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(Paleolithic Diet vs. Vegetarianism--continued, Part 3A)

The Psychology of Idealistic Diets and
Lessons Learned from the Natural Hygiene Many-to-Many about Successes and Failures of Vegetarian Diets

Part 3 of our Visit with Ward Nicholson
Copyright © 1998 by Ward Nicholson. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.

First published in the printed version of Chet Day's HEALTH & BEYOND newsletter,
January 1997. Chet's website is located at:

See clickable TABLE OF CONTENTS for Part 3.
(HIGHLY RECOMMENDED in order to find what you want
quickly, as interview is lengthy.)

I N T R O D U C T O R Y   R E M A R K S

The text of the interview is republished here much as it originally appeared in Chet Day's Health & Beyond newsletter, with a few small modifications necessary for the present web version. See the introductory remarks to Part 1 of the interview for specifics.

For those unfamiliar, the term "Natural Hygiene," which appears periodically in these interviews, is a health philosophy emphasizing a diet of mostly raw-food vegetarianism, primarily fruits, vegetables, and nuts, although for revisionists eating some cooked food, it can also include significant supplementary amounts of grains, legumes, and tubers.

Ward transferred coordinatorship of the Natural Hygiene M2M to long-time member Bob Avery in 1997, and is no longer associated with the Natural Hygiene movement. To learn more about the N.H. M2M (now called the Natural Health M2M), or for information about getting a sample copy, you can find out more here.

IN OUR PREVIOUS TWO INSTALLMENTS talking with Ward Nicholson, [former] Coordinator of The Natural Hygiene M2M, we focused on his research into the evolutionary past of our ancestors, what they ate, and also what chimpanzees, our closest living animal relative eat, as well as the genesis of fire and cooking, plus a brief look at hunter-gatherer diets and changes in the human diet since the advent of agriculture. In this, our last of three installments, we move on to discuss with Ward his insights about "The Psychology of Idealistic Diets and Lessons Learned from The Natural Hygiene M2M About Successes and Failures of Vegetarian Diets."

Problem: Finding unsanitized reports about the full spectrum of real-world results with vegetarian diets

Health & Beyond: Ward, I briefly described what the M2M is in the first part of our interview, but why don't you recap it for us here?

Ward Nicholson: Sure. The term "M2M" is an acronym that stands for "many-to-many," and is something I sometimes refer to as "group mail" because people can get pretty passionate about it. It's like a huge pen-pal group, except it's operated as a newsletter. Ours is published bi-monthly, containing letters from participants that they send to me as its Coordinator. Normally, you might call me the "Editor," except one of an M2M's operating principles is that we agree to print what everybody says exactly as they send it in, with no editing other than setting a page limit for each person's letters. So an M2M is a free-speech kind of thing.

Each issue, we set an optional topic to be discussed, usually relating to health or Natural Hygiene, but it's only a suggestion, and people can ignore it if they want and talk about anything--which, believe me, they sometimes do! We even encourage this, because sometimes you can glean the most interesting insights from what people say that is supposedly "off topic," or only indirectly related, than by what they say directly "on topic." The conversation that develops between everyone is this amorphous thing that continues to change in an organic sort of fashion, shifting with the sands of who joins and drops out and what happens in the members' lives, and what things are said that hit a nerve with folks.

How many people are in the M2M?

The membership has hovered around 30 to 50 "active participants" (those who agree to write in letters regularly) for the last few years, plus about 10 to 20 "read-only" subscribers, some of whom become active themselves after seeing what goes on. These numbers are about where we have to keep things because of logistics to keep the M2M from getting unwieldy. But it's also a kind of revolving door, since usually a couple of people join and a couple of people tend to drop out every issue or so, with a certain stable core of longer-term members.

This is just a rough guess, but I would say in the four years the M2M has been in operation, overall we have had maybe 75, perhaps as many as 100 people write in letters to the M2M telling something about their experiences with Hygiene. The real value, though, is you get to know the people who stay on-board for some length of time on an ongoing basis, and in considerable depth, which gives you much better insight into their Hygienic or other vegetarian or "radical diet" experiences and experiments, the predispositions in their thinking, and thus a basis for judging what is really going on with people.

I would not claim that the M2M is a scientific sample. However, I do think it is a unique forum for getting at the truth of people's dietary and health experiences, because:

I do think, therefore, this allows you to draw some pretty fair conclusions about what is truly going on with a range of Hygienic vegetarians in the real world, especially in the absence of any scientific studies.

So why did you start the M2M and what have you learned from it?

My original idea in doing the M2M was just to talk directly to "the horse's mouth" so to speak--to bypass "official" channels of information--so I could find out what was really happening with Hygienists in the real world.

I learned plenty about this, of course. However, what surprised me--at first, anyway--is that I have learned far more instead about what I call "the psychology of idealistic diets." I discovered that a sizable proportion of Hygienists are experiencing problems and disappointing results--even pronounced problems--on the diet, often in spite of adhering faithfully to the Hygienic program over considerable periods of time (many months or a number of years).

Not everyone does well on raw and/or vegan diets ("failure to thrive"). So the first thing I would say here to set the stage for discussing the psychology of an idealistic health and dietary system is that in Natural Hygiene's case, while it certainly works well for some people, it just doesn't for others, regardless, apparently, of the time span. Yet you don't hear about this in mainstream Hygiene--not from the ANHS or in the books and magazines that are sold anyway. There is a real see-no-evil, hear-no evil, speak-no-evil syndrome. (I have also been told by a Hygienist not connected with the M2M, who has had contact with higher-ups within the ANHS, that they are aware of some of these failings, but simply choose not to mention them.) If problems are acknowledged, they are attributed to lack of discipline in following the program, or in screwing up the details, or not giving things enough time, or that one is focusing only on diet (even when, in fact, they aren't) to the exclusion of other health factors. But never are they attributed to the idea that Natural Hygiene could be incomplete in some way.

I know that I myself found this hard to believe initially, because having read many of the Hygienic books including those by Herbert Shelton (whom I still have a tremendous amount of respect for as a great synthesizer and original thinker in many areas) that were so very convincing as to the wonderful results that were gotten, I thought here at last was a system whose logic and results both showed it to work. And the system was so logical and seemingly all-encompassing as laid out by Shelton, how could it not work for everyone?

The controversies that arise over dietary failures provide an entry point for observing the psychology behind idealistic diets. Eventually, however, I could no longer deny the obvious, and most who have been with the M2M any length of time will tell you this is one of the more eye-opening things about participating in it and being exposed to lots of different people: There really are numerous problem-cases on the Hygienic system of health and diet. Once faced with this, you have to come to terms with it one way or the other. And of course, it is in how people explain the problems where all the controversy lies. We will get into how people react to this state of affairs in depth, but for now I just want to put this on the table here for people to think about.


(The Attractions and Pitfalls of Purist Black-and-White Dietary Philosophies)

Return to beginning of interviews



GO TO PART 1 - Setting the Record Straight on Humanity's Prehistoric Diet and Ape Diets

GO TO PART 2 - Fire and Cooking in Human Evolution

GO TO PART 3 - The Psychology of Idealistic Diets / Successes & Failures of Vegetarian Diets

Back to Frank Talk by Long-Time Insiders

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