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

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

How obsessively striving for absolute dietary
purity becomes a fruitless "grail quest"

Significant parallels with religious behavior. In the introductory passages of Part 2 of the interview here, I was not merely making a metaphorical comparison in saying that Natural Hygiene resembled a religion in some ways, because the reaction of redoubled purification efforts in response to the better-for-awhile-but-then-worse syndrome has interesting parallels with certain religious motivations. It serves some of the same psychological needs.

Let's go into this more. How so?

Well, in religion, at least in the West, you have the idea that people have sinned, and that there are prayers or rituals you must go through to cleanse yourself of that sin. There is typically guilt or at least anguish over this state of assumed sin. Even if one does not believe in original sin, still, all it takes is one slip-up to establish an ad-hoc fallen state, after which you must redeem yourself. Guilt and redemption are strong motivators, because they go to the core of self-image.

The role of unseen and unverifiable "toxemia" as evidence of one's "sin." In Natural Hygiene, if one makes a blanket assumption that "toxemia is the basic cause of all disease"--or at least the only one worth considering, since dietary sufficiency eating natural vegan foods is usually assumed to be a given--then the psychological motivations often cease to become merely practical and become coopted by a "redemptionist" quasi-religious quest. For those who are prone to taking it to an extreme, what was practical can become imbued with an element of superstition, or at least an unverifiable belief in unseen toxemia that one cannot really substantiate completely. So one's philosophy can begin to obscure whatever realities to detoxification there may be and blow them out of proportion.

The "relativity" of absolute purification transforms it into an ever-receding goal and goad. One's overriding goal becomes greater and greater purification toward the holy grail of complete detoxification that ever recedes as one's perceived level of detoxification continually falls short of the postulated goal. One paints themselves into a corner where because "no one is without sin" (we all goof up from time to time), one can never be sure after they have sinned if that sin is really forgiven or not (cleansed from the body by normal processes). Thus to redeem oneself, one must always either fast or go on some sort of cleansing program.

Following from this is the idea that to remain pure and undefiled and also to serve as proof ("by their fruits ye shall know them," or the signs that one is more evolved), one should go even further and be able to live on the most restricted diet possible permanently. Such as not just a raw-food diet, but sometimes fruits alone (fruitarianism). And if one is not able to do so, then it means one is not really purified, or evolved enough, and thus the only recourse is to do further cleansing until one is really pure and evolved enough to do so.

Self-restriction becomes its own virtue as absolute purity recedes. After awhile, however, this easily becomes a habit divorced from any real reason. Even if one did reach perfect purity, the urge toward self-restriction would continue because of the psychological dynamics which have become ingrained. So for those not doing well on the Hygienic diet who fault themselves, it can end up becoming a self-reinforcing vicious circle and one never reaches the "goal."

Because as we've noted, what often happens by this time is after being on the cleansing diets and restricted intakes for long enough, instead of toxemia being a problem, deficiency (depletion of one's reserves) sets in. So what ensues if people are really hooked into this dynamic is they go through a cycle of cleansing and sinning, cleansing and sinning (because one's body is crying out for more nutrition and drives one to eat something different, anything different in an attempt to make up the nutritional shortfall). Or if they do not sin, they continually feel they still must not have figured the "system" out completely (whatever the system may be), and so they go on searching here, and searching there.

Endgame: fundamentalist obsessive-compulsiveness. Once this goes on long enough, because it is self-reinforcing, many of these individuals become so locked into this way of thinking they are never again able to see food and eating any other way. (Just as fundamentalists rarely ever change their minds.) This particular syndrome is a potential breeding ground for obsessive-compulsives, and the individuals who fall into it often become the basket cases of Hygiene.

I realize, of course, all this may sound rather ridiculous taken to this extreme, but it is a real dynamic that we see in the M2M in more individuals than you might think. Typically, of course, it's not nearly as extreme as painted above, but it's not an uncommon undercurrent in behavior.

At some point a person has to decide between two perspectives: Is one going to take toxemia or detoxification to be all there is to health--by taking the reactionary opposite of their former all-American "more and more and more is better" outlook to its simplistic opposite of "less and less and less is better"? Or do we try to strike a balance point somehow?

Successful vegetarian diets require
more than simple dietary purity

So how do those who are successful on the Hygienic program go about striking that balance?

More attention paid to robust nutritional intake and other health factors. Well, we see a few different ways, but they all boil down to two main areas, I think. Rather than getting so totally wrapped up in detox, successful Hygienists more often seem to pay a lot of proactive attention to making sure they get sufficient nutrition, rather than just assuming it will happen automatically if they eat all natural foods. But just as importantly, they also more often pay equal attention to the other factors of a healthy lifestyle such as adequate exercise, sleep, rest, sunshine, stress reduction (including lack of excessive mental stress), and even sometimes to living in more equable climates, which also reduces stress.

I don't think the attention paid to these other factors is any accident. Long-time Hygienists are more likely to be aware on some level of the detrimental impact insufficient attention to these other factors can have, and intuitively seem to know they must be paid attention. These factors are important to health in and of themselves for anybody, of course. However, I believe there is an additional reason why they assume added importance for a Hygienic lifestyle in particular.

Stress and vegetarian diets. My own personal experience and observations corroborate what I have heard from some other long-time former vegetarians outside Hygiene who have had the chance to observe successes and failures--both in themselves and widely in the vegetarian community. And this is that stress makes a vegetarian diet more difficult to thrive on--more so than for other diets. It just seems to be that when you look at a range of long-term vegetarians, the ones doing better are more often living "easier" lives. Their lives are less demanding work-wise or stress-wise, or if not, they have plenty of time to recharge. Again, I am not saying this is true of all, but it is a noticeable thread. Handling stress of course hinges on several other factors in the Hygienic system, such as adequate but not excessive exercise to create a state of fitness and better resilience to stress; and of course adequate rest and sleep to repair from stresses. And a number of Hygienic practitioners are noted for continually reminding the rest of us not to shirk these factors.

Stress creates less margin for error for nutrition's contribution to physiological maintenance. Why should it be that one may have to pay more attention than usual to alleviating stress factors on a vegetarian diet if it is to succeed? Again, my opinion is that it goes back to the observation that compared to the "original" evolutionary diet of humanity, the Hygienic diet is a restricted one. This leaves less margin for error with regard to nutritional intake. And that would presumably also have the potential to affect any cellular rebuilding and repair necessitated by stresses. With less room for error in this area, greater attention must be paid to other factors besides food that either reduce stresses that make more demands on nutrition or on the stress-response system (adrenal glands, etc.), or that involve rebuilding or recuperative activities. This expands the margin again to create a bigger cushion.

Successful Natural Hygiene diets are often less strict and more diverse than traditional/"official" recommendations. Of course that's not the only thing to expand one's safety margin. The second thing is that there is more diversity in the way Hygienists in the real world actually approach the dietary aspect of the system than is publicly acknowledged in the pages of ANHS's Health Science magazine, for instance. Some of the ones who are successful occasionally include--if not regularly supplement the diet on a low level with--things like yogurt, or some cheese, perhaps eggs. It may not be much, but the more-or-less even-if-haphazard continuing dribble of it is suggestive. Stanley Bass, one of the Hygienic practitioners as you know from his interviews here, and who is a member of the M2M, strongly recommends modest but regular amounts of cheese or eggs as necessary to complete the basic Hygienic diet nutritionally--based not only on his mice experiments, but experiences with real-life patients as well.

Special nutritional practices added by some individuals. A few individuals in the M2M take special measures such as making flaxseed preparations which they feel provide crucial nutrients to get [i.e., essential fatty acids (EFAs) and/or their precursors]. Others may go in for BarleyGreen, such as yourself, Chet, or for the blended salads that Gian-Cursio developed and thought essential to increase assimilation, which you and Bass have also recommended. We have also heard privately from an individual who has consulted with one noted Hygienic practitioner who says they acknowledged to them in person that there is nothing wrong with fish in the diet once a week or so--though of course this practitioner cannot come out and say so publicly. Still other people go beyond the traditional Hygienic whole-foods idea that says juices should be limited to a now-and-then basis, and regularly drink vegetable-juice preparations (carrot-celery-romaine is one that seems to be favored) as a way of getting more concentrated doses of minerals and so forth.

And finally, of course, there are those such as myself and another individual or two in the M2M who have added modest amounts of animal flesh to our diets, based on the evolutionary picture of humanity's original diet, and have seen significant improvements over the results we got on the normal Hygienic diet. We still believe the basic Hygienic way of eating is a fine way to eat as far as it goes, and we continue to follow many of the usual Hygienic eating patterns including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and nuts; we just don't think it is quite sufficient, and have carefully added reasonable amounts of these other items to round out the diet, paying attention to issues of quality. Those of us in this last camp go along with those such as Bass in thinking that the paradigm of detoxification is valid to a point but only half the picture, and that actually deficiencies are an equal if not greater cause of problems for those on long-term vegetarian diets, accounting for many of the problems that arise and persist.

Potential role of involuntary "lapses" in filling nutritional gaps. Individuals like the above who supplement the basic Hygienic diet, of course, do so consciously. In relation to this, there is another interesting, relatively unconscious, behavior here we should also look at. While I don't mean to explain away all the successes in Hygiene as due to people doing non-kosher things--because that isn't true--nevertheless it is interesting to observe that many Hygienists still "cheat" a little or have periodic minor indulgences even when they do not really intend to do so as their "ideal" regimen. Using butter or cheese on one's steamed vegetables on a weekly basis--or more often depending on the individual--isn't uncommon to hear about in the M2M. Perhaps less frequently some eggs and so forth. Consciously, they really do not "mean" to do it, but they do it anyway. Which raises the legitimate question of how much of a role these periodic low-level "indulgences" may be playing in filling in potential nutritional gaps in people's diets.

The bottom line is, I don't think anyone really knows the answer. It's a question I doubt anyone has studied systematically, and it would be very difficult to do so.

Lapses usually automatically interpreted as "addictions" instead by adherents. What is interesting from the psychological standpoint, however, is that these so-called "lapses" are almost always viewed as discipline problems or addictions. If the Hygienic diet is supposed to be so "natural," why are so many enthusiastic and motivated followers not completely satisfied by it? One cannot help but get the strong feeling no one is interested in considering the possibility the diet may not be satisfying people's physical needs as a primary underlying reason why they cannot, or are not, sticking to the diet, and that their bodies may be making them do this. This is another "secret" of sorts that's not talked about much publicly but you see in the M2M: Many people struggle with sticking to the diet, and not just for "social" pressures, but because of cravings. After a point, while it may explain some of the cases, to blame it all on past addictions or lack of discipline or poor-quality produce is too convenient.


(Rationalizing Dietary Failures with Circular Thinking and Untestable Excuses)

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

   Beyond Veg home   |   Feedback   |   Links