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I Hated Being a Health Guru 

I became a health guru accidentally. 

Back in the late 1990s, early 2000s, I was young and enthused about the raw food diet. I went on all sorts of crazy diet experiments, and moved to California from Quebec in order to meet the leaders of the raw food movement at the time. 

Eventually, I started working with those people. I started a printed newsletter, called “Just Eat an Apple.” I launched a website, an email list, and before I knew it, I had thousands of followers.

I was writing and publishing books, I was attending festivals. 

People would listen to my opinion. They’d ask me questions about their health. I shared what I thought I knew about the raw food diet. 

I started a YouTube channel. I travelled the world, and I was invited to speak at various events. 

In other words, I was becoming what you’d call today “an influencer.” 

But you could also say that for some people, I was a sort of health guru. I had positioned myself as a sort of expert in a field that’s very alternative and outside of the mainstream. And I was viewed by many people to be a pioneer in the modern raw food movement, especially in the way that I was marketing myself online. 

Of course, there were bigger health gurus who actually thought of themselves as such, like David Wolfe. He actually embraced the full guru look, by wearing hemp robes with Native American necklaces. 

Being a Health Guru

Although I didn’t feel like a health guru, I had put myself in a position of influence and I was subject to the scrutiny that comes with it.
Sometimes, people recognized me at health food stores in cities I was visiting, and would come to talk to me.
The strangest experience was when I was living in Vancouver, and someone spotted me on a random street corner and started telling me that they had just read my book.
Because of all of this, I started having an “impostor syndrome.”
I realized that people saw me in a certain way. They thought I was absolutely confident about my knowledge, and also that I was 100% aligned with my diet and lifestyle. They also had certain expectations:
1) That I was practicing what I was preaching.
2) That I was super healthy.
In reality, I was conflicted.
I had doubts about the diet. I wanted to experiment further. If I changed anything in my diet, I would feel like a fraud and need to explain it publicly.
Just like everyone who followed this diet, I had various ups and downs. Sometimes, I was quite motivated to follow a 100% raw food diet, and did it for months on end. Sometimes, I fell off the wagon and started eating more cooked foods. But people still saw me as the “raw food guy.”
Once, I used the bathroom while traveling at a McDonald’s, and started worrying, “what if someone sees me here? What will they think?”
The comments I would get were harsh, although not as bad as what’s going on today on social networks.
When I was traveling and giving talks around the world, someone commented on one of my pictures: “That little Pirelli of yours really annoys me!”
It’s true, in the picture I had a bit of a belly. Maybe it’s just that my shirt was really tight, but you could see something other than a completely flat stomach.
Yet, I weighed 150 pounds for 5’10’’. Not “fat” by any stretch of the imagination. But for many people, that wasn’t fit enough.
At that time, I felt like I was completely out of shape, compared to other raw foodists who were running ultra marathons. But yet, objectively, I was in the best shape of my life. I was running 10 or 12 kilometers, several times a week, and had my body fat measured at 12%.
To many people, that was simply not good enough. Your body fat had to be under 10%. And running 6 minutes per kilometer was jogging rather than running.
I’d say that I was doing pretty great in my fitness, considering that I’m not an athlete, never wanted to be an athlete, and never had any capabilities to be an athlete.
But yet, I felt like a total fraud for not being a ripped, 7% body fat triathlete.
The same happened with my diet.
In my mind, the absolute best diet was 80/10/10. A typical day of this diet would be a giant breakfast of juicy fruit, a lunch of bananas (and you’d have to eat so many of them that blending them in a smoothie was the only option), and dinner started with another huge plate of fruit, followed by a giant salad with a low-fat dressing.
Although I tried to convince myself that this diet was the best in the world, I simply could not maintain it for long periods of time.
Eventually, I couldn’t stand it eating so much fruit. I felt strangely unsatisfied all the time. And my digestion was suffering.
In my mind, I was convinced that I was a complete failure for giving it up, and that if I’d try just one more time, maybe I could.
One of my last stretches of 80/10/10 ended disastrously.
I was in a situation of extreme stress due to a crisis in my relationship and my business.
One day, I tried to have my usual banana smoothie for lunch, and I simply gagged, after attempting to take a sip.
I was totally disgusted by it.
I tried to eat other fruits, and my body simply refused to have it.
I could not have another bite of fruit — for now.
I decided to have a plate of Costa Rican rice and beans, called “gallo pinto,” and it really hit the spot.
Over the next few weeks, I ate gallo pinto every day.
Then, my body craved more.
I started eating eggs. I started eating meat. Lots of it. I started eating everything that was delicious and cooked. I also drank beer, and wine, and coffee.
And the strangest thing was… I slept like a baby. My digestion was great.
But… I was eating 2-3 times the normal amounts a person of my age should eat.
It was like I had unleashed a monster of unsatisfied cravings inside of me.
But this “conventional diet on steroids” gave me the energy to go through this personal crisis.
After a few months, I had gained 15 pounds, and felt it was time to stop. I reverted back to a vegan diet, with lots of raw foods, but couldn’t go back to the banana smoothies. In fact, since that time, I’ve never been able to drink a big banana smoothie again.

My Point

My point is that being a health guru was a struggle. Of course, I felt like a fraud when eating meat and rice and beans, while everyone thought I was this perfect raw vegan.
And at some point I had to come in the open about my own struggles. That’s why I wrote my books “Raw Food Controversies” and later “Raw Freedom.”
What I then realized is that behind the façade of most health gurus, there’s a story you don’t necessarily know. It’s a personal stories and it’s complicated.
Ultimately, I know that I’m not a health guru and that my contribution to this movement was being honest about my struggle, instead of selling a pre-made, perfect solution to all health problems.
People like to meet someone who seems to exemplify health, and has a program that promises a lot. Why?
– We want easy solutions to complex health problems.
– We’re fooled by appearances.
– We think, “if I do what they do, I’ll look like they do.”
But the reality is:
– Health is complicated and there are no simple solutions that can apply to everyone.
– Someone’s look may have little to do with their health.
– Even if they are truly healthy, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get the same results by following what they claim to be doing.
– You don’t actually know what they’re really doing, vs. what they’re claiming.
This was a short overview of my story.
To read more, check out my books:
Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets.