Developed by biochemist Dr. Barry Sears, The Zone Diet's aim is to allow you to shed extra pounds, improve mental and physical health, and decrease inflammation. In his book, The Zone: A Revolutionary Life Plan to Put Your Body in Total Balance for Permanent Weight Loss," Dr. Sears claims that the dieting zone is the "state in which your body and mind work together at their ultimate best." (1)
The diet works by helping you balance the fat, protein, and carbs you eat every day. However, there is some debate among experts as to whether or not it really works. So, let's get into the breakdown of the requirements and learn what is The Zone Diet.
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The Zone Diet Overview
Dr. Sears came up with the idea for this diet after realizing he may be biologically at risk for heart attacks. According to him, the reason that a person gains weight, gets sick, or ages quickly is because of diet-induced inflammation. According to researchers, inflammation can play a role in diseases and conditions such as:
The theory that some health experts believe is that our bodies are not made for large amounts of farmed products. So, harmful reactions happen when we eat premade and processed foods. If we get back to hunter-gatherer type eating, we would mostly eat lean protein and natural carbs. (2)
The Zone Diet follows these four pillars:
When you balance these aspects long-term, you should reach a healthier mind and body.
What Does it Mean to Be "In The Zone?"
"The Zone" is an optimized state where your hormones can control inflammation. There are three blood values that you can test to see if you are in The Zone:
Glycated Hemoglobin (HbA1C)
HbA1C is your average blood sugar levels over a three-month period. The lower the number, the lower the amount of sugar. High levels of this marker are linked to risk for diabetes.
The Zone Diet guidelines suggest a level under 5 percent. To test this value, you'll have to go to a doctor or healthcare professional.
This ratio refers to your body's level of omega-6 fats versus omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fat is anti-inflammatory, so The Zone Diet recommendation is to stay between 1.5 and three. Low values mean that you have more omega-3 in your blood.
Studies link higher levels of AA/EPA to chronic diseases, obesity, and depression. (3) The Zone Diet website has some at-home kits available for purchase so you can test your levels.
This is another ratio that you need a medical provider to examine. It is the measurement of triglycerides ("bad fats") compared to your blood's good cholesterol (HDL). The Zone Diet recommends a level of one or lower.
If you have a high TG/HDL ratio, you may find you are at a greater risk for heart disease. (3)
How to Follow Zone Dieting
The rules of The Zone Diet include eating 40% carbs, 30% fat, and 30% protein for every meal and snack. The suggested guidelines for this diet are:
It is important to note that this diet is not a temporary change. You are meant to make a complete lifestyle change, so you must find methods for your meals that work for you. The two ways to follow The Zone Diet include the food block method and the hand-eye method.
When you're just starting out, you may want to use this approach as a way to balance your plate. You use your hands and eyes to get the appropriate meal proportions. For instance:
Your fingers also help you remember the rules of fives: eat five times a day and at least every five hours. This is a flexible option that allows you to follow your diet in any setting.
Food Block Approach
With this approach to the program, you can calculate the exact amount of grams you need for your food groups. You then separate them into food blocks (or Zone blocks). Your waist and hip measurements, height, and weight determine your diet Zone blocks.
The Zone Diet website has a body fat calculator to find your exact numbers. Each one contains a carb, fat, and protein. The carb block contains nine grams, the fat block is 1.5 grams, and the protein block is seven grams. On average, a woman eats 11 zone blocks daily between meal and snack time.
The Zone Diet recommendation is that you consume polyphenol supplements and omega-3 supplements. Omega-3s decrease your LDL cholesterol, hopefully reducing your chance of chronic disease. Polyphenols have properties of antioxidants, but the scientific evidence is mixed.
Sample Meal Plan for Men and Women
You may be wondering by now how you would realistically follow The Zone Diet. The Zone Diet relies on a healthy amount of protein, low fat, and good carbs such as fruits and non-starchy vegetables. One of your days could include the following foods:
You would tailor the portions of your food choices based on your body weight. Most of your carbs come from low sugar fruits and a variety of veggies. You can eat some grains, but not too many.
Before you eat, you should assess your hunger level and mental clarity. If your mind is clear and you are not hungry, you are possibly in "The Zone."
You can do The Zone Diet as a vegetarian or by including only lean meat such as poultry. Either way, every meal and snack must contain some protein. Lastly, you want to balance fat, carbohydrate, and protein intake. You can consume the following foods and more:
Depending on your activity level, you should consume 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day.
Critics of The Zone Diet do not support the claims of the diet's health benefits from Dr. Barry Sears. Overall, there is not a lot of evidence to support that the ratio of the diet is actually ideal. For example, the results of a study of athletes in 2002 showed that people following the diets would lose weight but were also losing endurance. (4)
Additionally, the effect on blood sugar and cholesterol levels is not supported by research. If you're interested in a weight loss program that meets your fitness needs, the advice of some experts is to to the Mediterranean diet or DASH diet instead.
The Zone Diet's flexibility is one of the perks. Unlike other weight-loss diets, you don't have to feel trapped by restrictions and recommendations. On this diet, you control your calorie intake and stop weight gain.
Some people with diabetes use the diet to manage insulin levels and increase fat loss. Others may want to reach their peak performance and decrease their risk for certain health conditions.
Although the food restrictions are not strict, you want to avoid starches like pasta, rice, bread, baked goods, candy, and sugary drinks like soda and fruit juices. Water should be your main source of hydration, so minimize coffee and tea.
Other unfavorable food items include corn, raisins, bananas, egg yolks, mangoes, bagels, cake, and cookies. The point is to get your macronutrients and avoid lots of sugars.
Final Thoughts - Following the Zone Diet
Overall, anyone can follow The Zone Diet, including vegetarians. It puts an emphasis on getting a certain percentage of nutrients and minerals to improve your metabolism.
Some concerns about The Zone Diet include the validity of the information and the difficulty of access. There are a lot of things you may have to purchase or go through in order to get the most out of the treatment. However, there are many online resources that diet followers can use for recipes, tracking progress, and finding options.
Regardless, it is important to follow the medical advice of a dietitian before making a lifestyle change.
Sears, B. (1995). The zone. New York: HarperCollins.
Cordain, L., Eaton, S. B., Miller, J. B., Mann, N., & Hill, K. (2002). The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 56(1), S42-S52.
Giannini, C., Santoro, N., Caprio, S., Kim, G., Lartaud, D., Shaw, M., ... & Weiss, R. (2011). The triglyceride-to-HDL cholesterol ratio: association with insulin resistance in obese youths of different ethnic backgrounds. Diabetes care, 34(8), 1869-1874.