The CICO diet is Reddit’s favorite form of dieting, and nutritionists are not supportive.
Reddit, a discussion website with various “subreddit” forums, has posted about the CICO diet across many of its weight-loss forums.
One user who had been following CICO for two months and shed 20 pounds wrote, “For years I actually thought that [losing weight] required vigorous exercise, and eating nothing but tilapia, broccoli, and spinach. How wrong I was,” Yahoo Style reported.
In a separate thread, another user shared, “CICO will work regardless of what you’re eating. Junk food, healthy food, fancy food, cheap food. It doesn’t matter. CICO is essentially the only thing that matters when it comes to weight loss.”
However, the CICO diet, which stands for “calories in, calories out,” is challenged by nutritionists as an old way of thinking.
The diet suggests that you can eat whatever type of food you want – healthy food, junk food – and still lose weight by creating a calorie deficit throughout the day, meaning consuming fewer calories than you expend each day.
However, nutritionists argue that not all calories are created equally, and relying on calorie counting to lose weight does your body a disservice in the end. You have to also consider how your food choices affect your body beyond weight loss.
“Eating all junk, but keeping it low-calorie, will still wreak havoc on things like your skin, your mood, your gastrointestinal functions,” Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, and author of “The Superfood Swap” told Yahoo.
“At the core of it, it’s true that calories will rule things when it comes to weight loss,” Blatner concedes, but explains "that is [only] true in the most crude, raw possible way.”
Nutrition expert, Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD and Health’s contributing nutrition editor told Yahoo, “We now know that the quality of the calories you consume—as well as the macronutrient balance and timing—all impact metabolism, satiety, and how your body utilizes calories.”
“It’s not as simple as a math equation,” Sass adds.
Clinical dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic, Mira Ilic, extrapolates on macronutrient needs stating a well-balanced diet is necessary for things like tissue repair, and muscle recovery and growth.
While Ilic knows people can lose weight with CICO, she says, “But would I recommend this to my patients? Definitely not.”
For those who are interested in being more calorie conscious, Blatner recommends looking at your plate and making sure you’re getting a balanced, healthy meal with whole grains, protein and vegetables.
“If you look at your plate and you have what you can guesstimate is a half-cup of a grain, that’s going to be roughly 150 calories; if you see a reasonably sized piece of protein, it’s likely about 3 ounces, or about 150 calories,” Blatner says. “And if you see a lot of vegetables, topped with just a little bit of fat, like a drizzle of olive oil, you’re probably adding up to about a 400 to 450 calorie meal.”
For the average woman looking to lose weight, Blatner suggests keeping 1,500 calories in mind as a daily goal.
“That number might be a little bit up or down, depending on whether you’re taller or shorter, or how much you exercise,” she explains, “but 1,500 calories is a great starting point.”