If you are trying to lose weight, you most likely have been told to consume fewer calories than your burn. So, you have to track the number of calories you consume throughout your day. For this reason, you will need a calorie calculator. But this is tedious for some people, especially those who cannot keep up with the tracking. So, they prefer following the CICO diet. The CICO method is an acronym for the calories-in calories-out method. So, is it practical for long-term weight loss? Let us find out!
What Is The CICO Diet?
CICO is an acronym for calories-in calories-out, as mentioned above. If you are following this diet, you must count the calories you consume to stay within a calorie deficit. If you cannot keep up, you can use an already crafted CICO diet plan that meets your dietary requirements. However, your doctor and dietitian should approve the chosen diet plan first.
How Many Calories Should You Eat In A CICO Diet?
Your daily calorie limit is influenced by several factors, such as physical activity, age, lifestyle, body composition, and height (4). Generally, women need 1600 to 2400 calories daily while men require 2000 to 3000 (4).
However, as you age, the calorie limit declines as your metabolic rate slows down (4). So, you will find that many women over 50 will require closer to 1600 calories daily. So, if you are interested in the CICO diet, you must first determine your daily calorie limit.
According to Medical News Today, you determine the calories you need by calculating your basal metabolic rate and activity factor (4).
Here are the formulas to use:
For Basal Metabolic Rate (BMI):
The most commonly used method is the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation.
It is as follows:
- Men: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
- Women: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161
For Activity Level:
You determine the activity level by multiplying your BMR with an activity factor.
- Sedentary Lifestyle (BMR x 1.2)
If you perform little or no exercise, you determine your daily calorie requirement by multiplying your BMR by 1.2.
- Slightly Active Lifestyle (BMR x 1.375)
If you do light exercise at least once to thrice a week, your daily calorie requirement is BMR x 1.375.
- Moderately Active Lifestyle (BMR X 1.55)
If you do moderate exercise three to five times a week, your daily calorie requirement is BMR x 1.55.
- Active Lifestyle (BMR X 1.725)
If you perform an intensive exercise at least six to seven times a week, you will calculate your daily calorie requirement by multiplying your BMR with 1.725.
- Very Active Lifestyle (BMR X 1.9)
If you perform very intensive or vigorous exercise, at least twice a day, with extra heavy workouts, your daily calorie requirement will be calculated by multiplying your BMR by 1.9.
Does The CICO Diet Promote Weight Loss?
It goes without asking that the CICO diet does help you shed pounds. After all, its concept is based on the weight loss principle, which entails consuming fewer calories than your body burns. As a result, you create and sustain a calorie deficit for weight loss.
But how much weight do you lose when following the CICO diet? There is no standard measure because weight loss differs from person to person due to age, body shape, exercise program, etc. But for healthy weight loss, you are advised to aim at shedding a pound or two a week (5).
Although this may not be fast enough for some people, it is safe and promises long-term weight loss. But, again, remember that it is not as easy as it seems. To lose one pound (0.45 kg), you have to burn an extra 3500 calories (12).
The best approach is to burn at least 500 calories a day more than what you take in so that within seven days, you burn an extra 3500 calories (500 calories x 7 days) (12). However, the CICO diet allows you to consume 500 calories less a day, hence a high possibility of losing one pound a week.
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Sample Of A CICO Diet Plan
This section is perfect for you if you are interested in following this diet but do not know where to start. It shows you how to cut calories from your diet and still enjoy a healthy and nutritious meal.
But before you try any of the listed meal plans, it would be best to talk to your doctor and dietitian. Remember that some diets, especially very calorie diets, have several side effects, including gallstones, fatigue, constipation, nausea, and diarrhea (8).
Again, remember that very low calorie diets are not recommended for pregnant, breastfeeding women, seniors, and individuals with a BMI less than 30 (8). Additionally, it is more complicated if you are overweight or obese and have weight-related problems. If need be, you should only follow this diet under strict medical supervision.
Here are some CICO diet meal plans to consider:
1000-Calorie Meal Plan (2)
As the name implies, this meal plan limits your daily calories to 1000. Therefore, it is restrictive and should not be followed without a doctor’s approval.
With that said, here are a few meal ideas that make up this meal plan (2):
Bagel With Cream Cheese (2)
- 1 (3 1/2” to 4” dia) medium bagel
- 1 tbsp. cream cheese
(Total calories: 315)
Lime Chicken Salad (2)
- 1 can (5 oz.) canned chicken yields
- 4 large lettuce leaves
- 2 tsp. lime juice
- 1 dash salt
(Total calories: 242)
Bachelor Brussels Sprouts (2)
- 2 cups (176 g) Brussels sprouts
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- 2 tbsp. coconut oil
- ½ tsp. salt
(Total calories: 313)
- 1 oz. (23 whole kernels) almonds
(Total calories: 164)
Grand total: 1034
1200-Calorie Meal Plan (7)
The following meal plan has been obtained from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. It helps you consume 1200 calories to sustain a calorie deficit for weight loss. It is 100% RDA met for all essential nutrients (7). For more information on the meal plan, please visit the website.
Here is its overview:
- 1 medium slice of whole-wheat bread
- 2 tsp. regular jelly
- ½ cup cereal, shredded wheat
- 1 cup milk
- ¾ cup orange juice
- 1 cup of regular coffee
(Total calories: 389)
- 2 medium slices of whole-wheat bread
- 2 oz. unseasoned lean roast beef
- 1 leaf of lettuce
- 3 medium sliced tomatoes
- 1 tsp. mayonnaise
- 1 medium apple
- 1 cup of water
(Total calories: 305)
- 2 oz. salmon
- ¾ medium baked potato
- 1 tsp. margarine
- ½ cup green beans (seasoned with margarine)
- Seasoned carrots
- 1 small white dinner roll
- 1 cup unsweetened iced tea
- 2 cups of water
(Total calories: 454)
- 2 ½ cups of popcorn
- ¾ tsp. margarine
(Total calories: 99)
Grand total: 1247 calories
1500-Calorie Meal Plan (9)
This diet plan restricts your daily calorie consumption to 1500 calories. It has been shown to promote weight loss in the average female, helping them shed one pound a week (11). However, this does not mean you are guaranteed to shed the same pounds if you follow this diet plan.
Remember that this is not a one-size-fits weight-loss method, so it will likely not work the same for others. Again, keep in mind that such a diet may be overly restrictive for some people, for example, those whose daily calorie requirement is 3000 calories. So, they may report adverse side effects of a very low-calorie diet such as fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea.
Otherwise, here is a one-day sample of a 1500-calorie meal plan:
A Cup Of Green Tea (2 calories)
Avocado & Arugula Omelet (344 calories) (9)
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup arugula
- ¼ diced avocado
- 1 tsp. low-fat milk
- 1/8 tsp. divided salt
- 2 tsp. divided extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 2 tbsp. plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
(Total calories: 346)
- 1 medium-sized apple sprinkled with cinnamon
(Total calories: 95)
Roasted Veggie Mason Jar Salad (11)
- 2 tbsp. creamy vegan cashew sauce
- 1 cup roasted tofu
- 1 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
- 1 cup roasted vegetables
- 2 cups mixed greens
(Total calories: 400)
Afternoon Snack (11)
- 1 cup cucumber slices
- ¼ cup hummus
- 1 medium carrot, cut into sticks
(Total calories: 145)
2 Cups Mixed Greens (18 calories)
Zucchini Noodles With Avocado Pesto & Shrimp (447 calories)
- 5 to 6 medium (2 ¼ to 21/2 pounds) trimmed zucchini
- 1 pound (21 to 25 count) peeled and deveined (tails left on if desired) raw shrimp
- 1 ripe avocado
- ¼ cup unsalted shelled pistachios
- 1 cup baked fresh basil leaves
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- ¼ cup divided extra-virgin olive oil plus 2 tbsp.
- 3 minced garlic cloves
- 1 to 2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
- ¾ tsp. divided salt
(Total calories: 465)
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
- A pinch of salt and pepper
(Total calories: 49)
Grand total: 1500 calories
1800-Calorie Meal Plan (3)
Most people seem to follow the 1800-calorie meal plan because it is not overly restrictive like the 1000 or 1200-calorie meal plans. But this creates doubt among weight watchers, as they ask if you can really lose weight on an 1800-calorie diet? The answer is, yes, you can.
Remember that this CICO diet meal plan aligns with the weight loss principle of shedding more calories than you consume. So, it is appropriate for individuals whose daily calorie needs are 2000 and above.
Here is a one-day sample of an 1800-calorie meal plan (3):
Strawberry Mango Shake And An Ounce Of Pecans (3)
- 1 ½ cup reduced fat milk
- ½ cup sliced mango
- ½ cup whole strawberries
- 1 tbsp. sugar
(Total calories: 304)
Mango Strawberry Arugula Salad (3)
- 6 cups (120 g) arugula
- 1 (207 g) mango without refuse
- 1 cup (166 g) sliced strawberries
- 1 peeled and seedless avocado
- ½ (35 g) small raw red onion
(Total calories: 448)
Chicken With Chipotle Gravy
- 2 half breast (236 g) chicken breast
- ½ 7 oz. can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- ½ tbsp. garlic
- ½ small onion
- 1 ½ tbsp. honey
- ½ tbsp. coconut oil
(Total calories: 506)
Roasted Green Beans
- 2 cups ½ pieces of green beans
- ½ tbsp. olive oil
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. pepper
(Total calories: 122)
- 2 oz. cheddar cheese
(Total calories: 230)
Grand total: 1806 calories
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2000-Calorie Meal Plan (10)
This meal plan is suitable for individuals whose daily calorie needs exceed 2500. It is not efficient for individuals whose daily calorie needs are below 2000 because then it would create a calorie surplus. Conversely, a calorie surplus promotes weight gain instead of weight loss.
Take a look at this sample of a 2000-calorie meal plan for a day from the Eating Well website:
A Medium Banana (105 calories)
A Cup Of Green Tea (2 calories)
Scrambled Eggs With Vegetables (338 calories)
- 1 cup chopped broccoli, asparagus, or/and zucchini
- ½ tsp. minced fresh rosemary
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 1 small minced garlic clove
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tbsp. shredded Goudar or Cheddar cheese
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. heavy cream
- ¼ tsp. ground pepper
(Total calories: 445)
Morning Snack (10):
A Medium-Size Sliced Apple (95 calories)
A Tablespoon Nut Butter With A Pinch Of Cinnamon (98 calories)
(Total calories: 193)
Mediterranean Lettuce Wraps (10)
- 2 15 oz. cans of unsalted and rinsed chickpeas
- ½ cup of sliced and drained jarred roasted red peppers
- ¾ tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. paprika
- ½ cup of thinly sliced shallots
- ¼ cup of chopped toasted almonds
- 12 large Bibb lettuce leaves
- 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ cup tahini
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
- 1 ½ tsp. pure maple syrup
(Total calories: 498)
Afternoon Snack (10):
A Cup Cucumber Slices (16 calories)
One Quarter Cup Garlic Hummus (151 calories)
(Total calories: 167)
Taco Spaghetti Squash Boats (553 calories)
- 1 2 ½ to 3 pound seeded and halved lengthwise spaghetti squash
- 1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend
- 1 cup chopped romaine lettuce
- 1 chopped avocado
- ¼ cup prepared pico de gallo or salsa, plus more for serving
- ½ tsp. divided salt
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 4 tsp. chili powder
- 1 pound ground turkey
- 2 tbsp. canola oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 3 garlic minced cloves
- 1 medium chopped tomato
2 Cups Mixed Greens (18 calories)
A Tablespoon Citrus Vinaigrette (65 calories)
- ½ quartered shallot
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed (ideally) orange juice
- 1 tsp. orange zest
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. ground pepper
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup organic avocado or canola oil
(Total calories: 636)
Evening Snack (10):
3/4 Cup Strawberry-Mango Ice Cream (70 calories)
- 12 oz. frozen mango chunks
- 5 oz. frozen sliced strawberries
- 1 tbsp. lime juice
Grand Total: 2010 calories
Is CICO The Best Way To Lose Weight?
Research shows the CICO diet can be a useful weight-loss tool.
However, it may not be a healthy way to control and manage your weight because it is too restrictive for some people (1). For example, for a very active person whose daily calorie requirement is 3000 calories should not be consuming only 1000 or 1200 calories daily.
Although your scale will budge, unfortunately, it may come at a cost, as we have seen above, due to health problems like gallstones. Some studies also suggest that this diet may not be suitable for long-term weight loss and may lead to disordered eating (6).
It is also not an ideal program for pregnant or breastfeeding women. So, consult a doctor if you are interested in following the CICO diet for weight loss. Then, if you get the green light, remember to consume fewer calories than your body burns by undertaking activities that help you burn more calories.
Exercise is one of these activities. Therefore, it would be best to talk to your trainer for better guidance on an exercise program that currently matches your eating patterns.
The Bottom line
The CICO diet stands for the calories-in calories-out eating approach. It promotes weight loss by helping you create and sustain a calorie deficit. So, depending on your daily calorie needs, you can consider following meal plans under the CICO diet. Some of them include 1000, 1200, 1500, 1800, or 2000-calorie meal plans. However, it would be best to talk to your doctor before making this decision.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Diet in the management of weight loss (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Generate a 1000 Calorie diet meal plan (2022, eatthismuch.com)
- Generate a 1800 Calorie diet meal plan (2022, eatthismuch.com)
- How many calories should I eat a day? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Losing Weight (2022, cdc.gov)
- Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Body Weight (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Traditional American Cuisine: 1,200 Calories (2022, nhlbi.nih.gov)
- Very Low-Calorie Diets: What You Need to Know (2020, webmd.com)
- What Does a 1,500-Calorie Day Look Like? (2019, eatingwell.com)
- What Does a 2,000-Calorie Diet Look Like? (2019, eatingwell.com)
- What to know about the 1,500-calorie diet (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Why do doctors recommend a slow rate of weight loss? What’s wrong with fast weight loss? (2020, mayoclinic.org)