At A Glance
The Zone Diet was created by Dr Barry Sears, PhD, in 1990.
This diet was not created for the sole purpose of weight loss but more for a lifestyle change where the consumption of food is used to change the body’s hormonal structure.
Dr Sears claims that by eating the right foods, the production of insulin in your body will be regularized and stabilized, thereby making you leaner, healthier and more energized.
Controlling these powerful hormones is done by eating a precise combination of proteins, carbs & fats in a day. By doing this correctly, you’ll enter the “Zone”, where you’ll start losing weight.
If you’re on the Zone Diet, you’ll be eating at least 3 meals & 2 snacks carefully planned throughout the day. Because of this, you’ll always feel full & never hungry.
Here’s How It Works
Dr Sears claims that by eating the right amounts of protein, carbs & fats, you can control the amount of insulin your body produces.
This is important because if insulin levels in your body are high, excess calories that you take in are more easily stored as body fat.
To get into the “Zone” where your body produces the right amount of insulin, you have to eat a diet consisting of 40% carbs, 30% protein & 30% fat.
In order to do this, you choose from a list of favorable foods and avoid those on the unfavorable foods list. Sounds simple enough? To simplify the choosing of foods even further, the Zone Diet uses a “Block” system.
Generally speaking, this diet recommends healthy, lean protein like chicken & turkey over fatty meats like bacon. Veggies & fruits of all kinds are encouraged for the carbs portion. And in order to see how much you can eat, you’re advised to use the “hand-eye” technique.
For example, let’s say you take a standard dinner plate as a reference guide. You should fill up 1/3 of the plate with lean protein. The serving of protein should be roughly the size and thickness of your palm. Next, fill up the rest of the plate with fruits & veggies, making up the carbs portion. To cap it all off, top the whole plate off with some monosaturated fat either by sprinkling a handful of nuts or by drizzling olive oil over the veggies.
The monosaturated fat in the diet is important as the presence of good fats in the body discourages the storage of body fat. Other examples of monosaturated fats will be foods like avocado or guacamole.
Monosaturated fats help you feel fuller by controlling the rate at which carbs are absorbed into the bloodstream.
Slower carbs absorption means your insulin levels are lower and less fat is stored. In addition, if your body needs energy but can’t burn fat for energy because of high insulin levels, you’ll feel lethargic and tired and your metabolism slows down even further. You’ll then start to crave high carb snacks (like a chocolate bar) and the cycle will start all over again.
You’ll be encouraged to eat often, starting an hour upon waking and thereafter, in intervals throughout the day. You should be eating at least 5 times a day. If this is done properly, your insulin levels will also be more stable throughout the day and you should be feeling more full & satisfied.
And What Can I Eat?
Lots of fruits & veggies, moderate amounts of lean protein (think chicken & turkey) and small amounts of monosaturated fats (olive oil, nuts…etc). Eat the above in the recommended 40/30/30 portions.
Caffeine is to be avoided (as breakdown on caffeine can increase insulin levels) and you can drink a glass of wine a day.
It may be a little tough for vegetarians because animal protein is the preferred choice so vegetarians are encouraged to eat tofu & take protein powder to fortify their meals.
How About Exercise?
The Zone Diet encourages exercise and to burn the most fat, you’re supposed to eat a “Zone” snack 30 minutes before and after your workout.
Does this popular diet keep the weight off? Researchers at Tuft-New England Medical Center in Boston tried to find out. They put 160 overweight volunteers on one of the following four diets : Atkins, Dean Ornish, Weight Watchers & the Zone Diet. After a year, all participants lost an average of 5%, regardless of their diet plan.
However, Dr Sears, who conducted his own 6 week study of 91 overweight volunteers, found that women on his diet lost an average of 7 pounds of fat, dropping their body fat percentage from 29% to 26%. Men, on the other hand, lost an average of 3 pounds of fat, dropping from 20% body fat to 17% body fat.
It’s a good thing that on the Zone Diet, 30% of calories are coming from good monosaturated fats like olive oil, olives, nuts and Omega-3 fats found in fish oils. However, one concern is the 30% of protein for people with some form of kidney disease or with a family history of kidney disease.
This is because 30% of protein is slightly higher than the recommended average of 15-20% and excessive amounts of protein consumption may tax the kidneys further as they try to filter the breakdown of protein.
Generally, since there’re no long term studies done on the Zone Diet, there is no guarantee that this diet plan is 100% safe and healthy.
Lastly, it is useful to know that even though health professionals do agree that the Zone Diet is low enough in calories to promote weight loss, they feel that it may be a little too low to be maintained for the long term.
What’s The Cost Like?
The Zone Diet is a solid approach to weight loss. It’s not so much of a weight loss plan per se, but more of a lifestyle change and watching what you eat on a day to day basis.
The basic principles are good as it encourages lean protein and plenty of fruits & veggies while also stressing on the risks of taking in too much processed carbs.
However, since this is a lifestyle change and the eating plan is quite intense, you’ve to ask yourself if a lifetime of eating this way is realistic for you.
Weight loss will occur because you’re eating in less calories in general, but it is agreed by health professionals that it may a little too low to follow for the long term. Therefore, it is advised that after you’ve reached your target weight, you should take in a little more food to increase the number of calories that you’re eating.
The Zone Diet is arguably one of the more balanced and popular diet plans available today.