When we want to lose weight, many people switch to certain “diet foods,” assuming they’ll help us drop those pounds. But that’s not always the case, according to celebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin, author of The Virgin Diet. He believes that the real culprit for unwanted weight gain (and trouble with weight loss) is food intolerance: when our bodies can react negatively to certain foods that we assume are good for us when we’re trying to lose weight (think diet foods like low-fat yogurt and whole wheat bread). In turn, instead of losing weight, we wind up with a host of nasty symptoms like bloating, breakouts, headaches, achy joints and even (gasp!) weight gain. To find out more, including which diet foods we should avoid, we talked with Virgin:
You talk a lot about “traditional diet foods.” What do you mean by that?
These are the foods we’ve been sold on to make us think they’re healthy. Fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, whole grain muffins, and agave-sweetened cookies are just a few of the foods we’ve been led to believe are healthy, but they aren’t. Fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, for instance, is high in sugar (it can have as much sugar as a candy bar!). Agave is up to 97% fructose, which creates inflammation, liver damage, and stalls fat loss.
You even say that some of them can make you sick. Explain that please.
If you have a food intolerance to, say, dairy, you’re going to have an immune reaction. You’re going to have increased inflammation. That’s because food intolerance triggers immune reactions. They trigger numerous symptoms like headaches, fatigue and other conditions that make you feel terrible. I have people pull the seven most highly reactive foods in cycle 1 of The Virgin Diet, and their symptoms disappear. They feel better. And they start losing those stubborn pounds that their body clings to.
So it’s more of a specific food intolerance then?
Well, the sugar in these foods can also dampen immunity. But food intolerance plays a huge part in weakening your immune system. As I mentioned, these foods create an immune reaction because your body sees them as a perceived threat. So like a hyper-vigilant security guard, it goes on overdrive to attack what it sees as foreign invaders, and all sorts of havoc ensues.
How does that translate to weight gain and weight loss?
Food intolerance creates inflammation, and inflammation stalls fat loss. You literally create what I call weight loss resistance. Many of these foods, like gluten, also raise your insulin levels. Elevated insulin levels mean the doors to your fat cells become shut, and you cannot burn fat.
What are some of the signs that diet foods are not helping us lose weight?
Besides weight loss, food intolerance can create numerous symptoms like fatigue, bloating and headaches. Like I said, when people pull these “diet” foods, their symptoms clear up. They look 10 years younger. They’re energetic and can enjoy life to the fullest, and they start burning fat they thought they couldn’t lose.
Top 10 “diet foods” that could be making you sick, according to Dr. Virgin:
- Fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt. Most of these tiny packets are full of sugar. Some have as much sugar, in fact, as a candy bar. Plus, dairy is a common food intolerance that creates acne and other skin conditions.
- Agave syrup. High in fructose, a sugar that creates inflammation, liver damage, and becomes stored as fat.
- Soy ice cream, other soy junk foods. For some reason, soy has become labeled a health food, even though it’s often heavily processed as soy burgers, etc. If you can tolerate it, fermented soy like miso and tempeh can be healthy. But soy ice cream is still ice cream, often loaded with sugar and certainly not the healthy food marketers make it out to be.
- Whole wheat bread. ”Whole wheat goodness” is another marketing scheme. Even if you don’t have full-blown Celiac disease, gluten can wreak havoc on your gut and cause an immune response and inflammation. Many breads are filled with high-fructose corn syrup and other unhealthy additives.
- “Healthy” muffins. I call a muffin an adult cupcake. It often has as much sugar as a cupcake, but somehow it gets labeled as healthy (whereas you would never eat a cupcake for breakfast, at least not thinking that it’s healthy!). Muffins are often filled with gluten too.
- Fruit juice. Fruit juice is just sugar water in disguise. Even if it says 100% fruit juice on the label, it breaks down to sugar in your body. You wouldn’t sit down and eat four oranges, but you could easily drink that much in a glass of orange juice, and you don’t have the fiber to buffer out that sugar in the OJ either.
- Diet sodas. We’re seeing studies now that show the sweeteners in diet soda can mimic sugar, creating an insulin response that stores fat. Other studies show that people who drink diet sodas gain more weight than people who drink regular soda. One reason is caloric dysregulation, where your body can no longer calibrate the degree of sweetness to the caloric load. As a result, you’re more prone to overeating.
- “Lite” foods. “Low fat” often means higher in sugar and other additives. In fact, many low-fat and fat-free foods are really chemical experiments, not real foods.
- Protein bars. These are often high in sugar or artificial flavors, plus they contain other additives that aren’t healthy. Basically, most protein bars are just candy bars with a few cheap nutrients added. They create a halo effect because they’re sweet, so people think they are eating something healthy.
- Soy protein powder. As I mentioned before, soy is a highly reactive food that creates intolerance. Many commercial soy protein powders are made from cheap soy protein isolate and have added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and other unhealthy additives.