What is CICO?
by Tobias • 7 minutes read
Last updated: 29 Aug, 2022
CICO is an acronym that stands for “calories in, calories out.”
There is nothing new about a calorie restricted diet, most diets are effective due to some style of caloric restriction, whether that is a reduction in carbs from keto or tracking points on WW. The difference with CICO is it's honest about it. You literally can eat anything you want, as long as it it is less than your daily calorie expenditure.
This means that every food is on the table, the science of CICO means you could have ice cream for breakfast and still lose weight. The only caveat to this is that every single thing you eat must be tracked, at least initially, until you build a good idea of the number of calories that each food contains.
This way of eating is unique as not only is it useful for those wishing to lose weight, it can actually be a helpful tool for those that are hoping to put on weight. The thought being, as long as you know how many calories your body is burning, you can eat more or less than that to lose or gain weight.
How to use CICO
CICO is a very simple system and if you follow it correctly there really isn't much to go wrong. The first stage is to work out how many calories you will need to eat to maintain your current weight, this is known as Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE. There are several calculators out there to work out your TDEE, we are currently producing our own, but for now you will have to use a different site such as tdeecalculator.net.
On the calculator site, you will need to input your gender, age, height, body weight and your current physical activity, the last one is very important as it essentially multiplies your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. I would suggest to exercise three times a week and describe your activity level as "moderately active", this should apply to most people.
BMR is the amount of calories you would burn at absolute rest, i.e if you spent 24 hours in bed. BMR accounts for energy expenditure such as repairing and rebuilding the body, fighting off illness, thermoregulation and the calories your brain uses, which is actually about 20% of your total calorie expenditure! Based on these parameters it will provide you with the amount of calories you would need to eat to maintain your current weight, of course this will vary from person to person, anywhere between a 1000-5000 calorie intake a day.
To track what you eat, I would suggest to use an app or website, a reputable and widely used example would be MyFitnessPal. You can access this tool on their site or you could download there app on Apple or Android. You can add your friends and family and track their progress, you could even find my account on there under my blog name "Tobias Talks". I'd be happy to have you along for the ride!
Once you have created your account you need to make sure that you track the calorie count of every single thing that passes your lips. This is the only rule to CICO, you have to watch your calories and make sure you don't over indulge, but other than that, the world is your playground.
The next part is where the science gets a bit blurry, but for the sake of this article, one pound of body fat is equal to 3500 calories, so to lose 1lb a week you would need to eat 3500 calories less a week, or 500 calories less a day. To lose 2lbs a week you'd eat 1000 calories less a day. This is where common sense comes into it, as a rule of thumb people should never eat less than 1200 calories a day.
To those people who are 5'2" and only slightly overweight you may only be eating 300 calories under your maintenance calories, but unfortunately there is no easy answer. You will just have to be patient. My bit of advice, lift heavy weights, and keep your protein high and minimise cardio. This way you could still lose weight while building muscle, which could improve your overall physique.
Does CICO Work?
If you have accurately followed the first steps then you will definitely lose weight. That is the beauty of this way of eating, if you are consistently and accurately tracking the calories that you eat, and you are eating fewer calories than you burn off then the weight will come off.
As your weight goes down you will need to recalculate your caloric needs to keep the weight loss consistent. A good rule of thumb is after 5-10lbs of weight loss, use the TDEE calculator again and start aiming to eat this reduced calories.
After a few months, you may notice that you stop losing weight or you might even see some weight gain. This is called a "plateau" and is normally an indication that your body is adapting to the reduced calories. When this happens some people panic and try more drastic ways to cut calories in an attempt to continue the weight loss. However, the opposite is often true, taking a week off and increasing your calories, could actually stoke your metabolism and burn more calories in the long run.
Downsides to CICO
As with any restrictive diet, there is a risk to those with an eating disorder. If you are in the midst of, or are recovering from, an eating disorder, please don't attempt to follow this regimented eating style and please seek professional medical advice.
Even if you are strict with this way of eating and you are losing weight, If you consistently eat junk food then although you weigh less, you could actually be less healthy. Always try and maintain a balanced eating plan with 3 good meals a day and minimal snacking. Make sure to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet as this will help your overall health.
Tips and Tricks for CICO
If after 2 weeks of consistent tracking it doesn't feel like you are losing weight then there is likely an issue somewhere, normally this is either a case of eating more than you are tracking, not tracking everything or overestimating your caloric needs.
- Be mindful of sauces and dips, some of these are full of sugar and can therefore have a lot of hidden calories in them, try to minimise these things, but remember as long as you track it, you can have it.
- Try not to drink your calories, similar to sauces, juices and soft drinks can have a lot of hidden calories and will often not fill you up for very long.
- Don't always trust the generic calories given on MyFitnessPal. The calories in a can of beer, for example, can vary wildly, luckily in this modern world, most companies legally have to provide accurate nutritional content, so be sure to check their websites, normally listed under "nutrition" and you can find all the details you'll need.
- Be kind to yourself, don't try to lose too much weight too fast, if you drastically reduce your calories you are much less likely to be consistent with this way of eating, and remember, consistency is king (or queen).
- Don't try and out exercise a bad diet, eating a 1000 calories more than you should and then spending an hour and a half on the elliptical machine is both mentally damaging and unsustainable.
- Pre-plan your day the night before, add all the main meals you are planning to have, and even the snacks you know you'll be eating, this way you know how much wiggle room you have left for the day and you can make smart food choices.
As always, if you have any questions or queries about anything in this article please don't hesitate to get in touch with us on instagram. We are always here to help, good luck on your fitness journey.
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