The Zone Diet

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on August 15, 2022
3 min read

Can you burn fat even in your sleep, without feeling hungry, by balancing the fat, carbs, and protein you eat?

It can happen in "The Zone," claims Barry Sears, PhD, the biochemist who created this best-selling diet.

The Zone doesn't promise immediate, dramatic weight loss. You can expect to lose just 1 to 1.5 pounds in the first week. But the plan pledges that the weight you lose will be all fat, not muscle or water. As your body changes, your clothes will fit better even if the scale doesn't budge all that much at first.

On the Zone diet, you get 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. Each is a mix of low-fat protein, like skinless chicken, turkey, or fish; carbs (mostly fruits and veggies); and a small amount of “good” fat, like olive oil, almonds, and avocado.

No food is completely banned, but if you’re a carb-lover, you may find getting used to the Zone plan challenging. It encourages you to think of bread, pasta, grains, and other starches as condiments rather than as main or even side dishes.

Veggies and fruits that are relatively high in sugar -- like corn, carrots, bananas, and raisins -- are on the “unfavorable” list. Fatty red meat and egg yolks fall into the Zone’s “bad fats” column.

Every meal on the Zone has the same proportions: 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbs.

What that looks like on the plate is a palm-sized portion of protein, two-thirds of the plate filled with nonstarchy fruits and vegetables, and a dash of monounsaturated fat like olive oil or slivered almonds.

Calories do count on the Zone diet. Women get about 1,200 calories a day. For men, it's 1,500.

Staying in the Zone requires sticking to the rules. You're supposed to eat a meal within an hour of waking, never let more than five hours go by without eating, and have a snack before bedtime.

Limitations: You need to stick to the 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbs formula at every meal and snack. You can’t pile on the protein at lunch and then have all carbs for dinner.

Cooking and shopping: There are at least a dozen Zone cookbooks, by Sears and others. You can also find scores of free recipes, along with grocery lists, a Zone food journal, and dining-out tips online.

Packaged foods and meals? None required, although the Zone web site does sell Zone pasta, bars, shakes and supplements.

In-person meetings: No.

Exercise: The diet recommends "moderate but consistent exercise" -- for example, 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every day (brisk walking is recommended) along with 5 to 10 minutes a day of strength training.

Vegetarians and vegans: With two-thirds of your plate filled with fruits and veggies, the Zone Diet is an easy fit for vegetarians or vegans.

It's also easy to be gluten-free on The Zone, since the diet strongly discourages eating wheat, barley, and rye products. However, you'll still need to check food labels carefully to completely avoid gluten.

Low-salt diet: With an emphasis on fresh ingredients rather than high-sodium processed foods, maintaining a low-salt diet while on the Zone shouldn't be a challenge.

Cost: None beyond your shopping.

Support: There are no official online groups. But the Zone web site provides "Zone tools" including a food journal, grocery guide, dining-out tips, and recipes.