I'm not a trendy guy. I tend to look the other way when the subject is the latest fashion or the new wonder herb. I'm especially resistant to the latest diet or food trend. The FDA food pyramid is about as radical as I've gotten when it comes to diet. So when Liz got interested in The Zone, I was more than a little skeptical; the claims on the cover of the book she bought seemed a bit outrageous. But not being trendy doesn't mean I have a closed mind, so I started reading. After a few chapters, it was clear that The Zone was worth a try.
Enter The Zone claims that by balancing "macro-nutrient" intake in a caloric ratio of 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat, we can Enter The Zone and achieve loss of body fat, improved athletic performance, and reduced chance of disease. Sounds a bit like something you'd buy on late night TV!
The Zone has lots of modifiers about how much to eat and where those macro-nutrients should come from, but that basic 40-30-30 concept is the heart of the eating plan. How can such a simple concept produce such dramatic results? Well, I'm trying to summarize several chapters of the book here, but it all comes down to the interaction of two major hormones, insulin and glucagon. These two hormones work together to control the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood.
Insulin is the glucose storage (as glycogen and fat) and glucose burning hormone. Glucagon is the fat mobilization and burning hormone. When you eat a lot of carbs, as the FDA advises, your insulin level goes up, signaling your body to store fat. Is this what you want? Maybe, if you're a Sumo wrestler! But for most of us the answer is no. We want to burn fat, not store it. By eating a 40-30-30 balance, insulin level stays low while glucagon rises, signaling the body to mobilize fat for fuel. Now that's more like it!
On a high carb diet, you are on a carbohydrate-based energy economy. In The Zone you are on a fat-based energy economy. Your body can store a very limited amount of carbs, but even the slimmest person has plenty of fat to last for days. Another key hormone here is eicosaniods, the source of The Zone's health benefits. However, there isn't enough space in this newsletter to cover eicosanoids.
The only thing wrong with The Zone is that it works so well that I want to be in it all the time. So, for the claims:
When I started, I had just returned from my Mom's where cookies and pies were always available. I weighed the most I ever had, 186 pounds. Despite my very active lifestyle, I had slowly added body fat over the years and was at a body fat level of about 23%. Within 6 weeks of entering The Zone I had lost 10 pounds. After a year and one-half, I'm now down to about 15% body fat (165 lbs) where I seem to be holding.
Improved athletic performance
I started The Zone in the middle of mountain biking season. A couple of my buddies, especially Andy, could always blow me away on the climbs. I had pretty good long-term endurance, but just couldn't keep up on those steep ascents. Two months into The Zone I was beating Andy up the steepest pitches. I couldn't believe it. He couldn't believe it! I still remember another of my buds asking, "What did you eat for breakfast!?" It was a Zone breakfast, of course. As for inline skating, I can finally stay up with Liz on long skates. In the gym, I keep getting stronger.
Reduced chance of disease
This is a long-term benefit. I've been in The Zone for one and one-half years now. During that time I've been extraordinarily healthy. My blood pressure is low and the doctor says he wishes he had my cholestrol levels. I seldom get the colds or flu that are going around.
Although Liz started with lower body fat than I did, she has seen similar results. We are now both committed Zoners. The results are just too good to go back to our old high-carb ways. In the next issue, I'll discuss some of the criticisms of The Zone. Here are some places to learn more about The Zone.
Dan answers your questions in Return to the Zone.
Enter The Zone, A Dietary Road Map, Barry Sears, Ph. D. This is the book that started it all. Has some fairly technical sections, but is a good source for how and why The Zone works. Buy the Book Today!
Zone Perfect Meals in Minutes, Barry Sears, Ph. D. Zone compliant meals. Buy the Book Today!
40-30-30 Fat Burning Nutrition, Joyce & Gene Daoust. A simplified (some would say over-simplified) approach. Buy the Book Today!
The Zone Files Dr. Barry Sears' official Web Site.
The Zone Home "The Place to Learn about Living In The Zone."
Karen' s Kitchen Zone Recipes.
Enter The Zone presents a methodology for determining the amount of protein (and hence the amount of carbs and fat) a person should consume on The Zone. I've developed a calculator which automates the calculations.