If you have been struggling to lose weight, you’ve probably tried it all: Low carb, no-carb, Atkins, Keto, Paleo, intermittent fasting, smoothies, detoxing, etc.
While some people do find success with these methods, no one “diet” is a universal cure for obesity.
A study published by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that simply keeping a food journal doubled the participant’s success in losing weight during a 5 month period. This supports the idea that estimating and keeping track of caloric intake also leads to successful weight loss.
This is known as CICO (Calories In Calories Out) and it isn’t a diet or eating plan. You won’t see endorsements by celebrities or health experts – because there are no special plans or equipment required to do it.
It’s a simple matter of tracking how many calories you eat versus how many you burn.
Granted, this method does not work for everyone. Those with underlying health issues and hormonal imbalances may not lose weight as quickly as others when it comes to CICO.
Some may have to pay closer attention to nutritional macros along with caloric intake.
But it’s definitely a weight-loss method worth trying if nothing else seems to work for you.
Keep reading to learn more about CICO and how you can incorporate this weight-loss method into your life:
What is a Calorie?
A calorie provides energy to your body and is derived from the food you eat. Whatever you put into your body, whether it’s an apple or apple juice, has calories.
However, the way in which food is processed determines what type of calorie you are consuming:
These fill you up and give you a feeling of fullness without having to eat a lot. For instance, boiled potatoes are more filling than a croissant, even if they have the same amount of calories.
When it comes to these types of calories, it’s important to pay attention to how various foods make you feel so you can better manage your appetite and meet your body’s caloric needs.
You can’t walk through a grocery store without being bombarded by heavily processed foods such as soda and potato chips, making it difficult for many people not to eat the majority of their calories from processed foods.
These foods are convenient and cheap but relying on these types of foods, instead of fresh foods like fruits and veggies, leads to weight gain and other health issues.
One thing you have to be careful about with CICO is the caloric count of whole foods. For example, a banana will cost you over 100 calories whereas a handful of chips may be less.
But it’s important to realize that your body is receiving far more nutrients from that banana and your body is absorbing more calories from it (instead of storing calories away as fat).
Plus, whole foods tend to scale higher on the satiety index, keeping you fuller for longer.
So while you may be tempted to stay away from “high calorie” whole foods such as vegetables and protein, it is definitely worth your while to include these in your calorie count – you’ll benefit nutritionally and stay fuller for longer (thus requiring fewer “meals” throughout the day).
You’d be surprised how many calories you’re consuming from what you drink during the day (unless you stick with water). Most are high in sugar and high in calories.
Plus, drinking doesn’t signal your brain in the same way eating does so your body will not feel as full from the calories as it would from food.
Drinking soda and coffee throughout the day will likely put you over your calories because you’ll still need to eat to feel full.
What Are Calories In and Calories Out?
In order to practice CICO to lose weight, it’s important to understand what constitutes calories going in and what constitutes calories going out.
These are some of the things that can impact your “in calories”:
- Calorie Absorption: How you prepare your food and your own individual gut microbe will determine how much energy your body will extract from the calories.
- Appetite: Your hormones, body composition, and preferences will affect your appetite and influence how many calories you eat.
- Mental and Physical Health: Stress levels, sleep quality, and certain health conditions can affect your hormones, influence your metabolism, and impact your appetite.
But, overall, “calories in” refers to any calorie you consume.
When it comes to your “out calories”, here are some things to consider:
- Basal Metabolic Rate: This is the energy you burn while in a resting state and is influenced by your age, weight, height, sex, etc.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): This is the energy you burn doing activities other than exercising such as talking with your hands or tapping your feet.
- Exercise: Any intentional physical movements, such as cardio exercise or weight training, that burns calories will impact your calories out – obviously.
Putting CICO to Work
So now that you understand what a calorie is and how our body takes them in and burns them, let’s look at how you can actually get started with this weight loss method:
How Many Calories Should I Eat and Burn?
Figuring out how many calories you should eat during the day depends on your weight, age, height, activity level, and goal when it comes to doing CICO.
The first step is to figure out your TDEE (Total Energy Expenditure) which is based on your activity levels. Instead of crunching the numbers yourself, you can use an online calculator to find this number.
Your TDEE is the total number of calories you need per day to maintain your current weight. Depending on your weight loss goal, you’ll want to aim for a number lower than this.
Typically, if you want to lose around a pound a week, you should take your TDEE and shave 500 calories from your daily intake.
However, it’s recommended that you do not drop under 1,200 calories per day on a regular basis, no matter how quickly you want to lose weight.
Tracking Your Calories
Many people complain that CICO doesn’t work but in many cases, they are not properly measuring or tracking their calories.
CICO takes a little effort when it comes to eating but the more precise you can be when tracking, the more successful you will be.
To get started, you need three simple things:
- A food scale
- Measuring cups/spoons
- A calorie-tracking app
Food scales are low-cost and will help you keep track of the weight of the food you are eating. Likewise, measuring spoons and cups are cheap and will help you with this as well.
As far as calorie-tracking apps go, you don’t need anything fancy. MyFitnessPal is a free app that allows you to track your weight, food, and exercise as well as keep an eye on your nutritional intake (vitamins, minerals, etc.).
Considerations When It Comes to CICO
There are always things you should take into consideration when it comes to making any changes to your health or diet.
First of all, as I’ve mentioned above, certain health conditions can impact your success with CICO and it may be best to avoid CICO in some cases. It’s always best to speak with your health care provider before starting CICO or any eating plan.
Second, some anecdotal evidence has shown CICO to lead to eating disorders for those who have struggled with an eating disorder in the past.
The point of CICO is not to become obsessed with calories and numbers. It’s to help you develop better eating habits by increasing your awareness when it comes to the foods you eat.
Don’t get hung up on the numbers and don’t obsess about reaching your caloric goal. Remember, you are eating below your TDEE which is the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight.
Also, don’t weigh yourself every day. There is so much more going on in your body than calories that can cause your weight to fluctuate such as salt retention, water retention, and for those that menstruate, bloating.
Have you tried CICO? Have a success story to hear? Drop it in the comments!