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Healthy Living Blog

Information and inspiration to help you make a habit out of living healthy.

Fad Diet Dilemma: Zone

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

By , YMCA Registered Dietitian

The world of weight loss can be an overwhelming and confusing place. It seems like every day a new super supplement or quick fix diet is popping up promising to quickly shed unwanted weight.

While the ideal approach to weight loss is to aim for 1-2 pounds a week using a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, the temptation to subscribe to the next popular craze can be too much to ignore.

So, each month, we’re examining a different diet—diving into the science behind it, the pros, the cons—and letting you decide whether or not it’s worth trying.

Get in the Zone

This month we’re going to take a closer look at the Zone Diet which was created by Dr. Barry Sears, a medical professional who specializes in the body’s hormonal and inflammatory responses. The diet became popular back in the mid-90’s with Sears’ best-selling book “The Zone” and continues to gain traction with another book slated to be published this fall. So what is “the zone,” how do you get in it, and what happens when you’re there? Let’s take a closer look.

The Science

Getting into “the zone” means achieving three clinical parameters which can be measured by blood work.

  1. The first is a ratio of how much cholesterol in your body is the good kind versus the bad kind. 
  2. The second is a measure of two different fatty acids in your bloodstream that are associated with inflammation in the body. This test is not routinely performed by physicians, but Dr. Sears offers an at-home test for $75 plus shipping and handling. 
  3. The last clinical test is your HgA1c, which is basically an average of what your blood sugar levels have been for the last three months. This test is typically offered by your primary care physician once a year and is regularly used to diagnose diabetes.

In order to get into the zone, the diet suggests a very low starch and grain intake, as well as supplementing with polyphenols (nutrients that typically come from plants) and omega 3 fatty acids (typically found in fish, nuts, seeds, and soybeans). Both of these supplements are being sold on the zone website, so take that information with a grain of...wheat.

The Pros

If you set aside the fact that this diet is trying to make money and take a closer look at the facts, you can find a couple positives.

  1. The first is that getting your lab values checked routinely (once per year) and discussing those numbers with your doctor is absolutely encouraged and can help you prevent and treat a lot of different illnesses. 
  2. Additionally, incorporating more unsaturated fats, fruits and vegetables, and quality sources of lean protein into your diet is also recommended.

The Cons

Where this diet runs into trouble is with encouraging excessive lab testing and costly supplement usage. The unnecessary price tag of maintaining this diet is doing nothing to make you healthier. The nutrients from the supplements recommended can easily be incorporated into your diet using whole foods, and your body is more likely to absorb and use them better that way. Furthermore, there is little evidence-based research to support the claims associated with this diet. In fact, there’s a disclaimer at the bottom of their web page stating just that, which should automatically be a red flag for anyone in search of a diet.


Hopefully, this overview helps you understand some of the ins and outs of this popular diet. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what approach to nutrition is right for you and works best for your body. Talking with your doctor and a registered dietitian nutritionist can help you create a healthy eating plan that's effective and safe. Check back next month when we look at the DASH diet.

Read more Fad Diet Dilemmas about Keto, Mediterranean, Intermittent Fasting, and Whole30.

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