The Zone Diet

​The Zone diet has been popular for many many years even decades.  It is based around eating a certain amount of protein, carbs and fats at every meal.

It is believed by doing so you will reduce inflammation in the body and reap many health benefits.  However it isn't without its critics.

Here we take a detailed look at the Zone diet including how to follow it, its pros and cons and what you can do to get the most out of it.

What is the Zone Diet?

The Zone Diet was developed over 30 years ago with the specific aim to reduce inflammation caused by diet.   Dr Barry Sears, the founder of The Zone Diet, proposed that inflammation was the reason that people gained weight or became sick.

Once you reduce inflammation in the body, you will lose fat really quickly as well as reduce your risk of chronic disease.

The Zone Diet is not designed as a fad (although it is one) or a one-off diet but rather a system of eating in order to reduce inflammation.

​The diet instructs you to stick to 40% carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein.

It’s called the Zone Diet because you’re supposed to eat in the ‘zone’. You need to balance the food on your plate with one-third protein (the size and thickness of the palm of your hand), two-thirds colorful fruits and vegetables for carbs, and a small amount of fat.

The Zone Diet is a balanced diet of:

  • Lean natural protein like chicken and tuna
  • Low-glycemic carbs like cruciferous vegetables
  • Healthy fat (small amounts)

This way of eating affects your hormones and helps to control insulin, glucagon, and eicosanoids. Insulin is the stuff that makes you fat and also keeps you fat. Insulin also is bad for inflammation.

Glucagon is important for stable blood sugar levels and, when optimized, will lead to great boosts in mental and physical performance. Eicosanoids are hormones that control inflammation and also control other hormones in your body.

The Zone Diet can get a little complicated and involved so I’ll explain exactly what you need to do lower down in this guide.

​Summary: ​​The Zone Diet follows specific ratios: 40% carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein per meal.  It is a balance of lean proteins, low-glycemic carbs and healthy fats.

How Much Effort Is Involved? 9/10

Well, quite a lot of effort is involved when following the Zone Diet. The main source of effort is actually figuring out what you can eat in the first place! It can definitely get quite confusing but I will outline how you do the Zone Diet below.

How do you do it?

You need to find out how many Zone Food Blocks you can consume each day. Zone Food Blocks are the ways to make a balanced Zone Meal with the right amounts of protein, carbs, and fats. If this sounds confusing, don’t be alarmed. It is confusing and that’s one of the biggest negatives of the Zone Diet. But let’s break it down.

  • One Zone Block of protein = 7g of protein
  • One Zone Block of carbs = 9g of insulin-stimulating carbs
  • One Zone Block of fat = 1.5g of fat

Women are typically allowed to consume 11 Zone Blocks each day and men can typically consume 14 Zone Blocks. This may differ depending on your current level of activity and fat levels. You can find out if you need more or less Zone Blocks by using this Zone Diet calculator.

To make a meal, you should search for foods within the Zone Food Block Guide. There are meals based around their blocks, which further complicates things but here is a guide:

  • 1 block meal = one choice of protein block, one choice of carb block, one choice of fat block
  • 2 block meal = two choices from each block
  • 3 block meal = three choices from each block

Here is a sample Zone Diet meal day for a woman who needs 11 blocks:

  • 7:00am – Breakfast = 2 Blocks
  • 9:30am - Snack = 1 Block
  • 12:30pm - Lunch = 2 Blocks
  • 3:00pm - Snack =1 Block
  • 7:00pm - Dinner = 3 Blocks
  • 9:00pm - Snack = 1 Block

A small female might need 10 Blocks a day, while a medium-sized female would require 11, and a large female could require 13-14 Blocks a day.

A small male might need 16 Blocks, while a medium male would need 17 Blocks, and large males could need between 19-25 Blocks depending on their size and athletic commitments.

While this all sounds very confusing, it’s important to know that this will become easier after you’ve been on the Zone Diet for a few weeks. It’s the same with counting calories. When I first started, I had to constantly refer to my guides and note down everything I was eating. But after a couple of weeks, I could eyeball everything and know pretty accurately how much protein, carbs, fat, and calories were in each meal.

Here are some examples of Block Meals:

2 Block Meals:

  • 1 oz. steak, 1 fried egg, 1 slice of toast, 2/3 tbsp of butter
  • 2 oz. chicken breast, 1 orange, 2 macadamia nuts
  • 2 oz. canned tuna, 2 tbsp. light mayo,1 slice of bread

3 Block Meals:

  • ½ pita bread, 1 scrambled egg, 1 oz. cheese, 1 oz. sliced ham, ½ apple and 3 macadamia nuts
  • 3 oz. deli meat, 1 oz. sliced cheese, 1 ½ apples, 3 macadamia nuts
  • 3 oz turkey breast, 2 cups of kale, 1 tsp. olive oil, 1 peach

4 Block Meals:

  • 1 corn tortilla, ½ c. black beans, 1/3 c. onions, 2 scrambled eggs, 2 oz. cheese, 4 tbsp avocado
  • 6 oz. fresh fish, 1 zucchini, large salad, 2 tbsp salad dressing, 2 c. strawberries
  • 4 oz. canned tuna, 4 tsp. light mayo, 1 slice bread, 1 apple

5 Block Meals:

  • 3 oz. steak, 2 fried eggs, 1 slice bread with 1 tsp. butter, ¾ cantaloupe
  • 5 oz. turkey breast, 2 c. kale, 1 tsp. olive oil, 3 peaches
  • 2 slices bread, 4 ½ oz. deli meat, 2 oz. cheese, 5 tbsp. avocado, ½ apple

1 Block Snacks:

  • 1 hard-boiled egg, ½ orange, 6 peanuts
  • 1 oz. tuna, 1 large tossed salad, 1 tbsp of dressing
  • 1 oz. cheese, ½ apple, 1 macadamia nut

Zone Meals In Seconds​​​​​

For more Zone Diet meal recommendations, plus a greater understanding of the theory behind it all, I recommend you read Dr. Barry Sears’ book Zone Meals in Seconds, which contains 150 breakfast, lunch, and dinner Zone meals that are delicious and easy to make.

zone meals in seconds

Zone Diet Rules

  • Eat a Zone meal within an hour of waking up.
  • You should keep 4-6 hours between meals and have a meal 2-2.5 hours after a snack.
  • Assess your hunger level before eating anything. You are in the Zone if you are not hungry and have mental clarity.
  • Drink 8 glasses of water a day.

For an overview on the Zone Diet from the creator himself, Dr. Barry Sears, I recommend you check out this short video:

Exercise And The Zone Diet?

Dr. Barry Sears, developer of the Zone Diet, believes that exercise is good by diet is better for losing weight. I would largely agree that diet is the more important factor in losing weight but exercise is still supremely important for accelerating weight loss and keeping healthy.

The Zone Diet doesn’t actually emphasize any particular exercise routine like other diets do. However, it is advised to still follow an exercise routine of your own devising. You should have a Zone snack before working out and a Zone meal after the workout.

Can You Do The Zone Diet If You Have Food Restrictions?

If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you can still follow the Zone Diet but you will have to make different choices to get your protein in and that might be difficult. The Zone Diet also includes dairy and wheat and grains, so if you are lactose intolerant or have a gluten allergy, this might not be the diet for you, although you could work around this issue by swapping the offending items for something your body prefers.

What Are The Benefits Of The Zone Diet?

The Zone diet has several benefits that many other diets don't have.  Here are a few for you to consider:

  • The Zone Diet is not very strict on restrictions.  Instead it advises against undesirable foods such as processed and added sugar.  This can come across much more appealing because it doesn't feel like an all or nothing approach that can make you feel like you are depriving yourself
  • You are unlikely to feel hungry because of the satiating portions of protein and fat.
  • The diet is fairly flexible with 2 methods you can follow.
  • The Zone Food Block method will help aid fat loss because it controls your calorie intake.  There have been many studies showing that calorie restriction helps weight loss (1, 2).
  • The Zone Diet has similiar recommendations to the Mediterrean Diet which is supported with evidence for being one of the best for long term health (3, 4)

​Summary: ​​The Zone diet is fairly flexible, isn't too strict and depending on approach taken will help you restrict calories which has been proven to aid weight loss.


Cons Of The Zone Diet

The diet has several benefits but also has some disadvantages.  

  • Despite making huge health claims, there is little evidence to support them and little evidence to show you will reap these benefits from following the diet (5).
  • Too much structure makes the Zone Diet very confusing and difficult to follow. You can get used to it but many people will probably abandon the diet before that happens.
  • ​You could have a decrease in exercise performance - Although the Zone Diet claims that your exercise performance will improve, one study found that although individuals lost weight following the diet, they ​also lost their exercise endurance and fatigue much faster (6).
  • ​Reducing inflammation is the Zone Diet's number one claim.  Once your body reaches certain targets by following the diet you get in "The Zone".  However there is not enough research to prove th​is claim and more is needed before it can be substantiated.
  • The ratios 40% carbs 30% protein and 30% fat are not backed by any evidence and there is little that supports these ratios. 
  • The Zone Diet claims that your blood values will improve.  One study compared the Zone diet  with a group of people eating 60% carbs, 15% protein and 25% fats.  They found that there was no significant difference in blood values of fat,. cholesterol and sugar between the group and although the Zone Diet group did lose weight; this could have been down to the fact they were eating more protein that the other group (7).

​Summary: ​​The Zone Diet makes some huge health claims that it can't back up by evidence.  There simply isn't enough to support them.  On top of this the diet is quite complicated to follow.

Zone Diet For Weight Loss – Does It Work?

If you can follow the Zone Diet properly (which is difficult) you could lose 1-2 pounds of weight per week. You might lose more if you have more to lose or you might lose less if you have less to lose.

It’s probably not the most effective diet for weight loss but the most effective diet differs from person to person. If it works for you and you can stick with it, then you can lose weight with the Zone Diet.

How Does It Work?

It works by lowering the amount of high-glycemic carbs your exposed to, thus reducing blood sugar spikes, and also by virtue of the fact that it’s a low calorie diet. It can be confusing to work out the calorie content of different meals because of the talk of Zone Blocks but, generally, women who follow the diet get 1,200 calories a day at the upper end and men get 1,500 calories per day. You eat little and often and each meal has 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% healthy fat.

Zone Diet Success Stories

There aren’t as many success stories of Zone Diet as many of the other popular diets but there are some promising one. Also,celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Sandra Bullock, Demi Moore, and Sarah Jessica Parker have all followed the Zone Diet but here are just a few of my favorite inspiring and motivating success stories from lesser known people around the globe:

manuel ulribe weight loss
  • Manuel Uribe was the heaviest man in the world, weighing 1232lbs, but the Zone Diet allowed him to lose 400lbs. You can check out his diet here: Manual Ulribe

FAQ

Can Pregnant Or Breastfeeding Women Follow The Zone Diet?

Pregnant women should, according to the Zone Diet website, ‘increase protein intake by 10 grams at every meal with a corresponding increase of carbohydrate and fat’. Nursing mothers should similarly increase their amounts but by 5g instead of 10g. Pregnant women should also have 2.5g of omega-3 fatty acids per day.

How Do I know If I’m In The Zone?

Being in the Zone means following the diet correctly and having your body respond favorably. You will know you are in the Zone when you have more mental clarity, more energy, and reduced hunger. After a couple of weeks of following the diet, you should have a feeling of overall well-being. This is called being in the Zone.

Can Children Follow The Zone Diet?

Children can follow the Zone Diet but it can be difficult to calculate their needs because they are growing. You should be liberal with their Zone Block amounts and allow their body to get used to the diet and figure out how much it will need.

Can I Still Drink Coffee On The Zone Diet?

Drinking caffeinated beverages is not recommended on the Zone diet because it could affect your insulin levels. Try to reduce or completely eliminate your coffee.

Can I Still Drink Alcohol On The Zone Diet?

Drinking alcohol is not recommended on the Zone diet and it is advised to keep alcohol consumption very infrequent or eliminate it completely.

Where Can I Find Out More?

Here are the resources I recommend if you want to learn more about the Zone Diet. It’s quite a confusing diet so, if it sounds like something you want to try, be sure to read up so that you understand everything. It’s good to read from multiple sources, including the stuff that the developer Dr. Barry Sears puts out.

Websites And Forums

the zone diet labs

The Zone Diet The best website on the subject of the Zone Diet is, believe it or not, the official Zone Diet website itself. You’ll need to sign up to access a bunch of stuff, like food lists, but its worth it if you want all the tools and tips to follow the Zone Diet.

dr sears zone diet

Dr Sears – You should also check out the creator’s website for more information about the Zone Diet. He uses charts and pictures to make explaining the diet much easier.

Books/Ebooks

​Enter The Zone: A Dietary Road Map

​Barry Sears

This book will help clear up any confusion about the Zone Diet and tell you what to eat and when. 
enter the zone diet

​Zone Meals In Seconds

​​​​Barry & Lynn Sears

For more Zone Diet meal recommendations, plus a greater understanding of the theory behind it all, I recommend you read Dr. Barry Sears’ book Zone Meals In Seconds, which contains 150 breakfast, lunch, and dinner Zone meals that are delicious and easy to make:

zone meals in seconds

​​Enter The Zone: A Dietary Road Map

​​​Barry Sears

enter the zone diet
This book will help clear up any confusion about the Zone Diet and tell you what to eat and when. 

​Zone Meals In Seconds

​​Barry & Lynn Sears

zone meals in seconds

​​For more Zone Diet meal recommendations, plus a greater understanding of the theory behind it all, I recommend you read Dr. Barry Sears’ book Zone Meals In Seconds, which contains 150 breakfast, lunch, and dinner Zone meals that are delicious and easy to make:

​​​​Wrapping up

The Zone Diet definitely is not for everyone. But it does have its proponents. Like every diet, the key is to experiment as see if it can fit in with your lifestyle and your unique body needs.

You won’t know if the Zone Diet is the perfect diet for you or the diet from hell until you give it a test-run for a couple of months. Good luck and I hope you get in the Zone!