The concept is simple: You can eat whatever you want, but you have to make sure that the number of calories you eat is less than the number of calories you burn off. And if it sounds familiar, that's because it's just another label for calorie counting. “It meets the needs of people who ‘want to have their cake and eat it, too’ as long as the piece isn’t too big,” says registered dietitian Sonya Angelone, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Reddit is filled with stories of people who have lost weight and credit CICO for it. "Pull out my winter clothes and it's hard to believe it's the same sweater," wrote one Redditor who says she lost 48 pounds on CICO. "Such a different fit now!" Another credited CICO for her 28-pound weight loss in six months, adding, “feel like myself again.” Still another woman credited her 46-pound weight loss over 20 weeks to CICO. “I eat everything I want to eat, just less of it. A lot less,” she wrote.
The CICO diet sounds pretty easy to follow, but there are some downsides. The first and most obvious is that it doesn’t necessarily teach good eating habits—and that can make a difference in your ability to lose weight. “Weight loss isn’t just a math equation. It matters what you put in your mouth,” Angelone says.
The calories you eat aren’t metabolized the same either, she explains, and having too much sugar in particular can throw things out of whack. “Sugar causes insulin to be secreted and insulin is a fat-storage hormone,” Angelone says. Sugar also isn’t very filling and can cause people to overeat. But, if you can eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, and plant-based proteins while staying within your daily caloric allotment, it will improve your health and help you lose weight.
Granted, there’s one very obvious perk to CICO: You can eat what you love. “Just keep the calculator handy and don’t eat more than you burn off in a day,” Angelone says.
Of course, weight is complicated, and often people need to change more than just what they eat (or how much of it they eat). “In order to change your weight permanently, you need to change your lifestyle,” Angelone says. “It means occasionally not eating something you want to eat and occasionally eating something that is good for you.” Adding a workout routine into the mix is also a “a must,” she adds.
If you want to lose weight and tracking numbers doesn't bother you, CICO might be a good option for you. Just make sure you're focusing more on fruits, veggies, and lean meats, and adding in the treats you love here and there.