Disclosure: I am a 52-year-old woman who is moderately short at 5’ 2” with historical weight ranging from 119 lbs. to 156 lbs. between the ages of 22 and 52 (except during pregnancy because I don’t remember and don’t care). During those 30 years, I primarily weighed anywhere from 130 lbs. to 140 lbs. which was quite acceptable to me. I have always been moderately active, exercising in some fashion two to three times a week on average. I don’t take any medications, but I do supplement with calcium, vitamin D, and a multi-vitamin. In other words, I’m pretty typical.
In the past, whenever my body mass index inched its way up the scale into the overweight category, I exercised more and tried all kinds of “diet” programs, from the cabbage soup diet to the 800-calorie a day diet (otherwise known as the starvation diet). I even won a contest for most weight and inches lost at Curves gym over a 30-day period. But, alas, as we all know, the uphill battle to reign in flabbiness and satisfy our desire for the four main food groups — alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat — is never ending, always changing, and hardly ever wins the war.
Recently I found something that is working for me when I had given up hope I could ever budge that needle. You know how it is – you’re doing everything that the nutritionists and the American Heart Association and Dr. Fuhrman told you to do, as well as exercising more often for longer periods of time – but you’re not getting anywhere. Losing weight after 50 seems a daunting, potentially impossible task. So, I did three things that helped me lose 14 pounds and 10 inches.
One: I concentrated only on my diet. I did not do much exercising beyond occasional stretching and walking. It dawned on me that like multi-tasking, trying to change too many things at once is counter-productive and induces stress. Besides, exercising always makes me hungry.
Two: I looked at this program as a scientific experiment. I eliminated variables such as exercise and kept a journal meticulously recording what I ate and more importantly, how I felt physically. I had been having more periods of heartburn and indigestion, flatulence, facial skin breakouts, and more overall dry skin. I was “sick and tired” of it all.
Three: I picked up The Virgin Diet by J. J. Virgin, yet another diet book to add to my already bulging weight loss collection. Only this one isn’t collecting dust; it’s collecting dog-eared pages and stains from protein-rich Mexican hot chocolate. I splurged for the $16.99 paperback, but there are so many other resources available on the Internet regarding this program that you don’t even have to buy the book (sorry, J. J.).
[Disclaimer: I really did just pick this book up by chance when I was looking for a different weight loss book. I do not have any affiliation with the author, or her website or products.]
The book’s tag line is “Drop 7 foods, lose 7 pounds, just 7 days.” That probably won’t happen, but the idea is to eliminate seven foods that a lot of people have high intolerances to and then add four of them back in one at a time to determine how sensitive you are to each. Virgin believes that food intolerances, ranging from full-blown allergies to minor reactions, are major factors in weight gain and weight retention.
The seven high-FI (food intolerance) foods to eliminate are gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, peanuts, sugar and artificial sweeteners. I know it sounds crazy. What else is there to eat if you eliminate the mainstays of the average Western diet? Cardboard and water? However, this is one of the factors that appealed to me. If I’m treating this as an experiment I need to be precise. I know I have a problem with sweets, most of which contain gluten, dairy, eggs, and often corn or soy oils. Problem addressed. I won’t eat the high-FI foods because of the experiment, so that will help me avoid sweets, now and in the long term.
The first 21 days of the program, Cycle 1, are full elimination days. Cycle 2 is four weeks of adding high-FI foods back into your diet: four days adding the same high-FI food to one meal each day followed by three days of full elimination days. Finally, Cycle 3 is avoiding sugar (including fruit juices and high glycemic juices), corn, soy, gluten, and peanuts 95 percent of the time (artificial sweeteners 100 percent of the time) and eating dairy and eggs as you can tolerate them according to your results in Cycle 2. And like any reputable science experiment, everything needs to be tracked, especially any symptoms that are disappearing or even appearing.
To me it seemed incredibly simple and straightforward. And it was. I will admit to feeling absolutely horrible (headache, nausea, tired) on the fourth day of Cycle 1, but that is to be expected as the body undergoes a kind of detox. Other than that, everything else fell into place. I wrote down everything I ate and how it made me feel in my journal. Here are my results:
As you can see, I did not lose seven pounds in seven days. But I don’t really care –this is the first time in a long time that I actually saw positive results. I’m quite proud I accomplished this over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. You can also see that Cycle 3 has a much less dramatic loss, but loss all the same. More importantly is that I have no more heartburn, indigestion, facial breakouts or flatulence. My skin is much less dry and I no longer have an itchy scalp, which I am attributing to gluten sensitivity.
The program requires just a few other guidelines to really work well. Besides eliminating high-FI foods and keeping a record of what you eat, you need to drink plenty of water, eat every four to six hours from the “Plate” or drink a clean protein high fiber shake while focusing on eating low-FI healing foods and lots of fiber.
The Virgin Diet plate (shown at right) is a very effective tool for imagining your meals. I am also a fan of the shakes. Basically, the shake is a replacement for one or two meals a day, but when I say replacement, it really is a meal. I use Orgain Protein Powder (chocolate) that is made from yellow split peas and is gluten, soy, dairy, and corn free, as well as non-GMO. Every morning I blend about 8 ounces So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut milk, two scoops of protein powder, two handsful of spinach, one half cup of frozen blueberries, and either a quarter of an avocado or one tablespoon almond butter. I love it – I don’t have to think about what to have for breakfast since I gave up cereal and toast (gluten) and it travels in my to-go cup.
Here is a more critical analysis of the program done by Penny Hammond of Chewfo.com in 2013. This Quick Start Companion Guide is an excellent overview and summation of the plan. You can find all the specifics and answers to most of your questions here if you don’t have the book. Other resources I found on the Internet include the J. J. Virgin website, which has lots of free advice and recipes as well as shakes, bars, supplements, and programs to purchase, and this link to a Virgin diet shopping list for your pantry.
I’ve found with this plan, the simpler the better. A typical day will begin with the shake I just described and a cup of coffee (I now enjoy coffee naked, not laced with a ¼ cup half and half). I really try to drink 16 ounces of water between meals, but admittedly that is where I struggle. (Sometimes I just forget to drink water.) For lunch, I mix a can of tuna with some olive oil, lemon juice, ⅓ of an avocado and eat it over some greens such as baby romaine or a sweet kale salad. I put whatever vegetables I have in the salad, like red peppers or cucumber and have a side of ½ cup black beans.
Since I usually eat dinner more than six hours later, I will have a snack of a small apple with 1 tablespoon almond butter. Dinner is super simple: something similar to the recipe below, but instead of olive oil, I use avocado oil because baking at 450°F is too high for olive oil. I also steam some carrots, sauté zucchini with green onion and thyme in olive oil, and add a side of quinoa or Banza (chickpea) pasta. By the way, this recipe for Roasted Garlic Split Chicken Breast is terrific!
I regularly cook for my family, but they are not suffering; in fact they are eating much healthier. When they eat regular semolina pasta, I eat a baked sweet potato or leftover quinoa; everything else is the same. As I mentioned, my biggest struggle is drinking enough water, but I also have to make sure I’m getting enough protein. Since I’ve started eating grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork (the recommended clean, lean protein of the Virgin Diet), I can’t believe the difference in taste. I do have to budget for those choices in meats, but it’s worth it. I’ve also become addicted to coconut oil. I eat it and use it as a moisturizer on my face. I’m saving money on moisturizer by using coconut oil so I can buy grass-fed beef!
According to a recent Time magazine article, “People can lose weight on any of roughly a dozen diets.” I’ve tried so many and none had really worked the way I wanted them to – that is, with little hassle and real results. Of course, I sometimes eat things that are frowned upon, and I sometimes eat too much of a favorite food. But now I’m able to rely on some tested methods to keep things in check and avoid Dunlap disease (my belly done lapped over my belt).
This is my “brief but spectacular take” on losing weight after 50 with the Virgin Diet. I hope you decide to give it a try!
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