Freelee the Banana Girl eats 50 bananas a day—that's it. But experts warn fad diets, like feasting only on fruit to lose weight, can do serious damage
Sure, you may say you could survive on just pizza—or, in healthier moments, swear you could get by on your favorite fruit. But what if that was all you could eat for every meal, every day? That’s the idea behind the mono diet. And we’re not talking about scarfing a banana because you missed lunch. We’re talking about downing 15 or so bananas at each meal.
Mono diets are nothing new: There's the Apple Diet, the way-too-good-to-be-true Chocolate Diet, and even the Milk Diet (which was actually developed by two doctors). In the slightly less hardcore realm, there are fruitarians, or people who limit their fuel to the food group of fruit (fruitarianism is the diet that famously sent Ashton Kutcher to the hospital in 2013). Today, the #monomeal hashtag on Instagram—highlighting people's beautiful pictures of a plate loaded with a single kind of food—has over 24,000 uploads. (But is it as bad as The 8 Worst Weight Loss Diets in History?)
The most famous of mono diet devotees, though, is Freelee the Banana Girl, an Australian who regularly blends 10 to 15 bananas into one breakfast smoothie—then repeats that for lunch and dinner, downing about 50 bananas a day (that's including a few whole ones she eats to tide herself over between meals). Freelee has been blowing up the internet for the past year or two, garnering a massive social media following and even writing a book, 30 Bananas a Day.
Why on earth would you want to eat 50 bananas in one day? Advocates argue that eating a single type of food can not only help you lose weight and solve digestive issues like bloating, but also takes the guesswork out of healthy eating and streamlines your meals.
But, while Freelee the Banana Girl's flat stomach and pseudo-credentials may be tempting, no social media following matches up to an actual nutrition degree. “I would never recommend a mono diet, and I don’t think any dietitian would suggest you just eat fruit for an extended period of time,” says holistic nutritionist Laura Lagano, R.D. A day or weekend of paring down your diet to a few nutritious staples can certainly help people who get overwhelmed about food decisions. But sticking to just a few foods—let alone a single source—for any longer than that deprives your body of essential nutrients, she says.
“We need to eat a variety of foods because they each provide different nutrients essential to the functioning of our bodies,” says Manuel Villacorta, R.D., author of Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Super Foods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss. “Eating 50 bananas a day is crazy—it would create a massive nutrient deficiency.” (And so do these 7 Ingredients That Are Robbing You of Nutrients.)
Mono diet disciples typically do allow themselves to trade out their food of choice—sometimes. Freelee, for example, will turn to a single fruit that’s on sale that day, and she eats one head of lettuce a few times a week—and she recommends 2,500 calories a day to her “banana girls," including a miniscule amount from additional sources like coconut water, potatoes, or other fruits and veggies. One banana, by the way, has 105 calories. That means she herself is consuming upwards of 5,000 calories.
But her guidelines for where your calories should come from suggest 90 percent carbs and max five percent from fat and protein a day. Most other monomeals, like those of fruitarians, fall into a similar realm. The problem? Fat—which no fruit has a sufficient amount of—is essential for neurological functioning, Lagano says. And many vitamins, like E, D, and K, are fat-soluble, so your body can’t even digest the great nutrients you’re trying to load it up with, Villacorta explains. As for protein, the amount in fruit isn’t enough to sustain a sedentary person, let alone the levels needed by the body of an active person—a category we assume people using this extreme diet to be “healthy” fall into, he adds. (You also need these 7 Nutrients That Help Increase Muscle Tone.)
And those are just the macronutrients. The reason nutritionists recommend eating a rainbow of colors is because there are different micronutrients, like phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins, in each kind of food. If you’re only eating oranges or bananas, your body isn’t garnering the lycopene in tomatoes and red bell peppers or the beta-carotene in carrots and sweet potatoes, not to mention countless other essential nutrients.
On top of all the physiological damage monomeals do to your health, it can be psychologically damaging. “Limiting your food to a single source sounds like disruptive eating,” says Lagano, referring to an eating disorder. In fact, Freelee does say on her site that she has a history of bulimia, anorexia, and extreme dieting (which her banana diet supposedly cured as monomeals throw portion control out the window). This idea of qualifying mono diets as an eating disorder, which is echoed by most nutritionists, is made even scarier considering the fact that Freelee has over 230,000 Instagram followers. But followers aren't everything: Mono dieting can also limit your socialization—so much of our social life revolves around food, and interacting with friends is one of the most crucial factors to your health as well, Lagano adds. (Sound familiar? Check out these other 9 Signs You’re on a Fad Diet.)
Just like with all fad diets, monomeals won’t help you lose weight or “reset” your psyche without causing serious damage to your health. But there are ways to achieve both: Cutting out processed foods and incorporating more smoothies of all colors can help your body reboot, says Villacorta. Opt for something like The Clean Green Food & Drink Cleanse which focuses on robust smoothies and clean foods. You'll only have to scarf down two bananas a day, max—we swear.