Carolyn, forty-four, came to me in a state of desperation. She’d tried every diet, cleanse, and pill to lose the twenty pounds that had slowly but steadily crept on over the past few years, with no results. She ate well and exercised four times a week but still felt sluggish and depressed most of the time. She’d been to the top doctors, diet gurus, boot camps, and more, searching for solutions, but everyone gave her conflicting advice, which confused her even further. By the time she called me, she was living on Zoloft, caffeine, and 800 calories a day, but the heaviness in her mind and around her waistline wasn’t budging.
Jonathan, fifty-one, was aggravated. He couldn’t lose the forty pounds that plagued him, even though he stuck to “perfect” diet foods like oatmeal, salads, and grilled salmon. Even more upsetting to Jonathan was the gout and high cholesterol that he couldn’t seem to get under control. He was doing everything “right,” but nothing was working.
Thirty-eight-year-old Jessica’s experience was not as severe but was just as frustrating. “I never know what size I’m going to be on any given day,” she sighed. “One day my jeans fit completely fine, and the next I can’t even zip them because I’m so bloated. I can go for days with my stomach distended and I have no idea why, and then out of nowhere it’s flat again. I feel like I have no control over my own body.”
I’ve worked with thousands of clients like Carolyn, Jonathan, and Jessica: women and men who don’t know what to eat anymore because it seems like everything makes them gain weight; who have conflated every diet plan they’ve ever tried and are down to only five foods in their rotation; who feel tired, depressed, or bloated, or suffer from IBS, chronic pain, constipation, eczema, and other maladies that are making them miserable.
These are smart, health-savvy people we’re talking about. They’ve tried everything that should work, with no results. Eating clean, exercise, even extreme cleanses or detox diets that might have sloughed off the pounds in the past suddenly aren’t making a bit of difference. The less things make sense, the more people come to distrust their bodies. And frankly, that’s a bad place to be.
It’s time to cut through all the diet hype and solve this perplexing mystery once and for all. We’re going to get to the bottom of what’s actually causing your weight gain and other painful or even debilitating symptoms. I promise, your body isn’t betraying you, even though it feels that way. And food isn’t the enemy. Absolutely not! Good food can nourish us physically and emotionally, just like diets can starve our bodies and spirits. No, neither your body nor food is the enemy here. Misinformation is. What’s going wrong, very simply, is that we have the wrong information about what it really takes to lose weight.
Here are the “basics” that most of us have been taught to believe:
There are healthy foods and bad foods. Stick to the healthy foods and you’ll stay slim and vibrant.
Eating in moderation is the key to weight loss.
Fats should be kept to a minimum.
If you burn more calories than you consume, you’ll lose weight.
Women should stick to 1,500 calories per day for weight loss, men to 1,800.
But what if you’re doing everything “right” and still gaining weight or dealing with persistent health issues? Why are we gaining weight from seemingly healthy foods like turkey and asparagus—and why are our health issues cropping up when we do? There’s more to the story here, my dear friends, and I’m here to tell you what it is.
The hidden culprit behind all of this is inflammation. The idea that low-grade inflammation is behind nearly every disease and ailment has moved to the front burner within the medical community over the past decades. Countless studies have linked chronic low-grade inflammation to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, IBS, Crohn’s, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), infertility, premature aging, and obesity. Medical journals publish article after article about the dangerous effects of chronic inflammation, and now the mainstream media has caught on. In 2004, Time magazine ran a cover story labeling inflammation “The Silent Killer.” Bestselling authors and health gurus Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Mark Hyman have written books about the connection between inflammation, aging, health, and weight loss. Allure, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue magazines have all run articles about how inflammation attacks the body from a cosmetic and health perspective.
In its primary function, inflammation is a good thing. It’s the body’s immunologic response to an injury or illness that allows us to fight off infection. We want our inflammatory response to kick in when we injure ourselves, to speed the healing process and help protect our tissues. The problems occur when the inflammation doesn’t subside and becomes chronic in our system. When the body is rife with inflammatory chemicals, our latent health issues get triggered, we age prematurely, and yes—we gain weight.
Most doctors shrug their shoulders at this, but the foods you choose can actually hasten or reverse the inflammatory process. We all have certain foods that are inflammatory for us. These foods might be healthy in a vacuum, but when combined with our body’s unique chemistry, they can be quite toxic. When we eat one of these trigger foods, our bodies, being the brilliant machines they are, sense that something toxic has been introduced into our system. The body goes on high alert, thinking it is under attack, and it floods the tissues with water, trying to keep that toxic substance (and the hormones and chemicals it has released) away from the brain and other vital tissues—enter swelling, rashes, itching, and tissue damage. As the body continues to divert all its energy to the problem, other body systems start to slow down as a result, including digestion, circulation, and cognitive function (hello, weight gain, joint pain, depression…). In addition, 60 to 70 percent of your immune system is located in your gut-associated lymphatic tissue (known as GALT), so when you impair digestion, guess what happens to your health response? Until your body is able to excrete the perceived toxin, it’s in your system doing its dirty work. This reaction to food can easily last 72 hours.
Weight gain is nothing more than your body’s chemical reaction to certain foods. You eat something that is reactive for you, an inflammatory response is triggered, your digestion is impaired, and suddenly you’re up a pound or two. The mistake would be in stopping there and saying that salmon or popcorn or whatever else causes weight gain. It’s never the food itself that causes weight gain. It’s the chemical response it triggers in your body that makes the number on the scale tick upward and awakens latent health issues.
Whenever you see a pound or more of weight gain, you’ll see a corresponding health response—even if you’re not consciously aware of it as a problem. I always have clients fill out an intake questionnaire about their goals and any health issues they have, and about 60 percent of them say they have no health issues. But then they start going through The Plan and suddenly realize that those under-eye bags are gone, they’re sleeping through the night, or they can walk up two flights of stairs without their knees aching. Those symptoms that they always thought were “normal” are actually anything but.
And it’s not just physical symptoms we’re talking about. So many of us lead stressful lives, and we beat ourselves up for not being in better control of our emotions. But food has a great deal to do with that, too. Reactive foods can cause depression and poor stress responses and affect cognitive function. Most people don’t even see it, like my client Angela, age forty-one, who was a stressed-out mom of two young kids. She beat herself up a lot for having such a short fuse with them, but she didn’t realize that it was specific foods that were making her react. We started to identify her trigger foods, and sure enough, she came to see that within ten minutes of consuming one of these foods, she’d be screaming at her kids. And then her weight would be up the next day as well. Anytime you’re not operating at your best—whether it’s mentally, physically, or emotionally—there’s an underlying reason for it, and very often it’s a reactive food.
Remove reactive foods and a wonderful thing happens. My client Jack, fifty-four, asked me on Day Six of The Plan, “Is it just my imagination, or am I actually thinking more clearly than I have in years?” The answer was no; it wasn’t his imagination at all. That’s why we see people respond so quickly to their “trigger” foods, and why, once we get those foods out of their system and their diet, they see such rapid weight loss and such a dramatic decrease in symptomology. They look and feel better than they ever have. Douse the flames of inflammation and your body does what it was physiologically designed to do, which is achieve homeostasis.
The secret to unlocking the mystery of your unique chemistry is discovering the specific trigger foods that are setting off an inflammatory response. Identifying and eliminating those foods is the answer to losing weight, looking younger, and feeling your best. This is what The Plan is all about.
The most frustrating part of this is that you’ve probably been eating the very foods that are setting the whole inflammatory process ablaze in your body—without knowing it. I always say it’s not the chocolate, or cheese, or wine, or even the cake and cookies that are making you overweight and sick. But it very well might be one of your go-to “healthy” foods that is.
Donna was in her early fifties and had very bad eczema. She was single and living in Los Angeles—just about the last place you’d want to have a visible skin condition. She had twelve to fifteen pounds she wanted to lose, but the eczema was what brought her to me. Eczema is an inflammatory condition, so I knew The Plan would help us uncover what was igniting it.
Donna followed the first three days of The Plan, which is a cleanse that incorporates only the most universally nonreactive foods. On the cleanse, people generally see a weight loss of anywhere from four to six pounds and a dramatic decrease in symptomology, and Donna was no exception. On Day Four she woke up five pounds lighter, but even more importantly, the eczema was gone. Completely. She was thrilled!
On Day Four, we plugged in one of her favorite snacks: raw almonds. What could be healthier, right? Well, about eight almonds and as many minutes later, Donna pulled her car off to the side of the road to text me: “My mouth is on FIRE!” Aha! From there it was no big surprise to see that she gained a pound and a half and all of her eczema returned by the next morning. Donna had been eating raw almonds instead of chocolate as a treat all along, never realizing that this “virtuous” snack was actually the source of her problems.
Chances are you’ve been eating one or more of your specific trigger foods for years, mistaking it for something healthy. But one of the fundamental and life-changing truths you’ll learn from The Plan is this: There is no such thing as healthy. There is only what works for your body. Every person’s chemistry is unique. What might set off an inflammatory response in your system and cause weight gain might be perfectly fine for someone else, and vice versa.
A lot of people call me the contrarian because I’m not touting the merits of “healthy” foods like salmon, or oatmeal, or asparagus. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against these foods, if they work for you. But those are the key words right there: if they work for you. In the abstract, these foods might be considered healthy, or even superfoods, but for 85 percent of my clients over the age of thirty-five, they lead to weight gain and health issues (The Plan is geared toward people over the age of thirty-five. As you’ll read about shortly, unless a person has a chronic illness, foods will not generate the same amount of reactive response in those under thirty-five).
Common wisdom in the dieting world has taught us to believe that some foods—usually the fun ones—are universally bad. So, if you’re like most of the men and women I’ve worked with who are desperate to lose weight and improve their health, you start cutting those out. But they’re usually not the problem. If they were, then you wouldn’t be faced with the all-too-common mystery of eating “healthy” or drastically reducing calories and still gaining weight. How many times have you ordered plain grilled fish at a restaurant and thought, “Wow, I’m being so good,” not knowing that every time you ate it you were gaining a pound? How many times have you opted for multigrain bread, not realizing that the corn or oats were causing your weight gain and health issues? At the same time, how often do you deprive yourself of the foods you love when in fact they might be better for you than Brussels sprouts or asparagus?
Believe me, I know what you’re thinking. How can white bread be better for you than multigrain? Or potato chips better than bananas? It comes back to that fundamental truth that there is no such thing as universally healthy. We’ve all heard stories about people who lived well into their nineties eating steak, white bread, and butter. Clearly these foods are friendly for their chemistry. I wouldn’t dare tell these people they have to switch to broccoli, it could kill them!
At the same time, I’ll bet there’s some “healthy” food that you’ve always secretly suspected wasn’t working for you. Thirty-eight-year-old Ingrid frequently ordered steamed shrimp and vegetables from her local Chinese takeout place, until she discovered on The Plan that this “dietetic” option was behind her weight gain—and her achy knees to boot. Ted, forty-seven, lived off his signature “healthy” recipe of turkey meat loaf made with oats, peppers, and tomato sauce for years, until he realized that this combo would cause a three-pound weight gain. (Ted now refers to that retired recipe as his Weight Gain Meat Loaf Express.) Fifty-one-year-old Marguerite joked, “You mean I can finally stop eating those rice cakes that I swear make my stomach blow up like a balloon?”
You didn’t think inflammation did its dirty work all on its own, did you? It’s clever, but not that clever. It’s got a few evil sidekicks doing its bidding that make those extra pounds hang on for dear life.
Jackie had been thin and fit her whole life. At five feet seven inches and 120 pounds, she could rock a pair of skinny jeans like nobody’s business. She ate well and ran three to four times a week, and even though she worked full-time and had three little kids at home, she still had the energy of a teenager.
Until she turned forty-two.
Almost overnight, it seemed, everything changed. First came the dreaded muffin top. First a little one, then not so little. Those skinny jeans went from being her go-to sexy uniform to a denim torture device. So she did what she’d always done when she needed to drop a few pounds. She cut out the carbs, dumped her full-fat lattes for coffee with skim milk, and upped her cardio, but… nothing. Not a pound was budging. She started to experiment with a few of the popular diet programs, including going completely vegan and raw for two weeks, with nothing but a lot of gas and frustration to show for it. Like so many of my clients, Jackie felt completely at a dead end, wondering where her lifelong reliable metabolism had gone.
What we’re dealing with here isn’t metabolism. It’s aging as an inflammatory process. That’s right: aging itself is an inflammatory process. When our bodies stop burning certain foods as a calorie in/calorie out, various systems start to slow down, including hormonal, digestive, cognitive, immune, etc. That’s why our health degenerates as we get older. Inflammation and its effects are cumulative over time, and our response to food changes as our inflammatory state increases.
At the age of twenty-five, most of us hit what I call our first inflammatory speed bump. A hundred calories of green beans will now process in our body like 150 calories, and perhaps we notice that we start to gain weight and have problems with digestion. So we start to exercise more or eat a little healthier, and we’re able to moderate our weight that way. That’s why it’s so easy to lose weight in our twenties; cut out a cookie a day and the weight slides right off.
Then, at age thirty-five, that same 100-calorie food acts like 700 calories if it’s reactive for you. This is when we start to experience more dramatic health issues. The gas that we suffered from in our twenties can become chronic constipation, celiac disease, or IBS in our thirties. Ages forty-two and fifty are when we really see the major shift, with a 100-calorie food that you’re reactive to registering in your body as 3,500 to 7,000 calories. Now those digestive issues can become a risk for colon cancer. And as we know, the foods you’re reactive to are usually the ones you least suspect—thus, you can mysteriously gain two pounds after eating a small bowl of Greek yogurt. Identifying this “mysterious” weight gain is the most vital key to your health.
When I first developed The Plan, my client base was thirty-five to forty-five years old, and I’d see usually three to four foods show up as reactive for them. As the clients’ ages increased beyond forty-two, however, I’d see them react to many more, because their bodies were already in a state of low-grade, chronic inflammation from years of eating “healthy” foods. If you keep eating foods that you don’t know are reactive for you at a younger age, you’ll be more prone to making even more foods reactive later on. Let’s say that at twenty-five, you’re slightly reactive to tomato sauce and high-gluten bread. But you don’t know it, so you eat pizza three nights a week for years. Then you’re forty-five, and because you’ve created an inflammatory state in your body to begin with, suddenly eggplant, fish, sweet potatoes, and eggs are also now food sensitivities for you.
The longer you take to identify your reactive foods, the more extreme the state of chronic, low-grade inflammation becomes, causing premature aging, weight gain, and disease. The bad news is that inflammation can have a domino effect, so what was PMS now becomes hormonal disorders. Frequent headaches turn into chronic migraines and depression. As the effects increase, your weight increases right along with them.
The good news is that when you reduce or reverse the inflammatory state by eliminating your reactive foods, you can radically and quickly reverse illness, weight gain—and even the aging process itself.
The thyroid is a major player when it comes to hormonal health, since it stimulates and synchronizes all cellular functions—primarily metabolism.
I would say about 80 percent of my female clients and 10 percent of my male clients are thyroid dysfunctional. Of those percentages, more than half of them don’t even know it. The standard thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test used by doctors misses a lot of cases of hypothyroidism because it’s just looking at a specific number. If your TSH is above 3.0, you have hypothyroidism; if it isn’t, you don’t. But people aren’t just their numbers, and thousands are going undiagnosed. By the time the lab numbers show a problem, you already need medication and you’ve been suffering for years. (FYI, the TRH, free T3, reverse T3, anti-TPO, antithyroglobulin, and free T4 tests are much better indicators. Doctors will do them if you ask, but you have to push for it.) Regardless of what markers register on tests, whenever the thyroid isn’t operating at optimal levels, you can be sure that weight gain and low energy levels won’t be far behind.
Increased estrogen has a lot to do with hampering the thyroid. We see an increase in estrogen during times of dramatic hormonal shift, like postpartum and in perimenopause, and when estrogen levels are high, it lowers the levels of free thyroid hormone in the body. Hormonal birth control pills (especially ones that limit monthly cycles), hormonal replacement therapy, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are definitely major contributing factors, as well as the onslaught of xenoestrogens we’re exposed to on a daily basis in this country. They’re in everything from pesticides to plastic bottles to shampoo and cosmetics. The lavender and tea tree oil in your skin care products are strong phytoestrogens—so much so that many endocrinologists are recommending you avoid these ingredients completely.
And don’t even get me started on soy, which is a strong phytoestrogen. Food companies are adding soy to everything they can think of because it’s an inexpensive way to boost protein, and consumers have bought into the hype of soy as a superfood. But excess soy has a huge effect on our hormonal balance—so much so that studies show that baby girls who are fed soy via formula are developing breast buds by the age of two. If that doesn’t tell us that something’s gone awry, I don’t know what does. Will soy affect men as well? You bet it will!
Chronic low-grade inflammation, as you already know, is the basis for every disease. So certainly if your mother has thyroid dysfunction, or went through early menopause, inflammation is likely to kick-start thyroid issues for you. Or maybe you started birth control at sixteen, or Prozac at twenty-five, or are vegan and eat tons of soy products. All along, you’re also unknowingly eating your reactive foods, priming the inflammatory state that will eventually trigger the latent thyroid problem. And because the thyroid is responsible for so many metabolic functions, your body is then set off on a roller coaster of health and weight issues.
Thankfully, it’s very easy to determine whether your thyroid isn’t operating as it should (I’ll walk you through this in Part Two), and there are lots of things you can do to quickly boost its function. You want to find out and address this early so you can reverse a thyroid issue nutritionally, before it progresses to full-blown hypothyroidism.
A lot of people get freaked out at the idea of having a dysfunctional thyroid, but truthfully, it’s not a big deal once you’re aware of it. It’s nothing more to worry about than having curly hair or straight hair. It’s just how your body is wired, and I’ll show you in a holistic way how to manipulate the variables in your favor.
Sodium is needed by the body for daily function, but too much can greatly exacerbate an inflammatory response. Think of it like putting a match to the fuse on a stick of dynamite. Excess sodium in the body takes a mildly reactive food and turns it into a wildly reactive one.
Sodium is hidden in everything from breakfast cereals to salad dressing. We would expect to find it in foods like frozen meals and deli meats, but sodium is everywhere! Restaurant food is notoriously high in hidden salt. You can easily have three days’ worth of sodium in one dinner out without knowing it. Even that plain poached chicken breast that seems so virtuous is likely cooked in chicken broth that’s loaded with sodium and MSG.
In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its list of the foods that are the highest source of sodium in the US diet, and the top of that list isn’t the obvious guess of bacon or salty snack foods—it’s bread. Next on the list of offenders are cold cuts and cured meats, then pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes, and salty snacks. With these being the staples of the American diet, it’s no wonder so many people are way above the American Heart Association’s current recommended daily amount of 1,500 milligrams.
On The Plan, we’re going to easily get the excess sodium out of your diet. I promise, you won’t miss it. The three-day initial cleanse will reset your palate so you’re more attuned to the wonderful flavors in all different kinds of foods. Plus, as an added bonus, studies have shown that when you decrease your sodium intake, you curb sugar cravings. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with having sugar. I just don’t want sugar to be the boss of you!
I will be like the mother you never wanted when it comes to water. For weight loss, it is essential to drink approximately half your body weight in ounces. If you have even one glass less than your daily allotment, you’ll see it show up on the scale. For every sixteen ounces less than your body needs, it will hold on to half a pound. I’ve seen this with my own eyes, again and again. If you’re gaining half a pound, let’s at least have it be from a decadent dessert—not a lack of water.
Water is needed for every metabolic and cellular function in your body. When you don’t drink enough, your body has to extract water from your food and hold on to a reservoir in your cells to keep you alive. That takes energy, and your body only has so much energy. When you don’t drink enough water, you’re essentially telling your body, “Don’t repair my heart, my liver, my lungs. Instead, I need you to use your energy to extract water from all the food I’m eating and hold on to it in my tissues.” When you do drink enough, the body can let go of the extra water it’s been holding on to, and the numbers on the scale go down. Feeling tired all the time? Try increasing your water and see how much more energy you have once you’ve taken away an extra “task” from the body and freed up your energy reserves.
When you don’t drink enough water, you also increase an inflammatory response. I had a client who tested mahimahi and gained .2 pounds, signaling slight reactivity. (Anything less than a half-pound daily weight loss on The Plan signals reactivity.) But she loved fish, so we tested it again the next week. Everything else was the same that day as the prior week, minus four glasses of water. The result: a gain of three pounds, going from mildly reactive to wildly reactive in negative four glasses. Of course, when we see an exponential response to a low-calorie health food, we always see a health issue crop up, so this poor woman was constipated for three days!
Increase your water intake and the results can be dramatic. Estelle, sixty-one, was drinking only two glasses of water a day when she came to me weighing 163, wanting to lose twenty pounds. I told her to wait a week to start on The Plan, and in the meantime, simply increase her water intake to eighty ounces per day. Seven days later, without any other dietary changes whatsoever, she weighed 157 pounds. Six pounds disappeared just from drinking enough water. How’s that for a little hydration motivation?
With all these things going wrong, it’s no wonder so many people feel frustrated, upset, and angry. But it’s time to change all that. It’s time to finally unlock the mystery and take back control of your weight and health, with real information and real results.
The Plan isn’t a diet. It’s a complete change of mind-set. What you learn here in these twenty days will radically change the way you look at diets, your daily weight, and food.
I’ll admit it: even though I read all the research and studies, I don’t believe anything is true unless I’ve tested it on my own. I didn’t set out to prove that the so-called healthy foods that are the lore and legend of nutrition programs everywhere were behind unexplained weight gain and health issues. Believe me, I didn’t want foods like eggs and oatmeal to be reactive. I love eggs and oatmeal! But as I kept observing and recording what I was seeing, the results were showing up again and again, and I eventually connected the dots.
The seeds of what later became The Plan were planted when I was in my teens. I suffered from migraines almost daily, and at the age of fourteen I decided to take charge. I became a vegetarian and started practicing yoga, and turned myself from a low-energy, slightly depressed teen into someone who felt great all the time.
Ever since, I’ve immersed myself in the study of holistic nutrition, along with homeopathy, Eastern medicine, and herbology. I moved from my hometown of New York City to San Francisco, where I started working as a nutritionist, specializing in using diet and herbs to help with systemic yeast, hormones, and immunity. The West Coast was a great place to get exposed to many different healthy food theories and diets, and I tried them all. With each one I tried, I thought I’d find what the “right” way to eat was. I slowly started to realize that all these diets and theories exist because they are “right” and work for a certain population, but that no one way of eating is the right fit for everyone.
Living in San Francisco awoke in me a love of seasonal and local produce, fantastic breads, and great wines. The colors, flavors, and vibrancy of the food really struck a chord. And so when I moved back home to New York, I pursued this passion, working as a manager and sommelier at two of New York City’s hottest restaurants. Being surrounded by wonderful food and wine there, as well, proved my hunch that you can eat well and care for yourself at the same time.
After a few years, I left the restaurant business to explore new paths. I opened a small yoga studio downtown, working with women on pre- and postnatal health, and later ran a physical therapy center for rehabilitation. When people came to me in pain, I of course always made nutritional suggestions. So many people were asking for my nutritional advice that I eventually opened a small private practice. As that grew, and as I identified a deep personal need to help my home community, I opened a holistic health center in Harlem serving hundreds of people each week.
Working intensely with the diverse population of Harlem, I started noticing that when I suggested to my clients many of the usual healthy foods to lose weight, their weight actually went up rather than down. If we’re not changing the caloric value for the day as a whole, there’s no reason someone should gain a full pound or two from a 200-calorie healthy food, and so I started to investigate.
I communicated with my clients daily, monitoring their weight and health issues. I noticed repeatedly that when they would put on half a pound or more, a health or emotional issue would crop up as well. The symptoms would vary from person to person, ranging from minor aches and pains, to feeling down, to full-blown migraines, but there was a notable correlation between a weight bump and these reactions. When there was a reaction, I’d help them find the clues: when did the bloating, the depressed feeling, or the headache start? What did they eat that might have triggered it?
I treated every client as an individual in terms of potentially reactive food choices, but there were common themes that were hard to ignore. Eighty-five percent of them were gaining weight when they ate salmon or black beans—and that just seemed too much of a coincidence. I started compiling lists about the odds of foods causing a weight bump, and sure enough, I saw consistent information.
I’d been studying all the research on inflammation, so I knew that inflammation happens instantaneously. (Think about it: you cut yourself and the area immediately becomes red and inflamed; that’s the healing inflammatory process at work.) Hmm… okay, so I knew inflammation was the basis of all disease, and that it had been linked to weight gain. The Plan has a pretty consistent caloric content each day, so if my clients one day plugged in a healthy food like tomato sauce and almost immediately saw a health condition like arthritis flare up and an overnight gain of two pounds, that had to be an inflammatory response, right? All the information and research was out there connecting inflammation to weight gain, but no one was putting the pieces together and identifying foods as the trigger.
I couldn’t understand why no one was really addressing this in the medical or nutritional community, so I started to really home in on my own research and testing. I continued to communicate with my clients daily—sometimes hourly—closely monitoring their new food variables and corresponding health/weight response. I listened closely to everything they were telling me in order to identify the patterns and triggers. Pretty soon I realized that the reason more people weren’t studying this was because, frankly, it took a lot of work in the beginning to develop a testing protocol! But after all my research and study and seeing the results with my own eyes, I knew I’d found the answer I’d been looking for.
I had probably worked with over three hundred clients by the time the basics of The Plan took shape. Today my staff of naturopathic doctors and nutritionists and I work with more than two thousand clients a year from all over the world. No matter where they’re from, or how different their circumstances, again and again I have witnessed this anti-inflammatory practice changing people’s lives.
If you’re looking for another “Tell me what to eat and I’ll eat it” program, you’re going to be disappointed. Oh, if only it were as easy as my saying, “Here’s a list of reactive foods. Don’t eat them and you’ll lose weight.” Sure, I could do that, but wow, would your life be boring—and you’d probably be right back looking for the next diet in six months.
This is actually the anti-diet. I don’t want to teach you to eat like me or like any of my clients who have lost weight. I want to teach you to eat like you, according to what works for your individual body. The main reason standard diet plans don’t work is that they’re the exact opposite of personalized. They’re simply an average of what doctors or dietitians have found. I’ll give you an example. Everyone loses weight on chicken. Everyone loses weight on rice. So chicken and rice get put onto the “good foods” list. But when we combine chicken and rice in one meal, 80 percent of my clients have an inflammatory response. If I were a diet maven, I’d simply say, “Don’t eat chicken and rice.” But how do I know whether you’re in the 80 percent or the 20 percent? If it’s a combination that works fine for you, why shouldn’t you have it?
Just because a food is reactive for 80 percent of my clients doesn’t mean it’s going to be reactive for you. I love it when people turn out to be in the 20 percent! Plus, once you reverse the inflammation in your body, you’ll be able to enjoy in moderation foods that you might be reactive to, because you’ve reduced that inflammatory pathway.
Another big reason diets don’t work is because no one likes to be told what to do. If I were to tell you not to eat pizza because it would make you gain weight, you’d probably hate me for it. You might even avoid pizza for a while, but then the craving would return and you’d climb right back on the unhealthy roller coaster of giving in to cravings, weight gain, guilt, deprivation… and on it would go. But if I teach you how to test pizza, you have in your hands the proof of how this food reacts for you, and then you’re the one who gets to choose.
You don’t ever have to give up on a food you love, even if it’s reactive for you. There’s always a way! I once worked with a great woman named Dina, then forty-six, who had debilitating arthritic pain. By Day Nine of The Plan her arthritis was in complete remission and she was down six pounds, enjoying 2,200 calories a day. Then the confession came out: “Lyn,” she said, “I looooove pizza. Please don’t tell me I need to stop eating pizza to keep losing weight!” I heard her loud and clear, so I said we should test her on the components of pizza. We tested her on the bread: she lost half a pound. We tested her on cheese: another half pound. I waited to test her on tomato sauce because I know tomato sauce is the devil, and sure enough, when she tested it, Dina went up two pounds and all of her arthritic pain returned for forty-eight hours. Dina was devastated, thinking this meant no more pizza, ever. I told her to hang on and suggested an alternative of white pizza. She was thrilled beyond belief! Today she’s at her goal weight, free of pain, loving her white pizza.
On The Plan, we let your tastes and your body’s reactions dictate what to test. As one of my clients said, “I love The Plan—especially because it’s all about me!”
Weight loss isn’t about portion size.
It’s not about calories.
It’s all about chemistry.
Most people who come to me ask the usual questions about a diet, like how many calories or carbs or fat grams they can have per day. But I tell them repeatedly that we don’t know anything until they go through The Plan and test. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many calories you’re eating for weight loss, as long as you’re eating foods that burn clean for you (ie, are nonreactive). Reactive calories will put on weight, but what I call clean calories won’t.
We don’t know what the correct caloric intake is for most people, but it’s probably more than you’re eating. People are constantly undereating and not getting enough calories to fuel their bodies properly. Using the standard protocol for my height and weight, I should be eating 1,100 calories a day. But I eat 2,000 or more calories a day. My weight stays steady and I feel healthy and energized, because I’m eating the foods that work for my body. But if I have even one egg (one of my highly reactive foods), my allergies will kick up, I’ll look six months pregnant, and I’ll put on a pound. Seventy calories from one egg, and look what happens. And I used to love eggs! They worked just great for me up until the age of thirty-five. Not anymore, though. It’s a no-brainer. It’s amazing how your desires change once you discover the foods that are making you put on weight and feel unwell.
Billie, fifty-three, had finished her Plan a month before her birthday rolled around. Billie notoriously loved cupcakes and was worried about what would happen on her birthday because she knew everyone would bring her favorite treat. I told her to go ahead and enjoy herself—we’re meant to have fun! The next morning, Billie emailed me and said she was scared to step on the scale because she’d eaten four or five large cupcakes. I tough-mothered her into it, because as you’ll learn very shortly, the scale isn’t the enemy. Would you believe she didn’t gain a single pound? Again: chemistry, not calories. Her body did just fine with cake because she had been working The Plan in her everyday life surrounding the cupcake day, and she wasn’t reactive to any of the ingredients. If you eat according to your Plan, you strengthen your digestive system; this allows you to have a day completely off the charts. Your body will process the foods with minimal reaction, and then you can get right back on your Plan!
I’m here to help you figure out your own body’s chemistry so you can know definitively which are your “friendly” foods and which ones are “reactive” for you. I want to change the methodology of thinking that says you can’t have foods you enjoy. You can have any food you want and lose weight, if that food works for you and you find the right balance. The day a client tells me (and soon this will be you) that he or she knows calories mean nothing is the day I know that client owns his or her Plan.
So many of us who are conscious eaters have been slowly cutting out joyful foods and never think of reintroducing them. It’s funny how many Italian clients I’ve had who have told me they’d forgotten how good olive oil is. But enjoyment of food really is a key element of the “chemistry, not calories” equation. There’s a reason why Billie ate five cupcakes on her birthday and didn’t gain an ounce. When you’re out with friends and family, having fun and laughing, foods don’t process the same as when you’re sitting at home feeling depressed, counting your bites and worrying about calories. Having fun emotionally allows you to have some fun gastronomically. I’ve seen this play out so many times on The Plan. Savoring and living joyously is one of the best ways to alchemize your body’s chemistry in your favor.
The very thing you’ve come to hate—the scale—is actually your best friend. It’s a key tool for determining how your body responds to food. You just need to learn to interpret what the numbers are telling you.
Your weight each day is nothing more than data. There’s no magic to it. I know, right now the ups and downs of your weight feel like a frustrating mystery. But there’s always an explanation, every single day, for why your weight is what it is, and knowing what that explanation is puts you back in control.
A pound weight gain is not personal, and we need to stop taking it that way. It’s simply your body’s response to one or several foods that don’t work for you. That’s all. I want you to think of the next twenty days as a controlled science experiment. We’re going to objectively gather data that will help you know how and what to eat for the rest of your life. It’s hard, I know, because a gain in weight hits all the emotional buttons. But I’m not going to let you get hung up on the number on the scale. In the past, maybe if you weighed yourself and you’d gained a pound, you’d get demoralized—it might even ruin your entire day. But on The Plan, it’s just data. And like a scientist, you have to distance yourself from the data.
Let’s say that yesterday, you tested mozzarella, and today you’re up half a pound. You could get upset by that, and of course it’s hard when you see the scale register a gain or stabilization. But all that number tells us is valuable information about what mozzarella does for your body. Does that mean you can’t ever have mozzarella? Of course not. As I said, I don’t ever want you to give up on foods that you love. Sure, you can choose not to eat mozzarella, or you can find ten other cheeses that don’t make you gain, or plug mozzarella in on a day after you’ve lost half a pound. You’ll learn how to do all of this in the days to come.
If you test a food and it’s friendly for you, fantastic. If it’s reactive, you’ll know that, too, and be able to make informed choices about how to work it into your life. From now on, whether it’s mozzarella, pizza, cupcakes, eggs, or anything else, you’re in the driver’s seat.
By now you’re probably wondering how you’re going to lose all that weight I promised you would. It’s simple, actually. We systematically test foods from the least reactive on up. While about 30 percent of your days might show a reactive response and weight bump (remember, it’s all just data), the other 70 percent will be amazing days for you as you add to your list of “friendly” foods. Find forty to fifty foods that work for you and you’ll be at your goal weight. When we eliminate the reactive foods and create delicious meals with our friendly ones, the weight flies off faster than we ever thought possible.
The first three days are Phase One of The Plan. You’ll do an easy detox cleanse that incorporates the least reactive foods, to set a base line. You’ll still be eating three full meals and a snack each day, consuming 1,600 to 1,800 calories (for women) or 2,000 to 2,400 calories (for men), so you won’t be at all hungry.
Day Four begins Phase Two of The Plan. We’ll begin systematically testing foods from the least reactive to the most reactive, to determine which are friendly for you. We insert one new item approximately every other day, be it a food or a dish at a restaurant you love. I will give you general guidelines for what to test, and throughout will encourage you to test the foods (and drinks) that matter most to you. If you love steak, we’ll test that. Cheese? Absolutely. Pancakes? Sure thing. Scotch? Not a problem. You can test anything that is part of your life. Like I said, this isn’t my Plan—it’s your Plan. We’re going to help you learn to eat like you.
All the way through, you’ll learn how to interpret your body’s signals, because they will tell us everything we need to know. You’ll know precisely why you’ve gained, lost, or stabilized, how to assess your body’s clues to determine whether a new variable is friendly or reactive for you, and if you do have a reactive response, exactly what to do to reverse that quickly and get right back on track.
Phase Three, the final stage of The Plan, is where you’ll learn everything you need to know to test on your own. I’ll teach you the basics of creating balanced daily menus so that you can easily test any new food or restaurant menu going forward and get accurate results.
By the time we’re done, you’re going to know for certain which foods do and do not work for your body. You’re going to discover and eliminate, once and for all, the ones that are triggering the inflammatory response responsible for your weight gain and health issues. You’ll build your arsenal of friendly foods you can joyfully choose from whenever you need to reliably lose weight, and create a personalized eating plan you can use to keep your body slim, healthy, and energized—for the rest of your life.
Welcome to your Plan!
In just twenty days from now, you’ll be well on your way to reaching your goals of eating healthier, feeling refreshed and energized, and—of course—losing weight. But before we dive in, let’s run through the short list of things you need to know and supplies you’ll want to have on hand to set you up for maximum success.
You don’t need much to get started on The Plan. There are no special foods or shakes to buy, no counter scale needed to weigh your food. The goal is to make your enjoyment of food greater, not fill your cabinets and body with fake food or burden you with measuring and counting.
Here’s the short list of basic supplies you’ll need:
A digital bathroom scale. Remember, the scale is your new best friend. You’ll want to find a digital scale that registers weight by tenths of a pound (some older models round up or down to the nearest half pound). I recommend the EatSmart or the Weight Watchers scale, both of which are available online and relatively inexpensive.
A basal body temperature thermometer. This will be the key tool for determining your thyroid function. You can find a digital thermometer at your local drugstore (many have them displayed in the family planning section, as they are used for determining ovulation cycles).
Basic cooking utensils. You’re going to be doing some easy cooking at home, so you want to make sure your kitchen is ready to go. You don’t need to go crazy here. A large sauté pan or wok, a Dutch oven, a roasting pan or large baking dish, and basic utensils will suffice. In the summertime or in year-round warm climates, break out the grill if you have one.
A notebook or journal. This will become your Plan Journal for the twenty days, where you’ll record all your stats, body responses, and so on. It’s important to keep a record of the data you collect, since it will become the blueprint for your new way of life.
Let me say this right up front: I’m not big on supplements. People load up on every vitamin, mineral, enzyme, and more under the sun, and truthfully, it’s a little ridiculous. You shouldn’t need all of that if you’re eating well. On The Plan, I assure you you’re going to get all the nutrients you need.
Having said that, we may use a few specific supplements during the initial stages of The Plan to get the body into its optimal noninflammatory state (or as needed throughout in short doses). I don’t believe in taking any kind of supplement for the long term. The goal is to take whatever you need when you need it, let it do its job, then stop to allow your body to self-regulate. You hear all the time about supplements that are supposedly great, and then years later hear that they’ve been proven ineffective—or even that there’s a health risk involved. For instance, a study funded by the National Cancer Institute and published in 2011 in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that vitamin E, once touted as an important antioxidant, showed a 17 percent increased risk for men of developing prostate cancer. Another study published in the same year in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that multivitamins gradually contribute to higher mortality rates in women, rather than making us healthier as they are purported to do. Additionally, so many people eat foods that are already fortified with supplements, thus increasing their chance of going over the safety limits of vitamins like B3 and B6.
As a general rule, it’s better to give your body a break periodically from any kind of supplement or vitamin to allow it to reset itself. I personally like to cycle in and out of different nutritional or herbal remedies as my body needs them. If I’m feeling under the weather, I’ll take zinc for a day. For sinus problems, I’ll use a short dosage of MSM (more on that below). During periods where I know I will be under stress for a big work project, I’ll take SAM-e. (SAM-e is a naturally occurring substance in the body that creates chemicals to help the body with stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and liver dysfunction. It is also used for Alzheimer’s, dementia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.)
For the purposes of beginning The Plan, I recommend the following:
Liver detoxifier (or dandelion tea). The liver is responsible for over five hundred functions, including metabolism and hormonal control. We see big changes right away on The Plan when people start supporting their liver health, especially during the initial three-day detox. You can either drink one cup of dandelion tea, which is known for its liver-healing properties, or take a detox supplement, both of which are available at most natural food stores. (If you are on prescription medications, you may want to consider the detox supplement; herbs are wonderful, but they take longer to have an effect.) I’ve found NOW Liver Detoxifier & Regenerator to be far and away the most effective liver support supplement. The recommended dosage is three capsules daily. If you want to continue to take the liver cleanser on a regular basis after the twenty days (I do), that’s fine. We’re exposed to so many environmental toxins and pesticides that the liver can always use a little extra love. Just take a week or two off every two months or so to allow the body to reset.
MSM. Ah, the savior for people with allergies! MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a natural form of sulfur that can reset the entire histamine response in your body (which, in turn, reduces your response to foods). MSM strengthens mucosa and makes it resistant to external allergens. It’s amazing how often I see people who are severely overweight who also suffer from allergies. What’s the correlation? You guessed it: inflammation. If you have a history of food allergies or asthma, you’ll want to take anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams for six weeks. Personally, MSM has changed my life. I suffered from allergies, which would trigger sinus infections and then migraines. I took MSM for the recommended six-week course, and it knocked out those sinus infections for five years. When they started to reappear, I took one dose and I was good for another year. I highly recommend trying MSM for allergies or sinus issues so we can reverse that inflammation at the outset. The more inflammatory your state when you enter your Plan, the more sensitive you will be to your reactive foods. Decreasing your histamine response at the beginning will mean more weight loss and better health.
Probiotics. One of the hallmarks of a reactive response is constipation. Clients constantly ask what they can do to alleviate it, and the answer is to take probiotics when it happens, to rebalance the digestive system. Constipation may not be an issue for you, but I like to have clients get probiotics in advance so they have them in hand, just in case. Probiotics are also very effective for balancing a yeast overgrowth, which we’ll talk about shortly. In addition, taking a probiotic as soon as you notice gas or bloating will ease digestion and lessen weight gain from reactive food. You’ll want to get one that has 30 to 50 billion live cultures in it. Some on the market go up to 200 billion, but that’s not necessary. We have found ReNew Life, which you can find at any health food store, to be the most effective brand overall.
Thyroid dysfunction can show up in many different ways. Most people with an underactive thyroid will, however, display some if not all of these symptoms:
Inability to lose weight
Low sex drive
Before you begin your Plan, we’ll want to get a reading on your thyroid so we know whether it’s functioning up to par. It’s actually very easy to test yourself for an underactive thyroid—no blood test needed.
For three days before beginning The Plan, keep your digital thermometer by your bed at night. When you wake up in the morning, place the thermometer in your armpit and hold it there for two to three minutes, to get a read on your basal body temperature (BBT). Keep still; moving around will raise your body temperature and throw off the reading.
A consistent temperature of 97 degrees Fahrenheit or lower is indicative of an underactive thyroid. I’ve found repeatedly that when temperatures are below that level, it’s harder to lose weight, and all the systems are affected in a negative way. Some clients are surprised to see their body temperatures show up in the low range; they never even considered that their thyroid was behind a range of “mystery” problems they’ve been living with. But then again, many others aren’t surprised at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “That explains so much!”
I’d say about 80 percent of the women I work with and about 10 percent of the men have thyroid issues. That’s a high statistic, but the good news is that when you identify the dysfunction before it gets to full-blown hypothyroidism, it’s easily reversible.
Here is the simple protocol for boosting thyroid function:
Kelp. Kelp is high in iodine, which is terrific for boosting thyroid function. Often doctors and nutritionists say not to take kelp supplements because seaweed attracts toxins to it. Indeed, if you take kelp that comes from polluted waters, you’ll basically be poisoning yourself, so you want to choose your brand wisely. We recommend Norwegian kelp, which is the cleanest source; my preferred brand is NOW Foods. Take 250 to 325 micrograms each morning with your breakfast until we start to see your BBT consistently at or above 97 degrees and/or your symptoms abate. Some people will stabilize at 96.5, but if you’re losing weight at a normal pace and feeling good, that’s absolutely fine. Everyone’s base line is different; what matters most is what feels optimal for your body.
Maine Coast Sea Seasonings. Some of my favorite seasonings for thyroid health are Maine Coast Sea Seasonings, another excellent source of iodine. I like this brand in particular because Maine Coast regularly tests their products for toxins. Maine Coast Sea Seasonings’ seaweed is very flavorful. It comes in a shaker and is a great alternative to salt. For many of my clients, Maine Coast Sea Seasonings become a favorite way to spice up all kinds of dishes.
B12 supplements. Liquid B12 is known for helping with energy levels, detoxing the liver, and improving thyroid function. However, taken for too long, it can overload your adrenal system, creating bodily stress that leads to weight gain. So again, we’re talking about a contained course here until your thyroid function improves. I recommend NOW B12 Complex.
Avoid goitrogenic foods (until we test them). Goitrogens are compounds found in certain foods that have been shown to interfere with thyroid function by blocking the enzymes, which helps produce thyroid hormones. Many people who have thyroid disease are able to eat some foods on the goitrogen list with no ill effects whatsoever, but eating raw goitrogenic foods is generally more problematic. (Note that cooking often deactivates goitrogens, especially broccoli and kale.)
The most common goitrogenic foods are:
Soybean and soy products, including tofu
Keep warm. Basically, anything that helps boost your body temperature also boosts your thyroid function. Sitting in a sauna for ten to twenty minutes, taking a hot bath, sleeping with a down comforter and socks, drinking hot tea instead of ice water—all these simple lifestyle changes can have a big effect.
You may also choose to follow the special thyroid-friendly menu in Part Five as a way to help boost your thyroid’s function and avoid goitrogenic foods.
Excerpted from The Plan by Lyn-Genet Recitas Copyright © 2013 by Lyn-Genet Recitas. Excerpted by permission.
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