Wanna know what makes me Hulk out?

If you don’t know what CICO is, it’s an acronym meaning

Calories In – Calories Out.

And it definitely isn’t “a diet”.

It is the first law of thermodynamics – matter can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change form. As living beings, we consume energy through what we eat and we use energy through walking, breathing, sleeping – all the little things we do to keep our bodies alive.

It’s a balance of energy. Consume more energy than you use? You store it. Consume less energy than you use? Your body uses its energy stores to make up the difference.

Notice, I say energy. I chose that word very specifically. Why? Because as soon as you say “calorie” someone is going to start complaining.

“It’s a made up concept! Your body doesn’t know what a calorie is! 100 calories of fast food isn’t the same as 100 calories of vegetables!”

No other unit of measurement evokes this kind of reaction from people; because that’s all that a calorie is—a unit of measurement.

So why are we talking about a calorie of bricks? No one actually eats bricks.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one

– what weighs more, a pound of bricks or a pound of feathers?

The knee-jerk reaction is a pound of bricks! Bricks are heavy and feathers are light.

But if you slow down and think about it, each is one pound. One pound of bricks is going to be very small, maybe even less than one full brick! On the other hand, it’s going to take hundreds of feathers to balance out that brick on the scale.

So when people say “a calorie is a calorie,” that is what they are referring to. A pound is a pound. An inch is an inch. No one, however, is saying the contents of those calories are the same.

Recommended Reading: 5 Fat Loss Myths Sabotaging Your Progress

Energy Density

Much like the brick, certain foods are way more calorie dense than others. 100 calories of chocolate are going to look way different than 100 calories of broccoli. Think of the broccoli like the feathers – you need more of them to reach the same level of energy. More broccoli means it takes up more room, physically making you feel fuller, plus the natural fiber has a satiating effect. On top of that, the broccoli actually has a variety of vitamins and minerals which will better support your bodily functions making you feel more energetic.

So 100 calories of chocolate and 100 calories of broccoli may contain the same energy, but one of them is going to leave you feeling fuller, more energetic, and better overall.

But, here’s the flipside of that – eating 2500 calories of whole-grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins are going to have the same effect on your waistline as 2500 calories of McDonald’s. If your daily energy expenditure is less than what you consume, your body will store that excess energy.

“I only eat healthy food, so I don’t understand why I’m not losing weight!”

When it comes to our bodies, there really can be too much of a good thing. Nuts and avocados are huge culprits. They are both really good for you, and both super energy dense. No matter what “clean eating” advocates might say, there is no style of eating that will let you consume more calories than you use, without your body storing that extra energy for later.

And that’s a good thing!

It means you don’t have to be miserable while trying to reach a healthy body composition. You don’t have to empty your wallet into Whole Foods’ coffers or choke down kale smoothies (Pro tip, don’t drink your calories. Eating is way more satisfying.) The beauty of CICO is that you can eat what you want, in moderation.

Detractors like these claim that CICO is unhealthy, or that it’s promoting eating nothing but junk food. (Even though people have 100% lost weight eating nothing but stuff from the vending machine.) It’s like saying you can stick your finger in the electric socket, but no one is actually trying to get you to do that.

Want to know what your Total Daily Energy Expenditure is? Sign up for access to my Superhero Origin Story toolkit.

Also, here are some awesome basic tools for getting to know the ins and outs of energy intake!

  • MyFitnessPal – completely free method of tracking your calories and macros. Come add me, superpowerssoldseparately! I maintain an open diary and track most days of the week.
  • Bodybuilding.com – Dozens of free strength training plans tailored to various goals.
  • Digital Food Scale – This one is $10 on Amazon, with an easy to read digital display. Humans are notoriously bad at estimating our caloric intake on sight alone.
  • Batman Level Food Scale – This one scale is $60, but it also calculates nutrition info for you.
  • Bathroom Scale – You don’t need bells and whistles, this is one of Amazon’s best sellers. Clean and simple and under $30.
  • Fitbit’s Aria Smart Scale Or if you want bells and whistles, Fitbit’s wifi enabled smart scale can probably cook you breakfast. (No it can’t. But it can measure your body fat percentage and a whole host of other metrics and syncs with the Fitbit app.)
  • Fitbit fitness trackers – Ranging from $59.95 for the Fitbit Flex 2 up to $269.95 for the Fitbit Ionic Smartwatch, they offer a wide variety of fitness trackers to keep track of your daily steps, calories burned, exercise, distance, sleep. I love Fitbit and I used their products since the first one launched in 2009. I only just switched to Apple Watch this year.
  • Or if you want a simple digital tracker here is one for less than $20.

These are affiliate links, if you choose to make a purchase, a commission will go towards maintaining Superpowers Sold Separately. I mean, I could try to sell you some kind of wrap or detox tea. But they don’t do anything, and I’m not going to lie to try and tell you they do. It’s hard to make money telling people all they have to do is eat less and move more. It’s not exactly fitting with consumerism and capitalism.

Which is why there are so many people trying to convince you it doesn’t work!

And, in closing, one of my favorite fitness memes. Remember, picking an eating style that works for you is key to sticking to a weight-loss plan long term. But the science is real, and the only way to lose fat is to create a caloric deficit.

Are you ready to lose weight for good? Sign up for Supercharged! An Eight-Week No-Nonsense Fat Loss Email Course.

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32 Comments

  • Great post! I love all the apps and tools you share at the end. I used to use My Fitness Pal and loved it!

    • I was using cronometer for a while but just went back to MFP because it’s such a simple and user friendly tool. Glad you enjoyed!

  • A pound of feathers would be quite a thing to see! I don’t think it would be very small unless very compressed. I overall am very tired of diet culture and have been staying pretty far away from and not encouraging it. Embracing who we are in important.

    • There can be some really toxic elements floating around. I believe in supporting the healthiest lifestyle we can, but quick fix scams and perfectionism can be really daunting. It’s true that we need to take care of ourselves mentally too.

  • I have always approached *Health* and overall wellness and well being as an even combo of body, mind and soul, getting all these elements of our lives into the best balance we can goes a long way to *well being*. I agree that a lifestyle approach is way more effective than a ‘fad diet’ approach.

  • This is such a helpful post for anyone who is wanting to loose weight or be healthier. I used My Fitness Pal to loose my baby weight and it worked by being strict and cutting down on carbs.

    • Knowledge is power. I’m totally guilty of simply saying that I was counting calories, without the actual practice of knowing what I was putting in my body. I’d calculate large chinese takeout dinners with massive low-ball estimations. “Yes, Ray, that Chinese takeout was totally less than 500 calories.”

  • Smart post! People often look for a quick fix or something that will fit into their EXISTING lifestyle, but the reality is, if they are looking to lose weight, then they have to try something different than their existing lifestyle…
    Good ideas you have shared may help some see that they need to consider WHAT that 100 calorie item is made of…
    Happy New Year!

    • something that will fit into their EXISTING lifestyle

      Such a good insight! Pinterest is littered with “try this drink to burn fat” type posts. Or wraps or pills. Which is why, I think, so many people are working hard to discredit… well… physics.

  • I am not very calori conscious.. I used to be anorexic and now suddenly I have started putting on weight. May be its because of age but this has definitely made me take exercising more seriously.

    XOXO
    Prajakta

  • I’ve done calorie counting before, and it does help. This is a great way to explain it, especially the part about the calorie dense foods. That makes a lot of sense to me.

    • There was a professor once who lost weight only eating things from vending machines. And it worked, he did lose weight because he got the right energy balance. But he was sluggish and hungry all the time because there was no actual nutrition in his food.

  • Although I did not know about CICO, this is one way I try to maintain my weight. If I am going to a party or plan to eat a lot, I exercise more.

  • This post is great for explaining diets and weight loss plans in a way thats easy for anyone to understand. All the terminology can be confusing and it seems like there is always a new fad to try out, but it’s true that it all comes down to calories in calories out!

    • A lot of people get disheartened when I tell them that all I did to lose weight was eat less. I think it should be empowering to know it’s all in your control!

    • Yup. I am strictly anti-fad diet. If I can’t find it backed up by PubMed and peer reviewed articles I will be skeptical.

    • It really is. Especially because people want to make money off of people’s lack of knowledge and desire for a magic bullet.

  • I haven’t really thought of it like that but it sounds logical. I used to use myfitnesspal, i should probably start doing that again after i have the baby.

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