Book Review: A Week in the Zone

© 2000 by Dr. Barry Sears book Review by Denice Mofffat

The Zone Diet involves learning how to balance and maintain the hormones generated by the foods we eat.  Everyone is not genetically the same. Excess insulin production makes our blood sugar fall too quickly, which makes us tired, fatigued and hungry for more carbohydrates.  If we are in balance, then our pancreas handles the carbohydrates we eat perfectly. Our ability to process carbohydrates is partially tied to our genetics. Besides causing diabetes, increased insulin levels affect your mood, brain power, concentration, blood pressure, the heart, speeds the aging process aging and accelerates arthritis, osteoporosis, and chronic diseases such as breast cancer. Adequate protein as advocated in the Zone Diet insures a strong immune system so that you will resist infections.

Eating in the Zone eliminates carbohydrate cravings by stabilizing insulin levels.

The best predictor of heart disease is not high cholesterol and not high blood pressure but elevated levels of insulin. For most of the population, it’s easy to see in a mirror if you have elevated insulin levels because you’ll be shaped like an apple. Some people though, need a blood test to measure lipid levels. If your triglycerides are higher than 150 and your HDL cholesterol is less than 35mg/dl you are producing too much insulin.

Excess insulin activates a hormone system that promotes sodium retention so eating too much salt when you are a pre or diabetic can make your blood pressure go up.

Just like taking your medicines on time, eating at specific times of the day in The Zone is critical in keeping your insulin levels stable. In my own practice I’m really surprised when I hear that diabetics and prediabetic patients skip meals. Dr. Sears recommends three meals and two snacks each day. The snack before bedtime is very important to keeping your insulin levels balanced for that morning blood test and it’s also important to ensure that your brain receives the proper brain sugar during the sleep stage.

By eating in the Zone (if you’re doing it correctly) you won’t feel hungry, fatigued or deprived of foods. The body will have extraordinary levels of vitamins and minerals and the perfect amounts of fats.  To accomplish this you must use grains and starches as you would condiments though—in  moderation.

I think the easiest way to entice you into the Zone is to address some frequently asked questions. It seems that when my clients read the book they just don’t get it. It is easier to work with someone who has done the program for sure, but Dr. Sears also has a large supportive website that has all kinds of tools to help you get on your way. See his site at www.drsears.com , but, here’s the quick start:

First, take your plate and divide it into three sections. On one-third of the plate put some low-fat protein that is no bigger or thicker than the palm of your hand.

Then fill the other two-thirds of the plate until it is overflowing with fruits and vegetables. Then add a small amount of monounsaturated fat like olive oil, slivered almonds or guacamole. That’s just about it. Now pick out 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 5 dinners and keep rotating them until you get the hang of it.

Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day and start walking. Thirty minutes four times/week for starters.

That’s about it. Now let’s address some of those questions you may have.

FAQ’s and Tips for eating in the Zone:

How will I know if I’m “In the Zone?”  First eat your meal. Then, four hours later, ask yourself two questions:

1) Are you hungry? and

2) Do you have good mental focus?

If the answer to both questions is no then your meal was balanced and in the Zone.

On the other hand, if you eat have good mental focus but you are hungry, you’ve had too much protein relative to carbohydrate. Your insulin is low so the brain is telling your body to eat again to get some brain sugar generated.

If you’ve eaten too many carbohydrates relative to protein you’ll be hungry but have brain fog and decreased mental focus.

Lack of hunger, no sugar cravings, and good mental focus is a good indicator that you’re ”In the Zone”.

What’s involved in the Zone Diet? It involves eating carbohydrates, proteins and fats in balanced blocks which helps control insulin levels in the body. There are 9 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of protein and 3 grams of fats for each balanced set of blocks. The glycemic index is not as important as the glycemic load. With a balanced glycemic load the insulin is released very slowly and continuously into the system to digest the foods that you eat. It uses complex carbohydrates such as grains, starches, pasta, breads which are all high-density carbohydrates in moderation and which are easy to overeat. Eating low-density, low glycemic load carbohydrates like fresh fruits and vegetables make it virtually impossible to overeat. In addition their fiber content slows the entry rate of carbohydrates into the bloodstream thus controlling insulin levels. Unfavorable, high-density carbs are limited to not more than 25% of the total carb grams in a meal.

Timing is critical to stay in the zone: You’ll need to eat three meals and two snacks each day to be in the Zone. A balanced meal should last your body about 4-6 hours whereas a snack will maintain insulin levels for 2-2 ½ hours before you’ll need to eat again. No more than 5 hours should elapse before you’ll need to eat another meal or snack during waking hours and it’s essential that you eat within one hour of waking and not forget the afternoon and late-night snacks. The meals should be eaten, whether you’re hungry or not, to stay in the Zone.

Isn’t this a high-protein diet? One common negative thing said about the Zone diet is that it is a high-protein diet. Dr. Sears explains that it is a protein-adequate diet and that it is not safe to eat high protein diets.  The Zone recommends 75 grams of protein for the adult woman and about 100 grams for the adult male each day.

Can’t I just cut back on calories? Calories are not as important as the combination of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Studies have shown that just cutting back on calories doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll lose weight. For example if 90% of your calories come from carbohydrates and you don’t control the insulin levels you’ll feel deprived, constantly hungry, fatigues and eventually you fill fail and binge. That doesn’t happen with the Zone diet because is a hormonally controlled program that maintains adequate levels of sugar to the brain.

How long will it be before I see results? Two to three days with a weight loss of fat of about 1 to 1 ½ pounds per week. Fast weight loss usually has to do with water loss when you use other diet plans.

Won’t eating that much protein give me osteoporosis and kidney problems?  The grams of protein is both adequate and also spread throughout the day. Research indicates that women who eat more protein per day have 70% fewer hip fractures than those who eat less than 75 grams per day. There is no evidence that eating the recommended amounts of protein will cause kidney failure.

I’m not overweight. Why should I be on the Zone? Because it’s a lifelong hormonal control program. It is the only program which has demonstrated the reversal of the aging process. Although originally developed for cardiovascular patients, it has been extensively tested on world-class athletes as well.

Will a liquid meal (like a smoothie with protein powder) in the correct ratio get me into the Zone? A liquid meal has a much greater surface area than solid food so the digestion rate of nutrients into the bloodstream can’t be controlled and often happens too quickly which imbalances the hormones. Dr. Sears doesn’t talk about this but I’ve learned that saving part of your calories to chew on will help slow down this process. He does discuss that eating polyunsaturated fats (like nuts) will slow down the entry rate of carbohydrates into the blood sugar. We have some Zone-balanced shakes and snacks listed in the website for you.

What if I make a mistake or go overboard? We all make mistakes. Just get back on track with your next meal or snack and things will work out fairly quickly.

How will the Zone diet affect taking my medications and supplements? Any change in your diet (for better or worse) will affect the metabolism of the drugs or supplements you are taking. Working with a doctor who knows about the Zone diet will help you minimize and start eliminating those pills that your body no longer needs. Dr. Sears states that you should never change or stop taking your medications without first consulting your physician. A qualified naturopath can help wean you off the supplements that are no longer necessary and get you on a maintenance program that is safe for your body’s needs.

Gee, I feel like I have more energy. What exercise should I be doing? If you haven’t done any exercise for years then a 30-minute brisk walk is a great way to start recommends Dr. Sears. He says that 80% of your ability to control insulin will come from the diet and 20% from exercise. And if you’ve read Dr. D’Adamo’s book, Eat Right 4 Your Type you’ll notice that walking is a great exercise for all blood types.

I get confused when it comes to the difference between proteins and carbohydrates. Are there any simple rules to help me when I shop? Dr. Sears answer is, “Protein moves around (or at least once did) and carbohydrates come from the ground in the form of grains (pasta, brads, cereals), vegetables and fruit.” As a general rule, stick to the outside edges of the store when you shop where you’ll find fresh produce, meats, salad bars and the deli. Anything down the center isles is refined and packaged and is a surefire way to increase insulin levels and knock you out of the Zone.

How can I stay on a diet when I don’t like to cook? It’s a statement I get often but it seems on the Zone or Blood Type diet you don’t really have to cook things made of recipes.  As a matter of fact anything that’s been processed usually has lots of calories, is bereft of nutrients and has too much fat and sodium in it. And if you eat out? Minimize that to once a week. Dr. Sears does have some restaurant suggestions in his book for eating out in the Zone.

Isn’t it best to stay away from fats? It takes fat to burn fat sometimes. And we normally get too many saturated fats in our diets. So, the fats in nuts, olives and oils help dissolve the harder fats and make our cell walls more supple. This helps us because we can move more freely and it also helps us get rid of pain caused from hard fat build-up.

Can I cheat occasionally? The Zone Diet is not restrictive and doesn’t require perfect attention. After you get the hang of it Dr. Sears recommends that you cheat with a big porky meal once a month or so like a big bowl of pasta or Mexican food. When you do this you’ll feel it the next day and then understand how good eating in the Zone actually is for your mental and physical bodies.

What kinds of dis-eases have been helped with the Zone? Dr. Sears writes about success stories from people with MS, clinical long-term depression, men with high PSA levels, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, inflammation of the liver, chronic pain, and arthritis. Michael and I have personally seen about 85 ecstatic people on the Zone diet who told fantastic stories of how they went off several of their medications.  

Is the Zone diet just a fad? The Zone diet is a tried and true lifelong hormonal control program and has been around since 1995. It works. Try it.