Some vegan and raw food bloggers believe that menstruation is unclean and a curse—and that we'd be better off without periods at all.
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"If it's so unhealthy for me to go through a period of not having my period, then why did I feel so amazing?" In a YouTube video called "How I lost my period on a RAW VEGAN Diet," vlogger Freelee the Banana Girl tells her 700,000 followers about something occasionally experienced by women who've made a big change to their eating habits: the disappearance of her period.
She says that within a month of starting a "100 percent raw vegan diet," her periods stopped and only returned after nine months, but much more lightly. But instead of being a little worried, as we might expect, she was stoked.
"I still believe that, largely, menstruation is toxicity leaving the body," she explains in her controversial video, which saw heavy criticism from some viewers and eating disorder charity Beat. "So a lot of people are having these heavy, heavy periods and painful periods because they have a toxic body or have a toxic diet."
Instead, Freelee believes a light period—or "mega light," in her words—is a healthy one, and that uncomfortable periods are "not natural," and down to a fatty or "toxic" diet.
"At the end of the day if you're having a heavy period, if you're having a painful period, then get on a 100 percent high carb raw vegan diet as soon as you can." Her video has attracted over 395,000 views since it was uploaded.
Watch: The History of Birth Control
Missing your period once—let alone for nine months—is rarely considered a good thing by doctors unless you're looking to get pregnant. Stress, polycystic ovary syndrome, obesity, and sudden weight loss are among the assortment of cited reasons that a woman might stop experiencing what's usually considered a normal reproductive process.
But a handful of vegan, raw, and clean eating bloggers claim that using your diet to achieve a sporadic and light period—or one that's completely nonexistent—is healthier and more natural.
"Many girls who lose their period often worry and try numerous things to get it back," writes Miliany on her blog, RawVeganLiving."It's often advised that to get your period back, you should stop exercising and eat more calories and incorporate more plant-based fats in your diet.
"What if I told you that everything you were taught about menstrual cycles was a complete LIE?!"
Through Freelee and Miliany espouse different theories, they both come to the same conclusion: that modern society has sold women the idea that menstruation is healthy and that periods are better lighter or halted altogether by adopting raw and vegan diets.
I reached out to Miliany, who told me that she believes "a non-menstruating body indicates the body is clean."
"If a woman or young girl decided she wanted to stop menstruating or lighten up her heavy periods, then I would recommend a raw foods diet to help them with that," she says. "The industry has done a great job of brainwashing too many women into thinking that if they do not get their periods on a monthly basis, that something is wrong with their body and hormones."
However, Dr Jackie Maybin, a clinical lecturer in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Edinburgh, warns against changing your diet in an attempt to alter your menstrual cycle.
"It's difficult to recommend a strict vegan diet without investigating hormone levels and endometrial health in these women," she says of bloggers like Freelee and Milliany. "It's likely that the complete absence of periods—amenorrhea—indicates that ovulation is not occurring and could have a significant negative impact on reproductive health."
In comments reported by the Daily Mail, eating disorder charity Beat said of Freelee's video: "Although taken out of the new diagnostic criteria for anorexia as it excludes men, amenorrhea has in the past been used to diagnose anorexia nervosa. Being at a low weight and restricting intake for a significant lengths of time can have other serious side effects—low blood pressure, osteoporosis, organ failure, infertility, restricted growth among others."
For other bloggers, there is an almost quasi-religious connection between periods and clean eating, the diet turned lifestyle that can sometimes tip over into a form of disordered eating known as orthorexia.
A raw food blog titled RawforLife exemplifies this attitude, asking: "If we were all living natural [sic], in a 'Garden of Eden', without pads, tampons, tissues (or even clothes?), would we all be running around dripping blood all over the place for a few days a month?"
Despite being posted eight years ago, a post called "Periods—they may be normal but are they healthy?" continues to be one of the site's most shared and commented on pieces today.
"The main aim of this article has been to challenge the prevailing view of periods as 'healthy,'" a raw food blogger called Debbie writes. She claims that menstruation could be a symptom of living a non-raw vegan lifestyle: "Perhaps periods—the pain, the blood flow, PMT were rightly named a 'curse'—a curse on us for falling short of living how we are meant to live physically and psychologically."
This idea comes up regularly among these bloggers: that women hundreds of years ago—and animals—had or have lighter periods thanks to a plant-based diet.
It's likely that the complete absence of periods—amenorrhoea—indicates that ovulation is not occurring.
Maybin, however, says that these claims have little basis in medical fact. "It's true that women previously had fewer periods; approximately 40 in their lifetime, versus about 400 for modern women in developed countries," she says. "However, I think this is unlikely to be due to a vegan or plant-based diet, but because these women were either pregnant or lactating for most of their lives."
Freelee and Debbie did not respond to comment (Freelee started a new ASMR-themed YouTube channel in April). But when asked directly by followers, they both refute the claim they're encouraging women to stop their periods—though regardless of their intentions, their influence is clear.
While Debbie's comment section is packed with breastfeeding mothers and those on the cusp of the menopause deliberating these ideas, Freelee's is dominated by young people—some teenagers as young as 13—thanking her for inspiring them to change their diet.
"The medical industry certainly doesn't tell us the truth," writes one under the "How I lost my period on a RAW VEGAN Diet" video. "Trust your fellow humans, not outdated tradition, disease and corporations who spread lies."
But Maybin warns that a very restrictive diet or excessive exercise can also lead to a condition called hypothalamic hypogonadism. "In menstruating women, the brain sends signals to the ovaries to produce hormones to regulate the endometrium. This results in ovulation and, if pregnancy does not occur, menstruation.
"In hypothalamic hypogonadism, the body assumes a state of stress and shuts off the signal from the brain to the ovaries. This reverts the body to a pre-pubescent like state, where pregnancy is not possible as the ovaries temporarily shut down and menstruation does not occur.
"If this state is maintained long term, women can have problems due to low estrogen levels, e.g. risk of loss of bone mineral density and osteoporosis."
While she says that not enough research has been done to know exactly what effects diet can have on menstruation, it makes sense that a "healthy balanced diet"—i.e. one that does not excessively restrict certain food groups—is good for all women and their periods.
Despite the risks, these blogs remain popular, including a new video uploaded by Freelee in September: "If you've got heavy periods, that's not normal," she says in the clip, which has been viewed almost 250,000 times. "That is not as healthy as you can be."