Freelee the Banana girl has been in the news again for all the wrong reasons.
Freelee the Banana Girl is an internet health guru who is famous for her low fat, high carb diet and what she calls mono-meals, meals that are made from just one ingredient. Infamously, these mono-meals include eating up to 50 bananas at a time. I’m not even going to begin to unpack this latest saga, but putting her in the spotlight again has reminded us all of some of the non-evidence based things that Freelee has put her name to in the past. I think it’s really important that we talk about these things that come up because: health. I have a uterus, lots of our readers have uteruses, and about half the planet have them. So today, I want to address this comment:
“As soon as I came onto the raw lifestyle, within a month I lost my period…I still believe that largely menstruation is toxicity leaving the body. So a lot of women are having these heavy painful periods because they have a toxic body.”
Freelee posted this boastful video back in 2014. You can watch the whole thing here, if you’re interested.
Periods are a normal, healthy part of having a uterus* and losing your period (aside from being pregnant, during breastfeeding or menopause) is a cause for concern, not celebration. Having a regular period is a sign that you are in good health and that your body is functioning optimally. Missing a period here and there is not normally something to worry about, but missing more than a few, especially in a row, is a sign that your hormones might be out of whack and this can have dangerous health consequences such as infertility and osteoporosis.
The science of amenorrhoea
Amenorrhoea refers to the absence of menstrual cycles. In adults, it refers to the absence of periods for three months or more. The most common cause of amenorrhoea is hormone disruptions and they in turn are most commonly affected by stress, rapid and excessive weight loss and excessive exercise.
It all starts with a low level of available energy. Your body relies on a certain amount of energy coming in from food and drink every day to carry out all processes. Cut the amount of energy coming in by eating less or make less energy available through excessive exercise and your body struggles to do everything that it needs to do. It starts to prioritise what it must do in order to keep you alive – and reproducing isn’t one of them. Your body will stop making enough of the hormones essential for normal menstrual function – oestrogen and progesterone.
A low level of reproductive hormones and an absence of a menstrual cycle means our fertility is at risk and we could have trouble getting pregnant.
Oestrogen is also really important for good bone health as it helps protect against bone loss. Our bones are in a constant state of flux – materials are constantly being added and taken away in minute amounts. That’s because our bones act as a giant reservoir for minerals such as calcium which are needed in very specific amounts in our blood. Oestrogen helps make sure we don’t lose too much mass from our bones – it’s the reason why females are at a greater risk of osteoporosis after menopause when oestrogen levels decline rapidly. This same risk of osteoporosis is present in in women who have lost their periods because of a lack of oestrogen in their bodies.
Osteoporosis is a very serious condition whereby bones become brittle and weak and can easily break, which significantly impacts on quality of life. It is also possible to have the less serious form of the disease, osteopenia, in which bones are weak but not yet as brittle as with osteoporosis. This condition can lead to stress fractures, but is reversible.
Who’s at risk?
Extreme dieters. In Freelee’s case, it was her switch to a very strict, low fat, low energy diet that caused her to lose her period. Other people might be at risk if they have rapidly lost a lot of weight or if they have an eating disorder. This is also why a lot of health professionals are worried about the rise of “clean eating” and orthorexia because disordered eating can also cause amenorrhoea.
Extreme exercisers. This group includes all sorts of professional athletes such as ballet dancers and marathon runners. This is not to say that all professional athletes are at risk, or that professional athletes shouldn’t do what they love.
Stress can also cause someone to lose their period.
The Good News
Most of the ill effects of amenorrhoea can be reversed with a realistic and reasonable diet and exercise regime. The key is to make sure to consume enough energy for our body’s needs. If you want to find out more about what this might look like, read the Australian Dietary Guidelines here and here. Usually, this will enable our body to make enough of the hormones that cause us to have a period. In turn, this will allow us to make sure our bones are strong and will allow us to live a full and happy life. Freelee touched on this concept in her video – she lost her period for nine months and then started to eat more fat and her period returned.
So, there you have it. Periods, while sometimes annoying and inconvenient, are a normal and healthy function of having a uterus. Menstruation is simply your body letting go of materials it doesn’t need right now – and there’s nothing toxic about that.
*while periods are normal, really heavy and/or painful periods are not. If your periods are heavy or painful, you don’t have a toxic body, but you might like to talk to your doctor about it.