Should You Try the CICO Diet?

There are plenty of reasons why people diet. Many are trying to lose weight for health reasons. Others want to slim down for a special event, like a wedding or class reunion. Athletes and actors consider diets a normal part of their professional lives. Still, others want to learn how to eat properly on a daily basis. The challenge for anyone considering a diet, especially those of us who do not have access to a nutritionist or personal trainer, is knowing what diet will work. With so many variations and so much information out there, it is hard to make a good decision. The CICO diet is one regimen cutting through all the noise. But is it right for you?

What Is the CICO diet?


cico diet: Text eating out


CICO is an acronym for “Calories In, Calories Out,” and the diet’s premise is simple. To lose weight, consume fewer calories than you burn. How you burn those calories does not matter. High-intensity interval exercise, long walks and unconscious breathing all count toward your expended calorie goal.

Similarly, say proponents, how you consume calories does not matter. Pizza, quinoa, quinoa pizza with chocolate ice cream — as long as the calories consumed are less than the calories you burn by living life, you should lose weight.

The CICO diet fad bloomed on Reddit, with forum users raving about the weight they lost while following the regimen’s simple rule. What the forums fail to share is that the concept is as old as diet fads get. Calorie counting, which is what the CICO diet is at heart, has been around for decades, and experts want dieters to know that CICO’s simple premise is not as great as it sounds.

What Does the CICO Diet Get Right?


fit woman body from cico diet


Occam’s Razor is a philosophical principle that states the simplest answer is usually the correct answer. In many ways, the CICO diet is a manifestation of this principle. Fewer calories in than out should lead to weight reduction.

Scientifically, this holds true. Calories rule when it comes to weight loss. For example, most people gain a pound when they consume about 3,500 calories. The recommended daily calorie intake for women is about 2,000 a day. Drop that intake to 1,500 calories a day, eliminating 500 calories, and you could lose a pound a week. Calories in, calories out.

Problems arise, however, when the only rule you follow is the simple one. To be healthy, calorie counting should be only a small piece of your overall weight loss plan.

What Does the CICO Diet Get Wrong?

a healthy nutrition plan foods for cico diet


The biggest problem with the CICO diet’s simple premise is that it is too simple. Not all calories are created equal. Disparate calories have a different impact on metabolism, satiety and caloric distribution. In short, while you might lose weight on the CICO diet, you could damage your body in other ways.

For example, your body will process corn chips and avocado differently, even when both foods equal 200 calories. The corn chips lack nutrients and vitamins that your body needs, possibly leading to increased hunger and poor digestion. The avocado, on the other hand, comprises heart-healthy fats and fiber that can make you feel full and promote better digestion.

Counting caloric intake is easier than counting caloric output as well. While there are several digital apps that can give you an idea of the calories burned on a walk or run, actual output can vary greatly from person to person. A high-intensity 10-minute run will demand more calories than a 10-minute jog — maybe hundreds more. Many apps cannot account for that difference.

If you are active, the CICO diet could be detrimental. Some calories lack macronutrients, required in large amounts in the human diet, which contribute to tissue repair and muscle growth. Caloric restriction without a keen sense of macronutrient intake can impair strength training and could lead to injury.

Because human bodies react in different ways to caloric deprivation, eating fewer calories and burning more through exercise could actually lead to weight gain. In some instances, weight loss may not occur until caloric intake is increased as well. In addition, adjustments in calorie quality or intake timing can make an enormous difference on weight loss plans. This is all to say that the simple math of “calories in, calories out” is less like addition and subtraction and more like Algebra II.


Here’s A Video About Problems With Cico Diet



For Whom Is the CICO Diet Best?



The short answer is the CICO diet is best for everybody and nobody. Let’s explore that a bit.

Any weight loss program should include some form of calorie restriction. If 3,500 calories add a pound of weight to the human body, then it does not matter how those calories are consumed. If you eat 3,500 calories of healthy, nutritious food, you will gain weight. So, in this way, managing your overall caloric intake is important, making part of the CICO diet’s premise good for everyone.

That same weight loss program should include some form of exercise plan as well, whether it is a high-intensity program or a moderate walking regimen. Strength training and cardio boost a person’s metabolism, increasing caloric burn. In this way, the CICO diet’s second rule also applies.

The problem with the CICO diet, and what makes it a poor choice for everybody, is that there are no restrictions on what dieters eat. As we learned before, not all calories are created equal.

Not all is lost if you were hopeful the CICO diet would work for you. If you add a little more structure to the plan, you may not only find a diet that is right for you, but also learn how to eat healthy and in moderation for life. You could call this your modified CICO diet.

How Do I Get Started?


woman eating sandwich with cheese of cico diet


There are a number of things you can do to kick off your modified CICO diet plan. Start with a healthy eating plan. Your blueprint should include whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and proteins like beans and nuts. Most of these foods are low-calorie and high in fiber, which should help you feel full and satisfied.

Most dieters sabotage their plan from the beginning by diving in too deep. Give yourself the best chance for success by making gradual changes to your diet. Instead of cutting 1,000 calories from the start, cut 250 in your first week, followed by another 250 calories the next week, and so on.


Keep Yourself Motivated

Sportive woman at the gym for cico diet


Others quit their weight loss plan after setting lofty goals and seeing little progress. The right weight loss program will take time. Keep yourself motivated by setting small, attainable goals and celebrate when you reach them. Losing five pounds, going to the gym regularly and avoiding bad few choices are all good reasons to give yourself a high five. Don’t fret about small setbacks, either. Even the best athletes have an off day, and everyone takes an extra cookie or two occasionally.

Some dieters benefit from taking on the challenge with a partner or friend. Cheering one another on and encouraging your friend to push through a tough spot can be rewarding. Writing down what you eat or using an app to track your food can also help you maintain your calorie goals and ensure you are making healthy food choices.

An Example Meal Plan

balanced diet plan with fresh healthy food on the table for cico diet


Your modified CICO diet might look a lot like a typical 1,500 calories a day program. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services supports this calorie target, adding that any diet that contains 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day is appropriate for women who weigh 164 pounds or more and are active. Note, though, that if you regularly exercise, 1,500 calories may not be enough. Talk to a nutritionist or doctor to be sure.

Many 1,500-calorie diets include a light breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, and dinner. Breakfast might be a veggie omelet, followed by a piece of fruit for a morning snack. Lunch could include a salad with chickpeas and Kalamata olives. An afternoon snack of nuts and dried fruit might lead into a dinner of cauliflower tacos with chips and guacamole.


The next time you hear someone talk about the CICO diet or read a post in a popular online forum, remember that many of the success stories you hear are likely because the dieter has modified the CICO diet is some way. Also, remember that simple premise of the CICO diet has some merit. Calorie restriction and caloric burn are key components of successful weight loss programs.

Ignore the comments and posts that suggest you can eat anything you want and still maintain your health. This part of the CICO diet fails further scrutiny. A healthy low-calorie diet consists of well-balanced meals that stress whole foods and high fiber.

If you add an exercise program to your modified CICO diet plan, you can burn more calories and, potentially, increase your caloric intake and still lose weight. Remember to talk to a medical professional before you take on any diet program.

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