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Paleo or Zone?

By Marcus | In Nutrition | on February 10, 2011

Back on a previous post, Kathy asked the following question:

Marcus – What thinkest you about zone instead of paleo?

That’s somewhat of a trick question. In it’s purest form, even Barry Sears (creator of the Zone diet) recommends that you eat Paleo foods in Zone proportions. So at the core, are you really looking for permission to eat starchy carbs? I’d advise against it, because you will get much better results by paying attention to food quality (Paleo) instead of focusing on food quantity (Zone blocks). Sure, it seems like Christmas in comparison to Paleo when you see that you can have a “Zone” meal of 3oz of beef jerky, a 12oz bottle of beer and 18 peanuts. Aside from looking like a weirdo counting individual peanuts and weighing how much beef jerky you eat, do you think you’d be full with that “meal”? Better yet, what do you think it would do for your physique or your performance in the gym?

I can understand where the confusion comes from. When I first started CrossFit, I was taught that you could transition easily with the Zone, then try Paleo if you were up for it, and eventually go Paleo/Zone for the best diet possible. In practice though, I found something different.

Those that know me know I’m a little OCD, so it’s not too much a stretch to picture that I was VERY diligent about counting blocks, as well as weighing and measuring (WAM) my food. Even with all this effort, I was still suffering from midday sleepiness, as well as acid reflux during the WOD. Things all changed when Al (from CFIV) did a post about Robb Wolf and some of the free resources on his site. I tried his food template for men, which is pretty much paleo in Zone proportions. It’s very fruit-heavy, which is where almost all the carbs all come from, but this killed any sweet tooth I had and made it extremely easy to stick to the plan. All of a sudden I had no more acid reflux, my performance in the gym skyrocketed and my bodyfat dropped dramatically as I lost roughly 25 pounds. That much fruit now would make me loopy from the sugars, but that doesn’t mean this is a bad meal plan — it’s definitely a healthier place to be than the “Subway diet”. (Edit: Al brought up the excellent point that Robb has new and much improved food guides as part of his free book resources on his site. Check it out!)

So does this mean that Paleo/Zone is the way to go? Well for one, it’s a huge pain in the ass to WAM each meal. Robb Wolf has found with his numerous clients that as long as you pay attention to food quality (Paleo), you can eat to satiety and throw out your food scale. In the case you have very specific bodyfat goals, he does recommend eventually paying attention to specific quantities and food timing… so why cross that bridge before you get to it? Keep your food clean by staying Paleo and you can eat when you’re hungry until you are full. The Zone diet holds no magic that can overcome poor food choices, even when eaten in specific proportions. While you can find sites online that give Zone block measurements for starchy carbs, Sears recommends that one “avoid bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and other colorless food”. It then really boils down to whether or not you want to WAM your food, since you should be eating Paleo food. Personally, I’d take the easier way and put the food scale away until I no longer got results. The choice is yours.


WOD 02.10.11

Make Up Day

7 Comments to "Paleo or Zone?"

  • Al says:

    February 10, 2011 at 8:31 AM -

    Since Robb has released his book, he now has a Tools section on his site that has some even better Printable Guides: shopping lists, a food matrix and a quick start guide. Awesome stuff!

  • Scott says:

    February 10, 2011 at 8:58 AM -

    Nice post Marcus. I must say I had a similar experience. I was told the same thing about Zone being a first easy step. I tried Zone and lost a few pounds, but I couldn’t keep up the momentum to WAM meals. It was too much work and I convinced my self after a few weeks that I understood the portion sizes. So I stopped measuring and slowly reverted back to where I was pre-Zone. Then I tried Paleo and the weight flew off….at least for the first 3-4 months. I feel like I’ve been at an equilibrium point for the past 6 months or so. I think I’m at that point where I may need to go Zone/Paleo to lose more. I’m feeling great, but would love to lose another 10-15. I’m thinking portion control is the issue. Although I may wait and see what kind of results we get from the Whole 30 Challenge in April.

    Anyway, the main reason for my comment is to address one of Kathy’s biggest concerns about Paleo….cooking!! I know a lot of people don’t know how to cook or think they don’t have the time to cook. That’s BS!! EVERYONE CAN COOK…. its just a question of whether or not you have tried. It really is as simple as reading the instructions in the recipe and following them explicitly. You’ll probably make a few mistakes, probably burn a few meals, but before you know it you’ll be comfortable cooking and be able to impress prospective boyfriends/girlfriends!! We all know that’s the ultimate goal. :)

    And as far as time to cook, it actually takes a lot less time than you think. Frying up a quick Grass-fed Steak or Organic Chicken Breast, seasoned simply with salt and pepper, takes 10 minutes. Add some paprika, garlic, or other spices if you want to get CRAZY! :) While that is cooking throw a bag of broccoli, green beans, or other veggie in the microwave for 3 minutes. Or toss some onions and peppers in the frying pan with your meat. In the end it takes maybe 15 minutes for a solid meal.

    And if you have any questions about cooking, ask anyone at the gym. We all know Marcus is a wealth of knowledge. If you attended any of their football BBQs, you know Nick and Holley kill it in the kitchen. I love to cook and am happy to talk about food 24 hours a day. :) And based upon the food that appears at CFI Pot Lucks, there are quite a few other people at the gym with mad culinary skillz!

    1. Marcus says:

      February 10, 2011 at 9:08 AM -

      @Al — Thanks buddy! I should have noted that his updated stuff is much better to follow. I’ll ninja-edit it to add your link. :)

      @Scott — Portion control may or may not be your issue. The 30 day challenge could shed some light on areas where you’re currently sabotaging your own efforts. Number of cheat days, what kind of cheats, amount of fruit eaten, alcohol consumed, and whether meals are home-cooked or eaten out are all factors to be taken into consideration when you stall out on fat loss. We can troubleshoot if you want to do a thorough food log or wait until April to see how you fare when strict — up to you.

  • Alia says:

    February 10, 2011 at 9:16 AM -

    Whole 30 challenge? SO what your sayin is I have to actually use Google? =) Nice post. I barley have the discipline to stay away from Orange juice let alone weighing and measuring meals. Paleo has made me hungry like this hungry http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqwRqbcJlm0 And I do love food =)

  • kathy says:

    February 10, 2011 at 12:24 PM -

    Marcus – thanks for answering my question!! I think you gave us a a “trick” answer to a trick question – but Zone/Paleo makes complete sense. Unfortunately, I wanted to do Zone not so I could measure everything out, but because virtually every meal provides a carb challenge to me since I buy lunch every day and I have only one go to paleo dinner which gets boring after a few days. Le sigh.

    Scotty – way to call me out for not cooking! HAHA!!! Having added eggs to my breakfast, my prep time in the morning is up to 45 mins up from 20. I mean I’m losing sleep now just to eat some protein every morning and I recall some nutrition guru saying that sleep is also very important for the body…

    Finally, I went to lunch with opposing counsel at a deposition yesterday, and I told him I had given up sandwiches. Which reduced me to eating sorry looking pre-packaged chicken from a tub at the sandwich kiosk. He felt sorry for me (although I did my best to explain Crossfit and Paleo) while munching on his panini. But then I noticed he decided not to eat his chips. Misery loves company. 😉

  • Xuan says:

    February 10, 2011 at 2:48 PM -

    @Kathy, you’re story is funny and very endearing. I also don’t bring lunch and it took me some time to find meals at restaurants nearby that were paleo/primal friendly. I’m at a good point now, but the cobb salad without croutons or bleu cheese is starting to wear thin.

  • becky says:

    February 10, 2011 at 3:02 PM -

    love this wealth of knowledge.
    Thanks for sharing peeps.
    @ Kathy, I’ve been happy with boiling a weeks worth of eggs for my breakfast because I am not a morning person. It saves so much time and it’s so easy. I eat two, some black coffee and some sort of fruit as well as some almonds or walnuts and I’m good til the afternoon.
    and scott, you’re right, a lil mishaps and then you get your rhythm and start exploring CRAZY spices.
    and load on veggies!! they make me so full.
    yay.

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