Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
7 Aug

What’s Wrong With The Zone Diet?

twilight zoneDear Mark,

I just watched your video about the 2 minute salad; simple, fast, and no measuring. I agree with the primal way of eating and I’m torn between the freelance style of PB and structure of The Zone. What is your opinion of The Zone?

First, let me thank Rob for his question. I’ve had a lot of conversations about The Zone and other heavily publicized diet plans. It’s fair, I think, to look at the good and the bad of the diet. Unless you’re talking about the grapefruit diet or similarly comical fad, diets generally have to have at least some positive point(s) to gain a decent following, as The Zone has. Nonetheless, what can initially look like a rational foundation begins to show cracks when you look at how the philosophy actually plays out.

The Zone’s Positives?

It suggests vegetables and fruit as the primary sources of carbohydrates and fiber. It suggests more protein than most popular diets. It appreciates the value of omega-3s. And finally, it pays homage to the diet-hormone connection (although I take issue with how the theory gets applied in the actual diet prescription).

The Zone, I’ll say, isn’t by far the worst diet out there. It gets a few key things right or somewhat close. That said, however, I think there’s big room for improvement.

Since you asked, here are my “beefs” with The Zone.

The “Moderate” Hobby Horse

In Dr. Sears’ words, “Any diet that uses the word high or low to describe it is hormonally unsustainable. The only diet that can maintain hormonal balance for a lifetime must use the word moderate to describe it.” Just from a rhetorical standpoint, this statement gets under my skin. O.K. – moderate according to what culture, what historical (or pre-historical) age? Based on his theory, we’re genetically designed for a 40-30-30 plan kind of “moderation”.

The Fear of Fat

What’s with the dinky serving of almonds or avocado in each meal? Yes, monosaturated fats are great. So, why the miniscule serving? And then there’s the commandment about only the leanest meats. Sure, I get the fat-toxin connection, and it’s why I tend to often (but not always) choose relatively leaner meats, but this has nothing to do with The Zone recommendation. Dr. Sears, pardon my saying, just seems like another fat-o-phobe. But, with the higher carb allotment, I guess fat gets you into more trouble. (What about that little bit of biochemistry? Didn’t see that mentioned. Hmmm.)

Too High in Carbs

I already said that I applauded the focus on veggies and the secondary role of fruits. It’s true that The Zone downplays the role of grains, and I like that as well. (Little surprise, yes.) But here we find ourselves back in the land of unfounded, forced “moderation.” Sure, Dr. Sears talks insulin regulation, but the rubber doesn’t exactly meet the road in The Zone diet. For an eating plan to truly facilitate hormonal balance, you have to put the brakes on the insulin response. This means low carb. But that’s a bad word in The Zone.

Hunger

Without the fat, most people are going to be hungry on this diet. I know I would be. I’m not one for diets. Hunger sets in (on a regular basis, no less), and too many well-meaning people are set up for failure. In contrast, the Primal Blueprint is a sustainable lifestyle that offers a model for eating that a person can realistically stick with over time.

Too Structured

Along with the hunger issue, imposing too much structure is too hard (or tedious) over time. I guess it might be easier if you took a Sharpie to all your dinner plates for the assigned pie graph. The plan even goes so far as to set out specific time intervals for eating. For example, eat within an hour after getting up. Eat dinner within 2 ½ hours of the prescribed afternoon snack. You should eat five times a day total. The more structure, the more confusion and temptation there is when a dieter gets off track. Again, I’m all about what’s sustainable. Experience has taught me that the fewer and more simple the guidelines, the better. Maybe that’s just me. On a true low-carb program, the more you learn to burn fat, the less hunger becomes an issue and the less often you need to eat in a structured fashion to sustain energy.

Protein Suggestions

While the 30% is more than most dietary organizations or popular diet plans recommend, the absolute hard and fast rule again doesn’t sit right. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to benefit from more than 30% protein intake. And, no, it won’t necessarily turn to fat – unless you drive it there with the higher carbs. Finally, Dr. Sears touts soy as one of the best sources, saying that using soy as a primary protein source could be the healthiest choice overall. Most of you know my take on soy, and I stand by my opinion. The research in that vein keeps coming. Too bad The Zone hasn’t caught up with the times on that one.

So, you’ve heard my take now. I’d love to hear your comments. Anyone here tried it before and want to offer up some personal anecdotes? Thanks for reading. As always, thanks for the great questions.

Further Reading:

The Definitive Guide to the Primal Eating Plan

Why the Atkins Diet Works

Processed Soy and Meat Alternatives

10 Outrageous Diet Scams

Primal Recipes

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Hi Mark,

    For me it is the “Too Structured” point which has the most resonance. The more rules there are to follow the more trapped a person feels and the less likely it is to be something they stick with. I have seen this happen time and again with people I know who have been attempting to follow one regime or another.

    The fact remains, as you and others have pointed out time and again, that we have evolved to eat in an unstructured way, therefore it makes sense fundamentally that our system should be optimised to deal with the unstructured receipt of nutrition.

    So the idea of structured eating, as well as making a programme difficult to stick to, feels fundamentally at odds with how we evolved to function.

    Methuselah
    Pay Now Live Later

    Methuselah wrote on August 7th, 2008
  2. I used to follow the BFFM (Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle) program for exercise and eating. The eating was very similar to The Zone as far as the Protein-Fat-Carb breakdown.

    At the time, the structure was what I needed; having to keep track of p-f-c ratios at every meal in a food log made me very aware of what I was putting in my mouth.

    But once I got a grasp on the content of various foods, keeping the log was counter-productive. Measuring everything out was a pain in the a$$, and it actually made me HUNGRIER by forcing me to think about food all the time in order to prepare it in the proper ratios.

    It’s so much easier to just glance at something and think “Oh, that’s not real food.” and pass it by than to try and analyze its nutritional info.

    dragonmamma wrote on August 7th, 2008
    • Without rules and structure, we’d be back in the Stone Age…lol Good for civilization. Good for diet. –So why after you got to know your foods and their measurements (doesn’t take all that long), did you keep doing it? Habit? Why didn’t you just get to know the structure and amounts and be done? Hence, eyeballing, and we’re back to the plate division (which works just fine). It hasn’t derailed me or made me hungrier or obsessed. I can’t follow a plan and glance at food and know whether it’s real or not? And then put it on my plate (eyeballing from past measurements) along with my other macros? Huh? I don’t get it.

      Rayca wrote on July 21st, 2014
  3. This actually got me thinking about something a little different. When I was in my teens and 20′s, I could eat practically what I wanted (within reason) and moderate my weight. I experienced low blood sugar problems (I guess reactive hypoglycemia) and had a few episodes of weight gain, but nothing I couldn’t reverse with a little (or a lot) of exercise. As I got older (even late 20′s) it became harder and harder. That’s when I found low-carb and finally, 15 years or so after starting my nutritional journey, Primal/EF/Paleo.

    A lot of the “experts” that tout eating plans are either 1) out of shape themselves or 2) young! Of COURSE the zone works for Mr. “I’m 25 and I workout 5 times a week and follow the Zone,” right? Now I know there are exceptions to the rule, but there aren’t too many truly fit and healthy (**this is key) indidviduals that are over, say, 35 or 40 using these plans.

    I guess generalizing is never a good thing. I’m sure there are anecdotes up the ying-yang of old guys using the Zone (look at Clarence Bass, for example, he pushes whole grains and apparently eats a lot of grains himself). Anyway, just something I wanted to throw out there.

    Alex wrote on August 7th, 2008
  4. I would agree that a lot of diets do set us up to fail. I think the sensation of feeling hungry will be their for a while depending on how much you are used to eating. But in a few weeks up to a month, the hunger will go away if you stick to the diet.

    Red Slipper Baby wrote on August 7th, 2008
  5. Mark

    You make good points about the Zone, but let me tell you my experience with it. I started the Zone about 2 years ago and have been over 90% strict with it since (although I have modified it some…more on that to come). It was a great starting place for my diet.

    I disagree with your statement “The more structure, the more confusion and temptation there is when a dieter gets off track”. I think that the more structure, the less room for error, the less you have to think about it, and the easier it is to follow without screwing up. Especially for people just getting started. I realize this is just a personality thing and everyone is different. But, for example (and this is totally unrelated), the military is very structured, but recruits learn and form routines quickly. Now, with your diet, you don’t have the “luxury” of having someone looking over your shoulder and yelling at you constantly for 6 weeks while you form your eating habits. But, in my experience, the less choices and more structure you give people, the less they screw up. But again, it depends on the personality type – I don’t think you can make a blanket statement that the structure makes it harder to follow. Some people need that.

    Now, about the carbs and fat. I see the Zone as a starting point for a healthy diet. The strict 40-30-30 will not be where everyone feels best. I eat a “Zone” diet, but I eat more along the lines of 19-24-57 (C-P-F). I have experimented over the years with subtracting carb blocks and adding fat blocks to get to where I feel best. I currently eat 16 “blocks”. However, I have subtracted 6 blocks of carbs and replaced them with fat (each carb “block” = 1.5 fat “blocks”, which make them equal in calories). I also eat double fat (I eat 4-5 times fat in the winter…for whatever reason, it’s easier for me to keep weight on in the summer). Most athletes on the Zone eat at least double fat. Although I have clients who are trying to lose weight who follow a strict single-fat Zone and they are not hungry because of the amount of veggies they eat – it’s a large quantity of food. So, for your not-enough-fat and too-many-carb arguments, I agree, if you follow the 40-30-30 split strictly. Although, for those looking to lose weight, this seems to work well (in my experience). For me, hunger is never an issue, and I do intermittent fasting regularly (which could suck if I ate 16 blocks of carbs, but I can get through a 20+ hour fast without even thinking about it).

    Lastly, the protein issue. I think the Zone does a decent job of prescribing protein requirements, as most people do not eat enough. I don’t think we can argue percentages because depending on carb and fat intake, the percentage doesn’t really mean anything. I mean, I “only” eat 24% protein, but I eat over 112 grams a day (of just animal protein, not including nuts, of which I eat a bunch). I look at that as minimum amount of protein I shoot for every day. If I get more, I realize this isn’t a bad thing. I also think people need something to shoot for. So, if you just say “eat all the meat you want” or something along those lines, they will…but it may not be enough. It’s like saying “do some push-ups”….someone will do 10 and stop. But if you say “do 20 push-ups”, they’ll do 20. If you give someone a measurable goal, they’re more likely to reach it.

    Ok, so this is turning into a novel, but to sum it up: I like the modified Zone diet I am on. The structure and measuring let’s me find exactly what works for me. I don’t have to guess. I know exactly what I need to eat each day to perform and feel my best. I don’t, however, think that anyone should view the Zone as the “be-all-end-all” of diets. You need to experiment and see what works best for you. After 2 years of trying new carb-protein-fat ratios, I think I’ve found the best thing for me. But, that could change in a few months.

    And, dude, sorry for the long comment. Jeez.

    Mary wrote on August 7th, 2008
  6. “The more structure, the more confusion and temptation there is when a dieter gets off track.”

    Nothing could be more true for the constant dieter. The points system, the miniscule calorie counting, and the “just eat a bunch of this one food” diets are doomed in the long run simply because they suck the joy out of eating. Has anyone met a person who has stuck with SlimFast, the cabbage diet, or any other “get thin now!” plan for 20 years?

    That’s the great thing about Mark’s Primal “diet.” It’s more about gaining a sense of healthy vs. non-healthy foods and dietary habits, leaving the dieter with much more room for creativity in meals. For instance, Mark’s sensible vices suggest ways to get positive health benefits when straying into sugartown. Mark embraces dark chocolate while typical structured diets simply give it a high point value that fuels guilt.

    Jarod wrote on August 7th, 2008
  7. Mary,

    You bring up a good point that structure can eliminate confusion, but it also limits variety. The structure works for the type of people who become comfortable in a fixed routine: same meal every work day, one of three different dinners every evening. You could argue that almost any diet works if you adhere to it.

    The reason most fad diets fail isn’t because they aren’t healthy, it is because people simply get sick of the routine, or because the restrictions the diet creates leave the dieter in a constant state of hunger or a lack of energy.

    Admittedly though, as far as structured routines go, the Zone certainly beats out many of its peers.

    Jarod wrote on August 7th, 2008
  8. What a coincidence! I just finished reading a post by Rob Wolf, a Zone proponent, where he states that depending on circumstances, there may be too many carbs.

    http://robbwolf.com/?p=110

    DaveC wrote on August 7th, 2008
  9. Mark, what do you think Loren Cordain’s book called Paleo Diet? He also suggest to eat lean meats and to be moderate at saturated fat. He thinks hunter-gatherers ate about the exact amount of saturated fat like the dietetion’s advice.

    Les wrote on August 7th, 2008
  10. The zone is a great place to start to understand “how” we eat: portions, timing, macronutrient ratios. Other than “three square meals a day” and “be sure to eat breakfast” what cultural cues do we have? Certainly the zone is not optimized for everyone, but think of Sears’ “moderate” approach as a good “average” diet — once you’ve mastered its basics, you’re free to optimize it to meet your specific needs.

    Paleo/PB is awesome for learning “what” to eat. More fats, real food, etc. Using the Zone structure, I worked on increasing the quality of my foods, slowly upped the fat, cut out grains as my carb source, experimented with dairy (kefir good, plain milk bad), etc.

    We’ve evolved to eat in an unstructured way, but we’re now living in a world that gives our unstructured body far too many counter-intuitive signals. For me, at least, it’s nice to have disciplined rationales for both how and what I eat.

    Josh wrote on August 7th, 2008
  11. Josh – I completely agree. I have merged Paleo with Zone and incorporate much of what I learn on Mark’s site as well.

    Jarod – I partially agree. You can still have plenty of variety on the Zone. Heck, technically you can eat anything you want, as long as you keep your portions under control. I’ve never found much joy in eating; it’s just another thing I do every day. So I could care less than I eat more salmon and broccoli in one week than most people eat in their lifetime. But, understandably, most people have a larger emotional connection with food than I do and may need more freedom with how they eat.

    For those who don’t adhere to any set amount of foods they eat every day (just eat PB or Paleo), how do you know you’re eating enough? (this isn’t an challenge, I’m really curious). With the Zone I know how much I need to eat to stay the same weight. I would be worried that if I didn’t keep track of how much I ate, I wouldn’t eat enough. I find that if I try to eyeball everything for a week (like if I’m on vacation or something) and don’t keep track of it, I almost always lose weight.

    Mary wrote on August 7th, 2008
  12. Les, Cordain has some good ideas (obviously), but I disagree on the sat fat restriction. If you eat low carb and clean fats/proteins, there’s little reason to eschew saturated fats. And there’s no evidence that sat fats lead to heart disease. I think he’s just trying to appeal to all.

    Mary, if you start eating PB all the time, you get to a point where your hunger is the guide. I, and many people I work with, certainly don’t feel the need to measure, weigh or eyeball anything anymore. You eat too much at one meal, you naturally eat less at the next. You fast a while, you make up for it – or not – when you decide to eat again. It’s the randomness that makes it work in some regards. But you have to have the confidence that you are not kowtowing to prior habits or phantom hungers. It takes a little while, but when you dial it in, it’s a real feeling of security to say: I could eat a lot or I could eat nothing. Doesn’t really matter in the overall scheme as long as I control insulin. The one caveat is that if you have a lot of fat to lose first, you would probably be well advised to monitor food intake for a while to be sure you are getting enough macronutrients to sustain health and energy, but noy so many (for now) that you burn dietary fats when you could be burning more stored fat. As you reach your goals, it matters less (see my posts on the context of calories).

    Mark Sisson wrote on August 7th, 2008
  13. I have in the past been a big pusher of the zone, but I found myself really obsessed with eating due to the math involved in eating anything.

    I had a thought this balance thing though. Barry Sears calls certain hormones “good” and others “bad”, and I know he is just using those words so his book is easier to read. But I can’t help but notice that our bodies can and do survive in imbalanced hormonal states, and that it seems reasonable that we evolved to frequently handle wild shifts in food sources from season to season, from one foraging area to another, etc.

    What if constant balance isn’t actually the best way to be healthy? But rather a rhythm which mimics, or follows the wide variations in food choices most of our ancestors would have regularly dealt with as omnivore hunter-gatherers.

    Am I making sense?

    Jeff Chalfant wrote on December 1st, 2008
  14. Structure is a matter of personality. Some folks do well with structure. Others abhor it. I personally can do without structure when it comes to eating (at work I’m different). I just eat lots of protein, fat and veggies with a good mix of fruit thrown in, and I’m good. Glucose Tolerance test went from 198 to 100, BP down 25 points…I don’t measure or worry about it If getting too much of a % of a certain item. That would drive me nuts and make me hate my me eating style. In my mind, when I have to start measuring, it becomes a “diet” and not “just a way of eating” that becomes permanent.

    Dave, RN wrote on December 10th, 2008
  15. I actually began my journey down the path to good health with the zone. The diet allowed me to master the basics as far as what was good to eat and what was bad (all the tasty stuff). I just dove right in. Then I started reading, beginning with “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taub. This is when I switched from the Zone to a Paleo Atkin’s diet. BAM! 20 lbs in 2 months, decreased B/P, increased strength and endurance, etc… The Zone is an okay maintenance diet and actually closely resembles the 4th stage of Atkins. It’s not much good as a weight loss diet though without intense exercise, and therefore can be seen as a little high on the carb scale. I don’t think our Paleo ancestors were much for eating their body weight in veggies every meal though and therefor neither are we. So, the Zone is a good first step which allows us to better understand the diet’s role in good health, but is not the optimal diet to that end. That’s all I have to say about that.

    Harry wrote on May 8th, 2009
  16. When I found the Zone diet in 1996 it was the most amazing diet I ever did. The portion control and balance worked really well for me. It was great to at last find a programme that got rid of PMS, low evergy levels, and excess body fat.
    Over the years I have followed it guesswork – without stressing over it. It was great to be able to eat anything and know if I kept to the portion and balance I wouldn’t put weight back on.
    However I suffer auto immune joint inflammation and my PMS would come and go. It wasn’t until I read The paleo diet (as a result of starting crossfit) and trying out a no grain and legume diet, and getting all my carbs from fruit and veggies that I finally found the key to my joint pain and PMS. It was cutting out the grains (even the small amount I was eating) that was the answer. (Loren Cordain has done a useful paper on the relationship of grains legumes and nightshades and auto immune disease)
    I still do the zone ratio although it is a range and each person finds their own sweet point. Mine is 30% protein 30% carbs and 40% fat roughly. I need the portion control, I easily put on weight eating pure paleo and eating too much. I’m not hungry though, for me it’s a meal structure that works and keeps me on track. Now its very automatic, so no weighing or measuring required.
    So for me the paleo / zone balance and portion control is key to health.
    Personally I don’t like or feel good if I eat a lot of saturated fat, or too much fat. I stick to a smaller amount of nuts and oil, although not as rigid at the small zone amounts.

    Julianne wrote on August 19th, 2009
  17. I did The Zone a couple of years ago, and it “worked” in that I lost weight. What did not work was that I was starving the whole time, and all the math drove me crazy!

    One thing I was confused about, Mark, was you saying that The Zone is higher protein than most diets. It may be a higher percentage of total calories, but since it is so low calorie to begin with, the actual grams that you get of protein are still very low.

    I am short, and The Zone tells me that I can only have around 60 grams of protein per day for the 800 calories they want me to eat for the rest of my life.

    For me, it was very low protein, very low fat, AND very low carb – all three!

    I’ll take high fat, moderate protein and low carbs any day!

    RSL wrote on May 23rd, 2010
  18. I followed the Zone diet while I was pregnant with my younger daughter (She was born July 1999) in an attempt to maintain my weight and not gain anymore because I was already severely over weight and thought it might help me get it off after she was born if I didn’t gain while pregnant. I also followed it the entire 18 months that she was nursing (she weaned herself at that time.) I did gain weight while I was pregnant, 70 lbs, and I continued to gain after I had her even while breastfeeding. When I reached 300 lbs I knew I was in trouble and I stopped following the zone. I felt like somehow I had failed because when you’re a busy mom of 4 and pregnant with number 5, confined to minimal movement due to your joints being so loose from pregnancy hormone that the wrong step could cause your entire leg to just fall out of place and not be able to move anyway, well, it just wasn’t easy to fit all the eating in that he required. It was also difficult to consume the amounts that he prescribed for someone of my size and being pregnant. I followed it as closely as I could for over two years and not only didn’t see the success he practically guaranteed, but I felt worse then before I started because I had gained even more weight and was ashamed to leave the house. This drove me into a depression and unfortunately I eat for comfort. I just stopped caring and literally began eating myself to death. This was the third diet I had tried that had failed and I always put it back on my inability to follow it correctly, not that the diet itself was flawed, but that I was. I was diagnosed with PCOS just because I became pregnant with my daughter, I chalk it all up to the one depo shot my doctor talked me into getting after my forth baby was born. You’ve heard of women that have to try and get pregnant, I had to try not to and it didn’t ever work. I had never had a weight problem until after I got that shot. Within 3 months I had gone from 190 lbs (6 weeks postpartum) to 240. I started looking around at diets and exercise plans to lose. I bought things through mail order and I got suckered into a few of those late night infomercial products too. I had my doctor start running all kinds of tests to find out why I had gained so much weight so quickly when I’d never had a weight problem before. My thyroid was checked, a full blood bio was done and she found my HDL was at 29. She informed me the lowest she’d ever seen it was 27 and that was in someone 30 years older then I was at the time (29) and just recovering from a heart attack. I was already concerned about my health and developing diabetes, now I had the worry of developing heart disease also. I looked for anything and everything that would help but that I would also be able to maintain. My doctor said two things could raise it, drink a glass of red wine each day or walk each day for at least 30 minutes very briskly. I couldn’t do the walking, my back injuries cause my a lot of pain (still do but I have to walk so I just grin and bare it while I am because I have to get to work and I don’t have a car.)Besides, walking just for the sake of walking turns it into a chore. I couldn’t do the wine thing for religious reasons so I started looking for other alternatives. All my searching finally led me to the zone and I literally thought I had found the one and only answer I would ever need. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as he said. There were times I forced myself to eat simply because it was time even though I didn’t feel hungry and Guess what? I gained even more weight and steadily gained all while I was pregnant and after until I reached that 300 mark. That was my give up point. My marriage was also failing at the same time so I was a complete mess of a human being and I didn’t know what to do. Well, When my marriage finally did end, I lost the weight and dropped from a size 28 to a size 12 in about 16 months. I don’t know how I did it but I assume a lot of it was anxiety and depression and just the fact that I no longer was eating. Once my emotional state became stable again and I had food sources readily available, the weight slowly crept back up. This time it only got to 220 and size 22 before I started to lose again, basically I again stopped eating. I got down to about 210 and was a size 18 and got pregnant again (not on purpose, my doctor had told me I couldn’t anymore because of having PCOS.) I guess I’m just a weight gainer when I’m pregnant because I gained 70 lbs again. I had gestational diabetes during this final pregnancy (yes, made sure this time, pregnancy is too dangerous for me now and I think 6 kids is enough). I was able to drop the weight after my son was born and continued to drop after that and got back down to a size 14 and 185 lbs. Over the past two years it’s slowly began to creep back up. Possibly has to do with getting raises at work so we are able to have food on a more consistent basis then when my son was first born (when I was unemployed) and it could also have to do with the fact of stress from working a job I don’t like which has no future for me and raising an autistic child and that I still eat when I get depressed or stressed and it’s usually not celery I’m reaching for during those times. I found this site and the Primal Blueprint after watching “Sugar: The Bitter Truth and started researching paleolithic diet (he says in the video that this diet will cure diabetes) and was ready to go from day one. I still have fat hang ups I think, but giving up grains wasn’t really that difficult for me (cookies might be another story but I usually only craved them during a certain time of the month). I’ve been primal for just over 2 weeks and so far have no regrets. I don’t know if I’ve lost any weight, but I assume it’s still too early to tell. Anyway, that’s my story on The Zone. Never tried Atkins, I have a problem with diets that come with a mortality rate.

    Venna wrote on June 20th, 2010
    • Atkins does not come with a mortality rate. That’s a ridiculous statement.

      RSL wrote on June 21st, 2010
  19. Hey,
    I’ve just been reading the zone diet and finally worked out how many blocks etc….. seems pretty complicated.

    I’ve also bought the Primal blueprint 30 day pack which I’m halfway through as well!

    A lot of people are saying they use a zoned paleo approach to eating with added good fats (which to be honest actually sounds like a zoned primal diet).

    Whats your spin on the arachidonic acid in foods? particularly in eggs?

    T

    Tom Hartin wrote on September 17th, 2010
  20. I think you misunderstand a lot of the theory behind the zone.

    The 30:30:40 ratio is only for weight loss. Dr. Sears explicitly states that you need to add sufficient unsaturated fats back into the diet once you have reached your ideal weight. This should significantly increase the fat blocks as was mentioned by a previous comment.

    Also, the amount of protein is based on lean body mass and the basic recommendation is for sedentary individuals. Eating more protein, based on your activity level, is explicitly discussed and recommended.

    Josh wrote on October 25th, 2010
  21. hey whats uop
    ]

    jordan wrote on February 17th, 2011
  22. But what if you are just entering the diet world and don’t know what to do or if its bad for you. say you started the zone diet and you started seeing improvements bet you don’t think about what is wrong with the diet and something happens and all you want to do is eat all the time because you starved your body for so long its afraid it will happen agen. how do you fix this problem?

    Madison Fox wrote on November 1st, 2011
  23. IM SEXY AND I KNOW IT !!!

    laylay wrote on November 1st, 2011
  24. I know I’m late to the party but I wanted to add my experiences with the Zone in case anyone still reading this article could find them helpful.

    I started paleo before Zone and adopted Zone based on the suggestion of CrossFit trainers/doctrine – I put myself on 12 blocks (the “small female” prescription, I’m 5’4″ & 120, 6 meals of 2 blocks each) and 2x fat (I wasn’t really looking to lose weight and needed the extra for CrossFit workouts). I stuck with it for 2 weeks, 100% measuring and weighing every food item and no cheat meals, then began mostly estimating the portion sizes except for a few foods that I still measured. I followed the diet for about 2 months at first, then for another month about a half a year later. I found myself getting VERY lean and also experiencing a little tiredness and a drop in strength. If I didn’t get at least 9 hours of sleep at night I would be irreparably tired during the day. Overall, I enjoyed the visible effects of the diet (leanness) but couldn’t tolerate the tiredness or stagnation in strength. Also, I ate way more deli turkey in 2 oz portions than anyone should ever eat haha.

    In hindsight, I had a friend tell me that perhaps I wasn’t eating enough blocks for my energy level (my total calories were around 1200 at the highest, with protein definitely low when compared to what Mark generally recommends now (~1g protein per pound for strength gain), like the commenter above mentioned.

    Anyways, I didn’t have a bad experience with the diet and definitely recommend trying it out – I know some people who feel and perform their absolute best on it.

    Hope that helps someone!

    Alicia wrote on January 13th, 2012
  25. The Zone has been great for me, pretty easy to do, good results without hunger. Works even if you just follow it 85-90% of the time. I agree with you on the soy though, I have never wanted to use soy like he does in his products (bars, etc.) since I’m a medical professional and knew about the hormonal effects of soy and some of the (back then) emerging research.As far as “all the math ” most people eat similar meals over and over in a month, so once you have “zoned” a recipe/meal idea , you just make it that way again, you don’t have to keep recalculating most things.

    Jen wrote on June 30th, 2012
  26. Hi, i think that i noticed you visited my blog thus i came to return the favor?.I am trying to in finding issues to improve my web site!I guess its adequate to use some of your ideas!!

    weight loss knockout wrote on January 3rd, 2013
  27. Been on the Zone for 10+ years and blood tests don’t lie. In the optimal range for most.

    Your beefs with the zone diet are minor and easily explained.

    It is not a high carb diet. It is a carb adequate diet. When you have low glycemic load carbs you can eat more.

    It is not a low fat diet. 30% is not low it just looks like it because of the density of fat. Dr Sears says it is important to keep the protein to carb ratio intact and if you need extra calories to put in more fat. I, like you, eat more fat than recommended.

    tim wrote on February 25th, 2013
  28. The zone can be done in a lot of ways.

    For a basic sedentary person: 3 meals (3 blocks) and 2 snacks (1 block)

    For an active person: 3 meals (4 blocks and 2 snacks (1 block)

    For a very active person: 3 meals (5 blocks and 2 snacks (1 block)

    For full time athletes: 3 meals (4 blocks each) and 2 snacks (2 blocks). To top up extra calories eat extra mono-unsaturated fats (nuts, avocado, etc).

    It is trivial to get the portions correct or close enough. Your protein is the size of the palm of your hand, fill the rest of the plate with green leafy stuff and a tablespoon of olive oil dressing on top.

    Tim wrote on February 25th, 2013
  29. I have been following the Zone for 3 weeks, and while I am “late to the party” I am sure others, like me, will find this article interesting.

    First, to comment on your article:

    The “Moderate” Hobby Horse – I agree, Sears’s moderation mumbo-jumbo didn’t settle well with me either, for similar reasons to yours: moderate based on what? His reasoning is soft here.

    The Fear of Fat – I find myself eating more fat on Zone that previously on the SAD. (Probably no surprise.) As others have noted, it is encouraged to increase fat intake when body weight/composition is where desired. I’ve heard of some athletes eating 5-6x base levels which is definitely not low fat.
    Sears also recommends a daily dose of Omega-3 fish oil, not counting this toward dietary intake.

    Too High in Carbs – Sears recommends mostly vegetables, and fruit secondary. Grains are also de- emphasized and many “Zoners” eliminate them easily (as I have been). This seems in line with paleo.

    Hunger – this point is (respectfully) probably my biggest disagreement with your article. I personally find 40-30-30 satisfying from a hunger standpoint. Volumetrically I do tend to miss the feeling of fullness, but that is my own doing for choosing the foods I do. Hunger-wise, however, this is a satisfying ratio. I do understand that everyone is different, and what works for one person, another’s body may not feel likewise.

    Structure – As previous commenter s have noted, I find structure helpful. (Since weight loss happens first between your ears I am sure everyone’s different on this point.) Sears leaves an easy peace: even if you “fall out of the Zone” with one meal, you can pick up at the next meal/snack and get back into it. This is refreshing from the typical all-or-nothing diet mantra that is out there, and the black/white framework that quickly runs me out of a plan when I inevitably fail. Also, increasing space between meals has been important for my learning what hunger really is. My afternoons have historically been filled with jumping from one snack to the other. While on the Zone the space between lunch and supper are far less focused on where the next snack is coming from.

    Protein Suggestions – I also found Sears’s recommendations for soy unsettling with the current research.

    To share my personal experience:
    I have been on the Zone for three weeks. While I have been learning more about paleo and would like to eventually try, my previous efforts at the switch from SAD to paleo have been short lived at best. Simply: I am too much of a carb addict and can’t make it through what is essentially the detox period. Historically have been anywhere from 50-80% carb, usually 60-70%.
    Knowing I find 40-30-30 satisfying, and seeing it as a potential stepping stone to full Paleo, I bought Anti-Inflammatory Zone with half an eye to help my back arthritis (which I’ve had since the ripe old age of 30, I am now 36). I have taken my omega-3 fish oil daily, and have had a few days off-plan. In other words, not strictly on point. (The carb addict strikes again.)
    I still have half an eye on Paleo, and tend to slant my diet toward whole, clean foods. It is becoming easier to pass the crack – I mean, the refined carbs by. I have eliminated most grains (known to be inflammatory). The effects have been positive. My weight has been stable, likely due to the handful of late-night carb cave-ins. My arthritis has improved.
    Maybe I will be able to make the jump sooner than later toward “full-fat” paleo. In the meantime this in-between Zone has worked well for me.

    Becky wrote on April 1st, 2013
  30. Well to start, I am pro Zone Diet 40:30:30. Here’s why. I was always super lean as a kid (really skinny, but muscular, six pack, etc.). But you know how college and beer and being sedentary affect the aging body. By the time I was 22yrs old, I had gone from 12% body to about 20-22%. No more six-pack, bye bye. Well, I decided I wanted it back (oh golly, how naïve I was). I knew practically nothing about nutrition. When I failed the first time, I gave up trying for a while. Then I would do some research, and try again. I completed this cycle around 7 times throughout the years. I would see some results, but they would peak, and I was always hungry, so I would give up. I know everyone says this, but my body really does not like giving up fat. I am naturally thin and don’t have a lot of natural muscle mass, so when ever I would diet, my body would give up any muscle mass I had put on from lifting, before it would give up the belly fat. I would watch my room mates each twice as much as me and workout about the same as me, and at the end of two months they’d be cut. But not me. Finally, at 32, I decided to try once again. I compiled all of the nutritional information and factoids I’d gathered throughout the years and came up with a plan that I thought might work this time. Well not only am I not starving all the time, or giving up a lot of muscle mass, but i’m actually seeing incredible results, and very quickly. When I analyzed this new diet I was using, I discovered all I was really doing was following the 40:30:30 diet, with no crappy carbs from refined sugar. Although, my Zone diet is temporarily modified by reducing the fat intake by about 50% (hey, my body really does not like to give up that last bit of belly fat, so I had to do this. In the future I will not have to cut out so much fat.) Just to give an idea of my body type, I’m 5’10″ 147lbs and still have some lower belly fat. Anyhow, my Zone-like diet consists of egg whites, chicken, fish, non fat dairy and whey for my Protein. One daily Yam in the morning, then all veggies and very little wheat for the rest of the day for my Carbs. Fats mostly come Olive oil and peanut butter, then from things like salmon from my proteins dishes. I am around 14% B.F. now, and very soon I will be at my target 12%, and i’ll probably end up around 143lbs. Not very far off from my stats when I was 18. Oh, and one thing I live by is NO carbs from anything other than non-starch veggies at dinner. All in all, unless you’re a serious athlete or fitness model, the Zone diet works well because of the moderation factor. If you stray or splurge, its not hard to get back in the groove. Plus, you feel good on this diet. Not drained and starving.
    Good luck.

    Triago wrote on October 31st, 2013
    • Oh, I forgot to add. Just had physical, and my numbers are all spot on.

      Triago wrote on October 31st, 2013
  31. I am a fan of Dr. Sears. FYI, one should read his books in depth before coming to such quick judgments. The Zone ‘diet’ is for weight loss. For maintenance, it requires tweaking such as adding additional fat. There are other zone prescriptions as well, such as Zone for Athletes, which address how to fuel longer or harder workouts. Grains are included in the food blocks, but you don’t necessarily have to eat them if you don’t want to.

    On a personal note, I remember seeing Dr. Sears getting grilled by ‘nutritionists’ back in the early 90′s on Oprah, I believe, for suggesting that eating huge amounts of carbs such as bread and bananas would make you fat. He was basically ridiculed for suggesting a diet which is in practice, pretty close to primal eating. Lets face it, the Zone is such a huge step forward from the S.A.D. that Dr. Sears deserves a huge amount of credit.

    J-J wrote on January 27th, 2014
  32. I little bit a knowledge is a dangerous thing. Dr. Sears has a PhD. Many others simply fall hook, line and sinker for any fad diet that happens to be better than the standard American diet (which is just about any diet) without any nutritional education. If you are looking for health and athletic results, modernate carbs, for many, are the way to go. I do not believe any Gold medals, marathons, championships, or anything athletic were won on a low-carb diet? I admire anyone who is passionate about health but you need to be careful when giving nutritional advice.

    Ray wrote on February 15th, 2014
  33. Wow, I cannot believe some of these responses! The Zone is a guide-line, one which is easily adapted for people with different life styles, be it paleo, vegan etc. The key is ratio, and I feel this is overshadowed by comments here regarding portion sizes and structure. Let’s be perfectly clear, the Zone diet is primarily for weight loss. Maintenance or training requirements are going to be different; if you are already at a relatively low body fat percentile, obviously you can have more monounsaturated fat, and more calories in general. Grains, obviously worth avoiding all together, are severely restricted, as are all high-glycemic carbs.

    Why is it that people seem to think weight loss should be perfectly comfortable ie. no hunger? Personally, I have found the basic structure of the Zone extremely easy to follow, and I am NOT starving all the time even though I am consuming less than my total daily allotment of calories/carbs . Oh, and that bit about structured eating is definitely nonsense. Of course the human body will be less stressed if it is on a regular schedule, just like sleeping.

    In short, in the 90s Dr. Sears was an absolute pioneer in shifting nutritional focus away from the low-fat craze and towards carbohydrate-protein balance. He was widely criticized for this, yet many of his principal theories are completely compatible with paleo. Try reading ‘Mastering the Zone’ before making these blanket claims, as this is one of the absolute best modern diets around.

    Bill wrote on February 26th, 2014
  34. Some glaring problems I have with your stance…

    “Too High In Carbs”

    What are you basing this on… portion size, calories, grams? Just because carbs are supposed to take up 2/3rds of the “plate model” (which i find to be crude and ultimately unnecessary after actually reading the book) doesn’t mean it’s too high in carbs.

    Speaking in a manner of blocks, 1 orange + 1 apple + 3 apricots = roughly the same amount of carbohydrate grams (fruit size pending) as 1 cup of COOKED rice. Your rationale was overly vague. You need to give an example of what you consider to be too high of a carbohydrate portions, in terms of grams relative to The Zone.

    You wrote – “For an eating plan to truly facilitate hormonal balance, you have to put the brakes on the insulin response. This means low carb.”

    As a general blanket statement, correct. But the best answer would have been “This means low-glycemic choices.”

    Hormonal balance and glycemic index go hand in hand. In theory I could double or triple the amount of blocks over the course of one day and still achieve hormonal balance due largely in part to the fact that the sugars from the “favorable carb selection” are entering at my bloodstream at a slow, steady rate, thus regulating insulin.

    “Too Structured”
    “Without the fat, most people are going to be hungry on this diet. I know I would be.”

    This bugs me for three reasons:
    1) You’re implying that fat is the main correlation for satiety.
    2) You’re suggesting that the Zone Diet doesn’t provide enough fat, which isn’t true at all.
    3)”I know I would be”. Forgive me, for I haven’t really followed any of your previous posting/discussions up until tonight, but that sentence suggests that you haven’t actually tried the zone and are simply basing your observations off of what’s on paper.

    Show me a person who continued to be hungry on the zone and I’ll show you a person who either didn’t give it more than a few days, cheated far too often going out to eat, or simply wasn’t even close balancing the macronutrients.

    For reference, I’ve been Zoning for 7 years now and have thoroughly explained its basic concepts/principles to over 2 dozen friends/family. Every time one of them brought up being too hungry, it was attributable to one of the 3 aforementioned reasons. Once it was addressed, surprise surprise, they were fully satiated.

    “Too Structured”

    The structure only truly applies to carb/protein/fat : gram ratios (i.e. absolutes like 1/2 cup of blueberries = 9grams carbs/1 carb block). After that, you’ll find that The Zone is delightfully modifiable. I’ve tried all sorts of combinations…doubling fat blocks, adding a protein block, subtracting a carb block. I’ve tried doing 3 huge meals in a day, the traditional but by no means absolute 3 standard meals/2 snacks, as well as a slew of 2 block mini-meals throughout the day. After a small yet presumable adjustment period, I maintained full satiety throughout the day with each method of delivery.

    As humans we all possess the same basic engine but, sticking with the same analogy, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we all have the same horsepower or require the same amount of fuel. The very fabric of The Zone does in fact allow for modification, it’s simply up to the individual to listen to his/her body and determine what works and what doesn’t.

    Ryan wrote on April 3rd, 2014
    • I totally agree with your post.:)

      maria wrote on April 24th, 2014
  35. I track my food on Spark People and following the zone method has actually ended up on the low carb side! So I do not understand that you say low carb is bad word on Zone. It actually comes out low carb when fiber is taken into account.

    I am thyroid-less , 59 years old and this plan has helped tremendously. When you don’t have a thyroid and are totally dependent on meds to regulate you hormone levels, losing weight is almost impossible. The zone blocks are easy to put together and my hunger panes have decreased.

    The Zone is a plus for me.

    maria wrote on April 24th, 2014
  36. P.S. to my first post. My fat intake is not low either! I agree with Ryan’s post.

    maria wrote on April 24th, 2014
  37. I did it and not only was I STARVING…I felt like I hadn’t slept in days. My head hurt, I was confused, and even a friend asked me if I was ok. He could tell something was off just by talking on the phone. I’m positive this was due to the lack of fat in the diet. I had a metabolic test done before and I was told that I needed a lot of purine and fat because my metabolism has an extremely high oxidation rate. These were the exact foods that the Zone was forbidding. I mean take an Eskimo and put him on a Mediterranean diet and see what happens. I’m no Eskimo but my grandparents are from Ireland and this boy needs his meat and potatoes. Which was also explained to me that our diet can’t be determined by “primal/paleo” standards alone…it’s more about what our ancestors ate. Some people groups ate primarily seafood, some ate red meat, and some ate mostly vegetables. Everyone is different. I HIGHLY recommended metabolic typing.

    Brian wrote on May 3rd, 2014
  38. PS the 3 time fittest man in the world eats HORRIBLY…i know him personally…I’m talking big macs, ice cream, French fries…what ever, whenever, doesn’t matter. His philosophy is listen to your body…it’ll tell you what it wants and when it wants it. Don’t believe me…check out Rich Froning diet on youtube…it’s like that all the time lol.

    Brian wrote on May 3rd, 2014
  39. I like the zone, but agree that it doesn’t cover everything. The ratios and structure give my diet stability. as long as I stay close within the zone, I feel great.

    I add a lot of extra fat to the zone. Dr. Sears actually eludes to this in some of his books, sighting that some of the world’s best athletes get 50% calories from fat. The Zone seems to keep my body in a fat burning mode. i have low body fat, so I eat a lot of dietary fat.

    i believe the purpose of the lean meats is to regulate the ratio of good to bad fat: long – chain omega3 to arachodonic acid. i believe that this can also be accomplished by eating quality meat fat such as that from grass fed beef.

    Jeremy Malchow wrote on June 15th, 2014

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