Saturday, March 21, 2009

Let's Talk About Zone: Part II

The food shrine of Melissa Cvjeticanin, equipped with her trusty scale, measuring cups and spoons.

The last few weeks I have been receiving a lot of questions about nutrition like, “What is the best diet out there; is Zone better than Paleo, or vice-versa; what kinds of foods are considered Zone-friendly; how often should I be eating; and, one of the most common questions, why do I feel so hungry,” among many others. I will attempt to answer these questions in this blog entry.

Getting started: be prepared for the uphill battle

Let’s get this straight: Dieting, no matter how you slice that delicious cake, is not easy. You have to be unequivocally, 100%, without hesitation, committed to it, and the best way to start eating clean is to remove all foods and drinks that are considered unfavourable according to your diet plan. Throwing out the food is the easy part; sticking to the diet is where the battle begins. That feeling of withdrawal will kick in, you’ll want to head down to the corner store and grab that box of cookies, or that favourite chocolate bar of yours, but you must fight the temptation! Here are some tips to do just that:

Bring on the H20!

Anytime I’m feeling like I would do just about anything for a nibble of something, my solution is simply water. Whether it’s a tub of peanut butter that I want to demolish or a tub of ice-cream, I simply grab a couple of bottles of water and down them, and the craving magically goes away. The water usually ties me over until the next meal, and problem solved! It’s a great way to keep hydrated, and definitely a great way to avoid any kind of indulging, especially before bed.

There can be such a thing as overhydration, of course, which occurs when sodium levels in the body become diluted and the body’s rate of ability to dispose the fluid is suppressed by the rate of absorption. This usually occurs in the body when more than two gallons is consumed, so just be sure not to drink more than two gallons of water a day and you’ll be good to go.

Keep that junk out of my face!

Though it’s hard, especially when living with other people, to avoid having any kinds of junk foods in your house, the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ method is highly effective. Cookies, ice cream and chocolate are some of my biggest weaknesses, and I make sure to keep these out of sight at least six days of the week. If I don’t see it, I don’t think about it, nor do I want it, and until that cheat day comes it’s strict Zoning throughout the entire week.

My suggestion? The only time there can be junk food in your house – that is, if all parties living with you are willing to comply – is on your actual cheat day (unless you are strong-willed!). This will substantially decrease your chances of indulging, it will allow you to create a callous for all your big cravings, and most importantly, you’ll start to get the results you want.

Just one little snack before bed is all I want!

My one and only solution to this is to bypass the kitchen completely, go straight to your room, and shut the door!

Cravings are short-lasting, and if you can hold out for about nine or 10 minutes, that craving will go away; and as I mentioned before, drink some water and that will help rid the craving as well. Eventually you will fall asleep, wake up in the morning and feel glad that you resisted the temptation.

Another way to avoid hunger before bed is to space out your meals so that your last meal is not too far away from the time you go to bed. Try eating about an hour before bed and you may notice a difference.

Should you ever wake up in the middle of the night feeling famished, I suggest keeping a small bag of almonds by your bedside. I usually eat one or two and, as little as that may sound, it seems to tie me over pretty damn well.

Paleo vs Zone

Paleo and Zone are very similar in respect to their contents. The main difference between the two is that Paleo doesn’t concern itself with weighing and measuring. It’s more of a hunter-gatherer-type way of eating: eat however much you feel that your body needs of lean meats, seafood, fruits, and vegetables.

Paleo and Zone are both two highly recommended diets for CrossFit for a reason: they work. Whichever one you choose to commit to, you will see results and you will feel great.

Getting in the “Zone”

You’re basically in the safe “Zone” if you stick to clean eating and measuring. That means going out to your local grocery store and buying whole foods like raw fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables, as well as lean meats like chicken, turkey, and fish – foods with zero preservatives, i.e. no bottled dressings or pre-seasoned meats. Anything with high amounts of trans-fats or saturated fats, sodium or sugar is not considered “clean.” The reason for this is simply that it’s not natural. And while you're out, buy a scale, some measuring cups, and spoons. My scale, pictured above, is a Salter scale, which comes with all the bells and whistles: stainless steel measuring cups, durable plastic measuring spoons, and a removable stainless steel plate.

A preservative known as sodium nitrite, which is found in many types of store-bought meats like cured ham, bacon, hot dogs, sausages, smoked and cured fish, has been known to cause cancer upon continuous consumption. The preservative itself has a purpose, which is to prevent botulism from occurring, but the mixture of the protein and the sodium nitrite in the stomach is where the problem erupts: cancer. This preservative is just one among many others found in foods. If you can avoid buying packaged meats, do it. Go to the meat counter at your grocery store and pick up some fresh cut meat/poultry/fish and you will notice a difference – both in taste and how you feel.

It is absolutely paramount with the Zone Diet that you weigh and measure. This is what makes the zone work. A lot of other diets heavily endorse eating less carbs or less fat, but the Zone focuses on wanting to balance insulin (carb) and glucagon (protein) levels, with fat helping to balance both. Weighing and measuring the foods you eat will allow you to achieve this healthy balance. In my own experience, I have witnessed a drastic change in my body composition, and my energy levels have spiked even though I am not consuming as much food as I used to.

As long as your meals are balanced, and your portion sizes are controlled, you will still have ample energy throughout the day and an ample amount for your workouts.

My personal menu

A lot of people ask me what types of foods I eat on a daily basis, what combinations I put together for my meals, and how often I eat, and what my cheat meals consist of. For those of you who asked, here are the main foods I eat:


Eggs, chicken (baked/broiled/grilled), canned tuna (low sodium), turkey (oven roasted), and fresh fish (baked/broiled/barbequed).


Red/orange/yellow peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, rapini, spinach, asparagus, lettuce, pears, apples, strawberries, cantaloupe, blackberries, and blueberries.


Almonds/almond butter, cashews/cashew butter, organic peanuts/peanut butter, avocado, olive oil, and fish oil.

My usual combos throughout the day are:

Breakfast: 2oz chicken, one apple, 6 almonds

Lunch: 2 eggs, 9-inch cucumber, 1 ¼ cup chopped pepper, 6 almonds

*PWO Meal: 2 eggs, one apple, 1 cup strawberries

Dinner: 2oz chicken, 9-inch cucumber, 1 ¼ chopped pepper (mixed together with red balsamic vinegar), 6 almonds

Snack: 2oz chicken, 2 ½ cups chopped peppers, 12 almonds

Sounds a little repetitive but I don’t mind it at all. I usually go through 1-week phases and change up my protein to all turkey, or all chicken, or all fish, but this is an example of a typical day.

PWO (post-workout) Meal:

In my PWO meals I eliminate all my fat blocks (two) and replace them with carbs (eliminating two fat blocks is equal to one block of carbs) to replenish the glycogen levels that have decreased in the body after a workout. This happens because the body’s sensitivity to glycogen increases, thus making it easier to absorb and replenish – in fact, 50% easier. There is about a 45-minute window for this to be of benefit for you, so take advantage!

Cheat meals:

Gratuitous amounts of ice cream with cookies, gratuitous amounts of sushi/sashimi, gratuitous amounts of almonds with Craisins (cranberry raisins), “banana sundae” (one peeled banana with a two-inch layer of peanut butter on top), about a cup and a half of peanut butter with one or two apples, hazelnut chocolate wafer cookies dipped in peanut butter (can you tell I love peanut butter?!), and dark chocolate covered almonds.

I’d say the above is not too bad, especially considering I sometimes skip my cheat meal for the week.

Frequency of meals

My frequency of meals is about 3-4 hours. I usually like to keep it at three, but if some extraneous variable causes me to have to hold off then it usually won’t stretch past the four-hour mark. If it ever does I always keep a bag of almonds on me to help tie me down, and a couple of bottles of water.

If anyone is interested in trying out the Zone and would like the journal copy, drop a comment, or send me a message on Facebook, or e-mail me at and I will forward you the meal plan. And if there are any questions that I didn’t answer, let me know!

Happy Zoning!


  1. Wow awesome article! Thanks. Have you Paleo'd before doing Zone? How drastic was the difference, performance and mood wise?

    Great Blog btw

  2. Thanks Peyton!

    The answer is yes, I did Paleo prior to Zone. I think it's the best way to warm up to weighing and measuring. Mood did change slightly, but not drastically. I'd say it was a tolerable change that was easily overcome. What did change drastically was my appearance. I dropped quite a substantial amount of weight when I went strict Zone. Performance suffered a little bit, but as soon as I increased my fat intake that was quickly resolved.

    So, Paleo first, then Zone. It makes it a lot easier on you! :)


  4. Hey Melissa,

    Just stumbled across your blog today. Loved this post about food. I've been crossfitting for a while now and have never really dialed in my diet and have been reading alot about it. Really enjoyed the read.