The CICO Diet is the popular diet on Reddit that is building a big group of passionate followers.
The meaning of the CICO Diet is calories in, calories out. The concept of the CICO Diet is you can eat whatever you want as long as it’s less than the calories you’re burning off.
The CICO Diet is essentially another form of calorie counting. There’s nothing groundbreaking or new about it.
The theory behind the CICO Diet is you can eat your cake as long as it’s not too much.
Following the CICO Diet means you can live off Twinkie’s and still lose weight as long as you’re keeping watching your calories.
This diet has quite a few problems you should know about before coming a full-fledged follower of the CICO Diet.
Counting your calories is an outdated way of dieting. Shortcuts will only slow you down in the long run.
Eating whatever you want as long as you keep the portions down doesn’t tell the whole story.
I’m sure it sounds awesome being able to eat whatever you want and still lose weight. But there are ways to take the CICO Diet and improve it 10 fold.
Following it on its own is a recipe for disaster.
What Is the CICO Diet Plan
First off we have to get into why the CICO Diet can work, and the theory behind it.
So what is a calorie?
A calorie is a measure of energy. The more energy a food has the more calories it’ll also have.
Your body needs the energy to be able to breathe, pump your heart, walk, blink, digest food, etc.
The problem is most people eat way too many calories than they need to. The excess calories are then stored as fat on your body.
Followers of the CICO Diet believe all you have to do is cut down on these calories. Then you’re guaranteed to lose weight.
Since a pound of fat is 3500 calories all you’ll need to do is reduce your daily calorie intake by 500. Then you should lose one pound of fat per week.
For this to work, all calories have to be the same no matter where they come from.
It’s a dramatic oversimplification to say all weight loss is is to keep your calorie intake lower than your calorie expenditure.
This is because not all calories react equally in your body.
CICO Diet + Laws of Thermodynamics
CICO Diet followers claim the law of thermodynamics is the reason why it’s a guaranteed to work.
The first law of thermodynamics says energy cannot be destroyed only change form. Believers of the CICO Diet say this is an “unbreakable” law of physics.
But the CICO Diet breaks the 2nd law of thermodynamics.
The problem with the first law, when applied to calories, is it doesn’t tell you why or the actual cause.
The 2nd law says you should expect different metabolic pathways to be used when applied to calories.
The 2nd law is driven by chemical reactions. All calories, depending on the food they’re from, will react differently in the body.
For example, your body will respond much differently if you eat 500g of protein or 500g of sugar. Despite calories being equal, your body doesn’t respond equally.
Protein has been found to increase fullness and increase your metabolism.
While sugar can cause blood sugar spikes, insulin releases and can lead to diabetes and weight gain.
Even though calories might have an equal amount of energy it doesn’t mean they react equally in your body.
Positives of the CICO Diet
Even though I’m against the CICO Diet in it’s most basic form it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any benefits.
If you’re drastically reducing your calories then you can most likely expect to lose weight.
But this isn’t healthy weight loss. This is more like wasting away like somebody suffering from anorexia or bulimia.
We’ll get more into that later.
Calories are definitely an important part of weight loss. Don’t trust anybody who completely disregards calories in a diet plan.
Even if you’re eating the healthiest food in the world you’ll still gain weight if it’s 5,000 calories a day.
If you’re cutting your calories and getting them from the right food choices then it’s probably not all that bad.
The problem with the CICO Diet is it advocates eating anything you want. This is the big problem I have with the diet.
The CICO Diet might be for you if you’re already eating garbage and refuse to learn anything about eating healthy.
If you’re going to eat unhealthily then you might as well keep your portions down.
I’ve trained clients who flat out refused to change any of their bad eating habits. So the best I could do was try to help them limit their portions throughout the day. It would rarely work.
CICO Diet Doesn’t Teach Good Habits
The main problem I have with the CICO Diet is it doesn’t teach you good eating habits.
They try to tell you the quantity of the calories is all that matters when the truth is quality is of equal value.
Calories from different food sources aren’t metabolized the same way in your body.
These different metabolic pathways affect hormones that help to regulate when and how much you eat.
Another big problem I’ve found from my own experience is the CICO Diet isn’t sustainable over the long term.
After the initial honeymoon phase is over people go back to their old bad ways of overeating the wrong foods.
Cutting down on portions requires a lot of willpower. If you’re always hungry then it’s only a matter of time before you give into the temptation.
When you’re on the CICO Diet you can fully expect to feel like garbage from the lack of quality foods you’re eating. Then it’s only a matter of time before you say, “screw this.”
The CICO Diet doesn’t fix the big underlying problem of why people are overweight. It only puts a bandaid on it.
Even this study in the International Journal of Obesity found not all calories are the same. Those on an egg breakfast lost more weight compared to those on a bagel breakfast despite calories being equal.
Macronutrients Play a Role
Imagine eating 1,000 calories straight from mayonnaise.
Something tells me you’ll feel much different than you would eating 1,000 calories from chicken breast and broccoli.
Sure, you might end up losing some weight either way. But your energy levels, body composition, and health will differ big time.
If your body is lacking protein then you won’t have the resources needed to build lean muscle and for recovery.
You’ll end up losing your muscle toning definition and end up with a “skinny fat” body type.
Skinny fat is when your body is squishy and dimply. It’s not as attractive or healthy as somebody with muscle toning definition.
Lower carb diets have been proven to be more efficient for weight for the majority of people.
This study found those on a lower carb diet ate fewer calories than those on a low-fat diet.
If your body isn’t getting enough of the right foods then you can expect nutrient deficiencies to build up.
If your body is lacking minerals, good fats, protein, vitamins, and fiber then it’ll begin to suffer.
Studies are finding a lack of these micronutrients is one of the causes of cancer.
Also eating too many carbs can cause your body to hold on to water. This can make you look bloated and weigh more than you really do.
I’m sure if you checked the blood work on an avid follower of the CICO Diet the results would be disturbing. You are what you eat.
Too Much Sugar Makes Your Body Whacky
Eating too much sugar can cause a number of health problems despite following the CICO Diet.
Eating sugar can cause your blood sugar to spike. As a reaction, your body releases insulin to bring it back up.
If your body has to do this too much too often then it’ll become insulin resistant.
This is how so many people become diabetic and end up gaining a lot of excess weight.
Sugar and carbs aren’t as filling as other macronutrients such as protein and good fats.
Your body will crave more and more carbs to refill itself.
Your body is always striving for homeostasis. It’ll want more carbs to bring its blood sugar levels back up to normal.
But the problem when you eat more carbs/sugar is it’ll cause your blood sugar levels to spike. This soon becomes a roller coaster reaction in your body.
A healthy diet will leave you feeling satisfied and with stable blood sugar. While the CICO Diet can do the opposite.
Higher fat diets have been found to promote weight loss better than higher carb diets despite equal calories.
Even those who ate high-fat dairy were more likely to lose weight than those who ate low-fat dairy or no dairy at all.
We’re Emotional Eaters
Another big problem with the CICO Diet is it assumes people will be able to keep their calorie intake in check.
Most people won’t even go through the trouble of counting their calories every day.
We make the majority of our decisions based on emotions, not logic.
This is why it can be hard for somebody to not eat a slice of pizza if everybody around them is eating it on a Friday night.
Sure, you know you should eat it but the emotional drive is pushing you towards doing it.
Following the CICO Diet means you have to be thinking logical at all times. The majority of people don’t think like this when it comes to eating.
The pain of starving, having to count your calories and restricting your intake won’t win over the long term.
Instead, the pleasure of eating the junk food, not having to worry about how much and not having to count it will win out.
It’s difficult to consciously think about how much you’re eating for very long. Eventually, we’ll all lose.
Other Problems with CICO
More problems you can expect from following the CICO Diet are your mood, skin and GI tract.
Most people forget that these factors are largely dependent on your food choices.
If you’re filling your body up with garbage then you can expect your skin to look like garbage too.
Your digestion will also suffer.
If you’re following the CICO Diet then I would at least look into taking a probiotic with vitamins from greens.
You can expect to feel like a dumpster after being on the CICO Diet. I don’t know about you but eating bad foods can put me in the worst mood ever.
Imagine eating like this all the time while you’re feeling hungry too. This is a recipe for turning somebody “hangry” most of the day.
Instead, eat some of the best mood-boosting foods if you have to follow the CICO Diet.
I’m not saying you can eat all the calories you want as long as they’re from healthy choices.
Because the truth is calories do play a role, but they’re not everything.
Both quantity and quality of calories play a major role in weight loss.
Make sure you keep your calories in check. This along with the right amount of macronutrients and micronutrients from healthy food choices.
You can check out my Flat Belly Formula system that covers the best of both worlds so you can turn your body into a fat burning machine.
Make sure you’re eating your veggies, keeping your portions reasonable and not following the CICO Diet so you can get real results in the long run.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.