Monthly Archives: February 2014

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In my BS Detector guidebook, I have a "BS Checklist" - Things to look out for during a commercial, in a book or on the cover of a magazine. One of the items on that list is an authority claiming to have a "secret" in regards to gaining muscle, losing fat, or whatever.

SuperSecretSecret

The only secret is that there are no secrets.

So when you see the line:

"...I'm about to share with you the secret to weight loss."

followed by an extremely simplistic solution:

"The key to weight loss is avoiding and overcoming food intolerance."

Then your BS detector alarm needs to start ringing.  

Just think about that statement - she is saying that for the millions of people who struggle to lose weight and keep it off, the answer isn't that they're eating too much.  It's not that they move too little.  It's not that the food environment encourages over-consumption, it's not that long work hours and high amounts of stress are not conducive to home-cooked meals or taking walks.  

It's not the fact that people are notoriously terrible at reporting their food intake, even when they're taught how.  

It's not agricultural subsidies or that adults who don't cook raise children who never learn how.  It's not even the plethora of diet and exercise books out there with contradictory information, slashing your favorite foods left and right, and leaving you completely confused of how to proceed.  

It's having digestive issues with a certain food or foods.  

Does this sound right to you?  

Now I'm not discounting the discomfort that can occur from ingesting a food you don't handle well.  Let me tell you about the time I ate two protein bars totaling 22g in sugar alcohol before a 3 hour long seminar.  (Actually, I'm going to pass on that story.  Just read these reviews for sugar-alcohol gummy bears instead.) 

THE WARNING IS NOT JOKING.

But to say that intolerance is the sole cause of weight gain and difficulty in weight loss is asinine.  And to be clear, that is what she just stated above and what this whole book is about.  

"...if you weigh more than you like and look older than you'd prefer, you are most likely struggling with food intolerance." 

So if I'm 57 but would prefer to look 25, I have food intolerance?  Got it.

Here is a checklist given for how to tell if you have food intolerance: 

  • Have you tried unsuccessfully to lose weight?
  • Is what you used to do to lose weight no longer working?
  • Are you a yo-yo dieter?
  • Do you frequently experience discomfort after eating, such as bloating, gas or indigestion?
  • Can you only lose weight by starving yourself or exercising like a maniac - or possibly not even then?
  • Are you feeling and looking older than you should? 

She then states if you fit even one of those bullet points, you're likely eating foods you're intolerant too.  Doesn't that seem like a bit of a stretch? (Especially when the bolded point is the only real one that indicates any sort of digestive issue!) 

So you, like almost everyone else on the planet, want to lose weight and look younger.  Ergo, you have a food intolerance.  What are the foods you're probably intolerant to?

The 7 "High Food-Intolerance" Foods

  • Gluten
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Dairy
  • Peanuts
  • Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners 

Where did this list come from?  Well, it appears that parts of it came from the eight foods that comprise 90% of all food allergies, (soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts) part of it from hot topics of the day (sugar & artificial sweeteners, gluten) and one I'm not really sure of the origin of (corn). 

While this diet protocol has you re-introduce these foods after a 3-week washout period, she states that she would like for you to leave out sugar, artificial sweeteners, corn, and peanuts forever.  Why?  

Peanuts 

"Peanuts have a high risk for aflatoxin mold, which is toxic and provokes a lot of allergies.

Peanuts are also high in phytic acid and lectins..."

Corn

"[corn is] one of the worst of all the grains because it tends to be allergenic, is high on the glycemic index and has a pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid profile."

She also notes that it is high in lectins and that "almost all U.S. corn is genetically modified." 

Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners 

There is quite a long list of reasons given to avoid sugar, everything from saying it "disrupts your insulin metabolism," to "sugar depletes nutrients."  Yikes.  

Artificial sweeteners are stated to be horrible for the same reasons as sugar, on top of it being a "neurotoxin."  And then, aspartame turns into formaldehyde when "it's raised over a certain temperature"!  Doesn't that sound terrifying?!

Apples - just one of many foods that contain formaldehyde naturally. (taken from ameribestprayers.com)

Once we get to the actual chapter-by-chapter review of this book, we'll go over what's true and false about those statements.  For now, just know that you really don't have to be this scared of food.  It's certainly not the instrument of impending death and illness it's made out to be above.

What happens when you eat a food you are intolerant to?

This can be a difficult thing to ascertain, because it's difficult enough to just figure out who is intolerant to a particular food or component of food as we mentioned in Part I.  But we can get an idea by looking at lactose-intolerance, which tends to be better understood.

With lactose-intolerance, your body doesn't have (or have many of) the proper enzyme (lactase, to be specific) to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.  Therefore, it doesn't get digested properly in your small intestine.

When the lactose shows up only partially broken-down in your large intestines, bacteria ferments it, which causes gas and bloating.  This is also often followed by diarrhea, as the lactose doesn't get fully absorbed or broken down before passing through.

While the mechanisms for other types of food intolerance are not well understood, we'll pretend it is something similar to the above.  One prevailing idea of why food allergies and intolerance are on the rise the the "hygiene hypothesis."

Because of modern society's obsession with cleanliness, the hypothesis goes, we're depriving ourselves of the helpful bacteria that have helped us with a multitude of functions, including digestion.  For instance, the human body only produces 20 enzymes that break down carbohydrates.  But a group of just one kind of bacteria has over 260 such enzymes.  It seems logical to me that depriving ourselves of helpful bacteria with a hand-sanitizer obsession could lead to an increase of food intolerance.

Must rid ourselves of evillll germmmmssss

(But again, this is just a hypothesis)

This leads back to the prevailing theme of our book...

So, is food intolerance really the "secret" to why so many of us can't lose weight?  Let's review what we've gone over about food intolerance:

  • Food allergies are on the rise, with some estimates saying 4% or more of the U.S. population having at least one.
  • Food intolerance could be rising as well, but with such difficulty in diagnosis, it is hard to say and impossible to give an accurate figure.
  • Food intolerance is characterized by an inability to digest a certain food or food component. (Malabsorption)

So we have no idea how many people have food intolerance, but for those that do it means digestive upset due to an inability to break down and absorb the food properly.

Think about that - the nutrition from the food item cannot be absorbed.  That's unabsorbed vitamins, minerals...and calories.

As well, it's uncertain how many people suffer from an intolerance.  How could anyone be confident enough to say that EVERYONE who struggles with weight loss has an intolerance?  There is no evidence to back up that assertion at all.

But that doesn't mean this whole book is worthless.

Yeah, it's shitty to make big, bold claims that can't be proven.  But for someone who does suffer from extreme bloating and misery after meals, this diet could be helpful.  Elimination diets can absolutely help you figure out if you have 'problem foods' (provided you do one correctly), and help you to find relief.  It may not be 100% accurate and you may not know the exact component that is causing you distress, but you'll likely feel better.

Just don't expect it to solve all of your weight-loss woes.

Next up: the up-and-coming buzzword of inflammation and how it relates to food intolerance / sensitivity.  How exciting!!

As always, leave me any questions, comments or suggestions below!

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I'm definitely one of the lucky people when it comes to allergies.

My older brothers got the short end of the stick.  I think they must have taken the hit for me - both allergic to peanuts, one also allergic to tree nuts and pollen on top of cat and dog hair, the other raw eggs and peas.

Dogs and peanut butter - all a girl really needs in life.

Me?  None.  Zip.  Zero.  Even the list of foods I don't tolerate well can be limited to sugar alcohol.  This is becoming a less and less common thing as the years go on though.  Here are some fun statistics:

  • Eight foods account for 90% of all allergic reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. (1)
  • While most children grow out of food allergies, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish tend to be lifelong. (1)
  • In the UK, hospital admissions for food allergy increased by 500% from 1990 to 2006. (2)
  • Food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. (3)
  • The increases in allergy prevalence is seen almost exclusively in developed nations.

More on why they included the increase in C-sections on this graph in my next post.

There are a lot of parallels between food intolerance and food allergies - but one should NOT consider food intolerance as a kind of 'light' food allergy.

The mechanisms between the two are very different:

  • Allergies cause an immune reaction, typically through increases in Immunoglobulin E (IgE)
  • Food Intolerance does not cause an immune reaction in the same way as allergies.  There may still be one, but it's unclear if there always is and how or why it may be caused. (4)
  • Gluten intolerance in particular does not appear to cause 'leaky gut' - aka causing your intestines to be more porous, allowing other matter in your gut to get into the bloodstream.  (4, 5)
  • Celiac disease in particular is neither an allergy nor an intolerance - rather it is an autoimmune condition.

A note on leaky guts

"Leaky gut" is a proposed mechanism for a lot of different conditions - from arthritis to heart disease.  While it is certainly a thing that can happen (such as in celiac disease), food intolerance does not seem to cause it.

In looking around for information on leaky gut, what exactly causes it seems to be a bit of controversy.  Only in the last decade or so are there many studies affirming that it's a thing that could happen from food in the first place.  The one clear thing I got through is this: how common, what causes, how to diagnose and how to treat 'leaky gut' is NOT clear.

Diagnosing is hard.

Pin-pointing exactly what compound you are having a reaction to is pretty tough.  Self-diagnosing can be even more unreliable.  Imagine this scenario:

You suspect that you may have a gluten intolerance.  You cut out regular noodles and replace it with cauliflower rice.  Your daily lunch-time sandwich gets replaced with a vibrant salad.  Instead of cereal for breakfast you're having two hard-boiled eggs and fruit.

The result?  You feel great!  Full of energy all day with none of your usual brain fog.  Must have been the gluten, right?

Or could it be that you're eating more fruits and vegetables and replaced your high-carbohydrate breakfast for a high-protein and fiber one? 

Okay, so what if you don't replace everything with healthful foods, but you still cut out gluten?

Your breakfast of a protein shake goes out the window.  Maybe you replace it with some gluten-free cereal or toast or something.

No more mid-morning protein bar for you!  Replace it with some kind of gluten-free treat from Whole Foods maybe.

Don't let going gluten-free keep you from delicious pastries! (Taken from wheatfreeliving.com)

Your gum-chewing habit is nixed.  (Even many gums have gluten in them, who knew?)  Replace it with diet soda.

Certainly didn't have a more nutritious diet there, but you still feel loads better than before.  Definitely the gluten then!

Or could it be that you've gotten rid of sugar alcohol and protein powder - two substances that often cause gas, diarrhea and discomfort in some individuals? 

Let's get even more precise!  Suppose you think you have an intolerance or allergy to fish - so you eliminate all fish from your diet.  Bam, feel better, but never eat fish again.  No more sushi nights for you, right?

But what if your intolerance or allergy wasn't to fish it all - it was to a compound found in the environments of Atlantic Cod fish, but not Nile Perch? (6)

Or you think that you're going to have to live a life without ice cream - everytime you have some Americone Dream you're running to the toilet 5 minutes later for a miserable half hour of digestive rioting.  (Worth it for ice cream, maybe?)

But actually you're just allergic to Carrageenan - thank goodness you went to the doctor to figure that out and now you can enjoy some Stonyfield ice cream in peace.

Okay, so you go to the doctor to get tested for a food sensitivity.  That's the way to actually find out exactly what's going on, right?

Maybe....but then again maybe not.

Diagnosing is hard.  Some people won't show the same symptoms as others, won't have the same reactions on their skin or in their blood.  Some people can handle different dosages of a particular substance before symptoms show up.  On top of these difficulties, with all of the buzz about the dangers of dairy, gluten or <insert dietary fear du jour>, nocebo effect can be a plausible explanation for some patients' symptoms.

Nocebo Effect: Negative reactions from a harmless substance as a result of a patient's expectations about how the substance will affect him or her.

If there's one thing I would like someone to take away from this post it would be this:

When it comes to food intolerances, sensitivites and how exactly they affect our system...we don't really seem to know.  Not yet.

But there are steps that you can take to improve how you feel.  And this book actually does have some pretty good ideas for how to do so.  Unfortunately it's presented in the context of massive weight loss and a manner that is anything but humble -

VirginDiet

and a little humility is exactly what's needed when it comes to new fields like this.

In Part II I'll include some choice quotes from the book on this subject so we can compare what we kinda know with what the book is trying to tell us.  Check back next week!

Is this popular diet book right for you?  With The Virgin Diet book review series, we'll be going over, point by point, what this book gets right and wrong, who it's for, and if it's worth purchasing.

With The Virgin Diet, we're getting into vastly different territory than Harper's books.  Some challenges we'll be facing include:

  • Little to no citations for claims, making our job of verifying information a lot tougher.
  • Venturing into some new, tricky, and controversial topics like food intolerance - where finding appropriate studies will be very difficult.
  • Legitimate points entangled with and lost in an underlying premise of exceptional fat loss.

But first, let's meet our author. JJ Virgin is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and a Certified Healing Foods Specialist.  She graduated from UCLA in 1985 with a bachelor's in English.  For two years (2005-2007) she was the nutrition expert on the "Dr. Phil Show", made appearances on "Extreme Makeover", and is the co-star of TLC's "Freaky Eaters." She's authored two books, Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy (2010), and The Virgin Diet (2012) and as well is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, Livestrong, and Prevention Magazine.

Note on Education & Certifications

JJVirginFakePhD

Her name often appears with a "Ph.D" next to it in her online contributions and first book.  However it is ominously missing from the front of her latest book.  A bit of digging reveals the Ph.D is from a non-accredited online program - which is to say, a much less rigorous program than the Ph.D you would normally think of.  As well, it has no obligation or oversight to provide sound, scientifically proven education.

As in, the curriculum can be made up and based on nothing.

Regarding certifications, in the United States, "nutritionist" is an unregulated term.  To be fair to JJ, however, a cursory glance at the CNS certification seems rigorous and substantial.  There are plenty of legitimate issues to take with the steps needed to get become a Registered Dietitian, in which case a CNS seems like a great alternative. I cannot give a judgement on CHFS.  While my instinct is that it sounds bogus, I haven't done near enough research on it to say for certain.

What is the Virgin Diet?

The tagline for this diet is "Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days," however it is a 21-day protocol. This diet is based on a few different concepts:

  • Food Intolerance is behind many conditions, such as aging, skin conditions, bloating, and weight gain that's tough to lose.
  • There are a core seven groups of food that many people are "intolerant" to - their immune system believes them to be harmful and chronic ingestion of them will lead to chronic inflammation.
  • Going on an elimination diet - as in, eliminating certain food groups for a few weeks then adding them back in one at a time - will help you discover if food intolerance is causing your weight-loss woes.

The book then details the mechanisms behind food intolerance and how it causes the above symptoms.  It gives more information on the specifics of why each of the seven foods are more troublesome than others. Afterwards, you learn how to re-introduce the eliminated foods back into your diet, then how to sustain your weight loss and symptom relief for life.  The end of the book has a bunch of recipes that don't contain the seven eliminated food groups.

This book is THICK and has A TON to go over.  So here's how this critique is going to go down:

Part I - Food Intolerance: The Hidden Cause of Weight Gain

"So listen up, because I'm about to share with you the secret to weight loss.

It isn't calories."

In Part I, we will give a brief overview of our current knowledge on "food intolerance."  What is it, is it different from an allergy, how can you tell if you have one, what should you do about it?

Part II - Inflammation: Fanning the Flames

Is any of this actually true?  We'll go over it!

Is any of this actually true? We'll go over it!

Here we'll review what we know about chronic inflammation - a very buzz-worthy topic these days.  What IS inflammation, and why is it bad?  Is it really the cause of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, eczema and every other modern health problem ever?

Part III - Interpreting Testimonials

Each chapter ends with a very convincing-sounding testimonial.  In my Bullshit Detection book, I have an entire section dedicated to going over how testimonials and before & afters work, but this is a good chance to emphasize it!

Part IV - Chapter 2 and Beyond

From here on out we'll go over the book chapter by chapter, section by section, just like we did with The Skinny Rules.  It will be MUCH easier to do with the framework of Parts I-III in place.

For now though, you've learned some interested facts about Virgin's education history, controversial online education programs, and what's coming up!