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Can you burn fat even in your sleep, without feeling hungry, by balancing the fat, carbs, and protein you eat? This is the promise of The Zone Diet, but does it really live up to its claims and just how easy is it to stick to in the long term? Here we explain the theory of the Zone, what the diet entails, and whether it can help you achieve success on your weight loss journey with Phen Caps.
The concept of The Zone Diet was introduced in 1995 in the first of a series of many books written by biochemist Barry Sears, PhD. The diet is aimed at achieving stable blood sugar levels, hormonal balance, low inflammation, and good health, and is therefore promoted for weight loss in addition to these benefits. The core principle of the diet is to consume a 40:30:30 ratio of calories, obtained daily from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, respectively. ‘The Zone’ is a term Sears uses to explain a hormonal balance achieved by balancing insulin and glucagon levels in order to release specific anti-inflammatory chemicals, in turn promoting good heart-health.
In addition, when this balance is achieved the human body switches from storing fat to burning fat. Sears believes that this transition can take some time if insulin levels were high because of unbalanced eating, but when the body enters into ‘the Zone’, weight loss can be achieved. For this reason, the Zone doesn’t promise dramatic weight loss, but rather a loss of around 1 to 1.5 lbs in the first week. However, the plan does emphasize that the weight you do lose will be fat and not muscle or water.
Those following The Zone Diet are required to eat 3 meals and 2 snacks per day, and the diet insists that you must eat within an hour of waking up and never go for more than five hours without eating. Each meal or snack must comprise of low-fat protein, non-starchy carbs, and a small amount of ‘good’ fats. Sears claims the diet can be followed by measuring quantities by sight; mentally divide your plate into three equal sections, and place your low-fat protein (e.g. skinless chicken, turkey or fish) in one section, which should be no more than you can fit in your hand (around 3oz for women and 4oz for men), then fill the other two thirds with colorful carbs (fresh fruit or steamed veg) and top off with a dose of healthy fat, such as almonds, olive oil or avocado. Carbohydrates are divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ carbs, and dieters are instructed to choose those that are low on the glycemic index (GI), a ranking of how carbs affect blood sugar.
Although no food is completely banned, the plan does encourage you to think of bread, pasta, grains and other starches as ‘condiments’ rather than as main or side dishes. Furthermore, vegetables and fruits that are relatively high in sugar, such as bananas, carrots, or corn, are on the ‘unfavorable’ list, and red meat and egg yolks fall into the ‘bad fats’ column. Calories are also restricted on the diet, as women can eat around 1,200 calories per day and men, 1,500 calories.
Exercise is encouraged but not required, with Sears’ position being that exercise is more for weight maintenance than for loss, a contention many health experts would not agree with.
According to Sears, most vegetarian or vegan diets are highly dissimilar from the Zone because they generally have high carbohydrate to protein ratios. However, the diet’s emphasis on fruits and vegetables makes it easy for vegetarians and vegans to comply, and Sears released a book in 2000 which shows you how to build the diet around soy-based meals; soy being one of the best and most versatile meatless sources of protein, as stated in the book.
Similarly, those following a gluten-free or low-sodium diet should have no trouble following the diet; foods typically containing gluten (wheat, barley and rye) are discouraged on the diet, and as the diet emphasizes fresh ingredients rather than processed foods, meeting government requirements for sodium intake is possible.
On the surface, The Zone Diet seems to be a balanced eating regime, and one which allows for all food types. However, it is not without limitations. Firstly, some nutritional experts, including some of Sears’ former colleagues, are critical of his conclusions, contending that he has distorted or exaggerated the meaning for most of the basic research in order to support his claims, casting doubt on the core principle of The Zone Diet. With respect to creating an insulin balance, in a 2003 review in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers found no evidence that the Zone’s insulin-balancing claims have a positive effect. Eating carbs, protein, and fat in the recommended 40:30:30 ratio at each meal does not improve the way insulin responds to food. The ratio could even cause insulin levels to spike, an outcome the diet aims to avoid, according to the report.
There is also very limited research relating to the potential for weight loss on The Zone Diet. In a 2007 study comparing the Zone with three other diets including a low carb diet, a low-fat diet, and a low saturated fat-moderate carb diet, although at 2 months the losses were even across the groups at around 6lbs, after a year the losses on the Zone diet were the lowest of all four diets at just 3.5lbs in total. The previously mentioned 2003 review published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition concluded that weight loss achieved by the Zone diet is explained by restricting calories, and not the 40:30:30 ratio. In fact, there are “scientific contradictions,” because following this ratio does not promote fat-burning or weight loss more than any other nutritionally-sound diet does.
Other criticisms of the diet are that it is time consuming and tedious to have to plan meals around the ratio, especially as every meal and snack must be adhere to the 40:30:30 rule, meaning there’s no possibility of filling up on protein one meal and then carbs the next. The diet also uses the Glycemic Index to indicate which carbs are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and that is not without its critics, due to its simplification of the GI of foods and failure to consider how the addition of other foods affect it. For example, while a baked potato alone has a high GI, the addition of a healthy fat such as olive oil reduces the GI dramatically.
Furthermore, the diet also centers round a very low calorie intake, 1,200 being the minimum amount recommended for a woman. This may explain why initial losses were better than those experienced by participants who followed the diet for a year, as such a strict regime is difficult to follow for an extended period. These calorie restrictions and the lack of importance placed on exercise would indicate that the Zone should be seen as a diet in the most restricted sense of the word, rather than a healthy way of eating that could be maintained for life.
While the diet promotes a healthier and steadier rate of weight loss and emphasizes the importance of losing fat and not muscle, it is doubtful whether The Zone Diet lives up to its claims. More importantly, here at Phen.com we strongly believe that if an eating plan is not viable in the long term, then it is limited in its efficacy as a choice for those wishing to lose weight and maintain that loss for life. Additionally, incorporating exercise into any lifestyle can only ever be a positive one and should never be dismissed as something only necessary to maintain weight loss; not only is exercise important for a healthy body, it also improves mood and energy levels, all of which help with weight loss both directly and indirectly.
In conclusion, while we recommend a balanced diet to optimize weight loss while taking Phen Caps, we do not believe a long-term healthy way of eating should be so strict, both in terms of the amount of calories consumed and in terms of the restricted and permitted foods. What do you think about The Zone Diet? Have you, or would you, try it? Let us know in the comments below!