Navigation bar--use text links at bottom of page.

(Comparative Anatomy and Physiology Brought Up to Date--continued, Part 9B)

Failure to Thrive (FTT)

Your health is more important than raw/veg*n dietary dogma

There is a phenomenon known as failure to thrive (FTT). This occurs when one carefully and strictly follows a specific, recommended dietary regime, in this case raw/veg*n, but one suffers poor or ill health anyway. Such poor health may range all the way from clinically diagnosed nutrient deficiencies to a mild but noticeable general malaise--e.g., loss of libido, lassitude and fatigue, emaciation and weakness, etc.

Poor health is not limited to physical symptoms, but may include mental problems as well (e.g., depression). Signs of poor mental health that one may (commonly) observe or encounter in the raw/fruitarian community and vegan communities (more often in the raw vegan community) include: severe obsessions with food and/or dietary "purity," eating-disorder behavior patterns (binge-eating), and, sometimes, incredibly hateful fanaticism (e.g., some of the fruitarian extremists), and so on.

Awareness of FTT obscured by self-censoring due to moral ostracism. Hard statistics are not available on the incidence of FTT. Many if not most of the people with FTT self-censor themselves; that is, they switch to a diet that works for them, and leave the raw/veg*n community. Anecdotal evidence suggests that FTT is very common--the usual result--of following a strict fruitarian diet for a long term, while it presumably is much less common with conventional (and relatively diverse) cooked vegan diets. (The narrower the diet, the more likely FTT, per anecdotal evidence from raw diets.)

Note also the possibility, though, that FTT may be more common among veg*ns in general than one might think--consider the number of former veg*ns around, and the ostracism (discussed earlier) that usually meets anyone speaking out about why they may have abandoned the diet. The ostracism syndrome very commonly--and also very effectively--shuts out awareness of FTT in the raw vegan community. That it may also do so in the wider vegan community is well worth considering, especially given the similar prevalence of reflexive pat answers in response to any mention of examples that could raise the possibility of FTT.

Psychological patterns: Feelings of superiority and recitation of mantras result in blocking of contrary information. Observation of this type of behavior pattern--at its most visible, perhaps, in rawism--suggests a more general rule: Habitual recitation of such standardized replies or catechisms has a predictable long-term psychological effect, similar to ostracism, on those who engage in it. It tends to screen out awareness of the topic even as a worthy question open for discussion at all, let alone serious consideration.

Finally, contributing to both the patterns of ostracism and screening of awareness can also be a circular, self-fulfilling prophecy that fosters a superiority complex which feeds on itself, further perpetuating matters. The form it takes is the following: Since any failures to thrive must be failures to comply with the recommended dietary guidelines, then those who fail must not be complying, because they are not intelligently following the guidelines like those of us who are succeeding. Thus, those who fail tend to be assigned second-class status as lesser, unworthy information sources. Those who succeed, on the other hand, are obviously the ones doing it right and the ones to be believed. Yet both sources are just as "anecdotal."

Such a sense of arrogance, then, sets up another psychological block to really listening to those who might have contrary information. Thus, in some cases, not only is the information reflexively rationalized, it may not even be fully "heard" to begin with.

No doubt the comments here will be aggressively challenged by raw/veg*n diet advocates, as studies on FTT are quite limited (it's an area where most data is anecdotal). No doubt the defense will be raised that "(more) studies are needed in this area." This is certainly true; however, any study that assumes FTT can always be fixed while staying within the confines of veg*n diets is a study based on the assumption that vegan diets can work for anyone. That would be logically invalid, as it would constitute assuming the end result of a study on vegan FTT. Personally, I would love to see the results of long-term studies on vegan FTT; I suspect that raw/veg*n advocates might find the results of such studies to be rather surprising.

Difficulty of resolving the question with nutritional calculations done "on paper," opinions from nutritionists, or with clinical studies done to date. It appears that the assumption vegan diets can/will work for everyone is often based on the fact that the diet (assuming it is well-planned) meets nutritional requirements "on paper." Or it may be based on the opinion of vegan nutritionists dealing with vegan patients; though here one must be skeptical given the inherent vested interest of the nutritionist, and the above-mentioned tendency to characterize not just some, but all, problematic outcomes as due to "failure to comply" (or "didn't implement the diet intelligently or meticulously enough") rather than "failure to thrive."

Also, occasionally one will see a pro-vegan nutritionist make statements to the effect that after a year, the majority of people on vegan diets are doing fine. However, accuracy questions aside, as pointed out elsewhere repeatedly on this website, successful short-term results--even for a year or two (a year is a very short period of time in the context of long-term success)--do not necessarily predict long-term success on vegan (particularly raw vegan) diets; and to presume they do is naive at best. (If the patient has previously been eating the SAD/SWD diet, then in contrast, any one among a range of possible sweeping dietary changes based on adding a large percentage of more natural foods to the diet stands to be an improvement in the short-term.)

Self-selection effects present a barrier to accurately assessing incidence rates. Alternatively, the assumption vegan diets will work for everyone may be based on extrapolations from results of clinical studies done to date. The problem here, however, is that there seem to be no clinical/epidemiological studies that have been performed on long-term vegans that are not composed of self-selected groups. (See comments on FTT in the earlier section, Drawbacks to Relying Exclusively on Clinical Studies of Diet, for a discussion of how the self-selection effect, by default, "censors" data that might be obtained from any failures on vegan diets.)

This may continue to be a problem for the obvious reason that suitable vegan populations to study are small to begin with, and long-term veganism involves a major lifestyle change. To avoid self-selection effects and accurately assess incidence rate, randomly selected test subjects must maintain far-reaching dietary changes for the lengthy time periods required (at least a few years, as a starting point) to arrive at meaningful results. At present this represents a major hurdle to scientifically assessing incidence rates of FTT.

Note: As of approximately 1997/1998, vegan advocate Michael Klaper, M.D. had begun attempting to put together a study looking at both successful and non-successful vegans, which appears to be the first-ever of its kind. See for additional information. Although not a longitudinal study, it does aim to compare groups who have been on various vegetarian diets--including vegans who have been successful and ex-vegans who have not--with the objective of uncovering the factors and potential physiological mechanisms behind why some individuals thrive on a vegan diet and others do not.


(Rationalizations about the Evidence for Omnivorous Diets from the Fossil Record and Comparative Anatomy)

Return to beginning of article



GO TO PART 1 - Brief Overview: What is the Relevance of Comparative Anatomical and Physiological "Proofs"?

GO TO PART 2 - Looking at Ape Diets: Myths, Realities, and Rationalizations

GO TO PART 3 - The Fossil-Record Evidence about Human Diet

GO TO PART 4 - Intelligence, Evolution of the Human Brain, and Diet

GO TO PART 5 - Limitations on Comparative Dietary Proofs

GO TO PART 6 - What Comparative Anatomy Does and Doesn't Tell Us about Human Diet

GO TO PART 7 - Insights about Human Nutrition & Digestion from Comparative Physiology

GO TO PART 8 - Further Issues in the Debate over Omnivorous vs. Vegetarian Diets

GO TO PART 9 - Conclusions: The End, or The Beginning of a New Approach to Your Diet?

Back to Research-Based Appraisals of Alternative Diet Lore

   Beyond Veg home   |   Feedback   |   Links