It seems that amongst the continual slog of new diet books coming on the market, more and more of them are touting programs that resemble the classic elimination diet. Given that I do not recommend elimination diets that aren't tailored and unique to each person for many reasons, I thought I would review one of these new books to see if it proves a good guide for helping people change their diet and lose weight or is just another fad. One of the most popular of these books on the market right now is The Virgin Diet by JJ Virgin.
The promises of the book start right on the cover. "Why Food Intolerance is the Real Cause of Weight Gain," and "Drop 7 Foods -- Lose 7 Pounds -- Just 7 Days." Alright, I'm hooked. Let's start reading.
The premise of her book is that hidden food sensitivities are the real reason you can't lose weight. When your immune system is continually taxed and overburdened, the body is less able to shed unneeded weight and instead wants to hold onto fat. I am not sure this is scientifically supported, but I understand what she is trying to say. It tends to make sense and coincides with what I have seen in my own clients. Also, some of the "weight" is actually water weight as the body seeks to dilute the problematic foods by making you bloated. In more ways than one, food sensitivities are making you fat.
She then dives into what food sensitivities are and how they differ from allergies and food intolerances. All good stuff you need to know. She educates on how food sensitivities cause ongoing inflammation and how that negatively affects your health overall... not just your weight. In fact, while the cover touts all the weight loss benefits of her diet, much of the book discusses how you will alleviate many other symptoms such as fatigue, acne, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation, just to name a few.
She also provides some great education on how different types of sugars, especially fructose, are so damaging to our bodies, mainly in how they raise insulin and throw off our fullness/hunger cues. She is spot on in how these sugars make us gain weight, deplete our energy, and increase our hunger.
Another area she touches on is leaky gut. I will say, I do agree that leaky gut is real. Many health professionals, especially doctors, would disagree. The premise is that for some people the lining of our small intestine becomes compromised, allowing food particles to get into the bloodstream and attacked by the immune system. This sets us up for food sensitivities. While there is some science to back up what she is saying, the issue is still hotly debated. In any case, she provides a decent discussion on the topic so you get an understanding of why gut health is so important.
Virgin then divulges how her diet plan works. It's really simple actually. Eliminate the seven most reactive foods from your for several weeks, then reintroduce each food one at a time and see if your body has a negative response. Then avoid those problematic foods for a good long while. Her "diet" ends up being a modified version of the classic elimination diet, or as she has coined it, the Virgin Diet.
The next part of her book gets into the nitty gritty of the Virgin Diet. She has a section on each of the seven foods she recommends eliminating along with great information as to why they are problematic and where these foods are often found in our diets. She even gives tips on hidden sources of these foods, especially for soy, corn and wheat, which tend to be found in almost every processed food on the shelf these days. I think this section is particularly helpful as it does provide a good education on why these foods could be messing with your health and how to successfully avoid them.
The downside of the Virgin Diet? It comes back to the classic elimination diet. The problem with these diets is that there is no clear way to know which foods to leave in the diet and which ones to take out. Yes, we can take out the "seven" most allergenic foods and hope for the best, but what about those that react to other foods? If leaky gut is real, why can't other types of food particles slip through the cracks so to speak as well? It seems she has just taken the seven most common problematic foods into account without addressing the possibility there could be others.
That leads me to her section on "healing foods" that she highly encourages you to eat throughout this process. Those foods? Coconut, aloe, flaxseed, apples, cold water fish, garlic, onions and oregano. Yes, all foods known to have healing properties, EXCEPT if you react to them. I have clients that cannot eat these foods. I have one that will get terrible diarrhea if he eats apples. This would be devastating to his progress if he were to follow the diet as recommended. For people such as him, this diet will just be more time and money wasted.
What disturbs me most about this book is how Virgin insists that you will see amazing and life-changing results by following this plan. I know this is going to devastate many people when their efforts are not rewarded as promised. They may even start to believe that food sensitivities are not their problem when in fact they are just eliminating the wrong foods.
Then there are all the "products" that get promoted along with the book. If you go on her website and sign up for any of her freebies, you will be forever inundated with emails touting her shakes, bars, supplements, and even exercise equipment. How do I know this? My in-box bears the proof. If you thought you were going to buy this book to lose weight without the expense of professional help, you might fall into the trap of shelling out all your money right to Virgin yourself. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but just beware. In my opinion authors become less credible when the healthy values they promote become wrapped up with multiple add-on products and programs. It can easily become a giant money pit for someone desperate to feel better.
Now all that being said, I still would recommend the book as a good guide on healthy diet principles. It provides education into what food sensitivities are, how to avoid certain foods known to be unhealthy for us, and how to have a better relationship with food overall. The last section of her book talks more about how to be a mindful eater, how to add moderate exercise to your lifestyle, and tips for maintaining your new healthy lifestyle. All valuable information presented in an easy-to-read format.
So there is my take on the Virgin Diet. Apart from the actual elimination diet, the book can be quite helpful for better understanding your body and taking better care of yourself. If you are truly suffering from food sensitivity issues, consult a professional for a personalized plan to get you better, and ideally get yourself tested for food sensitivities with the right blood test. Otherwise you will likely fail to get the results you are looking for.