Just Calories In VS Calories Out Or Is There More To It?

by | Mar 17, 2021

Regarding diet and body transformations, few topics are more polarizing than “calories in VS calories out,” also known as CICO. Some say that “calories in VS calories out” is all that matters. Whereas others say, it is oversimplified. This article will talk about each piece of the puzzle and answer what role “calories in VS calories out” plays in one’s body transformation efforts. We will also talk about what it means for you and your clients. But before we go any further, I’ll first introduce myself.

My name is Tony Stephan, and I’m a dietitian business coach. I help RDs make more IMPACT and more INCOME through nutrition coaching. However, before becoming a dietitian business coach, I was an RD nutrition coach (just like you!). I served thousands of nutrition coaching clients over a time span of 12 years. My successful nutrition coaching business is what led me to where I am today. Now without further ado, let’s talk about calories in VS calories out and where it fits in your nutrition coaching business.


“Calories in VS calories out” is the concept that when you take in more energy than you burn, you gain weight, and when you take in less energy than you burn, you lose weight. If you’re an RD or an RD2B, this probably comes as no surprise to you since we were taught in school that to lose weight, one must create a calorie deficit. And outside of the dietetics curriculum, creating a calorie deficit to lose weight is a widely known and (mostly) accepted fact by the public. So the question is: Why is there so much controversy surrounding “calories in VS calories out”?


As with seemingly everything discussed in the nutrition world and diet industry, there often is more than one side of the coin to each nutrition topic. So it’s only appropriate that “calories in VS calories out” would have more than one school of thought about it too. 

Here are the two different ideologies about “calories in VS calories out.” Some people believe “calories in VS calories out” is very straightforward, whereas others believe CICO doesn’t work. On one end of the spectrum, you have people who believe “calories in VS calories out” equates to “eat less and move more” to lose weight. With this ideology, it is thought that if your weight loss efforts aren’t fruitful, you’re either eating too many calories or not getting enough exercise. 

Some people believe that “calories in VS calories out” doesn’t work on the other end of the spectrum. Some people even go as far as to say that it’s a myth. This group says that “calories in VS calories out” doesn’t consider hormone imbalances and health conditions that can affect metabolism. There are also claims that specific diets and foods provide a metabolism advantage without worrying about “calories in VS calories out.”


In this particular situation, neither viewpoint is either completely correct or completely wrong. There is science intertwined in each viewpoint. However, there are also misconceptions embedded in each viewpoint. Ultimately, the correct answer is actually a mix of the two ideologies. So the correct answer is in more of a middle ground. In this middle ground, we accept that CICO is important, but we also accept that factors affect weight management outside of food and exercise. 

If they are both partially right and partially wrong, how did we get to such a polarized debate, to begin with? As with many debates (especially in the world of nutrition), most of it starts by believing misconceptions, oversimplifications, and a failure on both ends of the spectrum to achieve a shared understanding of the big picture. Let’s take a look at the big picture and bust some common myths surrounding both ends of the spectrum.


Let’s start with the “eat less, move more” concept. Many people think that “calories in VS calories out” and “eat less, move more” are synonymous. However, there are certainly big distinctions between the two. “Eat less, move more” is a generalization. It’s a generalization since it only considers the calories you ingest through food and the calories you burn through movement. However, “calories in VS calories out” is really a part of something much more involved.

“Calories in VS calories out” is a part of the energy balance equation that considers far more than just ingesting calories through food and burning calories through movement. Energy balance takes into account so much more than just diet and exercise. It also takes into account factors such as sleep quality, stress levels, and medical conditions. When it comes down to it, the “eat less, move more” concept is a major oversimplification when you see everything that truly goes into energy balance.

Now let’s focus on the “CICO doesn’t work”  school of thought. You may hear someone say, “I counted my calories, and the CICO method didn’t work for me. I didn’t start losing weight until I started changing my habits.” While you can absolutely lose weight without counting calories, it doesn’t mean that you can lose weight without manipulating “energy in” or “energy out.” When you or your client experiences weight loss, either energy in or energy out is being manipulated, either directly or indirectly. So whether you or your client are counting calories or not, CICO still applies to make weight management and body transformations possible.


If you or your client is in the process of weight maintenance or a body transformation, “calories in VS calories out” still applies. However, CICO isn’t a simple concept that can be generalized. So it’s important to make sure you’re taking into consideration all pieces of the puzzle!

That’s why we teach in our Dietitian Nutrition Coaching Certification that there is so much more to nutrition coaching than generalized notions like “eat less, move more.” For your client to succeed, you should be monitoring so much more than your client’s eating and exercise habits. In the Dietitian Nutrition Coaching Certification, we teach our students to monitor biofeedback, such as energy levels and hunger levels. The reason we teach this is because all aspects of health matter in the big picture.

If you’re looking to start your own dietitian nutrition coaching business, you’re in the right place!  I’m so proud to be a part of the movement of dietitian entrepreneurs who are making more IMPACT and more INCOME. Check out our resources below to start making your dietitian nutrition coaching business a reality today!

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