Dr. Barry Sears’, Zone Diet vs. Dr. David Amen’s, Change your Brain, Change your Body

Introduction

We pitted these two healthy lifestyle books together because they are less of a crash diet than an interesting reminder to examine your approach to health and well-being. Neither promises any crazy numbers as it relates to weight loss… but both boast of an approach to life that will increase mental clarity, energy level, and even productivity while decreasing stress, your waste-line, and even your medical bills.

Needless to say, in the US, we have been in the midst of a phenomenon related to our physical being and appearance for multiple decades. It is for many a total obsession, a sickness… it is for others a gold mine. Be forewarned!!! There are more snake-oil salesmen in the health and weight-loss industries today than could ever be depicted in Hollywood’s Westerns.

We surely live in the Land of Irony… I have never seen a society that obsesses about their weight and appearance like they do in the US. Yet, as I drive down urban or suburban Main Street, a very different story is told. You will see the largest variety of work out facilities and nutrition shops sandwiched between confectionaries, burger and beer joints, and wholesale super markets… More, more, more!!! Perhaps it is just the whole ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality playing itself out. So when will Joe Public figure it out… this philosophy, although it sounds great in the movies or when athletes bring it up in an interview, is predestined for failure… For the vast majority of those living in the US, this life style is NOT sustainable.

Both Dr. Barry Sears and Dr. David Amen would undoubtedly advocate a ‘less is more’ mind set when it comes to ingestion. The Zone Diet is built on the premise that in order for your body to achieve maximum efficiency, what you eat in terms of a carbohydrates, protein, and fat (mono-saturated fat) ratio should mirror the chemical make-up in your blood, and when done correctly, your body will begin to function at maximum potential and ultimately require less food to do so. No, you don’t have to go to the lab for blood tests to figure out your chemical make-up, Dr. Sears has done that for you. He explains that the general ratio for ingestion should be approximately 40:30:30, meaning 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% mono-saturated fats. To enter the Zone and to stay in the Zone, consumption should strive to be proportional for every meal and every snack. Finding your ‘Zone’ can be trial and error to a certain extent…but everyone can enter the Zone and especially early on, you will feel it when you enter. And although it may sound like a set of measuring cups will be a new requirement for your Bat-Belt to maintain proper carb to protein to fat proportions, not to worry…such precise measurements might not be as difficult as you think. In fact, over time you can use your eye (or the palm of your hand) to figure out the proper proportion for each meal or snack to stay in the Zone.

The Zone Diet – Eat for Maximum Performance

The Zone Diet is more than a biochemically based approach to eat healthier and lose weight.  For an athlete or a professional of any sort who benchmarks productivity regularly, entering the Zone, or performing in the Zone is tangible. Think back to those days when you felt especially good…but were not sure why… well it is likely that your body chemistry was in perfect harmony. According to Dr. Sears, by essentially managing your blood sugar and insulin level, you can enjoy a myriad of health benefits like fewer cravings, less drowsiness, heightened awareness, heightened productivity, and significant weight loss. Whether it is improving productivity in the work place or the field, or being more enjoyable to be around at the house…you can get there from here.

So where’s the downfall: Well to start, you have to read at least the first book but there are three. Each of the books are well written but a fair amount of focus is definitely required. However, if you can maintain focus, you will not only understand the system, but you will understand why and how your body reacts to certain types of food and this can stay with you forever. Also, similar to other diet and weight loss programs… the difficulty ultimately resided in self-discipline. Although there are a great number of Zone Favorable meals and recipes in the back of the book (that are really good), Zone Bars and Balance Bars at every supermarket check-out counter, and you can pretty much eat whatever you want as long as you keep it in the right proportions and listen to your body…surprisingly, it still isn’t as easy a lifestyle to maintain as you would think. It’s really hard to understand how you can feel so good when you are in ‘The Zone’, yet we let ourselves fall out of the program for both short and extended periods of time.

The Saving Grace: Dr. Sears points out that the beauty of understanding the Zone and Entering the Zone… is that when you leave it, when you fall off the wagon, you are only one meal away from being able to get back in it! At the very least, I can say that it has changed the way I approach my meals and snacks…and for that I am very grateful.

Change you Brain, Change your Body – That Says it All

Dr. David Amen takes on the healthy lifestyle approach from a completely different angle in ‘Change Your Brain, Change Your Body’. Dr. Amen’s premise is that everybody’s focus is on the wrong organ or set of organs. Rather than pay such great attention to your abs, biceps, or glutes, he advocates that you have to work the source, your brain, if you really want to get things right. His holistic approach to happier and healthier is very comprehensive in nature, but if you give it a chance, you will see very noticeable short term benefits and very substantial long term benefits. Think about your brain health first because that is what ultimately controls every aspect of your body including, but certainly not limited to your physical appearance… If you are able to successfully change your thought process, you will undoubtedly reap a plethora of rewards, one of which will be a significantly healthier, very presentable body. Dr. Amen suggests that the optimal way to maximize efficiency as it relates to achieving a heathy brain is to benchmark or diagnose the current state. This is best achieved via a thorough brain scan at one of his facilities which would of course require travel for most and a pretty significant cost as I am sure most insurance companies will consider this an elective procedure. But don’t count this program out yet… just because you may not have the necessary funds to get yourself started with a brain scan doesn’t mean you can’t improve the health of your brain. Dr. Amen goes into significant detail describing characteristics that most likely slot you into one of a half dozen brain categories that most people fall into and then prescribes a plan to aid the brain areas that most likely need improvement for this brain type. It was an intriguing exercise to try to pinpoint your own brain-type and that of others… The only problem is, you don’t know for sure if you are correct until you experience the results of one of the programs. Also, not to fear, if your self-diagnosis is not exact, there are so many positive recommendations per program (many overlap) that the worst case scenario is that you come out mildly healthier than you went in…you just didn’t maximize the benefits.

Dr. Amen’s recommendations cover an incredibly wide spectrum of behavioral modifications, diet, and exercise. Undoubtedly, watching less or no TV, limiting yourself to a one or two glasses of wine or light beers a week, cutting coffee down to one cup a day max might sound a bit over the top, however, he is a strong advocate of increased amounts of sexual intercourse and table tennis…so I guess some might consider that a pretty fair trade off.

Actually, his stance on diet is interesting. He, like Dr. Sears, also takes a biochemical approach, but not in the sense that a particular ratio of proteins to carbs to fats is required. He does credit Dr. Sears for his in-depth research but Dr. Amen’s slant has more to do with which foods are the healthiest for your brain and then recommends that you eat more of those than anything else…but, of course, in moderation. Not surprising, assorted berries, fruits, nuts, and vegetables are well represented on his top twenty lists as are healthy proteins (egg whites and lean meats) and mono-saturated fats (olive oil and Avocados). Not so different from ‘The Zone’ diet…just a bit more relaxed in terms of proportion.

But where there may not be quite as much discipline required at the dinner table with Dr. Amen’s program, he does strongly suggest daily cardio workouts, proper hydration, daily vitamin and mineral supplements, and proper sleep. There is no doubt that this is a significant lifestyle commitment with a long term view… but isn’t your brain worth it? A really powerful line from the book that might bring this home for you… “Your skin is a reflection of your brain.” Great to know but Yikes!!! From where I stand that means there are a lot of unhealthy brains out there!!!

So where’s the downfall: Here again, you have to read the book to fully grasp the concept and although the book is really well written, the reader has to have a certain affinity for physiology or they are not going to make it. Dr. Amen is a fantastic presenter so you can certainly get a lot of information from a live seminar or a recorded video…but ultimately, the book is going to be a requirement.

Conclusion

I am not really sure if either Dr. Sears or Dr. Amen set out to create their own diet system nor do I think either of these approaches to health should solely be limited to weight loss systems… Both have a fundamentally much larger scope than that… In fact, I believe, Dr. Sears perfected his approach while working with college athletes…helping them to maximize their potential on the field or in the pool and in the classroom while Dr. Amen was helping people with real psychological issues and in being able to diagnose and create cures or improvements for his patience, he realized that some of the side effects to his approach were… incredible improvements in general health and well-being… slimmer, better skin, lower blood pressure, lower stress and anxiety, sharper mind, increased stamina, less drowsy and the list goes on…

Both approaches have had a very positive, lasting effect on me and my family despite the fact that I am in and out of the zone as often as I am in out of the shower (twice a day)… and although my skin looks relatively good for my age, the coffee and adult beverage restraints suggested by the good Doctor Amen are just too tough for me to commit to on a long term basis. Perhaps I need a book on Mental Maturity.

In any event, the question should not be, which of the two systems will I review… but which of the two approaches should I review first? There is no doubt that they are both worth looking at, studying, and trying.