the joy of strength training


April 14th, 2008 at 9:25 am

Zone Diet: episode 1

» by in: crossfit,diet


Fruit and vegetable box

Photo credit: Karimian

I have recently started the Zone Diet and I thought it would be useful to post my experiences up here every so often.

I found out about the Zone Diet through Crossfit; it is their prescribed diet as it is consistent with the Crossfit recommendation to “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar” for optimum health, body composition and physical performance.

What is the Zone Diet?

Originally devised by Dr Barry Sears, Crossfit has adopted the Zone Diet for its athletes. The Zone Diet is designed to control levels of insulin and thereby reduce fat storage in the body. It cuts out foods with a high glycaemic index and encourages consumption of protein and mono-saturated fats, aiming for a macronutrient split of 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein and 30% fat.

This is not in line with conventional diet wisdom which tends to recommend a higher proportion of carbohydrates (50-60%) and a lower proportion of fat and protein (15-25%).

Although no particular food is prohibited or required, Crossfit has produced lists of ‘favourable’ and ‘unfavourable’ carbohydrates, and recommended proteins and fats. Starchy carbs and refined sugars, for example, are ‘unfavourable’, in line with the Crossfit recommendation to eat “little starch and no sugar”.

Everything you would need to know to get started with the Zone Diet can be found in this Crossfit journal article.

Why did I choose the Zone Diet?

I have tried conventional calorie-counting diets in the past and have had some success with them. However, recently I have found it much more difficult to stick to them. I have felt like I just wasn’t eating enough.

I know a number of Crossfitters who are following the Zone Diet. They seem to have similar activity levels to myself and similar performance and body composition aims, and all were reporting success with this diet. So I thought I would give it a try.

The First Week

I have been following the Zone Diet for a week now and my experience has overall been very positive, although I have also had one or two issues.

The good points

Firstly, the positive points:

I haven’t felt hungry at all. When I totted up the number of calories I was eating per day, I was amazed that it could be so low and yet not result in hunger. Previously I found it difficult to keep to less than 1800 kcals per day (I’m a 60kg female). On the zone, I have been eating 1350-1400 kcals per day and not feeling hungry.

I haven’t had energy peaks and troughs throughout the day. Energy levels have stayed constant. I am able to go from breakfast to lunchtime without needing to snack, which is very unusual for me.

I have eaten no sugar except that which occurs naturally in the foods I am eating and I haven’t missed it at all. This was another shock as I have always had a sweet tooth and I was a complete monster for chocolate, biscuits, cake etc. I would never have believed that I could be perfectly happy not eating sugar. I haven’t even felt the need for sweetener.

I’ve lost weight, around a kilo in the first week.

It’s easy to use. I had thought at first that it might be a bit complicated but I am actually finding it easier than previous dieting experiences. I am used to weighing and measuring food, which probably makes a difference.

The less good points

However, I have had a couple of issues in these early stages. Firstly, the sheer bulk of food that I am eating at one sitting has increased significantly and there are times when I feel a bit too full. Getting your carbs from vegetables and a bit of fruit means eating a lot of vegetables! Also, eating protein at every sitting makes a difference. I am not used to having porridge for breakfast and then gobbling down several slices of ham and a few nuts.

The solution to this is either to tweak your food choices until you get a volume of food that you can handle or eat more frequently. However I imagine the body does get used to eating this way after a while. I found it a bit awkward in the first few days but I think I am already getting used to it.

The other problem I am encountering is tiredness. This kicked in around day five and I’m still suffering from it now, on day eight. I have been told by others on the diet that it does go away eventually once your body has adapted to the new diet and caloric intake. But right now it is frustrating because I am finding it harder to train and I want to sleep all the time!

I also found myself getting a bit emotional today – a classic symptom of the reduction in carbs. Again, I understand that this goes away eventually.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this post a couple of days ago, my energy seems to have returned. So the tiredness only lasted a few days, or so it seems at the moment 😉

Into the second week

Despite these issues, I am looking forward to what the second week might bring. As a result of my first week experience I am looking to:

  1. Scale back my training slightly until my body has adapted better to the new eating pattern.
  2. Try a protein supplement to get around some of the bulky food issue (and hopefully save money!).

Watch this space!

Zone Diet links

Crossfit Journal article on the Zone Diet

Crossfit dietary prescription

Enter the Zone Diet – the unofficial zone diet online

Zone Diet – Barry Sears’ official zone diet site

Get Zoned – Australian zone diet information

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  • 1

    I’m doing the South Beach Diet, which is similar to the Zone. In my experience, women need more carbohydrates than men in order to avoid being cranky/tired. Fortunately, those symptoms can usually be resolved without stalling your weight loss by simply adding more fruit to your diet.

    Li on April 14th, 2008
  • 2

    Thought I’d pipe in with my Zone experience.

    Back in my mid twenties I when I was studying to become a personal trainer, I found The Zone. At the time I was eating a high-carb diet with very little fat or protein.

    After thirty days on The Zone, I lost weight but more importantly, my change in eating habits kept me from having to go on antidepressants. I had just been diagnosed with chronic depression.

    Now, I still follow the 40/30/30 principles as laid out in The Zone, although not as strictly. I eat more refined carbs in the form of whole grain breads and wraps and the occasional refined sugar.

    Plus, I’ve incorporated a free day where I eat whatever I want for one day. All together, I’ve maintained my weight and my emotions quite easily.

    Good luck on your new journey. If I can help in any way, let me know.

    Curtis Penner on April 14th, 2008
  • 3

    @ Li: A-ha! Thanks for the tip about fruit. Hope the South Beach is going well for you.

    @ Curtis: Interesting stuff! It’s great to hear a success story, particularly where the changes have been long term. Thank you for the offer of help too!

    gubernatrix on April 14th, 2008
  • 4

    “Hope the South Beach is going well for you.”

    43 pounds lost so far (recuperating from my first pregnancy). Hope to lose 12 more. The diet seems to have “recalibrated” my appetite so that I’m not as hungry anymore. I got cranky and fuzzy brained while in the induction phase, so I added in more carbo. It’s slowed my weight loss but hasn’t stopped it, and I’m able to lift without feeling like I’m going to pass out.

    Li on April 14th, 2008
  • 5


    Young Lady why on earth are you on a diet? It appears to be the last thing you need? Oh well who am i to talk??? I’ve been practicing Evolutionary Fitness for the last year and a half. I can’t remember a time when i was’nt doing Intermitant fasting, my workouts have’nt suffered and i feel much better. Ah Well, If it suits your goals, then power to ya Gubes!!!

    Guy on April 15th, 2008
  • 6

    @ Li: Excellent work, hope it continues. I like your term “recalibrated” – I feel like this is happening with the zone diet as well.

    @ Guy: Come on, Guy, you know better than that 😉 If I ate whatever I wanted, I wouldn’t stay in my current shape for very long! I want to find a way of eating that will keep me in shape forever, and certainly better shape than I am now. Also, from a purely practical point of view I need to lose a bit of weight in order to compete in my chosen weight classes at rowing and powerlifting.

    I often get people saying to me “you don’t need to go on a diet”. I imagine that what they have in mind is some short term lettuce-and-soup type diet that I foist on myself through sheer willpower just so that I can fit into a dress two sizes too small for me. So in that sense they are right, I don’t need to be going on diets like that!

    However, an eating plan like the zone isn’t the same thing at all. For me, it’s about finding a way of eating that meets my nutrient and calorie needs and also ‘recalibrates’ (Li’s great word) my bad diet habits, such as eating too much refined sugar.

    I also want to look leaner, although this is a purely personal thing. Wanting to look leaner doesn’t mean that I think I am fat (which is something else people assume).

    gubernatrix on April 15th, 2008
  • 7


    Point taken, in my youth, when I boxed, i had to make a weight on more than one occassion. I understand, now, when I undertook the I.F/Paleo (Evolutionary Fitness)method i was tired of the 5-6 meals daily method. That was really hard to adhere to, & i just got tired of eating. I.F is easy for me, & the G.H release helps me “stay lean” No, offense was meant. Power to ya Kiddo!!

    Guy on April 15th, 2008
  • 8

    Cheers Guy! So IF works for you long term, does it? How often do you fast?

    gubernatrix on April 15th, 2008
  • 9

    I fast for 19 hours, then have a 5 hour window where i consume 2 meals. I eat following a strict Paleo regimen. I do this 24/363, except for my B-Day in June, and at Christmass. Can’t be good all year 😉

    Guy on April 15th, 2008
  • 10

    Wow, that’s dedicated. All power to you too!

    gubernatrix on April 15th, 2008
  • 11

    I would love to hear an update of how it’s going!

    I am embarking on my first real diet in a long time, and I have to admit I’m a little nervous. I chose Mike Roussel’s program, and I’m giving myself one month. I can do one month with 100% compliance…..sure, right.

    I love to bake too much, that’s my real problem. I vow to only bake dog cookies this month. Next month, the dogs will need to go on a diet. 😉

    ClickerTrainer on May 13th, 2008
  • 12

    I appreciate the great advice. I\’ll be back every week for more.

    ErMoo on August 14th, 2008
  • 13

    Yep, I plan to post an update soon. I stopped doing the zone for a while but am about to go back onto it again.

    In a nutshell, I think it’s a great diet (best I’ve tried yet) but I find it hard to stick to for long periods of time. I think I would find any diet hard to stick to for long periods of time!

    gubernatrix on August 16th, 2008
  • 14

    […] Zone diet episode 1 […]

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  • 17

    Sounds great! These are basically alkaline based foods! as we know nowadays processed foods are just in our finger tips. these are no good. it just adds up to your weight. -christopher guerriero-

    Lorenzo Stone on October 23rd, 2009


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