Like many fad diets and diet supplements, the Zone Diet promises weight loss without being hungry. Founded by Dr. Barry Sears nearly a decade ago, the plan offers yet another spin on weight loss: consuming carbohydrates and proteins in precise amounts to promote weight loss. Does it work? As with most fad diets, there are two sides to the story.
The Zone regimen bases itself on a strictly scientific approach to weight loss. Dr. Sears stumbled upon the science of eicosonoids by accident. With years of continued research and study, he concluded these powerful hormones control most of our bodily systems. Most importantly, he believed, the body's system controls how much fat is stored, and a person's overall body weight is directly related to specific hormone production and presence.
The name of the diet mirrors that of an athlete when he or she is "in the zone" - the euphoric feeling of optimal performance. For dieters, this translates into the feeling of optimal energy and functioning without hunger. It is in this state that weight loss occurs. It can only be reached by keeping the complex sets of eicosonoids in ideal balance with one another.
How It Works
According to the diet, since carbohydrates and proteins are the determining nutrients for hormone activity, eating them in perfect combination is the most important rule. As with other low carbohydrate diets, the diet follows an average 40-30-30 ratio of macronutrient intake: 40 percent of caloric intake is complex carbohydrates, 30 percent of intake is protein and 30 percent of intake is fat.
In order to achieve the "euphoria," there are favorable and unfavorable food lists from which to choose carbohydrate-, protein- and fat-containing foods. The program attempts to simplify the selection process and the counting of grams by using a "block" system. In general, the system identifies and recommends healthful sources of protein, fat and carbohydrate. For example, chicken breast and turkey breast are preferred over fattier meats such as bacon and pepperoni. Preferred carbohydrates include all vegetables and fruits that are not starchy, hence corn and potatoes are unfavorable choices.
Although the weight loss plan mimics many other fad diets, there are a few attributes linked to the plan. The following list summarizes the advantages:
- Teaches portion size
- No calorie counting
- Vegetarian diet can be applied
- Encourages complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables
- Promotes intake of healthy fats such as omega 3 from fish, monounsaturated from nuts
- Supports physical activity
As with most diets, there are strict guidelines to follow as part of this plan. Caffeine is not recommended due to its obstruction of hormone balance during its breakdown process. Caffeine is primarily found in tea, coffee and chocolate. Alcohol is to be restricted to one glass of wine per day. As mentioned, certain foods are off-limits as specified on the various food lists.
Does It Work?
Weight loss will likely occur if you follow this program precisely. However, since the regimen is intense, a lifetime of eating this way is not realistic. In addition, weight loss is more apt to be an outcome of calorie restriction versus any "zone" state. There has been no scientific research validating Dr. Sears' hypotheses presented in his books, although his own study found significant results.
Consult your doctor before starting this, or any, diet. For most people, following a higher protein diet of 30 percent instead of the standard 15 to 20 percent protein intake will not cause any health problems. However, there is concern for any person with kidney disease or family history of kidney disease to consume excessive protein amounts. The reason for this is that the kidneys are taxed when filtering protein components. In general, since there are no long-term studies on the Zone Diet, there is no guarantee that it is totally safe and healthy.
A severe reduction in calorie intake poses a risk of poor health, especially when final weight goal has been reached. Any diet restricting calories to below 1200 is not advisable or nutritionally substantial to support the human body. For men, a minimum of 1500 calories is recommended.