scratch-mark

The “Groan” Diet

Mark Sisson dissects "The Zone," and precisely so. I respect Barry Sears, and certainly, his prescriptions are far better than, say, those of the attention grabbing low-fat fat-face Ornish (I emphasize: huge understatement).

I tried that diet (Zone) for a couple of months back in the mid-90's when the original book came out. I soon knew it would never work for me. Mark's section on "hunger" is really the essential point.

In the end, it suffers from the same deficit as I think the paleo diet does. Fat is king. It's more than twice as efficient by volume than either protein or carbohydrate, and it's what really makes the difference in dietary success, and I'm thoroughly convinced of that. Fat (animal, coconut –avoid vegetable oils) is what makes the difference between giving in and dialing Pizza Hut, setting off a cascade of diminished-self-image failure, and going in and fixing a cheese omelet cooked in butter.

At least it was for me.

I said "was." Funny thing is, and you may have noticed: I don't blog nearly as much about the wonders of fats. That's because I don't eat nearly as much, anymore. And it was completely natural. Once I reset my genes, over months and months, I've come to now eat far more "normally." I'd call it something, like: "The Intermittent Diet." The key is intermittency in obsession or excess, and moderation. In a sense, scarfing down loads of fat seems, to me, just about as compulsive and unnatural, in the end, as eating an extremely stupid low-fat diet. But sometimes I eat extremely low fat — over a period of some hours. Just the other night around the campfire, for instance: there were some carrots. So, I munched on carrots to the exclusion of all else. Sometimes I gorge on fruit. Sometimes I gorge on fat. But I don't do any one thing chronically. It can be meal-to-meal, or even day-to-day, but never longer than a few days in a row. And the shift is natural. Once you discover the wonder of Real Food and get out of the processed food crack-house, everything changes (but it takes months). The point is that you can be a true "foodie," as am I, and yet become highly indifferent to any particular dish or any particular meal. You simply look at the whole thing differently, which, I understand mystifies lots of skinny people and gets knowing nods from lots of fat people.

This is key to the whole approach: Primitive man had zero control over the environment. He generally had primary control only over locomotion, which is why they moved around a lot. That's fundamental; and so we have, by modern convenience, removed the most fundamental aspect of primal existence from our quotidian motivation: most of us can easily live in one spot our entire lives. I really wouldn't want it any other way, but the point is that our genes don't know or understand the difference. They are either active (expressed), or dormant. The good news is that we can simulate the stressors and expressers through intermittency. I think that eating in the whole range, from extreme low fat to extreme high fat, within the confines of Real Food, is really the way to go. The constraint implies that the diet is usually going to be of a rather low carb nature (in calories or relatively), and certainly free of most grains, wheat in particular. But the real point is that by switching it up, you fool your genes into "thinking" that you're migrating, experiencing varying bounty along the way. And then they do their job, like they were evolved to do.

In the end, Dr. Sears misnamed his diet. It's far too restrictive, prescriptive as to have the concept of a "zone" applied. "The Range Diet" would have been more apropos, implying a linear range. A diet proscribed by a fully spacial geometry (zone) would of necessity be one of intermittency in multi-variable macro-nutrients, probably with a big edge for animal fats, given their high-value energy efficiency.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

11 Comments

  1. Diana Hsieh on September 29, 2008 at 21:04

    Good post! Mark's criticisms are indeed spot-on — and I'm definitely coming around to your "intermittent diet" way of eating.

    The Zone was my first introduction to "paleo"-type diets about ten years ago. It definitely helped me get my blood sugar under some control: mostly by eating more protein, I stopped crashing and burning as I had been doing on a regular basis. So in that respect, it was good.

    However, the allowed calories from carbs was simply way too high — such it was easy to eat "in the Zone" while still eating tons of processed carbs, including sugars and grains. So I maintained my quasi-addiction to carbs on the diet. As a result, I achieved nothing like the results I've gotten over the past few months.

    It's frustrating to think that Sears understands so much, yet ultimately misses the boat so completely.

  2. Bill on September 30, 2008 at 05:20

    Yet another GREAT post.

    Bill

  3. jd on September 30, 2008 at 07:39

    The Zone is probably good from a conceptual view (different way to look at macro-nutrients). As for the specific percentages, even some of its biggest fans (see http://robbwolf.com/?p=138 ) tweak the percentages, typically by raising the fat percentage, ("tuning hot" in Crossfit parlance).

  4. John Campbell on September 30, 2008 at 11:18

    Excellent post and excellent blog. I started with this paleo or evolutionary thing about 7 months ago after a reference in an Objectivist blog to Arthur DeVany. Like Objectivism, this way of eating and living simply makes too much sense to ignore. I think if you are used to being an Objectivist, it is a lot easier to reject the conventional wisdom of the culture and your friends and family. I have lost 25 pounds painlessly and 2 to 3 inches off my waist. I recently saw a number of colleagues for the first time in about a year and most commented on how I looked and how much did I work out? Nada – I exercise no more than I did before – walking and that's about it. I am about to change that, but I agree with Mark Sisson that 80% of your body configuration is diet.

    I recently returned from Las Vegas for the first time and cheated very little. I have wonderful memories of the short term pleasures of waffles and bread etc., but the medium term and long term effects are simply not worth it and I am really not tempted. It is like looking back on some of my younger days of excessive partying (not really that much, but some) – no regrets and good memories, but no desire to relive them. It is unbelievable how one's body, appetite and outlook change when one follows the lifestyle you and others such as Mark Sisson and Art DeVany outline. It is nothing less than the fountain of youth.

    Eating the way you do, I have more energy and I know I am stronger. I am much more energetic and my recovery from vigorous activity is much faster. In Vegas, I bounded up all the stairways two steps at a time while almost everyone took the escalator. Now that I think of it, that is my only exercise program. I go out of my way to take the stairs and almost always charge up two steps at a time at full speed, even at home. Intermittency is king! as Arthur DeVany says (although he says a LOT more and it is all worthwhile).

    You are right that this takes some months, but it becomes easier and easier and more rewarding. You just feel so damn good – more like the animal you were meant to be.

    Your blog is well worth the read – thank you. I look forward to your future entries.

  5. Richard Nikoley on September 30, 2008 at 14:09

    John:

    Thanks for such a terrific and comprehensive comment. I could post all the time, and still it's no substitute for commenters testifying as to how their life has been improved.

  6. Bill on October 2, 2008 at 13:08

    Hey Richard ,
    would you say pound for pound you eat more veggies than meat?

    Bill

  7. Richard Nikoley on October 2, 2008 at 13:12

    No way. Probably not even close. In terms of weight, I'd say protein from all sources (eggs too), then veggies (mostly water weight), then fat (2x+ more energy per gram than protein or carbs.

  8. Pauline on January 1, 2009 at 11:14

    I was reflecting on life and weight today. We always think change comes from big choices and decisions, but if I listen to all those who lost weight and made life changes, it was all those little decisions, from day to day, little changes, here and there and as you keep going ….somehow further along the way, you find yourself in a different place. This is much better than NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS which set you up for a fall if you break a promise to yourself and its usually about making BIG promises. That most of life choices looking back were a series of decisions, with no judgement of right or wrong, just decisions, which got you here today. I was thinking particularly of people who lose weight and keep it off, they continue to do what they continue to do, and so the weight continues to come off. Any thoughts of your experience of that Richard

  9. Richard Nikoley on January 2, 2009 at 09:25

    I think of it like this, Pauline.

    If one is indeed set on radical, big change, then I think this lifeway offers a better chance of success than most others, simply because its natural, something a person begins to realize as he or she progresses. It not only becomes easy, it becomes the only way once one has gone through the withdrawal.

    On the other hand, the incremental approach is perfectly valid, and the best way to go for someone who just can't bring themself to imagine how they'll ever cope with this way.

  10. Steven M. Platek, Ph.D. on May 28, 2010 at 20:08

    New here, but nice post.
    I have to agree – I started doing Paleo a while ago – party b/c I’m trained as an evolutionary neuroscientist, partly because I am a semi-competitive athlete (CF-er). Not to mention, I just like the food! However, recently, as I read more and more I gave a strict 19-20 block Zone a try. I was freaking starving shortly after just about every meal. It was killing me. All I could think about was food. Not to mention I saw no performance gains. I tried to merge Paleo & Zone, but turns out, I just like to eat fat. I reduces even my psychological desires for sweets. I still buy stuff for my wife – She’s pregnant and loves chocolate, when I do so, I never ever have the inclination to eat some myself. I eat about a 2-4:1 ration of fat to carbs. Anyhow, just wanted to say hi, and great post.

    Cheers!

    • Richard Nikoley on May 29, 2010 at 08:31

      Yep, I think this has a lot to do with why Robb Wolf dropped Zone in favor of Paleo.

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