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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review: The Virgin Diet, by J.J. Virgin

Why go on a diet? Because, food is survival. Food choices matter: what you ingest either heals or hurts your body. You really are what you eat. Food is information--it affects gene expression!

That's why I recently read, and attempted to follow, The Virgin Diet, Why Food Intolerance is the Real Cause of Weight Gain, by J.J. Virgin. The tag line: "Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 pounds, Just 7 Days."

I think she means 7 ounces, because that's about all I lost. My fault. No alcohol allowed in the first 2 cycles of her diet, and I did not drop the blood of Christ (aka Cabernet.) However, I did eliminate gluten/wheat from my diet about a year ago and lost 3 or 4 pounds. I have also eliminated sweets, most all processed foods, peanuts and corn years ago, and lost a few pounds from those dietary changes as well, so I'll give her those--even though I ramped up the exercise.

PREMISE: Food Intolerance (FI)
The premise of the Virgin diet: eating foods to which you are sensitive or intolerant triggers inflammation, leads to weight gain and causes other sucky symptoms. Food intolerance (FI) refers to physiological reactions that occur after ingesting the offending food. Such adverse reactions can take several days to manifest. Food intolerance is different from an acute allergic reaction, which can be deadly (like an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts, for example.)

Virgin identifies some possible causes of food intolerance: pre-existing conditions (like Celiac Disease;) radiation exposure; eating too much of the same foods daily; taking antibiotics; stress; and my personal favorite, leaky gut.

Eliminate the problematic foods according to the Virgin Diet protocol, and you should feel loads better. (I did feel slightly better during the elimination phase.)

The seven culprits that may lead to FI:
Wheat/Gluten (no surprise there)
Sugar and sugar substitutes

Virgin explains how these 7 foods can adversely affect your body and brain, citing similar studies as others in her field. She lists a host of complications associated with FI: chronic inflammation, insulin resistance/pre-diabetes, hormone disruption, autoimmunity, fatigue, bloating and thyroid disruption. She notes other reasons to avoid FI foods include issues such as toxic mold (on legumes/peanuts) and the GMO debate. (GMO=Genetically Modified Organism)

Virgin adheres to what other authors, like Dr. William Davis in his book Wheat Belly, have stated regarding how food affects the body. However, she believes the reason you must totally eliminate the offending food is because eating it triggers the release of IgG antibodies. Those antibodies ostensibly create problematic immune responses, inducing inflammation and weight gain.

Virgin sets up the three cycles for weight loss and regained energy:
1) 21 days of Elimination, dumping all 7 foods;
2) 28 days of Reintroduction, each week testing one food by eating it 4 days in a row and then eliminating it for 3 days before testing the next food. (You test only soy, dairy, eggs and wheat--she expects you to dump corn, peanuts and sugar 95% of the time);
3) The Virgin Diet for Life: the maintenance cycle where you follow your custom meal plan based upon how you did in the first two cycles. This cycle stresses meal timing, substituting 1 meal daily with the Virgin diet shake, exercise, sleep and 15 minutes of your daily "bliss."

Virgin requires that you repeat the first two cycles every 12 months. Once your body heals itself, you may be able to eat foods that previously gave you trouble. Good news! I can eat more cheese!

1) The Food Elimination Method of Determining FI.
Although an elimination diet seems like a great idea, it's problematic, because it's not very scientific, i.e. no control over other variables. The program depends upon strict compliance; however, it does not come close to the "double-blind" study method accepted by most scientists. But how could it?

In Virgin's defense: you would have to put a pre-screened-participant on lockdown, feed them the same foods, measure their bodily eliminations... Hey! I did that! I was a lab rat for 40 days and 40 nights testing the fake-fat before it came on the market. We ate the nasty cookies in front of the nurse. They siphoned our blood, collected our poo and pee, weighed us and monitored our every move (no exercising allowed.) (Naturally, we cheated.) It cost the manufacturer a fortune. Who's going to go through all that for a diet? Obviously, it's not an option to put yourself in a double-blind study by yourself. Therefore, you must rely on tracking symptoms via a food diary.

"How will I know if I'm intolerant to a food?" Virgin says, "Don't worry, you'll know." (page 201.) Tracking you symptoms and how you feel will reveal your problematic foods, she insists.

That makes perfect sense, however, what if you eat an approved food item that's new to you? What if you change meds or supplements or your environment? What's your starting point? A myriad of other causes exist for that unexplained skin rash, upset tummy, constipation, brain fog or fatigue. Monitoring symptoms based upon foods you eat is not a closed system, which makes it difficult to determine cause/effect.

My food diary revealed inconsistent results. I could not pinpoint what food caused occasional mild digestive issues, because they were so mild and manifested over several days.

2)  Diagnosis: Food Intolerance or...
Virgin's clients come in with their various weight and other issues. After careful questioning, she diagnoses the problem: her client eats the wrong foods at the wrong time.

Virgin cites the obligatory testimonials, sharing success stories of her clients, with the subheading "How the Virgin Diet Worked for Me." Naturally, we are to infer that what worked for the client, will work for us. Don't you just love that old argument? I feel guilty when I fail where others have succeeded.

Virgin does address the problem of the outliers: those poor souls who do not lose weight or feel better on her diet. Outliers may be cheating! Virgin demands 100% compliance. Or perhaps outliers have issues with a second tier of foods including shellfish, tree nuts, citrus, and strawberries. Outliers should eliminate those foods for 3 weeks and note the results.

Virgin further suggests outliers get tested for IgG food sensitivities from a functional medical practitioner. The IgG blood test supposedly shows reactions to many more foods. My cursory research refutes that claim.

If that doesn't do it, she says look to your gut for the answers: bad bacteria, yeast overgrowth, parasites. (FYI: Your gut is your second brain, did you know that?) Ahh, so food intolerance may NOT be your issue for retaining weight and feeling like sh**. But since Virgin bases her books and products on the FI concept, delving into other causes seems beyond the scope of her business model.

3) Buy my stuff.
Just so happens that Virgin sells supplements and programs to help you successfully change your diet and health. She especially pushes her "Virgin Shake," that includes a blend of vegetable protein, and encourages you to replace at least one meal with her shake. Still not losing the weight? Then replace two meals with her shake. Sounds oddly familiar. Where have I heard that before? Oh yes, the doctor! The prescription I gave you not working? Let's increase the dosage...Not losing weight? Cut the calories, and drink my shakes.

Relying on shakes and supplements defeats the purpose of an elimination diet. The protein powders and supplements are processed. During an elimination diet, why add food products that may also cause food intolerance?

4) Eating Out.
I ate out twice while on the diet, and found it a pain. I told the servers my dietary needs and they did the best they could; however, the meals still came with some form of food to avoid. Or worse, the paltry plate of food tasted bland and did not satisfy my hunger. Most restaurants are not set up to serve meals avoiding so many foods. Good luck getting organic and properly prepared foods in remote venues. Restaurants are just getting used to gluten-free options. I felt like a social pariah asking the server for so many other restrictions.

Discovering more about our bodies and how we react to food, both physiologically and emotionally, is a good thing. Virgin's book is well laid out, easy to read and interesting to implement. It also prompted me to do further research.

IF you eat meat, the Virgin Diet offers variety and great taste. Virgin, a former vegetarian, favors an omnivorous diet for nutritional reasons. She does give options for vegetarians: her protein shake is vegan, for example.

The Virgin diet meals consist of:
Clean (organic), lean proteins like grass-fed beef, pastured lamb, pork, poultry, wild cold water fish;
Healthy fats, like extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, palm fruit oil, seed oils;
High-fiber, low glycemic carbs, like beets, dried beans, rice, quinoa;
Non-starchy vegetables like greens, cabbage, onions, celery;
Low-glycemic fruits, like blueberries and strawberries;
Nuts (that she expects you to soak.)

Water rules: Drink half your weight in ounces daily, but limit fluids to less than 8 ounces with meals. (Drinking too much water with meals dilutes stomach acid needed for digestion.)

Virgin's "golden rule" of meal timing: eat every 4 to 6 hours, and do not eat 2 hours before bed, works for me. I already ate that way, and it fits most lifestyles.

I enjoy many of her "healing" foods weekly: apples, avocados, beets, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, green tea, flaxseed meal, salmon, sweet potato.

She likes sleep. I like to sleep: 7 to 9 hours a night.

She likes interval and resistance training. I find working out grueling and often painful. However, I know that physical therapy/exercise aids my health and happiness, so I strive to move daily. I'm still in the working out, so I can work out phase. (Workout Goals: Dress myself and be able to carry the groceries.)

Virgin provides easy-to-follow recipes for each cycle of the diet.  She prepares food the way I do. For example: I have a breakfast shake of flax, kale, nuts, berries and coconut milk, just no protein powder. Nuts for snacks. Leftovers or soup for lunch. For supper:  sautéed chicken breast or fish, roasted sweet potatoes and a large mixed-greens salad with homemade dressing.

Yes. Especially if you have not been able to lose weight and experience other nagging symptoms that could be attributed to food intolerance.

Face facts: you must become your own wellness vigilante. Our predominantly allopathic healthcare system fails us in that respect. Ask doctors how you contracted that skin rash, and they say "almost anything could cause it." They do not care how you got it, rather, they give you a cortisone prescription that can eventually cause you great harm, and does not cure your rash! If you want to identify the cause of your ailments, you need to take charge. Elimination diets, although tricky, remain the gold standard for fettering out many health problems, so it's a good place to start.

Going on the Virgin Diet, or any healthy diet, makes the dieter accountable. If you have trouble with food addictions and eat mostly processed foods, then go on this diet to learn how to change your nutritionally void habits. (Virgin even admits it's unnecessary to eat her shakes while on the diet. Instead of shakes for breakfast, she suggests eating dinner for breakfast.)

I learned about myself going on my first elimination diet--the fact that I could live without my beloved cheeeeessee. I did so and I was fine, more than fine. It's fun to analyze how food affects you, and this diet gives good guidelines.

Food has such a sovereign hold over us. Mindful eating has the power to break bad dietary habits and install beneficial ones. I think that awareness is Virgin's greatest gift.

1 comment:

  1. A well written and balanced review of the book. Talks about the positives and negatives of the Virgin Diet.