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Healthier, Satisfying Substitutes for Your Favorite Foods

As you're tempted to reach for your best friend's decadent turtle cheesecake, you may remember that spring is coming right around the corner, and that you'll regret any tasty instant gratification the moment you try on swimwear.

Fortunately, you don't need to abstain from that cheesecake (don't want to hurt your friend's feelings, after all!), but neither do you need to go face down and lapse into a sugar coma.

Rather than tell people not to eat something, I've developed a few strategies to enjoy your favorite foods without any lingering guilt or deprivation. One strategy I call “lateral shifts:” healthier satisfying substitutes for your favorite foods. And, if you've really got to try something, you can use my “three-bite rule.”

Ditching the 7 Foods without Deprivation

In my book “The Virgin Diet,” I discuss the top seven highly reactive foods: soy, gluten, eggs, dairy, peanuts, corn, sugar and artificial sweeteners.

When my clients and readers remove these foods for just three weeks, they eliminate many symptoms like fatigue and bloating, reduce inflammation, and attain fast and lasting fat loss.

Even with such numerous benefits in such a short time, clients often bemoan surrendering their favorite foods. That's why I've created lateral shifts.

Let's walk through a typical day to see how these lateral shifts benefit you.


Whether it's in oatmeal or a protein smoothie, many people start their day with cow's milk. Even if you're not lactose intolerant, cow's milk can trigger acne, rosacea, and other skin conditions, in addition to stalling fast fat loss.

Unsweetened coconut milk, loaded with fat-burning medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), makes the perfect lateral shift. Coconut milk gives you all of dairy's satisfaction without the problems of cow's milk.

I often hear people complain they lack the time for a healthy breakfast, so they grab a low-fat muffin or some other carbohydrate atrocity with their giant vat of coffeehouse caffeine.

Bypass the morning cortisol and insulin spike and crash, with a protein smoothie. I load "The Virgin Diet Shake” (see recipe) with plant-based (but not soy) protein, frozen berries, kale, and coconut milk. It's fast, easy and filling, with no 10 a.m. sugar crashes that lead you astray to the bagel cart.


A sandwich makes an easy office lunch. But, most bread comes loaded with gluten, high-fructose corn syrup, and empty carbohydrates. A gluten-free rice wrap makes a nutrient-dense alternative. Better yet, throw your turkey and avocado on a Romaine wrap.


If you're doing meals “The Virgin Diet” way, you're keeping your blood sugar levels steady for hours, which reduces cravings and snack urges. I get it though: sometimes you need something to tide you over till your next meal.

For some reason, those fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts got typecast as healthy snacks. The reality is they often pack as much sugar as a candy bar. Instead, stir organic berries into coconut milk yogurt.

Swapping peanut butter for almond butter is another favorite lateral shift. Peanuts are legumes, not nuts, which can accrue mold and a fungus called aflatoxin. Many commercial peanut butters also come loaded with trans fat and high-fructose corn syrup. Besides being more nutrient-rich, almond and other nut butters just taste better than peanut butter.

Enjoy the crunch of chips and crackers? Forego the empty-nutrient carbohydrates for raw nuts and seeds, which are rich in minerals, protein, and good fats.


Dinner provides countless opportunities for lateral shifts, whether you're dining out or cooking at home. Make any restaurant dish instantly healthier simply by swapping the potato for another green veggie.

Getting kids to eat veggies can prove a major challenge. Make it fun and flavorful. Swap the white potatoes, for instance, for sweet potato fries. Or try faux-tatoes: pureed cauliflower with coconut milk and a little salt. Even sautéing broccoli in olive oil and garlic can take your kids from Eh to Yum.

Are your kids craving chicken fingers? Skip the deep-fried Frankenfoods for chicken "breaded" with almond or coconut flour.

Maybe you're bored with the meat-and-veggie routine and crave pasta. No problem: simply swap the gluten-filled high-carb stuff for non-corn quinoa pasta or nutrient-rich spaghetti squash.

Even condiments provide opportunities for lateral shifts on “The Virgin Diet.” Who needs high-fructose corn syrup loaded condiments like ketchup or barbeque sauce, for instance, when you can use flavorful salsa or marinara?

My 3-Bite Rule

Lateral shifts are all well and good, you might be thinking, but how can I enjoy that gooey turtle cheesecake? That's where my “three-bite rule” comes in. Rather than appear a wet blanket and pass it up, you can enjoy three polite bites without guilt or deprivation.

In Cycle One of “The Virgin Diet,” you pull the seven highly reactive foods I mentioned above, and in Cycle Two, you challenge four of them. So the three-bite rule really applies to Cycle Three of “The Virgin Diet,” which is intended for the rest of your life. Even then, you don't want to let this become an every day habit.

I say “three polite bites” since, let's face it, some people can devour half a piece of cheesecake in one bite. I want you to pretend like you're on The Rachael Ray Show and sampling some amazing concoction in front of millions. Hopefully, you’re not going to shovel it in your mouth on national TV.

Enjoy the three bites, and then put your fork down. Trust me: someone will finish the decadent dessert you sampled.

Your Favorite Lateral Shifts

My readers are always developing really cool lateral shifts that satisfy their favorite foods without the guilt. Do you love coffeehouse hot chocolate, for instance, but not the sugar and 600 calories? Warm up some unsweetened coconut or almond milk, and stir in cocoa powder with a little stevia or Natvia. (For a protein boost, try chocolate plant-based powder.)

Be creative, have fun, and you can make pretty much any food healthier and fat burning. I want to hear from you: what are your favorite lateral shifts?


Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness expert JJ Virgin is author of NY Times bestseller The Virgin Diet and the bestselling Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy. She was also co-host of TLC's Freaky Eaters. JJ frequently blogs for The Huffington Post, LIVESTRONG.COM, and other prominent media outlets. She created the 4 x 4 Burst Training Workout and regularly appears on TV shows like Rachel Ray and The Today Show to discuss topics such as fast fat loss, weight loss, and food sensitivities.

Want more from JJ? Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest.

>> Read more of JJ Virgin's articles here! <<

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