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Diet 101: The pros and cons of the CICO approach

Diet 101: The pros and cons of the CICO approach

Counting calories is part of most diets, but CICO views it as the singular goal
food on table
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Calorie In, Calorie Out or CICO, as the name suggests, is a weight-loss plan where you eat fewer calories than the calories you burn. If your calorie intake is lesser than what you burn, it will lead to weight loss. The reverse is also true, where you will put on weight if you consume more calories over what you burn.  

But isn’t that the logic of every diet plan? What makes a CICO diet different? Mansi D Padechia, a dietician based in Mumbai, explains that CICO is solely based on calorie intake. “Here, nutrient quality and type of food doesn’t come into the picture,” she says. For example, you could eat a cheeseburger, which is fats and carbohydrates, or one serving of dal and rice with a vegetable salad, which includes proteins, vitamins, fibre and carbohydrates, both giving you 250 kilocalories. 

However, Snigdha Ravi Subramaniam, a Bengaluru-based fitness coach, says every diet relies on the concept of CICO. “It could be keto, carnivore diet or any other diet, most of the times CICO is the means to achieving what your end goal is,” she says. If you overeat or over consume food you will have an excessive amount of energy, which creates a surplus and leads to fat gain. “Even if you work out, fat gain is inevitable because fat mass and muscle mass are two different tissues,” Subramaniam says. 

“Our bodies always want to store fat and eat more as a survival mechanism that our bodies have learned to be in through the generations. Which is why it is easy for most of us to gain weight. If you have a good metabolism, then you may not have to worry about weight gain,” says Subramaniam. He recommends relying on an external mechanism like a diet plan rather than your internal mechanism to help structure things a little better. 

How to use CICO 

“You will first need to measure your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). It will help you determine the calorie required by your body when it is at rest, the minimum requirements for basic functions like heartbeat and breathing, and the required energy to maintain your current weight. Accordingly, to lose weight, you will have to consume fewer calories than the required amount,” explains Padechia.  

In your weight loss journey, if your aim is to lose a pound a week, you will have to lose 3,500 calories a week. Through CICO, you can lose 3,500 calories through a deficit in the calorie intake or through the calories you burn while exercising, or with a combination of both.  

“There are many ways to track this deficit. One way of doing this is by tracking your food intake. There are apps that can help you track your calorie intake and how much you should burn in a week, which will be based on your BMR,” says Subramaniam.  

Possible risks  

Nutritionists say that even though CICO can promote weight loss and improve certain aspects of health, it has its downside, too. Padechia says that though this diet can help you lose weight, it is not entirely practical to follow. “It doesn’t take into account how food impacts health. It is essential to choose foods based on their nutrient content and quality and not just the calorie count,” explains Padechia. For example, a person suffering from diarrhea can have milk or oily food (which can aggravate the condition) or opt for khichdi, apple stew or toast (which will help deal with the condition). The CICO guidelines allow both to be consumed. “But, if you take your health into consideration, should you really be counting calories alone or go for an anti-diarrheal diet,” asks Padechia.  

Similarly, if your diet is calculated in terms of calories and is rich in junk food, you may lose weight in the short term, but it may impact your health in the long-term. Moreover, being calculative over the number of calories can be a trigger for people with eating disorders. If you have an eating disorder, you need to consult a dietician who will be able to customise a plan that works best for you. As with any other diet plan, CICO can be difficult to sustain as it does not allow for any celebratory meals. 

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