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Weight Loss

The Secret to Healthy Weight Loss is a Healthy Gut, Say Nutrition Experts

Want to enjoy a magical summer of high energy, pain-free joints, sound sleep, disappearing flab, and radiant overall health? Then start by giving your gut a little spring cleaning, suggests nutrition pro JJ Virgin, who has spent 25 years helping women repair their GI tract to trigger head-to-toe transformations.

Turns out, most of us are eating at least one food our systems can’t tolerate well, leading to chronic inflammation in the delicate digestive lining. “Inflamed tissues release chemicals that suppress metabolism and just about every aspect of health.”

Luckily, Virgin’s tricks make it easy to pinpoint culprits and heal damage. “Your belly can be noticeably flatter in three days — and weight loss and health improvements continue to snowball after that,” she says. “I had one gal whose friends literally thought she had plastic surgery. The difference is quick and remarkable!”

Note: Speak with your doctor before trying any weight loss regimen or new diet.

Nutrition pro, JJ Virgin, 58, lost pounds on her own plan!

Why Repairing Your GI Tract Can Help

How do we end up with difficulty tolerating certain foods? Experts say there are many reasons. For example, a microscopic particle of cheese may escape the intestine, and we develop antibodies that attack any time we eat dairy. We might also simply struggle to break down certain proteins, such as the gluten in wheat, as our digestive enzymes naturally weaken with age, notes Vincent Pedre, MD. Virgin adds that each of us can develop an intolerance at any time; symptoms include tummy upset, congestion, skin trouble, fatigue, achiness, and weight gain.

To narrow down which foods may be a problem for you, Virgin recommends temporarily skipping gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, corn, peanuts and refined or artificial sweeteners. “I’ve found these are the ingredients women are most likely to have an issue with, so you pull them all out initially,” she explains. “The key is to rest your GI tract, ideally for three to four weeks, then test foods one at a time. You can add back any that don’t cause symptoms.”

Delicious Healing

While you rest and repair your GI tract, build meals around anything wholesome, especially anti-inflammatory options like fiber-rich produce, fish rich in omega 3s, and good fats. “I’m a big fan of shakes once or twice a day because they let you sneak in flax, kale, coconut milk, and other anti-inflammatory ingredients you might not otherwise eat,” shares Virgin.

Bonus: The blender breaks everything down, so your digestive system has less work to do. For that same reason, Virgin has you let at least 12 hours elapse between dinner one day and breakfast the next. “It gives your GI tract a break, so it’s much easier for your body to heal any damage.”

Why Virgin’s Tips May Help Reduce Belly Fat

Anytime part of us is irritated or inflamed, the body draws fluid to the area as a buffer against further injury. “If your GI tract is inflamed, you hold fluid around your belly,” says Virgin. “You lose this ‘water weight’ as inflammation subsides.”

Growing research also shows that belly fat and gut issues are closely linked. One reason: Inflamed tissues “talk” to the immune system by releasing compounds called cytokines. Trouble is, too many cytokines interfere with insulin, making it hard for the hormone to get blood sugar into cells to be burned for energy. “Instead, most sugar ends up as belly fat,” reveals Virgin. On top of that, because insulin isn’t doing its job well, we make extra — and excess insulin blocks the stored fat from being burned.

Luckily, “healing your gut reverses the problem,” says Virgin. Also, as inflammation dies down, everything functions better. Notes Virgin, “People stick with my way of eating because it makes them feel so great!”

Kellie Bigelow’s Story

By the time Kellie Bigelow’s naturopath daughter told her about The Virgin Diet, she was being hospitalized several times a year due to diverticulitis, an inflammatory gut condition. “I’d read so many diet books, but this one seemed written just for me,” recalls the Michigan grandmother, 57. She soon traded her usual milk, bread, and eggs for healing shakes, sweet potato muffins and grass-fed burgers. Her belly pain eased — and the scale plunged. “I was down a size every couple of weeks. It was really motivating after my whole life of being heavy.” Down to a weight at which she’s happy Kellie’s gut seems healed. Her diabetes reversed too. “JJ Virgin saved my life,” she says. “I’ll eat like this forever. I haven’t felt this good since my early 20s!”

Learn more in The Virgin Diet or at

Leslie Mayorga’s Success Story

Leslie Mayorga before and after weight loss
Before and AfterChristopher Carder; hair, makeup, and stylist Donna Martin

Living on grab-and-go junk as she helped care for her disabled granddaughter, Leslie Mayorga’s weight crept up to 250 pounds. She struggled to get around, and her acid reflux became severe. “Tests showed my esophagus had eroded away,” recalls the retired nurse, 61. “All the sugar I ate was inflammatory, but I knew it was more than that.” So, Leslie put herself on an elimination diet, replacing inflammatory foods with soothing veggies, fruit, beans, and plant-based burgers. She also finished dinner early, allowing her system to rest overnight. Without limiting portions, Leslie lost weight the first month. Within 12 weeks, she could sleep comfortably and her reflux meds were cut in half. “I’m most proud that I’m strong enough to carry my 42-pound granddaughter,” says Leslie, who reached a weight that she’s happy with in a year. “That’s life-changing!”

Funfetti Smoothie

Looking for a yummy recipe that incorporates Virgin’s tips? Try this smoothie with your favorite protein powder!

Ingredients (Serves One):

  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk, chilled overnight
  • Powdered stevia to taste
  • 2 scoops protein powder
  • 1 tablespoon coconut butter
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • 10 ounces unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • All-natural rainbow sprinkles

Scoop solids from top of coconut milk into bowl. Add sweetener; beat until stiff peaks form. Set aside. In blender blitz 5 ice cubes and all remaining ingredients except sprinkles. Pour in glass; add toppings.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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