My Week Long Diet Experiment: The Paleo Zone Diet

Leftover-Roastbeef-Salad-6 For those of you who have read my MACE State of the Union, you’ll know one of my goals is to improve my health.  I have been watching what I eat since the New Year, but have had no real plan. While reading another random website (honestly… I don’t even remember the name of the site, I was just perusing the internet in search of health/fitness articles) I came across a hybrid diet called the Paleo Zone diet. This diet is exactly how it sounds, you calculate the number of blocks of food you get for each meal like the Zone Diet and incorporate Paleo/Primal approved foods.  I thought to myself, “why not?”.  If nothing else, it will be a good exercise in self-control and I’ll be eating clean for a week. After calculating how many blocks I should eat for my desired weight, I began constructing a meal plan.  Because I am a bit of a numbers cruncher, I also decided to calculate how many calories my daily diet would consist of along with the macronutrient breakdown.  After all was said and done, here is what I came up with for the week:

  • Breakfast – 4 eggs and coffee with a tbsp of liquid coconut oil mixed in.
  • Morning Snack – Apple.
  • Lunch – A salad of mixed greens (spinach, lettuce, and kale) with a 4-6 oz serving of a meat of my choice (typically salmon, tuna, or chicken).  My dressing was olive/coconut oil and ACV.  Also a serving of almonds (1 oz).
  • Afternoon Snack – Apple and a serving of pistachios (1/2 cup unshelled).
  • Dinner – Same as lunch minus the almonds.  I would typically choose 4-6 oz of steak as the meat to change things up.  My dressing was olive/coconut oil and ACV.
  • Night Snack – Serving of almonds (1 oz).

Note the complete absence of grains, dairy products, and alcohol.  That’s pure Paleo, baby!

While the quantities of the foods varied a little, I was pretty strict on the types of food I ate.  There was a little mixing here and there, but I made sure that the calories and macronutrient ratios stayed close to this meal plan. macro ratiosCalculated out, this hovered around 1900 calories a day, which is right at my goal bodyweight’s BMR (180 lbs = 1897 calories).  A little low, I’ll admit, but this allowed me to set a baseline and measure the results.  I will discuss how I plan to adjust this diet for the future. So without further ado, let’s discuss the results!

Weight loss

Starting weight (2/23/15; morning) – 207 pounds Ending weight (2/28/15; morning) – 201 pounds You read that right…6 pounds of weight loss!  I was surprised how much weight I actually lost.  I did essentially no exercise this week so I was concerned about the results, but as you can see, I still lost quite a bit of weight.  Now granted, some of this weight was water weight, but who cares?  With a low carb diet, you are going to shed quite a bit of water weight and that’s a good thing.  It means you’re on the right track.  Just be sure to keep your electrolyte levels in check and you’ll be fine.

Less sinus issues

Unlike many people, my season for sinus issues is winter.  By the end of day 2, the amount of crap in my sinuses had significantly decreased.  I was breathing better without the use of medicines.

Better sleep

From the first night, my quality of sleep skyrocketed.  I credit this to 2 things, clearer sinuses and the serving of almonds I’d eat shortly before bed.  Almonds are a great source of magnesium and tryptophan.  Tryptophan is the same chemical in turkey that makes you drowsy.  What it actually is, is an essential amino acid your body cannot produce on its own.  When consumed, it helps your body create serotonin.  Serotonin and magnesium both have calming effects which explains why I slept so much better.

Better skin

Before this experiment, my skin had been completely dried out by the cold, dry winter air.  I was constantly itching and lotion didn’t help.  While the itchy, dry skin isn’t 100% better, it has significantly improved.  I credit this primarily to the liquid coconut oil as well as the salmon and tuna I was eating regularly.

constant hunger

Not all the results were positive.  Even though I was eating 6 times a day, I was still hungry most of the time.  It wasn’t a ravenous hunger, maybe a 2 or 3 out of 10, but even a low level of hunger puts you on edge if it’s from sun up to sun down for a week straight.

Lower energy

This is part of the reason I didn’t worked out much for the week.  The other reason is a lot of projects going on around the house that kept me from getting to the gym in the evenings.  I believe this was caused by the lowered calories and sharp decrease of carbs.  I wouldn’t say I was suffering from a full-blown case of the low-carb flu, but I was definitely feeling some of the symptoms (fogginess, fatigue). I did, however, work out on Friday night (Taekwondo class) and actually felt quite chipper.  I didn’t wear out as fast as I thought I would.  In fact, I felt good throughout the entire class.  Perhaps my body was becoming accustomed to the diet change and beginning to thrive.

Future adjustments

I plan on adding another serving of protein into the diet this week.  My protein was a little lower than I would like.  I also think this will help with my energy levels as I will be getting more calories.  I want to slowly add in more calories so I can reevaluate at the end of the week to make sure I’m still losing weight while improving my energy levels. I will also be substituting out certain foods this week to avoid diet fatigue.  For example, I plan to eat blueberries in place of the apples.  Likewise, I might eat more red meat and less fish as well as swap out some of the eggs for breakfast for something else like bacon or sausage.  The biggest things I’m watching for are that I’m switching out a block for another block of the same macronutrient (carbs for carbs, etc) and for something with a comparable amount of calories. To illustrate: There are 72 calories in a medium apple and 85 calories in a cup of blueberries.  That’s close enough for me to swap them as I see fit for my snacks.

How I survived

This was a tough endeavor for me.  My body is used to eating more calories & carbs than this diet provided so it was a bit of shock to the system, which might explain the general fatigue I was experiencing all week.  I’m also accustomed to eating two large meals so eating a more regimented diet was an issue.  Here are a few things I did to make this process as smooth as possible:

  1. Plan/Prepare meals ahead of time – As you saw, I knew exactly what I would be eating every single day as well as the quantities.  This eliminated the hassle of trying to figure out what I was going to eat and trying to prep it every morning.
  2. Eat the same for the entire week – This might get boring by day 5, but I could buy everything I needed at the beginning of the week and didn’t need to worry about searching for different foods/ingredients throughout the week.
  3. Minimize cooking – I cooked very little…scrambled eggs in the morning and maybe some steak strips at night.  Everything else was just thrown in a Tupperware container.  I can’t stress how much easier this made my week.  If I was cooking all the time, I probably would have given up after day 2.
  4. Remove temptations – I almost had to kick my wife out of the room when she brought in a burger and fries one night.  The smell was overwhelming and I couldn’t focus on anything else.
  5. Take supplements – Before sugar, grease, and chemicals hijacked our hormones, cravings would indicate a deficiency in a nutrient.  Taking a good multivitamin and other supplements will help ease any (legitimate) cravings you are having throughout the week.
  6. Coffee! – Many mornings I was super groggy from the effects of the diet.  Coffee helped get me going.  The strange thing is, it is taking less coffee to give me the same boost as before the diet.  Before this diet I could drink 2-3 cups of coffee and it wouldn’t really register.  Now I can drink one cup and I’m good to go.  I’m not buzzed or bouncing off the walls, but I’m awake and focused.
  7. Eat (healthy) comfort foods – I love almonds and pistachios, but because they are so calorie-dense, I rarely eat them.  I made it a point to incorporate these two items into my daily diet multiple times to help take the edge off.  It was a healthy treat I looked forward to eating multiple times every day.  This might seem inconsequential, but it made a huge difference to my morale.
 Conclusion

Over the weekend, I cheated the hell out of my diet.  Breakfast burritos, beer, and pizza were just a few items on the menu. Today I’m back to the grindstone with a revised, and hopefully improved, version of this diet.  If you are trying to cut weight, I would highly suggest giving this a shot.  You should have no problems finding a Zone Block calculator online.  Just be sure to calculate your blocks and calories based on your DESIRED weight, not current weight, and go on from there.  I would also not suggest doing this right before a competition as this might leave you to drained.  Experiment with it long before so you have time to adjust the calories for optimum energy. It’s a little work on the front end getting everything calculated and planned, but after that it’s much easier to tweak and revise. Fighting weight, here I come!

Did this article help you?  Do you have any advice or questions? Leave them in the comment section below!

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6 thoughts on “My Week Long Diet Experiment: The Paleo Zone Diet

  1. i have never heard of Paleo Zone; is it a hybrid of Paleo + Zone?

    the food sounds very much like Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint or Rob Wolfe’s diet. except this one allows snacking too often. 6 times/day? is there a reason for such frequent feeding?

    lower energy is probably from reduced starch for your training. (do you train very hard?)

    cheers

    (i have 2 real meals/day)

    • Hello Pam. Great questions! Let me break them down…

      “I have never heard of Paleo Zone; is it a hybrid of Paleo + Zone?”
      Yes, that’s exactly what it it. I followed the guidelines of the Zone Diet (certain number of allotted blocks per day) but focused on Paleo/Primal approved foods.

      “The food sounds very much like Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint or Rob Wolfe’s diet. except this one allows snacking too often. 6 times/day? is there a reason for such frequent feeding?”
      I’m a big fan of Mark Sisson’s work so I took a lot of teachings and employed them into this diet experiment. Good eye! Like you, I typically prefer to eat 2 big meals a day, but I wanted to stay true to the Zone Diet layout provided. I don’t think it would have made a huge difference to my weight loss/health either way. The biggest focus was on lower calories, low carbs, and healthy food choices.

      “Lower energy is probably from reduced starch for your training. (do you train very hard?)”
      Typically I try to get 3-4 days of intense exercise and another day or two of active recovery. The only day I worked out during this experiment was the last day of the diet. If I were to sustain this eating regimen (which I might), I would definitely add in more starchy foods on intense workout days and more protein on the off days. Like I said in my post, the reason I hovered around the BMR was to establish a baseline which I could then use to plan accordingly for the future.

      Thanks for the excellent questions! I plan on doing more experiments in the future regarding nutrition and fitness so be sure to come back!

  2. more starch on the training days sounds like a plan.
    do you know why better sleep? & are you trying to loose weight?

    may you find your sweet spot, cheers,

    (my diet is pretty close to PHD. it works for me better than Mark’s tho)

    • Yes, I’m trying to lose weight. I carry my weight well but would love to lose 20-30 pounds.
      I believe my better sleep was due to me having clearer sinuses and handful of almonds I ate shortly before bed. You can read the details of why I think that made the difference in the article.
      I’ll have to look into the PHD diet you referenced. Not sure if I’ve heard of that or am just not recognizing the acronym.

      • clearer sinus : interesting. i have not heard of such result

        sorry, PHD: Perfect Health Diet by Drs Jaminets

        it’s moderately low carb (~30%) low protein (~15%) + 16 hr fast

        here’s a plate

        http://perfecthealthdiet.com/the-diet/

        basically “eat real food”

        it’s pretty close to Mark Sisson’s (they’re good colleagues) but PHD allows more (safe) starch (tuber/roots & esp. more relaxed about white rice) the protein is a little lower (maybe too low for some)

        it works better for me cause of difference in palette (i hate salad & cauliflower. XD) + starch agrees with my digestion better.

        (you don’t look like you need to loose weight to me)

        stay well,

        • Thanks for the information, Pam. I will definitely read into this a bit more. Who knows, I might do a week long experiment into this as well.

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