The Zone Diet: It Works For Me
The Zone Diet was developed by physician Barry Sears. It’s one of many popular plans for losing weight and eating healthy. There are no forbidden foods. Does the Zone Diet work? It does for me.
Introduction To The Zone
I’ve never been fat, but I used to binge on Cheetos. I couldn’t get enough. The more I ate, the more I wanted. They tasted good going down, but I felt yucky afterward. I also snacked on candy and cookies during the day. I’d get a blast of energy and then a crash, so I’d eat more. Something was wrong, but what?
Enter the Zone Diet when a friend suggested a dark chocolate Zone Perfect nutrition bar in lieu of a candy bar. It was tastier than candy and I felt good after eating it. Eating chocolate and feeling good was unusual, so I read one of Dr. Sears’ books.
I tried a few meals “in the Zone,” liked how I felt, and followed the plan. These days I rarely eat Cheetos, love whole grains, and no longer like candy bars. I feel good after eating, have lots of energy, and there’s no hunger between meals. I eat whatever I want and I never gain weight.
What Can I Eat In The Zone?
Anything! The Zone Diet is simple. Every meal or snack should have roughly equal servings of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. The official Zone Diet ratio is 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 30% fat at every meal or snack. Grains should only be 25% of total carbohydrates, the rest from fruits and veggies. If the protein is high-fat, it also counts as a fat serving.
Gear all your meals and snacks to the basic formula. Eat a serving/ounce of cheese, add 1-3 pretzels and an orange. The cheese gives you protein and fat, the pretzels and orange are your carbs. Never eat a single component by itself. That’s it!
The Zone In Practice
A morning bagel with cream cheese violates the Zone. It contains no protein and is roughly 50% grain carbohydrate and 50% fat. A Zone Diet version would be a half-bagel with hummus (which contains olive oil for fat) and an apple.
If you must have an entire bagel with cream cheese, go ahead, but add a serving of sausage or egg and some fruit. That means more calories, but according to The Zone, insulin levels are balanced, so the calories won’t cause weight gain.
The basic plan of three meals per day and two snacks can be modified. I’ve found I can eat one large meal and it lasts 24 hours. You can also eat six small meals. Eat whatever you llike, as long as it conforms to the carbohydrate/protein/fat ratio.
For weight loss, reduce calories and pay attention to your meal components. For weight maintenance, just honor the plan. The healthier your choices, the faster you’ll loose the 8-10 pounds per month. Exercise is optional.
Complex carbohydrates are healthier than simple carbs, whole grains are better than refined grains, low-fat protein is preferable to high-fat protein, and any fat is better than trans fat.
Calories are adjusted by increasing or reducing all meal components. When you increase or decrease one, increase or decrease everything else. Many people use their daily protein requirement as a base, matching carbohydrate and fat servings to protein.
Theory Behind The Zone
According to Dr. Sears, meals determine our insulin levels. Insulin levels determine how we feel and how much we weigh. The Zone Diet was designed to take us to our optimal weight and keep us there for as long as we honor the plan.
The USDA Food Pyramid says the bulk of our diet should be grains. Dr. Sears believes that’s responsible for the obesity epidemic in the U.S. He says, “the best way to fatten cattle is to raise their insulin levels by feeding them excessive amounts of low-fat grain.” However, increased insulin levels throw the hormonal system completely out of whack.
Zone meals take insulin levels to a “safe zone,” an optimal level. If insulin levels are too high we feel buzzed and then crash. If insulin levels are too low, we feel sluggish and unable to focus. The Zone Diet is based on a pyramid where fruits and veggies are at the bottom, protein comes next, then fats. At the very top are grains like bread, pasta, rice, and cereal.
Dr. Sears says eating fat does not make us fat. Whereas the USDA pyramid places fats on top, Dr. Sears believes fats are essential at every meal. Studies show that fat-deprived rats die quickly. Fat “slows down the entry rate of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, thereby decreasing the production of insulin.”
Excess insulin causes weight gain, not fat. With moderate amounts of fat at every meal, carbohydrates are metabolized gradually and used for energy instead of being stored as fat. Insulin production is reduced, so we don’t gain weight.
The Zone Diet holds that when we’re overweight, the energy we require is stored in our fat cells and must be released. When insulin levels are “in the zone,” stored energy is burned as fuel and we lose weight. The obesity epidemic is not caused by eating fat. Fat consumption in the U.S. has decreased by 14% in the last fifteen years. In fact, increased carbohydrate consumption in the U.S. has increased insulin levels and weight gain.
Will the Zone Diet work for you? Try one of the nutrition bars or a few Zone-balanced meals on an empty stomach and see how you feel. If you feel satisfied and focused after eating, you’ll probably like this plan.