Kait and I just finished Week 1 of Cycle 1 of the Virgin Diet (the namesake of its creator JJ Virgin, not a diet for born-agains). The diet itself is basically your standard slow carb, high-protein, healthy fat diet but it’s premised on the idea that weight gain, inability to lose weight, digestive issues and host of other problems are tied to food sensitivities that cause inflammation in the body. JJ zones in on seven foods in particular that tend to produce inflammation: eggs, sugar, gluten, soy, corn, peanuts or dairy. The protocol, then, is to eliminate these seven foods for 21 days, then reintroduce them one at a time, week by week, and see what happens, e.g., do you feel like poop, do you have the poops, etc. Then you basically eat or don’t eat those food depending on your reaction.
Why am I doing this?
In a word, as an experiment. Eating to feel good and perform well seems to be a lot of trial and error, so I’m pretty open to trying different ways of eating for at least a little while and seeing how I do. I did Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet for about six months and really liked it. Then I tried a “standard athlete diet” last fall (one where you can eat refined carbs) and accidentally got a little chubs. And then about six months ago, I started trying out variations of the paleo diet, and I have to say that I’ve been pretty happy with it. I feel really good, plus I’ve leaned out and gained muscle without getting the aforementioned chubs.
The one ish though has been digestion, and after trying a few different things (making sure I’m getting probiotics through sauerkraut, getting resistant starch into my diet) to no avail, I was starting to get discouraged. I had already been noticing that too much dairy (pizza), sugar (donuts + giant cinnamon roll because PASTRIES) and eggs (erryday for breakfast) could be likely culprits, so when I heard about JJ’s theory on food-related inflammation, I decided to give her protocol a shot and see if it helped clear up these problems.
What I’ve noticed during Week One
First of all, everything has sugar added to it. You might have known this, but you probably have never actually had to make decisions based on it. Seriously—even in grocery stores like Whole Foods that cater to nutrition-conscious folks, it’s really, really tough to find versions of the things we can eat that don’t have sugar. Almond butter, for example, and BACON. Even good-quality bacon has some sugar added (though the butcher at Whole Foods tipped me off to a brand–new product from Wellshire Farms that’s sugar-free and, not surprisingly, targeted towards the paleo crowd). Sugar as a health threat is a whole other post, but let’s suffice it to say that our sugar consumption is actually much higher than we think it is since it’s in a LOT of foods, even the last ones you’d suspect.
Second, when you stop eating a lot of these foods, you go through withdrawal symptoms similar to when people quit smoking or drinking. I should mention that my lovely girlfriend decided to do this experiment as well, and this first week’s been particularly rough for her. Whereas I’d been removing a lot of grains/complex carbs and sugar from my diet over the past year, Kait loves her bagels, snacks and sweets. So this past week she’s been dealing with headaches, wicked cravings and nausea (no joke!).
It’s a little scary how addicted our bodies can become to something as seemingly innocuous as food, but as JJ explains in her book, when you eat foods that you’re sensitive to (whether you know it or not), your body has an immune response and produces antibodies, just as if you were fighting off a cold or other pathogen. When you remove what’s causing the inflammation, you still have antibodies floating around and they want some action, so they actually cause the cravings for those foods so that you’ll eat them and give them something to fight off. Truly a vicious cycle. According to the book, your body gets rid of the antibodies after about a week and your cravings start to disappear. I’ve also read the l-glutamine can help with cravings, as well as gut repair, so I’m experimenting with that. But the main things I miss are beer and BUTTER. Sweet potatoes just aren’t the same without butter and cinnamon.
Finally, the upsides. Kait’s noticed that she’s not bloated all the time (common indication of inflammation) and both of our digestion has been much better. I’ve also been sleeping awesome all week (though that could also be from the whole “no drinking” thing). As much as I’m excited for these 21 days to be over, I’m looking forward to essentially “resetting” my system and figuring out what works and doesn’t work for me.