Jacqueline Alnes, THE FRUIT CURE: The Story of Extreme Wellness Turned Sour

Jacqueline Alnes, THE FRUIT CURE: The Story of Extreme Wellness Turned Sour

Zibby is joined by writer and runner Jacqueline Alnes to discuss THE FRUIT CURE, a spellbinding and unforgettable journey through the world of fruitarianism and a powerful critique of our healthcare system and wellness culture. Jacqueline shares her college experience as a Division One runner and the abrupt onset of mysterious neurological symptoms that led her to explore unconventional wellness practices. She talks about her fascination with fruitarianism (have you heard of the 30 bananas a day diet?), her eventual diagnosis, and the impact of this experience on her relationship with running, food, herself, and others. Finally, she reflects on her writing process, her current life teaching university classes, and the potential for future writing projects.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jacqueline. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Fruit Cure: The Story of Extreme Wellness Turned Sour.

Jacqueline Alnes: Thank you so much for having me. It’s really a pleasure to be here.

Zibby: For listeners, FYI, there are shelves of books, The Fruit Cure, behind Jacqueline in this Zoom. On one shelf is a stuffed banana with a smiley face on it.

Jacqueline: I got really into the fruit-themed accessories for this. It’s kind of fun.

Zibby: You start your book off with the one banana a day, thirty-day whatever situation. It’s a good place to start. Why don’t you tell listeners what your book is about?

Jacqueline: I guess the title might be misleading. It sounds like I’m going to pitch you on a wellness diet, but I’m not. I’m going to do the opposite. When I was in college, I was a Division One runner. After my first semester, which was successful, I started experiencing mysterious neurological systems. I collapsed on the track. I started having blurry vision, dizziness. I started repeating words without apparent cause and losing my memory of events. Obviously, any eighteen-year-old would be kind of upset about that. Especially when you’re used to being in total command of your body, it was really unsettling to all of a sudden be in a place where I felt like I didn’t even know what it meant to live in my body anymore and how to regain some sort of control or joy in my own form. I was sick for a year. Then I got a little bit better. Then I hoped it was over, but then I got really sick again. This is where the bananas come in. I was at the stage in my treatment journey where I was waiting for a bed in the epilepsy ward to open. I did what probably all of us do. When you’re experiencing symptoms and you’re anxious, you turn to Google, which, for better or worse, gives us answers. For me, it led me to a website called thirtybananasaday.com. I got just obsessed with this diet. Actually, I got obsessed with a group of fruitarians who just ate fruit, preached that eating raw fruit could cure you from anything. I didn’t ever become a fully blown fruitarian, but I started to believe that if I changed my way of eating, I could heal myself in some way.

Zibby: Now you’re a hundred percent? What’s the PS? How do you feel now today?

Jacqueline: The book takes you through the diet. I never became fruitarian. I never fell for it fully, but I became sort of obsessive about that. My journey after that, where I am now is a totally different place. I am in a place where everything is more balanced. I run competitively still, but I only do it when I’m having fun. I do with people that I really love and care about. I went to see a dietician, finally, ten years after this. We unraveled together how I think all of us can be affected by this, the way that food can become, I think especially socially and culturally, a measure of morality, something that’s tied to emotions, something that’s tied to your sense of well-being and your perception of yourself. Untangling those with a professional who did have a degree in what she was talking about and not just a website was really helpful for me in better understanding my relationship to that. My health issues, I’ve found a great doctor. Overall, I’m thriving now. The book was kind of a look back at what might have been had I known then what I know now.

Zibby: Was it ever diagnosed? This is spoilers here. Was it ever diagnosed what was causing everything and the neurological symptoms?

Jacqueline: Yeah, they call it migraine seizure variant. The brain is a mystery sometimes. I do have these episodes that different doctors have classified as different things. We haven’t caught one on an EEG machine, so it’s not definitively something, which is something I write about in the book, just the difficulty of when you don’t have an exact name for something, finding peace in understanding that you can still reach a place of wellness and still reach a place in yourself where you feel comfortable in the world, which is what my goal always was. I feel happy that I’m there.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I have to say, you are a spectacular author. I love the way you write. I know you started this saying this isn’t really a health and wellness book. It’s written like a beautiful memoir. It’s much more memoir-style writing. Can I just read even the beginning?

Jacqueline: Please, yeah. Thank you.

Zibby: Not the Genesis chapter. Although, that was hilarious. The book starts with a riff on the Bible, essentially, Adam and Eve. You know what? I’m just going to read the first couple paragraphs to give people a taste of how great you write. Chapter one is called The First Fall. “A few years before my fling with fruit, I was a freshman in college, a Division One athlete. In the beginning, Coach said run, so I did. I ran eight miles easy, four hundred repeats, long runs on Sundays, twelve hundreds at a steady clip. I ran anything Coach wanted. I ran through rain, through cold, through illness, and through the ache of too many miles. I ran to meet pain, and I ran to escape from it. I ran to whittle myself into the number on a clock, faster and faster each time, until Coach said what I had done was good. Even then, I wanted more. In my wanting, my body betrayed me.” Then you go into what happened and how you blinked and all of that dizziness and how you, even still, went back to running the next day. Good for you. You’ve got more motivation. I can’t run, and I’m perfectly healthy. You were doing it against all odds. I just love the cadence of your writing. Is writing another thing that has been a through line in your life or something you’ve been interested in forever? How did this become a book? Did you know it would be a book? Give me the whole story.

Jacqueline: Thank you, by the way. The cadence thing is nice to hear. For me, writing has always been something I’ve loved. I have these journals from when I was a kid. In one of them — I just found it the other day. I think I was thirteen. I wrote, “My dream someday –” We had to decide in English class. “I want to be a writer, but I don’t think I’m good enough to ever get published.” I looked back at it when the book came out in Australia a month ago. I think a lot of writers and a lot of people struggle with that kind of confidence because I think writing is something that you can never quite quantify the same way that you can quantify, a run is this time. You ran this many miles. You sort of have a measure of how you are. For me, it’s been a journey to find that peace. Even if I can’t quantify it, do I think that I’ve done what I can with what I have in this time? That’s been nice.

I did my MFA in Oregon. I did my PhD in Oklahoma. Throughout those years, I was writing about these neurological experiences and just trying to figure out what it meant to me and trying to figure out why my life went the way it did in terms of my relationship with running, my relationship to food, my relationship to other people. All of that was really shaped by the episodes that I had in college. It was, at one point, a memoir just about my running. It didn’t sell that way. I’m kind of glad that it didn’t sell that way. A lot of people were like, it was a little too quiet. It didn’t really have the inspirational ending that we might expect in a sports story. I wasn’t like, I’ve triumphed. I’m great now. I’ve done great things. In that, after it didn’t sell, I started thinking, okay, what would my next project be? What am I obsessed with? I’ve always been weirdly obsessed with this fruit group. I have lived a normal life. I’m not part of a cult. I’m not in this community. I’ve just always been a lurker. I’ve always asked myself, why am I obsessed? Why have I followed, even if tangentially, these people for a decade now of my life? What about that obsesses me? Getting to the fruit allowed me to understand a lot more about myself and feel a lot less lonely with my own story. The interviews I did for the book helped me feel like other people feel exactly the same way I do too. Other people have sought exactly what I have when they’ve been in places of desperation with their health or with their bodies or just feeling like they want more. That was great.

Zibby: There’s this raw food, as you point out, raw food, whole food movement. There’s this backlash against all the chemicals and processed foods and everything. It’s not even food that we eat all the time. Obviously, as a society, our health is deteriorating at the same time as our food is becoming more processed. You just have to look to other countries to see, why can we go on vacation in Italy and lose weight? What the heck? What’s going on? You eat the same foods. Why is the chocolate chip cookie my grandmother made now, even with the same ingredients — because the flour is processed so differently now than it was back then. All of these things. It’s not a huge shock that there would be a group of people who would turn to either fruits or vegetables. I think the question is, why only fruit? Why do they pick only fruit versus fruit and vegetables? What characterizes the group of people who follow this movement?

Jacqueline: Something that I started to notice — what I did was I asked myself, who was the first person to pitch the idea of, eat thirty bananas a day? just because I think it’s absurd on its face value. When you say it out loud, people are like, excuse me, what?

Zibby: I actually thought you meant thirty a month. I was like, okay.

Jacqueline: No, it’s a day. A day.

Zibby: Whoa.

Jacqueline: When you wake up, you put ten bananas in a blender. You drink it. You do the same thing at lunch and dinner. For me, I was like, who pitched this? Other people were like, yes, I’ll do that. I did a lot of historical research for this. I found, for example, a woman in South Africa named Essie Honiball who wrote a memoir called I Live on Fruit. Her story was weirdly parallel to mine in that she was a former competitive swimmer. She was at the peak of health. She was a health and fitness lecturer out of college. You would think she has all this scientific knowledge about the body. She has this awareness of her body. She got sick with tuberculosis and then after that, trusted a seventy-six-year-old man when she was in her thirties who told her, eat fruit and only fruit. She went for it. I then looked at him. You can read it in the book, obviously, but long story short, the fruit diet came from this weird blend of Christianity, which is why I start the story with Genesis, where there was this belief in purity and this want for purity and this idea that if you purified yourself from toxins or the evils of the world or your own wants, your body would be better and you would be healthier — it was really fascinating to see that the same thing that was being preached in the early nineteen-hundreds is now on YouTube, just in a different, sexier format. It’s like we really haven’t changed that much.

Zibby: There are no new ideas in the world.

Jacqueline: Right? It was really wild. It looked like an Instagram ad, some of the stuff that I would read for these health cures from the nineteen-hundreds. You’re like, wait a second, I just was pitched that yesterday in an Instagram ad. I think I’m living in the same time period. That’s why I say it’s comforting to know that humans, we’re really similar, and then also being able to say, if this is an idea that people came up with in the early nineteen-hundreds based in no science and based in this version of morality that maybe doesn’t align with my own beliefs, then why would I want to pursue it? How does that shape how you’re able to see yourself and your own desires and realize that some of it is so shaped culturally that we don’t even notice it anymore? If you take a second to look, you realize that this is all coming from somewhere. It’s not just a fad diet, if that makes sense.

Zibby: Totally. Wow. Who is the book for?

Jacqueline: That’s a great question. I think probably, in some ways, it’s for me, a younger version of me. When I was younger, especially as an athlete and as — this is something I think about a lot. When you talk about the beginning chapter that you read where I kept trying to run even though I was so sick, I think there’s a real, again, cultural push that I experienced where it’s a “no pain, no gain” experience when you’re an athlete, especially when you’re trying to compete at a higher level. How much pain can you take before you succumb to it? You’re weak if you succumb to that pain. What I wanted to write it for was partially for that younger athlete who — I want to say to my younger self, rest. Be a little bit softer. Know that athletics can be a lifelong journey if you give yourself permission to go through the ebbs and flows that will come with puberty, with life changes, with grief, with injury, with the million things that life brings to all of us. In part, I wrote it to say, take a step back from the extremes, and live in that place of softness a little bit more.

Then I also wrote it for — I think people who are chronically ill or people who love people who are chronically ill, who are a lot of people in this world — I myself had a really hard time loving myself when I was sick. I had a hard time accepting my body and who I was. I didn’t want to believe that I would be sick forever. I wanted to believe that someday, it would miraculously just leave me, and I would return to this Division One athlete self, which obviously never happened. In experiencing a health crisis at such a young age, it’s made me a lot more tender toward other people who are experiencing things with their bodies that are sometimes unnameable or sometimes hard to express or describe. I hope that other people take that away as well.

Zibby: That’s great. That’s beautiful. After the book was all done with the publisher, what did you do then? What are you doing now?

Jacqueline: Oh, man, it’s been a roller coaster. This is my first book. I teach university. I tell them all the time when they turn in — we just had our nonfiction unit, for example. When they turned in their essays, they all came to class expressing this deep sense of vulnerability and this fear of their peers reading their work and this fear of not being understood. I was happy to be able to stand in front of the room and tell them, a decade after being where you are and me putting a book out, I feel the exact same way. It doesn’t go away. I don’t think there’s a place where you feel as a writer, where you’re like, one hundred percent, I am ready. You always have this warring sense within yourself of, you have done the best you can, and then also this want and hope that someone out there gets it. I think what I’ve been taking from this process is just sitting with the beautiful moments that have come out of it. Conversations like this one where you get to talk to someone who understands part of your experience and wants to see more of it or gives you the space to be able to see it is a really amazing thing. Just the work that publishers do, which I know is work you know well, the effort it takes to bring a book from a kernel of an idea to wanting to share it with other people is something that I’ll never take for granted. That’s all been good. Then also, just wrestling with the anxiety of, oh, my goodness, I wrote this, and it’s going into the world now. It’s not mine anymore.

Zibby: I think so many authors have anxiety. I think it’s one of the ways in which the way you see the world is framed. There are so many questions all the time that it helps to write. It’s something that authors share for a good reason. Then there’s always the moment where it’s like, oh, my gosh, and now it’s completely out of my control. It’s on trucks. My story is on trucks being thrown in a box onto the doorstep of a bookstore. There’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t take it back. It’s out there. I don’t even know where. It’s terrifying. It’s totally terrifying, but oh, well. Honestly, I think if you write from the heart, which is what you did, and if you share parts of yourself that are not the parts that you might see at a cocktail party, but the real parts and the real backstory, people can’t help but connect with that because they’re bringing their whole selves to every book that they read. We come at it with all of our own experience. What a relief not to have to sort of comb through the mess to find the real story.

Jacqueline: It’s so true. It’s those moments where you get to meet another person in their realness too, which I think is the best part of it. Like you said, it’s not a cocktail party where you’re exchanging pleasantries. You’re getting to the heart of other people and letting people do that for you, which I think is the best part of being a human, honestly, are those real moments.

Zibby: It’s so true. Are you working on a new book?

Jacqueline: I am not. I am not yet. I hope to.

Zibby: Or you never want to write another book the rest of your life?

Jacqueline: Exactly. You’re like, I’ve caught you in the phase where — I have ideas that are pinging around. It’s been an effort that’s taken my whole self to bring this one out. I teach four or five classes a semester, so that also takes a lot of my heart and a lot of my energy. I’m waiting for that little blip, maybe this summer, when I have some time to really just be in my own head again and see what happens. I’m excited for that time. It’ll be good.

Zibby: I’m glad you’ve put your overachiever self to bed. I’m glad you’re not still doing things like that anymore.

Jacqueline: Yes, exactly. It’s part of the balancing thing I’m learning. Everything has its time. It will happen when it happens.

Zibby: What are the classes you’re teaching now?

Jacqueline: I teach some comp classes, like Writing 120, which is always fun because I get them on their first day of college, which I always love. I get to kind of break down the barrier that it’s going to be this scary, intimidating writing space. They always say, it wasn’t so bad, which is my goal at the end of the semester. Then I teach nonfiction. I teach creative writing classes. That’s another joy because you see these students stepping into themselves in such brave and beautiful ways and just trying things. They remind me to play. I think the more you know about publishing and the more you’re aware of what’s expected — what does a proposal look like? What does it mean to sell a book? They bring me back to the joy of just, let’s create. I have this weird idea. Let me try it out. It’s really amazing to get to be a part of that and witness that and see them change over the four years that I get to work with them sometimes. I really love that.

Zibby: That’s wonderful. Is there a part of the book that you’re particularly like, oh, gosh, maybe I shouldn’t have put that in?

Jacqueline: That’s a great question. A lot of it, like you said, are things that I really don’t talk about very often. That part, just thinking about an array of different people who are in my life reading that and knowing that part of me is scary but also exciting. Something that I recognized in my healing journey over the years is that the more you do open up, the more you realize that other people will meet you where you are. They want to love you where you are. I think that this book has been a huge step towards that and towards saying, this is my story. This is who I am, even though there are a bunch of other parts of me floating around out there where I’m not always thinking about this stuff or thinking about these memories. It’s just a part of my life. Something that was really fun for me is — the losing of the team was a really painful part of my life, leaving the team. I write about, in the book, how my teammates were cruel sometimes when I was experiencing my episodes, which was really difficult to reconcile. What’s been a really beautiful part of my life has been finding a group of adults who meet at track on Tuesday and Friday mornings at five fifteen. It’s so fun to be part of that kind of team again and be comfortable running with other people, finding joy in the pursuit of these goals we have for ourselves, even though no one else is expecting anything of us, and just knowing that another person is going to meet you in the dark. That’s something I’m excited for. I think they know how much they mean to me, but I don’t think they know the parts of my story that are the reason why they mean so much to me. I’m excited for that.

Zibby: I’m feeling like this might be a good holiday gift for the runners. You could just show up, scatter them about.

Jacqueline: Just hand them out.

Zibby: Hand them out and see if that changes the dynamic. I love what you just said, though, about meeting in the dark because it’s about the story and it’s about when you run. You could write a little essay or something of the group and how it’s helped you through. What do you like to read? Why did you pursue an MFA? MFA, PhD, this is nuts. It’s amazing. Go back there and also the whole literary inspiration and all that.

Jacqueline: When I was in college, I took my first creative writing class my second year when I was having a really rough time emotionally. I had just left the team. I was feeling super unmoored and really sad a lot of the time and like I didn’t know who I was. I remember taking that class and feeling like, oh, I like this. I remember having that same sort of draw to it that I had toward running at first where you’re like, I don’t know why I like this, but I’ll stay up all night revising a poem to see what it looks like, and remembering that sense of joy that comes of creation even though you don’t know what’s coming next. The MFA was, basically, I wanted to just learn. I felt like I had just scratched the surface of what I wanted to write and think about. I couldn’t get this story out of my head. I could not write about anything but this neurological stuff. When you ask about another book, I’m very excited to have told this story so that I can be sort of done with it for a while.

That was another space of a learning. I had a great advisor. He would have a policy where I could meet him every Friday so long as I sent him pages by Wednesday. I was probably the most annoying advisee because I would send him pages every Wednesday and be like, hey, I’m here again. He was just such a great mentor and would always take my story and give me feedback, which I really appreciated. In terms of reading, I love so much. I’m in a deep novel obsession right now, I think because I’m so inundated by nonfiction. A recent one I read was Wellness. I loved that book just because it’s obsessed with similar things, like the placebo effect. What does it mean that relationships change over time as you change your relationship with yourself? I’m totally blanking. I just read The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan, which I really loved. That took me out of my grading fugue state and into such a fascinating critique of our current world. That’s what I’m into lately.

Zibby: I had Jessamine Chan on the podcast about that book. I really liked that book.

Jacqueline: It’s so good.

Zibby: I like it when you say even the name of the book and I immediately have the whole scene like it’s a scene in a movie. I can just see the whole thing.

Jacqueline: Yes, the blue liquid, the lab coats. Love it.

Zibby: Wellness, people have such mixed feelings and feel very strongly about their feelings about this book. I have not read it. Clearly, I’m going to have to get on that.

Jacqueline: It made me think a lot, which I really love. Then I got to talk to him. It was just a real pleasure to get to dive into all of the — he did a lot of research on the algorithm, and so thinking about loneliness and the ways that these social media platforms are pulling us together in theory, but in reality, it’s this very cold pulling together in some ways, and the way that we can resist that. I really liked thinking about those things with him. It was really great.

Zibby: Have you read Running Home by Katie Arnold?

Jacqueline: No, but it’s on my shelf. I have to.

Zibby: It is? Okay. I want to introduce you two because I feel like you would have a great — that’s an event I would want to go to, is to see the two of you in conversation. Let me introduce you.

Jacqueline: I would love that.

Zibby: She’s awesome. Anyway, advice for aspiring authors?

Jacqueline: That’s a great question. I’d say show up for yourself. Show up to the page, which I think is advice a lot of people give, but including myself, I can use that encouragement a lot. This is the advice I give to my students. Then I say to myself, are you following it? I tell them, just show up and see what happens. Don’t be afraid of a bad draft. Don’t be afraid of just trying something for the sake of trying it and knowing that it doesn’t have to go anywhere. You just wrote it down. That’s okay. I think that’s advice I need to give to myself too, especially in this space of, now that one book is done, what happens next? Allowing myself the permission to write something terrible and not have it be published, but just get into that habit of, what do I love? What story is in my mind that I can’t stop thinking of? What do I want to try that I might fail at? It’s okay if I do. How can I pursue that? is something I would encourage people, and not to be afraid to reach out to others. A lot of other writers, a lot of editors have been super, super helpful in my writing journey. I only got there because I reached out to them on a whim, and they responded back with such kindness. I try to pay that forward. I try to tell people, people want to be in community, and so reaching out is never a bad thing.

Zibby: I love it. Do you still eat fruit? If so, do you have a favorite fruit?

Jacqueline: I do. I do eat a banana a day, but just one, so we’re good there. My favorite fruit would probably be jackfruit, if it’s good. I grew up, part of my life, in Indonesia, and I got the best jackfruit. Now when I see it in the store, I’m tempted. Sometimes I’ll buy it, but it’s sometimes the US supermarket version of jackfruit, so it’s not quite the same. I do love that. It’s my favorite.

Zibby: Where do you live, by the way? Where do you live now?

Jacqueline: I live in Pennsylvania. I live forty-five minutes outside of Philadelphia.

Zibby: Awesome. Hopefully, we’ll meet in person at some point.

Jacqueline: I would love that. I’m super excited, I think Here After is coming out from Zibby Books. I’m so excited. I love Amy’s newsletter so much. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. I am counting down until I can get a copy.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that’s amazing. It’s beautiful.

Jacqueline: I can imagine.

Zibby: I wonder if I have it right here. I should have it right here because I had everything organized this weekend and spent — wait, I have it. I’m going to show you really quickly. This is it. She did the inside, every page, it’s almost like poetry.

Jacqueline: I love it. I’m so excited.

Zibby: You should interview her somewhere. Anyway, we’ll make something up.

Jacqueline: That’d be great.

Zibby: Jacqueline, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on. I’m totally impressed by you. You’re so articulate and poised. That was really refreshing. I feel like I just went for a walk in the park or something.

Jacqueline: I really can’t thank you enough. I’ve been so excited for this. I’m just thrilled to be here. Thank you.

Zibby: Sure. To be continued.

Jacqueline: Bye. Have a great day.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.

THE FRUIT CURE: The Story of Extreme Wellness Turned Sour by Jacqueline Alnes

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