The CICO diet is currently the darling diet of the internet. This has caused many to wonder, “Does it actually work?” First, what is the CICO diet? Well, CICO stands for Calories In, Calories Out, which is a pretty clear explanation of what it entails.

The only real rule of this fad diet is that you take in less calories than you expend. This may mean you begin to exercise or just rely on the calories your body burns naturally. Regardless, the goal is to make sure you end the day with a calorie deficit.

A Twist on a Familiar Concept

Wait a minute, isn’t this just calorie counting? In many senses, yes, CICO is a rebrand of the concept of calorie counting. In 1896, Wilbur Olin Atwater developed the concept of calories, and people have been counting calories ever since as a keystone belief of weight loss.

One of the appealing aspects of the CICO diet is that there are no restrictions on what you eat. As long as you fall under your calorie limit, you can eat a burger, pizza, and a milkshake. The mathematical basis for the CICO diet is that it’s not what you eat, it’s the numerical value that the food represents.

What’s Wrong with the CICO?

The CICO diet ignores the other valuable nutrients you get from food and drink. Despite what online reviews claim, all calories are not created equal. For example, healthier options are more likely to be lower in calories. This means you can eat more of them, making you fuller and less likely to snack.

This diet also completely ignores any benefits you get from eating healthy. As noted by the Daily Meal, you could eat an all-Cheetos diet, but you’d be deficient in protein, fiber, and nearly all other nutrients. You’ll be under your calorie limit, but you won’t feel great. In fact, you may even feel worse.

A healthy diet is more of a lifestyle, like the 80/20 diet. Rather than excluding too many foods, a healthy diet aims to introduce healthier habits into your life. Many unhealthy diets fall into the starvation or very low-calorie diet categories, because they cut too much out.

Rather than excluding too many foods, a healthy diet aims to introduce healthier habits into your life.

If you’re not careful, this is exactly what can happen with the CICO diet. If you’re of the mindset that you can eat whatever you want, you’ll end up eating less to fall under your caloric maximum. While you may lose weight, you’ll lack vital nutrients or not take in enough food to be truly healthy.

Finally, basing an entire diet on calories is incredibly difficult to do right. First of all, we are incredibly inaccurate when it comes to estimating calorie counts. Our bodies react to separate food types (and their calories) differently. That doesn’t even take into account that the limit we often base these diets off, the 2,000-calorie-per-day limit, is wrong.

Calories will even vary from different types of the same food. Your 100-calorie bag of popcorn is not always going to be 100 calories. Those are just estimates that can be off by 20 percent.

Your calories out number can be inaccurate, too. One Stanford study found that fitness trackers can be off anywhere between 27 and 93 percent. You can’t even rely on how many calories you’re burning! So, it’s nearly impossible to be accurate with both your calories in and your calories out! Is the CICO diet worth looking into any further?

Effective, But Not the Full Story

Listen, CICO is not the end-all-be-all solution to your dieting woes. Not on its own, at least. People have had incredible results from following the CICO diet, but that’s simply not the full story. Counting calories alone is a flawed way to lose weight. That said, when used in tandem with healthy eating and exercise, it’s still worth doing. For many people, counting calories acts as a reminder of how much you are eating, allowing you to be mindful of how much to cut.

When utilized as part of a lifestyle change, counting calories can be effective and healthy. Don’t forget, what you eat is as important as how much, and not all calories are created equal. So, a little less cake may keep you under your calorie limit, but you may find a healthy snack both delicious and filling!