with Food

Most people who have struggled with weight loss and dieting will tell you that their restrictive nature is what keeps them from succeeding. Simple psychology tells you that the more a human being is told they can’t have something, the more they will want it. As a diet, CICO is refreshing in its concept that you can enjoy all kinds of food while still losing weight.

The simple matter of fact is that we tend to underestimate the amount of calories we eat. Did you know that a slice of pizza has the same amount of calories as four cups of watermelon? Calorie counting can help you figure out that nutrient-dense foods should make up the larger portion of your diet while also helping you understand that the occasional slice of pizza is not the end of the world.

It’s Sustainable in the Long Run

Most diets are too restrictive to maintain long-term, causing people to fall back into their old habits and gain whatever weight they may have lost. CICO is a much more sustainable approach for long-term weight loss and weight management. You don’t need to make drastic changes in your lifestyle or prepare special food just for yourself; you just need to exercise portion control and include more nutrient-dense foods!

Harms of CICO

It’s Not One-Size-Fits-All

Calorie counting may not work for everyone, especially those with underlying medical issues. In fact, it can be downright harmful for some to eat less. Mental health is also a major cause of concern for those on the CICO diet. Because it requires obsessive food analysis, people with a problematic relationship with food can struggle to maintain a healthy balance. It’s always best to consult a nutritionist or dietician if you struggle with weight loss and have pre-existing conditions. You can also consider taking a step back or a diet break if you feel you’re getting too obsessive.

It Can Become Tedious

The most crucial aspect of CICO is counting calories. Many people start out enthusiastic but start slacking off as time goes on because it can be tedious to log everything they eat. When they start to leave out one or two things, it can be much harder to achieve their weight loss goals.

It’s Too Simplistic

The most prominent argument against CICO is that it assumes that all calories are created equal. This is simply untrue. All foods contain different compositions of macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates, and fiber), and the body utilizes them all differently. Common knowledge tells you fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain more vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals than ultra-processed foods. Fats and proteins help keep you full for longer and are burned up more quickly through digestion, while simple carbs can take longer to burn and trigger cravings. While counting calories can still help you lose weight on a diet high in processed foods, it’s not healthy or maintainable.

It’s Not Always Accurate

Most people on the CICO diet use an app or online calorie counter to keep track of their meals. However, the number you see on your screen isn’t always accurate. Calories in food cannot be measured to a 100% precision all the time, which can cause an overestimation or underestimation of them.

Can CICO Help in Weight Loss?

The short answer is yes, especially for short-term weight loss. CICO is one of the most scientifically sound and sustainable methods of weight loss. At the same time, it’s also important to understand that even though the basic concept of CICO is that you can lose weight while eating anything, no one who knows anything about weight loss will advocate eating anything all day, every day.

Most people understand that eating nutrient-dense foods is essential for health, and counting calories can help them figure out which foods they should eat more and which ones they should control without placing rigid restrictions. You can also look for an app that tracks macronutrients along with calories to make sure your body gets what it needs, while also accounting for a margin of error. Combining CICO with regular exercise is vital to achieving optimal health. This can help you lose weight steadily and keep it off in the long run!