There are a lot of articles lately in the fitness world about the “phenomenon” known as CICO. CICO stands for “Calories In-Calories Out”, and generally it refers to the simple fact that to lose weight, you must burn more calories (“Out”) than you consume (“In”). I think it was shortened to CICO because it’s just an easier way to remember the term, and it is kind of catchy.
I don’t want to give these articles more views; but just do a quick search online of “why cico doesn’t work” and you’ll get a bunch of hits. I haven’t given a lot of time to these to read them in detail, but many of the articles suggest that CICO is a fad diet that won’t work for sustainable weight loss.
They use a strawman argument to suggest that proponents of CICO think you can eat all the junk food in the world and lose weight. Technically, this is true! If you eat all your calories in junk food, but you burn more than you eat, you WILL lose weight.
The problem with these articles is that they focus on the junk food aspect. They harp on this over and over, telling you that not only do you need to eat “healthy” (which in itself is a very vague term that’s not helpful at all), but you need to include an exercise regimen in your weight loss plan.
What they overlook is that using the “junk food diet” part of CICO is a means to an end. The /r/loseit subreddit doesn’t advocate eating whatever you want, whenever you want, all the time. What they suggest instead is to start this way – don’t change what you’re eating, but change how much of it that you’re eating.
As you start logging your calories and seeing how much your regular food costs you in a day, you begin to learn about other foods that are more calorie-dense and leave you feeling full. In effect, following the CICO principle teaches you to eat healthier.
In short, you need to learn about how weight / fat loss works (CICO is the mechanism of fat loss) in order to learn how to eat better.
It’s important that you remember most of these websites and articles waging war on CICO are in the business of selling a product to you; whether that’s a weight loss tips newsletter subscription, or diet pills, or a weight loss plan – they have some sort of service that they are trying to push.
Technically speaking, CICO is not a threat to their well-being – but they perceive it to be. They probably sell some worthwhile information (and when you read the articles, they all circle back to the fact that if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose fat), so being armed with knowledge is not a bad thing.
But their perception is that if people knew the basics of weight loss, no one will buy their services. So, they attack the principle of CICO framing it as a weight loss fad that doesn’t work.
Keep this in mind when you’re reading conflicting information out there.