HomeHealth & FitnessWhat Is the CICO Diet? (Counting Calories for Weight Loss)

What Is the CICO Diet? (Counting Calories for Weight Loss)

It’s time to find out about The CICO (“calories in, calories out”) Diet!

You most likely have questions like

Steve, does CICO work? 

Will counting energy assist me drop extra pounds?

Okay, what the hell IS a calorie?

Well my good friend, you’ve arrived at the proper place!

I’ve been writing about these things for 13 years, and our workforce of nerdy consultants assist our Online Coaching clients with all sorts of diets (together with CICO). We are actually flippin’ good at it!

Here’s what we’ll cowl to reply the query: “What is CICO?”

It’s time to get began!

What Is the CICO Diet plan?

I guess this is kind of CICO, in a way

“CICO” stands for “Calories In, Calories Out.”

The CICO Diet is a weight-loss technique the place the participant tries to tip the stability of what they eat (energy in) towards what they burn (energy out).

That’s just about it.

It doesn’t actually matter what meals you eat, as a result of there aren’t any restrictions on any particular meals teams with CICO. 

It additionally doesn’t matter what train you do (if any).

As lengthy as you get the equation proper, and the energy you eat are decrease than the energy you burn each day, you’re good to go.

Naturally, Barney would like CICO, because it doesn't forbid beer.

The CICO Diet is actually easy and has helped quite a few people lose weight

This is probably going why the CICO Diet has grown in recognition in the subreddit r/loseit

Is Losing Weight Really About Calories?

One way to lose weight is to be eaten, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Yes. Losing weight truly does come all the way down to burning extra energy than you eat.

It’s about as near truth as we are able to get in diet science.[1]

As we tackle in our information How to Lose Weight (The 5 Rules of Weight Loss), our our bodies obey the Laws of Conservation of Energy and Thermodynamics: 

To drop extra pounds, we have to burn extra energy than we eat often. 

With this information, it is smart to design a weight loss program particularly round this precept: match the energy you eat (in), with the energy you expend (out).

No different meals guidelines want to use:

As lengthy as you meet your calorie aim, you possibly can neglect about the guidelines of any particular weight loss program.

I can see why CICO might appeal to the Joker...

This appeals to me personally, as a result of I’ve created my own guidelines for how to eat, and I don’t pledge allegiance to any specific weight-reduction plan technique.

Because I’m a mind-reader, I do know your subsequent query is probably going…

Does Calorie Counting Work? (CICO and Weight Loss)

You can totally eat Dim Sum on CICO!

In precept, CICO works.

In apply, it turns into just a little extra difficult. 

Okay, high-quality, A LOT extra difficult.

That’s as a result of a variety of issues affect “calories in.” 

Ditto for “calories out.”

Let’s break a few of this down.

Here are a few of the issues that influence “Calories In:”

Oh, and all of the above assumes we’re truly monitoring energy precisely. Which just about no one does. Ever. But I’ll get to that shortly. 

And bear in mind, that is solely half of the equation.

I'll be honest, I don't really know what's going on here...

Here are a few of the issues that influence “Calories Out:”

  • Energy burned whereas resting: your Basal Metabolic Rate is a rely of what number of energy you burn at relaxation and can be managed by your age, weight, peak, organic intercourse, muscle composition, and so on. 
  • Energy burned by way of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): do you fidget rather a lot? That will increase your NEAT, or the vitality you burn doing stuff aside from exercising. Think tapping your toes, twirling your hair, utilizing your palms when talking, and so on. Even simply an hour of this sort of motion can accumulate an additional 300 energy burned.[6]
  • Exercise: in fact, how a lot you deliberately train will influence your energy out, though maybe not as a lot as most individuals suppose (extra on this later).

This is barely scratching the floor on what determines “calories in, calories out.”[7]

The vital factor to think about right here is that none of the above invalidate the fundamental premise of an vitality deficit being essential for weight reduction. 

These components will simply affect one finish of the equation or the different. 

For instance, let’s chat about protein and CICO:

  • Eating loads of protein has been proven to assist maintain folks feeling full and satiated.[8] So heaps of protein might help of us drop extra pounds, not as a result of it adjustments the necessities for weight reduction, however as a result of it would permit them to get by way of the day much less hungry (reducing their “calories in.”)
  • Adequate dietary protein might help with constructing and sustaining muscle.[9] The extra muscle somebody has, the extra energy they’ll want to take care of it (elevating their “calories out.”)[10]

Read our information “How much protein should I eat?” for extra on this topic.

To recap this part: from a organic perspective, consuming fewer energy than you burn is 100% essential for weight reduction. 

But all types of issues influence the variety of energy we eat and the variety of energy we expend. 

This goes to steer us to…

The Problem With CICO (Humans Are Bad Estimators)

Yeah, humans (or LEGOs) aren't good at estimating calories.

The majority of the issues folks have with CICO is that it permits nutrient-deficient meals to enter the weight loss program, solely limiting “how much.”

They’ll argue that folks must be consuming vegetables and fruit, lean protein, avoiding processed meals, and blah blah blah… 

We all know this. 

You don’t want another person telling you to eat your veggies.

Eating veggies for health is a no-brainer.

This isn’t the downside with CICO. 

The downside with CICO is it’s actually arduous to estimate “calories in” and “calories out.”

Like, REALLY arduous. We people are TERRIBLE at it. 

Take “calories in” or how a lot we eat: folks usually UNDERestimate what number of energy they eat by about 30-40%.[11] Even dieticians, who’re particularly skilled in diet science, underestimated how a lot they eat.[12]

Millhouse is probably just realizing the issue with CICO

“That may be true Steve, but don’t worry about me. I read the label on everything I buy so I know exactly how many calories I’m eating.”

Well, are you conscious that the FDA permits a 20% leeway on complete energy recognized on packages?[13] Meaning that 100 calorie drink of Orange Juice would possibly truly be 120?

If you’re a meals producer, which method are you going to lean in direction of? Especially when folks would possibly scrutinize the energy of your diet label in an effort to drop extra pounds.

This isn’t simply paranoia: this research discovered that packaged snack meals usually comprises MORE energy in it than marketed.[14]

Yeah…and bear in mind, that is solely half of the equation. 

It’s about to get even worse.

People are additionally actually dangerous at estimating “calories out.” 

When of us self-assess what number of energy they burned by exercising, they’re usually WAY OFF, by as a lot as 50%![15]

Oh, and people health trackers we put on?

Our Fitbit trackers can help us with analyzing trends and getting in more steps.

They’ve been proven to be inaccurate, some by as much as 90%![16]

That’s why we made this infographic on monitoring “calories out”:

This infographic shows calorie discrepancies from fitness trackers compared to actual calories burned.

This is the major downside with CICO: we’re caught with educated guesses for “calories in” and “calories out.”

So we underestimate the energy we eat by 40%. And then we overestimate what number of energy we burn by 50%.

No WONDER we expect our metabolism is damaged if we can’t lose weight!

The fact is we’re unknowingly consuming an excessive amount of, and/or shifting too little.


Heck, even what number of energy you want a day (your baseline or Total Daily Energy Expenditure) is an estimate, one thing we acknowledge in our calorie calculator, which you’ll play with proper right here:



In abstract: balancing “calories in against calories out” is actually all fairly messy whenever you get proper all the way down to it.

Does that make all this hopeless?

Not even remotely.

But it does give us some context in the event you can’t seem to lose weight.

Tips for Sustainable Weight Loss (Next Steps)

If your meal plate looks like this, you're doing a lot of the heavy lifting for weight loss.

This put up shouldn’t be made to dissuade you from making an attempt The CICO Diet.

I truly encourage everybody to trace their meals and energy for one week, as a result of it’s typically an eye-opening expertise on how a lot they’re actually consuming.

If doable, take a couple of days and use a cheap food scale as a substitute of simply eyeballing it. You’ll be shocked about the precise portion sizes of some meals!

When it involves sustainable weight reduction, right here at Nerd Fitness, we encourage two paths:

  • Make small tiny adjustments in direction of “real food” (like the Nerd Fitness Healthy Plate above).
  • Make small tiny adjustments in direction of a power coaching apply.

Both of those methods can dramatically – and positively – affect “calories in” and “calories out” respectively.  

In our Guide to Healthy Eating, we clarify why each web site tells you to eat greens (which we also tell you): greens are stuffed with vitamins, comprise plenty of fiber to maintain you full, and are usually low in energy.

These image shows some real food, critical if you're trying to lose body fat.

Eating plenty of greens, or “real food,” will aid you naturally decrease “calories in.”

How about one other instance to consider? Here are 200 energy of a blueberry muffin:

Yeah, you don't even get the whole muffin.

Compare it to 200 energy of broccoli (Thanks to wiseGEEK):

A pic of 200 calories of broccoli

Which one do you suppose you’re more likely to by accident overeat for your calorie allotment?


For our different technique, the Strength Training 101 sequence explains why rising robust is vital for fats loss: 

Building muscle takes a variety of energy (and so does sustaining it).

In different phrases, a stronger model of your self would require extra energy.

Miss Piggy pulling bars apart in jail.

And will be capable of escape from jail simpler. 

This will naturally elevate your “calories out.”

The trick with all of it is the “make small tiny changes” bit.

We’ve seen again and again that small steps (consuming one new vegetable per week, a easy body weight exercise) create momentum. Over time, these small adjustments are the keys to completely getting wholesome.

The complete Nerd Fitness Coaching program relies on this premise.

So what must you do now? Pick a small change and get going!

Here are some choices for a healthy new habit:

The most vital factor you are able to do now: start!

If you wanna win a race, you need to start it!

The precise “small tiny change” doesn’t matter a lot, simply decide one you are feeling comfy with and get going! Once that behavior turns into sustainable, decide a brand new one! And so on and so forth…

We’ve seen it time and time once more right here that that is the true path towards success.


Still right here? Want some extra steering? An precise plan to comply with on the place to go subsequent?

Alright, you bought it, however solely since you’ve been good this entire time.

Here’s how Nerd Fitness might help:

#1) Our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program: a training program for busy folks to assist them make higher meals decisions, keep accountable, and get more healthy, completely.

You can schedule a free name with our workforce so we are able to get to know you and see if our teaching program is correct for you. Just click on on the picture beneath for extra particulars:

Your NF Coach can help you lose weight and get healthy!

#2) If you desire a roadmap for getting in form, take a look at NF Journey. Our enjoyable habit-building app will aid you train and eat higher, all whilst you construct your very personal superhero.


Try your free trial proper right here:

#3) Join The Rebellion! We have a free electronic mail publication that we ship out twice per week, stuffed with suggestions and methods that will help you get wholesome, get robust, and have enjoyable doing so. 

I’ll additionally ship you tons of free guides that you should utilize to begin leveling up your life too:

Alright, I believe that about does it for this text.

Now, your flip:

What are your ideas on The CICO Diet?

Do you’ve gotten a method for balancing “calories in” and “calories out”?

Think I’ve obtained all of it completely fallacious? 

Let me know in the feedback!


PS: Make certain you learn the remainder of our content material on sustainable weight reduction:


GIF Source: Millhouse, Barney Thumbs Up, Joker, A Beautiful Mind, Leo “duh,”

Photo Source: A Surprise Performance Appraisal, Against the Current, There is always a bigger fish, Dim Sum Trike, miam miam



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