The Zone, Paleo, and Primal: One Big, Happy Family

**I was once told that readers usually don’t read more than 300 words of an article… so sad.  I’d hate to think that I wrote 1200 words and only a quarter of them are going to be read.  I understand you’re busy people so I will tell you up front that this article will take about 6 minutes to read, so grab a cup of coffee and take off your shoes.  Relax for 6 minutes, you deserve it.  Now for your daily dose of B.S…..

For a long time in the Crossfit Community “The Zone Diet” was THE diet to be on.  It was taught during the Level 1 Cerfication (and I think it still is) and that is what the top athletes were doing , that’s how they got to be awesome.  Now “Paleo” is the buzzword in the community, with a few mentions of “Primal” mixed in there.  If you ask me (which I am going to assume you are) I will tell you that these are the three best “diets” out there, and by diet I mean the way in which you eat EVERYDAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE in order to achieve optimal health.  I don’t mean a 2 month crash course to temporarily get rid of a muffin top, this is useless.

Let me take a moment to quickly define each “diet” , I hate that word, we are going to call them methods.  Then at the end I will tell you how I incorporate all three into my life for what I feel is the best answer for me (and I’d bet money it will work for you too).

The Zone Method:  The Zone is all about the quantity of food you eat.  Basically, you get your food prescription in terms of how many “blocks” of food you need everyday to feed your lean body mass and allow your body to access fat stores.  You eat just enough to fuel the healthy part of your body and to get just the right hormonal balance (your “Zone”) to access fat stores and start using them as fuel.  Your blocks are based upon your height, weight, activity level, and body fat percentage.

The Zone works by balancing your insulin and glucagon hormones, these are the hormones that your body creates in response to the digestion of carbohydrates and protein.  You want just the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat in your meals for your insulin and glucagon to stay nice balanced because when they are nice and balanced, your body will access your fat stores and start eating away at your thunder thighs and jello arms.  It will also greatly improve inflammation and overall health.  If you’d like to learn more about the Zone (which you do) read this Crossfit Journal 41 article summarizing the Zone and helping you understand how to implement it.  I had great success with the Zone when I started Crossfit in 2007 and have continued to implement it into my life to this day.  The more “strict” I am with the Zone, the better my performance and overall body composition.

The Paleo Method: referring to the Paleolithic Era (Old Stone Age) before the introduction of agriculture and the domestication of animals.  Dr. Loren Cordain published The Paleo Diet after much research into the era and how our genetic code is designed to be fed.  He came up with this prescription: eat meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, a little fruit, small amount of starch and no sugar, grain, dairy, or processed foods.  These are the foods our Paleolithic ancestors had access to, therefore that is what our body is designed to eat.  Our body’s haven’t changed much since then, other than walking a little taller (well at least until we became morbidly obese) we remain the same physiologically.  It is much more simple to describe than The Zone, but it also leaves more room for error.

I believe that “Paleo foods” are exactly what we should be eating, Paleo makes me feel and look great, but that is because I have a strong understanding of the quantity of food I need.  If you tell someone to eat “meat, veggies, nuts and seeds, a little fruit, a small amount of starch and no sugar, grain, dairy, or processed foods,” they are going to lose weight because they are getting rid of excess carbohydrates from sugar, grain, and processed foods.  It’s science; when you lower the amount of carbohydrates you eat you will lose fat.

Error can occur when people start replacing those carbohydrates with other carbohydrates that are allowed on the Paleo method.  I’ve seen it happen a lot, people eat too much fruit or too many vegetables that are higher in fructose (remember “ose” means it breaks down to sugar) and they start gaining back weight or come to a plateau.  Another problem I’ve seen is a lack of protein when people don’t know how much they need.  If you don’t get enough protein you are not feeding your lean body mass, meaning you will start losing strength and stamina.  Lastly, there are many paleo cookbooks out there with a lot of dessert recipes, although these desserts are made out of paleo-friendly foods too many of these little treats leads one away from the theory behind the entire method: to eat like our ancestors (the ones who didn’t have year round access to honey and coconut flour).

**The Paleo method is a beautiful thing and I believe in it 110%, I am just pointing out the mistakes I have seen people come across with it.

The Primal Method:  Trademarked by Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple, the Primal Blueprint is more than just a way of eating, it is also an implementation of exercise and lifestyle that fits our primal instincts.  Mark is a strong advocate of proper sleep, as well as proper play, and using functional fitness to keep your body moving like a caveman.  As far as the diet portion of the Primal Blueprint goes, he basically takes paleo foods and implements a small amount of dairy.  Based on my personal preference for dairy, I really appreciate this approach!

Now I’ve outlined the three methods separately, what I like to do is combine them all into something that gives me the optimal approach that I can sustain for the rest of my life.  My solution: the Zone diet using Paleo foods,  with a Primal lifestyle and a sprinkling of dairy for sanity.  I measure my food into the correct Zone portions, using meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, a little starch and dairy, no sugar, no grain, no soy (I hate soy), and no processed foods (beyond what I can do in my own kitchen) and I follow a primal lifestyle by making sure I incorporate proper play and rest into my life with high intensity functional movement.

Since I have begun this approach I have continued to improve in my overall fitness and health.  With each passing year I am able to say “I am in the best shape of my life.”  Give it a try, I’d love to hear you say that too!

** I keep a small amount of dairy in my diet for sanity purposes.  I went without it for 6 weeks (a Paleo challenge) and by the end of it I thought “if I just could have had dairy I could have sustained that for life.” Well, it didn’t take me long to figure out that it’s much more important that I sustain a healthy diet for the rest of my life than for 6 weeks at a time…so I keep my life lightly sprinkled with dairy.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. I LIKE THIS A LOT!!! Today I forgot my bag of lettuce so I had to buy a salad here. it was just lettuce with a couple tablespoons of moz cheese so I let myself have it even though I’m losing a point. I’m in it for the rest of my life, not the 6 weeks too. I’m amazed that I can give up dairy, though. I need to work on the paleo sweets and fruit, but as Suzanne says “Evolve i nto it”

  2. Abby says:

    I too need to work on cutting the fruit, but I am so glad I eat this way now! I feel the best I’ve ever felt. I wake up so much at night I hardly get good sleep, but I truly believe my diet and exercise keep me going. I’m okay with no dairy but I miss my coffee!

    1. Lauren says:

      Just starting on paleo us a huge step in the right direction. It makes such a huge difference on how you feel and your mood throughout the day! I would be much less pleasant person without it! Well, I try to be pleasant at least.

  3. Abby says:

    What snacks do you eat during the day to keep you going? This is where fruit has become my go to..

    1. Lauren says:

      Lunchmeat is great as a snack with some veggies, better yet a romaine lettuce leaf filled with meat and tomatoes. Also just small cuts of chicken or steak with some fruit or veggies, as well as nuts. I always eat protein, carbohydrates, and fat together, it keeps me satiated longer.

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