How My Extreme Fruit Diet Almost Destroyed My Life
I came across the fruitarian lifestyle about eight months ago.
More specifically, the 80/10/10 diet -- a raw vegan diet consisting primarily of fruit and leafy greens, with 80 percent of calories from carbs, 10 percent from protein and 10 percent from fats. Though extreme, I was intrigued by testimonies from those who claimed to have healed various ailments through this diet.
I’ve always leaned toward a healthy lifestyle but my well-being took a downward turn in my late 20s when I became ill with glandular fever. With four young children, adequate self-care was impossible and consequently six months later I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; from there, further deterioration to autoimmune disease.
Anyone who has dealt with autoimmune disease understands the frustration of its unpredictability and shifting of goal posts; the defeat of doing everything right, yet dealing with a body that stubbornly refuses to heal. And while a Paleo-based lifestyle effected vast improvement, I wanted to know if the testimonies were true, and if a fruitarian diet would bring further healing like others had claimed.
What I first found, is it takes a while to get used to eating such massive volumes of fruit -- in fact, 2000 calories-worth per day to meet recommended energy and nutrient requirement. That’s about 20 or so bananas, in case anyone was wondering. Or like, eating an entire pineapple and a kilogram of watermelon for breakfast alone.
However, this way of eating soon became normal for me. Too normal. This is the thing with such radical health fads -- if you spend enough time entrenched in the lifestyle and culture of it, whether in real life or online -- you don’t even see the way extreme becomes the new normal.
There’s a reason a blind spot is called a blind spot.
For me, I became convinced this way of eating was the only way I could be healthy and well; that all other food was the enemy. I read, and researched: the best fruit combinations for digestion, mono-fruit meals, fruit fasts, juice fasts. I hung out on social media forums, learning all I could from seasoned fruitarians. I Googled, and YouTubed, and followed every online page I could find.
Every thought soon became centred around food. There was so much need to be in control; to the point I became anxious about social events, and began to decline invitations from family and friends knowing an event would compromise my perfect diet. The more obsessed I became, the narrower my world grew.
If I was away from home with no acceptable food choice available I simply chose not to eat, resulting in caloric and nutrient deficiency, fatigue, and unnecessary stress on my adrenal and hormonal systems. If I did eat something other than fruit, I would feel anxious, guilty and unclean, often punishing myself after with extreme detox cleanses.
My entire self-worth and happiness began to rest upon whether I had met my self-imposed standards of dietary perfection and I soon found myself in a cycle of obsession, control, guilt, punishment and reward.
I’ve never had an eating disorder, or even been inclined to that way of thinking. But when I one day realised how desperate my need had become to stay in control of my environment -- and how fearfully out of control I felt when that environment was compromised -- I knew something wasn’t right. The focus wasn’t on weight, like we have traditionally come to believe of eating disorders; instead the strive for purity and perfect health. But the mindset of extremism was equally as detrimental and dangerous.
Orthorexia Nervosa is the obsession with eating in a way that is perfect, or pure; often beginning with an intention to eat as healthy or clean as possible, but soon turning into such a strict and inflexible diet there is psychological distress when the rules around a certain way of eating cannot be fulfilled. Labelled the “healthy eating disorder”, it has not yet been classed an official eating disorder, but is being recognised by health professionals as part of the eating disorder spectrum.
Orthorexia begins with healthy eating -- raw, vegan, paleo, keto, fruitarian, etc -- but the desire for good health soon becomes an obsessive striving for dietary perfectionism. More and more foods are eliminated and more time is spent obsessing over food and self-imposed rules around food. Cycles of guilt and punishment are implemented, as well as social isolation, often malnourishment, and disinterest in other areas of life.
The first step in overcoming orthorexia is acknowledging that a problem exists. Not everyone who embraces such an extreme lifestyle will struggle with orthorexia; I cannot tell you how or why I was affected in such a way, only that I am thankful I was able to see something wasn’t right before it completely took over my life. I'm also thankful to now be in a much better place -- to have not abandoned all my health beliefs but restored balance and moderation and made food part of my life again as opposed to the centre of it.
READ MORE: What If It's Not Just Fussy Eating...
I’m not here to dispute the fundamentals of diet and nutrition. But with statistics suggesting a 40-fold increase in eating disorders since 2003, it’s important to acknowledge that the obsession over health can become as much an eating disorder as anything. There will always be benefits to embracing a healthier lifestyle. But extremism, of any kind, is never healthy. And when the need for perfect health comes at the cost of our mental health, we need to step back and ask ourselves if the sacrifice is really worth it.