Revisiting and Improving The Zone Diet

Two weeks ago I asked CarbSane in the comments of her post about Robb Wolf’s book what mainstream nutrition book gets it most right.

I have yet to come across a mass media diet book that gets it right. There’s always a schtick. One also has to separate the diet itself from the book/rationale.

The Zone is probably best, but Sears insistence on never eating large meals and meeting macro ratios each time you eat lacks any scientific or even practical support. I cannot support a diet that counsels avoidance of all animal products. A whole foods Mediterranean approach generally seems the most sound for the most people — just avoid foods that are “allowed” to which you are sensitive.

My initial thoughts are this makes total sense. In the 1990s, I did The Zone Diet, which I discussed in the post My Experiences With The Zone Diet. At first the diet worked great, but then I ran into problems.

The Zone Diet says to eat small little meals every few waking hours. This is still conventional wisdom. When you first start that habit it isn’t easy, but if you stick with it, it gets very easy. Too easy. Soon you’ll find yourself hungry all the time. I responded to that hunger by eating more. The weight I lost all came back.

Other people have picked apart different aspects of The Zone Diet. For me the primary problem was the frequent meals resulted in frequent periods of hunger. And often I’d respond to that hunger by making poor food choices that were convenient. I was uncomfortable with the feeling of hunger.

The Zone Diet is a 40-30-40, which means 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat. Although I don’t count anything, if I had to guess my ratios now, I’d say it is close to that. I like the ratio as it hedges the benefits and risks others experience when they stay low carb or high carb for too long. It seems like a great starting point.

The Zone Diet
The Zone Diet by Barry Sears

Tossing out Dr. Sears nonsense about many perfectly balanced small meals makes The Zone Diet easier to follow and less neurotic about food rules. It has been many years since I read the book, so I don’t recall the exact details or know if there has been many changes in recent editions.

I visited the Zone Diet webpage to get more details. Although I like the macro view (40-30-30) with CarbSane’s fix, there are some things I dislike about the minor details. Here are the small changes I would make for myself.

  1. The focus on low-fat protein. I’m cool with low-fat protein, but I think higher fat protein is fine as well. I favor beef and lamb over chicken and pork. As for soybeans, only natto or miso for me.
  2. These days I probably consume more more fruit than veggies, but that is a minor point.
  3. I’m not convinced that white rice and white potatoes cause “cellular inflammation”, so I’ll keep eating them.
  4. According to this page, Sears favors Omega 6 fats from veggie oils over animal saturated fats. Sold to him. I don’t fear saturated fats and am more swayed by the arguments that we need to greatly reduce our PUFA consumption.
  5. Another page says The Zone Diet advises to avoid eating egg yolks and organ meats. I’ll be laughing at this recommendation as well.

So if we start with the basic ratios of The Zone Diet then remove the neurotic small meal rules and add my WAPF inspired tweaks, we might have a decent diet for the average person.

Putting this post together reminded me that I tried to contact Dr. Sears back in 1996 for clarification on his no caffeine stance. A few weeks went by and then one day I had a message on my answering machine from someone who worked with him. That person provided a 1 minute explanation on how caffeine breaks down and its negative effect on their diet. I’ve since forgotten the reason, but was impressed they took to the time and effort to respond to my inquiry.


Add yours

  1. At first the diet worked great, but then I ran into problems.

    This happens with every diet, especially the extreme ones. It happened to me when I went macrobiotic as a teen (circa 1970). It happened when I went extremely low-carb/low-calorie (circa 2010). The honeymoon always ends.

  2. When I started to tweak my diet to improve my health years ago, I started with the Zone. The improvement was less carbs and more protein.
    I read a great piece of wisdom around that time: lower your cabs until you start to feel less well, and then up them a little. Of course that will vary over time.
    It turns out I do best with about 25% carbs, 25% protein and 50+% fat. Conveniently, that ends up being about equal grams of the three macros.

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