What do I think about the zone diet– a question that many of you ask.
What is the Zone diet?
First of all, let’s get clear what is the Zone, for those of you that aren’t familiar with this nutrition plan.
The Zone is a nutrition plan, created by Dr. Barry Sears. The goal of the diet is to sustain a hormonal balance in your body. According to him, everything comes up to sustaining the balance between insulin and glucagon. Insulin is the so called “storage” hormone, and glucagon is “the releasing” hormone. In Dr. Sears’ opinion, sustaining the balance between insulin and glucagon has a direct correlation with blood sugar levels, body fat levels and weight balance. By sustaining this hormonal balance, we could stay healthy and be in the Zone… or at least this is what Dr. Sears claims.
Being in the Zone, depend on what we eat. Dr. Sears makes the conclusion that this balance, could be achieved if the food we eat, corresponds to a proportion in the macronutrients as follows: 40% carbs; 30% proteins; 30% fats.
Dr. Sears has a formula, that helps you calculate the quantity of blocks, that you are supposed to eat. The calculation is made by using a coefficient for your present level of physical activity, as well as your present level of fitness- measured by your body fat percentage. This said in a simpler manner, means that the number of food blocks for the particular day is equal to 10% of your active weight (muscles and organs) measured in pounds. For example if you are 185 pounds and you have 10% body fat, then you should eat about 17 blocks a day.
The total amount of blocks- in this case 17, is being distributed in all your meals. The zone recommends between 5-6 meals a day.
Using our example, this would mean that the meals could be arranged like this:
1 meal: 4 blocks
2 meal: 4 blocks
3 meal : 2 blocks
4 meal: 4 blocks
5 meal: 3 blocks
What do these blocks mean?
Meals that consist of 1 block:
This means that you have to choose one block from every macronutrient. Every block corresponds to a particular amount of food- in grams or pieces.
Two blocks, would mean that you should choose a quantity that is equal to 2 times 1 block protein; 2 times 1 bloack fats; 2 times 1 block carbs.
Three blocks, would mean, that you will choose a quantity, that is equal to 3 times 1 block protein; 3 times 1 block fat; 3 times 1 block carbs.
How much of each macronutrient is in each block?
7 grams of protein = 1 block.
14 grams = 2 blocks.
21 grams = 3 blocks.
9 grams of carbs = 1 block.
18 grams = 2 blocks.
27 grams = 3 blocks.
1.5 grams of fat = 1 block.
3 grams = 2 blocks.
4.5 grams = 3 blocks.
Here you can see a table with food quantities and the corresponding blocks.
If a particular meal consists of 4 blocks, you should eat all blocks in one meal, i.e. you can’t leave a couple blocks of fat or carbs for a later meal. Actually you can do everything, but you are not supposed to do it if you follow the Zone and if your goal is to keep the macronutrient proportions.
The blocks are created with the mere goal to make your calculations easier, while they guarantee you that you will keep the balance between proteins, carbs and fats.
Examples in pictures.
This is enough as a basic information for the Zone. Now, we will get straight to my conclusions, based on my personal experience with the Zone.
What did I learn from my experience with the Zone diet?
About three-four years ago, when I just got interested in the science of nutrition, I read Barry Sears’ book and I decided to try the Zone. I sticked with it for about 5-6 months. I will save my long explanations and stories and I will try to list my conclusions below:
1.I don’t look on nutrition as something that helps you lose weight, but rather like something that helps you stay healthy. I.e. for me the main thing about a nutrition plan is to be healthy, so it could allow your body to “remember” how to function properly. Then, melting the unwanted fat is just a matter of time and consistency.
The Zone? The Zone by itself is not the optimal healthy diet, because it does not promote eating real food, but rather than that it promotes mostly a particular macronutrient proportion. A better option is a combination of the Zone with the Paleo diet, because it emphasizes not just on food quantity, but also food quality.
2.The Zone limits the amount of fats and if you stick to Paleo-Zone diet, and your carbs come mainly from vegetables, this is equal to a HUGE amount of veggies eaten in one meal. I do not consider such big volume of veggies as a necessity and as something good.
3.As I mentioned, the amount of fats in the diet are not enough and the modification used by most crossfitters- eating 2-3 times the prescribed fats, automatically changes the macronutrient proportion and the new scheme differs from the main idea of the Zone diet- 40c:30p:30f, and the new proportions are close to the nutrition plan, which I believe to be the healthiest- more fats, less carbs.
4. The Zone requires a pretty precise measuring, especially in the beginning, which contradicts with my philosophy about staying away from extremes and learning how to eat intuitively, instead of religiously following strict rules. Measuring your food, puts a lot of stress on the mind, which is a two-edge sward in our society and especially about women, who have constant problems with eating disorders and emotional eating. I’d say it is like the new flu.
5. The emphasize on eating lean meats! As I already mentioned, I think that eating fats, coming from red meat, eggs, coconut, avocado, butter are a must in a healthy nutrition plan. The focus on eating mainly lean meats, in combination with the limited amount of fats is far from optimal.
Personally, I felt kind of hungry while on the Zone and I felt the lack of enough fats in my meals.
6.As I mentioned, from my present point of view, I completely deny the idea of following a strict scheme of eating and macronutrient proportions. The only thing that I emphasize on and the only thing I’d argue for is if the fats or the carbs should have dominance in your nutrition, but I’d still stay away from pointing out particular numbers, just references. Besides that, by following the philosophy about eating real, healthy food, the main carb sources- grains- will be out of your diet and you will mainly eat eggs, meat, fish, butter, coconut, avocado and this will give you enough fats.
7.Dr. Sears emphasizes on the theory about the hormonal balance between insulin and glucagon.
Actually, the proportion between insulin and glucagon is being best adapted to the increase release of fatty acids from fat tissue- and this is achieved way below 40% carbs.
From everything I’ve read and learned about low- carbs diets ( true low-carb diets, because there is a really mistaken notion about which diets are low-carb and which are not- read more HERE), the threshold below which the decrease of carbs in the diet, stimulates the increase in the fat burning process is below 25% of all calories for the day.
The enzymatic and hormonal changes, which accompany the use of fats for fuel, are being activated below this threshold. High amounts of carbs, induce hormones and enzymes, which lead to carb-to fat conversion and the subsequent storage of this newly produced fat.
8.As a result from macronutrient concentration- proteins, fats and carbs, in the recommended proportion, the total calorie intake is really low. Thus, the Zone turns out to be a low-calorie diet, which does not provide your body with enough energy. This is one of the reasons for the “positive results”, when you first start the diet.
In the short term, every diet works because of a couple reasons:
1.Each diet, which limits the total calorie intake, will initially lead to weight loss. This is just one of the laws of thermodynamics, and you can’t run away from it. In the long term, when your body goes through a chronic deficit of energy and building blocks, that “feed” its functions, this type of diets, turn against the one following them and cause a cascade of uncontrollable actions and negative consequences for your body.
After all, remember that in the long term, no act of strong will, could go against your biological drive, i.e. sooner or later, your body will want back, what you are not giving it and then your will won’t be able to save you.
2.If until this moment, you ate everything that is in sight and you go on a diet, you will temporary have great results, not because the diet is magical, but because until now you’ve treated your health and your body poorly, and even minimal positive changes, will lead to positive results.
At the end, every diet either focuses on decreasing calories or increasing the quality of food, or both. Besides that it always causes a certain level of consciousness about what you eat and how much you move, which is the main reason behind the initial positive results.
3.The zone is a scheme of a nutrition plan, and as you know I do not like living life according to rules. I am a fan of adapting your life to your present state and abilities, with the mere goal to take the most out of the moment and enjoy what you have. By following a particular scheme, every inability to do everything as prescribed, leads to disappointment, dissatisfaction and it takes you into the enchanted circle, where you become a slave of food and the negative emotions that follow.
4.Measuring your food is a sure way to program yourself for an eating disorder. I think that every single problem of our society, comes from the fact that we’ve distant ourselves from our nature and what is natural for our body and its existence.
Our own body has an inborn intelligence, which goes beyond the capacity of a scale and a chart. What we should do is just allow our own body and our own instincts to guide us.
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