I first heard about the Zone diet back when Friends was still on the air, and Jennifer Aniston proclaimed this diet to be the plan that helps her maintain her famously svelte figure. Nevertheless, I never really knew what, exactly, the Zone diet entailed. It turns out that this diet really is quite the trendy plan in Hollywood, with more than one A-lister naming the Zone as their go-to plan. But, what is the hype all about? And, most importantly, is it for you?
Let’s take a closer look.
Getting in the Zone
The Zone diet was created by a biochemist, Barry Sears, who first-authored his book, Enter the Zone: A Dietary Road Map, back in 1995. He’s since gone on to author multiple follow-up books and recipe guides that are still quite popular.
Sears views food like chemistry, and his diet is based around the concept that a proper diet consists of precise proportions of fat, carbohydrates, and protein. It is this “zone” of proper eating, says Sears, that will stabilize your insulin and inflammatory hormone levels, issues that Sears believes to be the main culprits of weight gain.1
With the Zone diet, 40 percent of each meal will come from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein, and 30 percent will come from fat.
Your calorie count, meanwhile, will remain rather low. Women are allowed no more than 1,200 calories each day, while men can consume up to 1,500 calories per day. 1,200 calories are the bare minimum amount of calories a person should consume according to most health organizations, so you want to be sure that you do hit at least 1,200 calories each day.
What Do Your Daily Meals Look Like?
The Zone plan recommends eating three regular meals and one or two snacks each day following the 40/30/30 balance of carbs, fat, and protein. Your protein, which should be lean and healthy (like fish), should not be larger than the palm of your hand. When it comes to the carbohydrate part of the plan, don’t think spaghetti, bread, or potatoes, which are discouraged on the Zone due to their effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. Instead, your carbs will mainly consist of vegetables and some fruits that don’t tend to spike blood sugar levels (called low-glycemic foods). After filling your plate with the small amount of protein and low-GI fruits and vegetables, you’ll include a small amount of healthy fat, such as a sprinkle of almonds over your fish, for example.
On the Zone, you aren’t supposed to go too long without eating, preferably no more than 5 hours, aside from during sleep, and within one hour of waking. It is even recommended on the plan to have a snack right before bed. Your day, for example, may look something like this:
6:30 am: Wake up
7:30 am: Breakfast
11:30 am: Lunch
2:30 pm: Snack
6:30 pm: Dinner
9:30 pm: Snack
10:30 pm: Bed
Of course, your schedule will be flexible depending on your daily routine, but the general rule is that you attempt to maintain stable blood sugar throughout the day by eating at regular intervals. Of course, you must also keep in mind your calorie limits of 1,200 for women and 1,500 for men.
How Much Does It Cost to Stay in the Zone?
Aside from choosing to purchase copies of Sears’ books, the Zone diet doesn’t come with any added expense, aside from changing how you purchase groceries. Of course, certain varieties of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, like olive oil, maybe slightly more expensive than your previous grocery selections, but it shouldn’t be a huge jump from your normal grocery cost, as a whole. Unlike other diet plans, the Zone bar doesn’t require you to purchase shakes, bars, or prepackaged meals, although some of these convenience nutritional products are available on the Zone’s website.
How Much Weight Can You Lose on the Zone?
Any extremely low-calorie diet will nearly always result in some kind of weight loss, and since the Zone is a low-calorie plan, you will likely lose weight. The exact amount you will lose, and the time it will take, will vary just like any plan based on your body size (someone at a higher weight will lose weight faster than someone at a smaller weight) and how much you exercise, but you could expect to lose anywhere from 1-2 pounds a week, possibly more if you are at a higher weight.
What About Exercise?
Exercise isn’t a huge focus of the Zone diet, although Sears maintains that it can help you to stabilize your weight once you reach your goal. That being said, 150 minutes of weekly exercise is recommended by most nutritionists and trainers for optimal health.
What Do People Love and Criticize About the Zone?
People enjoy the ability to prevent hunger pangs through regularly scheduled meals and snacks. So often, hunger prevents us from following a diet plan and can lead to problems like binge eating.
Science is mixed on if the Zone’s fat/carb/protein ratio really has anything to do with weight loss success or health. Scientists seem to think it is more the reduction in calories that lead to weight loss, rather than a specific ratio.1
There are a lot of foods that are discouraged on this plan, including some foods that, in moderation, are considered by most nutritionists to be part of a healthy eating plan, particularly for people without diabetes or other conditions that affect blood sugar. Bananas, for instance, are considered to be a high-glycemic food, but they provide antioxidants and potassium and are definitely a healthy food choice in moderation for most people. To suggest their exclusion from a healthy diet does not appeal to everyone.
The Zone diet has its devotees for a reason: Many who have tried the Zone have said that they felt fuller longer and have lost considerable amounts of weight over time. Others, as well, have said that it gets easier to plan for meals once you get used to following the plan.
There are many, many interesting recipes available that follow the Zone’s criteria, so while calories and portions may be limited, you should still feel satisfied with your meals.
The calorie goals really are rather low. While this may be necessary for people truly needing to lose substantial amounts of weight for their health, other people may not need to reduce their calories to such a drastic degree.
Who Should Enter the Zone?
The Zone is appealing to anyone looking for a little more control than diets with prepackaged meals, shakes, or bars as their main dietary components. The Zone does allow you to select your own groceries, although the emphasis is placed on the glycemic index of the foods. If you splurge, which is understandable, it isn’t a big deal, but you need to jump right back into the eating plan and continue onward. There are no points to count, but there is a calorie limit that may be a little too low for some people.
In the beginning, figuring out the proper portion sizes and getting used to the suggested foods may take some mental adjusting, but most people online say that this wasn’t difficult once they got used to the plan. This plan may also be a good choice for people who lean more vegetarians in their choices, as soy and tofu are encouraged protein options in the Zone. If you have diabetes, you might talk with your doctor about the Zone, as the focus on low-glycemic foods might be particularly helpful for you.
If you’re someone who enjoys eating out from time to time, the Zone diet might make this a little tricky and a lot will depend on your individual willpower. For instance, that basket of rolls or chips that tends to show up as a free appetizer in restaurants? You’ll have to turn that down in order to stick to your plan.
ZoneDiet.com offers resources and tips for dining out, staying well, and even keeping a food journal, which is actually a time-tested way to keep the weight off. Of course, you’ll also find support within Sears’ many published books.
Giving the Zone a Try?
What are your thoughts on the Zone? Have you tried it or are you interested in giving it a go?
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The Zone Diet. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2019, from https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/zone-diet