The Zone Diet is, formulated by biochemist Barry Sears in the mid-90s, remains a popular and healthy way of losing weight, if you can manage to follow the rather complicated eating formula. The Zone aims for a menu divided calorically into 40% carbohydrates, 30% proteins, and 30% fats. The author claims this is a way of eating food which complements our own evolution. The levels are also supposed to balance insulin levels and prime the body for weight loss. Eating "in the Zone" is also purported to help ward off heart disease, PMS, diabetes, depression and such.
The ratios aren't bad--a tad high in the protein department compared to the norm and slightly lower in carbs, but nothing like the extreme restrictions of Atkins. In fact, studies do show weight loss benefit from increasing protein intake (which also makes you feel full quicker and for longer), so this diet may be a good long term solution for many.
People addicted to carbs (especially the nastier white refined snacks and such) may benefit the most from the plan, easing the carb addiction and transitioning to a lower but healthier carb consumption. By focusing on eating healthier, low Glycemic Index carbs, there is much in common between this diet and the GI diet. Sears claims that it is excess insulin that makes us fat and keeps us fat, so by controlling and eating the right type of carbs, we can regulate our insulin levels within a tight, healthy zone, so the body burns fat more efficiently.
Even the author notes that the Zone Diet is not a quick weight loss programme, rather a plan for lifetime eating, as it takes time to return the body from fat storing to fat burning mode. It does work if followed, as shown by a non-scientific study by PBS in which several popular diets were tested, and the Zone diet lead to the greatest fat loss.
This diet has many celebrity adherents, including Demi Moore, Madonna, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Costner, Liza Minelli, Charlie Sheen, Tiger Woods, Cindy Crawford, Renee Zellweger, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Aniston, and Barry Manilow.
Menu: While we like this diet in theory, the practice of fine-tuning meals to get them all "in the zone" takes a bit of practice. There is a simplified way of doing this, as the book introduces Zone Food Blocks, where each block has a standardised measure of carbs, protein, or fat, so a certain number of blocks are assigned to each meal and snack. Your block allowances are calculated by your height, weight, and hip circumference. To put it in more descriptive terms, author Sears describes a Zone meal as: "Eat as much protein as the palm of your hand, as much nonstarchy raw vegetables as you can stand for the vitamins, enough carbohydrates to maintain mental clarity because the brain runs on glucose, and enough monounsaturated oils to keep feelings of hunger away."
Of course, there are plenty of energy bars and ready meals formulated on the Zone principles, but they'll tend to be pricey--few UK supermarkets carry them, but they can be ordered online.
Personally we'd go for an easier diet with less calculations in the GI vein, but if you're willing to learn the system, then the Zone Diet can be very healthy and will lead to healthy weight loss over time.
Prices: There are several Zone Diet books by Barry Sears, including cookbooks, 7-day starter books, etc., but the granddaddy of them all is The Zone, Revolutionary Life Plan to Put Your Body in Total Balance for Permanent Weight Loss (hardcover only unfortunately), currently for £13.73 on Amazon.