Monday, October 18, 2010

Healthy weight loss diet the CrossFit way

The CrossFit Journal published an easy guide to starting the Zone diet, and it's available as a free download.

Check the chart on page 2 to find how many blocks per day you should eat. You could also tinker with this Zone block calculator. You'll need to know your weight and have an idea of your body-fat percentage. The recommended activity level is 0.7 for Crossfitters, so select “Light to medium 2-3x per week.” Yes, I share your likely indignation at that unjust description!

Page 3 gives a block chart with columns for proteins, carbs, and fats—plus a small combo section. The next page lists unfavorable carbs that earn this designation due to their tendency to rapidly spike your insulin (also known as having a high glycemic load). This doesn't mean you can't have them—you can Zone just about anything—but that you want to limit how often you eat them. Being from 2004, the table is a bit dated, and the Dr. Sears people have since promoted carrots to favorable status, for example. I'm not aware of other changes.

The inset picture is a cellphone snapshot of my 4-block breakfast: 4 eggs scrambled in 1⅓ teaspoons of butter, an orange, half a cup of salsa, and a cucumber.

I keep a copy of the block charts above my refrigerator at home. To put together a meal with the chart, you need to know how large it will be, i.e., how many blocks, and then you pick that many blocks of protein, carbs, and fat. The chart on page 2 suggests five 2-block meals for a ten-block day, for example, but size your meals in a way that works best for you: maybe three 3-block meals and then a 1-block snack before bed.

Let's walk through my thought process for today's 4-block “first lunch.” I wanted chicken breast, and the chart tells me an ounce is one block. That means I get four ounces of chicken breast. I like pears, and a pear counts for two blocks, leaving me with two more to go. A half-cup of carrots is a block, so a whole cup makes two blocks. For fat, about three pistachios constitute a block, so I had 12 (= 4 blocks × 3 pistachios/block). In summary,
  • Protein: 4 ounces of chicken breast (4 blocks)
  • Carb: a pear (2 blocks); 1 c. carrots (2 blocks)
  • Fat: 12 pistachios (4 blocks)
After doing it a while, you'll memorize your frequent choices, and I put together the above meal without having to consult the chart. Pistachios aren't listed, so I must have looked it up on the web. For other examples (with pictures!), read Jeff's “The Zone Diet Explained” blog post. For tips on eating out, read “Top 10 Zone-Friendly Meals in Huntsville.”

If you'd like a more exciting meal, the number of ingredients is entirely up to you. Remember that you don't necessarily have to use whole-block portions, so you could make a salad with several different ingredients. Just be sure that the totals add up correctly. The rest of the article has tasty and easy recipes, separated into 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-block meals and also 1-block snacks. The chili is delicious!

It does take a week or two of getting used to. Some suggest that many of our food cravings are due to hormonal imbalance, and Zone is designed to level them out. I no longer have the ups and downs from spiking my blood sugar with carb overload, and I'm leaner than I've been in 10+ years. Don't go crazy either: let yourself cheat now and then. Among many other benefits, fish oil will cut you some slack on your diet. A common recommendation is to start off eating strictly for a month and then, after seeing the great results this will produce, maintaining on an 80/20 cycle—strict during the week and relaxed on the weekends.