I haven't eaten fruits/vegetables in a year. How am I still alive?
August 9, 2014 7:48 PM   Subscribe

I quite literally do not eat fruits nor vegetables. How am I still healthy?

I am grad student on a poor poor diet. I barely eat, because I simply don't feel hungry or I'm too lazy to feed myself. I eat out sometimes, but mostly carbs. I have an obsession with cakes, so some days, eat nothing except cake. And soy lattes. All this, and I haven't gotten sick at all this year. What gives? (knock on wood) I also do not take vitamins.
posted by lacedcoffee to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Youth? I ate almost like this in college too. Once I hit late 20s, my body decided I actually had to start taking care of it or it wasn't gonna work. YMMV.
posted by celtalitha at 7:53 PM on August 9, 2014 [11 favorites]

I think it takes a while for the negative effects of poor nutrition to show up. I'm not that well versed in nutrition, but I think that the long-term health benefits of fruits and vegetables make more of a difference in protecting against heart disease, some types of cancers, obesity, etc. more than getting sick with some sort of ordinary cold or flu. In the long run you are likely to have a lot of problems if you keep eating like this.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:54 PM on August 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

Trust me: mid-30s you is gonna be pissed at mid-20s you.
posted by Metafilter Username at 7:56 PM on August 9, 2014 [78 favorites]

I also do not take vitamins

Some of the food you do eat has been fortified with various minerals and vitamins.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:01 PM on August 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

White flour products in the u.s. are fortified with folic acid, and I'm sure there are other examples of involuntary vitamin supplementation you are engaging in.

Your skin is going to totally start looking like crap in a very few years....and that's the least of it.
posted by blue suede stockings at 8:02 PM on August 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Youth, probably, would explain it. But dude, eat an orange now and then so you don't get scurvy or rickets.
posted by sutel at 8:02 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Am I doing irreversible damage to my body?
posted by lacedcoffee at 8:05 PM on August 9, 2014

The human body is amazingly resilient. Owsley Stanley avoided all carbohydrates and vegetables for decades and managed to die in a car crash rather than from anything health-related. Many parents marvel at the fact that their children manage to continue to grow and even thrive on a diet consisting largely of macaroni and cheese and breakfast cereal.
posted by alms at 8:06 PM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, cake has carbs and fat and all that soy milk has some protein and vitamins in it. Your diet could be worse. If you are not going to eat much food, eating high calorie foods is probably a good thing.

I recommend gummy vitamins.
posted by steinwald at 8:08 PM on August 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Soy is a vegetable. Perhaps, in addition to that, there are other things you're eating that you didn't realize were fruits or vegetables. If your gums and teeth are okay, you're taking vitamin C, somewhere.
posted by ftm at 8:11 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of drinks have vitamin C in them.
posted by steinwald at 8:14 PM on August 9, 2014

Am I doing irreversible damage to my body?


amidst all the hype, study after study shows that good food choices have a positive impact on health, and poor diets have negative long-term effects.

"Americans whose dietary patterns include fresh, whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, and fish have a lower incidence of major chronic disease and especially of diet-related diseases"

Concerns include, but are not limited to: Risk of bowel/colon/stomach cancers; diabetes; cholesterol, fatty organs; ; blood pressure issues; malnutrition which can result in increased cancer risk and other problems.

Some of these things are reversible, some of them are somewhat reversible, some of them are irreversible.
posted by smoke at 8:15 PM on August 9, 2014 [15 favorites]

You can eat like crap for a very long time without many ill effects.

It's great to eat healthy. People should eat healthy. But it's not like somebody who doesn't eat healthy dies at 30 and people who eat healthy all live to be 100. If you eat like crap you'll be at an elevated risk of heart disease and diabetes some types of cancers. (This is assuming you aren't eating so terribly that you are literally malnourished or end up with scurvy or something.) But that doesn't mean that someone who eats terribly won't live longer than someone who eats well, it simply means the odds are weighted in certain directions.

Like I said, eat healthy. But you seem to be under the impression that if you don't eat healthy you sicken and wither. You generally don't. But if you do continue to eat nothing but carbs you might end up with diabetes or something. Or you might not.

Hell, you can survive quite well on a diet almost entirely consisting of meat.
posted by Justinian at 8:17 PM on August 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Your posting history indicates a history of anorexia. Combine that, plus your current poor diet and the fact that women reach peak bone mass at around age 30= recipe for osteopenia or osteoporosis, especially if you're either white or Asian.

Your bones are like a bank. You've already lost valuable time to make deposits. I hate to sound alarmist, but you really need to take better care of yourself. And watch the soy lattes, because caffeine can inhibit calcium absorption.
posted by invisible ink at 8:22 PM on August 9, 2014 [26 favorites]

They put vitamin C into so many things that you can probably get enough to prevent scurvy just from breathing, these days. At the very least I'm guessing you're still getting slices of tomato on your hamburgers and that sort of thing, you're probably not literally living on only french fries and lattes. You may not be getting enough for optimum health, but you're probably not going to get scurvy--it doesn't really take that much.

However, this sort of thing can catch up to one, and it's not the sniffles you really need to watch out for, it's the unexplained aches and pains and generally feeling blech and your hair getting kind of greasy and thin and sometimes a fluttery feeling in your chest. Flus and colds are viruses that you're apt to get one way or another, flu vaccination aside. The food thing can add up to serious problems with your skin, hair, bones, heart. But it's all cumulative, all that daily value stuff does not mean that your body spontaneously collapses when you don't hit 100% one day.

I have continuing problems with appetite, but I feel generally better since I started paying more attention to this stuff. Find a meal replacement shake you can tolerate, if at all possible--I was not expecting mine to be Slim Fast, but for some reason it tastes better to me than the Ensure. On better days, I get baby carrots and eat avocados sliced up with salt and take a multivitamin regardless. It's not perfect, but I feel better, and when I feel better, I'm more likely to eat, so it's a self-perpetuating cycle.
posted by Sequence at 8:32 PM on August 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

Also: chiming in as someone who was eating reasonably and taking multivitamins but has malabsorption issues for a few things due to medical reasons: I didn't pay the piper, symptom wise (nor were the issues properly diagnosed) until my 30s.
posted by blue suede stockings at 8:34 PM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

How much are you actually asking of your body right now, other than that it keep your brain going? Cake is great for brains, and the rest of you is capable of coasting for quite a long time as long as the brain doesn't start demanding that other parts get broken down to feed it. Throw on heavy physical demands or a particularly challenging infection, however, and things might look very different.
posted by teremala at 8:35 PM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you were just eating meat and fat, I'd be less concerned. But, refined carbs are pretty bad for you and eating like this will catch up with you in a bad way.
posted by quince at 9:03 PM on August 9, 2014

My uncles did what you're doing, and their health in their 30s, 40s, and 50s was absolute shit. You reap what you sow.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:04 PM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you managed to completely cut protein or fat out of your diet, you'd probably be in a lot more trouble in the short term. You also need to have sugar or some form of carbohydrate that can be broken down into sugar every day.

You're probably eating more fat and sugar than you need to stay alive, and you've got to be eating enough protein that you won't suffer protein malnutrition such as what people in starvation suffer. Since you've thus taken in enough immediate nutrition to keep your body moving, the concern with not eating fruits and vegetables has far more to do with your health into the future, as many of the answers above have mentioned.

it's rather sensationalistic, but you might be interested to read a little about Stacey Irvine, a 17 year old who purportedly has never eaten fruits or vegetables and subsisted on a diet entirely of chicken nuggets and fries from McDonald's for 15 years until she collapsed… the linked article provides some health warnings echoing the answers you've received in regards to "monotonous diets", and shows how even unlikely foods such as french fries contain a little bit of vitamin C. (googling around shows many folks doubting that this story could be true, but I don't see any evidence that it is in fact a hoax… ) I'd actually not be surprised if it were true… I see plenty of people who completely abuse their bodies in every way possible, but unless they start shooting heroin, they typically don't really start killing themselves with medical illnesses until around at least their 50s. The human body is a resilient thing.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:06 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know someone who lived off ramen and candy in college and he figured out later that the reason he didn't get scurvy was the vitamin C in his Skittles!

Anyhow, the Inuit survive off a diet that's almost all meat and no plants, so if you're eating a lot of meat then perhaps you're getting your necessary vitamins and minerals the same way that they do?
posted by Jacqueline at 9:21 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dude, eat some fruit and vegetables and protein, stat. Yes, you're feeling OK, for now. But you could be doing some crazy damage to your system that will take a while to show up, and you do not want to get into the habit of all-carb diet. Besides, fruit tastes great and it's not expensive or hard to prepare.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:32 PM on August 9, 2014

The meat diets people are pointing to are whole meat, including organs and fat, not the typical lean cuts that western diets have for meat protein.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:22 PM on August 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

All this, and I haven't gotten sick at all this year.

All this means is that you're young and robust enough that your diet hasn't affected your immune system too badly...yet.

Not 'getting sick' (as in, not contracting a viral or bacterial illness or infection) =/= in good health.

Yes, if you keep eating like this, you will do irreversible damage to your body at some point. But you might never know the actual extent of the damage, because you will never know how healthy you could have been, and how good you could have felt, on a diet that includes a variety of natural foods.

In other words, you'll probably never suffer from scuryy or rickets, because as others have pointed out, processed Western foods like flour are fortified with minerals and vitamins. But you are likely to be affected earlier, and more severely, by things like high blood pressure, bowel polyps or cancers, arthritis, dementia, joint deterioration, loss of bone density, and a whole host of other unpleasant conditions & illnesses that we associate with ageing.
posted by Salamander at 10:38 PM on August 9, 2014

No one's brought this up yet so...

If you've been eating like this for awhile, you don't know anymore how good or not good you actually feel. You may be getting by, but it may also be the case that a more varied and less processed diet would result in feeling really good and having much more energy. Low-grade non-obvious crumminess is easy to get complacent about, however it sucks big time - especially when you realise how good you're supposed to feel. (I eat pretty healthy, but am prone to being very anaemic... When I first started iron I felt like I was on crack!)

My father in law ate like you do, and assumed he'd just drop dead of a heart attack and was ok with that. He didn't - he had a massive stroke that's left him needing full time care and unable to talk despite being only in his early 60's. It is burdensome and difficult for his whole family; I think if he were conscious of the situation he'd be horrified.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:36 AM on August 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

if you like carbs - are you eating potatoes? they actually have a lot of vitamins and nutrients in them.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:09 AM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I came in to say what jrobin276 said. If you always eat like this, you're probably used to how you feel and take it to be normal.

If I eat only crap for several days, I start to feel really tired, and I'm convinced that it's genuine tiredness, and try and sleep it off, usually to no avail. If I then tuck into my greens for a few days, it lifts.

I think it's very possible (likely?) that if you introduced more fruit and veg to your diet, you'd suddenly look round one day and think "Oh! I'm kind of alert and energetic in a way I never used to be..."
posted by penguin pie at 3:37 AM on August 10, 2014 [10 favorites]

A diet of mostly cake sounds like Nirvana to me.
But please, get some eggs, cheese, and fruit in your system on a weekly basis. You need eggs for the protein, cheese for the calcium (your bones'll thank you) and fruit for the vitamins, antioxidants, and plain old sweet goodness.
I won't give you sass about the no-vegetables. I don't eat them either.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:00 AM on August 10, 2014

It will catch up with you in the end. It did with me. It's probably only because my pre-twenties lifestyle was very healthy (lots of fruit and vegetables eaten often straight from the tree/ground, lots of exercise) that meant I could spend years 20 to 40 eating crap and getting away with it.

But the last five years I've used the socialist medical system here to a large effect with several things wrong with me, many of them having factors in a bad diet. You can't easily see what's going on in the inside - furring arteries, tiny particles deposited in the brain, alimentary canal suffering long-term damage - even if you get signs that things aren't quite right, until you get major signs that things are really not right at all. And then you have major problems. Prevention is better than cure.

"I feel okay, so I'll have yet another cake", every day, doesn't help the long game. Not saying you need to be a strict raw veg fanatic (boring, and from one extreme to another) but how you roll the dice now may well have a profound, and the biggest, impact on both the quality and quantity of the latter half of your life.
posted by Wordshore at 5:07 AM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

C'mon now, you know your diet is crap. When you're young you can get by with a really shitty diet, but it just makes things more complicated as you age.

I was broke in college and lived off of candy, fast food with fasts in between when I was REALLY broke. This eating pattern was part of a feast/famine cycle of eating that has shaped my whole life. I'm overweight and carb sensitive now and I'm convinced that if I had done better with nutrition when I was younger that I wouldn't be as fat as I am now.

There's no reason to keep on eating like this. It's just as easy to eat fruit as it is to eat cake. Yogurt is cheap and easy too.

My diet has changed quite a bit over the years. I feel as well as a person can feel at my age. I believe that had I taken better care of myself when I was young that I'd feel even better.

Start off small. Consciously eat more fruit, veggies, lean met and dairy. Don't give up all cake all at once, but try to eat less, replacing your crappier choices with healthier ones.

The less processed things are, the better they are for you. This is not news.

You can do this!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:36 AM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

some people can get away with eating a very limited diet. This WSJ article and Ladies Home Journal talk about this. I also know someone who eats a very limited diet, with only 1 veggie and no fruit (allergies and such), and he's middle-aged and fine.

I think the bottom line is everyone is different, some to more degrees than others. Most of us couldn't get away with eating a very limited diet, but others can. I'm not saying this is the OP, but it does happen.
posted by evening at 6:36 AM on August 10, 2014

A person in their twenties can eat nothing but cake and fast food. They can even eat the styrofoam and cardboard from which these things come packaged. But the hurt will come for you. For me, it came with ulcers and terrible eating habits that lingered long after my body lost its miraculous ability to absorb dietary abuse. For you? Who knows? But habits are easier to change in your twenties. Better to adapt now when it's just a habit you're trying to break, rather than later when you're desperate to undo what lousy nutrition has wrought.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:02 AM on August 10, 2014

Why are you doing this to yourself?

While it's good enough to literally keep you alive for now, subsisting on cake (and other white flour carbs) is bad for you because cake is going to spike your blood sugar and then give you a crash, and that crash is going to make you feeling weak, exhausted, cranky, and hungry, so then you're going to eat more cake and repeat the cycle. You won't die from that for a long time, but it's not letting your body work properly and your quality of life is going to be relatively shitty. Worst case over the long term is that it coaxes your body into a funky relationship with insulin and blood sugar that makes you more vulnerable to things like diabetes. Worst case in the short term is that it starts exacerbating problems that you already have. If you have even the slightest tinge of a psychiatric problem or concern, this kind of neglect/abuse of your body can cause MAJOR problems, and I've seen someone end up in psychosis partially because she wasn't eating for long periods and was otherwise putting her body (and mind) under a lot of stress that it ultimately couldn't handle. Be *very* careful that this doesn't snowball. At least eat some oatmeal or something that'll give you long-burn energy when you get up in the morning.

If you're taking in enough calories to keep your brain and heart functioning, and you're young enough that you're able to "borrow" some health from the strength and vitamin stores your body has built up as you've grown, and you're doing things like going in the sun (for vitamin D) and sometimes eating meat (you can get vitamin C and other necessary vitamins from meat -- a reason sailors used to get scurvy was that they couldn't get fresh game while at sea), you're probably not going to literally drop dead from malnutrition tomorrow.

On the other hand, you're doing massive damage to your quality of life, even now, if you're not nourishing yourself. Honestly, I wouldn't be too worried about permanent physical damage right now if I were you, because many/most of the problems an adult faces with regards to (short term!) malnutrition can be "cured" by eating a healthier/fuller diet. But I *would* be worried about why you're not actually feeding yourself even semi-properly? Feeding yourself is a really basic daily living kind of skill, and if you can't manage it, that is a huge honking alarm that something relatively dangerous and strange is going on, and it's worth trying to figure out why you're finding it so difficult. (Is your digestion OK? Are you having really averse reactions to other foods? Are you having an issue with mood or cognition? It's not healthy or normal for an adult to be unable to feed herself properly on a daily basis for an unknown reason. If you know the reason, then take care of the problem, and if you don't know the reason, try to figure it out, with a doctor's help if necessary).
posted by rue72 at 7:42 AM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do know someone who got scurvy in college, after he ran out of money for food. (I gather he was subsisting mostly on white bread.)
posted by yarntheory at 7:57 AM on August 10, 2014

This is definitely something important to work on, because aside from all the long-term health hazards -- which may sound abstract and low-priority to you at this age -- you also have immediate dangers and the issues rue72 raised. I knew someone in college who lived off of rice and beans for a summer to save money, and ended up gradually getting more and more overemotional until finally going to a doctor, who said dude you aren't getting B vitamins, change your diet and your emotional stability will return. It did.

There was also someone at my school a few years earlier who had given themselves scurvy.

I'm a grad student too, so I know it can be hard to prioritize life stuff. I still have days where I live off frozen food or have to remind myself to eat dinner. But I think you have to figure out why you're doing this to your body, and then try to fix it or at least do the easiest things to mitigate the worst of the damage.

I would suggest getting some tasty multivitamins, then trying to fit more healthy foods into your diet by adding them in sneaky ways that match up to how you already eat. If you're mostly eating cake right now, a raw kale salad is not going to taste great to you. To some extent, our tastes seem to adapt to what we eat the most of, and high-sugar foods can take more effort to wean yourself off of, but you can at least move towards diversity in your diet for now. You might be able to do the fruit smoothies they sell at the store, or the fruit and veggie prepacks you see everywhere these days, or some of the frozen dinners from Amy's.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:04 AM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

How am I still healthy?

I am going to gently suggest that you are not, in fact, still healthy. Someone else mentioned your previous questions. The ones that stood out to me are your eating disorder history, not being able to keep warm under a pile of blankets, and depression.

I'm don't have any concrete evidence to offer but it seems logical that you need proper nutrition to have all possible resources to deal with normal life - not to mention the extra stress of grad school.

I took Zoloft for a while several years ago. The main benefit was to see what "normal" looked like. It brought me up enough to see where I should be. Then I could deal with all of the things that were causing me to sink below normal. I think jrobin276 was spot on - you don't know what normal health feels like so you don't know that you don't feel your best.

Have you talked with your therapist about your eating habits - lack of appetite, "too lazy" to feed yourself, cake and lattes only? I think this subject is way more significant than you seem to realize.

Good luck!
posted by Beti at 9:31 AM on August 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I grew up on the SAD (Standard American Diet), so essentially low in fruits and vegetables, very high in processed carbs and very high in (meat-based) protein. Very similar to what you've been eating I imagine. I felt ok on this diet, as most people say they do when it's the only diet they know. But the lack of nutrients this diet provides will impact your health eventually. After all, your body can run on remarkable 'stores' of nutrients, but those things do run out and must be replenished. Running in the red for too long is harmful.

My body (particularly digestion) sort of fell apart right around hitting 30. After getting tired of the countless prescriptions to battle the 'symptoms', I just started focusing on eating better. Now, I'm certainly still dealing with some issues caused by my previous diet, but I feel so much better eating mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts and some (meat-based) protein (Primal-inspired for sure). It has caused a noticeable improvement in my overall mood and digestion. YMMV.
posted by stubbehtail at 10:27 AM on August 10, 2014

Because health/nutrition is generally more complex than that. It's like saying, "I've never worn sunscreen. Why don't I have skin cancer yet?" 1. Maybe you have early stages of skin cancer and can't tell 2. Maybe you don't have skin cancer YET (but you will, if you keep it up) 3. Maybe you're not genetically/environmentally predisposed to getting skin cancer and sunscreen wouldn't help much
posted by unknowncommand at 10:47 AM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just a wee coda to my earlier point about feeling tired when you don't eat right... I guess my point was that each day you pass feeling sub-par because you didn't eat a few veg is a day you're not getting back, so even if it's not killing you, it's kind of a waste. I look on eating lots of veg not as something I do because I love it, but as a kind of easy, cheap medicine that makes life better. However, that's not what you asked, so I'll shut up!

(Also: It might just so happen that I'm turning 40 in six days' time and thus feeling unusually sensitive to the need to make the most of the days we have on this planet...)
posted by penguin pie at 12:32 PM on August 10, 2014

If you've had an eating disorder you may not realize that this pattern is very binge like to deal with lack of protien. (You're body craves carbs because it is the quick fix for energy but protein sustains).

I'm now 29 with a history of anorexia. I broke my wrist this year and have had mysterious digestion Issues with no cause. I was hospitalized for three days and missed a werks worth of work because of stomach pain. I have issues with bone density. I've had one exploratory surgery this year and am about to have an colonoscopy and endoscopy. In addition even with my ok diet, taking a multivitamin and being a normal weight my Vit. D is low. This sucks the energy out of me and makes it hard to like go to work every day.

My hair has thinned at points due to nutritional levels. My eyesight had worsened over the past year. I have all kinds of tension and I'm physically weak. And I'M STILL IN MY 20s.

Eat some veggies. Try to get more protein and diversify your diet. Or do what I do and drink ensures in days where I just don't meet minium caloric intake. (Stomach issues here).

Your ok now but it can catch up with you way sooner than you think.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:37 PM on August 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

You might not be "sick" but it's possible you aren't actually all that healthy. When I eat junk food my body reaches a kind of "new normal" that feels... okay. But when I clean up my diet I realize how truly AWESOME I can feel and that i actually didn't feel so awesome eating junk, I just got used to feeling and sleeping like shit all the time.

I know you say you're broke, but having a disease like diabetes or IBS (which is what will happen if you keep eating like this) is WAY more expensive than buying decent, healthy groceries.
posted by Brittanie at 11:58 AM on August 11, 2014

« Older House tours (not the Newport, RI variety):...   |   Pleasant places to walk in Cambridge/Somerville... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.