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the ZONE tips and tricks

6 Sep

_uploads_2015_09_change-challengeOur gym started up a nutrition challenge this month, so it seemed like a perfect time to dust off the keyboard, and spark some motivation. The challenge is to follow the Zone diet parameters, with bonus points for eating Paleo, WOD, and extra physical activity. Negative points given for not following Zone parameters at every meal/snack, or having more than one alcoholic beverage per day. No better day to start than today!

In a nutshell, the Zone is about balancing macronutrients to keep your hormones balanced and inflammation at the cellular level at bay. Each snack and meal relies on the 40-30-30 principle of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, respectively. Dr. Barry Sears expounds in detail about the “metabolic state” of the zone and it’s health, fat loss, and athletic performance benefits in his book, Enter the Zone and his website. I strongly recommend purchasing the book and reading it cover to cover. Dr. Sears’ athlete case studies are fascinating, and learning the science is essential for motivation and longevity.

After a few body measurements and lifestyle questions, you get a personalized block prescription. For women, this is generally around 11 blocks per day, divided up into 3 blocks for main meals and 2 x 1 block snacks. Planning your blocks requires precise measuring of all foods at first. For example, 1 block of each macronutrient equals 9 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, and 1.5 grams of fat. OK, break. Let your head stop spinning. Bookmark the macronutrient block list in the book, or print this out, and keep it on your kitchen counter.

Paleo and the Zone are two totally different animals, but can be combined by choosing paleo friendly foods to fill your Zone blocks. Choose whichever foods make staying in the Zone easier for you, but emphasis should always be on quality REAL foods.  I personally  avoid sugar and most grains, and do my best to choose low glycemic foods. However, I sometimes add foods like Organic Greek yogurt, gluten free oats, and cottage cheese for easier snacks and meals that don’t upset my particular system. Remember: it’s not about being “paleo,” or “zoning,” it’s about doing what’s best for your particular body.

If you’re new to the paleo diet or need to brush-up on tips for that, start here. If not, below   you’ll find pointers for making the Zone diet work for you. It’s a challenge at first, but the rewards are worth it, and YOU are worth it!

  1. Make double the protein when cooking, and reserve leftovers in individual 1, 2 or 3 block labeled containers. Use a Tupperware container filled with marked ziplock bags or small containers to stay organized.
  2. Pre-cut and prep veggies and fruits in individual 1, 2, or 3 block labeled containers too. This will give you the ability to grab and go zone snacks or even meals when life is busy, and keep you from grabbing something you will regret later.
  3. Keep it simple, and separate macronutrients for the first two weeks. Pick your protein, pick your carbohydrate, and cook liberally with healthy oils. Forget your favorite curries and casseroles for now. Computing recipes will hurt your head and your motivation. I once spent two hours of my life trying to compute exactly how much of my favorite chili recipe I should have for dinner. My kids were yelling for dinner to be on the table, and I was glued to the calculator. Not good.
  4. When you misstep, don’t throw in the towel. Remind yourself that you are only one meal or snack away from being back in the zone.
  5. If you are feeling super hungry at dinner time, choose cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, or eggplant as your carbohydrate for that meal. Your plate will be maxed out, and you will not feel like eating anymore once it’s empty–I promise.
  6. If you know you will be in a situation where there will be dessert, skimp on your carbohydrates during your meal and enjoy a few bites of post-dinner dessert like a normal person.
  7. Always eat your pre-bedtime snack. It’s usually only a 1 block snack, but it’s both satisfying and rewarding. Also, it keeps your body in the Zone while you sleep. You might not be hungry, but eat it anyway.
  8. The book recommends eating a Zone favorable snack prior to your workout. My workouts often occur before the sun comes up; so, I prefer to stay fasted, drink a 1 block Zone favorable post workout drink, and eat a 2 block breakfast post shower.
  9. The first 2-3 weeks are hard. Plain and simple hard. You will be hungry, feel slightly deprived, and counting down the minutes until your next meal. This will not last forever. After this bit of a hump, you will feel balanced, full of energy, and likely experience “the Zone.” It is real and it is remarkable.
  10. If you have ever suffered from any digestive issues, they will likely cease. Your excretory system will be in check and regular. Even including organic yogurt, and cottage cheese regularly, my digestive issues were non-existent.
  11. Critics say it is too high in carbohydrates. The truth is, our body needs carbohydrates to function. By function I mean exist, not perform. Athletic performance requires even more carbohydrates as fuel.  Our body doesn’t need grains and sugar, but it needs plenty of vegetables, fruit and (gasp!) even starchy tubers now and again. Newcomers to the paleo/primal lifestyle or high intensity training will see amazing results keeping their carbohydrate intake to 50g and under daily. Our bodies can not withstand that forever. We will plateau (in weight loss and performance). That’s when experimentation with adding more carbohydrates in real food form is necessary, and when zone parameters can help.
  12. Be a little flexible with your fat intake, especially if you’re an athlete. Don’t count the healthy oils you sauté with, and don’t go “nuts” counting your nuts. There was a time I would count exactly 3 nuts per block of fat and even cut them if they looked too large. That’s what I call “nuts,”and not to mention, NOT emotionally healthy.
  13. Mustard, vinegar, and spices are your best friends. They are about the only thing not counted in a day besides water; use liberally!
  14. Drink a lot of water: before, during, and after meals. Unsweetened beverages are also your best friends between meals to keep your mind off food: black coffee, tea, sparkling water, and evening herbal teas.
  15. Depending on how much you feel like eating at the time, choose your carbohydrate blocks wisely. 9 dried apricots is the same carbohydrate block as 1 cup chopped strawberries plus 1 cup blueberries. Get the picture?
  16. You will have ZERO problem filling your protein requirement. Filling your carbohydrate blocks with paleo friendly foods; however, can be tricky. It’s easy for the general populati0n to stay in the Zone by choosing two slices of bread as two carbohydrate blocks, but vegetables and fruit take more consideration. Bottom line: choose REAL foods that come from nature, and nothing packaged that has more than 5 ingredients.


Breakfast Ideas- 3 block

  • 3 eggs and 4 cups of spinach or kale scrambled, medium whole apple with about a Tbsp nut butter
  • 3/4 cup organic cottage cheese, 9 dried apricots, small handful of nuts
  • 1 cup plain organic Greek yogurt, 1 cup pumpkin puree, cinnamon, small handful of nuts
  • 3/4 cup organic cottage cheese, 1 cup chopped strawberries, 1/2 cup blueberries, small handful of nuts
  • 2 eggs, 3 nitrate-free sausage links, whole Larabar

Lunch Ideas-3 block

  • 4 cups spinach or kale mix, 1 cup grape tomatoes,  3 oz leftover chicken, 1 tsp olive oil and vinegar as dressing, 1/2 apple for dessert
  • 4 cups spinach or kale mix, 1 red pepper chopped,  4.5 oz nitrate free deli meat, 1 tsp olive oil and vinegar as dressing, 1 cup strawberries for dessert
  • 3/4 cup cottage cheese mixed with 3 Tbsp chopped avocado and 1/2 cup salsa, 9 baby carrots and 3/4 cup snow peas for dipping

Dinner Ideas-3 block

  • 3 oz. grilled or roasted chicken, 1.5 cups brussels sprouts roasted with olive oil, 1 cup strawberries for dessert
  • 4.5 oz. poached salmon, 12 spears asparagus roasted with olive oil, 1/2 cup red beets roasted with olive oil, 1/2 cup blueberries for dessert with a few nuts
  • 4.5 oz. grass-fed burger wrapped in lettuce, 2Tbsp guacamole and slice of tomato on top, 1 whole (approximately 5in.) baked sweet potato with 1/3 tsp. organic butter

Snack Ideas-1 block

  • 1.5 oz nitrate free deli meat, 9 baby carrots, 1 Tbsp avocado
  • 1  oz. organic cheese, 2 stalks celery, dab of organic peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup organic cottage cheese, 1/3 cup canned organic pumpkin, cinnamon, a few crushed pecans
  • 1/2 cup plain organic greek yogurt, a few nuts (yogurt is combination protein/carb)
  • 1/4  cup organic cottage cheese, 1/3 of a Larabar, a few nuts
  • 1 oz. leftover chicken, 1/2 apple, a few nuts

Perfect 1 block snack muffins

In mini food processor combine 1 egg, 1/3 banana, 1 tsp almond flour, 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon. Pour into lightly greased muffin tins or nonstick muffins cups. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until gone. Makes 2 muffins–eat both for a 1 block snack. You can triple or quadruple the batter to make more to have on hand.

Flavor options: substitute the banana for 1/2 cup canned pure pumpkin. The pumpkin ones are clearly not as sweet and come out with a wet texture, but they do the trick when you’re feeling a bit deprived🙂

Happy Challenge!



Sweetly Spiced Tilapia with Grapefruit Salsa

15 Apr


It’s been a while since I’ve made something new. I can sense a lack of eagerness in the house–for school, cooking, creative efforts, etc. Maybe it’s the early warm spring weather tricking us into thinking summer is around the corner. Maybe it’s just busy schedules and recovering from spring break outings. So, in the spirit of reviving our days, here is what I came up with for dinner the other day.

The cancer fighting properties of grapefruit coupled with the anti-inflammatory and heart healthy properties of both avocado and fish make this dinner a nutritional powerhouse. It’s also refreshing for the warm weather to come, and for your last fish Friday. Enjoy!


  • 6-8 tilapia filets, or wild caught salmon (open links for info about choosing the best and safest fish, there is even an app to download)
  • 3/4 cup juice (I used 2 oranges, and the remaining juice from the grapefruit scraps)
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp liquid aminos (or gluten-free soy sauce)
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • crushed red pepper to your liking

Place filets in 9×13 baking dish. Combine remaining ingredients. Pour over fish. Let sit while you prepare the salsa and cauliflower. Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 15-20 minutes until done. Broil for the last few minutes if you want the top layer to be a bit crispy. Serve with grapefruit salsa and cauliflower rice.

Grapefruit Salsa

  • 2 pink grapefruits, peeled, white pith removed, chopped
  • 2 avocados, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 Tbs chopped cilantro
  • 1/8 cup lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 jalapeño, de-seeded and finely diced
  • 1 sweet pepper, diced
  • 1 tsp ancho chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prepare ingredients. Mash avocado to desired consistency in bowl, add chopped grapefruit and remainder of ingredients. Stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve or refrigerate for later use.

Cauliflower Rice (the easy way!)

  • 1 large head cauliflower, cleaned and roughly chopped
  • Finely diced brocoli, carrots, and/or cabbage (optional but makes it look more appetizing)
  • Olive oil or grass-fed butter to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

This is by far the easiest and tastiest way to make cauliflower rice–no food processor necessary! Steam veggies until fork tender. I use my veggie steamer basket in a medium pot with lid. Drain water, use masher to”rice” veggies. Add butter and/or oil, and spices to taste. Too easy!




 “One can make a day of any size.” -John Muir



Bacon Biscuits

13 Mar


I whipped up these yummy biscuits last night to go with some leftover ham bone soup. The idea came from fastPaleo and the medium was one of my favorites: cauliflower. I loved that they were packed with meat and veggies, rather than a ton of almond flour. My kids loved that they were super tasty and spongy. Enjoy!

1 package nitrate free bacon
1 head cauliflower, cleaned and roughly chopped
3/4 cup almond flour or cashew meal
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp pepper
2 eggs

IMG_0192   IMG_0193

Preheat oven to 375. Place bacon and chopped cauliflower on foil lined baking sheet. Bake in oven until bacon is cooked and cauliflower is nicely roasted–about 15-20 minutes. Halfway through, mix to coat cauliflower with bacon grease. Once done and slightly cooled, place contents of pan in food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Keep yourself from eating too much straight out of the food processor! Spoon into mixing bowl. Add the remainder of the ingredients and stir to combine. Spoon onto parchment lined baking sheet into rounds. Bake for 15-18 minutes until nicely browned. Serve! Refrigerate leftovers. They would be perfect with eggs the next morning or alone as a quick snack.

Happy Thursday,


Happy Hearts Day

15 Feb

I didn’t have any new bright ideas for paleo/primal-friendly desserts for Valentine’s Day this year.  Instead of baking hearts, we ate a heart.  From a cow.  Really.

Let me be clear…this is new territory.  In the past three years of exploring the primal diet and lifestyle, I have been avoiding the organs.  There’s just so much else out there that is more easily palatable, I figured, why bother?

We are coming to the end of our 1/2 cow we bought last year and one of the remaining items was its heart, almost four pounds of nutrient dense meat.  The numerous benefits of organ meat are hard to ignore: higher protein content, abundant vitamins and minerals, double elastin and collagen content, metabolism boosters, rich in dynamic antioxidant CoQ10, source of the “X factor” Vitamin K2, and more.  The question is how to prepare it in a way that the rest of the family (and me!) will enjoy it.  Valentine’s Day seemed the perfect catalyst to dive in and give the heart a chance.

To start the adventure, I consulted one of my favorite cookbooks that my husband gave me a couple years ago, Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. Sally explores many unique sources of natural nutrition and has a lifetime of great ideas in one collection.  To prepare beef heart, she recommends a Peruvian Antichuchos recipe starting with a long marinade. This is what I came up with:

Beef heart

  • 1 beef heart, trimmed and cleaned of hard parts and excess fat, cut in cubes
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup vinegar (I used half raw apple cider, half white balsamic)
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced

Balsamic Glaze

  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp raw honey

Start with partially frozen (half thawed) beef heart for easier cutting. Trim excess fat and hard parts that don’t look appetizing. Cut into small cubes. Combine marinade ingredients in bag or bowl, add meat and marinade for at least 4 hours or up to 24. Place meat on skewers and grill on outdoor grill or sauté in pan over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes. Ensure not to over-cook. Transfer meat to plate. In same pan, add wine, balsamic vinegar and honey. Bring to quick boil and simmer for a few minutes until liquids start to evaporate. Pour over beef heart cubes.  Serve with toothpicks as an appetizer or as a main dish with a plate of cauliflower rice or your favorite roasted veggies.

The results were interesting. It was like a dense steak with a stronger flavor, but it wasn’t as potent as liver.  The biggest surprise was my five year old eating at least 1/4 of the plate – he ignored the beef stew I made (as a back-up!) and ate bite after bite of beef heart. Later he asked if he could have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner so he could get super strong.

Overall, we enjoyed trying something new and uniquely wholesome.  In the end, the consensus was we probably won’t go out searching for beef heart as a regular staple, but we certainly won’t be afraid to use it with the next cow! For other ideas try: subbing for beef cubes in a stew recipe or grinding it up in the food processor with some of the extra trimmed fat and making burgers. If you don’t want to use the whole heart at a time, freeze cubes or ground heart in small batches to sneak in recipes for an extra nutrient boost to your regular beef recipes.

If you’re feeling adventurous, give it a try! Let us know how you liked it in the comments below. If you’re already a heart lover, what are your favorite ways to prepare it?

Share your heart with someone you love! 

Thanksgiving Dressing

22 Nov

paleo stuffing

This is my third year making a paleo dressing.  I simply feel like old-fashioned cornbread dressing is a MUST for a complete Thanksgiving experience.  This year I’ve had a few people ask me about paleo dressing (er, “stuffing”) and so I will share the recipe I came up with.

To save time and mess, my beloved food processor does all my chopping, dicing, and pulverizing, but you can chop/dice by hand.  I prefer the texture when everything is chopped more finely, but other people like it chunkier…to each his own.

4 cups finely ground chicharrones (Pork rinds.  I used two 3 1/2 oz bags)
1 cup pecans finely chopped

3 eggs
1/2 c broth
1/2 stick butter
1 1/2 c celery finely chopped (include the leaves for flavor!)
1 onion, finely diced
1 8-10 oz pkg fresh mushrooms finely chopped
1 bunch fresh* sage, stems removed, finely chopped
5-6 stalks fresh* rosemary and thyme, stems removed, finely chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt and pepper
juice of one lemon
*Fresh is best, but you may sub poultry seasoning, or dried herbs.  2 tbsp of pre-mixed poultry seasoning, or 1 tsp each of dried sage, thyme and rosemary.

Heat butter in a large pan.  Saute the celery, onion, mushrooms, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper and lemon juice until wilted and fragrant….mmm…smells like Thanksgiving.  While those are cooking up, 
grind the chicharrones down into a fine breadcrumb consistency.  In a large bowl, mix the ground chicharrones, finely diced pecans, broth and 3 eggs.  When the sauteed veggies have cooled a little, add them, including their juices, to the chicharrones/pecan mixture, stir until mixed well.
Bake in a greased 9×9 dish at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until the edges are brown and crispy.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.  Enjoy a long walk with your friends/family, and eat good food with gratitude.  Relax, and retreat from the web.  Indulge yourself on what you love most, and remember that relationships are more important than food!

Warmest Regards,

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Holiday Baking

24 Dec

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The holidays are upon us and the baker inside of me is just screaming to create delicacies. This year I decided not to go too crazy because 1. paleo friendly ingredients for baking are expensive, and 2. my willpower against over-indulging is honestly not the best. I don’t flinch at a tray of conventional cookies or cakes, but when I personally bake with health-ier ingredients, a little bit of self-control is lost somewhere in the process! Regardless, it’s still fun to have dessert options and more importantly to share them with loved ones.

Here are three of my favorite no-fail recipes that everyone will love, and you will not waste any almond flour** experimenting. Thank you to Elana’s Pantry and Roost Blog for making my holiday baking so much easier for the past two years!

1. Elana’s Pantry Double Chocolate Mocha Cookies

  • Increase the ground coffee content to 3 Tbsp
  • Replace grapeseed oil with melted coconut oil
  • Increase the sea salt content to 3/4 tsp

2. Roost Blog Gingerbread

3. Elana’s Pantry Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • Replace grapeseed oil with melted coconut oil or butter
  • Replace agave nectar with raw honey (sometimes I decrease the honey to 1/4 cup depending on my audience)

They even make great holiday gifts!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours,


**I always have the best luck with JK Gourmet and Honeyville almond flours. They are worth ordering, despite the convenience of other store brands.


13 Jun

Here might be a typical breakfast for you, and many would consider it to be reasonable and healthy:  fruit-sweetened oatmeal, a banana, and a glass of milk.  Later you might have an apple or a handful of raisins for a snack.

That is not a balanced breakfast for anyone, friends.  It is a bowl of carbohydrate with some diced carbohydrate stirred in, followed by a peeled carbohydrate, washed down with a glass of carbohydrate.  (Yes.  I know there are levels of fat and protein in each, but I’m talking your fundamental, core macronutrient composition of each food.)

Let me provide a little insight that may help simplify your food choices.  Every food can be placed into one of three groups: carbohydrate, protein and fat.  Those are the only three categories you need to know when considering balancing your meals and snacks.

So, what do you think will happen when you eat the “healthy” breakfast above?  Well, at first, as your glucose levels spike,  you will feel great and your sweet tooth will also be thanking you!  You may feel satisfied for a  short time.  But then comes the switch–you’ll be ravenous in a few short hours, you will feel groggy mid-morning, not to mention your workout will feel…meh.

Food is fuel, but food is also a drug, because what you eat affects your hormonal response.  It is medication by way of food.  Your input is directly related to your output.

Carbohydrate is a substance that affects the hormone called insulin, which is your energy-storage hormone.

Protein is a substance that affects the hormone called glucagon, which is your energy-mobilizer hormone.

Fat is neutral.  It slows the release of energy.  Keyword: satiety.

What does this mean for you?  You can use the hormone response from your food to create positive outcomes in your body.  Cool.  If you have too much of one thing or another, you will foster a hormonal imbalance, which will eventually have more and more of an impact over time.  Even if you don’t have health problems like inflammation, sleep disruption, or autoimmune disorders, you will see that your performance, clarity, and overall energy will improve dramatically.

So…think of every meal as a teeter totter.  Classify your foods in terms of their macronutrient makeup, and ensure you have the right balance.

For those of you who learn visually:

Nourish yourself well!

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