Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Zone Challenge Food Log

The book by Barry Sears, Ph.D., creator of the Zone Diet. 

I've been living in the Zone for almost two weeks now and want to update you on what I've been eating and how I've been feeling to add support to the community of Paleo-Zoners.

Here's my Zone experience!

The Dreaded Scale and Tape Measure

I hate both and avoid both as much as possible.  But, I must oblige in figuring out my blockage, so here's my starting numbers, taken on 1/15/11:
weight: 147.2
hips: 40
waist: 34 1/8
height: 5'6"

Body Fat by the numbers, using the Zone book tables: 31.39%

Lean Body Mass: 101.43 (31% of wt. gives lean percentage, which I multiplied by my wt.)

Using a Zone Diet multiplier of .7 for moderately active (I bike 5X a week for over a half an hour and CrossFit generally 3 days on 1 day off) and multiplying that by my Lean Body Mass gives me my block count:
10 Blocks


So far, the weight loss is slow, but that wasn't really my goal. I was at 144.6lbs after one week (about 3 lbs. lost).  I'm performing pretty well at the gym and feeling pretty good.

Some lessons I've learned:

  • As always, the more vegetables, the more satisfying and satiating the meal.  
  • Fruits alone, or high starch meals, only whet the appetite and hunger soon returns.  
I always wish I could eat more protein and fat--they are my dear friends--but at the same time I feel like I am stuffing my face with carbs.  I NEVER have eaten so much fruit as I do now, and my servings of vegetables could feed a family of five.  I am still limiting my fruit to lower glycemic choices (mostly berries, apples, and the occasional grapefruit), but it still feels like sugar to me. 

I can remember being a hunger-crazed Zone zombie (also known by Robb Wolf as the Always Hungry Carb Crash Zombie) the last time I tried the Zone Diet, before I found the Paleo Diet.  I was filling my carb blocks with the easiest of sources: grains and fruits, which burn more like lighter fluid than a Duraflame log in your belly.  That and my obsession with fats definitely did it in for me last time.

This time, it is going better.  

  • Wait it out: the first week is rough and if you are coming from a state of even more nutritional derangement, it can take even longer to adjust. 

The first week was hard on my hormonal state (such as tears over nothing), and I still get stressed out at the drop of a hat, but I feel energized and awake most days.  I HATE not being able to eat the portions I want, but for the most part, I am never starving unless I let the hours get too long between meals.  I'm rarely even hungry.

  • Having readily prepared foods helps immensely because it is just as easy to eat on the Zone as it is to cheat, so it's easier to be responsible and stick with it.  
  • Cooking can be tough, so use alternatives to high fat cooking such as grilling, Silpat or parchment lined baking/roasting, and minimally greased skillets. 

The lack of fat makes cooking even with a nonstick skillet pretty tough.  Lately I've increased my fat a little when cooking to avoid losing a quarter of my protein to the pan.

  • Don't beat yourself up over transgressions, just climb back on the plan again. 

I started my Zoning out on the wrong day: a taco social at San Francisco CrossFit after Brian MacKenzie's Running Seminar.  I tried to be good and eyeball-portioned out six blocks of corn tortilla and meat, but I didn't let the inaccuracy or deviation into enemy territory with the grains defeat me.  It was an anticipated cheat and I did my best to eat responsibly.  I was back on the wagon again the next day! I also had a hankering for cheese lately and took this opportunity to add it back in for this challenge.  I don't make cheese a part of my daily life, but I enjoy it on occasion.  This makes me a Lacto-Paleo-Zoner :)

  • Making your diet observable, measurable, and repeatable allows you to improve your performance. 

All in all, it's a great experience of solidarity at my CrossFit gym where most of us are Zoning together.  It's also a good learning experience to see just how much my protein and fat have oozed outside their respective proportions while I've been lax on the weighing and measuring.  I can definitely see how making your diet observable, measurable, and repeatable makes sense if you want to take your performance to the next level.  You can see how the baseline makes you feel and how it allows you to perform so you can make any tweaks necessary for improvement.


In addition to the foods I eat, I drink water and decaf teas throughout the day and take a few supplements: multivitamin, vitamin D, B vitamins, fish oil, and vitamin C (before bed).

NOTE: for those of you not familiar with the Zone and it's lingo, Nutritionize is a great resource for Zone Diet resources and Zoleo, their Paleo-Zone approach.  For terminology I use here, P = Protein, C = Carbohydrate, and F = Fat.

I think it works best to show how my meals look, grouped by meal, not day (those get so boring, don't they?).  I try to maintain variety, but I also stick with some standard meals I really enjoy.  I initially broke my day into a 2-block breakfast, 2-block lunch, 2-block snack, and a 4-block dinner to dessert.  This "hoarding" behavior is quite common on the Zone when someone is scared to have few blocks left at the end of the day when hunger festers and no one wants to fall asleep to the purr of their growling stomach.  But by mid-week, I realized my dinner was quite filling at only 3 blocks, so I could eat a larger, and more satisfying lunch.  

Here are my meals:

Kale and Eggs with Cinnamon Apples

Breakfast (2 blocks)
(with or without the cinnamon or smoked salmon)
  • 2 blocks = 2 eggs 
  • 1 block = 1 egg
  • 1 block = 2oz smoked salmon
  • 2+ blocks = pasture butter  NOTE: I started off with just a teaspoon, but when cooking kale, then emptying the skillet to cook eggs, I found I couldn't avoid stickage unless I used 1t for each. I am now a happier camper :)
Artichoke Chicken-Apple Salad
Lunch (2-3 blocks)
  • 2-3 blocks = 2-3oz rotisserie chicken, canned wild-caught salmon, or homemade, roasted turkey breast  NOTE: I used a dry rub on the turkey and tried it slow-cooker style with garlic and ginger and cabbage.  
  • 1 block = as many salad greens as you can jam into your container/bowl tossed with 1/6c lemon juice
  • 1-2 blocks = apple sliced thinly and mixed in the salad or grapefruit (1 whole grapefruit per block) sliced into the salad so the juices add to the lemon dressing or artichoke hearts (1.5c per block) mixed in (or some combination)
  • 2-3 blocks = 2-3t crushed walnuts or 1t olive oil
Roasted Turkey-Apple Sandwiches 
Snack (2 blocks)
  • 2 blocks = 2oz rotisserie chicken, canned wild-caught salmon, or roasted turkey breast 
  • 2 blocks = Organic, young coconut water (2 blocks even!) or 170g baby carrots, or just a whole apple 
  • 2 blocks = chicken or turkey skin or 2t crushed walnuts or 6 cashews or 2T avocado/guacamole

Dinner (3-4 blocks)
  • 2-3 blocks = Hearty Paleo-Zone Chili
  • 1 block = 1oz raw, organic cheese  [NOTE: I would have preferred to find raw, grass-fed cheese, but couldn't this time] or 1/2oz raw, organic cheese and 1/2oz of organic salami
Mushroom Burger Salad with Avocado

Burger Night

  • 2-3 blocks = 3-4.5oz grass-fed beef burger, grilled
  • 1 block = 1oz raw, organic cheese  [NOTE: I would have preferred to find raw, grass-fed cheese, but couldn't this time] if using only 2 blocks of burger
  • 3+ blocks = bacon fat for broccolini if having that 
  • 2 blocks = 2T avocado
  • 1 block = 1T coconut milk for the Berry Bowl if having that (if not, add more avocado)

Sausage and Egg Skillet

Breakfast for Dinner
  • 2 blocks = sausage (something organic and grain-free, sugar-free)
  • 1 block = egg
  • 1-2 blocks = kale, spinach, or other dark, leafy greens perhaps with some mushrooms (1 block per package of sliced mushrooms)--you could definitely add more veggie variety here
  • 1-2 blocks =  Berry Bowl or Ceylon Cinnamon Dusted Apple Slices
  • 2+ blocks = pastured butter
  • 1 block = 1T coconut milk for the Berry Bowl if having that (if not, allow more butter)

So there you have it: some meals on the Zone.  I am sure many more of my recipes are Zone-friendly, so check out the ingredient list Labels and Important Information areas on my sidebar to find them.  Hopefully I've given you some ideas to fuel your own Zone challenge or just some interesting pairing or meal ideas you can use whether you weigh and measure or not.  Let me know how you like them!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Dinner in the Zone: Hearty Paleo-Zone Chili on Roasted Portobello Mushroom Caps with Crunchy Slaw

Those of you Zoning with me may be a little sick of the piecemeal, thrown together meals we often fall back on.  The ease of just finding a Protein source from the list, Carb source from the list, and Fat source from the list and combining odd choices just to get the balanced blocks can take it's toll on your meal-time satisfaction.

But I am here to offer another option: cooking a Zone meal that will make many dinners to come as easy as portioning and reheating.  And did I mention that it's filling AND delicious?  Sometimes with the calorie reduction inherent in the Zone Diet and the emphasis on fruit and starchier carbs for easier blockage, people feel hungry all the time and starved.  This meal utilizes lower glycemic ingredients (vegetables) to satisfy you at the end of a long day of weighing and measuring. And it's filling whether you're eating only a two-block portion or a five-blocker.  Yes, eating well CAN actually happen on the Zone!


I began my Paleo-Zone challenge last Saturday and will post my food log soon, but for now, let me share with you this amazing meal I've had for dinner this week.  And with the amount my husband and I made, we'll probably still be having this meal well into next week :)  This meal is Hearty Paleo-Zone Chili on Roasted Portobello Mushroom Caps with Crunchy Slaw spooned on top (all recipes follow).  It's delicious and hearty--which is no simple task when cooking and eating on the Zone.  At two blocks or five, this meal will fill you!

The chili is a rich and spicy mix of vegetables and grass-fed beef.  It is FILLING, which is the perfect quench for end-of-day hunger, and it's warming to combat chilly evenings.  I was inspired by paleo chilis that hold the beans, Alton Brown's amazing Pressure Cooker Chili (sans the pressure cooker for us) that turned us on to using chopped beef instead of ground beef, and the Chan's Chili recently posted in the CrossFit Journal, which helped us Zone proportion our chili. Whether you Zone or not, this chili is amazing and you definitely won't miss the beans. 

Instead of straying off the Paleo Diet for rice or tortillas, I serve the chili on Roasted Portobello Mushroom Caps that add a meaty base.  SO much more filling than rice or tortilla, these mushrooms are a great base for any meaty sauce.  The chunky, silky texture of the chili is complemented perfectly by crunchy, lime and onion slaw I call Crunchy Slaw.  It is SO easy to make and adds that taste and crunch that definitely kicks the chili up another notch. 

For the recipes below, I used P, F, C to stand for Protein, Fat, and Carb, which the Zone Diet uses to balance food.  A block of Protein = 7g protein, a block of Fat = 1.5-3g depending on the fattiness of the Protein, and a block of Carb = 9g after fiber is subtracted.  For Zone Block charts, check out this compiled list:

NOTE: there is definitely some flexibility to these measurements as some of the foods I used below have different measurements based on different Zone block lists.  Since this meal is mostly veggies, I am not going to fuss about which count is correct and whether I have measured it precisely.  The Zone is enough effort just to weigh and measure everything.  In this case, allow yourself some leeway on the veggie counting and err on the side of MORE.  :)

Without further ado, here are the recipes!

Hearty Paleo-Zone Chili--this is only one of three containers we filled to the brim!

Hearty Paleo-Zone Chili
Definitely not for a quick meal, this endeavor will provide you with chili to feed an army or yourselves for a week (maybe two?) on the Zone.  The medley of grass-fed beef, assorted vegetables, and spices will heartily fill and warm your belly. 
Prep Time: 1hr give or take your mad knife skills and helpers
Cook Time: 2-3+hrs, slow cooker for the day/night or stovetop for a few hours until tender and delicious.
Quantity: see Our Totals below.  You can use the ingredients in your own proportions to make the quantity you desire.  We're going for a 2P:1C:1F ratio so you can serve this on Roasted Portobello Mushroom Caps with Crunchy Slaw on top.

NOTE: I'll give what makes a block and how much we used, but you have to be your own guide for making this Zoned to meet your desired quantity and taste.
  • yellow onions, chopped (1.5c = 1C, 10 onions gave us 10c = ~6C)
  • mushrooms, chopped (3c = 1C, one container of sliced mushrooms = 3C and we used 4 = 4C)
  • can of crushed tomatoes (with Basil) (check your label, ours was 1/2c = 1C and we used (2) 28oz. cans or 10C)
  • zucchini, chopped (2c = 2C, we used 6 small ones and got 8 cups or 4C)
  • grass-fed chuck roast, chopped (1oz = 1P and we used 56oz = 56P)
  • container of salsa (check your label, ours was 1/2c = 1C and we used 2c = 4C)
  • cumin
  • chili powder
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic powder
  • olive oil (1T = 9B and we used 3T = 27F)
  • optional: chili peppers or other heat multipliers (NOTE: the chili powder and cumin made this pretty spicy on their own, so play around with it to your taste)
  • a writing instrument and sheet of paper to record your amounts and calculations

Our Totals: 56P, 28C, and 28F is a 2:1:1 ratio, so we need to add a Carb and Fat to every portion of chili.  That is perfect for a serving with Roasted Portobello Mushroom Caps (1/2C, 1F) and Crunchy Slaw (1/2C) (see recipes that follow).  Our finished batch was 187oz. and dividing by the 56P that went into the pot gives us 3.33oz for 1P, 1/2C, 1/2F.  Your batch will vary on your ingredients and finished thickness and weight, so do your own math on this one.  Sorry, Zone cooking isn't a piece of cake, but it is well worth the effort to not stress about dinner for a week (or more)! :)

Chop till you are blue in the face.  You should start on the onions and add them to a large stock pot set over medium high heat and coated with olive oil (1T worked) and a little salt.  I like to season as I add new ingredients into the pot, a lesson learned from years of watching Emeril as he bammed the crap out of his dishes.  Stir the onions every time you add more to the pot and add more oil if they start to stick.  Record how many cups of onions you use and keep a running tally of the oil.  Remember to try to be frugal with the oil if you want to stick to plain Jane Zone. Those of you lean enough to be using Fat multipliers can have more flexibility--damn you ;).

Meanwhile, a second pair of hands can chop the chuck roast into tiny bits, cutting out any really awful sinewy parts if desired.  Once that's cut, weigh it to use your desired amount and write that number down so you can figure out total blocks later on.  Using another skillet, coat with olive oil (1T worked) and brown the beef (use multiple batches so you only have one layer of meat in the pan, add more oil for each batch--it took us two batches using a big skillet).

Next, to the onions in the stockpot, add the sliced mushrooms (I bought them already sliced, so no prep there!--measure them out if you want to be precise, but for each styrofoam-like container it was about 3c).  Stir and cook them down.  We're looking for translucent if not browning onions and reduced size in the mushrooms as they cook.

The first pair of hands can move on to chopping the zucchini or you can get to it after the meat is done.  Measure out how much you use by the cupful.

Once the meat is done, add it to the stock pot (batch by batch is fine), then add the zucchini, tomatoes, salsa, and spices.  For the spices, be your own judge based on how much you are making at once.  Remember, it's always easier to add more heat later than find Zoneable ways to reduce it after the fact. Unfortunately sour cream and guacamole are Fats that will easily devour your blocks unless you allot them.  Let your chili reduce over Medium heat until you like the thickness, then Low for as long as you like to meld the flavors and tenderize the beef and veggies.

Once done, you have one more fun task: measuring the result of your labor of love.  We tried to be sneaky and weigh the empty pot, then the full pot, but the pot was too heavy for the scale :(  So we weighed storage containers and then filled them, took their weight and got the whole picture the hard way.  You could also measure by Pyrex liquid measure as you remove the chili from the pot and place in storage containers.  Either way, from that number of total weight, divide it into total blocks of Protein and figure out ounces or cups per block of Protein.  From our ingredients, we came up with a 2:1:1 ratio and found that 3.3oz. gives us 1P, 1/2C, 1/2F.  Yours will vary based on the quantities and thickening of your chili.

We served ours over Simple Roasted Cauliflower (3c =1C, plus a little fat) or Roasted Portobello Mushroom Caps (1/2C) (recipe follows) with Crunchy Slaw (1/2C) (last recipe) on top.  

Roasted Portobello Mushroom Caps
For a meaty base perfect to hold chili, burgers, ragout, or anything else you desire, try better-than-bread roasted portobello mushrooms!
Cooking Time: 15min+, really as long as you like to get them tender and juicy
Quantity: 2-3 roasted caps, depending upon size, is about 1/2C if 3 cups = 1C

or parchment paper and baking sheet
  • portobello mushroom caps (rinsed and stems removed) (3c = 1C, so 2-3 caps after roasting seemed like 1/2C)--NOTE: make extra so that you have meals for a few nights.  The mushrooms will keep well sealed up in the refrigerator.
  • olive oil (1/3t = 1F), optional
  • salt 
  • pepper

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with Silpat or parchment paper so you don't have to use fat to grease the pan.  Place mushrooms on the sheet, gills up.  Sprinkle caps with salt and pepper and drizzle on the olive oil you need to accumulate your desired fat blocks.  If you don't have any fat to spare, the caps are fine without any oil.  The liner is our insurance :) Place the sheet in the oven and bake until juicy and tender.  These are perfect to make in bulk while you are preparing and cooking the chili!  Afterwords, you'll have a delicious base to your chili that is spoon tender, meaty, and filling!

Crunchy Slaw
The perfect crunchy slaw for your spicy dish!
Prep Time: 5-10min tops
Quantity: Made enough for at least 4-6 plates, so about 1/2C for each serving. 

  • 1/2 head of cabbage (4c = 1C)
  • 1/2 onion (1.5c = 1C)
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro (unless you are using a bucketful, it's unlikely you'll come close to a block)
  • 1 lime, juiced (1C)
Total Blocks = 3C

Chop the cabbage, onion, and cilantro as finely as desired and mix well.  Add lime juice and mix again.  There you have it!  This is a perfect, crunchy, tasty accompaniment to tacos/chili/anything Mexican inspired!

So there is your meal: Hearty Paleo-Zone Chili served on Roasted Portobello Mushroom Caps with Crunchy Slaw on top!  Here's to enjoying what you eat on the Paleo-Zone Diet!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Entering the Zone

Today's recipe: Berry Bowl

 UPDATE: CrossFit Santa Cruz and my website were featured in The Santa Cruz Sentinel today!  Check it out here: Healthy Lift: CrossFit Santa Cruz, others touting unprocessed meat, veggies as top diet essentials from 1-12-11.  I'm SO excited and appreciative!

It's post holidays and back on the meal plan of meat and veggies, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.  I usually just eat meat and veggies and lots of healthy fats: omega-3 fish oil, pastured butter, olive oil, and coconut oil.  Over the holidays, some ice cream and gluten-free treats crept in and it was surprising how little it took to completely override my taste buds.  When I am "on the plan," I crave nothing but meat and fat and fatty meat.  When I am "off the plan," sugar supersedes my love of meat and fat and I go hog wild for chocolate and gluten-free fudge cookies or flourless chocolate tortes crumbled into vanilla ice cream.  I know I am on the dark side when I wander the sweets aisle lusting after every forbidden delight.

So now I'm back on track and I've found a great way to get my taste buds back on track in a healthy way.  If I crave sugar, I'll give myself sugar the healthy way: Fruit!  There is nothing so divine as a steaming bowl full of blueberries and coconut milk, sprinkled liberally with Ceylon cinnamon of course! (what don't I put cinnamon on?)

My CrossFit gym is embarking on a new event for a new year: two weeks of weighing and measuring, Zone-style starting this weekend.  For more details on the Zone, check out founder Barry Sear's site:  Basically you categorize foods as either proteins, fats, or carbohydrates (or some combos) based on their highest macronutrient.  Then you try to balance your protein, fat, and carbohydrate at every meal and eat only enough to support your lean body mass.

 Now I've been on the Zone and it has worked great--I was even a gym winner in the Zone improvement challenge years ago.  But then I found the Paleo Diet and became lax on the weighing and measuring and proportioning side of my diet.  I still weigh and measure almost all of my meat on a daily basis so that I don't often indulge knowingly in over 12 blocks.  But I have definitely been slacking in the other areas, lower in carbohydrate and higher in fat.

So here is my challenge: I am going to embark on Paleo-Zone at least for two weeks.  Unfortunately, my last Zone foray was before Paleo-style, so many of my old recipes included grains.  Since I can't fall back on them, this is a fresh new start.

I know I have been splurging a little in the fat department if only a 1/3 of a teaspoon of butter is a block.  Just a little splurging ;)  I also haven't been eating much in the way of carbohydrates according to the Zone.  Right now I fill the skillet with kale and chard in the morning, have a whole container full of arugula or spinach or both for lunch and often have broccoli or cauliflower for dinner, but this is a drop in the bucket for the Zone.  One block of cooked kale is 2 cups.  One block of arugula is 10 cups. One block of cooked broccoli is 3 cups.  So I think if I am going to give this challenge a good try, I have to start eating the other forgotten parts of my prescription: little fruit and some starch.  I'll stick with vegetable-based starches (plantains and root veggies sound enticing) and low glycemic fruits (like berries and apples) as much as possible to get in some more blocks without having to eat 10 cups of greens for every block :)

So my recipe today can be Zoned.  I tried it out with a rotisserie chicken from New Leaf market as my protein (1oz per block), frozen blueberries (1/2 cup per block), and coconut milk (about 1T per block*).  I had my protein SLOWLY to make it last longer before my berry bowl and then enjoyed my berries as if a dessert.  The fat makes it satisfying and the sweet hits your sweet-tooth on the spot.  Delicious!

Berry Bowl shown using a two-block serving

Berry Bowl
Sweet enough to drown your craving for sugar, rich enough to keep you satisfied after you lick the bowl. 
Preparation: 5min using a microwave, probably less than 10min for stove-top

Organic frozen (or fresh) blueberries, 1/2 cup per block
Organic coconut milk (preservative free if possible, read those labels closely!), about 1T per block*
Ceylon cinnamon (for more on why it should be Ceylon instead of regular, old Cassia, see this post: Apple of My Eye), free on the Zone diet (yay!)

Measure your desired blockage of blueberries and place them in a microwave-safe bowl (read: NOT plastic) or small pot or skillet to heat on the stove.  Sprinkle on the cinnamon.

Heat the berries until hot but not mush (1-2min in the microwave if you are going that route, depending upon quantity and microwave).  When they're hot, measure and add your coconut milk (alternatively, you could add it before heating, but I like it thicker like after refrigeration instead of thin like it gets after heating).  Stir, taste, and add more cinnamon if desired and I ALWAYS desire :)  Enjoy a healthy, seems-like-an-indulgence-but-isn't bowl!

Check back for more Paleo-Zone support!

*My brand of coconut milk has 14g of fat for a 1/3 cup, so if I take 3g of fat per block, that's about 4.6 blocks in that 1/3 cup.  Since 1/3 cup is about 5.3 tablespoons, that means one block is just over a tablespoon (assuming my horrendous math skills are correct).  I take that as a green light to be a little bit more liberal in my tablespoon measurement.  But of course, the consistency of the coconut milk would make a difference too: after refrigeration it's thick, but a fresh can might be watery.  Brands vary too.  Therefore, be your own Zone judge.  The bigger picture is just to be mindful of what you are eating :)

Join us for this two week experiment!  To find out more, visit CrossFit Santa Cruz.  For more information on Paleo-Zone, or "Zoleo" as our friends at Nutrionize like to call it, check out their informative post on the subject: The Zoleo Philosophy.  And please ask if you have any questions!

This post and many others are part of Modern Paleo's Paleo Rodeo posted at the end of each week.  Please check it out HERE.