Health

01.02.14

Why the ‘30 Bananas a Day Diet’ Is Monkey Business

This toned Aussie went from fat to fit by eating dozens of bananas a day—and little else. But is her radical eating plan actually an eating disorder? ‘Absofruitly not,’ she says.

Think your post-holiday diet is restrictive? Try eating bananas—all bananas, all the time.

Next to the cotton ball diet and tapeworm diet in the recent annals of absurd eating plans is 30 Bananas a Day, a booming fitness craze pioneered by a ripped Australian that counts some 20,000 followers—and an accompanying hate site, 30bananasadaysucks.com.

The rules are as simple as the benefits are disputed: the plan mandates that 97 percent of your calories per day come from fruit—leaving 3 percent for greens, nuts, and seeds.

Freelee is the face of the fruity fad. On Facebook under her pseudonym "The Banana Girl," she admits coming from an "eating disorder background" but denies any notion that the regimen is prohibitive. “My lifestyle is abundance, not restriction,” Freelee says in a video posted on her site. “I never restrict my calories.” Watching another clip of Freelee, one in which she scarfs down 51 bananas in one sitting—at one point dipping a banana into her banana shake—it’s easy to believe her. Just brace yourself for the moment she shows off her engorged gut.

Video screenshot

Also required in the “thrivation plan”: drinking two to four quarts of water, exercising 5-6 days a week, getting 30 minutes of sunshine each day, and 8-10 hours of sleep each night.

Freelee credits the low-fat, raw vegan lifestyle, which she began about four years ago, with helping her to overcome her struggle with anorexia and bulimia. Her partner in monkey business, Harley Johnson—he goes by Durianrider online—likewise considers the routine to be curative; he says 30BaD, as fans refer to it, rid him of symptoms stemming from Crohn’s disease, including chronic fatigue, asthma, depression, and hypoglycemia.

They’re not alone. In the “Testify!” section of Freelee’s website, users sing the praises of 30BaD, which they claim helps not only with weight loss but a plethora of other issues ranging from fibromyalgia to nightmares. Beyond these supposed results, 30BaD promises a revolutionary change in your bathroom schedule—the high-fiber diet, the site reads, portends “more regular bowel movements.” The high-water content will reportedly make significant changes to No. 1, too: “Compared to the rest of the dehydrated world that only urinates a few times a day, urination will be more frequent on this diet,” Freelee writes.

But before jumping on Freelee and Harley’s banana boat, it’d be wise to take a look at the facts. While leading diet plans are created (and backed) by licensed dietitians and nutritionists, 30BaD isn’t. And while the site deserves more than a few points for creativity, doctors and experts worry that consuming only bananas may, over time, deprive users of vital nutrients.

The inspiration for the diet stems from the work of Dr. Douglas M. Graham, creator of the 80/10/10 diet plan. As the name implies, Graham’s diet consists of eating 80 percent fruits and vegetables, 10 percent protein, and 10 percent fat. The raw-focused diet has been publicly praised by many public figures, from Olympic hopefuls to NBA stars.

Dr. Graham has a doctorate degree and 30 years of studying nutrition under his belt; Freelee and Durianrider lack such credentials. Bananas a Day “is based on the personal experiences of the 30BaD team who have years of experience both in doing the diet and in assisting struggling new members, as well as research and science,” the blog reads. “We, the 30BaD team not only want you to do [sic] survive, we want you to thrive.”

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Graham disavowed any connection to Freelee and her banana-slinging cohorts. “I am not affiliated with the site, nor have I trained the people who run the site to give lifestyle advice,” Graham said. “I praise them for creating programs based upon the 80/10/10 Diet, but cannot support the aspects of the program that are different from the basic plan I originally created.”

What Graham does defend, however, is the foundation of both diets: raw foods. “I simply cannot in good conscience, as a health-care provider, recommend any cooked food for general consumption,” he says. The benefits of avoiding cooked food, says Graham, are endless. “Clarity of mind, vibrant health, unbridled enthusiasm for life, boundless energy, superior athletic performance, overcoming a huge variety of health issues, and effortless weight management” are effects that have “routinely been reported” by people following his diet.

Eating an abundance of raw foods is one thing; eating a gazillion bananas is something different.

Jo Robinson, an investigative journalist and the author of The New York Times bestseller Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health, calls the diet “absurd.” Ripe bananas, Robinson says, are not only low in beta-carotene (Vitamin A), but they have a high glycemic index—which makes eating one like consuming a piece of cake. “Bananas are the last thing I would advise people to eat 30 a day of,” says Robinson. It’s a food she actually recommends that those aiming for weight loss stay away from.

But it seems the only thing Freelee may be sicker of than bananas is criticism like Robinson’s.

“Absofruitly not,” the banana girl responds to any notion that her diet could be considered disordered eating. “The real eating disorder is under our noses everyday and comes in the form of the standard western diet,” she explains via email. “If eating in a way that causes pain, suffering, and premature death isn’t considered disordered eating then I’m not sure what is!”

Freelee’s weapon against critics is pity. “I wish critics could understand just how amazing the high carb raw vegan lifestyle really is,” she writes. “[It’s] been shown to reverse all the major diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer but it isn’t profitable for big industry to promote this fact because OUR sickness is THEIR profit.”

In other words: If eating bananas is wrong, Freelee doesn’t want to be right.

But what of the downfalls? “The biggest risk is you will become a superhero and suddenly find it very hard to fit in with mainstream society,” she writes to The Daily Beast. “The pursuit of truth becomes paramount. You will be happy regularly for no reason…Many experience this side effect and find it quite pleasing ;-)” For Freelee, 30BaD is closer to a humanitarian voyage than a business venture. Rather than promote the diet for profit (joining the community is free), Freelee says it’s a vehicle for changing the world. “The mission of 30BaD is to spread the high carb health message across the Globe,” she says. “To bring similar minded people together. To encourage the consumption of unlimited calories from fruit and cooked carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, pasta. To change this World into one filled with healthy, happy sexy fruit-eaters rather than diseased out of shape junk food addicts.”

While Freelee is busy banana-fying the world, her haters are busy trying to squash it. A YouTube video of her making a reference to “obese brothers and sisters” blocking “fit people” from getting down the stairwells of the Twin Towers on 9/11 was posted on Gawker with the headline: “Is This the Worst Person on the Internet?” The site is provocative enough in the vegan world to earn its own digital arch-nemesis “30 Bananas A Day…Sucks!”. Identified as a “blog written by the community for the community….without censorship” it’s a virtual crusade against 30BaD, slamming everything from the diet plan itself to the “negligence” of Freelee and Durianrider, who regularly exercise the right to remove negative posts about the diet. But as is the case with anonymous users—posting on any blog—it’s difficult to decide what’s fact and what’s fiction on 30Bad’s hate site. Some users cry of negative side effects; (“My Tooth Crumbled WTF Do I DO?!”) others praise it (“Another 30BaD Success Story).

30BaD hater or lover, think twice before giving your own two cents on the blog: Freelee and Harley have a strict set of guidelines, one of which includes “no swearing.” Any user that breaks these rules, or expresses disdain for the plan itself, is subject to suspension from the website.

This isn’t a democracy: it’s a bananocracy.

Editor's Note: The original version of this article included the full name of 30BaD's creator. It has since been removed due to privacy concerns.