How’s your New Years’ Diet going?

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Now is about the time of year that people start to wonder if they can really stick to their New Year’s resolutions.  In fact, January 17 is known as Fat Day in England because it’s the day that failed or frustrated dieters start considering weight loss and cosmetic surgery to address post-holiday dissatisfaction with their bodies.

For those of y0u who still think that diet is the answer, there are two new diet systems that are being promoted, The Virgin Diet by J.J. Virgin, and the 8-Hour Diet by David “Eat This, Not That” Zinczanko.

Before we get into the details of these, we’d like to point out that new diets pop up constantly at predictable times of year: post-holidays in January and then again in May or June in anticipation of summer bikini season.  Most of these “new” diets have some sort of scientific-sounding “hook” or “secret” that is oftentimes just a re-branding or cosmetic change or new packaging of older ideas.  There might be a new celebrity association or endorsement.  There are always unscientific “testimonials” featuring success stories of various individuals.  Diet books also usually include recipes or a meal plan and a shopping list. Often there are extra products (like dietary supplements or meal-replacement shakes) and services that go beyond the books that entice you to spend extra money.

But back to the two diets.  Here are the authors on a recent visit to the Today show:

Are these diets medically sound? Will they work? We’ll look at the The Virgin Diet today, and tackle The 8 Hour Diet tomorrow.

The Virgin Diet

The Author:

J.J. Virgin is a health and fitness expert, and according to her website, “is a Certified Nutrition Specialist, a Certified Health and Fitness Instructor with advanced certifications in Nutrition, Personal Training and Aging and Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition.” She has been a diet and fitness advisor to a number of celebrities including Gene Simmons, Ben Stiller, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tracie Thoms, Janeane Garofalo, and Brandon Routh.

The “Hook”:

Ms. Virgin claims that the real secret behind weight gain is not fat, or carbs or calories, it’s hidden food intolerance (FI). Sensitivity to one or more common foods triggers inflammation which in turn leads to a number of disturbing symptoms. These include acne, weight gain, fatigue, joint symptoms, and intestinal symptoms such as gas and bloating. Many of the “offending foods,”such as low fat yogurt or egg whites, are those typically thought of as healthy, and used in many diet regimens. The book claims that eliminating foods from 7 different food groups will decrease the inflammation and relieve these symptoms. Foods that “decrease inflammation” are also added to the diet. Weight loss can average 7 pounds in the first 7 days.

The seven FI foods include: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, peanuts, eggs, and sugar and artificial sweeteners.

After a period of 3 weeks, these foods can be reintroduced, one each week, to see if they were the cause of the “intolerance.”

The “Extras”:

In addition to the book, there are three programs available: The Virgin Diet Coach, The Virgin Diet Challenge, and One-on-One Personalized Wellness Coaching. These include exercise DVDs, online communities, and journalling tools.  Protein shake mixes, and a variety of fiber and vitamin supplements and skin care products are also available.

The Evidence:

About a third of the general population believes that they have food allergies. Research shows that only about 5% actually do. Part of the problem is the confusion about the term food allergy, which is different from a food intolerance or food sensitivity:

  • A food allergy is a very specific immune response to a particular food protein. The immune system responds to exposure of that protein by producing an immunoglobulin called IgE. The body responds by releasing histamine which (depending on the severity of the response) causes itching, hives, difficulty breathing, wheeziness and possibly prophylaxis.
  • A food intolerance is when a specific enzyme necessary to digest a food is absent. This is the case with lactose intolerance or gluten intolerance (gluten sensitive enteropathy). Symptoms can include GI upset, diarrhea or constipation, rash or nasal congestion. They are usually not life-threatening.
  • A food sensitivity is an unpleasant reaction to certain foods, such as getting heartburn, cramps or nausea after eating a particular food. You do not always give the same symptoms when the food is eaten.

It’s no surprise that the 7 foods that Virgin eliminates also happen to be those which are most likely to cause food allergies (peanuts, eggs) or intolerances (soy, dairy, gluten, corn, sugar). If you have a problem with a particular food, eliminating it from your diet will certainly help with the symptoms (like diarrhea or rashes) it is causing. But there is little evidence that proves that eliminating that food will also cause you to lose weight.

And there is even less evidence if you are not sensitive to a specific food. For example, as we’ve discussed in our article about Miley Cyrus and gluten-free diets, eating a gluten-free diet if you are not gluten-sensitive, does not necessarily lead to weight loss. In some cases, weight gain is the result.

Mark Hyman, MD,  Chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, is one of the most vocal proponents of the theory that food allergies and sensitivities can make you fat. He believes that eating the wrong foods causes the gut to become “leaky.” This leads to an immune response, which “leads to a fatty toxic liver and insulin resistance, which lead to higher levels of insulin in your body. And insulin is a fat-storage, disease- and aging-promoting hormone.” Dr. Hyman’s evidence for this is thin and controversial and partly based on studies in mice.

I wonder how well people will be able to follow the diet – Virgin is not eliminating just  7 foods, she’s eliminating 7 food groups, some of which are practically unavoidable in the food we buy in stores. Some reviewers of the diet on Amazon.com said they had to read every food label carefully to make sure none of the offending foods were included. Others found the suggested food substitutes difficult to find in their local groceries.

 Summary:

The Virgin Diet is a diet which eliminates 7 groups of food to which the dieter may have a unsuspected food intolerance. That food intolerance leads to inflammation which in turn leads to a multitude of symptoms, including weight gain. It may be hard to dispute that eliminating a food to which a person has a true allergy or intolerance would be beneficial and may make a person feel better. However, the scientific case that weight gain is caused by the same process is much less convincing, and research is needed to investigate these claims.

The diet may be difficult for many to follow for a prolonged period of time, and the reintroduction phase may cause more confusion than real diagnosis of food intolerance.

Tomorrow we’ll review the 8 Hour Diet- Can you really eat whatever you want and still lose weight- as long as you eat it in an 8 hour time period?

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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