My girlfriend and I completed week three of Phase 1 of The Virgin Diet the other week, and let’s just say that it resembled those people who pull themselves over the finish line at the end of a marathon, gasping and shaking and probably crying—it’s still an admirable feat but you hate to think about what would have happened if they’d had to run one more mile.
By week three, we had our meal planning and cooking down, so it was basically just a psychological battle to not cheat and stick with the plan. But morale was low and we were both pretty done with the whole thing. And I may have had beer a night early I AM HUMAN LET ME LIVE.
Anyway, I was glad nevertheless that I tried this experiment because there were a lot of great takeaways and new habits that I know I can make stick, even as I’m back to drinking beers and eating ice cream.
Double your recipes. Like, actually do it too, and not kinda, like I used to. Then you’ve got dinner and tomorrow’s lunch taken care of.
Pick one cookbook at a time to pull recipes from. If the thought of meal planning overwhelms you because you don’t feel like checking Pinterest, Mark Bittman’s Twitter feed, Nom Nom Paleo and your backlog of Cooks Illustrated… that makes sense. For this three-week experiment, Kait and I borrowed the companion The Virgin Diet cookbook and pulled all of our recipes from there. Not only did this speed up meal planning but then we didn’t have to remember where we got a recipe from—two big psychological wins that got us to do this every week. Also, most cookbooks have recipes for all meals and all situations, so as long as you pick a comprehensive one (Practical Paleo is my current one), that’s all you need for a few weeks.
Cook carbs in bulk. Usually by the time I cook my meat and roast a vegetable, I’m done with cooking. One way to I tricked myself into incorporating compliant carbs with every meal was roasting a bunch of baked potatoes at once or cooking a whole pot of rice. Then I just grabbed a portion from the fridge when mealtime came around. This trick really only works if you’re a stubborn old goat like me who doesn’t mind eating the same thing four or five meals in a row, but of course, you can scale the quantity of what you cook each time so that you don’t end up with too much. Know thyself.
Grocery shop together. MUSHY LOVE ALERT: I love grocery shopping and don’t mind doing it on my own, but it was a real treat to shop with Kait. Since we were “in this together,” getting our weekly grocery haul together became part of our weekend routine and it was fun and made us both feel invested in what we were cooking and eating. Elimination diets are for lovers! Sidenote: Kait and I have been using AnyList since we started living together and it’s awesome. You can share the lists you create and it automatically updates it whenever either of you add or delete items so that you both have the same list and get everything you need, no matter whose turn it is to go to the store.
Mix it up. Since eggs were a no-go on this diet, I was forced out of my eggs-for-breakfast rut, which ended up being a refreshing and needed change. It seemed like a general theme of The Virgin Diet is that always eating the same, specific foods can build up inflammation and lead to sensitivity. Eggs hadn’t been a problem for me in the past, but after eating them every day for almost a year and half and then completely stopping for three weeks, I realized that they probably were a likely source of digestive problems. But because it took so long for the sensitivity to manifest itself, I didn’t even consider eggs as a possible culprit.
And from a nutritional perspective, you might not realize what other essential nutrients you might be missing by eating the same thing all the damn time. Cookbooks are also helpful for breaking up these routines and getting a variety of foods in; again, just use one cookbook at a time to keep it simple though.
Anyway, moral of the story is to not become totally dependent on certain foods, especially ones that are known to be commonly inflammatory.
Anything can be breakfast. Basically, the standard American breakfast is banned during this elimination diet, which caused Kait a real moment of panic: “What will I eat for breakfast??” I know it feels gross at first to eat “non-breakfast” food for breakfast—as a former cereal junkie, I’ve been there—but start gradually and pretty soon, it’ll be just another meal. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE typical American breakfast food, but I definitely feel better when I treat it like lunch and dinner. And once you’re accustomed to “new breakfast” (and if you’re also a stubborn old goat), you can triple your recipes and rotate leftovers for each meal.
They say it takes 21 days to make a habit stick (though apparently that timeframe may actually be longer), and as I pointed out above, there were some great habits that came out of this elimination diet experiment. While let’s just say that I’m not planning to do this again any time soon (JJ Virgin advises doing an elimination and retesting at least once a year!), being forced to stick to a pretty strict diet definitely forces you to be more organized and efficient, as well as try new foods and take a break from the less-than-healthy ones—all worthwhile outcomes in my book.