The Food Babe Way: A Book Review

By now you’ve probably heard of Vani Hari, aka, the Food Babe, in some way shape or form. If you have followed the recent story on how Subway eventually removed Azodicarbonamide from its bread, then you know of her. She currently has her hands in several other investigations, such as getting Kraft to remove artificial dyes in their macaroni and cheese products, removing BHT from cereals and recently exposing the mind-numbing fact that the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte had neither pumpkin nor spice.

So immediately, given my personal interest in healthy, conscious eating, I took a liking to her. I started following some of her campaigns, and using my background in public health, performed my own research on similar topics. I have made personal (family-wide) campaigns against certain ingredients I now refuse to eat or drink, such as carrageenan – found in many brands of almond milk. (It definitely upsets my stomach and has loosely been associated with colon cancer). Giving that up was a no brainer. I was on the same page as the Food Babe, until I read her book, The Food Baby Way.

Her book guides the average (arguably uninformed) reader through a list of unhealthy chemicals we as society have ‘been duped’ into consuming. She carves out a list of what she calls, ‘The Sickening 15”, and relates many of her own childhood illnesses to this list. Many of the items on the list are very common knowledge, and several are not (dough conditioners). For example, growth hormones in meat, pesticides, BPA in plastics, and of course high fructose corn syrup, just to name a few are always in the media whether the message comes from Coca Cola, plastic water bottle campaigns, or labels on meat. My personal vendetta is against carrageenan, and that’s on her list too. (Thus far, no problems with her philosophy in creating this list). She then takes the reader into her personal 21-day detox. There are so many kinds of detox diets on the market, you could choose a new one every for 52 weeks, and her detox isn’t ground-breaking. I will pause here to insert that as a public health educator and conscious eater, I whole-heartedly do not believe in the concept of a detox or a cleanse. A detox is eliminating your regular foods in lieu of others (most often liquids) at a highly concentrated dosage. The body is not designed to handle drinking 5-6 juices per day for 5-10 days straight. Consider replacing a snack with a fresh juice, but not a meal. Juice fasts are not sustainable and it does not promote healthy habits in my opinion. Thus, when it comes to the Food Babe, I certainly do not agree in calling her prescription a detox; additionally, she makes several claims that I don’t feel are completely warranted. All of my opinions are in the context that I already live by the 80/20 principle (eat clean 80% of the time), therefore I wasn’t too motivated to change my habits despite to her accusatory tone.

Let me now highlight a couple of reasons why I am parting from the Food Babe way. (As always, do your own research, and use your own judgment). The majority of her rules are decent, and as I mentioned earlier I have been following such guidelines for years already. However, here are a few rules that offend me.

Day 3 – Stop drinking with your meals

Stop drinking fluids with meals? She claims that symptoms such as indigestion, heartburn, bloating, fatigue and headaches (to name a few) are likely caused by the habit of drinking fluids with meals. I would argue that the foods she was eating was probably causing those symptoms, as I drink water with my meals every day and have never once experienced this.

Day 4 – Drink and bathe in pure, clean, filtered water

There is not much I can say about this but who feels so entitled that they can afford to bathe in pure, clean, filtered water? Is she not aware that California has been in a drought for four years? Fine – drink clean water, but to profess to the world that one needs to bathe in it becomes preposterous.

Day 20 – Fast 12 hours every day.

This one bothers me the most, because I understand fasting and I believe she is providing mixed messages. She takes the overnight fast from your last meal to the extreme. She suggests, that because you are already sleeping for 8 hours (which not everyone does to begin with), why not add 4 hours and break your fast around 8:30-9am. Stop for a moment and consider the implications this would have in your life. Completely unfeasible in mine, this is nonsense, because the first thing I do when I wake up is eat so that I have energy to exercise. My brain needs that fuel which makes me more productive than I am on days when I haven’t eaten before a workout. She also claims this ‘intermittent fasting’ improves fat burning. Sure, it’s true that intermittent fasting, which is a popular fitness trend to get lean, can help people burn fat. However it is always coupled with a cardio workout to maximize the fat burn. Again, she’s not providing the complete picture.

While the above rules (and the other 18) can be considered well intentioned, they are very short sighted. Not everyone has the time or resources to engage in a 21-day detox of this scale, and what upsets me the most is her authoritative tone claiming amazing life benefits from doing so. She is quick to list out the “Sickening 15” and also list out her favorite foods on her website (does she profit from them?) She also dismisses any room for error in her 21-day detox.

I believe that if you adopt a lifestyle of eating healthy, clean, conscious, or whatever you prefer to call it, you are already on your way to living your best self. Don’t fall prey to diets (ex: Paleo), detoxes or cleanses. Inevitably you will be faced with difficult choices along the way. What do I eat at a party? What do I eat when traveling? What do I eat at a work event? Follow the 80/20 rule and eat healthy 80% of the time and allow yourself the 20% breathing room. You will feel great because you are in control. Diets and cleanses are not wholesome; they are temporary fixes and are unsustainable. Remember, the best plan is the one you keep, and that is a lifestyle.

P.S. Who calls themselves a “Food Babe”?

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