What does the CICO diet entail?

What does the CICO diet entail?

As the name of the diet suggests, there is only one rule to following this plan – calorie intake must be less than that which is burned off. To do this, you will need to have a very clear idea about everything you’re eating and how much you’re able to rid your body of.

Having a keen eye on everything you’re eating means that as a dieter, you become accountable for every foodstuff that is consumed. Throughout this process, learning about food will also be helpful in understanding exactly what is being eaten and how it’s affecting the body. This will help create a mindful meal plan tailored to your needs and preferences.

Since the plan is not a diet per se, you can work out a programme strategy that best suits you in order to achieve your weight loss goals. As long as you adhere to the one and only rule, you can choose a programme with developed food plans to help you lose or even maintain a healthy weight.

The developers of CICO don’t lead you down any particular path. They provide the basic idea and a tool to help you with your calculations… and the rest is up to you. You can make the implementation process as simple or complex as you choose…

Step one – The calorie calculator

To start, make friends with an accurate calorie calculator. You will need to determine just how many calories your body actually needs to function, and this will differ somewhat from person to person. There are numerous factors that have a role in just how many are needed, gender differences being one of them. Age and activity levels also have an influence.

This is where a calorie calculator comes in and you’ll need to find one that works for you to determine just how much you should be eating to attain your goal.

In general calorie calculators look at your age, gender, weight, height and current activity level. Based on these details, a calculator will determine:

  • How many calories you require per day in order to maintain your current weight.
  • How many calories would need to be consumed to lose up to 1kg (2.2lb) per week.
  • How many calories would need to be consumed to gain up to 1kg (2.2lb) per week. 

To get started, a calorie calculator requests that you fill in a form in order to calculate your:

  1. Basal metabolic rate (BMR)
  2. Targeted daily energy expenditure (TDEE)

The BMR amount gives you an indication of just how many calories you would need to consume simply to survive. The TDEE amount is really where your focus will be. This is the general number of calories you will need to burn off each day in order to create a calorie deficit. This figure is not a fixed one, however.

When starting the programme, you will need to select the activity level that is most accurate for you at the time. Options range from ‘sedentary – little to no exercise’ to ‘extra active – very hard exercise / sports or a physical occupation’. If you’re starting at the lower end of the scale, for instance, the TDEE number will need to be adjusted as you work through increasing activity levels – lightly active (1 to 3 times a week), moderately active (3 to 5 times a week), very active (6 to 7 times a week) etc. As activity levels increase, so too does the number of calories required to sustain these efforts. You may even find yourself using the calculator almost on a daily basis in order to adjust for active and non-active days.

Step two – Set a realistic goal weight and time to reach it in

This is where your goal weight will come in. The calorie calculator will give you an indication of how many calories you will need in order to lose 5kg (11lb) or 1kg (2.2lb) per week. If you are using the CICO diet method to gain weight, you can also calculate how many calories would be needed to gain these amounts per week.

In general, a reliable calorie calculator will be careful not to encourage unrealistic goals. Weight loss estimates and calorie figures which display should be moderate – in theory this should make following the CICO diet method easier to commit to. If caloric restriction is too aggressive, a person can easily fall into an unhealthy way of eating in order to lose weight. The idea is to cut calories in a healthy way and not fall into an extreme. Thus, time and patience will be key – in this way, weight can be lost safely.

Once you’ve worked out your goal weight and which calorie number to begin working off of (based on the amount of weight you wish to lose per week), you can estimate a time frame for achieving it – e.g. I will commit to losing 0.5kg (1.1lb) per week for the next 8 weeks in order to achieve my goal weight. To safely lose this amount of weight per week, you can aim to cut your daily caloric intake by between 500 and 750 calories.

Step three – Choose your diet strategy

The diet method now leaves ‘the plan’ in your hands. If you fancy trying the Paleo programme, a banting or ketogenic diet, or even the blood type diet, it’s now up to you to decide what your preferences are when it comes to following a food plan. You could opt for a complete diet overhaul or adjust certain food habits to become a little healthier with your choices – the latter being the preferred approach by CICO proponents. All you really need to do is apply the golden rule – calories in, calories out.

Some may choose to change nothing about the way they eat. The change may be purely the introduction of exercise (and lots of it) or a challenging fitness programme. Many experts do not agree with such a strategy, especially if an existing diet is already laden with high calorie foods. In these instances, it could take an enormous amount of exercise in order to achieve the ultimate goal. It’s not a realistic approach to think that you can “work off’ a bad diet. A balance of nutrients is also of great importance to the body and one’s overall health. Many high calorie foods are not nutrient-rich. Therefore, this type of strategy is not likely to turn out the best results… for weight loss or an improved state of health, in general.

Charging off in the other direction when it comes to ‘extreme approaches’ is also not necessarily a good idea either. Crash dieting is well documented as ill-suited for losing weight and keeping it off. Long-term, it’s just not the most realistic or healthiest approach. Let’s be honest, how likely are you to commit to days and days of cabbage soup or juicing ‘meal plans’?

Instead, when applying the CICO diet method, you can adopt the principles of existing diet programmes which focus on the full spectrum of food groups, while learning about the different varieties, and adapting these to suit your CICO requirements.

Proponents of CICO recommend a more conservative approach when it comes to selecting your strategy. Leave the extremes and ‘get real’. Vague approaches, like “From today I will only eat clean” are also not terribly motivating. Get specific about food if you’re going to positively change your overall relationship with it. For this diet method to have any positive effect, it’s best to understand your basic eating habits in relation to calorie concentration.

Calorie counting need not become a restrictive process. It can be a flexible way of eating. Substituting a bad eating habit with better ones is one way of making a productive change. By better informing yourself about the nutritional value of various foods, you can achieve an appealing balance without having to completely forbid yourself from ever consuming certain foods again. The key is balance, and if you can keep at it without leaning into extremes, this diet method shouldn’t be all that unhealthy AND you can reach and maintain your goals.

Step four– The finicky bit... food logging

A drawback to any modern convenience lifestyle is having to fiddle and faff with… ADMIN. Logging each bite of food every single day will easily feel a bit like a chore for many. Some individuals may get lazy about the task. Others may find it tiresome and boring. Such negative approaches will make it easy for the entire purpose of the CICO diet method to become almost completely derailed. With that, accuracy may go out the window too. If you don’t know exactly what you’re eating, how will you determine calories in and calories out?

Counting calories has been modernised, however, so you can breathe a sigh of relief. The good old pen and paper method may still suit some, but for those who love a techy lifestyle, there’s an app or two for this purpose. Whatever your tool preference, ensure it’s accurate, user friendly and reliable. Mobile apps like LoseIt and MyFitnessPal are popular options but go with the one that works for you. It will be helpful to select an app with a broad food database, nutrient tracker (macronutrients and micronutrients) and even a built-in barcode scanner. One that helps keep track of your exercise activity or can sync up with another application is also a helpful feature.  

At this point, this is where your commitment to the diet method will really show. You have to log or note everything you eat, every day. Now, you can indulge in high calorie foods – this diet method doesn’t specifically state that life must now become ‘sugar-free’ or ‘carb-free’. No one will necessarily be standing in between you and a plateful of cheesy nachos, a glass of red wine or a scoop or two of ice cream. The diet method doesn’t state any such restrictions and as long as you work off more than you put in, you should see results. The choice is all yours though, and you can make healthier decisions if you’re serious about your weight loss goals for the long-term.

During the process you will learn how to measure everything from a sip of soda to a drizzle of salad dressing, and that whole pizza too. Measuring tools, like kitchen scales, may not only become useful but your new normal. At first, learning and measuring, and making food comparisons and decisions will almost certainly be time-consuming. Some may even find it confusing and overwhelming at times. You will get the hang of it if you persevere. As with learning anything else that’s new, it takes a little time to grasp. Once you do, you’ll figure out a happy routine and be well on your way to building healthier eating habits. Exercise some discipline, be honest and make the time in your day – it’s the best way to know if it’ll work for you or not.

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