One Mom in the Middle…
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Vegans and the reality of the energy balance

Published 9.21.2016
I've written before that veganism doesn't negate the energy balance, and that "Freelee the Banana Girl" and her advice demonstrate that fact. I noted when I first wrote about the woman, who is "Youtube famous," that I did so because my daughter had found her videos and nutrition advice, and that it concerned me. It still does, but I'm happy to report that my daughter has since done her own research, and no longer thinks Freelee is correct.

Yet, she still watches the woman's videos, and so I continue to monitor her site as well as others in the "Vegan Youtube" community. It would seem that others have discovered Freelee and her nutritional nonsense and have decided to debunk her.

For those who are unaware of the Freelee and her beliefs, she touts a vegan diet that she has branded as "Raw till 4" (with till spelled incorrectly). Folloiwng this diet, people are told to eat 2500-3000 calories a day, no matter their size and age. The conceit is that all the calories until 4:00 PM are to be raw foods, specifically fruit (she used to be a fruitarian). After 4:00, food can be cooked, but must still be very low fat and vegan.

She has over 720,000 subscribers to her Youtube channel, and has convince a number of vegans to eat this way— with an ever growing number of them becoming obese following this advice. Veganism does not negate the energy balance. Fruit can have fat content, and if you're are overeating, that fat will be efficiently stored in the body.

Freelee uses cult tactics?

A relatively new Youtuber using the handle "SheThrowsShade"(STS) claims to be a journalist student, and decided to investigate Freelee and her claims. Some of her source materials were discovered by this Youtuber, who doesn't say what her motivation was/is. The thesis of the STS investigation is that Freelee uses tactics similar to cultists to build and control her community. I don't know that I'm willing to go that far… however, the reports emanating from the Thai Fruit Festival held in Chang Mail Thailand and organized by Freelee and her former boyfriend are disturbing.

My focus here, however, is going to remain on the energy balance and Freelee's refusal to admit its reality. What these two investigators have done, is go back and look at the archived data on the web. Apparently when she began building websites, Freelee did so on host of ever changing free platforms. For those who don't code on the web, when you build sites on free platforms, generally you don't have complete control of the metatags. Metatags are code that tells the server how to treat your content when it is accessed, and whether or not to archive it. The default is to allow the content to be archived, meaning that a record of what you've posted can remain available on a remote server even if you delete the sites. Freelee appears to have been unaware of this fact.

I would guess that many amateur website creators aren't aware of the fact, and in general it doesn't matter— unless you're concerned about copyright (which is why sites like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal don't permit web archiving, though they maintain their own archives) or if you change your story from one site to another or over time. The latter is what Freeleee has done.

Freelee has changed her story a number of times, and when challenged she tends to delete those comments or denigrate the Youtubers doing it. It's hard for me to complain about people deleting comments though, as I won't even try to deal with them here myself.

But to get back to the point for this section: The charge is that Freelee uses cultist tactics:

  • She lies about the effectiveness of her program and the effects.
  • She also doesn't have the credentials that she claims either, which goes to creating a position of (false) authority over followers.
  • She targets younger viewers by attacking other Youtubers popular with young people to get views.
  • Dissenting viewpoints are deleted and the dissenter attacked as traitorous.
  • People who follow her diet and gain weight are shamed and told they are doing it wrong.
  • She tells followers to disassociate from their non-vegan.
  • She promotes anti-natalism (basically telling young people they should never have children and take steps to make reproducing.)

The now deleted website "30 bananas a day sucks" used to do the same, although to my knowledge, 30BAD never accused Freelee of building a cult. The website was deleted because Freelee and her former boyfriend (who uses the handle Durianrider if you're really interested in searching for him) forced it to be taken down. My point is though, that a lot of the commentary about Freelee has been said before, and a lot of the evidence has been shown before. The cult tactics charge is really the new twist.

I have to say that at the end, I wasn't convinced. Freelee is running a business. She makes a living making Youtube videos and monetizing them. Putting the names of bigger Youtubers in a video title guarantees a bump up in views. That's why she and others do it. As for deleting comments, it's her page and community, and she gets to decide what happens there. That's not censorship— only the government can censor someone. A private individual has no responsibility to host any and all comments in their space— just as I have the right to tell you to leave my home if you're being rude.

Freelee's arguments and positions can be answered anywhere else on the internet. Making a website is easy, creating a Youtube channel is a bit more difficult, but frankly, it's not rocket science. I do wonder about the parents of some of these very young teens who head to Thailand alone— what can they be thinking? Adults, however, have the right to be stupid and make stupid choices. And going to Thailand and following Freelee or her former boyfriend falls into that category.

Metabolic Damage

Rather than throwing around cult accusations, I think the more important point made in those videos is that Freelee lost her weight the old fashion way (eating less and moving more) and that it didn't take six years for her to do it, rather she lost it in about six months— just as the energy balance would suggest.. To lose her weight Freelee became a fruitarian (eating only fruit which lowered her calorie intake) and began biking for hours a day. Nor was she talking about "metabolic damage" at that point.

The entire metabolic damage lie stems from a need to explain to followers who were putting on weight eating the volume of food that Freelee appeared to eat. The initial response, naturally, was that the followers were cheating on the diet and eating fat and/or animal products. Animal products in the mind of these vegans seem to have some magically augmented means of fattening up people. That's ludicrous of course, it's all about intake vs expenditure. Plant foods tend to be less calorically dense so that a larger volume can be consumed for the same amount of calories. But as I showed using fruit, you can get fat on a vegan diet if you ingest more than your body expends.

However, eventually she couldn't ignore the fact that many followers were not cheating, but they were still putting on weight— in some cases, a lot of weight. And so was born the "metabolic damage" excuse. Freelee got a hold of the book documenting the Minnesota Starvation experiment, where conscientious objectors to World War II were starved in an attempt to simulate the effects of the deprivation experienced in Europe under the Nazis. The experiment would never be conducted today, as it was extremely damaging to the subjects. Subjects in this extreme state of deprivation (not only were the men starved of food, they were required to exercise for long periods each day), in fact, did experience a range of damage, including to their metabolisms. The thing is, once they started eating again, they all recovered. Men who were dismissed before the end of the experiment recovered quite quickly, once they started eating again. The body wants to heal itself.

However, most dieters, even long term dieters, never experience that level of abuse— because no one wants to live that way. There is one group that is a glaring exception, and that would be anorexia nervosa sufferers. The thing is, the metabolisms of anorexics also recovers quickly— once they start eating again. And there are vegan anorexics on Youtube who make this point as they share their experiences of the disease and recovery.

Freelee clearly didn't understand what she was reading, but glommed onto the term "metabolic damage" because it allowed her to continue to blame the poor fools following her nutritional advice, rather than admit that advice resulted in massive overfeeding and entirely predictable weight loss. In the end, there is the energy balance. Veganism does not negate it.

Body dysmorphia

Freelee offered a response to this latest round of charges— bearing in mind that the woman deletes videos and posts regularly when her story changes, here is her Tumblr post and here is the Youtube video. The relevant content occurs at the 4 minute mark and lasts about two minutes. She shows the same video clips that were the subject of the critiques, and simply restated her erroneous interpretation of the body’s metabolism.

The thing that struck me reading and watching is that she was just never that big, but certainly she thought (thinks) she was. She was, at most, at the top of the BMI range. Now she’s at about BMI 20. It’s actually painful (as a mother who worries about her ballerina daughter and the weight issues inherent in that world) to listen to her go on about how fat she is in the videos. She was NOT obese, she wasn't even truly overweight. She just wasn’t lean enough to have a thigh gap. And plainly, the thigh gap is essential to Freelee.

To put numbers to it, based on what she actually wrote (as opposed to what she says now) Freelee, who is 5'7" tall was at her peak 154 lbs.

Rather than a cut tactics, I wonder if Freelee's biggest harm is passing on her body dysmorphia. A thigh gap is not a requirement for good health or beauty. It simply is not. I keep saying that I'm done with all this, but I can't be so long as anyone I care about watches this dreck.

Youtuber Unnatural Vegan also made a video about the issue, which I'm highlighting because for a vegan, she's fairly reasonable. Her videos are also fact and science based. She makes no bones about the fact that vegans need to supplement, in fact, she goes well beyond B12 in her recommendations.

Vegan only since 1944?

This doesn't really relate to Vegansim was invented by Donald Watson in 1944. I had no idea. What, then, is the deal then with the upset when non-vegans point out that veganism is NOT the natural diet of people? If veganism was only invented in 1944, then in no way can it be considered the ancestral diet of any society— which indeed it is not.

Vegsource (which is a Youtube channel as well as the website linked above) gave a history of veganism. The founder of the vegan diet intended it only as a way of eating— NOT an animal rights movement. Vegans existed before there was a term for them, but they were few in number (why? because they didn’t have B12 supplements or fortified food to keep themselves healthy would be my guess). The term vegetarian existed, but vegetarians still eat eggs and meat. Basically, Watson wanted a way to differentiate his diet from vegetarianism— which does have an ancestral history. There are groups (if not whole societies) that have lived as vegetarians in history— but never as vegans.

This changed in 1951, when Watson was ousted by Leslie Cross who changed the emphasis from diet to animal rights. Now the vegan goal was to end the exploitation of animals. I had no idea that this was the history, and to be clear, the guy writing this history IS vegan— though apparently he’s not on board with the militant animal rights activists.

Frankly, it's the animal rights aspect of veganism that puts most people off. If vegans would instead note the benefits of eating more plants, rather than accusing other eaters of committing murder I think they'd get more people to eat less meat. Less meat eaten means fewer animals killed and less animal suffering. Isn't that supposed to be the goal?

The issue that injures vegans arguments is the failure to forthrightly acknowledge that veganism is only possible in the modern world, where there are supplements and fortification of foods to make up for the deficits in the vegan diet. Vegans must supplements. To pretend otherwise (and so many vegans do) is to falsify your argument before you're finished making it. Being honest about the limitations as well as the benefits would go a long way (in my view) to making a vegan diet more interesting to more people.


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