Gaining Weight During Menopause, Doing an Elimination Diet as a Vegetarian & Targeting Belly Fat
Going through menopause can be challenging. So many changes are happening in your body, including hormone shifts and weight gain. In this episode, JJ talks about stress and weight gain during and after menopause, along with effective ways to manage them. She also discusses how to do an elimination diet as a vegetarian. Lastly, she provides strategies to lose belly fat, find your healthy weight, and manage the stress levels that can lead to weight gain. Whether your goals include managing menopause, weight loss, lowering stress, or feeling better, you don’t want to miss this fun, actionable-packed episode.
00:01:48 – Menopause, fluctuating hormones and stress
00:05:02 – Increase muscle with protein, manage stress and get good sleep
00:09:10 – Resistance training, HIIT, monitor fat mass, bone density, and blood sugar
00:12:15 – Vegetarian diet limits food options and intolerance, look for good rotation of nutrients
00:13:29 – The Virgin Diet can help with food sensitivity testing. Leaky gut is caused by stress, fructose, gluten, and other factors. Food intolerances are common and occur anytime
00:16:05 – Loaded protein smoothie great for vegetarians
00:17:38 – Belly fat is different, caused by hormones
00:18:53 – Nick Ortner tapping solution, HIIT for lowering cortisol
00:21:00 – Wearing a continuous glucose monitor can be enlightening
Mentioned in this episode:
ATHE_Transcript_Ep 520_Weekly Q&A
JJ Virgin: [00:00:00] Hey, this is JJ Virgin four time, New York Times bestselling author, celebrity nutrition expert, and fitness hall of famer. I've been on a lifelong quest for answers to the toughest health questions, and now, I'm sharing what I've found with you. Welcome to Ask the Health Expert. Each week I answer big questions directly from the folks in my community, and chances are they're topics you've been wondering about too.
If you'd like to submit a question for me to answer on a future episode, send it to jjvirgin.com/question.
Joyce from Facebook writes in. I am a huge fan of j j Virgin since watching her on public television in 2016, I ordered the Virgin Diet and immediately started following it and felt [00:01:00] wonderful. 30 pounds just melted off size 12 to a size six. My stomach didn't hurt for the first time in years, three years.
And here we go. Dun dun. I started menopause with no change in my diet. I'm still gluten-free. Corn free, soy-free, peanut-free, sugar-free and dairy-free. But a lot of covid stress. I gained it all back now. Nothing seems to work now. Help you know. I did another podcast with Dr. Suzanne Gilbert where we were lamenting about this and how, you know, they tried to say in the studies, menopause does nothing to change your metabolism.
I'm like are you kidding? The minute you start to have fluctuating hormones, a whole lot of stuff happens. So we're going to unpack this in two places cuz both you had the stress and menopause. And the first thing I'm gonna say, Joyce, is like, I remember I went through menopause, right when my son Grant was a victim of a hit and run, and I spent four and a half months in the hospital, literally where he was fighting for his life and you wanna have [00:02:00] stress, like their stress.
And then that threw off all my hormones, so you know, you started menopause kind of right around covid, so stress was compounded. I mean, stress can actually throw you into menopause, or at the very least, dysregulate your estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, it can lower progesterone, lower testosterone which is gonna create problems as well, but stress on its own.
What happens with stress, we start breaking down muscle. We elevate our blood sugar from the breaking down of muscle. Our gut gets more permeable. So thankfully you've stuck on the Virgin diet because you have even more food intolerance. We start to have more cravings. Our sleep gets impaired, . When our sleep gets impaired, we start to become more insulin resistant and leptin resistant.
We get hungrier. We get better at storing fat. We get worse at burning it off. Does any of this sound familiar? I mean, and it's truly not fair. Then you've got menopause where now testosterone's starting to go. Which means it's harder for [00:03:00] you to hold onto and build muscle. Estrogen starts to go down, and now it's harder for you to burn fat.
Progesterone starts to go down. Now your sleep impaired and you're not handling stress as well. So you can see all of this can have a dramatic impact on you. So what the heck do you do? All right, let's walk through it. So number one, I'm glad you've remained off all those foods and I would just ask you to be hyper-vigilant.
There is to make sure that they are absolutely 100% outta your diet and that you're using enzymes. And I love my defend enzymes for this because it can break down those allergenic proteins so that you don't launch that high-fi response. You don't get inflamed. So that's the first one, number one. Number two, I wanna make sure that you're using a scale, a bioimpedance scale, so you can really monitor your body and, and what your weight is made up of.
You know, we look at losing weight, but the reality is for most of us, it's not about losing weight, it's holding onto and building muscle. While [00:04:00] you're dropping body fat, the last thing you wanna be is a skinny. Fat out, fat inside thin outside cuz that is super detrimental to your health. But also it means frailty later in life, which puts a huge risk for early morbidity for dying.
So I want you to get a bioimpedance scale if you don't have it. And get really used to measuring not just your weight, but what that weight's made of, of looking at your fat-free mass versus your body fat. And getting very clear by looking at what your ideal body weight should be as to how much body how much fat-free mass you can have.
And a very simple equation is if you wanted to have your body fat be 20%, then that means 80% of your body should be the fat-free mass. If you want your body fat at 25%, that means. 75% of your body should be fat-free mass. So find that number and see if you need to increase your muscle. The next thing, and if you need to increase your muscle, we're now going to dose your diet where you're getting a [00:05:00] gram of protein per pound of your ideal body weight.
So let's figure out your ideal body weight by looking at your height. And your frame size right? And then we're gonna take that number, we're gonna multiply it. If you want your body fat to be 20%, we're gonna multiply it by 0.8 to know what your fat-free mass should be, and we're gonna monitor that number and we're gonna focus on getting that number to where it wants, it needs to be most important.
Then I wanna make sure that you've managed the covid stress and most likely, just like we take our body to the. We need to take our nervous system to the gym and we've been through a lot of stress. And you don't just shake it off. Like if you look at an animal when they're under a lot of stress, they just go shake it off and then walk out of it.
Right? We need to do that, but we don't. I have been now working with Dr. Joe Dispenza for 18 months both at his retreats and every day doing meditations to get my nervous system back, back together again after some [00:06:00] of the trauma I've been. And I'm gonna put in the show notes both Dr. Amy Apigian the podcast we did about trauma and also Dr.
Joe Dispenza's meditations and how you can get access to those, because that can be truly helpful. So stress, of course, is a big one. And then sleep. Confirm that you're sleeping well, right? Or a ring muse. Whatever you want to use as your tracking device to confirm that you're getting your quality sleep deep in rem every single night.
Cuz so much menopause and stress can really impact sleep. And if it is, I highly recommend sleep candy and my magnesium body calm. I use 'em every single night. And what I've been doing lately is doing a hot. You could do the same thing with a hot Epson salts bath, and then my room is, is down between 66 and 68 and pitch back, black room, no noise, go to sleep.
Really good covers too, so that's what you wanna do for [00:07:00] sleep. Super important to get sleep dialed in next step. Work with a really great doctor. This is so important to make sure that your hormones are balanced and then you can make the decision on whether you should do hormone replacement therapy or not.
Full, full disclosure, and the first thing you want to check is that your thyroid's working optimally. We've done a couple great podcasts recently on thyroid function. Look up Dr. Amy Hornimen. And of course, Dr. Alan Christensen, but if your thyroid's not working well, you will not be able to lose weight. You won't be able to build muscle, and you won't be able to balance your hormones.
So, and by the way, you can be hypothyroid, which is mildly elevated, t s h, nowhere near out of range. Like I was hypothyroid at 1.5 to two on my thyroid even. even like, and it really depends on what your free T3 is. So you gotta check your thyroid and make sure that that is working well. Stress can of course, impact thyroid function and then look at your hormones because, and I'm, I will tell you full disclosure, I take thyroid, [00:08:00] wp thyroid through Dr.
Alan Christensen, and I use an estrogen patch, an estradiol patch. I cycle progesterone half the month, and I do a testosterone shot every two. I am a big believer in hormone replacement therapy because, and you always have to, this has to be individualized and you have to work with a doctor based on your situation.
But when you really look at the number one killer of women, 50% or more of women die of heart disease, and when estrogen goes down, , all the cardiovascular risk factors go up. So I'm a huge fan of biodentical hormone replacement therapy. I've been on it since this all started, since my hormones started going wonky.
I've been on biodentical hormone replacement therapy and I'm protecting my bones, my brains, and my heart, cuz it's also low estrogen linked with dementia as. So that's another one. And I, it's also a great time to do a DEXA body scan. You'll also see your fat-free mass and fat mass there, but you'll also get to see your bone [00:09:00] density, which is so your bone marrow density is so important.
And I see the recommendations for when we should do that. I'm going, we really should do at age 20. Maybe age 15 when we can actually impact it more, but it's definitely a number you want to know. The other thing that can be super helpful here is wearing a continuous glucose monitor, and I do these periodically, play around with it.
Because I've got mine pretty well balanced, but then I spot check every couple months. But a continuous glucose monitor, and we'll put this in the show notes I use. Nutrasense can be amazing for really giving you real-time data as to what you're doing and if it's working right, like how is your diet working?
Are you doing things that are hijacking your blood sugar? You know, how balanced are you? And this is important because if your average fasting levels are higher, it is a 5X increase in dementia depending on, you know, the numbers. And it doesn't have to be much like 90 to 100 it's, it's small.
So it's something we really do need to be aware of and need to watch. [00:10:00] And then finally, exercise. So I will tell you I am working on my next book that will be out in 2026 . I have a book coming out in 2024. I'm super excited about, but I'm literally working on the 2026 now. So you're gonna be hearing all about it as I dig through it, and it's really all about protein, muscle mass, metabolism and how to playful out at a 100.
And so one of the key things here is that, and it was funny, this is, I feel like I've gone full circle from when I very first started in the field and everyone was doing loads and loads of long distance cardio. And I was like, lift weights, lift them heavy, don't lift those little pink ones. And that's where I'm back to, and especially for women, forties, fifties, sixties, you wanna make sure that you are building muscle.
Building muscle because you wanna have that muscle and the bone mineral density improvements that come with it to take you through your seventies, eighties, nineties, hundreds. So you'll have better balance you. You won't stop by the way, [00:11:00] you're gonna keep going, but these are the times we can start to really make an impact.
So make sure that you're doing your resistance training. Some high intensity interval training for the growth hormone, right? Of course some basic cardio for your heart, you know, and and then some yoga for some of that stress reduction and mindfulness. Okay. Long-winded answer, but this was quite a, quite an important question.
And Joyce, I would love, love, love to hear what happens to you when you put this into place. If you have any questions, again, jjvirgin.com/question, and then I've got the next one. This is from Jenny on Instagram who says, I'm mostly vegetarian, but I wanna try doing the elimination thing again.
Perimenopause is killing me. So what can I eat if I can't eat dairy and egg and soy and gluten for protein? , and here's the deal, like when you are a vegetarian, [00:12:00] you are so much more likely to have food intolerances because of your reliance on these foods over and over and over again in your diet. When you really look at.
Diets. What you really wanna be doing is having a really good rotation, right? You want to eat as local as possible, organic as possible, as seasonal as possible, and rotate your foods. And so when you're a vegetarian, you've just limited things way down. Now I just talked about the importance of protein and we really wanna make sure that if she's trying to get through this again, for someone trying to lose weight the minimum here would really be like three-fourths of a gram per pound of body weight.
So what is she gonna do when she can't eat dairy and egg and soy? And gluten. Now she says I'm mostly vegetarian, so I'm not quite sure what that means. And so what I would say here first is if you are able to incorporate in pastured chicken or wild fish, you're, it's gonna be so much easier for you. The protein quality [00:13:00] is so much higher.
And it's just gonna be easier. If not, there's really no way to do this without using protein powders, and you're gonna need to rely a lot on my plant-based protein shakes because that's how you'll be able to get the protein levels up high enough. Now, I'm really glad that you're doing the elimination.
Plan. So the Virgin Diet is a modified elimination diet based on the foods that I saw most often when I was due in food sensitivity testing with doctors and the foods I saw most often that your body was reacting to due to a phenomenon called leaky gut and leaky guts where your small intestine becomes more permeable and it becomes more permeable due to stress due to fructose intake, which you're getting in high fructose corn syrup.
You're getting in apple juice concentrate, you're getting in agave on down the line, honey, et cetera. And it happens from gluten. Gluten has the triggers, the release of a protein called zonulin, which makes your gut more permeable. Glyphosate also can damage the gut and lead to problems. So, [00:14:00] and pain medications do it too.
So you know, food intolerances can happen any times super common. And if you're eating foods that your body is reactive to, is intolerant to, it creates inflammation, can cause weight gain. Headaches, joint pain, autoimmune disease gas and bloating, fatigue, skin rashes, blah, blah, blah. Nothing good. I can't say, Hey, you've got food intolerances.
This awesome thing will happen to you. No there. There is no awesome here. So basically I have you pull out the most common food intolerances, gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, peanuts, and then of course we really pull added sugars. And artificial sweeteners out cuz there's no place for them in a healthy diet.
Sorry. No place. And then we do that for at least three weeks to cleanse your body and give it a time for the the antibodies that your body kicks up in response to these food particles coming out gives your body chance to calm down and reset, and you start to feel what feeling good really feels like.
Then you go back [00:15:00] and you would challenge to see which foods work for you and which foods don't. So in order to do this as a vegan vegetarian, I do have these plans in the Virgin Diet Cookbook. So you can get access to some of these vegan recipes. And I have vegan recipes on my website too in vegetarian.
But I will tell you that you are going to want to use protein powder, and the easiest thing would be to do your first and last meal, to do them as a loaded protein smoothie because you'll be able to get the, the protein you need. And if you're willing to add collagen, Cuz it's not vegan, that would make it even easier to get there.
So if we could use a plant-based protein powder plus collagen, plus good karma, flax milk, we could get you right there to about 40 grams of protein morning and evening. And then you can make sure that your lunch, you have like nuts and seeds and. Some lentils or legumes. The biggest challenge that we have, of course, as you know, with a vegetarian protein is it's not the quality and the efficiency [00:16:00] ratio.
It's not absorbed and, and bioavailable like animal protein is doesn't have the balance of branch chains like, like animal protein has and. You don't absorb all the protein and the protein that listed. So it might say there's four grams of protein, but you're only getting two. So that's why you have to focus on making sure that you're adding in, you're gonna have to supplement with some protein powder.
Alright, there you go. And then as far as the rest of the stuff perimenopause, again, refer to the one I just recorded because that'll help you too, Jenny. Okay. What shall we answer next? Let's do this one because this really has to do with this is a big menopause one too, and this is, if I wanna lose weight, specifically belly fat fast, where should I start?
So this is an interesting question because one of the things we know is that you can't lose belly fat. Like you can't lose fat preferentially. And, and I think the real answer there was you can't spot [00:17:00] reduce. You can't, like if you wanna burn off fat on your thighs, you can't just burn off fat on your thighs.
However, belly fat is different than that because belly fat. When we really look at belly fat, we're really talking about either Android fat or Visceral fat, and this is fat in your truncal area that tends to be more around your organs, and it's actually a very different type of fat than the other, the fat on your thighs, et cetera.
And this fat tends to be driven more by two hormones, cortisol. and insulin. So the reason that's important is we can impact that more because of it. So even though you can't spot reduce, we may be able to turn the focus onto this visceral adiposity by really looking at a couple things that can help dramatically with lowering cortisol, which, and, and lowering insulin.
So first one is when insulin's high, you're breaking down muscle. You're raising blood sugar. And you're, you're [00:18:00] telling your body store fat around your belly. So what do we know that we can do to lower cortisol? Well tapping. Shout out to my buddy Nick Ortner Tapping solution. We'll put this in the show notes.
Tapping has been shown or emotional freedom technique to lower cortisol like 27%. I don't really know any drug that could do this kind of thing. I mean, that's crazy now. I don't know on regular meditation, cuz I just don't think it's been studied on that. I would imagine that you get something similar, but tapping we know does that.
So highly recommend tapping high intensity interval training, helps your sympathetic nervous system learn how to handle stress better, so that can be helpful too. . Vitamin C is super helpful for lowering cortisol as well. I have this sparkling c powder I'm addicted to in the Reignite wellness line, so you can try that.
So those are a couple things that you can do to help. And then look at what's my source of stress? What is making me do this? Am I making myself do this because of just my, you know, go, go, go feeling like the lion's [00:19:00] chasing me And if so, I'm gonna highly recommend. And if I can do this, anybody can, considering I was like the most stressed.
Is, is starting your day off with a little meditation and then potentially doing a meditation break some point through the day. So I start my day with my buddy, Dr. Joe Dispenza every morning, get up, start my meditation, and my two dogs do it with me too. The two dogs, the hubs, we all meditate in the morning, and then if I need a little bit of a reset during the day, then he's got these 15 minuters that I will do.
But I found the better I get at the morning, the less I need the reset. And in fact, funny story, my whole team got together and they go, you know, jj, we've been watching you for the 18 months, you've been doing meditation and we just wanna tell you don't stop . It's like, okay, so cortisol. Now what about on the insulin side?
Well, of course the insulin side's all about really getting your blood [00:20:00] sugar in. Of course you've heard me talk about eating by the plate, protein, fat, and fiber. Besides the satiety that that does, the big thing it does is help with blood sugar balance. So that's important. One of the things you can do to check that to make sure you're really nailing it, is to wear a continuous glucose monitor.
I'll put NutriSense in the show notes how to get it. Cause that's the one that I use. And I think, you know, this isn't something that you might need, you need to wear for a year unless you're really struggling. But a month or two of wearing a continuous glucose monitor can be so enlightening as to what's going on, what impacts you you know, what's going on with coffee, what's going on with when you get stressed out, what's going on, if you like.
Like for me, the only time I really see anything hijack on my blood sugar now, I noticed it when I was traveling was I was a little piggy with a big, big bowl of kiwi fruit and I was like, knock it off. But I've really learned with the C G M how to have super balanced blood sugar. So A C G M can be great.
And then [00:21:00] what else do we know? You walk after a meal can help lower the blood sugar response to a meal. Some lemon juice before the meal, besides taking your sweet tooth away, can lower the blood sugar. Same with vinegar. Vinegar especially apple cider vinegar can act like metformin to improve insulin sensitivity.
And then one other thing, and I know you are not gonna like me for saying this, but that fat. That you have that visceral fat. The other thing I'm gonna highly recommend is going and getting into a cold plunge. Now if you don't have a cold plunge, we finally splurged on one of these things, and I'll put this in the show notes too.
It wasn't as expensive as I thought it was gonna be, and it actually looks really pretty outside and it's become quite a party thing. Like people come to my house and they want a cold plunge. And it's really fun to have one person in the cold plunge and we all cheer 'em on. So cold plunges are gonna be somewhere between like 45 and 50 degrees.
You stay in 'em. We're still trying to figure out what's the sweet spot of, of time and and temperature. But when you get into the cold plunge, it browns your white [00:22:00] fat. So what that means is you're brown fat is your more metabolically high mitochondria, easier to burn off fat. It's not the dangerous fat.
So it basically helps move that white fat, the bad fat, into brown fat. So it's very active, energetic, and you can burn it off. Which is what we wanna do, right? All right, now, again, if you've got questions, hit me up JJvirgin.com/questions. See you next time.
This is JJ with Ask the Health Expert. I answer your questions weekly. Plus I interview the top experts in health and wellness, so make sure you never miss a show by going to subscribetojj.com. Yep, it's that easy. I'll see you next time.