When is a diet not a diet?

One of the major problems in nutrition is the lack of rigor in describing diets. The first problem is that the root of the word diet comes from the ancient Greek phrase “way of life”. A diet is not a short-term plan to fit into a swimsuit, but rather it is a way of life to reach a lifetime goal, like a longer and better life. If your goal is less grand like simply to lose weight, then to lose that weight and keep it off, you had better maintain that diet for the rest of your life. From that perspective, a diet like the Grapefruit diet doesn’t make much sense.

The second problem is the lack of precision in defining a diet. My definition of a diet is based on the macronutrient balance that ultimately determines hormonal responses. From this perspective, there are really only four diets based on the glycemic load, assuming that each diet contains the same number of calories.

Diet Common Name
Very low glycemic-load diet Ketogenic (i.e. Atkins diet)
Low glycemic-load diet Non-ketogenic (i.e. Zone Diet)
High glycemic-load diet American Heart (or Diabetes or Cancer, etc.) Association diet
Very high glycemic-load diet Strict vegetarian (i.e. Ornish diet)

Assuming these diets have an equal number of calories, you can then rank them in terms of the total amount of calories coming from protein, carbohydrates and fat as shown below:

Diet Macronutrient Composition
Very low glycemic-load diet 30% P, 10% C, and 60% F
Low glycemic-load diet 30% P, 40% C, and 30% F
High glycemic-load diet 15% P, 55% C, and 30% F
Very high glycemic-load diet 10% P, 80% C, and 10% F

You can see that depending on the macronutrient composition of the diet you choose to follow, it will generate very different hormonal responses. A ketogenic diet will induce increased cortisol levels that make you fat and keep you fat. High-glycemic diets induce excess insulin levels that make you fat and keep you fat. It’s only a low-glycemic diet that has been shown to burn fat faster (1) as well as maintain weight loss most effectively (2).

That’s why unless you define a diet carefully in terms of macronutrient balance, you can’t ever undertake any meaningful nutritional research to validate whether or not it achieves its stated goal. This is why most diet studies produce such conflicting results.

The wild card is which food ingredients you choose for a particular diet. This is where much of the confusion emerges as people throw around arbitrary terms like a Paleolithic diet or a Mediterranean diet. What the heck is a Mediterranean diet? Is it the diet from Morocco, Lebanon, Italy, or Spain? What you can do, however, is to review the food ingredients found in these diets.

For example, Paleolithic food ingredients would consist only of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grass-fed beef, eggs, and fish. A pretty limited group of foods to choose from, but it was all that was available to man 10,000 years ago. Mediterranean food ingredients include all of those in the Paleolithic group but now adding whole grains, alcohol, legumes, and dairy products. These were the dietary choices available about 2,000 years ago — a more diverse number of food choices for a particular diet, but now with a greater potential for generating inflammatory responses. Finally, there are the “Do-You-Feel-Lucky” food ingredients. This includes very recent additions to the human diet, such as sugar, refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils. These are food ingredients that make processed foods possible. However, they carry with them the greatest potential to increase cellular inflammation. Remember, it is increased cellular inflammation that makes you fat, sick, and dumb.

So if you want to be correct about the use of the word diet, then you should use the right terms. It could be an anti inflammatory diet using only Paleolithic food ingredients (i.e. a Paleo Zone Diet), or an anti inflammatory diet using only Mediterranean food ingredients (i.e. a Mediterranean Zone Diet), or even an anti inflammatory diet using the “Do-You-Feel-Lucky” food ingredients. This designation includes the most recent additions (sugar, refined carbohydrates, and vegetable oils) that have the greatest impact on inducing cellular inflammation, regardless of the macronutrient balance. Ultimately important are the hormonal responses of the macronutrient balance of the diet (especially after avoiding the worst offenders in the “Do-You-Feel-Lucky” group). The more restrictive your choices for food ingredients for any diet, the better the hormonal outcome for that particular diet. In particular, the primary clinical outcome for the anti inflammatory diet is the life-long management of cellular inflammation. And for that clinical parameter, the clinical research has found the anti inflammatory diet to be the clear winner regardless of the food ingredients selected (3-5).


  1. Layman DK, Evans EM, Erickson D, Seyler J, Weber J,; Bagshaw D, Griel A, Psota T, and Kris-Etherton P. “A moderate-protein diet produces sustained weight loss and long-term changes in body composition and blood lipids in obese adults.” J Nutr 139: 514-521 (2009)
  2. Larsen TM, Dalskov SM, van Baak M, Jebb SA, Papadaki A, Pfeiffer AF, Martinez JA, Handjieva-Darlenska T, Kunesova M, Pihlsgard M, Stender S; Holst C, Saris WH, and Astrup A. “Diets with high or low protein content and glycemic index for weight-loss maintenance.” N Engl J Med 363: 2102-2113 (2010)
  3. Pereira MA, Swain J, Goldfine AB, Rifai N, and Ludwig DS. “Effects of a low glycemic-load diet on resting energy expenditure and heart disease risk factors during weight loss.” JAMA 292: 2482-2490 (2004)
  4. Johnston CS, Tjonn SL, Swan PD, White A, Hutchins H, and Sears B. “Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets.” Am J Clin Nutr 83: 1055-1061 (2006)
  5. Pittas AG, Roberts SB, Das SK, Gilhooly CH, Saltzman E, Golden J, Stark PC, and Greenberg AS. “The effects of the dietary glycemic load on type 2 diabetes risk factors during weight loss.” Obesity 14: 2200-2209 (2006)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

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About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 30 years to the study of lipids. He has published more than 30 scientific articles and holds 13 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 13 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller "The Zone". These books have sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.

66 thoughts on “When is a diet not a diet?

  1. Good article.

    I have never really thought of the Zone as a “diet”. Rather than it being a diet, it has provided structure for my “diet”. There was a time not too long ago that I chose to try the “blood type diet”. I followed that diet, but I structured it using zone principles with proper rations of protein, carb, and fat (and took it a bit further by restricting the blood type “avoids” as well as the unfavorable foods in the Zone). I think it is also possible to follow other diets while still following Zone guidelines. I never ate a zone meal that didn’t measure up well using the WW points system!

    I wanted to comment on an article that was posted on the Zone Health site, but seemed more appropriate to post over here. The article talked about weight loss vs. fat loss, and how to encourage people to maintain. There was a quote embedded in the article that I feel was lost in the content, but I think the quote made a very valid point:

    “”Interventions that try to change the behavior of individuals but do nothing about the environment in which these people live, are likely to have modest and temporary effects at best,” said study author Lennert Veerman, who studies population health at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.”

    Many people lose weight using a variety of diets. But very few people succeed in keeping it off longterm. The quote above seems to explain to me why that is the case. Sure, we can attempt to change behaviors, but if we are constantly in an environment that encourages poor choices, it is not helpful to those who are trying to change. Eventually people will give in to the poor choices.

    There needs to be more focus and attention drawn towards a better environment. Better choices at fast food restaurants, school cafeterias, convenience stores, etc. Even at the hospital cafeteria where I work, there needs to be more focus on offering healthy choices for meals and snacks.

    We need to see advertizing dollars go towards the promotion of fruits and veggies (and all of the other zone-favorables) rather than for promoting french fries and sloppy burgers. How about loading up the vending machine with apples? How about veggies and hummus dip instead of greasy potato chips? How about a zoned fruit smoothie instead of a high-sugar slushie?

    I think people would make better choices if better choices were more readily available.

    • You were on a webinar earlier this week and said that legumes needed to be prepared a certain way….. would you please talk more about that. How do we prepare them so they aren’t rich in “anti-nutrients”? Thanks

    • The most insidious part of the dietary environment has been the massive increase in the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids. Recent studies have demonstrated that their impact is trans-generational (Hannbauer et al Cardio Spychiatry and Neurology (2009)) . That is they induce changes in fetal programming that makes the next generation more susceptible to weight gain and acceleration of chronic disease. By the third generation of exposure to these fatty acids, the offspring are obese and already have significant signs of chronic disease. Current American children represent the third generation of exposure to these omega-6 fatty acids. It is not clear that these genetic changes can be rapidly reversed. It’s very scary situation.

  2. So curious…I suppose Dr Sears prefers PaleoZone Diet over other ‘versions’ of Zone macronutrient balance like Mediterrean Zone or others.

    I find obviously the best a PaleoZone Diet. So many zoners have finally concluded that.

    I dont like so much approaches like Zone with muffins or sweets foods. Whole food traditional and ancestral foods is the most rational approach

    • Using Palelothic food ingredients dramatically restricts the number of food choices to follow a Zone diet, however, it is also will be have the least inflammatory impact as these ingredients are low in omega-6 fatty acids and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. However, very few have the dietary discipline to restrict their food choices so drastically. Using Mediterranean ingredients gives more food choices, but with a higher inflammatory potential. However, the new Zone foods provide a far higher degree of satiety on the Zone diet than using purely Paleolithic ingredients. This is why the Zone diet gives an individual to restrict their food choices (Paleolithic ingredients) or expand them (using the new Zone Foods) using with new technology or anything between the old or the new. What determines the best choices is their effect on cellular inflammation that can be tested. To ignore new technology without exploring its implications is not the way science advances.

      • But honestly I find so many ‘new Zone foods’ loaded with many kinds of cereals, some even sugar (sucrose) and fructose among its main ingredients (industrial and modern ingredients). I admit they have a perfect Zone macronutrient balance, absolutely true.

        For this I never recommend point system in Zone (as explained in ANTIINFLAMATION ZONE Book) and I prefer blocks’ Zone system, because first of them let you take bad carbs.

        Main problem with paleo foods is not only restriction but also cost and money. Buying organic grass fed animal products on a daily basis is expensive.

        • Unless the epidemic of cellular inflammation is reversed, the entire health care system in the country will be in collapse within a few years. This means you have to instill a dietary system that is affordable and accessible to virtually every socio-economic group. The reversal of cellular inflammation must be accomplished throughout the society, just not in the economically elite. Accessible food products that generate the appropriate hormonal responses (and in particular satiety) is key. While more recent food group introductions will have a greater inflammatory potential than Paleolithic ingredients, the macronutrient balance of the Zone diet will dramatically reduce their influence on cellular inflammation.

          • So, what I understand you to say is that the Zone 1-2-3 foods will have an anti-inflammatory effect due to the macronutrient balance, but paleo-zone will still have the most dramatic anti-inflammatory effect?

    • The Zone diet has been demonstrated in a variety of clinical studies to reduce cellular inflammation more effectively than any other diet. That is a clinical fact. It is my hypothesis that restricting food ingredients will have a slightly more positive impact on the reduction of cellular inflammation. However, that remains to be demonstrated in highly controlled clinical studies. The new Zone Foods we have developed in preliminary testing have proven to be more effective than the standard Zone diet in the reduction of cellular inflammation because of their ability to control hunger and reduce the intake of omega-6 fatty acids. The ideal experiment would be the Zone diet using only paleolithic ingredients (that will always contain arachidonic acid) versus the Zone Diet using the new Zone Foods that are free of arachidonic acid. I would predict the Zone Foods offer a better chance of reducing cellular inflammation the most because a diet can be constructed that is very low in omega-6 fatty acids with the absence of arachidonic acid. A Zone diet based on paleolithic ingredients may be a good starting point for developing an optimal human diet for the 21st century, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved to further cellular inflammation. I wouldn’t develop new food products unless I believed they can be instrumental in the reduction of cellular inflammation that will ultimately destroy our health care system.

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  5. I ran the Dr. Phil Maffetone two week carbohydrate intolerance test on myself and set the amount of carbohydrates at less that 75 gm/day to make me feel the best. That was about 3 1/2 years ago and almost 60 kg ago. I have played around with the ratios, and find I get to hungry anytime I go over about 125 gm of carbs/day, or about 25% carbs. Also I note that my weight is stable at 1500 C/day at 40% carbs and am hungry, and I losses at 1800 C/day at 50 gm/day carbs with little hunger. I use a food scales and caloric density, so I am comfortable that the numbers are approximately correct.

    It is my opinion that a fat Calorie has less bio-available energy that a carb calorie, likely due the the exothermic nature of water production(O2 to CO2 ratio). Gut fauna, variability in absorption, and other things may be contributing. This is screwing percent ratios of diet.

    My ancestors did not have access to grains or sugars before 1850; therefore, all diet should address/acknowledge the existence of us Primal subgroups in the population. For my body to prosper, I must eat mainly like my ancestors. I eat no sugar, grains, lubricants, or manufactured eatable products.

    You can argue all you want, but without conducting a trial, like a Maffetone test, you do not know how much carbohydrate I need. I fully expect that the values will vary from little to a lot,(0 to 80%) with the actual carbohydrate used, the method of preparation, and what else is eaten at the same time.

    But what do I know.

    • I think I have tried to make it clear in all of my books since 1995 that there is a bell-shaped curve in the ratio of protein to the glycemic load of the diet that has to be experimented with to find the best balance for your genetics. The best indication is your lack of hunger assuming you are taking in adequate protein throughout the day and in relatively equal amounts at each meal. That total amount of protein is based on your lean body mass and your degree of physical activity.

      I should also point out that your ancestors did had access to grains more than 10,000 years ago. I think you might be referring to refined grains that would increase the glycemic load.

      However, the goal of the Zone diet is the reduction of cellular inflammation since that is the driving force for the development of chronic disease. That can only be measured in the blood. We such measurements in all of my published clinical trials. In one of those clinical trials published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, we demonstrated that a lower protein-to-glycemic load ratio significantly increased the levels of cellular inflammation. That in my opinion that is not a good thing for long-term wellness.

  6. Hi-I’ve been on the zone for a week-and have not lost any weight, in fact, have gained a pound. Have followed the diet to a “T”. so am discouraged. I have about 7 pounds to lose-those “same 7″. I am 56 and had a hysterectomy in 2005. I do not take any hormones due to cancer in out famiy. I get moderate exercise.

    Also, could you tell me if non alcoholic beer would fit in the plan anywhere?

    And also-Blue Cheese-is it considered a fat or protein?

    • What you should be looking for is (1) the lack of hunger between meals and (2) the better fit of your clothes indicating a loss of body fat. If your clothes are fitting better and your weight is not changing, then this indicates that you are losing body fat as you gaining muscle mass. The net change on the scale would be zero. For a more precise indicator of success, I would use the body fat calculator found in the Tools section of the web site.

      Non-alcoholic beer is fine as long as you balance the carbohydrates in the beer with low-fat protein. In other words, have a protein chaser with the beer.

      Consider to the Blue Cheese to be a protein with a lot of extra fat.

  7. Hi Laura

    Dr Sears usually advises to try the Zone diet for 2 weeks to get the full benefits.

    Are you feeling any different? Do you have more energy? The 1 pound gain could be muscle. Are your clothes feeling less tight?

    If you are not sure how a food fits into the plan you need to check the label for the protein, carbs and fat and then do the equation. Protein divide by 7, carbs divide by 9 and fats divide by 3 to figure out the blocks.

  8. Dr Sears,

    Two questions:
    1. where do you stand on wholegrain bread? Bread is omitted in the menus in your book “Toxic Fat. Why? I thought wholegrain bread had a low glycemic index.
    2. where do you stand on Dutch, rye bread? It’s almost black coloured and coarse, suggesting it has lots of unrefined elements in it? Is rye better than normal grains?

    • Whole grain has about the same glycemic load as white bread. The health benefits of whole grain products come from their higher levels of polyphenols. However, you get a much better ratio of polyphenols to glycemic load coming from vegetables and fruits than you do from whole-grain products.

      Relative to whole-grain rye bread, it and whole-grain oat breads are possibly better choices that whole-grain wheat products. Both will have more micronutrients than whole-grain wheat products.

      This is never to say I don’t ever eat whole-grain, almost black bread. I am currently in Germany for lectures and the bread here meets those requirements and definitely is not routinely found in the U.S. Nonetheless, I restrict myself to one piece such dark bread per day treating like a piece of chocolate cake.

        • I would agree. I am currently in Germany (thus explaining my lack of rapid responses to various blog comments). This is the only place I will consume bread, but still in very small portions because of its effect on the glycemic load.

          • I am wanting to know your take in steel cut oats? Is this a whole grain? What is the GI comparable to? I often add seeds (ground flax, pumpkin, sunflower) and some alomnds. How do I know how much for each block for the steel cut oats – the information is never the same for steel, slow and quick oats. As is the serving amounts – not clear on wether or not the numbers reflect cooked or raw.

  9. i use natural bio-identical progesterone, and everything i have read says it helps fight cancer, not contributes (i have endometriosis)
    i am disappointed in the sugar substitutes in some of your new ”foods.” i lost weight one year when i switched to sugary drinks, instead of ”sugar” free! it was my only change
    since then, i avoid sugar drinks and sugar substitutes in everything
    it’s like salt – more often than not, the food is better tasting and healthier without the added stuff

    • Actually “bio-identical” hormones are not bio-identical. This is because that route of entry into the blood stream is very different that normal secretion from glands. As a result, the “bio-identical” has already had signficant metabolic transformation via the oral, topical, or injection routes.

      The sugar substitutes in the Zone Foods was to cover the taste of vinegar that we use to extend the shelf-life so that can be shipped via ground delivery. We have been developing new manufacturing technologies that allows us to eliminate the sugar subsitutes in many of the bread products and yet retain the shelf life necessary to make the shipping costs as minimal as possible.

  10. yes, i just checked – i’d love to buy something like the cherry vanilla shakes, but it has sucralose! no thanks…why not use some of the new, healther subsitutes?

    • I bought all the shake flavours and they are very sweet. They keep hunger away but I have to brace myself before drinking them as the sweetness is a bit overwhelming! I have also found this with the bars as well.

  11. I just thought I’d let everyone know that I have been on the zone diet for 2.5 weeks, very strict. I have already lost 2kilos and cm’s of my thighs and belly ( I had a little one 8months ago).
    I am fairly small anyway (now 57kg) but I love fitness and weight training and the zone diet is working very well with my training. I am even pushing heavier weights… Thanks!!! I am now recommending my friends and family to the zone.

  12. Dr. Sears, I am not sure if you caught my question, so will post it here again.

    Going back to paleo-zone vs. zone 1-2-3 foods:
    Will the Zone 1-2-3 foods will have an anti-inflammatory effect due to the macronutrient balance, but paleo-zone will still have the most dramatic anti-inflammatory effect?

    • I believe the a Zone diet using the new Zone Foods will ultimately prove be more anti-inflammatory than a Zone diet using only paleolithic ingredients. However, this remains my personal speculation. I make this statement because the Zone Food deliver high quality protein without the presence of any arachidonic acid and very low amounts of other omega-6 fatty acids. All animal protein will contain arachidonic acid, which is the underlying cause of cellular inflammation.

      In the absence of using Zone Foods, the inclusion of other diet ingredients such as Mediterranean and modern ingredients have the potential to slighly increase cellular inflammation compared to paleolithic ingredients.

      Nonetheless, all the published clinical studies of the Zone diet with no restriction of dietary ingredients has demonstrated a superior reduction of cellular inflammation compared to any other diet. What remains to be demonstrated is the effect of various food ingredients on the degree of reduction of cellular inflammation. Until those experiments are reported, everything relative to the inflammatory impact of various food ingredients remains a speculation. Keep in mind the primary driver of cellular inflammation are omega-6 fatty acids. Even paleolithic ingredients are high in these fatty acids. Mediterranean ingredients are lower in omega-6 fatty acids, although they may cause some allergic reactions. On the other other, modern food ingredients are the richest in omega-6 fatty acids and therefore will have the greatest negative impact on cellular inflammation.

      • thanks, that does help some. So, in terms of arachidonic acid and lack of omega-6, you feel that the zone 1-2-3 foods are superior to the paleo foods?

        I have personally not found the zone 1-2-3 foods to be satisfying for me from a “hunger-free” perspective, so maybe they are better as far as the anti-inflammatory properties go, but just not a good source of carb, as for me personally.

  13. DR.SEARS-
    i’m having a run of bad luck with the zone coach department. mary perry gave me a chris kelly’s number,but we seem to be playing phone tag. can i e-mail him? perhaps that maybe a better route to go. my list of questions is just getting longer.
    thank you for your help.

  14. thanks for the advise.i thought by talking to a real person would give me the individal help i need. you see 3 yrs ago my doctor put me on the zone diet,i wasreluctant at first,but after feeling so good within the first month,i went with it.it became a way of life.i got my husband on board and we have lost alot of weight.i lost 100pd. and my husband lost 50pd. we even quit smoking. last summer i was at a stand still for months. i re-read every book,and got alot of advise from this site.(before the make over). i re-calculated my numbers and got an 11 block.(i was a 15 block) ever since that moment i have gained weight. i’m so depressed,it’s putting me in a spin and i’m affraid i’ll go back to old habits.i’ve try’d every variation of the blocks.i perfer the measure method.i cant get it right.then i’ll eat to much the next time,then not enough the next. back and forth. hovering right around it.
    more on my story next time…. i have a doctors appt. maybe he can help.

    • Tammy,
      Don’t get frustrated. That happened to me a few years ago, and I let things get out of hand. Now I could kick myself for doing that.

      Go back to what was working before. Even if you don’t lose, you are in a better spot than going back to your old habits.

      Keep a food diary, mark recipes that are hormonal “winners” so that you can go back to it later.

      An observation of my personal experience, when I hit a plateau, I really have to go back and journal EVERYTHING. You’d be surprised what those little snacks really add up to. And, just because you’ve zoned everything doesn’t mean that the calories don’t count. I had ended up adding too much fat in an effort to curb my appetite, that the added fat was impeding my wt loss progress. Sitting down and looking at it all, I now realize the caloric errors that I was making. Even though the Zone is not focused around calories, I had totally ignored calories in an effort to eat foods that didn’t have much impact on glycemic control. Snacking on almonds is fine as long as they are rationed out! (one of my “mistakes”)

      Hopefully you will finally connect with a zone coach, but for now, just try journaling everything and I bet you will see some patterns emerge.

      • Thanks for the incouraging words……
        i agree with the food journal,but i cant go back to a 15 block.i’m a 11 block a day kinda a gal.(ha,ha),but i can go back to the basics.
        i portion everything,i mean EVERYTHING!!!!! my problem is carbs.it seems that an hr. or so after i eat a meal,i’m hungry. or am i? thats the question?. did i have to much green bean or brocc. in relation to the 3 oz. of chix and 18 almonds? is my measuring cup off? that’s where talking on the phone would help. i cant really get my point accross in text.
        i’ll do the food journel. i’ll work on a new recipe book for the 11 block. i’ve been pulling the ammounts out of the “book”(mastering the zone).
        have i mentions i’ve read them several time…. must be missing something.


        • 18 almonds!!! I don’t think that is right – that might be your problem right there! I think 1 block of fat is just 3 almonds (at most) so 3 blocks of almonds should be 9 at most unless I am missing something…

        • Tammy,

          I sometimes struggle with hunger if my meals are very low density (like all veggies). I usually add 1/2-1 block of a favorable bean (garbanzos, black beans, sometimes hummus), and then I have improved meal satiety.

  15. Dr. Sears,

    I recently bought your book “A dietary road map to enter the Zone”, the spanish verssion “Dieta para estar en la Zona” and I would like to know if this book wrote back in 1995 is still valid or if you have updated it.

    I’m a 33 years old male, my weight is 100 kilos, my height is 175cm; waist: 119cm, wrist: 18 cm. According to your book my body fat percentage is 38%, so I thought my daily proteic necessity is 82 and have to eat twelve blocks daily …is that correct?

    My cholesterol level is 254mg/dl, uric acid: 9.78mg/dl, triglyceride: 264 mg/dl., Glucose: 92mg/dl.

    I almost finish reading the book, but since I started told my family and friends to buy it and Five of them bought it and are very pleased.

    What could be the next book you’d suggest me to buy?

    Thank you for your time and your answer.

    Alberto from Mexico

    • The basic foundation of the Zone diet remains unchanged from 1995. The only additions would be greater amounts of purified fish oil as I outlined in my 2002 book, The OmegaRx Zone.

      I would recommend at least 14 blocks per day to maintain your lean body mass.

      Other books I would recommend in Spanish are The OmegaRx Zone, The Anti-Inflammation Zone, and Toxic Fat.

  16. First, I have two questions for Dr. Sears: 1) How old are you (what I am really asking is by how long now have you beat your generational tendencies, that is by how many years has your life exceeded your dad and uncle’s lifespans? 2) Is your brother still here too? Does he follow the zone?

    Second, I think, as I continue to have one meal on, the rest of the day off or two meals straight on, then the rest of the day crazy, that I must have emotional issues underlying the problem. Is this possibly true? Am I just spoiled and so used to that sugar and high-fat high that I just “can’t” stop? Any input welcome. Thank you. You are great Dr. Sears!

    • I will be 64 in two months. My father died at age 53. My brother works in the office next to mine. Neither of our genes are going to change, but that’s why we are both strong adherents to the Zone diet to change the expression of those genes.

      You just need to develop focus and awareness that everything you eat will have hormonal consequences. That’s just a matter of continuing practice. I recommend at least 20 minutes per day of meditation to build the mind like a muscle to develop that sense of awareness.

  17. Hello Dr Sears

    I’m a big fan of your work – you go by the name of “The Good Doctor” in our household. I’ve been Zoning for three years and also subscribe to The Natural Eater plan of Geoff Bond and the Paleo diet of Loren Cordain. I was interested in your comment about arachidonic acid in the latter diets. I’m aware from your works about egg yolk, organ meats and fatty red meat, but what are the other sources of arachidonic acid in the Natural Eater and Paleo diets? Also, I’ve read of the omega-6 content in corn, sunflower, peanut, soya, sesame and safflower oils, but what are the other omega-6 concerns in these diets?


    • Those are the primary sources of arachidonic acid coming from Paleolithic ingredients. Corn-fed beef and poultry are other rich sources of arachidonic acid especially compared to grass-fed beef. The greater the intake of arachidonic acid the faster cellular inflammation increases.

  18. I run 3X times a week (2 times for an hour and 1 long run on weekends) and I do strength training 2x a week. I join 10k/15k and half marathon races. I need to lose 10 lbs and I know that I cannot lose those unwanted pounds by workout alone. I want to follow The Zone Diet but Im worried that I cannot fuel my workout. I live in the Philippines and our staple food is rice. I I get my carbohydrates mainly from fruits and vegetables, will that be enough to fuel my workout? Thanks!

    • The fruits and vegetables will supply the necessary carbohydrate needs, but you have to ensure that you have adequate levels of protein to repair and maintain muscle mass during your training. Any extra fuel will come from monounsaturated fat which can be considered to be high octane fuel as you will produce more chemical energy for muscle contraction from fat than from carbohydrates.

      • Amy, I cnanot believe the amount of work that went into this post. Thank you so much for sharing all your research with the rest of us. You've got me hanging on every word.I've started to keep a food diary and read this while eating an apple. I want to talk to my neurologist about it and do some reading of my own, but you make a compelling case. The link between animal based protein and cancer is terrifying. As someone who has lost a fair share of family members to cancer, I can't believe nobody ever told us about this. But, as you say, it is our responsibilities to be informed consumers.Since I've always been the girl who thought organic food was a waste of perfectly good money, it's hard to wrap my mind around the organic part of this. It has got to be a significantly more expensive way of eating, especially if you're feeding a whole family. The cost of all food has skyrocketed recently, and I can't imagine how a Whole Foods bill looks next to a Harris Teeter receipt. Gulp. And without all the preservatives, how frequently are you having to shop? It seems like you'd be at the store several times a week, at best.Of course, I can't put a price on the idea of feeling well. So there's that. Again, so grateful to you for putting together such a comprehensive set of posts. Did any of your research mention fibro, btw? Curious how it fits in this picture.

  19. I started on the zone diet initially to eat healthier. Within a month I lost 10 lbs and one pants size. I am not overweight so I use the zone as a maintenance to healthy eating. Have to watch the carbs though–they creep up on you!

    I recommend this diet and the books to all I know who might have interest. Great stuff!

  20. I tried the ZONE diet a year ago, I like the concept and because i am very restricted to foods anyways with allergies, the paleo didn’t seem like a bad idea. I didn’t loose any weight, I did gain and did not notice a change in my clothes. What I did notice was that i was always feeling hungry and moody. I am an ultra marathon runner – (not on roads, 30-50km races in the mountains and i don’t have your typical ‘runners’ build) I am a medium build, I can put on lean muscle pretty easily but I can also put on weight as soon as I slack off, the slightest amount. My husband suggested upping the blocks but i put on more weight. I was frustrated with it but other than grumpy from hunger – my allergies were much more managable :)
    I have a major gluten allergy, I am also lactose intolerant (is most of the population?). I also have reactions to specific nuts – hazel nuts, walnuts and pecans. Everything else is a go! One more question, what about rice? Is that a ‘processed’ option? Is it a ‘bad’ carb? I guess what I want to know; is the fruit, veggies and protein going to get me through my long runs with ample energy?

    • Your hunger is probably coming from one of two sources. First might be insufficient protein to stimulate the release of PYY from the gut to tell the brain to stop eating. The other might be insufficient EPA to prevent the binding of endocannabinoids to their receptors in the brain that induce hunger.

      Try increasing both your protein and fish oil intake and use should see a significant improvement in your performance and corresponding decrease in your hunger.

  21. 1. A low-inflammation, “Paleolithic” diet would be congruent with your work, I would not necessarily consider it “restrictive” in the sense that the animal ecology of SE Asia book I read found that the local people averaged eating over 180 different animals and insects and over 300 different plants, roots, nuts, and berries per month! (I tried living off the land once with a friend and I can easily believe it would take me that many grubs, worms, mice, snakes, frogs, . . . to not lose weight very fast. : =
    2. I have found your books very helpful, but congruent with their emphasis on a lot of vegs and fruits is that they are necessary to consume if one is to consume much proteins for they supply the alkaline buffers to prevent acidosis. If not consumed, then, as I understand by, admittedly ancient (1960s) bg in biochemistry, the body will take calcium and phosphorus out of its stores to buffer the uric acid. Thus a reasonable explanation for much of the osteoporosis we see today and an exascerbating factor in inflammation. I would like to see you add that buffering of acids to your argument for a rich and varied consumption of vegs and fruits.
    3. The Japanese seem to have identified as many as 70+ trace elements necessary for proper protein folding in the body. This has been suggested as a reason for much of the prion diseases. That is. exhaustion of the soil of trace nutrients by leaching and by animal grazing or human consumption of crops and then industrial animal runoff and human waste ending up in rivers rather than recycled back into the soil.
    4. River control of floods has resulted in silt no longer replenishing the nutrients.

    I really appreciate the work that has gone into your books. Thank you!

    • By restrictive, I meant compared to modern diets that are primarily based on grain and other recent additions to the human diet.

      Grains are also acid producing, that’s another reason they should be used in moderation.

      Changes in agricultural practices will have the potential to decrease the intake of trace minerals that we are only now learning about. Nonetheless, eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits is the best way to ensure that most of those trace minerals are in the diet.

  22. Can someone help me simplify the Zone Diet? I am very busy and
    do not have a lot of time to prepare foods. Please give me some
    simple suggestions for quick meals. Thanks for any help given.

    • You might want to try using the new Zone Foods to start out like trainer wheels and then you can begin to develop life-long dietary habits to maintain hormonal balance using the foods you like to eat.

    • Mary, if there were a member forum, I am sure you would have received LOTS of ideas on simple zone meals!

      I don’t use zone 1-2-3 foods. I am a busy mom of 3 who works full time, and so I understand the importance of “quick and easy” meals.

      I generally have either steel cut oats or a smoothie for breakfast. Smoothies are easy, and I always keep frozen strawberries handy. Kids love them for breakfast and snacks, too. Steel cut oats are easy, too. I cook a bigger batch ahead of time, and then heat up my portion at meal time. I toss on some cottage cheese, blueberries and slivered almonds.

      I keep cooked chicken breast handy in the fridge, makes it easy to prepare salads. One of my favorite recipes for salad: 2 oz chix breast, 1 green pepper chopped, 1/4-1/2 cup grapes-halved, 1/4 cup garbanzo beans, 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt, chopped walnuts sprinkled on top (you can omit and just add some olive oil for a better source of fat). I just mix it all together and season with cinnamon, curry, and turmeric. I make it in the morning, and the flavors “marry” by lunchtime!

  23. I started following The Zone many years ago just after being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of 32. I am also an avid fitness enthusiast. It took about 9 months for the pain in my fingers to stop and another 4-5 months before I could easily tack on some additional miles to my run. Then I suddenly dropped 10 pounds. The payoff was slow, but it has paid off. My piano tuner tells me I get younger every year and now the doctors are questioning whether the first test for RA is even accurate!
    I actually cheat alot and don’t follow the plan as strictly as I used to. I can sure tell a difference, I am more tired and sluggish, and my fingers are acting up. It is such a challenge when my family does not subscribe to the plan, they are breadaholics.

    • If you listen to your body, it will continually tell you if you are making the correct dietary decisions to maintain hormonal balance. I might suggest that you consider taking extra fish oil to help manage the inflammation.

  24. Dr. Sears, you mentioned “affordable” yet my husband and I do not find your Zone foods to be affordable at all. We are middle class and consider ourselves quite fortunate to be able to try your foods. They are delicious and convenient. However, “affordable” they are not. The shipping costs alone are crazy – often a 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of the food!! We won’t be able to keep this up. We will probably pick our favorites and add them to our auto ship along with our Omega RX. But – low income folks and families in our country will never be able to try your Zone foods. They are forced to continue eating high glycemic carbohydrate rich foods just because that’s what’s cheap and affordable in our society. And that’s where change needs to happen if we are ever to win the battle over the American obesity epidemic.

    • That’s why we also have hundreds of tested Zone recipes on our web site.

      The affordability of the Zone Foods comes from their increased satiety. If you aren’t hungry, then you consume less calories and that means purchasing less food.

  25. Hi Dr Sears

    I question that the Zone recipes are tested. I made a recipe from the site last year and one of the experienced Zoners told me that it had way too many refined carbs. I sent an email to the site and was told that the recipes were not tested and they were submitted by people on the Zone. I am sure that the recipes for the Zone 1-2-3 super foods are tested.

    Can you please tell me if the forum will ever be coming back? I know of others who have enquired and been told that there were technical problems with the software but it has been since November last year. If the forum isnt coming back then it would be good to know. Also, how often will the success stories but renewed?



    • All the ZoneFast recipes are run through a nutritional software program before we do test cooking of them. Our next task is to run all of the old recipes (often submitted and posted, but not confirmed by nutritional analysis) through the same process to clean up the database.

      My technical people still inform me of ongoing technical problems that hopefully will be sorted out in the near future.

      Relative to the success stories, this is more a legal issue trying to get the appropriate releases of the individuals before posting their results.

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