In the video Freelee discusses how a sudden change to a raw vegan diet back in 2007 caused her periods to stop for 9 months and then come back at the same time as she reintroduced cooked food into her diet.
The YouTube star goes on to talk about the ways in which a high fat diet (a diet where more than 10% of your calorie intake is from fat) and cooked foods have a negative impact on her period causing it to be heavier and more painful which she believes are signs of toxicity in the body. She strongly recommends that anybody experiencing painful or heavy periods switch to a fully raw high carb low fat (HCLF) diet as soon as possible.
Freelee is not the only one who believes that anything but a light, painless period is a sign of uncleanliness in the body. Miliany Bonet, 19 year old vegan blogger at RawVeganLiving, also documented losing her period on a raw diet. She did some research into whether it was healthy and came across Markus Rothkranz, raw diet advocate, who believes in epigenetic birth control.
Epigenetics is the study of the way genes change with factors such as lifestyle, environment and age as opposed to a change in a DNA sequence. Rothkranz is said to have stated that if you follow a raw vegan diet and “liv[e] the way nature intended” you can lose your period and will only get pregnant if you want to.
What’s the truth?
Vegans are constantly battling the truth regarding nutrition. Recently a story hit the news claiming that bringing up children on a vegan diet can be harmful to their wellbeing and in some cases result in death.
This was following a couple in Belgium who fed their baby a very strict diet causing him to become malnourished and underweight. By the time medical professionals got involved it was too late and the child died. However, there are many studies that support the idea that vegans can get everything they need from their food if you get the right balance (just like any other diet).
In addition to this, anecdotally, many children thrive on vegan diets. The child who passed away was not a victim of veganism, his parents were not considering his nutritional needs. This is just one example of the ways in which vegans constantly face challenges and criticism regarding their lifestyle. The media’s scepticism surrounding this topic, and indeed the way it’s been publicised, seems to be just another attack on veganism as a whole.
In this case, however, there is very little evidence to back up the claim made by Freelee and Bonet.
Amenorrhea (loss of period for 3 months or more) can actually be a sign of malnutrition and is often experienced by people who have eating disorders. Neither Freelee or Bonet know whether they were ovulating during the time that they were period-free and not ovulating can indicate that your body is under a lot of stress.
Changing from a diet that included cooked foods to a raw diet is a big change for your body and it’s possible that their bodies were struggling with this. In addition, Freelee notes that she had recently come off the contraceptive pill at the same time and it can take up to two years for your period to return to normal when people make this change.
The meat and dairy industries in particular have a lot of control over the way in which facts surrounding nutrition are presented to the public and as such many people who know this have the knee jerk reaction to believe stories from seemingly fit and healthy people;but anecdotal evidence should never be a replacement for scientific study.
On the positive side, Freelee (who talks openly about menstruation) appears to have regained her period just much lighter and pain free (the dream for anyone who menstruates). Her period came back at around the same time as she reintroduced cooked food into her diet, but she is now still menstruating and 100% raw. It’s possible, then, that her body either recovered from the shock of coming off the contraceptive pill or adjusted to Freelee’s new lifestyle.
Perhaps Freelee’s painless periods can be attributed to her high banana intake, a fruit known for reducing menstrual cramps and bloating.
Nonetheless, there is no evidence to suggest that her lack of menstruation for nine months was either healthy or unhealthy however just because it worked out okay for her, does not mean it will be the same for everyone.
Should these stories be shared on social media?
Both Freelee and Bonet acknowledge in their video and post respectively that they are simply telling their stories, however it’s still possible that sharing this sort of information about themselves could have a negative impact on the wider community.
Freelee claims that she has helped many people recover from eating disorders by encouraging them to follow her lifestyle. However, a raw vegan lifestyle has been linked to Orthorexia Nervosa, a medically unrecognised term coined by Steven Bratman to describe people who are obsessed with their health to the point that they will not eat any foods deemed ‘unhealthy’.
Eating disorders are not as simple as how much a person does or does not eat, they are mental illnesses that manifest themselves in a poor relationship with body image, food and exercise. Although not everyone who follows a raw vegan diet has an eating disorder it is possible that this lifestyle can be used to hide an eating disorder. In addition to this, amenorrhea has been used in the past as an indicator of Anorexia Nervosa (removed only due to the condition excluding people who don’t have uteruses).
For many people with eating disorders, the biggest hurdle is admitting that they have one in the first place; normalising things like skipped periods does not help people who are suffering from malnutrition.
So, what can we take from discussions such as these?
Well, what is healthy and normal for one person’s body, might not be healthy and normal for others. There is no medical proof from either blogger that their loss of period was healthy or that they were ovulating at the time. It also seems dangerous to be spreading misinformation that losing your period is normal and healthier than having one.
It is always best not to follow anecdotal advice not backed up by scientific study.
If you feel you want to talk to someone about your relationship with food there is a lot of information on how to seek help and speak to people. Please follow one of the links below.
If you have skipped several periods then you should consult your GP.