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The CICO Diet Rings in Followers

But Does It Add Up to Weight Loss?

Portrait of young smiling female nutritionist in the consultation room. Dietitian working on diet plan.

By Sean Zucker –

Another day, another new diet trend. Yup, possibly the only thing more inevitable than weight gain is the development of fresh ways to control it. Recent crazes have included: the Keto Diet, a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet; the Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and very little red meat; and intermittent fasting, which revolves around periods of not eating anything at all. But one emerging method suggests that what or how much someone eats is less important than what they’re doing between meals.

It’s called The CICO Diet—short for “Calories In, Calories Out”—and many experts back it. “The CICO diet isn’t a book or an eating plan endorsed by a health expert or celebrity. It’s an approach that involves eating fewer calories than you burn,” writes nutritionist Samantha Cassetty for TODAY. CICO reflects the classic adage of one taking in less than they physically put out. So, if someone maintains an active lifestyle, they can eat more calories under CICO. The wellness expert explains that if a person stays within a calorie range that’s in line with their body’s specific needs, they can eat whatever they want and still lose or maintain their current weight. Of course, this process is much more complicated than it seems.

The diet’s starting premise is that not all calories are equal. Certain foods are more filling than others, which gives related calories different values or worth. Take fish. Calorie-wise, it is more filling than beef or eggs. Oatmeal is also more filling than bran cereal. It, however, is where CICO gets tricky; people need a bit of subjectivity. For the most effective results, a person must be in tune with their body and how it reacts to various foods.

“Rather than focusing solely on calories, it’s better to be aware of your calorie needs and to develop an understanding of how calories from various foods make you feel,” Cassetty explained. “Managing your appetite with filling foods that are also in line with your body’s calorie needs is a good way to manage your weight and your hunger levels.”

Another expert took concerns with CICO one step further, noting that calories aren’t exactly a perfect science. “Calories, as we know them, are arbitrary,” dietitian Abby Langer told Men’s Heath. “The calorie was invented long ago and isn’t necessarily accurate how our bodies metabolize each food. We’re learning so much more about how calories are absorbed.”

She adds that by focusing solely on calories, certain health boons ignore filling fiber, muscle-building protein and disease-fighting micronutrients. Additionally, human bodies hold calories from processed foods, like chips or fast food, differently and therefore require more action to burn them.

Healthline.com also chimed in with considerations and concerns relating to a CICO diet. Sure, consuming fewer calories than a person burns is a theoretically correct way to lose weight. However, other factors come into play.

“Successful weight loss and healthy weight maintenance depend on much more than creating a calorie deficit. Plus, the CICO theory applies only to weight loss and does not consider other aspects of health. For example, CICO doesn’t consider diets’ role in hunger and satiety (fullness) or how a diet might influence disease risk,” the wellness site added.

Langer goes on to state that CICO may even be problematic for some. Fixating and stressing over specific numbers can push people with eating disorders to binge. Effectively, dieting becomes an issue if it’s stopping someone from eating when they’re hungry.

Langer recommends people take a more relaxed view of dieting. “If you have to pee, you wouldn’t say, ‘No, I can’t pee for another three hours,'” she noted. “Stop thinking of food as good or bad and just eat.”





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