When you think of what it takes to be truly healthy, you likely think of a healthy heart, a sound mind… but a healthy intestinal lining? Few realize how key this lining, which is only one cell thick and would cover more than 2,700 square feet of surface area if stretched out, truly is. When working optimally, this lining allows only select nutrients into the bloodstream. But when the lining is damaged, it develops tiny gaps that let undigested food particles, toxins and waste into the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on our health.
“Roughly 80 percent of patients who come in complaining of fatigue, brain fog and digestive issues have some level of what we call leaky gut syndrome,” explains Vincent Pedre, M.D., author of Happy Gut, who adds that gut issues often lead to weight gain.
Almost 97 percent of us lack the nutrient that keeps the gut lining from eroding, leading to brain fog, fatigue and stuck-on fat. To the rescue: Celebrity trainer JJ Virgin’s 3-week healthy gut diet reverses the damage to speed fat burn by 250 percent.
“If your gut is damaged and leaky, your body will struggle to absorb nutrients,” explains celebrity nutrition expert JJ Virgin, who has spent 25 years helping women repair their digestive systems for lasting weight loss. The result? Insatiable cravings that lead to weight gain, especially around the middle. In fact, a study in Obesity revealed that women with leaky gut carried 56 percent more belly fat than those with healthy gut linings.
And new research reveals a surprising reason the gut lining develops these pesky gaps. According to Dutch researchers, when certain bacteria in the gut are deprived of fiber, the bacteria themselves start to actually eat the lining! Turns out, without enough fiber to feed the health-regulating “good” bacteria, “bad” bacteria thrive and attack. That’s a big problem, given that 97 percent of Americans are deficient in fiber.
Feast and Fast
Fortunately, a simple two-pronged strategy can patch up leaks quickly. The first step may be obvious from the study results cited above: Load up on fiber. As Virgin explains, “Fiber tamps down the inflammation and damage that prompt the body to store fat.”
The second step? Try a temporary overnight fast to give the holes time to repair. “If you walk on a broken ankle every day, it’s not going to heal,” says naturopath Michael Ruscio, author of Healthy Gut, Healthy You. “It’s like that if you constantly eat while your gut lining is damaged.” What’s more: “Once you’ve fasted for 14 to 16 hours, you activate cells in the lining to replace old cells,” Dr. Pedre explains. “It’s the fountain of youth for the gut.”
Feasting on fiber and fasting to allow repair amplify the benefits of both strategies, asserts Virgin. “In health, we know a multifaceted approach makes a bigger difference than any one habit on its own. Fiber supports good gut flora and ends cravings, while brief fasting gives the intestinal lining time to rebuild.” What’s more, Virgin says, when pathogens enter the bloodstream via a leaky gut, the body launches an immune response as a counterattack, telling the system to store fat. Once you calm the attack and good bugs crowd out bad, fat falls off. Indeed, an MIT study found higher amounts of good bacteria in slim folks.
Healing can take as little as 72 hours, says Ruscio. “Gut cells regenerate in about three days. So in 72 hours, someone who had symptoms for years can see amazing relief!” The first change: Bloat melts away. “Once the gut is healed, weight loss becomes effortless,” says Dr. Pedre. Virgin reports one of her test subjects shed 8.5 inches from her belly and hips in just two weeks!
The benefits of repair are far-reaching: more energy, better skin, clearer thinking, better immunity, less joint pain. Just ask Kellie Bigelow, 57, of Leroy, Michigan, who followed JJ Virgin’s plan and resolved years of diverticulitis pain in three months while losing substantial weight. Ready for your slimming transformation? Read on.
JJ Virgin’s Healthy Gut Diet
Some 97 percent of women are deficient in dietary fiber — a factor that weakens the intestinal lining and leads to chronic inflammation, making it nearly impossible to lose weight, says JJ Virgin, author of The Virgin Diet. Thankfully, she assures it’s easy to repair and jump-start fat burning with a powerful combo of feasting on gut-strengthening foods and fasting to give the gut lining time to rebuild.
“Combining a fiber-rich diet with intermittent fasting boosts the benefits of both by fortifying the gut wall with crucial nutrients and allowing it time to absorb the nutrients for healing,” says Virgin, who used her new plan to drop two sizes and 10 percent of her body fat. She shares, “Now, in my 50s, I look and feel better than I did in my 20s, with a lot less effort!” In addition to burning stubborn fat, Virgin’s new 21-day plan will ease digestive complaints, erase belly bloat and banish fatigue, headaches and joint pain.
To get started, Virgin recommends avoiding gut-irritating foods for three weeks, while feeding the gut lots of inflammation-healing whole foods, including fiber-rich smoothies. You’ll also give your digestive system a break by practicing time-restricted eating for 12 hours a day. Incorporate these simple strategies to supercharge gut healing and fat burning:
- Sidestep ‘reactive’ foods. In this “modified elimination diet,” you’ll avoid the foods that Virgin and countless gut specialists deem most likely to create havoc in the gut: gluten, dairy, peanuts, eggs, corn, soy and refined sugar (including artificial sugars). Virgin assures you can make “horizontal shifts” like swapping out cow’s milk for coconut milk. “You’re teaching your body how to burn fat faster and turn down the inflammation thermostat that keeps weight on you.”
- Curb cravings from the start. Virgin recommends sipping two belly-shrinking shakes, each with 20 grams of protein (try Virgin’s Reignite Wellness pea-protein or bone-broth protein powders, at JJVirgin.com) and 16 grams of fiber (from fruit, veggies and seeds), and eating one whole-foods meal per day during the first week of the plan to speed slimming and healing. “The smoothies will help you feel more satisfied and more energized, and your mood and stress response will be better — all things that help you stick to a new lifestyle,” she explains. “I’ve never heard that someone’s hungry after one of these smoothies. They are so satisfying!”
- Fill up on fiber. Reach for lots of anti-inflammatory, gut-healing foods rich in fiber. Virgin says, “The average person is getting less than 16 grams of fiber a day. I tell people to strive for 50 grams.” Research shows that eating fiber-rich foods increases production of short-chain fatty acids, compounds known to speed metabolism by 250 percent. To sidestep constipation and cramps, Dr. Pedre recommends gradually building up your fiber levels over time, while drinking plenty of water.
- Rest to digest. The trick with intermittent fasting is finding the ‘Goldilocks’ zone of time: not too long and not too short. During these three weeks, Virgin recommends narrowing your eating window to 12 hours, five days per week. For example, try closing the kitchen from 8 pm to 8 am. Optimal results come from extending the fasting window to 16 hours twice a week. Many women find fasting so effective at speeding weight loss they continue to do it even after the three-week plan. “People say all the time in the clinic, ‘I feel better when I don’t eat,’” says Ruscio. “For many, the act of giving a damaged gut rest and no longer ‘poking the beehive’ has a greater net positive than anything else.”
- Relax and breathe. Numerous studies reveal that stress can weaken the gut. “High cortisol levels can reduce the integrity of your gut wall and lead to leaky gut syndrome,” says Dr. Pedre, who recommends practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing for 5 minutes each day. To do: Inhale through the nose for 2 to 4 seconds, and out through the mouth for 6 to 8
seconds. He assures, “The gut works best when it is calm.”
After 3 Weeks…
After three weeks on JJ Virgin’s elimination diet, you can slowly reintroduce potentially reactive foods — like dairy or grains — one at a time, every three days. Virgin advises tuning into body changes such as bloat, headaches or fatigue, which signal that the gut is reacting to the food. This helps you zero in on the foods you can eat without gaining weight in the future. “It’s like getting a Ph.D. in the science of you,” she says. “It gives game-changing insight into your body and health you won’t learn in a lifetime of dieting.”
Diet Success: “I went from size 24 to size 4!”
Leslie Mayorga, 60, | Atlanta | Height: 5’3″
Then: 250 pounds
Now: 125 pounds
After changing her granddaughter’s diaper on the floor, Leslie Mayorga struggled to get back to her feet.
Every inch of her 250-pound body ached, and it was hard to breathe.
She looked at little Maddie and knew: I can’t be my best if I feel sick all the time.
Leslie was a nurse who quit her job to become a full-time caregiver for her disabled grandbaby. But she had her own health concerns, including heartburn, reflux and a hoarse throat so severe that she feared she had esophageal cancer. “I had to sleep sitting up for four years from the pain,” she recalls.
When tests ruled out cancer, Leslie dared to wonder, What if all this pain is just from what I’m eating?
So Leslie started a self-made elimination diet, cutting out gluten and dairy. “I was amazed at how much better I felt.” She continued with her experiment, finding foods that soothed her gut like steamed vegetables and fresh fruit. She also listened to her doctor, who said, “Go to bed on an empty stomach.” Slimming wasn’t her goal, but Leslie weight regardless. In three months, her gut pain improved so she could sleep comfortably and slash her dose of heartburn meds in half. Her sore throat also vanished, so she could sing to Maddie. “Today, I’m most proud that I’m strong enough to carry my 42-pound granddaughter.
Add Superfibers to Supercharge Slimming
JJ Virgin’s fiber-rich favorites deliver a variety of gut-repairing nutrients to speed healing —and weight loss!
- Smash an avocado. These gems brim with 10 grams of gut-healing soluble fiber, which turns into gel in the gut, ensuring slow, thorough digestion. To get the perks, spread on gluten-free toast.
- Sprinkle on flax. Adding 2 Tbs. of freshly ground flaxseeds to salads, smoothies and soups will make you feel fuller faster and help whisk waste out of your system, preventing constipation, all thanks to flaxseeds’ insoluble fiber. Bonus: British scientists found these seeds helped people lose weight 56 percent faster.
- Blend up ‘nice’ cream. Enjoying a blended, barely ripe frozen banana (one that’s still a bit green) delivers a powerful dose of resistant starch, a type of fiber that delays, or “resists,” being digested until after it passes through the small intestine. Eating just one meal rich in resistant starch is proven to speed fat burn for a solid 24 hours.
To learn more: Sign up for a free app that includes JJ Virgin’s 3-week gut-healing plan (a $29 value) created for FIRST readers. Go to ReigniteWellness.com/First
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.