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:
- Scale back my training slightly until my body has adapted better to the new eating pattern.
- Try a protein supplement to get around some of the bulky food issue (and hopefully save money!).
Watch this space!
Zone Diet links
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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