Getting In 'The Zone'

In preparation for The Early Show's Weight-Off series, we are taking a close look at some well-known, popular diets - each of which will be tested during our series, as one person will be on each diet. Thursday we look at The Zone.

The Zone diet is not simply based on calories and weight loss. It is actually a state of hormonal balance that can be achieved by your diet. The Zone is about keeping your insulin levels at a particular balance, which, in turn, helps you to lose weight and maintain a healthy body weight.

Here are the rules you need to know to stay on The Zone, explains diet program creator Dr. Barry Sears.

  • At each meal divide your plate into three sections.
  • One third should be low-fat protein that's no bigger and thicker than the palm of your hand.
  • On the other two-thirds, fill it until it's overflowing with fruits and vegetables.
  • And a dash - just a dash - of monounsaturated fat, like olive oil, slivered almonds or guacamole.

It is a meal that will keep insulin levels controlled for 4-6 hours, Dr. Sears says. It's hard to classify The Zone as a high-protein diet because you're eating more carbohydrates than protein through the fruits and vegetables and it's easy to make sure you're eating the "right" amount.

You look at your watch 4 hours after you eat a meal. If you're not hungry and you have peak mental acuity then you know your meal was a winner. If you have pasta for lunch and can barely keep your eyes open, was it a hormonal winner? No, Sears says.

He recommends never letting more than 5 hours go by without eating a meal or snack. If you eat breakfast at 7 a.m., then you should eat lunch at 12 p.m. But then, most people won't eat dinner until 7 p.m. and that's more than 5 hours without eating. So, you'll need a small hormonal touch-up with a snack. Before bed you should eat another snack, because it'll be more than 5 hours before you eat again, in most cases. Generally, you want to eat within an hour after waking up because your body is on empty. That's why breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

It seems strange that by eating more often you could actually lose weight and keep it off, but it's true, Sears says. It's all in understanding your hormones -- that's the secret of The Zone. By eating smaller, more frequent meals, you're not famished when you eat so you're not eating as many calories. You're actually keeping hunger under control, and those are the things you need to do for a lifetime of permanent weight control.

On The Zone, you're never depriving yourself of anything, says Sears, because you're just addressing your hormones and having protein to balance it off. You can have white bread if you want it, but have an equal-sized portion of low-fat turkey to go with it. If you have a desire to have a high-density carb, then have an equal amount of low-fat protein to go with it. A cup of pasta should have an equal amount of chicken to balance it off. The balance brings insulin back into The Zone, he explains.

Sears says an ideal candidate for The Zone (other than anyone that wants to eat right, stay slim and healthy and feel good) is someone who already had a disease or condition caused by excess weight - a heart condition or diabetes. But anyone overweight is also ideal. In fact, he adds, anybody who wants to squeeze all they can out of life is an ideal candidate.