Food Topics Health Trends

CICO A Go-Go: What is a CICO Diet?

Ever wonder what a CICO diet is? Today I highlight a diet that I actually think is a beneficial one to follow!

If you go onto Google looking for weight loss diets, you’re likely to find at least 1 billion results for everyone’s opinions. Some of them are legit, and can help you with weight management, while many others are utter crap and won’t do much other than waste your time, money, and energy. There’s everything from eating-whatever-the-fuck-you-want and take some sort of concoction, to something like keto (which, if you want to piss your dietitian off, tell them you love keto).

CICO- or Calories In/Calories Out- is another way to look at healthy eating and weight loss. The idea is that to lose 1lbs of fat, you need to shave 3500 calories from your diet. This is done over a week-long period, meaning that each day you must shave off only 500 calories per day. If you want to learn more about calories, you can read another blog post I wrote here.

To start, you need to know your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate. This is essentially how many calories you need per day to stay the same weight you currently are. The easiest way is to use a calculator online. For me, a 6-ft tall, 160# guy this looks like around 2100 calories at base, or closer to 2400 if I’m more active. This means if I wanted to lose weight, I’d need to eat somewhere between 1600-1900 calories per day. This can be done a variety of ways, such as decreasing the amount of snacks you consume, or calorie rich beverages.

What’s good about a CICO diet is that it helps to inspire mindfulness about what you’re eating. It doesn’t say what you can or can’t have, only how many calories you should aim to consume per day. Many diets that fail do so because they restrict the dieter in what is allowed, which makes it harder to follow long term, especially with diets that heavily restrict macronutrients, like the keto diet.

Some issues with CICO diets are they don’t necessarily promote healthy eating, only calorie management. For example, someone with a 2000 calorie diet can do so with a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Alternatively, you can also reach that same number of calories by eating nothing but jelly-beans and beer.

Another way in which some people may take issue with a CICO diet is the slow results it will promise, especially when compared to more glamorous diets. Some people may lose more or less weight initially, with most of it likely being from water weight (the body loves to lose fluids when diet changes happen), then it will slow down progressively once the body gets to a new normal. One pound per week isn’t too major of weight loss either when compared to what other diets promise. Eventually, that 500 calories might not be enough for weight loss, as your needs will change as you begin to lose weight.

However, this is a very easy diet to follow and implement. Limiting calories, and being more mindful of what you’re eating, fits in with any lifestyle change. The addition of exercise can help further improve health as well. Limiting calories helps to encourage weight management within the body, and exercise helps your body use the energy you provide it, rather than store it as fat. Regardless if you chose to modify your diet for health reasons (i.e. starting a heart-healthy diet, or a lower carb diet for diabetes), or for weight management, being more mindful of what you are eating and the calories they provide is beneficial.

The Calories In/Calories Out diet is a diet more focused on the energy that food provides, rather than their health benefit. This diet is very non-restrictive, meaning any food you want to eat is allowed by it. The goal of a CICO diet is to limit your calories to 500 below what you need to help encourage progressive weight loss over time. Its limitations have to do with how quick the weight loss may occur, and that it does not necessarily promote a healthy diet. Overall, I think this is one of the better diets out there that helps to promote health because it doesn’t restrict what you can eat, it promotes mindfulness of what you eat, and sets up a plan to encourage weight loss.

What do you think? Have you tried a CICO diet? What did you think about it? Feel free to leave a comment.

By The Nutrition Punk

I am a dietitian living in Portland, Oregon. I write about a variety of nutrition and heath topics, with the goal of improving people's understanding of food and nutrition so they may be empowered against all the misinformation that is out there.

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