How to Support a Loved One on Virta

Published on 
April 26, 2024
July 22, 2019
Virta Health
Virta Health
Virta Health

Someone close to you has joined Virta.

Virta is a physician-supervised, coach-supported, nutrition-based intervention to treat metabolic diseases, including diabetes and pre-diabetes.The treatment is administered digitally and can be accessed via cell phone, tablet, or computer. It includes 24/7 health coaching, online education, and frequent self-monitoring of biomarkers including blood ketones and glucose.

Virta nutrition is designed to repair underlying metabolic damage.

On Virta, dietary carbohydrates are reduced, protein is consumed in moderation, and healthy fats are recommended in amounts that provide satiety. This approach addresses the root causes of your loved one’s health issues, instead of relying on medications that only attempt to correct the problems.

We realize you may have a lot of questions.

If you haven’t already, you are about to witness big changes in the types of foods your loved one consumes, and potentially witness other significant changes. These changes may include reductions in the medication he/she takes to manage diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, weight loss, and improved energy levels over the the coming weeks and months. We have created this resource to answer frequently asked questions and to share advice about how you can help your loved one succeed on Virta.

Things you can do to support your loved one on Virta:

Learn more about the program.

Start by reading the FAQs below. While you would never intentionally sabotage his/her progress, something as simple as offering the “wrong” food can come across as unsupportive, so please be careful. Also, understanding the benefits of the program - including freedom from chronic disease and related medications, weight loss, more energy, and better sleep - will help both of you to keep sight of the big picture.

Support, encourage, and check in.

Ask what kind of support your loved one is looking for from you. It’s easier to be supportive if you know what he/she wants and needs from you. This may change from time to time so check in periodically.

Know their goal(s).

Talk to your loved one. Ask about his/her goals and the reason(s) for following the Virta program. Chances are, YOU are a part of their motivation for wanting to become healthier. If you haven’t done so already, ask!

Make a little extra effort.

If you are preparing family meals, make the extra effort to include options that are Virta approved. This also applies to planning social events, dining out, and traveling.

Respect their decision.

Even if you don’t agree with what your loved one is doing, respect his/her decision, effort, and everyday choices on the path to better health.

Comments and behaviors to avoid

Don’t judge lapses.

If your loved one makes a mistake, do not make him/her feel bad about it. Be there for him/her and encourage your loved one to get right back on track.

Don’t overreact to something you hear in the news.

Instead, encourage your loved one to reach out to his/her Virta Health Coach for information and clarification. You have an expert at your fingertips who can explain what the real data and science says, not the hype. Make use of this!

Avoid laying on the guilt for not eating certain foods.

“But it’s my birthday (or your birthday)” or “But you’ve always loved” or “We’ve always had this” are powerful statements that many cannot say no to, even if they want to and know it’s not the right decision for his/her health.

Don’t make him/her feel like an outcast in social situations.

Avoid comments like, “Well, I guess we need to find somewhere you can eat” or “You probably can’t even find anything on this menu.” It takes courage for your loved one to stand firm and take control of his/her health. Be proud of the effort he/she is making.

Don’t compare Virta to other programs, or what you or others eat.

It’s not helpful (or relevant!) to say “But I eat this and I’m just fine” or “(So and so) is on this other program and he/she can eat that.” Every body is unique, and Virta is highly personalized to address your loved one’s underlying metabolic health.

Do not encourage “taking a break” from the program.

Comments like, “Who’s going to know?” and “What’s the big deal?” are hard to hear. Holidays and birthdays are no exception. Small lapses can spiral into big lapses because of the blood sugar spikes/drops that even small “cheats” create in people with a history of diabetes or metabolic disease.

Frequently asked questions

How can my loved one benefit from Virta?

Virta patients experience many benefits, from significant weight loss to increased energy, less hunger and cravings, better sleep, and improved mental clarity. The greatest benefit lies in the opportunity to actually put chronic diseases, like diabetes or pre-diabetes, into remission. There are major benefits to the reductions and eliminations of costly diabetes and blood pressure medications that have undesirable side effects. Patients not yet on medications also benefit from increased control over blood sugars and blood pressure, reduced HbA1c, and other improvements in markers of metabolic syndrome without the need to start on medication.

Is a ketogenic diet safe?

Virta prioritizes safety and our dietary recommendations are science-based. When carefully implemented a ketogenic diet is a safe and effective therapeutic tool to treat chronic diseases. The Virta program is tailored to accommodate each person’s own health needs and different physiological responses to the treatment. A Virta Physician and Health Coach will monitor your loved one’s safety and progress with regularly scheduled blood tests and biomarker tracking on the Virta App.

I’ve heard terrible things about ketones, so why is the production of ketones promoted in the Virta program?

Nutritional ketosis is commonly confused with ketoacidosis, which can occur in Type I diabetics when they are not provided adequate insulin. Very low carbohydrate diets do increase the body’s production of ketones, but at levels far lower than those which occur in diabetic ketoacidosis. When carbohydrate intake is restricted to less than 50 grams/day, our bodies are able to use fat (both dietary fat and the body’s own fat reserves), rather than carbohydrates for energy. This provides a steady and constant flow of fuel, just one of the powerful metabolic effects of the Virta program.

Is increasing the intake of dietary fat, especially saturated fat, healthy?

There is a relationship between blood levels of saturated fat and the risk for both heart disease and diabetes, so this is a valid concern. The answer is YES, it is healthy to eat fat (including saturated fat) on Virta when carbohydrates are limited. It may sound counterintuitive, but increasing dietary carbohydrate intake while decreasing dietary fat intake has the greatest impact on raising blood levels of saturated fat. Meaning, it’s not the dietary saturated fat that’s responsible for increasing blood levels of saturated fat; it’s the carbohydrate that is responsible for that increase.

Fats can only cause harm if they accumulate in your blood because your body can’t burn them for energy, and carbohydrates block your body’s ability to burn fat. Within just a few weeks, those that follow the Virta program will switch on their body’s ability to burn fat as its primary fuel source.

Is increasing sodium intake healthy?

Patients on Virta are asked to consume an additional 1000 to 2000 mg of sodium (that’s equivalent to ½ to 1 teaspoon of salt) compared to the the amount recommended when eating a lot of carbohydrates. Why? A diet high in carbohydrates causes the body to retain water and sodium, but on Virta, the kidneys begin to work as they are meant to by getting rid of more water and sodium. Daily sodium consumption on Virta should be 4000-5000 mg unless instructed otherwise (like for some patients on blood pressure medications or diuretics). Research shows that this increase in dietary sodium is safe. In fact, consuming inadequate amounts of sodium can lead to headache, dizziness, fatigue, and even the risk of fainting.

Is it true that our bodies require carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are not essential nutrients, so we don’t actually need to eat them! In fact, we can train our metabolisms to run on fat instead of carbohydrates when we limit the amount of carbohydrates we eat. This leads to improved and sustained energy levels without the blood sugar spikes and crashes that come with consuming carbohydrates.

I’ve read that high protein diets are terrible for you and for your kidneys. Is this true?

As part of the Virta program, we promote a well-formulated ketogenic diet, which is low in carbohydrate, high in fat, and moderate in protein. In fact, it contains the same protein as the average American diet and one of the keys to long-term Virta success is learning to consume the right amount of protein based on individual recommendations.

There is no evidence of any renal damage in patients appropriately following this approach. Furthermore, diabetics with early kidney damage from their diabetes often regain normal kidney function on a well-formulated ketogenic diet. In other words, in some circumstances, Virta can help damaged kidneys heal. And remember, Virta Physicians will be monitoring this along the way.

Is it really all that harmful if he/she has just a little bite of something rich in carbohydrates? Like on his/her birthday?

The health improvements your loved one may have already experienced and will experience in the future are maintained by sustaining the Virta program. One lapse (i.e., a bite of cake) is enough to lead to rises in blood sugar and insulin, which can sometimes lead to days on a blood sugar-insulin rollercoaster. This lasting effect can have more impact on his/her progress than you may realize.

The good news is that there are many low-carbohydrate alternatives for high-carbohydrate foods, including breads, cakes, and ice cream. These can be appropriate to have on occasion and taste just as good as the carbohydrate-rich versions. A Virta Health Coach can provide suggestions and determine if and when these options are right for your loved one.

Can the Virta program be followed by patients following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle? What about other dietary preferences, including cultural tastes?

Absolutely. We have developed a therapeutic intervention designed to reverse metabolic disease and we tailor it to the individual. The Virta program can be customized for dietary and cultural needs and preferences. A Virta Health Coach will help to personalize the treatment for each patient.

Is Virta sustainable? Do people really stay on Virta for life?

Yes. The benefits of Virta are highly motivating, whether it’s the weight loss, the renewed energy and better sleep, or no longer being categorized as a diabetic or pre-diabetic. Furthermore, the Virta lifestyle reduces hunger and cravings and gets rid of the blood sugar highs and lows that have likely caused your loved one to fall off other treatments in the past. Virta can be sustained and enjoyed long term because we guide patients to eat to satiety rather than restrict by counting calories. Remember, the positive health improvements will only be sustained as long as the principles of Virta are followed.

I tried to follow some of the dietary principles of the Virta program for a few days and felt terrible. Why shouldn’t I be skeptical?

It can takes weeks to adapt to the Virta program. Especially in the first week or two, as your body switches its metabolism to burning fat for fuel, it is common to experience a drop in energy levels. With careful attention to minerals, such as sodium and magnesium, we can often help ease this transition. Regardless, “just a few days” of trying to follow the principles of the Virta program is not enough time for your body to experience the full benefits that Virta has to offer. Patients usually start to notice marked improvements in energy and mental clarity once they have been in nutritional ketosis for one to two weeks.

Is it okay if I follow some of the principles of the Virta program but also enjoy some of my favorite high carbohydrate foods or beverages?

This is a medically supervised treatment and we cannot make recommendations for those not enrolled in Virta. However, it is important to understand that a critical underlying principle of the Virta program is that a high fat diet ONLY provides the therapeutic benefits when one stays under his/her personal carbohydrate tolerance. In other words, the benefits of Virta do not exist if your dietary intake is high in fat and carbohydrates. That is a recipe for metabolic damage and weight gain.

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or any advice relating to your health. View full disclaimer

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