Isabella Behravan for Byrdie
I always thought the word fruitarian was like the word chocoholic—a cutesy term used to describe someone’s food preferences but not actually a real way of life. That is until I became a vegan. Five months ago, I was inspired to convert to a plant-based diet by a community of vegan vloggers I discovered on YouTube. The more I became educated about veganism, the more invested and curious I became about the inner culture of the lifestyle. Soon I learned that there isn’t just one way to be a vegan: There are dozens: gluten-free vegan, raw vegan, high-carb, low-fat vegan, and more. Two months into my veganism, I was researching a bit online when I discovered a faction of veganism so tiny that it was even difficult to find definitive information about it on Google. The diet? Fruitarianism.
According to certified holistic nutritionist Kelly LeVeque, the fruitarian diet is “a subset of raw veganism, where you eat botanical fruits in their natural state.” This includes all sweet fruits and seeded fruits (such as avocado, tomato, cucumber, and olives) as well as nuts and seeds. No grains, no cooked food, certainly no processed food. The strictest of fruitarians don’t even eat vegetables or starches… literally just fruit.
At first, I was horrified, and then I was fascinated—enough to want to give the diet a try myself. To see how my weeklong stab at fruitarianism went, keep reading!
Who Are These Fruitarians?
One of the most prominent fruitarian spokespeople is a YouTuber who goes by Freelee the Banana Girl. To all of her 670,000 subscribers, Freelee preaches the benefits of a fruit-heavy lifestyle, downing 30 (sometimes 50!) bananas in a single day. (Watching her do this on camera is oddly gripping.) Freelee’s view is that eating low-calorie fruits in large quantities delivers maximum glucose to the brain, fueling her mind and body while keeping it slim. From the looks of her washboard abs and fiery demeanor, she seems to be on a constant sugar high.
But even Freelee’s diet isn’t 100% fruit. “Depending on who you talk to, you can be a fruitarian if you eat at least 50% to 75% of your calories this way,” says LeVeque. In other words, there’s no official definition of the diet. That’s not to say someone who eats fruit salad for breakfast and lunch and then a Taco Bell feast for dinner would be considered a fruitarian, but the term is somewhat up for interpretation.
Why Go Fruitarian?
You might be wondering what on earth the argument is for eating a fruitarian diet. The answer here also varies. “Motivation to follow this lifestyle includes avoiding animal protein, increasing fiber, detoxifying the body, lowering calorie intake, and eliminating the need to cook,” says LeVeque. Some fruitarians even argue that there’s a moral component to it—that it’s only natural to eat food that falls from a tree naturally instead of ripping it from the ground. (I urge you to take this with a grain of salt.)
Despite the different interpretations, one thing all fruitarians have in common is this: They eat massive quantities of food and seem to manage to stay incredibly lean. Do a quick YouTube search, and you’ll find flat-stomached people from all over the world downing papayas and mangos by the dozens.
Personally, I’m not looking to lose weight. But the idea of getting to stuff your face and wake up with a flat tummy enticed me. Plus, even though I was already vegan when I discovered fruitarianism, my diet featured more processed junk and fewer fresh foods than it really should have. If nothing else, I figured a bout of fruitarianism could help me get into the habit of eating more raw fruits and veggies.
So, as an experiment, I resolved to follow a strict fruitarian diet for five days. I decided it would be more of a brief cleanse than a permanent lifestyle. I’ve always loved fruit, so I wasn’t nervous about my menu options. Plus, I hate cooking, so the raw thing seemed like a great fit. I had never been on a diet this specific before, but I was (naïvely) excited for the challenge.
The night before my diet, I did a giant fruit haul at Trader Joe’s (Sidenote: Following a fruit-only diet is delightfully cheap) and ate a “last meal” of vegan pizza and cupcakes. The next day, I would wake up a fruitarian.
What Does a Fruitarian Diet Look Like?
Here is exactly what I ate on my first day as a fruitarian…
Breakfast: A big smoothie with three bananas, blueberries, dates, and about a cup of coconut milk.
Morning snack: A handful of dried peaches.
Lunch: Two massive bowls of fruit salad, filled with bananas, grapes, and berries (followed by a vitamin B12 supplement).
Afternoon snack: A handful of dried figs.
Dinner: A large bowl of chopped avocado, cucumber, and tomato, dressed in olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper.
Dessert: A bag of raw almonds.
Throughout the day, everyone I interacted with asked me the same two questions: “Aren’t you starving?” and “How many times have you gone to the bathroom today?” My answers to both: “Surprisingly, no” and “Uh, a lot.”
As strange as it sounds, hunger was not the issue. This diet has nothing to do with portion control. You’re encouraged to eat as many fruits, nuts, and seeds as you desire. Polishing off those two bowls of fruit for lunch was shockingly difficult. Calorie-wise, I could have eaten the equivalent in tacos or pizza and still be starving. But the calorie density of these foods is so low that you can fill your stomach to the brim without actually overeating. Of course, downing raw fruit all day isn’t exactly exciting, but at least it doesn’t leave you hungry.
It does, however, encourage frequent bathroom breaks. Fruit is packed with fiber and water, two substances that seem to slip and slide right through the digestive system. All day, I could feel every twist of my intestines churning and bubbling to digest the food. Needless to say, this wasn’t comfortable. But sure enough, I woke up the morning of day two completely cleared out. My belly was astoundingly flat, and this was after a single day. With results like that, I had just one thought: Bring on the fruit!
Does a Fruit-Only Diet Work?
My second-day fruitarian menu was very similar to my first. This diet doesn’t exactly permit a ton of variety. My digestive system continued to writhe, but happily, my hunger level didn’t increase. However, things did get complicated when I realized I was slated to attend a cocktail party that evening.
Incidentally, the fruitarian literature doesn’t say much about alcohol. But I figured if I couldn’t even have broccoli, booze was probably off the table too. Like many other restrictive diets, fruitarianism isn’t conducive to social gatherings. Just imagine showing up to a restaurant with friends and asking for a crate of bananas.
By the time the cocktail party rolled around, my fruitarian enthusiasm was dwindling. I wanted to enjoy myself at the event (one vodka soda wouldn’t kill me, would it?). Plus, I was starting to get decidedly non-fruitarian cravings. Interestingly, these food hankerings weren’t for a big home-cooked meal or a fatty dessert. All I wanted was some kind of starch. Potatoes, maybe, or rice. Or pasta. Or bread. Just something a little more substantial to break up the sugary fruit.
So, admittedly, I cheated. There were plates of vegan avocado toast at the cocktail party, and around 7 p.m., I said screw it and had a couple slices (washed down with a vodka spritzer, might I add).
Even though I strayed from the diet, I didn’t want to throw in the towel. Health experts say this is a classic mistake. Just because you have a minor slip doesn’t mean you should give up altogether. Plus, 75% of my calories that day had been fruit-derived, so I was still technically in the fruitarian range.
I woke up the following day flat-stomached once again. The bread hadn’t ruined me after all. I was actually glad I had cheated. Sticking to a raw diet two meals out of three seemed like a reasonable lifestyle to me—something I could continue doing after my fruitarian “cleanse.”
What Are the Results?
For the remainder of my five-day experiment, I continued to stick to the 75% rule. For breakfast, lunch, and snacks, I’d reach for my tummy-flattening fruit. But dinner time would arrive, and I’d buckle. I’d desperately crave a starch. I suppose I could have suppressed these cravings, but I’m not keen on torturing myself. So instead, I whipped up a nightly plate of pasta or baked potatoes, and that seemed to hit the spot.
Even with my rule-breaking modifications, by the end of the week, I felt like I’d reaped the benefits of fruitarianism. I felt energized yet debloated. Plus, after a week of having paid such close attention to my food, I also felt more conscious of my eating patterns overall. I felt like I’d successfully broken my bad habit of grabbing a processed granola bar for breakfast and a frozen meal for lunch. In fact, my five days of fruitarianism ended over three weeks ago, and I haven’t eaten a hyper-processed meal since.
That said, I would not recommend following a 100% fruitarian diet all the time. And neither would most health experts. Certified nutritionist Dana James says that even though fruitarianism is better than the standard American diet, which is packed with hyper-processed foods, it’s still far from ideal. In the long run, the diet’s drawbacks are significant.
“The sugar from the excessive amount of fruit destabilizes blood sugar levels, which can lead to lethargy, cravings, lack of concentration, a disrupted microbiome, and more,” she says. Plus, it’s impossible to get complete nutrition from fruit alone. “You’ll need to supplement with protein powders, B complex, omega 3, iron, zinc, vitamin D, and iron,” James advises.
LeVeque agrees, saying, “I really don’t love this diet. The benefits don’t outweigh the drawbacks that include lack of amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, increased fructose metabolism, tooth decay, and increased cravings.” She also points out the pitfall of excess sugar, explaining that all the fructose from the fruit efficiently stores as fat and glucose, which can negatively affect blood sugar regulation. (As a note, LeVeque recommends her clients limit themselves to half a cup of fruit daily.)
That said, fruitarianism did remind me of a simple but important lesson: Eat more fresh food. Even as a vegan, I’ve sometimes overlooked the importance of making healthy choices from meal to meal. Now, I reach for a banana (or three) for breakfast instead of some junky cereal bar. When I make toast, I top it with avocado and tomato instead of slathering it in vegan cheese. If I wanted to flatten my stomach for some half-naked occasion, I might even try another weeklong fruitarian cleanse.
More importantly, my fruity week taught me to listen to my body. To care for it. To pay attention. I think for most of us, the perfect diet is always a work in progress. This was just another step along the way.
Interested to try this diet for yourself? Shop some of the fruitarian diet essentials below.
Would you try a fruitarian diet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
This post was originally published on September 28, 2016, on Byrdie.