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I tried the popular diet that actually lets you eat carbs, fats, and protein — and it totally lived up to the hype

INSIDER logoINSIDER 5/14/2018 feedback@thisisinsider.com (Nasha Smith)
a bowl of fruit on a plate: Day three © Provided by Business Insider Inc Day three
  • The Zone Diet reduces diet-induced inflammation and improves mental and physical performance.
  • Your plate should consist of one-third lean protein, two-thirds low glycemic carbs and vegetables, and a dash of healthy fats.
  • Celebs like Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock have tried it.

There is a strong possibility that your favorite celeb has tried the Zone Diet. Stars like Jennifer Aniston, Madonna, Sandra Bullock, and Sarah Jessica Parker have tried the popular eating method to maintain their lean physiques.

Biochemist Dr. Barry Sears developed the diet to reduce inflammation caused by refined and processed foods. It also purports to help people lose weight, improve mental and physical performance, and lessen the risk of chronic disease. 

So how exactly do you get into the zone? The Zone Diet is based on balanced portions of proteins, carbohydrates, and fat. One-third of your plate should be filled with lean proteins like skinless chicken, turkey, and fish. Two-thirds of the plate should consist of low-glycemic carbs and veggies. The final component is a dash of healthy fats like olive oil or avocado.

This can be a bit tricky, so the hand-eye method has been touted as the simplest way to navigate measurements. Your protein should resemble the size and thickness of your palm. That would approximate one-third. The other two-thirds of carbs would essentially be two palmfuls. The five fingers on your hand also serve as a reminder to eat five meals a day.

The diet can be further broken down by the Zone block method, which personalizes the diet according to your body's needs. A single Zone block contains 7 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbs, and 1.5 grams of healthy fats. Your number of blocks are dependent on weight, height, hip, and waist measurements. For example, the average woman needs 11 Zone blocks per day and the average male 14.

Foods to avoid include potato, pasta, bread, grapes, mangoes, carrots, peas, corn, processed foods, sweets, tea, and coffee.

I am well-known among my family and friends as a potato enthusiast and as a West Indian, bread is life. But as an Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) sufferer, I am always looking for ways to reduce inflammation so I was willing to give this a shot.

Here's what happened when I gave the Zone Diet a shot for a week. 

Day one was a success.

a bowl of food sitting on top of a wooden table: Day one © Provided by Business Insider Inc Day one

I love attempting wellness challenges so I was very enthusiastic to start my Monday with this new goal to strive for. For my first meal, I made my usual breakfast of oatmeal. Normally I would have paired this with a banana but that was not Zone-Diet-friendly. Instead, I added a bunch of blueberries, strawberries, and a sprinkle of coconut. I firmly believe in having a good breakfast to fuel me throughout the day and this was ideal as it was very filling.

I'm not a big snacker, but I managed to have some plain yogurt and a stick of sharp cheddar cheese around midday. At this point, I was so stuffed it would be well past 2 p.m. before I even considered lunch. I kept it simple with grilled chicken breast, a bit of brown rice, and a large green salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. So far, so good.

Two hours later it was time for another snack so I munched on some almonds and a tangerine. Dinner was more or less the same as lunch and my day of eating was finally done. I kept myself hydrated with water since tea was supposed to be kept to a minimum. Day one was a satisfying success. 

Day two showed me that I wouldn't go hungry on this diet.

a plate of food with broccoli: Day two © Provided by Business Insider Inc Day two

Breakfast was a repeat of the previous day's oatmeal and berries. I added a bit of natural peanut butter to fulfill the healthy fat/protein requirement I had omitted yesterday. This time I completely missed out on the mid-morning snack because I was much too full and decided to listen to my body.

Lunch consisted of a salmon meal paired with brown rice since this was one of the only acceptable carbs. It was from a West Indian restaurant so it came accompanied by some beans and ripe plantains which in hindsight I realized might not be appropriate because it's in the banana family. Oh well.

After missing the earlier snack I made an effort to have some cheese, peanuts, and a tangerine to make up. For dinner I just had some roasted vegetables and leftover chicken because my poor stomach protested anything heavier. I can't believe I thought I might be hungry on this diet. I was kind of bummed I didn't follow my plan to the letter, but it was still a pretty good day.

Day three also went off without a hitch.

a bowl of fruit on a plate: Day three © Provided by Business Insider Inc Day three

Yes, I had another bowl of oatmeal with berries. To be honest, I don't get bored with food. I could eat the same meal for days quite happily. But on this day, I was a little salty because I couldn't have any of the fresh brioche my aunt offered me. I also wouldn't mind a cup of tea but I was doing fine with my water.

I decided to switch up my snack today with an old favorite. I paired some apple slices with peanut butter. At lunch my coworker laughed as I walked by with my faithful container of brown rice, chicken, and veggies. I wasn't remotely hungry when mid-afternoon snack time rolled around but I still scarfed down a few almonds. I repeated my lunchtime routine for dinner and thought of the heaping bowl of mashed potatoes I would have at the end of the week. 

Day four was full of more of the same.

a plate of food with broccoli: Day four © Provided by Business Insider Inc Day four

Another day, another bowl of oatmeal. This really has been my go-to breakfast for years now. I would occasionally alternate with other porridges like Cream of Wheat or cornmeal but I'm not sure if those would fit in the zone. And toast was out of the question. I opted for a coconut yogurt and strawberries for today's snack. I realized I was lacking a healthy fat, but I figured I would just have extra avocado at lunch.

I managed to find another carb for lunch — come through sweet potato. As I ate this with my salad and chicken, I read a bit more to see if there was anything new I could incorporate into my meals. My vegetable intake was still not as high as it needed to be so I vowed to do something about that for dinner.

Later that afternoon, I coated some broccoli, Brussels sprouts, onions, and squash in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic before oven-roasting. The broccoli and brussel sprouts were for the rest of my family because these vegetables usually trigger my IBS but the squash was delicious paired with some stewed beef and the rest of my newly discovered sweet potato.

Day five saw me skipping dinner entirely.

a white plate topped with meat and vegetables: Day five © Provided by Business Insider Inc Day five

Still no shame in my oatmeal game. I contemplated having a mango to spice things up a bit that's apparently too naturally sweet and not Zone-compliant. So more blueberries it is and a dollop of peanut butter. I wasn't really in the mood for any more nuts or yogurt today so I just had half an avocado as my obligatory snack.

Lunch was another helping of rice but with a twist. I discovered Seeds of Change Quinoa and Brown Rice with garlic and it was truly life-changing. I am not sure how long this has been a thing but I am in love. Together with my leftover stewed beef and beloved fried plantains it was one of my best meals. I still wasn't sure I could have plantain on the Zone Diet but I fried it in some olive oil, which is technically a healthy fat.

It was early evening by the time I got around to having my mid-afternoon snack. I caved and had some peanuts and a smoothie. I used almond milk, strawberries, and blueberries. I was so full that I decided to skip dinner altogether. I hated deviating from the plan but I reassured myself that at least I wasn't eating badly.

On day six, I tried to mix up my breakfast and failed.

a bowl of fruit: Day six © Provided by Business Insider Inc Day six

The night before I decided to take a break from my trusty oatmeal and make eggs for breakfast. Unfortunately, I woke up late so oatmeal it is. At least I tried. I enjoyed my smoothie from the previous day so I had it as a snack. This time I added a spoon of peanut butter.

I was full for the next three hours so I had a late lunch of leftover chicken, sweet potato, and sliced cucumber. I also decided to live dangerously and indulge in a bowl of mango chunks. That was it for the day. I wasn't hungry and I didn't want to force the issue.

Day seven would be the day I went hard on my diet.

a close up of a wine glass: Day seven © Provided by Business Insider Inc Day seven

I woke up with renewed determination. This was it and I was prepared to go hard. I finally managed to make myself some scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Why didn't I do that sooner? This was hands down the best meal I had the whole week. Some toast would have come in clutch but I could survive another few hours.

I skipped my mid-morning snack again and went straight into another package of quinoa and brown rice, grilled chicken, and salad. I followed that up with some plain yogurt topped with berry chunks. As I had grown accustomed to doing, I repeated lunch for dinner.

I celebrated the end of my week with a glass of white wine. There were conflicting reports on whether this was Zone-approved but I figured one glass wouldn't kill me.

Ultimately, this diet was a little restrictive, but I always felt full and never bloated.

My biggest concern going into this was not feeling satisfied at the end of the day. This was never an issue at any point in the week. In fact, I felt like I was eating too much. But I knew that I was eating clean and not just consuming empty calories. Another plus was the effect on my stomach. I was less bloated and my stomach remained settled. Thanks to the steady diet of water, my skin had a healthy glow.  

I felt a bit restricted so I wouldn't be able to stick to this for the long haul. I have no interest in having processed foods, but I did miss having some of my favorite fruits like grapes and mangoes. It's hard enough having to avoid cruciferous veggies because of IBS, so eliminating my other options like carrots and peas made it really tough. I also didn't like having to throw random snacks together to ensure I met the protein, healthy fats, and carbs ratio.

This is the kind of diet that would work with extensive meal prep. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. It helps save money and lessens the chances of reaching for unhealthy foods. But I like having options when eating. I also really love potato, pasta, and bread so I will continue to subscribe to everything in moderation.

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