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What Is The Zone Diet

What Is The Zone Diet?

The zone diet is a proposal for a “do-it-yourself” diet treatment for weight loss that has very specific rules for its functioning.

To understand if, how, and why it works, if it is suitable for those who work out at the gym, or if you need examples of menus, you are in the right place. Find out more!

What Is The Zone Diet?

If you go to browse and study the popular books written by Barry Sears regarding the possible and presumed benefits that the Zone Diet should bring.

You will see that in reality, the author focuses very much above all on the ability of the dietary model to keep an organism healthy and to prevent or control a multitude of diseases of the modern age.

In short, it is not a diet that presents itself as essentially “slimming”, but more a nutritional strategy that was born as a “dietary regime to achieve and maintain psycho-physical well-being “, not strictly linked to body composition.

The name ” zone ” refers to a presumed state of hormonal equilibrium in which insulin is always found to be in equilibrium with its antagonistic hormones, such as glucagon for example.

The eating style is based on three key points:

  • In every meal, all the macronutrients must always be present according to a precise ratio.
  • The carbohydrates must derive mainly from fruit and vegetables.
  • You need to have at least five meals a day.

How Does The Zone Diet Work?

How Does The Zone Diet Work?

This dietary model provides for a daily consumption consisting of 40% carbohydrates, 30% proteins, and 30% fats.

Leaving aside some modalities, its key points are:

  1. The day in the “ Zone ” includes frequent and not abundant meals with all three macronutrients in the proportions already indicated.
  2. The main purpose of the Zone diet is to affect the metabolism through food which induces different hormonal responses depending on the food eaten.
  3. If a hormonal balance is achieved while maintaining the insulin/glucagon ratio within certain limits, the diet is able to positively modulate the production of other important hormones known as eicosanoids with beneficial effects on the body.

The reasons why the Zone diet works are different but all due to the fact that Barry Sears, regardless of his magic formula (40-30-30), has found a way to create a dietary model that leads people to eat well more or less balanced and without exceeding too much with calories.

This dietary model has the great advantage of teaching, in its own way, a series of dietary rules that can work and which are certain to be preferred when compared to the dietary habits of the average world population.

One aspect that is being promoted is the variety of foods and the concept of not eliminating any foods. All this is an indication of the great flexibility and sustainability of the diet.

The real reason why the Zone diet works is very far from the attractive speculations about hormonal balances or the right foods paired with each other, with particular macronutrient distributions.

Simply the fact that with this diet we take on average few calories and it is, therefore, possible to establish an energy deficit, which is essential for losing fat over time.

Blocks of the Zone Diet

The blocks provide an easy and straightforward method for composing balanced meals according to Sears’ scientific rationale:

  • From the calculation of your protein requirement, you will obtain the number of blocks to be distributed throughout the day to nourish yourself in a balanced way.
  • Each block is made up of three blocks (or mini blocks): 1 block of proteins (7 grams), block of carbohydrates (9 grams), and 1 block of fat (3 grams).
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Pros And Cons Of The Zone Diet

As already mentioned, a great advantage of the Zone Diet is to teach you to eat in a varied and balanced way, without precluding or limiting a particular macronutrient.

Another advantage is that it offers an almost infinite variety of foods and there are no specific indications of timing, the type of carbohydrates – even if they are preferable whole and coming from fruit and vegetables, nothing so absurd.

On the other hand, it is also true that it imposes a very rigid and non-customizable scheme, given the distribution of nutrients 40-30-30, the 5 meals a day, the simultaneous presence of all three macronutrients at each meal.

This shows how often the subject must adapt to the diet and not vice versa, a factor that does not help in adhering to the eating style.

As for the percentages, although they are proposed as the optimal ones, in reality, this is not the case not all individuals need the same distribution of macronutrients.

Without considering that it is better to consider nutrients in terms of g / lbs body weight rather than in generic percentages.

Does The Zone Diet Make You Lose Weight?

The strength of this diet is that the way to distribute macronutrients between meals, or rather, the idea of ​​providing a good amount of protein in each meal.

This enhances the sense of satiety and therefore allows most people to lose weight without having the perception of having made particular sacrifices.

The secret is therefore to consume fewer calories by eating better which in terms of nutrition still means “eating fewer calories”, simply with this method you do not realize it too much as you get satiated more.

What Foods Can I Eat on the Zone Diet?

There are foods to prefer and foods to consume in moderation. Among the latter, you will find dairy products, fatty cuts of meat, offal, processed meat such as sausages, and whole eggs.

Macronutrients Of The Zone Diet - Carbohydrates

Low-Calorie Protein Diet For Weight Loss

As for carbohydrates, no food is prohibited. However, Sears divides carbohydrates into “favorable” and “unfavorable”, recommending that you consume mostly the favorable sources of course.

The favorable sources are those sources of unrefined carbohydrates and high in fiber. Basically, fruits and vegetables are recommended in practically every meal.

The unfavorable sources are those foods that generally have a high glycemic index and high energy density and therefore quickly exhaust the daily quota of blocks without an effective effect on satiety.

In addition, Sears recommends that anyone who eats cereals should consume wholemeal. In short, a bit of the general guidelines that all traditional nutritionists have been spreading for quite a few years.

Macronutrients In The Zone Diet: Fats

Sears rightly attaches great importance to fats both for their vital biological functions and for their effect on hunger control.

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In fact, fats act in practice in a very similar way to fibers they slow down digestion and slow down the release of nutrients into the circulation, contributing to that greater sense of satiety and fullness.

Another advantage of fats in the diet, which for this reason we tend to associate them with every mixed meal, is that they tend to make food tastier a fat-free diet is a generally tasteless diet.


Not too much difference is made between plant and animal proteins either. For this reason, even vegetarians can follow the Zone diet without any problem.

The protein intake can be satisfied with both animal and plant foods and with a mixture of animal and plant sources (which is obviously by definition more flexible and balanced).

Food List

  • Proteins: Skinless chicken breast, lean pork, turkey breast, lean lamb, cod, shrimp, tuna, salmon, low-fat cheese, egg white, tofu.
  • Lipids: olive oil, dried fruit, fish.
  • Glucides: asparagus, broccoli, lentils, cauliflower, tomatoes, green beans, peaches, grapes, kiwi, melon, blueberries, courgettes, pineapple, plums, mandarins, apricots.

The unfavorable carbohydrates according to Sears, and to be avoided are rice, pasta, papaya, mango, bread, croissant, flatbread, carrots, breakfast cereals, apple, orange, and grapefruit juice.

Example Of A 1300 Calorie Menu


11 blocks divided into 5 meals:

  • Breakfast (3 blocks): 200 ml of partially skimmed milk + coffee + 100 g mortadella + 1 apple and a half (240 kcal)
  • Snack (1 block): 70 g ricotta + 10 g sugar and cocoa (160 kcal)
  • Lunch (3 blocks): chicken + 100 g boiled potatoes + 1 pear and a half (400 kcal)
  • Snack (1 block): 1 slice of bread + 30 g cooked ham (100 kcal)
  • Dinner (3 blocks): 100 g shrimp + 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise + 1 slice of bread + salad + 200 g Brussels sprouts (410 kcal)

Variants Of Zone Diet

As we have seen, there are fairly strict rules, but not so much that they do not make it a strategy that is adaptable to different eating styles (Mediterranean, vegan, vegetarian diet) and to those with special needs dictated by lactose and gluten intolerance.

Mediterranean Zone Diet

Usually, the zone diet is considered an anti-Mediterranean diet, especially because it provides a much higher intake at least in percentage terms of proteins, and a lower carbohydrate intake.

The Mediterranean diet, in fact, usually provides 12-15% of the total kcal from proteins and about 55% from carbohydrates, while the Barry Sears Zone indicates an intake of 30% for proteins and 40% for carbohydrates.

However, the true meaning of the Mediterranean diet is to pay particular attention to local foods following a diet based mainly on fruit, vegetables, and whole grains and moderate but constant daily physical activity.

These are all conditions absolutely compatible with the dictates of Sears about the Zone Diet, indeed, often those who follow such a diet have a diet that is very close to the Mediterranean one, only a little more protein.

Vegan and Vegetarian

A vegetarian or even vegan zone diet is absolutely possible, however probably more complicated to compose for the choice of foods since having to foresee meals with the distribution 40-30-30 (carbohydrates, proteins, fats).

It is difficult not to go overboard with carbohydrates in an attempt to increase protein intake since plant foods are generally much richer in carbohydrates.

Many are concerned that a vegetarian or vegan diet does not consume proteins of high biological value (which are generally represented by proteins from foods of animal origin), however, this is a concern that has no reason to exist.


The total protein intake counts much more than the protein source in detail it is possible to mix the proteins of the lowest biological value with each other, not only in the same meal but generally throughout the day, with the aim of still achieving a quality protein intake.

This is even more true if you follow a diet like a zone, which usually includes 5 meals a day and protein sources in all meals.

Dairy Free Zone Diet

Even if you are lactose intolerant you can follow the Zone Diet scheme, naturally excluding the products that contain it.

It means excluding some animal protein foods (such as low-fat cheeses) but absolutely replaceable by other protein sources without milk.


As seen, Sears excludes at the base many farinaceous products such as brioche, wraps, pasta as he defined unfavorable carbohydrates, given the high glycemic index and high energy density.

The exclusion of these foods is perfectly suited to those who are celiac, who for health reasons must remove from their diet products that contain wheat, barley, rye.

Can You Lose Weight With Zone Diet

As in any diet, weight loss depends on the calorie deficit, which can be more or less marked. A too drastic cut has a negative impact on the body and is also not sustainable in the long term.

It is, therefore, better to gradually decrease the calories:

  • 2500-3500 kcal less per week for men,
  • 1500-2500 kcal for women.

Considering that 1 lb of adipose tissue is 7000 kcal, two weeks with 3500 kcal less each should be enough to lose 1 lb.

Usually, for an effective and gradual weight loss, it is recommended to lose 0.5-1% of your body weight per week.

Zone Diet And Bodybuilding

If you are already doing bodybuilding you will know that there is the famous bulking and defining phase.

Without going into details, these two basically provide for a different distribution of nutrients within certain ranges.

This clearly contrasts with the zone diet, which instead gives rigid stakes and forces the constant distribution of 40% carbohydrates, 30% fats, and 30% proteins, which then, as already mentioned, is not the optimal distribution that is good for everyone.

Especially for sportsmen, who would not need the amount of fat in their meals before and after training.

The subdivision of the 5 meals may not prove to be congenial to those who train better on an empty stomach and are unable to accumulate meals at times far from training.

In favor, however, is certainly the healthy and complete diet proposed.

Conclusion On The Zone Diet

Although the Zone Diet has both practical limits, such as having to calculate the blocks of meals and the obligation to consume 5 meals a day and theoretical limits, as the theoretical foundations on which it is based are not correct in the end this strategy works

It makes you lose weight because it “hides” the calorie deficit without the perception of sacrifice as it is satiating and also teaches you to have a balanced lifestyle.

In short, the final judgment is that it remains a good diet, but obviously better strategies can also be adopted.

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