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CFJ Issue 15: Nutrition -Avoiding Metabolic Derangement - CrossFit Journal

In Nutrition, Reference

November 01, 2003

PDF Article

CrossFit has been an active combatant in the diet wars. For decades it has been an exciting world of "us" versus "them."

"We" were the low carb, low calorie, good fat camp and "they" were the low fat, low calorie, high carb opposition. The battle was for the hearts and minds of the public on the very personal and private matter of nutrition - what diet makes us healthy?

Sheldon Margin, publisher of the UC Berkley Wellness Letter, a leader of "them," accepted this characterization of battle lines when we presented it to him in 1996. In 1996 Dr. Atkins and Barry Sears were both publicly and regularly referred to as "quacks" and "frauds" by mainstream physicians, journalists, and nutritionists. While this was something that Sears would have to get used to, Dr. Atkins had been dealing with vicious assaults on his life’s work and character since publishing his Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution in 1972.

We write here today in 2003 gloating. Gloating, because it is our perception that we are decisively winning the diet war. In the public square, the realization that carbs, not fat, make you sick and fat is spreading rapidly. Spreading like truth unobstructed.

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18 Comments on “CFJ Issue 15: Nutrition -Avoiding Metabolic Derangement”


wrote …

I'm on the zone. I think it works. I know my athletic performance is much better now that I am on it. But I have a big problem with some of the unsubstantiated statements within this article.

For instance: "The cry for peer-reviewed evidence is almost always a smoke screen. The guys who write it read it – the rest pretend." Seriously, this statement is ridiculous on so many levels I'm not even going to get into it. It's just wrong.

Also, why go too far. Claiming that the zone can treat and possibly cure OCD and other serious diseases is ridiculous. Come on. Don’t ruin a good thing by making crap statements. It makes me look like a lunatic when I tell people to get on the zone. Parts of this article are embarrassing.

Just clean up your thinking a little and write what's true. We know the zone works. Just tell people how to do it and move on. It's not going to bring peace to the middle east or treat alcoholism, but you will be healthier and fitter.


Charlie wrote …

Zone is a low fat diet. Check the numbers. On 17 blocks, you're only eating about 55 g of fat. It also is NOT a low carb diet. 40% of your calories are coming from carbs. It has more in common with the diet recommended by Sheldon Margin than the Atkins diet.


wrote …

Procecssed carbs and a diet heavy in them can be highly disruptive to metabolism but a diet high in fruits and vegetables (most people like to 'forget' that these are actually carbohydrates) means your getting better food and nutrients and less calories and leads to weight loss. A massive bowl of fruit may be 250 calories while that same massive bowl of processed pasta might be upwards of a 1000. Either way, I'm full but at 750 calories less.


Daniel wrote …

The Zone diet is a crock. It may be better than the crap diets the majority of people are currently on, thus, producing noticeable improvement over said prior crappy diet. However, this does not prove the Zone is ideal, it simply proves the Zone was better than the crap the converts were on before. That often isn't saying much.

Nothing with fixed macro-nutrient ratios is ideal. Tell me, please, when did Humans evolve the specification that we needed a fixed percentage of carbs, fat, and protein in our diet? Biologically and evolutionary, humans have evolved to cycle our diet as the seasons change as does the food availability. Grouping your nutrition into "blocks" is ridiculous and over technical.

I strongly recommend reading Ori Hofmekler's "Warrior Diet (" and Arthur Devany's theory on "Evolutionary Fitness (". Both men address more sensible issues such as hormonal imbalance, eating frequency, total glycemic load, and intermittent fasting. All are key components missing from mainstream diets, Zone included.


wrote …

Using blocks might seem ridiculous, but it improves performance. It seems to be working wonders for me. I'm noticing a big difference, having just implemented careful measurement just two weeks ago. I'm anxious to see what a year of this will bring.

If you are concerned only with preventing chronic illness and managing weight, the careful measurement suggested by Dr. Sears is probably overkill. But if you are looking to improve your performance during high-intensity sport through diet, the measuring is probably compulsory.

It is undeniable that our ancestors had to adjust their diets seasonally, but that doesn't prove that doing so is optimal or that we would be healthier or perform better if we did so. And what of equatorial folk? Not much seasonal change to speak of...


Daniel wrote …

Perhaps I was overzealous in calling it a "crock". The diet isn't a crock, it is just over simplistic in its macronutrient prescription. The overarching misconception is the idea that the body functions perfectly at a particular fixed macro nutrient ratio. It doesn't, evidence please?

In fact, cycling high carbs (the good kind), high fat, and fasting (while remaining active) produces more favorable results while stripping off body fat like it's nobody's business; opposed to a linear macronutrient ratio that has not been universally proven. “Thrifty genes” and hormones, like all natural occurrences, work best in cycles. Any fixed two dimensional system such as the “Zone” run counter to this simple biological fact. The cycling of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system via intermittent fasting is ignored in virtually mainstream diet concept, yet is an integral part of optimizing performance and staying lean.

Do people benefit from adding more healthy fat and eliminating most starchy carbs via the Zones prescription? Absolutely. Is the Zone the “ultimate diet” just because it prescribes a fixed macronutrient ratio and advocates the abolition of dietary items that are currently responsible for the obesity epidemic? Absolutely not.

The inherent misconception is that unless you measure "blocks" to manage your macronutrient distribution, you will somehow lose the "Zone". This might be true had that “Zone” ever existed to begin with


wrote …

I agree that intermittent fasting was a necessary tribulation for the hunter-gatherer, but it's not without its negative side-effects. For me the ratios make sense insofar as they titrate blood sugar levels: too high and you store fat and promote inflammation, too low and your nervous system function starts to suffer) (but not in a dangerous way, OK if you're taking a stroll, not OK if you are about to experience Fran, or make decisions under duress). The state in which your CNS has enough glucose to function at full-tilt in the absence of regular insulin spikes seems worth maintaining. I don't see how you can do that without careful measurement, honest self appraisal of how you feel, and methodical titration of portions and ratios.

I agree with you, Daniel, that there are some data that I'd love to see. I'm checking out Taubes's new book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories" as a beginner's guide to the primary literature. From there it's on to Medline.

But in a way the data are beside the point. I'm portioning food and I feel better and perform better than I did when eating the same foods without measuring. I don't need a peer-reviewed publication to support that datum. It's an N of one, but oh what a relevant N.

How do you decide what and how much to eat using Hofmekler's and Devany's approaches? I'm interested in reading these guys. Thanks for the citation.


wrote …

Fasting isn't about being a necessary tribulation, but rather a tool to help facilitate fat loss. Doing a minor fast (small portions of fruit vegetables and lean protein significantly below your caloric needs for a day) can help facilitate fat loss as the body, while active, while burn fat and preserve muscle, not burn muscle and store fat. The glycemic load from 5-6 meals a day is immense. The human body has never adapted, nor has it evolved to handle such frequent meals. I understand the logic behind this being to control insulin, but, the stress on the digestive system outweighs the benefits.

You can keep your insulin in check by removing grains and starchy carbs from the diet and eating lean protein and vegetables instead. Move down on the food chain and your insulin levels will take care of themselves, no need to measure.

Hofmeklers philosophy is a little extreme for my taste, yet effective. It involves under eating for the majority of the day (8-16 hours since previous meal), instead snacking on fruit, veggies, nuts, and small amounts of lean protein. Then you feast on a massive yet healthy dinner, no measurements necessary. This sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but if you follow his guidelines the philosophy is completely intuitive and backed by biological principals. DeVany's site is a bit disjointed. I recommend reading his blogs in reverse from the inception of the site. He is publishing a book titled "Evolutionary Fitness" in which he will completely articulate his principals. Until then, a PDF file (27 pages i believe) is available for download outlining the principals of his method. He also posts photos of his meals.

Hope this was informative; e-mail me if you have any further questions.


wrote …


Hofmeklers adherents have been CrossFit underachievers. I'm being kind.

I fear you're confusing a penchant for theoretical/hypothetical nutrition for clinical success or real world results.

Devany is so far removed from effective exercise prescription AND clinical experience that he's more muse (and amusing) than authoritative.

I've been rubbing elbows with intermittent fasters, Warrior Dieters, and Paleo adherents for years. The most notable of the CrossFit intermittent fasters came to the concept several years after Lauren and I had experimented extensively with the concept. These diets are easy to administer and explain, come with wonderful sounding conceptual and theoretical framework, are fun to do (my favorite was eat every other day), seemingly and quite likely confer a pass on metabolic derangement or "syndrome X", and deliver less than optimal performance. None of the Zone alternatives deliver the precision or accuracy needed to optimize performance.

Finally, nothing would be more exciting to me and beneficial to CrossFit than for you to demonstrate otherwise.


wrote …

I agree with post #2. 30/40/30 is not a Low Carb Diet. It is a fairly balanced diet. It is also within the guidelines of the ACSM, which also inluences a gret deal of trainers and other professionals.

Just for the record, I disagree with the use of Bars or Shakes that bare the Zone name. If folks can figure out what their total daily needs are and prepare meals for themselves that are close to the 30 Pro, 40 Carb, 30 Fat. Thats all they'd need ever.

I've noticed people using Fitday which I think is an excellent way to be accountable for your total calories


wrote …

What is all this talk about evolution? Humans evolving to eat a certain way? Change "evolve" to "adapt" and you would make more sense of what you're trying to convey.

Times were limited back then so we adapted, we didn't evolve from monkeys (by the way, why are the monkeys today not evolving before our eyes? They must have it too easy now-a-days with all their bananas to need to evolve). So, just like the depression and just like concentration camps we had to adapt with what we had, that doesn't prove it to work the best to eat that way.

Fasting doesn't burn just fat. Our bodies are naturally catabolic, that's why "anabolic" steroids somewhat reverse that process (steroids are bad, don't use them). I could just die if I skipped even a meal and tried to keep up with someone on CrossFit. Especially after getting used to (or should I say 'evolved') eating 5 meals a day.

That statement: "The human body has never adapted, nor has it evolved to handle such frequent meals." is asinine. Do you think back in the day they looked at their sundial and said, "It's 8:00AM, time to go hunt for breakfast"?, and said the same for lunch, and dinner?

Just like any trainer to crossfitter will tell ya, it's worked for them, give it a solid try, if it doesn't work or your way works better, scrap it.

By the way, try not to get into so many heated debates, when was the last time you heard a centenarian say, "Intermittent fasting really kept me going all these years."?


wrote …


You seem to be a ballsy guy who isn't afraid of open discussion, so I'm sure you'll respond to my query:

If you became aware of an approach to eating that was different to the Zone or any other approaches CrossFit currently endorses, yet produced even better fitness results and resistance to ill-health, would you embrace it as an improvement over CrossFit's recommendations to date?


wrote …

Cory, do you not believe that humans have evolved from primates? You actually are watching monkeys evolve, you just can't tell because it is a process that takes millions of years. At this point in our "educated" lifetime to deny evolution is to deny gravity.


replied to comment from Dean

I realise this is an old thread, but just to be clear Dean - the theory of evolution *DOES NOT* say that humans evolved from primates.

It does, however, say that we share a common ancestor - that we are on different branches stemming from the same trunk, as it were. People really need to get this straight - it's really worrying to see this still being stated incorrectly, even by pro-evolutionists!


replied to comment from The Gift

Well, the Zone sure did a great job getting me off cholesterol meds. In addition to that, the entire family "went Zone" and guess what... my son no longer needed ADHD meds after about 2 months. Is it coincidence in timing? Who knows, but I know we're not going off the Zone anytime soon.


wrote …

This just in......The Zone Diet works.


wrote …

Um... so, who wrote this?


wrote …

Um... so, who wrote this?

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