The CICO diet is a diet based on the theory that If your calorie burn is greater than the overall calorie intake, say, for the day, the calorie deficit will make you lose weight in the long run. And it usually requires the person to eat significantly less amount of calories than he needs everyday to accomplish that result.
Often time, CICO programs ask their members to eat 1000-1200 calories max a day. Ideally, this would create at least a calorie deficit of 800-1000 calories per day. And given the formula ‘3500 calories = 1 pound,’ they are expected to lose up to 2 pounds a week.
This sounds to be a very solid theory because it appears to be based on the Law of Conservation of Energy which applies to virtually everything on earth. And many people have followed it and gained some success through it. However, most of the people who’ve lived by it for years are still dealing with the same amount of extra weight, if not more.
Hence this question arises: Does the CICO diet really work?
If you are one of those people who have been maintaining a calorie deficit but not losing weight, you must be wondering this.
Or, if you happen to be the person who, while following this diet strictly finds that it gets harder and harder to see weight loss results, this article can give you a whole new perspective. It’ll help you understand the gap in what you’ve been believing for years.
Want to know how I help my clients lose weight sustainably — while enjoying massive ease and food freedom, even if they don’t weigh themselves at all? Access my 14 Minutes of PURE GOLD video that shows you the core strategy.
Full disclaimer: the reason I can be this confident when sharing my insight is because not only have I myself been tricked by the same blindspot which has tricked many people regarding CICO, but I’ve also helped many people accomplish their goals — almost effortlessly — by avoiding the blindspot
This could be the biggest and deepest secret/opportunity for you to get to your weight loss goal quickly — losing 20, 30, or 40 pounds. All without curating a toxic relationship with food, ruled by the CICO diet mentality. Want to learn the 5 Winning Keys To Eliminate Food Addiction While Getting A Head-Turning Body? Watch my premium webinar with a 24-hour free pass here.
Now, let’s get into this topic.
How Does The CICO Diet Work?
First of all, the theory of CICO works just as well as the Law of Conservation of Energy, but with only 3 main barriers addressed:
1. Can you really calculate calories accurately?
Counting calories seems like the math of simple addition on the surface. 400-calorie spaghetti plus a 200-calorie coke gives you a 600-calorie lunch. However, did you know according to the FDA, there is a 20% error margin that food manufacturers are allowed when labeling calorie and nutrition data on their packaging?
It means that an 80-calorie nutrition bar can be 80 x 120% = 96 calories. A 600-calorie sandwich can be 720 calories in total. A 2000-calorie day may well be a 2400-calorie day.
Compared to calorie intake, calories burned are a bigger challenge. How much are you really burning per activity you are doing? Other than the number shown on the running machine or some sort of online chart, you really don’t know.
All of these have a lot to do with your actual basal metabolic rate (BMR). Note I said “actual,” not “estimated.” The estimated BMR that you see on the websites is a fixed, static function of height, gender, and weight . This is for a healthy person who has a normal metabolism to begin with. However, the actual numbers can vary a lot given various factors, such as your real metabolic set point (I’ll elaborate on this below).
Therefore, if you think about it, when you are doing the CICO diet, none of these numbers that you use to fill the calorie-in-calorie-out formula are certain, from how much you actually eat to how much you are burning.
If you are looking to CICO for assurance, know that a CICO diet calculator isn’t perfectly accurate. It’s a general formula provided for a big group of people and it doesn’t consider individual differences.
2. Is your body working FOR you or AGAINST you?
I mentioned metabolism in #1. However, metabolism is only a small aspect of your body’s overall landscape, which has everything to do with weight loss. So a more comprehensive question to ask is: is your body “programmed” to contradict weight loss?
Let me illustrate this with the metabolic set point example I’ve just mentioned:
Many people who have been overweight for a long time and have been doing restrictive dieting have a lower metabolism set point. (Related post: 3 Truth Bombs From Metabolic Weight Loss Coach) This is because each time they starve themselves, their body, which is very smart, ‘assumes’ that it’s facing famine and to keep their owners alive, the body minimizes calorie burn to preserve energy . This ensures the proper functioning of their main organs.
If you’ve ever had a car that’s battery is running low or dying (mine just experienced it last week), you’d see the car shutting down all the ‘unnecessary’ features such as the analog and interior lighting, so that it can start its engine.
Your body does this to keep you alive. This predetermined programming lowers your BMR. And the more you put your body into famine mode by starving yourself, the more it holds onto energy. Throughout time, it becomes calorie-retaining by default.
This is one common way your body contradicts weight loss among various other things. Here’s another common example:
If you’ve been overweight or obese for a long time and have been stressing your body through one diet after another, you are likely experiencing chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation, in short, is a condition where your body is hyperactive when facing internal physical and external emotional stress. Also, this condition, as scientists have found and agreed upon, is at the core of most chronic diseases — including obesity. From this, you can already see it’s one big barrier to weight loss. It not only makes your body burn less calories. It also releases the hormonal triggers that make you overeat and fall for all kinds of cravings. This is what makes you hungry all the time.
Not only does it prevent you from having a healthy mindset and relationship with food, but it also steers you away from becoming skinny and fit by stressing your body and creating biochemical barriers to it.
When your body is in the mode of resisting weight loss — whether from the metabolic or the hormonal aspects — the CICO diet will be counterproductive. The more you use CICO and minimize calorie intake, the more your body is stressed into chaos. Mind you, stress is also a large root cause of chronic inflammation, which contradicts weight loss.
This is why you may find it harder and harder to lose weight through the exact same diet. The diet hasn’t changed. What has changed is your body. Through rounds of restrictive diets and added stress, your body has become more resistant and weakened.
This is the biggest problem with the CICO diet. It doesn’t teach you to restore your core — which is your body and psychological patterns that are the final determinants of your health, weight, and eating patterns.
When your body is working against you on weight loss, a strict CICO diet only worsens this pattern.
Watch me discuss why you’ve gained a PHD in Calorie Counting but are still overweight in one of my many podcast interviews:
On top of that, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include one more essential distinction here:
To accomplish real health and fitness results, you can’t ignore the fundamental difference between dieting and real, sustainable weight loss.
Dieting vs. Sustainable Weight Loss
Dieting is about taking restrictive measures in spite of how your body feels and ‘thinks.’ It often doesn’t work in the long run because ultimately, it’s your body that makes the decision regarding how far it wants to go.
Real sustainable weight loss, conversely, is about re-activating the body’s key senses, instincts, strength, and order . This is so your body gets healed, satisfied, nourished, and optimized. The immediate benefit is activating the body’s engine to lose the weight for you. In my 8-year coaching experience, steady, fast, and permanent weight loss happens spontaneously as a side effect of embracing wellness . Even if you just sit back and forget about diets.
Oh did I say the word “instinct?” 100% of hard-working dieters in America haven’t realized this very simple fact:
- Keeping fit
- Having an effective metabolism
- Having the physical senses that accurately gauge hunger and satisfaction
- Being able to stop when you are satisfied
- Having taste buds that don’t favor sugar
- Being able to say “no” to food when you aren’t hungry
- Eating just the right amount of food that you need
All of these are your basic, natural INSTINCTS.
They are instincts because before your eating patterns and food psychology were distorted by myriads of dieting concepts, they were working by default. (Have doubts? Watch toddlers eat whatever they want without a weight problem — even though nobody taught them how to count calories!)
I’ve elaborated on and milked the instinct topic a lot on my website. When it comes to sustainable weight loss, you need restored instincts to do 90% of the job. This is how you lose those 20, 30, 40 pounds, and more.
What is the remaining 10% about? A simple, practical, maintenance-free eating routine that helps you to naturally strike the golden balance between satisfaction and fitness. And it’s 100% restriction-free so there’s no self-deprivation involved.
Watch me coaching my clients live on REAL weight loss involves in this short video below. These are words and concepts you don’t hear from most weight loss experts following American weight loss principles.
3. Do you want to diet or do you want to live life?
This is the third big question about the CICO diet – and the last on my list. In fact, it’s not just about the CICO diet but about all restrictive diets — whether it’s about calorie counting or carbs restriction.
The biggest risk of dieting is: it rewires your mindset and turns you into an active advocate and even a slave for the numbers. This makes even less sense now, given you now know how unreliable these numbers actually are.
So, what’s the difference between two 38-year-old 120-pound women if one is a dieter and the other is a holistically healthy and lean person?
They are two completely different species — given what’s going on in their life and what’s going on in their brain.
The holistically healthy and lean person enjoys tons of freedom, and she never worries about gaining weight even though she knows nothing about calorie counting. And she definitely doesn’t bother to write in food journals every day.
The restricted dieter could be temporarily at the same weight as her holistically healthy and lean peer. But she’s anxious and tired every day. This is because all she thinks about is how to maintain meticulously and strictly planned diets. And at the end of the day, she forgets how to live a normal life.
You have to know which outcome you truly want in the end, and choose accordingly. Remember the path of one will not lead to the outcome of the other. Like I said, these two people are two different species at the core.
In my coaching career, I’ve witnessed the biggest tragedy of dieting time and time again. It reprograms a person’s mind towards a shallow, self-limiting scarcity mindset full of fears and self-criticism.
When the self-limiting mindset becomes the dominating pattern, it not only destroys the person’s relationship with food, but also extends into other areas of life. The consequence is altered behaviors and decision-making models that fuel more limitations vs. abundance and positivity in everyday life.
To illustrate, most people come to me when they not only have a weight problem but also have a food obsession issue from years of dieting. To most of them, learning how to stop emotional eating forever and change their relationship with food is a bigger deal than weight loss. The reason for that: they’ve forgotten how to live normally and eat intuitively. Guess what their shared starting point of this struggle is? The CICO diet. And guess what they all experience after dropping the diet and changing their approach? Natural, spontaneous, delicious, re-assuring weight loss which happens steadily, visibly, and smoothly.
I want to make it very clear that I am not saying the CICO diet is a completely flawed theory. Instead, it’s a fully scientific theory that has been widely utilized in many areas of our life. However, when it comes to weight loss and fitness, a scientific theory can be impractical, unhealthy (in the context of holistic well-being), and emotionally detrimental in application.
So, if you are someone with high aspirations in life and have a clear sense of what you want, you need to think about what lifestyle you want in the long run.
Do you want to learn to live life? Or do you want to learn to diet?
Are you losing 20 pounds for now or forever?
Do you want to feel truly confident and free? Or would you rather spend one month losing 20 pounds while spending the remaining 11 months of the year fearing everything but water, but still seeing the weight forcefully coming back?
And most importantly, what kind of physical and emotional experience would you like to encounter? And what kind of influence will people living with you receive because of that?
Choose your path carefully. As many of you already know: dieting and dieting psychology can be very addictive and keep you stuck for a long time.
Leslie Chen is an Executive Weight Loss Coach for High-Achieving Women. For 8 years, she has been helping professionals and entrepreneurs who struggle with problematic eating and weight patterns create a blissful and freedom-based food life — while losing weight left and right.
Leslie is rated as the Top Weight Loss Coach by Coach Foundation. She’s also frequently interviewed on globally top 0.1-1% podcasts about Health and is an expert contributor for world-class media including Entrepreneur.com.
To learn her scientific, proven strategy which has changed many people’s lives in a very informative and inspiring 14 minute video, access her 14 Minutes of PURE GOLD.
To work with her on solving your weight and eating problems forever, book a Clarity Call.