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The Zone Diet


The Zone Diet was developed by Barry Sears, PhD, and popularized by Dr. Sears’ best-selling book, The Zone: A Dietary Road Map to Lose Weight Permanently: Reset Your Genetic Code: Prevent Disease: Achieve Maximum Physical Performance: Enhance Mental Productivity.

The foundation of the Zone Diet is the relationship between the hormone insulin and substances called eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are hormone-like substances that control many vital physiological functions, including those of the cardiovascular system, immune system, and nervous system. Dr. Sears believes that certain eicosanoids are “good” and others are “bad.”

Here’s where insulin enters the picture. When insulin levels are high, “bad” eicosanoids are produced. Dr. Sears contends that his Zone Diet, which contains 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 30% fat, is the ideal diet for keeping insulin levels in check.

Why do people follow this diet?

The Zone Diet is popular among people desiring to lose weight. Even though the diet is low in calories, it contains enough fat to provide a sense of fullness. In addition, normalizing insulin levels can eliminate food cravings, making it easier for dieters to not cheat. Many athletes seek to live in “the Zone” because they believe following the diet leads to improvements in body composition and enhances athletic performance. The Zone Diet is also popular among people with non-insulin dependent diabetes, as it is believed to help normalize blood sugar levels.

What do the advocates say?

Advocates of the Zone Diet contend that living “in the Zone” improves energy levels, mental clarity, physical endurance, and promotes weight loss. Dr. Sears has worked with many elite athletes and attributes their success in competition to his diet.

What do the critics say?

Most nutrition professionals favor a high-complex-carbohydrate, low-fat diet for general health and weight loss. They caution that high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets lack key nutrients for health, including dietary fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, and several minerals. In addition, the high intake of meat products necessary to meet the protein requirements of the Zone Diet may place certain individuals at risk of heart disease due to increased intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. Persons with kidney failure are also warned to stay away from the diet, as high amounts of protein increase the amount of nitrogen-containing waste products the kidneys must process for elimination.

Critics of the Zone Diet concede that people who follow the diet carefully often experience significant weight loss. However, they point out that the Zone Diet is actually very low in calories, with the average person taking in only 800—1,200 calories per day, and caution that the strict, and confusing, nature of the diet makes it difficult to follow. As a result, long-term compliance—and therefore lasting weight loss—with this diet is unlikely. Moreover, any diet low enough in calories will result in weight loss, regardless of its proportions of protein, carbohydrate, and fat.

Not all sports nutritionists and athletes believe that the Zone Diet is ideal for athletic training and performance. A significant amount of research in the field of exercise physiology has shown that fatigue during exercise is primarily caused by depletion of the body’s stored carbohydrates (called glycogen). Most athletes’ glycogen stores are depleted within 90 minutes of intense exercise, leaving muscles without any source of energy to fuel activity. As a result, many experts believe that a sufficient intake of carbohydrates before and during exercise is crucial for increasing endurance.

Are there any groups or books associated with this diet?

The Zone by Barry Sears, New York: Harper Audio, 1998.

A Week in the Zone by Barry Sears, New York: Regan Books, 2000.

Mastering the Zone: The Next Step in Achieving Superhealth and Permanent Fat Loss by Barry Sears, New York: Regan Books, 1997.

The Top 100 Zone Foods: The Zone Food Science Ranking System by Barry Sears, New York: Regan Books, 2001.

Zone-Perfect Meals in Minutes: 150 Fast and Simple Healthy Recipes from the Bestselling Author of the Zone and Mastering the Zone by Barry Sears, New York: Regan Books, 1997.

Zone Food Blocks: The Quick & Easy, Mix & Match Counter for Staying in the Zone by Barry Sears, New York: Regan Books, 1998.

The Soy Zone by Barry Sears, New York: Regan Books, 2000.

The Anti-Aging Zone by Barry Sears, New York: Regan Books, 1999.

The Age-Free Zone by Barry Sears, New York: Regan Books, 2000.

The Zone Diet Web site


Sears, Barry PhD. Enter the Zone. New York: Harper Collins, 1995.

Stein, Karen. High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets: Do they work? J Am Dietet Assoc 2000;100:760–1.

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