I am a graduate of nutrition from a respected institution whose teachers are pretty much anti-diet. We prefer the phrase "dietary changes" to describe any lifestyle change someone is making to improve how and what they consume and eschew advising anyone to adhere to the current popular perception of a diet.
This includes Paleo-dieting, most forms of veganism and fasting, juice cleanses and the like. The reason for advising against them is usually due to knowledge and research on the subject.
While it's popular in the raw food community (Instagram is brimming with photos tagged with "#monomeal" or "#monoisland" and Buzzfeed has written an article on the trend), a mono diet is something relatively new to lots of people. Fervent believers tout that a mono-diet, or more specifically a Mono Island diet, is a great way to temporarily simplify your eating habits, discover foods responsible for causing digestive troubles, rest your digestive tract and allow healing, while allowing you to taste the true flavor of a food and regain awareness of when you’re truly full.
While the mono diet sounds a little extreme, any diet that excludes junk and fast foods could be an improvement. And since a 3-day diet is not extremely harmful for a healthy person, I figured I’d give it a shot to see.
When I was in school, we were taught that empathy makes a great dietitian so we were given the same assignment every semester in which we were challenged to eat a diet designed for our future clients and patients. By the end of each project, I was a little more aware of how hard it is to transition dietary habits.
In those cases, however, dire health reasons such as Celiac disease or Diabetes are usually the motivators. Mono Island dieting, however, is always a voluntary measure. I’m a bit skeptical by both training and by nature, but Mono Island dieting is currently big in "detox culture," which evolves by the minute and often causes people to eat in a way that typically won’t be advantageous in the long-term.
I was unable to find any research studies conducted on Mono dieters and Mono Islanders that tested their diet’s efficacy and its overall impact on the body. Instead, it's supported by anecdotes on personal websites. Mono dieting is linked to the raw vegan community, which makes sense. It also seems to be popular among eating disorder online support groups, which is disconcerting.
Still, I look forward to seeing the results. I’m hoping that some stomach troubles I’ve had recently will subside if I give my stomach a rest before seeing my doctor. I'm ready to see.
It’s getting real:
I started out feeling optimistic and glad I didn't have to think about cooking for the day.
My optimism changed quickly. I could barely stomach eating more than maybe 4 bananas at a time, though beginners are advised to eat 6-8 at a meal to satiety. I collected enough bananas to eat on my first day and I could only get through 11. I like bananas, but somehow eating all of them at once made them unpalatable. My body overall was feeling sort of sluggish and lethargic later in the evening, which I noticed most clearly as I bent down to get my dog’s leash on and felt dizzy coming up.
Mentally, my head was cloudy. My stomach is grumbling and kind of ache-y, if also a little bloated. Pains struck at about 8 pm that were difficult to ignore. I drank a respectable amount of water .
Eating 11 ripened bananas the first day gave me just 1,375 calories, almost 650 calories shy of what I would normally eat. That looks okay, but in actuality, it feels like skipping a meal, stomach grumbling, tired with an inability to focus, and all-around miserable. I couldn’t stomach another banana, but paradoxically my stomach couldn’t do without another, either.
I was still feeling pretty miserable. My teeth hurt, and my jaw was aching faintly. Although I was still feeling sort of lethargic and cloudy, the saving grace was that my skin looked pretty nice. That could be attributed to the water.
Wicked cravings for pizza, pasta, and everything I generally don’t eat keep growing. I caved and ate a Lara Bar. Then a few cherry fruit leathers. Then some vegan bacon-flavored chips. Then dinner.
Palpitations in my chest made the plan hard to commit to. The mental cloudiness also drove me bonkers, and I could tell that the number of blank stares I gave in conversation were driving other people crazy, too.
I considered getting back into the routine and when I woke up, but I quickly jumped ship and ate some breakfast. I know I have mental fortitude, but my body was screaming for something more than a banana.
So I left Banana Island a bit early.
To be quite honest, many of the negative parts of the diet were expected, but some weren’t. I expected to feel lethargic because anecdotes online said that it takes a few days for the energy high to kick in. That means I gave up before I ever could have reached a rise in energy levels. I did awake on my second morning with a refreshed feeling that lasted just shy of two hours before I felt dizzy, tired, and cloudy again.
The chest pains started pretty quickly, and had it not been for the combination of those and stomach pangs, I think I could have made it. I went looking for answers about the chest pains, and I figured it could be something to do with hyperkalemia, the overabundance of Potassium in the bloodstream that is linked to heart arrhythmias and electrolyte imbalances. It likely would have taken many more than my 11 bananas to get to that point, so I’ll have to bring it up to my doctor the next time I see him.
The mental cloudiness could have been due to the exclusion of protein and fat which help stabilize blood sugar levels, causing your energy levels to steady and enabling mental focus.
The diet is commonly advised for a maximum of 3 days, a common length to many cleanse-type diets. Since the Banana Island diet is restricted to just a single food, with optional but advisable inclusion of some green vegetables, it really doesn’t provide any variety, provides insufficient protein and fat, and many micronutrients are excluded, which are essential to your body’s functioning.
I love vegetables and fruits, but I won't be returning to Banana Island again, at least not without the proper scientific studies. That’s the lifeblood of the dietetic's practice, and science with a tinge of practicality should always be at the core of decisions pertaining to the body.
And if you're wondering, yes, I shudder at the thought of a banana now.