If you’ve never heard of Freelee the Banana Girl, this may come as a shock.
Freelee is a vegan YouTube sensation, but she’s far from the person who encourages a balanced vegan diet that includes Oreos good for the soul and oatmeal good for the body. She’s one of the brains behind Raw Till 4 and 30 Bananas a Day. Both diets are self-explanatory, but for the sake of full disclosure, allow me to explain. Raw Till 4 followers eat huge amounts of raw fruits and vegetables until 4 p.m., at which point they enjoy a large cooked meal of grains or potatoes. In addition to being 100 percent vegan, it also bans oil, salt, gluten and healthy fats like nuts, seeds and avocados. Those who follow 30 Bananas a Day eat 30 bananas a day. On her YouTube channel and social media platforms, Freelee promises that eating these exorbitant amounts of calories will not cause fat gain so long as dieters adhere to a strict 80 percent carbohydrate, 10 percent fat and 10 percent protein ratio.
I found Freelee when I was 17 and struggling with a recent weight gain. Desperate for an effortless way to lose weight, I searched YouTube to its core until finally finding a gold mine of HCLF (high carb, low fat) vegan videos. I watched as lean people, like Freelee, stuffed their faces with fruit, vegetables and grains with no guilt, tons of vegan friends and tiny bodies. Perfect, I thought.
I threw away everything in my apartment that didn’t fit Raw Till 4 guidelines. The following morning – May 12, 2015 – I turned into a mini Freelee the Banana Girl. I made sure everyone knew I wasn’t just a vegan; I was a HCLF, oil-free, salt-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, Raw Till 4 vegan. I was proud.
It wasn’t veganism that was the problem. I love being vegan. I feel good about what I eat, because it’s good for the animals, the environment and my fellow human beings. The problem was my obsession with seamlessly adhering to Raw Till 4 guidelines.
Since I abruptly started Raw Till 4 after a series of crash diets in a failed attempt to shed the freshman 30, my stomach capacity was not ready for 3,000 calories a day of fruits and vegetables. For the first few months of my new diet, I managed a maximum of 1,500 calories a day, and I dropped 14 pounds fast.
But, eating only fruit and a few potatoes every day started affecting my mind more than it did my body. As my stomach stretched to accommodate massive amounts of fruit, I found myself hungrier and hungrier. I began eating upwards of 2,500 calories a day, and I wasn’t prepared for the guilt that ensued. Since overeating basically ruined my freshman year of college, and eating only 1,500 calories a day solved my problems in a snap, I was terrified that eating any more would make me obese. I ended every day in tears, binge-watching Freelee’s videos to assure me that fruit wouldn’t make me fat.
It wasn’t just the amount of food that scared me, but anything that fell outside of Raw Till 4 guidelines. One morning, as I was drinking my coffee with unsweetened almond milk, a sudden burst of anxiety surged through my veins. Was almond milk raw? I Googled it, and as un-luck would have it, almond milk is not raw; the almonds are heat-treated before they become milk. In uncontrollable tears, I immediately dumped the rest of my coffee down the drain and went for a 40-minute run to make sure the heat-treated almond milk didn’t make me fat. I swore off coffee for a year after that.
I turned into an anxious, HCLF, oil-free, salt-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, Raw Till 4 vegan monster, convinced everyone was trying to sabotage my perfectly clean diet. If a friend offered me a roasted almond, she wasn’t being nice; she was trying to make me fat with oil and salt. I wouldn’t let my mom make me smoothies, because she might try to sneak almond milk into the blender. Meanwhile, I justified my behavior with my YouTube cult of HCLF vegans who promised this way was the only way.
It wasn’t the only way. I was miserable. I isolated myself from all human connection. I felt good when I only ate three bananas in a day and like a failure when I ate steamed broccoli at 3 p.m. However, beyond fearing fat, oil, salt, gluten, sugar and cooked food, I feared I was slipping back into dangerous behaviors from a couple of years prior. I knew something had to change, and all I really wanted was a piece of bread.
So, I went to Sprouts and bought sliced bread. I toasted a piece of bread. I stared at the toasted piece of bread for half an hour, contemplating my choices. Then, I ate it. It sounds so silly, but it was so liberating. After more than a year on my crazy banana diet, I ate a piece of bread, and I was still alive.
Over the next six months, I challenged myself to eat everything I feared before. I remember the first time I ate oil and salt: airplane pretzels on my way to Rome. I felt so guilty, but nothing bad happened to my body. Nothing bad happened.
I am still a vegan today, but I now try to balance my diet with food that’s good for my soul and food that’s good for my body. I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, because I still feel bad every time I eat something that isn’t fruit, but it does get easier.
So, to anyone considering an extreme diet to lose weight, please be careful. Too many bananas might actually drive you bananas.