The aim of the diet is to push the body into “the zone”, a state that Sears claims is;
a real physiological condition in your body where cellular inflammation is controlled – not too low that you can’t fight off infection, but not too high where the body begins to attack itself
By eating the right foods and being constantly in the zone, it is in theory easier to maintain a balanced and healthy weight, as well as feeling healthier in general, with Sears going as far as claiming that people in the Zone age slower.
The most important part of the zone diet is maintaining a constant ratio of food groups in each meal. The key to weight loss that will not be regained later is to lose fat, slowly and surely, without losing muscle mass or water weight.
The zone diet is designed to provide enough protein to maintain muscle mass, and enough fat carbohydrates (primarily in the form of vegetables) to maintain energy levels and satiety throughout the day, without causing insulin spikes and crashes. Sears states that the easiest way to monitor whether a dieter is in the zone ‘is never being hungry and maintaining peak mental acuity throughout the day’.
The Zone website explains that the easiest way to formulate meals is to fill one third of a plate with low-fat protein, fill the rest of the plate with non-starchy carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables and then to add;
a dash of fat low in saturated fat and omega-6 fat to the meal. These fats include olive oil, nuts, or guacamole.
No foods are completely banned, but foods are categorised into lists of fair choices, best choices and unfavourable foods. Unfavourable foods should obviously be avoided as much as possible.
The link below provides some ideas about what foods are best choices and fair choices, as well as a portion size guide. Foods such as fatty meats and egg yolks are on the unfavourable list, as well as many grains and processed foods.
There are several rules and guidelines to help dieters stay in the zone. Dieters are required to eat within an hour of waking, and should never go more than five hours without eating. Snacking before bedtime is encouraged, provided the correct types of snacks are consumed. This is to keep the body in the zone even whilst sleeping. Every meal must follow the prescribed ratios; it is not enough to maintain the ratio over the course of the day.
The zone diet is often referred to as a low carbohydrate diet, which is only partially true. The largest part of the dieters daily calories come from carbohydrates, but mostly originating from non-starchy vegetables and fruits. Vegetables that are high in starch and sugar, such as carrots and white potatoes, as well as white starchy grains such pasta, rice and bread, are all on the unfavourable foods list, and are only allowed very occasionally. These foods are thought to cause insulin spikes and crashes in the body, causing sugar cravings, hunger throughout the day, cellular inflammation, and lethargy.
There are several recipes books that have been published by Sears, and there are hundreds of Zone recipes on the official website, as well as on other sites and forums. This means that it is easy to get creative with ingredients and meal plans, whilst still adhering to the formula that the zone provides as a guideline. This makes the diet quite versatile, although some people may struggle if they do not have access to any zone recipes.
The zone diet is calorie controlled as well as being designed to be nutritionally balanced in a way that benefits the body long-term. Typically, the calories consumed whilst on the zone diet total anywhere between 1,100–1,700 calories per day, depending upon the requirements of the individual.
The amount of food a Zone dieter consumes is based on that person’s protein needs. Protein needs are calculated based on height, weight, hip and waist measurements, and activity level. The amount of carbohydrates and fats allowed on the diet is then established to be proportionate to the protein levels allowed. These rations are expressed in “food blocks”, a measurement that helps to control portion sizes and calorific contents of meals.
The diet can be adapted to individual needs, providing that the correct food group ratios are maintained. Once weight loss has been achieved, the zone diet can be adjusted in its calorific value to maintain the lower weight long-term. Because the zone diet is designed to improve the general health of the user, decrease hunger cravings throughout the day and to improve both mental and physical function, it is an ideal diet to continue after weight has been lost, provided the layout is liked by the user.
For people who find it difficult to work out the balance of each meal, it is possible to purchase ready meals from the official zone website. Each meal is balanced to adhere to the diets restrictions, and is nutritionally balanced and calorie controlled. This makes it much easier, and more convenient, to follow a diet that could otherwise be time consuming to follow. Obviously, this option is more expensive than cooking at home from scratch.
Overall, the Zone diet is still a relatively popular choice of diet, even though it was first in the public eye nearly 20 years ago. The layout of the diet may be difficult to follow for some, but once dieters adapt to the format of the diet, it is a viable and balanced diet for people who wish to follow a low-carbohydrate diet that still incorporates fruits and vegetables into each meal.
Because of the large amount of fruits and vegetables featured in the diet plan, the Zone diet should not be associated with many of the side effects that occur when following other low carbohydrate diets. Energy levels should be raised as a result of the diet’s balance of food groups, and, as the diet naturally limits calories whilst trying to reduce hunger cravings, weight should be lost, slowly but permanently.
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