Does the Zone Diet Work, and How It Is Different From Other Diets?

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Does the Zone Diet Work, and How It Is Different From Other Diets?

Weight loss is never easy: it's hard to give up our favorite foods, especially when they are so delicious. Restrictive diets make it all even harder. They restrict the amount of food in all cases, but they can even eliminate entire food groups from the plan. For many, food restrictions prove to be the final nail in the coffin, and the whole weight loss craze dies its death.

An ideal diet will let you enjoy your favorite food and still make you lose weight fast. The Zone diet is that ideal: you are not supposed to give up on any food group or starve yourself. You can eat most of the things you are used to with a few unhealthy exceptions.

This diet eliminates inflammation and supports optimal nutrient utilization in the body through perfect hormonal balance. All of this is achieved when you eat the right foods in the right way. A perfect ratio of food groups is given in the diet. Once you start eating by the allowed ratio, your body stops producing hormones that lead to inflammation and obesity. 

You eat healthily, stay fit and lose weight and still never have to go hungry with this diet. It's easy, enjoyable, and designed to be a long-term affair. No fad diet thingy here: this is, rather, a lifestyle that teaches how to eat food for optimal health and hormonal balance.

What Is the Zone Diet?

Zone diet is all about creating a hormonal balance in the body that controls insulin release and stops dietary inflammation. The diet starts with the idea that weight gain results from chemical reactions caused by high insulin levels and hormonal imbalance. 

The zone diet looks at obesity and weight loss from a very different angle. It is unlike any other diet. For Dr. Sears, the proponent of the diet, obesity results from particular effects of food on hormones and our gene expression. The increase In insulin levels, resulting from certain foods or ratios in which they are taken, leads to hormonal imbalance and weight gain.

Zone diet does not believe in remaining hungry, counting calories, or eliminating food groups. It's about eating your food in proportions that do not disturb or destroy your hormonal balance. In time, balanced hormones will burn fat, energize you and even lead to more muscle in the body.

It's a simple affair: the zone diet allows carbs, proteins, and fats in a certain ratio to be taken at every meal and in every snack. Low GI carbs, lean protein, and Monounsaturated fats are recommended to improve hormonal balance. 

The zone diet may seem a bit complicated at the beginning with all the ratios and measurements, but it gets better when you try to keep up with it for a few days. It becomes your second nature, and you can count food blocks intuitively, without help or tools. 

It promotes frequent meals and snacks within the limits prescribed by the diet. Staying hungry is not on the chart here.

There are two types or methods of meal planning which measure the amount of food to be taken for weight loss- the hand-eye method and the zone food block method. 

Weight Loss With the Zone Diet

All diets out there are based on one or the other basic assumption and work with a particular strategy. The zone diet does the same.

The basic assumption of the zone diet is that the food that we consume leaves a chemical effect and a gene expression in our bodies. It increases or decreases certain hormone levels, provides high or low calories, builds muscles or fat, etc. 

The zone diet sternly believes that increased or elevated insulin levels and Omega-6 fatty acids lead to the release of hormones that cause inflammation and consequently obesity. Inflammation and hormonal imbalance lead to diseases, fatigue, laziness, and lack of will to lose weight or work out. 

The diet creates concentration zones of various foods to balance nutrients and hormones, which will, in turn, lead to weight loss and protection from diseases. The zone diet does not promote quick weight loss by restricting the amount of food. Quick weight loss, it is believed,  is the loss of water weight and muscles, and that's undesirable.

On the contrary, the basic goal in this diet is to "zone-in" our metabolism so that it regulates hormones and chemicals in a way as to combat obesity. The perfect zone for metabolism is achieved by taking foods in the right ratio that is 40% carbs, 30% proteins, and 30% fats. 

Our plates should be planned, keeping this ratio in mind. Furthermore, carbs, protein, and fats are also allowed in the diet. Exceed this ratio, and your metabolism is zoned-out. Your blood insulin levels go high, harmful hormones are released, causing dietary inflammation, and you start gaining weight. 

Basic Rules of the Zone Diet

There are important tips and rules to follow in the zone diet that maximize the benefits.

  • Carbohydrates are not a restricted category in this diet plan. This is quite unlike many fad diets that claim magnanimous responses. However, only GI carbs are on board here, like vegetables and fruits and a few whole grains.
  • Lean protein is the favored protein type in the zone diet.
  • Fats are not prohibited in this diet either, which sets it apart from many other diets. However, only monounsaturated fats (olive oils, almonds, peanuts, nuts, and dry fruits) are allowed to give healthy fats.
  • Polyphenols are antioxidants that take care of free radicals and the damage they cause to the cells. Free radical accumulation causes oxidative stress, leading to inflammation in the body. Antioxidants neutralize their effects. They are commonly found in fruits and vegetables.
  • Omega-3 supplements and foods that contain them are a very important part of the zone diet. Omega-3 helps reduce inflammation in the body, fixes skin tone and hair texture, and empowers the immune system. Omega-3 comes with multiple health benefits. You can buy its supplements because Omega-3 is extremely important in the zone diet.
  • Eat within an hour of waking up.
  • The gap between two meals is not more than 5 hours
  • The gap between a meal and a snack is anywhere between 1-2 hours

Related Article: Importance of Supplements in Your Diet

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Methods of Counting Food Intake in the Zone Diet

There are two basic methods of counting or managing your food intake in the zone diet- the hand-eye and zone food block method. 

1. The Hand-eye Method

Most people start with the hand-eye method. This is the easiest of the two, perfect for starters. 

Note: these two types are not two stages. They are just two ways of managing food amounts and the ratio. You either use one or the other at your convenience. Both types are interchangeable.

The hand-eye method is as simple as this:

  • One-third lean protein
  • Two-thirds carbs
  • A little fat

Your plate has to have this ratio of food blocks at any given time. It's called the hand-eye method because you can manage measurement and food planning with your hands and eyes. No extra tools are needed!

Five fingers on the hand tell you to take five meals a day, and the interval should not exceed 5 hours. You measure the size of your portion on the plate with your eyes. No fancy tools or knowledge are involved in measuring food in the zone diet. It's simple, effective, and long-term; it's a complete lifestyle. 

Appropriate amounts of fats from healthy sources like avocado, almonds, and olive oil have their spot on the zone plate too. Meal plans are fairly easy to create in this diet. 

2. The Zone Food Block Method

This is the second type/style of food intake in the zone diet. It is usually adopted by those well acquainted with it as it's a little complicated for beginners. Initially, it may seem a little intimidating, but it allows you to fully customize your diet plan according to your taste and individual requirements.

Zone diet is a flexible strategy anyway, and this feature is further enhanced in the zone food block method. Food zone blocks are created after measuring your weight, height, waist, and hip size with an easily available calculator

Individual zone block requirements may differ, but generally, a small woman takes around 10-11 zone blocks a day while a man consumes 14-25 blocks.

Typically, one zone block consists of equal numbers of different food blocks, like one zone block means one protein block, one carb block, and one fat block.

  • 1 Protein block: 7 grams.
  • 1 Carb block: 9 grams
  • 1 Fat block: 1.5 grams

Main meals are 4-5 blocks, and the snack is not more than one block.

What to Eat on a Zone Diet?

There are multiple as well as delicious options for you to choose from. You may think they resemble a Mediterranean diet, but there is a lot of difference, and this diet allows the much-needed freedom to eat just anything you want except for sugars and quick carbs.

Best Options in Protein

  • Lean beef, pork, lamb, and game
  • Skinless chicken and turkey breast
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Tofu and other soy proteins
  • Egg whites
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Low-fat milk and yogurt

Monounsaturated Fats

These fats are healthy. They are also necessary for various important functions in the body. Complete cutting down of fats will not help lose fat and weight. Eat fat but the right kind for the expected results. 

  • Avocados
  • Macadamia nuts, peanuts, cashews, almonds and pistachios
  • Peanut butter
  • Tahini
  • Canola oil, sesame oil, olive oils

Carbs

Zone diet is not restrictive like keto, so you do not have to carb starve your body. Carbs are usually the first to go off the diet food list in most diets, but not here. However, not all carbs are on board. Processed, refined, and fast-absorbing carbs are not friends with this diet either. Only a certain kind of carbs ( low GI) are allowed.

  • Fresh fruit like apples, oranges, berries, etc.
  • Vegetables like cucumbers, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, yellow squash, etc.
  • Grams like oatmeal and barley

What Not to Eat on a Zone Diet?

Zone diet is truly liberating: no restrictions on any food group. You can pretty much eat anything you want in this diet and satisfy your hunger, but some things to avoid. 

The list of prohibited foods goes like this:

  • High-sugar fruits like bananas, grapes, raisins, and dried fruits
  • High-sugar and starchy vegetables like peas, corn, carrots, and potatoes
  • Refined and processed carbs like bread, bagels, pasta, and white flour products
  • Processed and packed foods
  • Added sugar in everything
  • Soft drinks are not allowed, not even diet soft drinks
  • Coffee and tea in moderation

You will see that the list of prohibited foods consists of only the very harmful stuff. Any knowledgeable person would want to avoid these foods even when not on the zone diet. There are no extraordinary restrictions on this diet.

The Bottom Line

Zone diet is a famous diet that is scientifically driven and meticulously researched. There are some great benefits for those who want to lose weight following this diet. It is a very flexible and sensible diet regulation where you are neither starving yourself nor eliminating any food group. 

There are no hard and fast diet charts either. Once you know how to measure and design your food block, you can create your diet plan without worries. It's a long-term diet that does not aim to fix everything in days. It's a lifestyle that sets the hormonal balance right in the body and helps you healthily lose weight. 

Article Sources

  • Galland, Leo. ‘Diet and Inflammation’. Nutrition in Clinical Practice: Official Publication of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, vol. 25, no. 6, Dec. 2010, pp. 634–40. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1177/0884533610385703.
  • Kahn, Barbara B., and Jeffrey S. Flier. ‘Obesity and Insulin Resistance’. Journal of Clinical Investigation, vol. 106, no. 4, Aug. 2000, pp. 473–81. PubMed Central, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC380258/.
  • Kolb, Hubert, et al. ‘Insulin Translates Unfavourable Lifestyle into Obesity’. BMC Medicine, vol. 16, no. 1, Dec. 2018, p. 232. BioMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1225-1.
  • Lee, Yong-Ho, and Richard E. Pratley. ‘The Evolving Role of Inflammation in Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome’. Current Diabetes Reports, vol. 5, no. 1, Jan. 2005, pp. 70–75. Springer Link, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11892-005-0071-7.
  • Mori, Trevor A., and Lawrence J. Beilin. ‘Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammation’. Current Atherosclerosis Reports, vol. 6, no. 6, Nov. 2004, pp. 461–67. Springer Link, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11883-004-0087-5.

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