What Is the CICO Food plan? (Counting Energy for Weight Loss)


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It’s time to study The CICO (“energy in, energy out”) Food plan!

You in all probability have questions like

Steve, does CICO work? 

Will counting energy assist me shed some pounds?

Okay, what the hell IS a calorie?

Properly my buddy, you’ve arrived on the proper place!

I’ve been writing about these items for 13 years, and our group of nerdy consultants assist our On-line Teaching shoppers with all kinds of diets (together with CICO). We’re actually flippin’ good at it!

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

It’s time to get began!

What Is the CICO Food plan plan?

I guess this is kind of CICO, in a way

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

The CICO Food plan is a weight-loss technique the place the participant tries to tip the steadiness of what they eat (energy in) in opposition to what they burn (energy out).

That’s just about it.

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

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

So long 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 Food plan is admittedly easy and has helped fairly a couple of folks shed some pounds

That is probably why the CICO Food plan has grown in reputation within the subreddit r/loseit

Is Shedding Weight Actually About Energy?

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

Sure. Losing a few pounds truly does come all the way down to burning extra energy than you devour.

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

As we tackle in our information Learn how to Lose Weight (The 5 Guidelines of Weight Loss), our our bodies obey the Legal guidelines of Conservation of Vitality and Thermodynamics: 

To shed some pounds, we have to burn extra energy than we devour frequently. 

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

No different meals guidelines want to use:

So long as you meet your calorie purpose, you’ll be able to neglect in regards to the guidelines of any particular eating regimen.

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

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

As a result of 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 a little bit extra sophisticated. 

Okay, effective, A LOT extra sophisticated.

That’s as a result of a number of issues affect “energy in.” 

Ditto for “energy out.”

Let’s break a few of this down.

Listed here are among the issues that impression “Energy In:”

Oh, and all the above assumes we’re truly monitoring energy precisely. Which just about no one does. Ever. However 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...

Listed here are among the issues that impression “Energy Out:”

  • Vitality burned whereas resting: your Basal Metabolic Fee is a depend of what number of energy you burn at relaxation and might be managed by your age, weight, top, organic intercourse, muscle composition, and so forth. 
  • Vitality burned by means of Non-Train Exercise Thermogenesis (NEAT): do you fidget lots? That will increase your NEAT, or the vitality you burn doing stuff apart from exercising. Assume tapping your ft, twirling your hair, utilizing your arms when talking, and so forth. Even simply an hour of this type of motion can accumulate an additional 300 energy burned.[6]
  • Train: after all, how a lot you deliberately train will impression your energy out, though maybe not as a lot as most individuals suppose (extra on this later).

That is solely scratching the floor on what determines “energy in, energy out.”[7]

The vital factor to contemplate right here is that not one of the above invalidate the fundamental premise of an vitality deficit being obligatory for weight reduction. 

These elements will simply affect one finish of the equation or the opposite. 

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

  • Consuming loads of protein has been proven to assist hold folks feeling full and satiated.[8] So tons of protein may also help people shed some pounds, not as a result of it modifications the necessities for weight reduction, however as a result of it would enable them to get by means of the day much less hungry (reducing their “energy in.”)
  • Ample dietary protein may also 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 “energy out.”)[10]

Learn our information “How a lot protein ought to I eat?” for extra on this topic.

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

However all kinds of issues impression the variety of energy we eat and the variety of energy we expend. 

That is going to guide us to…

The Downside With CICO (People Are Dangerous Estimators)

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

Nearly all of the issues folks have with CICO is that it permits nutrient-deficient meals to enter the eating regimen, solely limiting “how a lot.”

They’ll argue that individuals must be consuming vegatables and fruits, lean protein, avoiding processed meals, and blah blah blah… 

Everyone knows 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 issue with CICO. 

The issue with CICO is it’s actually onerous to estimate “energy in” and “energy out.”

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

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

Millhouse is probably just realizing the issue with CICO

“That could be true Steve, however don’t fear about me. I learn the label on all the pieces I purchase so I do know precisely what number of energy I’m consuming.”

Properly, are you conscious that the FDA permits a 20% leeway on complete energy recognized on packages?[13] Which means that 100 calorie drink of Orange Juice may truly be 120?

If you happen to’re a meals producer, which manner are you going to lean in the direction of? Particularly when you understand folks may scrutinize the energy of your vitamin label in an effort to shed some pounds.

This isn’t simply paranoia: this research discovered that packaged snack meals typically incorporates 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.

Persons are additionally actually unhealthy at estimating “energy out.” 

When people self-assess what number of energy they burned by exercising, they’re typically 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 “energy out”:

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

That is the primary downside with CICO: we’re caught with educated guesses for “energy in” and “energy out.”

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

No WONDER we expect our metabolism is damaged if we are able to’t shed some pounds!

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


Heck, even what number of energy you want a day (your baseline or Whole Day by day Vitality Expenditure) is an estimate, one thing we acknowledge in our calorie calculator, which you’ll be able to play with proper right here:



In abstract: balancing “energy in in opposition to energy out” is admittedly all fairly messy if you get proper all the way down to it.

Does that make all this hopeless?

Not even remotely.

But it surely does give us some context when you can’t appear to shed some pounds.

Suggestions for Sustainable Weight Loss (Subsequent Steps)

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

This put up is just not made to dissuade you from making an attempt The CICO Food plan.

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

If potential, take a couple of days and use an inexpensive meals scale as an alternative of simply eyeballing it. You’ll be shocked in regards to the precise portion sizes of some meals!

In relation to sustainable weight reduction, right here at Nerd Health, we encourage two paths:

  • Make small tiny modifications in the direction of “actual meals” (just like the Nerd Health Wholesome Plate above).
  • Make small tiny modifications in the direction of a energy coaching apply.

Each of those methods can dramatically – and positively – affect “energy in” and “energy out” respectively.  

In our Information to Wholesome Consuming, we clarify why each web site tells you to eat greens (which we additionally inform you): greens are stuffed with vitamins, comprise plenty of fiber to maintain you full, and are typically low in energy.

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

Consuming plenty of greens, or “actual meals,” will show you how to naturally decrease “energy in.”

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

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

Evaluate it to 200 energy of broccoli (Due to wiseGEEK):

A pic of 200 calories of broccoli

Which one do you suppose you’re prone to unintentionally overeat in your calorie allotment?


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

Constructing muscle takes a number 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 can be capable to escape from jail simpler. 

This may naturally elevate your “energy out.”

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

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

The whole Nerd Health Teaching program is predicated on this premise.

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

Listed here are some choices for a wholesome new behavior:

An important factor you are able to do now: begin!

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

The precise “small tiny change” doesn’t matter a lot, simply choose one you’re feeling comfy with and get going! As soon as that behavior turns into sustainable, choose a brand new one! And so forth and so forth…

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


Nonetheless right here? Need some extra steerage? An actual plan to comply with on the place to go subsequent?

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

Right here’s how Nerd Health may also help:

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

You’ll be able to schedule a free name with our group so we are able to get to know you and see if our teaching program is best for you. Simply click on on the picture beneath for extra particulars:

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

#2) If you need a roadmap for getting in form, try NF Journey. Our enjoyable habit-building app will show you how to train and eat higher, all when you construct your very personal superhero.


Attempt your free trial proper right here:

#3) Be a part of The Rise up! Now we have a free electronic mail e-newsletter 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 use to begin leveling up your life too:

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

Now, your flip:

What are your ideas on The CICO Food plan?

Do you may have a technique for balancing “energy in” and “energy out”?

Assume I’ve bought all of it completely fallacious? 

Let me know within the feedback!


PS: Be sure you learn the remainder of our content material on sustainable weight reduction:


GIF Supply: Millhouse, Barney Thumbs Up, Joker, A Lovely Thoughts, Leo “duh,”

Picture Supply: A Shock Efficiency Appraisal, Towards the Present, There may be at all times a much bigger fish, Dim Sum Trike, miam miam


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