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Eating in the Zone

Posted Jun 30 2011 9:22am

You most likely think I’m talking about the Zone diet, but read on and see that eating in the Zone has little to do with what percentages of carbohydrate, protein and fat have to do with this plan. Eating in the Zone is an action plan I use with my clients that really works!

To give you a little background for those of you unfamiliar with heart rate training, let me explain the inspiration of my action plan. Heart rate zone training is a system of putting cardiovascular training intensity into levels represented by how fast your heart is beating (HR) or how hard you feel like you’re working (known as rate of perceived exertion or RPE).

For example, Zone 1 training is used to warm up or cool down, as a recovery workout or as recovery between hard efforts when performing interval training. It feels easy, you could easily converse and is performed 50-65% of your hear rate maximum (HRM). Zone 2 (65-75% of HRM) feels challenging but comfortable, you could speak a sentence but not a paragraph. In zone 2 you are training your aerobic system and building your endurance. Zone 3 feels challenging and uncomfortable, you couldn’t speak a sentence, only a few words and it feels hard; it’s 75-85% of HRM. Zone 4 is a pace that cannot be sustained for much longer than 30-90 seconds(depending on your fitness level), it feels very hard and would only be able to speak a couple of words at a time. It’s 85-90% of HRM. Zone 5 (if you are using the 5 Zone model of training) is 90% and above and is your maximal effort and cannot be maintained longer than 10 seconds, your breathing becomes rapid and you can’t speak since you’re too busy breathing!.

So you might be wondering what this has to do with eating, right? What many people don’t realize is that it takes your brain approximately 20 minutes to register satiety (that you’ve had enough to eat). This means that if you eat fast you usually eat too much. As anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight through exercise alone realizes is, how much you eat counts! In fact I would say that it’s at least 60% of the weight loss equation. It’s simple but not easy. It’s a matter of calories in vs. calories out, and let’s face it, it’s much easier to get the calories in than burn them!

What I coach my clients to do is to eat more slowly or coming back to the concept of Zone training, eat in Zone 1. You could hold a conversation while eating. People in Europe have been doing it for centuries! Here’s how you do it. Put your fork down between each mouthful, eat smaller bites and chew thoroughly. Since carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth, by chewing thoroughly you can potentially improve your digestion. A real win-win, eat less and digest better!

By taking longer to eat you meal, you not only realize when you’ve had enough, you’re less likely to eat everything on your plate. As a former ‘plate cleaner’ this is something that has personally helped me maintain a healthy weight over the years. I also find by consciously eating slowly, you have time to actually enjoy what you’re eating and feel more satisfied both physically and emotionally.

Give it a try! Eating at a breathless pace, shoveling food without thinking or even registering what you’re eating is a habit that can be hard to break, so every time you find yourself eating in Zone 4 or 5, stop! Put your fork down, chew, take a sip of water and take a few deep breaths. Not only will you be less likely to reach for the antacid pill, you will start to win the battle of the bulge. Remember, eating is one of life’s great pleasures, especially when we take the time to enjoy the experience.

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