The post I swore I would write months ago. Well, better late than never, I suppose.First off, I highly recommend buying the book by Dr. Barry Sears, the biochemist who pioneered the Zone diet, or better yet, get the audio book… it is a relatively short book, and for me, it was just more convenient. It spells out all of the theories and scientific stuff that I would probably screw up if I tried to explain it to you. So instead, I will hit a couple of the high points and show you how I follow the diet.
The basics: We are trying to achieve a ratio of 40:30:30. Of your meal, 40% of the calories should be carbohydrates, 30% should be protein, and 30% should be fat. This is supposed to create a hormonal balance designed to put your body “in the fat burning Zone.” Dr. Sears equates food to medicine, and you must have the right doses for this drug called food to have the right effect. This is the point where I would direct you to the book to get a clearer explanation of eicosanoids (the anti-inflammatory chemical produced by your body) which is regulated by insulin (lowers blood sugar levels) and glucagon (raises blood sugar) levels. Insulin and glucagon together form a feedback cycle that determines how your body uses carbohydrates and body fat for energy. You need this proper balance so that the insulin does not tell your body to store the incoming energy (carbs) as fat. The glucagon signals for the fat in your cells to be released and used as energy. To put it simply, you don’t want an excess of either one of these. Thus the balance.
How do I Zone my meals? To be fair, the book says you can eat ice cream and pasta all day long, as long as you Zone the meals, it doesn’t matter. However, I am eating Paleo, so I will be showing you how to make Paleo Zone meals. It takes a while to get used to this, because getting all of your carbs mainly from vegetables means you need to eat A LOT of vegetables. The Zone is based on blocks. One block of protein is 7 grams. One block of carbohydrates is 9 grams. One block of fat is 1.5 grams (we are assuming you are getting fat out of your protein as well).
So now you just need to determine how many blocks you need per day. Thanks to the Kanto Plain CrossFit folks, this handy link will help you determine that: Zone Block Calculator
For example, I am 215 lbs at 23% body fat (what is my body fat?) and my activity level is medium to hard, 3 to 4 times per week. This gives me 19 blocks. That means during the course of the day, I need to eat 19 blocks of protein, 19 blocks of carbohydrates, and 19 blocks of fat. To spread that food out, my breakfast consists of 4 blocks, a midmorning snack is 2 blocks, lunch is another 4 blocks, another snack is 2 blocks, dinner is 5 blocks, and a bedtime snack of 2 blocks.
Using another link from Kanto Plain CrossFit, I made a Paleo list of foods that are one block apiece with ounces or grams as appropriate. We had to use the grams portion of the list in Japan, because we couldn’t find a food scale in ounces.
You are highly encouraged to weigh your food for at least a week to get a good feel for how big the blocks are. Some foods are easier than others. For instance, one egg is one block. A good food scale is indispensable. I recently found this Food Scale, and it is awesome.
To make things easier, there is also the plate method: take your plate, divide it in to thirds. One third should be a protein source, the remaining two-thirds should be carbohydrates. Imagine a chicken breast or a steak surrounded by spinach and broccoli. There is also the hand method. The protein should be the size of your fist or your open palm (and just as thick), if you are using Paleo carbs, should be the size of two fists, if not, only one fist. And your fat source should be the amount you can fit easily in your cupped hand. The macadamia nut is a fat source and one nut is one block. Seriously.
You should be able to tell if your balance is correct in constructing a Zone meal if you find that you are satiated and not hungry for the next four to six hours. There are those folks that say you lose weight on the Zone diet not because you have struck the ideal balance, but because you are ultimately limiting calories. I would suggest that the amount of weight I have lost is probably a combination of both.
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