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

Rationalizing dietary failures with
circular thinking and untestable excuses

This type of habitual pattern of theoretical explanation that exhibits the strong tendency to first fault results (or the individual responsible) if they do not measure up to the philosophy suggests motivations rooted more in idealism than in practically evaluating one's philosophy by results.

Can you clarify that a little further?

Pat answers and mantras. If one's interpretation of a theory is overidealistic--even though the theory itself may satisfactorily answer some number of things, as I agree that Natural Hygiene can--they will try to make their view of it impregnable to criticism with a pat answer for everything, so that you could imagine no outcome of any circumstance or test that they would accept as valid evidence against it.

Unfalsifiable excuses impervious to testability. In science there is a prohibition against explanations that are not "falsifiable"--meaning those that cannot be subjected to a test where one outcome would negate ("falsify") the explanation, and the other outcome would support it. Otherwise the assertion is impervious to a fair test and will not be taken seriously by science because it is untestable. In other words, if in interpreting the results of an experiment you can always twist them so that they support your theory, and you cannot allow or conceive of any result that would count against the theory, then you are trying to have your cake and eat it too, and that is not allowed if you are going to be scientific.

How about some examples here?

"You're too addicted." Well, the above idea that people cannot stay on the Hygienic diet because they are too addicted to other things is a circular kind of argument as normally stated. There could perhaps be ways of testing it, if one wanted, but not the way it is usually stated which is designed to deflect any possible criticism: Why can't one stay on the Hygienic diet? Because they are too addicted to past foods. How do you know you are addicted to such foods? Because if you weren't you could easily stay on the Hygienic diet! It goes round and round. You see, the way they are formulated, you can't subject these contentions to a real test because they are supposed to be true by definition.

When you start hearing explanations like this given out as pat answers, then it indicates one doesn't want the theory to be argued with or subjected to a fair test where there could be a risk of an answer you don't want.

"You just haven't given it enough time yet." There are other statements like this in Hygiene designed more to protect belief than to truly explain. For example, another common one we hear a lot in Natural Hygiene is that if someone isn't getting good results, then they "just haven't given it enough time yet." "Hey, you expect to get well in just a few months or years from 20 or 30 years of prior bad living habits!?" That's the rhetoric.

Now we needn't deny the need for patience without also requesting some sort of reasonable criterion to determine if there has been enough time. Because without it, you just don't know--you are clawing at the thin air of a foggy explanation designed to obscure the issue.

If one were truly interested in being practical here, they could at least make the observation that if what one is doing is working, then symptoms would tend to lessen in frequency or severity over time. (In other words, you would at least see a trend, even if full results did require a much lengthier period.) If this were in fact observed, this would uphold such reasoning, while if the symptoms are increasing or persisting over the long-term, then the hypothesis is falsified. But if all you are doing is just telling people they haven't given it enough time no matter how long they have given it, then you are obviously not very interested in putting things to a realistic test.

What we find in the M2M is that usually people don't require all that long to notice some kind of results trend after a dietary change. A few months to several months is usually amply sufficient to see at least some kind of trend. Many people see early results or trends within a few weeks to a month or two. If you are going longer than several months to a year, and you have not gotten any better than when you started, or are experiencing persistent trends for the worse, something is probably wrong.

"Unnatural overstimulation." Here's another example, this one more of a double-standard explanation to discount good results that other people get eating different diets than Hygiene. It's one I hear myself all the time: If you are someone who has chosen to start including meat in your diet again and you have been gradually feeling better, you inevitably hear the mantra that it's not really better health, it's only "unnatural overstimulation" due to the supposed excessive toxins or nasty animal protein in meat. Yet by the canon of Hygiene itself, the criteria for a stimulant as contained in Shelton's "Laws of Life" contradict this. Law X, "The Law of Stimulation or Dual Effect," and XI, "The Law of Compensation," together basically state that the energy from a stimulant saps the energy of the body for its effect and requires a compensating recovery period.

In other words, stimulants result in a prostrating effect afterward during which you feel worse and have to recuperate from. This is not what those of us adding meat to our diet in reasonable amounts in diets otherwise Hygienic in character and who are experiencing improved health go through--quite the opposite, as it is a gradual response. Yet the mantra gets repeated over and over again on autopilot without seeming comprehension of its lack of correspondence to the actual circumstances. It is invoked as a pat answer simply to explain away the fact someone is getting better results on a different diet one does not like.

When symptoms are always seen as "detox." The most important example, of course, of an untestable answer repeated like a mantra that we need to address here would be when any symptoms encountered are always explained as symptoms of "detox"--while the alternative possibility that they could be indicative of a dietary deficiency, casting doubt on the sufficiency of the Hygienic diet, is ignored totally. Again, that a symptom is due to detoxification might be true depending on the circumstance, but without a way of reasonably assessing which might be the case, it's merely a convenient, unfalsifiable, and untestable explanation.

How would you test such an explanation? Well, short of some sort of blood test that might pinpoint biomarkers indicative of toxemia, you could at the least point out that, as we did above, the symptoms--detoxification in this case--should begin to diminish in frequency over time. And on the other hand, if after these symptoms have diminished or abated and you are left with other symptoms that have persisted at the same level or even increased, you would have to admit to reasonable grounds for supposing that these symptoms may indicate deficiency or deterioration or metabolic imbalance of some kind. But merely to say without any further attempt at clarification that any symptom indicates one is "still too toxemic" or still too gunked-up--that it requires still further detoxification--shows that one is not very sincere in their attempts to find out.

For these reasons I think that the stock explanation of "continuing detox" is erroneous in attempting to cavalierly dismiss the symptoms I described earlier that are experienced by those who do not do well long-term on the Hygienic diet. Because for these individuals, the symptoms are persistent and do not diminish over time. And as we have said, usually these individuals had experienced improvement at first before the decline, which is why they are so loath themselves to accept the idea that the Hygienic diet may be insufficient for them.

Other meaningless, unhelpful, or unfalsifiable excuses. And a little more on the humorous side here, when all else fails, one can always bring out the even heavier artillery of such unanswerable assertions as: "too badly damaged by prior living," "you weren't breastfed long enough," "degeneration of the race from prior generations' poor diet," or my own favorite and one I was once personally accused of: "psychosomatically sabotaging yourself by trying too hard." Could there be any possible validity to these excuses? Perhaps. Who knows? The point is, they could be given for any approach that fails, not just Hygiene, which shows just how relevant they really are in explaining why Hygiene shouldn't give better results than all the rest.

Please understand, as I emphasized in the introduction to Part 2 of our interview, that in this critique I am not quibbling with the basic principles of Hygiene, which I agree are valid for the most part. What I am saying is that they are often interpreted in conveniently inconsistent, fallacious, or selective fashion to explain away detrimental results that threaten emotional attachments to dietary details or implementations they may believe stem from those principles. And that this can get people into serious trouble by obscuring their vision of what may really be happening to them.

5 tips for staying alert to the traps
of excessive dietary idealism

What about ways of guarding against falling into these different traps of idealism? Are there things that can be done to prevent going unconscious about it?

1. Self-honesty instead of denial. Well, number one, I would say simply acknowledging all that we've been looking at here--at the least considering it as a real "possibility"--is a big first step. The big problem I see is that even where people become aware of these problems, as happens in the M2M, they most often go into denial about it. Denial is the biggest hurdle. Just be honest with yourself about how you feel and if you are pleased with the results you are getting or not.

2. Focus first on results rather than theoretical certainty. Second, becoming less set on arriving at a perfect theory and more interested in getting good results helps one remain more objective. Be wary of the desire for too much certainty about any one theory. Theories are very useful tools, but they usually change and become modified or at least refined over time in response to scientific advances. Being too certain theoretically can override your ability to perceive any detrimental results that might cast that certainty in doubt. If you think of a theory as an approximation subject to modification by results--which is what science is all about--you'll be much less likely to get into trouble.

3. Utilize reasonable timeframes to gauge trends. Third, being willing to place reasonable time limits on one's dietary experiments--say, a few to several months per dietary adjustment to assess at least some sort of trend--will help keep you from falling into the frog-in-slowly-boiling-water syndrome if you don't get results.

4. Exercise at some activity that gently challenges your limits, to hone sensitivity to changes in your capacities and health. Fourth, a regular exercise program doing something you enjoy, particularly one involving a high level of activity--such as some type of endurance sport, or weight-lifting, or yoga--not just those particularly, but something where you can accurately measure or get feedback about your results at a high level of activity, can be very helpful in not only achieving health, but in more realistically assessing it. You don't have to put large amounts of time into it; rather, intensity or focus is the key, where you play the edges of your capacities for at least brief periods of time without too much undue strain. When you do this, you will notice shortfalls in results and the impact of diet or changes in health much more quickly than if you are idling along far below what you are capable of.

5. Don't ignore feedback about how you are doing from people who know you well. And fifth, actively seek out the opinions of other people whose judgment you trust about how they think you are doing. Maintain a dialogue with people and don't isolate yourself from feedback and others' opinions, or be so ready with dogma that you drown out what they are saying.

Ultimately, if you aren't feeling well, looking well, and doing well in your daily life, why are we bothering with any of this?

Is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like to add before we close out this interview?

Yes. As much as I've tried to carefully document the scientific aspects in Parts 1 and 2 of these interviews, I have no doubt newer science will inevitably supersede portions of it. Also, given the complexity of some of the research, it's possible there may be a few instances where I overlooked differing interpretations of fact. I fully expect given the controversial nature of what I am reporting and saying here that there will be those who will point out any such inaccuracies that may have occurred, which I welcome. This is how knowledge advances, and I'm sure it will help me refine my own thinking or look at new interpretations as well.

Big picture more important than disputes over details. I trust, however, people can judge for themselves that the overall thrust of the views I have been presenting do not depend on a few specific details, but rather on how all of them as a whole point to a larger overarching pattern. That's my real interest--the broad thrust of all this. I don't really expect to convince very many people and I know many will be upset. I can well imagine as we speak that many of your readers will be busy writing their own rebuttals. What I am interested in is starting a dialogue on these issues in the vegetarian and Natural Hygiene communities, and generating awareness about them. I don't think most know yet that there is considerable scientific data on humanity's "original" diet now, or that as we have discussed in Part 3 here, there are significant numbers of Hygienists not doing well.

Tolerance for our own mistakes, tolerance for others. In this same vein, I'd also like to suggest to Natural Hygienists and other "veg-raw" folks not to be too fundamentalist about their dietary beliefs and practices. Especially with other people--but even yourself. Leave yourself open to the fact you could be wrong sometimes--because we all are. Don't paint other people who don't believe the way you do about diet, fasting, and health as willful ignoramuses, or people such as M.D.s as willfully evil promoters of bad or destructive information. Most of us are doing the best we know how with what we've got. We need to stop making people into villains, and diet into a religion that we feel a need to identify with as being somehow morally or socially "right" about. Because no matter how much you think you know about it, you can always be humbled by new information.

I've really been razzed at times by close family and friends about the changes that have occurred in my thinking about diet as a result of my experiences and research. I'm sure more changes will come. It's somewhat embarrassing how overzealous I've seen myself be at times, even while considering myself open-minded and tolerant at the time. If you want to create an environment where people will be forgiving of you when you change your mind about something, you can't be coming across as an inflexible proselytizing zealot to them or they won't be tolerant of you either.

Open-mindedness is an ongoing process, not something one achieves and then "has." It's something you have to continually pay attention to and engage yourself at. It doesn't happen automatically. In fact, the tendency if we do nothing is for our minds to crystallize and become more closed as we age. We all die eventually no matter what diet we eat. I would hope we can all stay forever young at heart even as our bodies inevitably age. That's the most important thing.

Thank you for talking with us, Ward.

And thank you, Chet, for the opportunity to express these views with a wider audience.

GO TO NEXT SECTION OF ARTICLE CONTAINING THE UPDATES TO PART 3 with new information and observations since it was first published.

(Further Observations about "Failure to Thrive" on Vegan Diets)

Return to beginning of interviews

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