Get in the Zone (Eating for Change Challenge)

The Zone is a diet lifestyle that has been around for decades. I didn’t hear about it until about 2010, but the copyright on the original book is 1995, so, yeah, decades. It’s been around for so long, there are dozens of books in the Zone series- The Zone, The Anti-Aging Zone, The Anti-Inflammation Zone, The Mediterranean Zone…

For this challenge, I settled on trying the Anti-Inflammation Zone. I am feeling the effects of inflammation all over my body, mostly in my knees and back. So an anti-inflammatory det seems like exactly what I need.

There’s a good bit to love about The Zone. I agree with the philosophy Dr. Barry Sears, the author, shares with us in The Anti-Inflammation Zone, “Food is not merely nourishment for the body; it’s actually a powerful ‘drug’ that can return you to a state of wellness through better hormonal control. Like a drug, though, food can also make you sick if you use it the wrong way.”

So, how does inflammation show up in our lives? I was surprised by all the signs of inflammation I am exhibiting: Overweight, craving carbs, constantly hungry, brittle fingernails, limp hair, groggy upon waking, lack of focus or concentration, headaches, dry skin…Yikes.

So, the BIG point Dr. Sears drives home with the anti-inflammation zone is to eat a Zone-centric way of life, but add fish oil. Which NOW leads us to figure out, what is The Zone Diet?

First and foremost, as I’ve said countless times, diet isn’t a temporary quick fix to problems. In fact, the etymology of the word diet comes from ancient Greek, meaning “way of life.” So, we’re not adopting a short-term solution, we’re developing a lifestyle.

That being said, The Zone is not necessarily an easy lifestyle to adopt. According to Dr. Sears, the main cause of inflammation is body fat, and consuming too many calories. Well, specifically, too many of the “unfavorable” processed food calories, in carbohydrates and vegetable oils. “The best way to lose body fat and reduce silent inflammation is simply to eat fewer calories.”

Simple. But not easy. Because we live in a hungry world. I’m hungry while I write this and I just had a snack (a very Zone-friendly snack, but still a snack).

To balance always being hungry with eating fewer calories, Dr. Sears created The Zone. He recommends three main meals with a balanced portion of protein, low glycemic carbohydrates, and a small amount of healthy fats, plus two Zone-friendly snacks. What is a portion of protein? Without extreme measurements, Dr. Sears recommends the size of the palm of your hand. Your portion of low-glycemic carbohydrates should be non-starchy vegetables and cover the remainder of your plate.

What is step one for adopting a Zone lifestyle? Getting rid of any foods that DON’T support you in your quest for wellness– starchy grains, processed foods like breads, cake, cookies, and so on. “Out of sight, out of mouth and mind.” I know, I know, I absolutely HATE letting food go to waste. But Dr. Sears is correct in this regard, saving these foods just gives us a reason to eat them! As hard as it is to get rid of these foods, your body will thank you later. If you can’t stand the thought of wasting the food, donate as much as you can to a local food bank.

The next step, according to Dr. Sears, is to purchase low-glycemic vegetables and low-fat proteins, but most importantly, a good quality fish oil. There are some interesting correlations between eating fish (and fish oil) and lowering inflammation, reducing depression, and decreasing cortisol (our stress hormone). Yes, correlation is not causation, but it’s a little too uncanny to NOT pay attention.

I did not practice eating in the Zone nearly as well as I could have this month. It’s something I plan to continue to work towards, though. I am not a huge fan of “calorie restriction” diets (ways of life) and appreciate a more nuanced approach of “listening to your body” and eating when you are HUNGRY. But sometimes, just sometimes, we need to push ourselves to understand that “I don’t feel well” or “I’m having a bad day” or “I’m bored/depressed/anxious/etc” is NOT the same thing as hunger. And sometimes it might help to restrict my eating in ways that I can experience what good eating and healthy diet feel like and look like.

The Zone isn’t perfect, nor is it for everyone. I found myself nit-picking a few of Dr. Sears’ suggestions– eating a Zone snack before bedtime contradicts what Matthew Walker says in his book Why We Sleep. This is a NUTRITION plan, not an exercise plan, so Dr. Sears’ ideas on exercise made me roll my eyes all the way to the back of my head. But a good bit of what he says makes sense to me, and I have experienced how this way of eating can work in the past.

You can check out the SLEW of Zone books at https://zonediet.com/the-zone-diet/

Is it right for you? Try it out and see!

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