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Restricted Diets for Healing: Risks of Compliance

by Thomas E. Billings

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Although there is only limited scientific evidence to document the phenomena, there is extensive anecdotal evidence to suggest that diets that include a high percentage of raw foods, whether the diet is vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore, may play a role in the healing process for some individuals suffering from major illness. With minimal effort, one can usually find numerous healing stories for a specific raw diet of interest (assuming the diet has an established following in the raw community). 


Reports of healing through diet are not limited to raw foods, e.g., macrobiotics, a predominantly cooked diet that has versions that range from vegan to non-vegetarian, also has numerous healing stories. The situation is not new, e.g., the book Please Doctor, Do Something!  (Nichols & Presley, 1972) describes how an M.D. helped many patients find healing simply by getting them to switch from a standard Western diet to one comprised of less-processed foods. All of the diets mentioned here are restricted in at least one sense, i.e., excluding certain classes of foods and/or excluding processed foods.


Some years ago I had a conversation with an individual who worked at one of the raw food centers that taught a version of the diet and lifestyle promoted by Ann Wigmore, i.e., sprouts, wheatgrass juice, energy soup [similar to the “green smoothies” popular nowadays]. The full program taught by Ann Wigmore can be complex and require a significant time commitment. There are many healing stories associated with Wigmore-style programs, and this provides encouragement for those who are seeking healing.


Ann Wigmore was an excellent promoter of her diet and lifestyle program. For multiple reasons:  the large number of healing stories, the program was “natural” and did not use drugs or surgery, and it could be done at home; some people made the decision – a vow or firm resolve – that if they ever were seriously ill, they would follow a Wigmore-style program for healing.


In our conversation, this individual reported a disturbing phenomenon. Some women were so impressed with the program that they decided that if they ever got breast cancer, they would follow a Wigmore-style program as their only healing method. This led to a potentially dangerous situation for some of these people. The program they adopted was so complex and time-consuming that they were unable to follow the program and/or they could not follow the diet due to cravings. They would fail at the diet: eat foods that were not on the diet, then resolve that they would faithfully follow the diet the next day. However the next day would have the same pattern as the preceding day, i.e., they could not follow the diet/program.


By selecting a difficult, restricted diet that they could not follow as their only healing method, these people had placed themselves into a dangerous trap: they had breast cancer or some other serious disease, but because they could not follow their chosen healing method, they did not have any healing therapies actively working for them. Needless to say, that is a very high risk situation and the long term outcome may be unfavorable.


It is not the intent here to criticize Ann Wigmore or her programs. Other raw diets are subject to similar challenges. For example, the high fruit, low-fat raw vegan (LFRV) diet has similar risks even though it is a simpler approach. Cravings are common on LFRV diets, and compliance rates are extremely low. The cult-like approach of some LFRV advocates, e.g., “the diet is perfect and if you have problems then you are anorexic,” creates a negative groupthink environment that may promote self-trapping behavior patterns.


There are three major lessons here. First, for healers: a healing diet/program won’t work if it is so complex or restricted that people cannot follow it. For successful compliance, a healing diet/program must be practical and it must provide satiation (satisfaction or feeling of fullness) or the program should include steps to mitigate cravings.


Second, those on restricted diets for healing should apply common sense. If you have a serious illness it may be unwise/high risk to limit yourself to a difficult diet as your only healing method. If you reject conventional medicine, there are other natural healing methods to consider that can be applied with (or without) a dietary component, e.g., Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese medicine, yoga therapy, exercise, etc. Consider the possibility of discussing other (non-diet) healing methods with qualified health professionals that you trust.


When choosing a health professional, beware: many raw food gurus like to play “diet doctor”. Some of them list their title as “Dr.” when they don’t have an M.D. or their Ph.D. comes from a correspondence school. Most raw gurus are not qualified to give medical advice (which is often disguised as dietary advice in the raw community).


Third, people who find they cannot follow a restricted diet for healing should consult with a qualified health professional to discuss whether/how their dietary program should be revised. Many diets report healing stories; limiting your approach to a single, narrow diet (that does not work for you) might not be in your best interests.


The bottom line: if you choose to follow a challenging, restricted diet as part of a healing program, make certain that you don’t fall into the trap described above. In closing, if you are suffering from serious illness, my sincere wish is that you find the healing you seek, regardless of the healing methods you employ.



Nichols JD, Presley J, 1972. Please Doctor, Do Something! Natural Foods Associates, Atlanta, Texas, U.S.A.



--Thomas E. (Tom) Billings

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