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Tom Billings
30 years of transitions:
from fruitarian to living foods to lacto-vegetarian

Tom is a computer consultant, a yoga teacher, an organizer with SF-LiFE
(San Francisco Living Foods Enthusiasts), and a vegetarian of over 30 years
standing. His career has included work in software/systems engineering,
plus marketing research and statistical consulting, with a B.S. in
mathematics, an M.A. in economics and an M.S. in mathematical statistics.

Copyright © 1999-2000 by Thomas E. Billings. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.


I am a long-time raw-food vegetarian, and have (at different times) followed many of the common raw vegetarian diets: fruitarian, natural hygiene-style, living foods. My current diet is lacto-vegetarian (includes some raw dairy), 75-90% raw. I enjoy writing about nutrition, health, yoga, Ayurveda, and other topics. I am active on this website, a few email lists, and in SF-LiFE: the San Francisco Living Foods Enthusiasts, the oldest living foods support group in the world. I frequently contribute articles to the SF-LiFE newsletter. Additionally, my (internet) writings have been (or are being) published in a number of other venues.

Readers are advised that many of my writings are controversial in certain raw food diet circles. My approach to raw foods is one of realism, moderation, common sense, sanity, honesty, and staying open to new information. Additionally, I am critical of fruit diets as my extensive experience with them was very problematic, to say the least. My willingness to challenge the dogmatism and excess idealism that infects the raw vegan movement has upset some of the more extreme rawists. I strongly encourage you to read the material on this website with an open mind and to think for yourself on these issues. Once you actively think for yourself on these issues, you will begin to realize that the extremists want to sell you a simplistic, logically invalid philosophy, a philosophy that is based on a false model of nature.

My other interests include yoga (I teach yoga in San Francisco), and Ayurveda, the traditional medical/wellness system of India.

Overview of Dietary Experience

Please note that this article is largely limited to dietary and health issues. My experience with some of the common raw vegetarian diets can be described as a set of consecutive phases, brief descriptions of which follow. More detailed information is presented in separate sections, afterwards.

1971-1980: The Fruitarian Experience
I was a fruitarian (by the common definition of fruit, not the botanical definition) in this phase. For approximately 2 years of this period I was on nearly 100% raw fruit--something that many fruitarians talk about, but very few ever achieve. My diet in this period was usually 100% raw, and was consistently 75+% fruit, in the long-term.

1980-1989: Natural Hygiene-Style Diet
After a transition period in the early 1980s when I was a conventional (cooked-food) vegetarian, I entered a phase where I alternated between periods on a (nearly) 100% raw diet similar to natural hygiene, and a conventional vegetarian diet. Note that (fortunately) I was never involved in the philosophy of natural hygiene (i.e., the writings of Herbert Shelton).

1990-1996: (Generic) Raw Vegan
In this phase, I was a generic raw vegan, usually 100% raw, with sprouts as my predominant food source (i.e., similar to a living foods diet).

1996 to present: Predominantly Raw Lacto-Vegetarian
Similar to preceding phase, except I added raw dairy (raw goat milk) to my diet in 1996 and it improved my health significantly (increased my strength and stamina, increased hydration, and other benefits). I also started eating some cooked food (approximately 10-25% of my diet).

Other Writings
I have written extensively in the area of raw and living foods. The archive of the raw-food e-mail list contains the largest collection of my earlier writings (i.e., those that precede the ones written for this site). The archive can be easily searched for these articles (and lots of other interesting things).

The Fruitarian Experience: 1970-1980

Definition. It is appropriate to begin with a definition of the word fruitarian: in my judgment, a diet that is 75% or more (by weight) raw fruit, where the word fruit has the common definition (and not the botanical definition, which includes grains and nuts), with the remainder of the diet being vegan food, usually raw. The common definition of fruit used here is: the edible reproductive parts of seed-bearing plants that includes juicy pulp (hence includes such "vegetable fruits" as cucumber, tomato, eggplant). Note: a few fruitarians use the botanical definition, but that is disdained by purists, and it also blurs the important distinction between fruitarianism and other raw diets.

In the late 1960s, when I was a teenager, I first experimented with vegetarianism, switching to, and following, a conventional cooked lacto-vegetarian diet for several months. In 1970, I again became a vegetarian (January 1, 1970, to be precise), and shortly after that eliminated all dairy products and became a pure vegetarian (at the time I did not even know the word "vegan"). I read a book by Arnold Ehret, The Mucusless Diet Healing System, and, under its influence, slowly transitioned to a raw, fruitarian diet.

By the end of 1971, I was a practicing fruitarian; my diet was 75+% raw fruit. I lived in Florida at the time, and had year-round access to a wide variety of locally grown fruit (most unsprayed, some organic), including a wide variety of citrus, mangos, avocados, as well as "minor" fruits: papayas, bananas, carambolas, lychees, longans, coconuts, tamarind, and other exotics. I learned about wild foods, using the excellent book Wild Plants for Survival in South Florida, by Julia F. Morton, and included wild foods in my diet. For some of this period I had an organic garden, and grew most of the small quantity of vegetables that I ate, as well as watermelons, cantaloupes, and cucumbers. Also, during this period I regularly exercised outdoors in the sunshine, and enjoyed swimming at the beach.

Those who have read some of the idealistic fruitarian writings will recognize from the above that I was living in near-ideal circumstances to practice fruitarianism. Despite the advantages of this near-ideal situation (and food supply), my overall experience with the diet was a mixture of both good and bad, with bad predominating over the long-term.

The writings of Arnold Ehret, the major influence on me during this period, teach fruitarianism, but the approach is a negative and foolish one (something that took many years for me to realize). Ehret taught the simplistic, inaccurate idea that all foods except fruit and green-leaf vegetables (and maybe nuts, though Ehret is inconsistent regarding their status) create "mucus," which is claimed to be the root cause of all disease. Those readers who are not indoctrinated with the dogma of rawism will immediately recognize that the core of Ehret's approach is unscientific and nonsensical; however this sort of misinformation (mucus) is still being taught today. Swami Kailashananda, an obscure yogi who is a raw-fooder, also was an influence on me during this period, and later (into the 1990s).

My initial experience (1972 through early 1973) with 100% raw fruitarianism, after I got past the first major cleansing stages, was very positive indeed: my physical health improved, the need for sleep decreased, I had lots of energy (some of the time), and I had a pleasant "light" or "euphoric" mental feeling that I thought was a spiritual feeling at the time. Things went well for a while, and my spirituality seemed to grow as well. However, there were trouble signs, even in 1972--emaciation, constant hunger, frequent weakness, and intermittent fatigue.

In the spring of 1973, convinced by reading Arnold Ehret's book Rational Fasting that I needed to fast to make me even purer (and get rid of the few problems I was still experiencing), I went on a 4-day water fast. The results were disastrous: my "light" mental feeling disappeared, my strength vanished and I was weak and fatigued, and my weight dropped to the life-threatening level of 88 pounds (40 kg; I am 6'1" = 185 cm tall). I was convinced then that fruit was the "ideal food, and one true diet"--and my foolish belief in the fruitarian "party line" nearly killed me.

Those readers who are fasting enthusiasts may argue that my fast, of only 4 days' duration, was not long enough to induce ketosis (when the body's "wastes" are said to begin being eliminated), hence I should not "blame" the fast for any problems. The claim about ketosis may or may not be true; the real lesson from my fasting experience, however, is that one should not go on a fast when one is extremely emaciated (as many rawists/fruitarians are).

During this time of crisis I visited a close friend; she is a long-time raw-fooder (sproutarian, primarily) and a disciple of Swami Kailashananda, a raw-foods yogi who promotes sprouts. For over an hour, we talked; she tried to talk me into eating sprouts. I initially resisted, making (and firmly believing) the false (and unscientific) argument that all protein foods, including sprouts, create mucus, hence are toxic. Finally, I agreed to try them--in desperation--as I was seriously ill and needed to make changes.

I added raw lentil sprouts (short sprouts--root shoot the length of the soaked seed) to my diet, and I quickly started to gain weight and recover from my starved condition. I can honestly say that my friend--and lentil sprouts--literally saved my life back in 1973.

After recovering from the above situation, which I refer to as a "crash," I included lentil sprouts in my diet for some months--until the end of 1973 (or so). Even when eating sprouts, my diet was still 75+% raw fruit over the longer-term. Sprouts seemed to help me, but they cannot compare in taste to fresh, never-shipped mangos (the mangos in supermarkets are a poor imitation of fresh mangos). My weight returned to what was "normal" during the period: around 115 pounds (~52 kg). After my body weight normalized, I slowly reduced the amount of sprouts in my diet, and they were eaten only rarely during the remaining years of this period (i.e., 1974-1980).


After fully recovering from the crash, I experienced a period of about 2 years when the diet seemed to work well for me, at least most of the time. During this period, cravings were not a problem (in retrospect, I was probably overeating both sweet fruit and avocados in the period). I refer to this period as a "honeymoon" on the diet. Not only did the diet work, but I achieved the "holy grail" of fruitarianism: I was on 100% raw fruit for around 2 years. This is a goal that many fruitarians talk about, but very few achieve. Note that despite my "perfect" 100% fruit diet, I was frequently weak--followed by periods of hyperactivity--during this period. This is the classic pattern of excess sugar consumption: sugar highs, followed by sugar blues--which is why I say that I was probably consuming excess sweet fruit during this period. Although these symptoms were a bother, they were trivial compared to my crash. [Some fruitarians become habituated to the symptoms of excess sugar consumption and regard them as normal!]

The honeymoon period came to an abrupt end when my work took me overseas to a cold-climate location, where fresh fruit was expensive and of poor quality. (I was overseas about 20-25% of the time in the 1973-1978 period.) On one trip, I lived on a mono-diet of mandarin oranges for one month. Since then, I have steadfastly refused to eat mandarin oranges for any reason.

On one stressful, cold winter trip (at the end of the honeymoon period), the heat was not working in the place we were staying; consequently I had to freeze (and nearly starve) for 3 weeks. I returned to Florida, weighing only 95 pounds (43 kg)--my second crash. Fortunately, avocados were in season, and I was able to quickly regain weight by eating a diet that was mostly avocados. Anyone try avocados for breakfast? It's really not bad when you are emaciated and trying to gain weight.

After the 2-year honeymoon period, and while recovering from the second crash, things started to go downhill. The cravings that had been very minor during the honeymoon period returned--stronger than ever. [The "experts" will tell you that if you follow a fruit diet long enough, the cravings will vanish. The cravings do vanish for a while; what the "experts" don't tell you is that your nemesis, the cravings, can and probably will return someday.] I had cravings for sweet foods (even though my diet had sweet fruit as the dominant food type), and also salty foods (possibly due to lack of minerals). I started eating raw vegetables with soy sauce on them to satisfy my salt cravings. I would occasionally eat candy for the sugar cravings, but preferred to eat dates (which were addictive). Although I gave in to the cravings on occasion, my diet was still 75+% fruit over this period. [Side note: as addictive as dates and sugar are, there is one fruit that is even more addictive, and most raw vegans are addicted to it. That fruit is: avocados! Rawists who don't believe this are invited to try excluding avocados from their diet, for a firsthand lesson in the addictive nature of avocados. Additional note: also see, Becoming highly dependent on "mainstay" foods in a veg-raw diet (toward the bottom of the linked page) elsewhere on the site, about why raw vegans often become so reliant on fatty foods in their regimes, such as avocados.]

Additional problems during the post-honeymoon period included: severe muscle cramps--usually leg muscles, which may have been due to a calcium deficiency (most fruit is low in calcium); dental problems consisting of severe erosion of tooth enamel from acidic fruit consumption (enamel hypoplasia) and gum disease that required surgery (my consumption of excess sugar in the form of fruit may have been a factor in that); acid reflux (from eating too many dates); as well as the usual symptoms of excess sugar consumption (fatigue, sugar highs/blues, excess urination, constant thirst, etc.). As a "model fruitarian," my giving in to cravings was done in secret, as it seemed shameful to go off the "perfect, ideal" fruit diet. The only times I ate candy was on my foreign trips (and then only occasionally). In other words, I was engaging in the classic eating disorder behavior of binges and eating in secret. (I should mention that the amount and frequency of binge-eating was rather low.)

The Perils of Physical Purity

Having achieved and experienced very high levels of physical "purity" with the associated "light" mental feeling, I can assure you that the real experience of physical purity is not as positive as others advertise it to be. When you are very "pure," you become very physically sensitive. On the fruitarian diet, your sense of smell is sharpened considerably. The disadvantage of this is that it makes normal life very difficult, as follows.

An additional example: For a personal trip to India, I had to get a cholera inoculation for my yellow "WHO" (World Health Organization) card. I went to my doctor, and the nurse gave me the shot. I immediately passed out, and broke out in a cold sweat. The nurse panicked (she thought she had killed me), and went and got the doctor, who revived me with smelling salts. The sweat on me (as a fruitarian, sweating was very rare for me at the time) smelled just like the vaccine that had been injected into me. Was this an immediate emergency "cleansing reaction," or an allergic reaction? I suspect (but cannot prove) that it was a cleansing reaction, as an allergic reaction might not smell like the vaccine. Anyway, if this is a cleansing reaction, it shows how being too pure, in an impure world, has certain disadvantages.

During this period, I considered myself to be spiritual, but I was very socially isolated. Social isolation is a common and serious problem in rawism, as it is considered a "weird" diet. Because I was harassed a lot about my diet (try being a 100% raw fruitarian in a conservative, suburban part of Florida in the 1970s, and you will experience a great deal of harassment), I chose to avoid the harassment by limiting and carefully selecting social opportunities. I also chose to not be a "missionary" for the diet, as that would simply encourage others to harass me more (as well, I respect the right of others to freely choose their diets).

Phase-out of Fruitarianism: 1979-1980

After years on the diet, I slowly started to lose interest in fruit, dietary purity, and concern for the "evil demons" of mucus and protein. Cravings and hunger increased, and I was apathetic about being "pure." In retrospect, what happened is that I literally burned out from the powerful obsession with food that is required to be a 100% raw fruitarian and deal with the constant hunger, cravings, social isolation, fatigue, and other problems that are common on the diet.

Natural Hygiene-Style Diet: 1980-1989

Transition Period (end of 1980, to 1982)

After ending the fruitarian diet, I returned to a conventional cooked vegetarian diet. It was lacto-vegetarian, but I ate very little dairy--only in salad dressing, and an occasional piece of chocolate. The foods that I ate passed through me and came out the other end looking just like they did when I ate them. This indicated a weak digestive fire; in retrospect it was probably due to eating too much sweet fruit over my years as a fruitarian. I have heard of other ex-fruitarians who experienced the same problem. Also, some long-time fruitarians who claim to have "perfect digestion" may have this problem without knowing it. When one eats mostly fruit, it passes through the body quickly (without causing gas or readily apparent digestive upset), with, however, little change when it comes out as feces. Thus fruit seems to be easy to digest, when, in the long run, it may in fact reduce the digestive fire over time when eaten in great quantity.

I didn't know what to do about this problem at the time--I had the typical anti-medical-doctor bias so common among raw-fooders, and never saw a physician about the problem. (Nowadays I know of some possible remedies for this situation.) Anyway, the problem cleared up by itself after around 2 years on more "normal" food. Despite eating considerable amounts of food in this period, I also found it nearly impossible to gain weight! Note also that this situation--disrupted digestion and difficulty in gaining weight--can be an after-effect of anorexia nervosa (an interesting comparison, as many fruitarians are as emaciated as those suffering from anorexia).

Return to Raw (1982-1989)

After being on cooked food for a while, I returned to eating raw foods. I still considered myself a fruitarian then, but nowadays I consider my diet in the period as being closer to natural hygiene in style. My diet then had fruit as the dominant food (but less than 75%, the standard used here for calling oneself a fruitarian), with lots of vegetables, seeds, nuts, and as the 1980s progressed, sprouts. I was not on the diet full-time during this period. Instead I would alternate--months on raw, then months on cooked, then back to raw, and so on. This on-off pattern is quite common in the raw movement (going on 100% raw and staying on it is the exception rather than the rule).

During this period, I subscribed to one of T.C. Fry's newsletters for a few years, and he became an influence on me. Through Fry, I learned of something called natural hygiene. Fry wrote about natural hygiene, but he promoted himself rather than Herbert Shelton (the major founder of natural hygiene in modern times). After reading the radically exuberant Fry for a while, my initial positive impressions faded, and I realized he was dubious, to say it politely. I was still pro-fruitarianism in this period; one could say that idealism had a strong grip on me, specifically the simplistic, yet seductive (and false) idea that fruit is the perfect food, and will guarantee perfect health.

During this phase of my dietary learning process, I experienced fewer problems than in the fruitarian phase of the 1970s. I would go on raw to enhance my health, then go off it when cravings became a problem. (My primary problem, when raw in this period, was cravings.) As the 1980s ended, I experimented again with sprouts, and found that a more diverse raw diet that included short sprouts--the root shoot of the sprout is about the length of the soaked seed--worked much better for me (such sprouts are filling and satisfying, helping reduce cravings). So, I added more sprouts to my diet. This led me to the next phase of my dietary learning process.


Back to Dietary Problems in the Real World
Back to Waking Up from the Fruitarian Dreamtime

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