Vegan raw food influencer Zhanna Samsonova “was always going to die” if all she truly ate was fruit and seeds, a nutritionist has declared.
The 39-year-old Russian national, who had millions of followers across TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, was living in Malaysia when she died on July 21.
While her cause of death has yet to be officially determined, many have linked her diet to her death, suggesting a serious eating disorder caused her to unwittingly starve.
Sydney-based nutritionist Dr Rebecca Reynolds agreed that if her diet truly consisted of only “fruits, sunflower seed sprouts, fruit smoothies and juices”, there was no doubt she would have eventually become critically unwell.
“If you cut out entire food groups, you have to have supplements, so if she wasn’t taking supplements, she was pretty much going to die from malnutrition,” Dr Reynolds told news.com.au.
“You can’t survive on fruit and sunflower seeds.”
A proponent of uncooked fruit and vegetables, Ms Samsonova claimed she ate a “completely raw vegan diet” for the last four years of her life.
Dr Reynolds rejected the idea her vegan diet was entirely to blame, instead arguing it was more likely the fact she abstained from consuming all five food groups.
“Each food group provides us with different things, so when anyone starts to restrict their diet by cutting out entire food groups, it can be harder to get nutrients that our bodies need,” she said.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t be healthy if you cut out certain food groups, for example for ethical reasons. But with this lady, she’s only having the fruit food group and one food from the higher protein food group, so that’s incredibly restrictive.”
While there were many unknowns surrounding Ms Samsonova’s death, Dr Reynolds said mental health may have also played a role, proposing the woman may have been suffering from the condition orthorexia nervosa.
“She was so convinced that her way of eating was the healthiest way, she convinced herself that her strict diet was how she was going to live the longest, even though it was the opposite,” she said.
While orthorexia was not yet a clinically recognised diagnosis, it described a person who was obsessive about a certain way of eating, which was generally a way they felt was “clean”.
“It’s when there are mental and physical negative consequences because of that way of eating. It’s a significant mental health disorder,” Dr Reynolds said.
Dr Reynolds suggested her brain may not have been functioning properly if her body was in starvation mode, causing cognitive impairment to a degree where she couldn’t think straight.
“It’s really sad. I think people are looking for food to be a panacea to health and happiness, but it’s there to be enjoyed. Most of us are so lucky to have enough food,” she said.
An online trend where food influencers with no official qualifications have huge followings of people who idolised them, usually for their aesthetic, was also a negative contributor.
“Celebrity and Instagram nutrition is so powerful because it’s about an attractive person generally, who is usually the thin ideal who has a brand,” Dr Reynolds said.
“It’s just so attractive to people because they want to be thin – that’s still the case in modern society – and they idolise attractive people.”
She also warned of a link between vegan and vegetarian eating habits, and orthorexia tendencies, saying there was evidence the eating styles had been used as a “cover up”.
“If you’re a parent of a teenager you should be mindful that your child’s changed eating habits are for ethical reasons and not for body weight or mental ill health reasons,” she said.
Despite the potential downsides to Ms Samsonova’s diet, many of her devoted followers have refused to believe her eating choices contributed to her death, instead claiming that she was killed by chemicals in the fruit she ate.
Her family is awaiting a medical report and a death certificate that will determine her official cause of death.
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