If you have ever ventured out on a weight loss journey, you are likely familiar with the calories in, calories out (CICO) equation. The concept is fairly straightforward: eat fewer calories in order to lose more weight. You don’t want a caloric surplus because it is very difficult to burn all of the excess calories, unless you work out for two hours a day, five days a week. Unfortunately, weight loss experts argue that the CICO approach is too simplistic and doesn’t account for other factors that influence a person’s weight.
What Is The CICO Diet?
As previously stated, CICO is an acronym for calories in, calories out. It’s not a specific diet; rather, it is an eating concept that creates a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than you burn on a daily basis. In theory, this approach leads to weight loss based on the fact that eating more calories than you burn contributes to weight gain. That means, then, that weight loss and weight gain are determined solely by your caloric intake, regardless of macronutrient intake or diet quality.
The truth is, what you eat does factor into the equation of weight loss. Most weight loss diets suggest that you follow a certain macronutrient ratio and cut out processed foods and added sugars. As a result, this helps you create a caloric deficit. The CICO diet concept only cares that you consume fewer calories than you burn per day.
How Does CICO Work?
On the CICO diet, you track how many calories you consume per day using certain diet calculators, most of which you can find for free online. Let’s say that you need 2,600 calories for the day for basic physiological functions and physical activity. On the CICO diet, you would aim to eat 2,200 calories to encourage weight loss. Everything, in regards to food, is on the table, so long as you don’t exceed your calories in (CI) number.
Now that you have a general idea on how it works, you need to know whether or not it works. Well, this depends on what you mean by “work.” Most diets tend to work because of caloric deficits, so if you are looking at short-term weight loss, then the CICO diet can work. Calories, as most of you know, are arbitrary and calories in doesn’t accurately account for how your body metabolizes individual foods. With more and more research about how the body absorbs calories, your focus should be directed on caloric sources, instead of just calories.
Research shows that the body handles chips, cookies, and other ultra-processed foods differently than it does kale, bananas, or quinoa. On a cellular level, packaged foods are dramatically different from whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. The National Institute of Health (NIH) noted that ghrelin, a hormone that drives hunger, is higher in people who eat more ultra-processed foods compared to after eating a well-balanced diet. This is because processed foods are high in sugar, fat, and salt, which may spike insulin levels and cause the body to store more fat. That’s not ideal if you are trying to lose weight.
So Can You Lose Weight?
Again, there is no arguing that creating a calorie deficit can promote weight loss. In fact, many studies confirm that eating a diet composed of refined foods can help a person lose weight, so long as there is a calorie deficit. If that’s the case, then you can just eat whatever you want and everything will be hunky dory, right? Well, even though this CICO theory is correct, it isn’t the only factor that matters for successful weight loss. If you are laser-focused on calories, you may not concern yourself with fiber, protein, and disease-fighting micronutrients.
It is great to know how many calories you eat on a daily basis, especially if weight loss is your goal. If your diet mainly consists of lean proteins, colorful fruits and vegetables, quality fats, and fiber-rich carbs, then the CICO plan can help you lose weight and improve your health. If your diet is rich in junk food, even if you eat less of it and you lose weight, you are not eating in a way that sets you up for long term health.