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(The Psychology of Idealistic Diets--continued, Part G)

P O S T S C R I P T :   S I G N I F I C A N T   U P D A T E S   T O

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

(LAST UPDATED 11/3/97)

(EDITORIAL NOTE: Triple-asterisked items in boldface below refer either to passages in the interview as originally published, or to additional topics that relate to the discussion, which are followed by further comments on the issues raised.)

Further observations about
"failure to thrive" on vegan diets

*** "...the most sobering was that a year or two ago one older member who ended up dropping out of the M2M wrote to us that they had developed congestive heart failure. They said Hygienic practitioners told them it was due to lack of adequate protein and B-12 over an extended period. We later heard word from them through an intermediary in the M2M that it may have been due to having followed a diet too high in fruits percentage-wise for many years prior to that."

As discussed in the postscript to Part 2, although this is admittedly speculative, symptoms of heart disease in this situation would also be consistent with hyperinsulinism as a possible cause, given the high level of carbohydrate from the excessive fruits, combined with low protein consumption.

*** "Another sobering occurrence was that in the most recent issue of the M2M, one of our participants reported that their two or three-year-old infant son--who was still breastfeeding (or had been until recently) and who, along with the mother, was eating vegan Hygienic foods, including getting sunlight regularly--had developed bowed legs as a manifestation of rickets due to vitamin D deficiency."

Case of rickets in vegan toddler. This example of serious nutritional deficiency was criticized by one vegan raw-food advocate online, who made the accusation that crucial information must have been purposely withheld from my account, and suggested the rickets could have been due to an induced calcium deficiency from the binding action of phytates if the diet were rich in grains. For the record, here are the particulars of the father's and his son's diets:

Note that the father's statements quoted above depict a diet with a regular though not excessive level of grain consumption, would which tend to refute our critic's idea of an induced calcium deficiency stemming from inappropriately high levels of phytate in the diet.

Calcium deficiency rather than vitamin D deficiency as potential cause? The critic's suggestion that the attribution of the rickets to vitamin D deficiency overlooks the possibility of calcium deficiency does have merit. The father's account (in issue #28 of the N.H. M2M) of visits to the pediatrician, however, strongly implies the doctors diagnosed or at least themselves believed the symptoms were due to vitamin D deficiency. In rechecking my sources here, it is worth noting that the father does make a statement elsewhere in the M2M that at the time of an earlier childhood bout of illness, they had a hair analysis done "that showed some heavy metal contamination and calcium levels in the blood at the low end of normal." (At the same time, here, it should also be noted that the accuracy of hair analysis can be controversial due to alleged problems with repeatability.) How much effect a low-normal calcium level (assuming it persisted, or existed in the first place) may have had at the time of the rickets diagnosis is not discussed.

Elimination of problem using supplements/animal foods demonstrates insufficiency of diet, regardless of exact cause. What all of this does suggest, however, is that regardless of the exact cause of the rickets, the particular diet followed--one fairly typical of the way recent, and more sensible Natural Hygiene vegan diets in general are practiced--was insufficient in some way. Our critic seems to ignore this general point.

Another criticism by the same raw-food vegan critic who took a dim view of our example here was that "fats will impede mineral absorption as well. Babies fed on early formulas with too much linoleic acid [a fatty acid] become anemic." This speculation is easily refuted by the father, as it turns out, who mentions in passing at one point (in issue #23 of the M2M) that the family was once threatened with having their son taken away by the authorities "because we wouldn't feed him formula and baby rice."

Tendency is to rationalize as to speculative possibilities while ignoring probability/plausibility. To wrap up this example, it's worth pointing out that these kinds of speculative rationalizations are heard all the time in the vegan community, and are a good illustration of how dietary extremists are almost without fail more interested in finding ways "to explain things away" rather than simply accept that these things can and do happen on vegan diets. No matter how strong the example, you can count on an extremist first looking for a way to rationalize it in preference to dealing with it on its own terms. We see here another prime earmark of the idealist's (dubious) logical method of criticism and pep-talking: engage in speculation as to numerous possibilities (to deflect attention from a more direct interpretation of the evidence) that redirect attention away from the critic's favored regime as the cause, without regard for probability, reasonableness, parsimony of explanation, and plausibility in the equation of arriving at the most likely explanation given the evidence.

The lesson from our example of rickets above, again, is that even if we cede that we may not be able to pin down the proximate cause with absolute certainty in such an anecdotal example (even one verified by mainstream doctors), nevertheless the remedy of adding animal products in the form of goat dairy, plus a vitamin D and multivitamin supplement solved the problem. The unavoidable implication is that the diet was deficient in some way, whatever those deficiencies or their causes may have been.

Special measures to make vegan diets work can be seen as compensations for lack of evolutionary congruence. As outlined in detail in Part 1 of these interviews, the evolutionary evidence makes it clear that vegan diets are not the original, natural diet of humans, and never have been at any point in our history. Nevertheless, we can cede the point that with the right kind of manipulations, it may be possible in whatever number of cases to compensate for the unnaturalness of leaving animal products out of the human diet by instituting various dietary practices that may be utilized in a particular vegan diet.

That even informed advocates acknowledge vegan diets should be carefully planned suggests that less margin for error is a real issue. Unfortunately, however, as we see above, some individuals simply don't do well on vegan diets even when conscientious attempts may be made. Often, more scientifically oriented vegan advocates will object in such cases that the diet wasn't "intelligently planned" enough. Yet if one must go to such lengths to be so conscientious and careful, what does this suggest?

The most logical conclusion is that there isn't as much margin for error on vegan diets in terms of nutrient deficiencies, while with the inclusion of animal products--a part of the natural human diet--or with the addition of artificial supplements to compensate for their absence, there is. (I do not mean, of course, to suggest that milk is ideal as an animal food. In view of the evolutionary and clinical evidence regarding potential long-term problems due to high saturated fat levels in dairy (among other things), flesh food would be the logical choice as the animal food we are most fit to eat. However, the vegetarian way of life does not permit this, so dairy (or eggs) often becomes the only choice available for those vegetarians who are willing to consider any animal products at all.)

*** The yo-yo syndrome as potential indicator of failure to thrive on strict diets:

One behavioral type of symptom that may be experienced on raw-food diets that was not discussed at much length is what could be called the yo-yo syndrome. Although in extreme cases this can be expressed as binge/purge or alternate fast/feast behavior, more typically it is typified by on-the-wagon/off-the-wagon behavior. Those for whom vegan or raw-food diets don't work well may blame themselves as a consequence of their idealism, and go through a continual cycle of try/fail, try/fail, try/fail, attempting to get the diet to work, no matter how many times it is attempted. Typically, guilt feelings ensue and become reinforced by such behavior, and blame is then laid on "addictions" or lack of self-discipline.

Since this type of behavior could potentially manifest itself with any diet that one puts up as an ideal different from past habits, however, I do not know at this time of any foolproof way one can tell for sure in any particular case whether it is indicative of nutritional insufficiency as opposed to "lack of will," so to speak. However if it occurs in conjunction with one or more of the physical symptoms mentioned in the interview, one would have to consider the strong possibility the behavior is more likely biologically driven.

Viewing the yo-yo syndrome as valuable feedback to help pinpoint problems breaks the cycle of guilt over so-called "lapses." At the least, one can use the presence of the behavior as a feedback signal that one is either not physically satisfied by a diet, or alternatively that something about one's implementation of the diet is not satisfying innate human needs for gustatory and emotional satisfaction from the foods eaten, over and above their nutritional sufficiency. (Anyone who has experienced a fast of any length of time can attest to the fact that food and eating satisfy not just physical needs, but also "feed" a certain human need for psychological or oral satisfaction in eating; not to mention the role that food and "eating time" play in structuring a "day in the life" of human behavior.)

A "biological" view of this behavior, of course, would point out the likelihood that on-the-wagon/off-the-wagon behavior may have little to do with "discipline" problems or "addictions," but could be the simple result of one's body forcing them to eat other things in spite of their determination not to, in order to get needed nutrients not available (or not in high enough quantity) from the "allowed" items in the diet. It also needs to be pointed out that even where one is following a prescribed diet that might be supposedly "right" for them (for instance, perhaps an evolutionary-type diet like we have discussed here), people still have individual needs that they will often have to arrive at individual solutions for.

Unhooking from guilt frees attention to seriously consider and evaluate practical solutions one may have been blind to before. A different approach, therefore--no matter what one's dietary philosophy or knowledge--is that one can instead ask: What kind of drive toward satisfying some physical, emotional, or psychological need may have pushed them into the "lapse"? The trick here of course is to figure out what the "indulgence" may be signaling. But at least one is no longer blinded by the self-defeating cycle of guilt and recrimination, which frees up one's vision to look at serious alternatives.

For example: Is there something in the food, or about the food itself that the body may be craving even if one has previous conditioning the food is "bad"? Or, even if the food is bad, is there something in it that one is attracted to in attempting to satisfy some other legitimate need one could get from another, better food they have been avoiding? Perhaps there is even something about the experience of eating the food or the particular psychological satisfaction it brings, rather than strictly the dimension of nutritional considerations that one finds satisfying about it: for instance, texture, taste, the bodily feelings generated after eating it, etc.

Experimental attitude requires new mental relationship with the question of "certainty." Taking this perspective can be a way out of the self-blame and reactiveness of guilt, or self-destructive and futile "discipline," into a mode where one uses their behavior as a kind of feedback guide to better satisfy themselves on the way to reaching better health. Doing this, however, requires taking an experimental attitude and being willing to temporarily suspend the tendency toward instant judgment or wanting instant certainty, and to instead "live in the question" while realizing some answers in life require that one find them on their own without the assurance of an external authority.

*** Why is being "hungry all the time" on a veg-raw-food diet such a problem for some individuals even in the short-term before any deficiencies could have arisen?

Diet is lower in overall nutrient/energy-density than the one the human body evolved on. With the benefit of recent studies indicating that the human gut evolved to be less energy-intensive in performing its functions, and more dependent on higher-density, higher-energy foods with higher protein and fatty acid content (much of them animal in origin) to support the evolution of the large energy-intensive human brain (see postscript to Part 1), it appears we have a very likely explanation for why so many raw-foodists are so hungry all time: They simply aren't eating enough concentrated food. (While it is true that some people's bodies seem to be able to functionally adapt to this to one degree or another, or they may be blessed with more efficient metabolisms to begin with, there are many more who can't make a go of it very well.)

Human digestive system not optimized for maximum extraction of nutrition/energy from a diet of all high-fiber foods. In avoiding animal foods and--if totally raw-foodist--also many of the more concentrated vegetarian foods like cooked grains, legumes, tubers, etc., such individuals have relegated themselves to eating a diet significantly lower in overall nutrient and energy-density. (See The Calorie Paradox of Raw Veganism for a detailed discussion and analysis of the energy-density aspect of this equation.) When you combine this with the fact that the human gut is also not as efficient in extracting nutrients from these higher-fiber foods as it is from denser foods (which is not to say sufficient amounts of fiber do not have their rightful place as a valuable component of the diet), you have a good recipe for the urge so many raw-foodists have to eat large volumes of food, while still remaining hungry much of the time.

The binge/purge or fast/feast behavior some raw-foodists get themselves into also becomes understandable as a confluence of this underlying metabolic cause combined with mental overidealism. Thus, while the resulting syndromes might be similar to bulimic-type behavior seen in more mainstream dieters, the underlying causes are somewhat different.

Eating like a gorilla leads to a life centered around food like a gorilla. It is also worth noting that even gorillas, who have the kind of intestinal fauna and flora to handle a very high-roughage diet more efficiently, still spend considerably larger portions of their day eating than humans normally do. Humans by contrast have been evolving away from this to some degree, towards a more active social existence, which itself takes time. By attempting to "eat like a gorilla," one to some extent has no choice but to spend more of their day eating (or thinking about it, if they are going hungry). This in itself tends to lead to a food-centered existence that breeds obsession, which is reflected in the perception among others that raw-foodists often become fixated on food to the detriment of other aspects of human life.

*** Becoming highly dependent on "mainstay" foods in a veg-raw diet:

The frequency of dependence on avocados and/or nuts is explained by human digestive system's design for denser foods. The smaller gut/dense, fattier foods/large-brain connection that arose during evolution also goes a long way toward explaining why many veg-raw-foodists may become heavily dependent on foods like avocados and nuts to make the diet actually work. Many raw-foodists have something of a guilt complex about the large numbers of avocados and nuts they often eat. Intuitively they seem to feel that their diets contain disproportionate amounts of these items, yet at the same time they cannot stop eating them. This dependence on these foods (sometimes not even realized as such) may lead to guilt feelings, or may become expressed in strictures or rules meant to clamp down on what is felt are "gluttonous" urges toward eating these foods. This is especially true in this day and age when the high-carbohydrate, low-fat gospel reigns supreme, which casts something of a pall over the joys otherwise to be had for vegetarians in eating these more-fatty, hunger-satiating foods.

Raw-foodist eating patterns and difficulties are predictable/understandable given evolutionary design of human gut. Yet from the perspective of the evolution of the smaller human gut geared toward the digestion of denser, fattier foods (in the past it was primarily animal flesh, of course) it is easy to see why raw-foodists often become highly dependent on avocados and nuts in their diet and suffer without them. The only other alternatives--both ruled out for raw-foodists--are to eat cooked grains, legumes, and tubers to get more concentrated nutrient intake, or dairy products or eggs. Those having been eschewed, the choice occurs almost by default, though it's really probably almost a foregone conclusion given the restrictions veg-raw-foodists live under, when analyzed from the perspective of the evolution of the human diet and digestive system.

Once all other, more energy-dense foods are eliminated, "fruitarianism" is the logical/inevitable outcome. To make matters worse, many raw-foodists living under the above strictures and who actually do try to either eliminate nuts and avocados, or at least seriously limit them, understandably tend to find the only remaining somewhat concentrated foods--fruits--looming large as attractive taste treats, and often overindulge in these otherwise fine foods. But when made too large a part of the diet--and given that modern fruits have been bred for higher sugar contents than their ancestors--this can lead to another set of problems resulting either in hyperinsulinism or sugar addiction.

Of all the varieties of vegetarians and "living foodists" and raw-foodists, it is the so-called "fruitarians" who get into the most health trouble the most quickly. And again, it is not hard to see how this can happen with the progressively more limited set of foods allowed under the vegetarian raw-foods philosophy. It is not just the "ethical" consideration that fruitarians put forth (as a motivating factor) that fruits are the only "karmaless" food that's obtainable without harming a plant to obtain food from it. The digestive, metabolic (energy-producing), and satiation (hunger-satisfying) characteristics of foods that play out based on the dietary limitations one lives under, in fact, inexorably lead to these behaviors in logical, understandable ways.


(The Fallacy of Fruitarianism: Word Games vs. the Real World of Practice and Results)

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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