There are many reasons that I avoid diet books: my understanding is that most of them prey on people's insecurities, throwing useless quick-fix tips at people in exchange for a fast buck. You can find a "study" or advice that contradicts every other "study" or advice out there, which is all incredibly annoying. I very much enjoyed Michael Pollan's books that focus on eating nutritious, whole foods and relying on common sense. So, it took me quite a while to even consider picking up, Enter the Zone (1995) by Barry Sears, Ph.D. with Bill Lawren. I had heard of "the Zone" earlier, but had always lumped it in with "the Atkins diet" and whatever other fad diets were out there. It wasn't until my workout group consistently talked about the Zone and I saw some clips of Barry Sears speaking that my interest was piqued enough to read his book and get a better idea of his nutrition plan.
So it was with some trepidation and a great deal of skepticism that I started reading about the zone. I should say first, that I work out all the time and am pretty thin. My interest in the zone diet stems primarily from the possibility of living healthier and increasing performance. I'm not interested in losing weight.
Sears argues that we, as Americans, are eating way too many, quickly-digested carbs that quickly turn into sugar in our bloodstream, causing an insulin spike that has innumerable negative consequences for our health, including gaining weight and fat, heart problems, diabetes, etc. His diet is focused on keeping your insulin level steady and in control, which somehow (I'm not any kind of doctor, and Sears explained this stuff relatively simply, so I have no idea how much guessing or exaggerating he does in his book) affects other hormones in our bodies which makes us healthier and happier in every way. In order to achieve this balance, Sears prescribes a diet with "adequate protein intake" depending on your weight and lean body mass, with 30% of your calories coming from protein, 30% from fat, and 40% from carbs.
When I first read about the specifics of the diet, it seemed pretty reasonable to me. I mean, it still called for more carbs than protein, which sounded better than Atkins. But then I started paying attention to how many carbs I was actually eating; even the foods I thought of as high protein, like my chocolate soy milk and hummus still had way more carbohydrates than protein. It was also a bit of a shock to discover that my favorite vegetable snack food--carrots--just happened to be the one vegetable loaded with carbs with a high glycemic index (which means they turn into sugar really fast in your bloodstream, making your insulin level spike and your body feel hungry again more quickly).
There were a number of things I found a little sketchy about this book. There is no question that Sears is in the business of selling something, and it often comes off as too good to be true with very little evidence to back Sears up. Sears also talks a lot about weight loss, which I am not interested in and makes me wonder whether he's just sucking in those poor souls who are looking for some magic powder. Finally, I have always favored eating whole, nutritious foods. Even though Sears discusses micronutrient quality and eating lots of fruits and vegetables, which I liked, he also seems to think it's fine if vegetarians get all their protein from soy protein powder. He doesn't seem to care so much about where you get your food--or that you're eating a ton of soy protein, which might have negative consequences--as long as it's got the right combination of macronutrients.
All in all, I was somewhat convinced by Sears' more humble boasts about his diet program. I go throughout the day constantly hungry and if I don't eat enough I have a headache for the rest of the day. Now that I've looked into it, I can see that I've been eating mostly high glycemic carbohydrates, which explains how I can eat so much and still be hungry. I'm also probably pretty low on my protein intake. So, I've decided that it wouldn't hurt to try his program for two or three weeks and see how I feel. If I really do feel a difference, then I'll try to stick with it. I need a little time to figure out all the complicated details, but my plan is to give it a fair shot.