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Fit For Life:
Some Notes on the Book and Its Roots

James J. Kenney, Ph.D., R.D.

In 1982, in an article in the National Council Against Health Fraud's newsletter, I attacked some of the fallacies of Harvey Diamond's faddish approach to nutrition. At the time, he was touting "food combining" in seminars called the "Diamond Method." I concluded by stating that from a scientific viewpoint this method was "pure zirconium crystal." Little did I suspect that Diamond and his wife, Marilyn, would later produce the fastest-selling diet book in U.S. history: Fit for Life [Warner Books, 1985], which reportedly has 1.8 million copies in print.

Since my little expose was published, the Diamonds have polished their act enough to become stars of the TV talk show circuit. Perhaps to enhance their brilliance, Harvey obtained a "doctorate in nutrition science" and Marilyn obtained "certification in nutrition counseling" from the American College of Health Science (also called the American College of Life Science). This is an unaccredited correspondence school in Austin, Texas, which teaches a naturopathic philosophy called "Natural Hygiene."

Environmental Nutrition Newsletter calls Fit for Life "typical of the new wave of books that intertwine scientific detail with pure nonsense." Other best sellers of this type include Life Extension, by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, Dr. Berger's Immune Power Diet, by Stuart Berger, M.D., and and Eat to Win, by Robert Haas. All of these books have made millions for their authors and their irresponsible publishers, largely as a result of appearances on the Donahue and Merv Griffin shows.

Fit for Life's central premise is that nutrition depends more on when and how you eat rather than what or how much you eat. The book has two sections. The first, written in Harvey's "voice," covers the principles upon which the book is based. The second, written in Marilyn's "voice," describes their dietary program and provides recipes and sample menus.

In Part I, Harvey maintains that Fit for Life is not a diet but "a way of eating that can be incorporated into your life-style as a way of life, not as a dogmatic regimen." But he promises that those who are "sick and tired of hassling with their weight" can learn to "eat and enjoy it, always feeling satisfied and not deprived, always looking forward to meals, and most important, always maintaining a comfortable body weight." Moreover, he offers "permanent results" and claims that he lost 50 pounds within a month of being introduced to Natural Hygiene. In Part II, Marilyn presents her testimonial:

At the age of 31 . . . I spent much of my time in tears, wondering how I was ever going to feel well enough to get on with my life. No amount of drugs, treatment, or therapy that I had had over the years had done anything to change or improve my situation. In all that time . . . no one ever asked me what I was eating! Harvey did! Natural Hygiene, as Harvey was teaching it, supplied me with answers about my health that I had all but given up on finding . . . I learned that I was in pain and out of energy because I had been overtaxing my system with the wrong kinds of foods . . . When I put into practice the principles Harvey recommended, I lost twenty pounds! In a matter of only six weeks, and for the first time in my adult life, I was proud of and comfortable with the shape of my body.

Harvey Diamond says his interest in Natural Hygiene was aroused in 1970 by a man who "explained in a most concise way why I was fat and why I was having such a struggle losing weight and keeping it off. It all made such sense to me that I was dumbfounded at its obvious simplicity." After 3 years of study with this man (who wishes to remain anonymous), Harvey determined that the teaching and practice of Natural Hygiene would be his life's work.

According to Diamond, Natural Hygiene has ancient roots, but its modern movement began in the United States in about 1850 with the work of Sylvester Graham and three other medical doctors. During the 20th century, the most prominent promoter was Herbert M. Shelton, D.P., N.D., IN.T., D.N.Sc., who from 1928 to 1981 ran a "health school" which included a clinic, laboratory and teaching program in San Antonio, Texas. In An Introduction to Natural Hygiene (1922, 1954, 1963), Shelton said that all medicines are "poisons" and that "any patient who can get well in spite of drugs can get well much sooner and more satisfactorily Hygienically." He advised that eating more than one type of food at a meal is undesirable. He claimed that when people are ill, the food they eat will putrefy and ferment instead of being digested. And he claimed that fasting is a safe and valuable method of ridding the intestines of putrefied and fermented foods. Shelton died on January 1, 1985, at the age of 89.

Like other cults, Natural Hygiene offers simple solutions to life's complex health problems. In Fit for Life, the main problem addressed is unwanted pounds and the simplistic answer is food combining. The book's food plan calls for eating only fruit in the morning and mostly vegetables during the rest of the day. This could lead some people to make a desirable increase in their intake of vegetables. But according to an analysis by Katherine Mulgrave, a nutrition professor at the University of Maine, the Fit for Life diet is low in calcium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B12 and D. Readers inspired to embrace Natural Hygiene by abandoning modern medical care will, of course, be at even greater risk.

On September 21, 1982, the Los Angeles Daily Journal reported that a federal court jury had awarded $873,000 to the survivors of William Carlton, a Los Altos man who died after being on a diet of distilled water for 30 days at Shelton's Health School. According to the article, Carlton had died of bronchial pneumonia resulting from a weakened condition that also caused him to lose 50 pounds during his last month of life. The article also stated that he had been the sixth person in five years to die while undergoing treatment at the school, which closed in 1981.

Fit for Life is also based on the ideas of John H. Tilden, M.D., author of Toxemia Explained (1926). According to Harvey Diamond, "Tilden's book is considered the tour de force in the field of Natural Hygiene" and explains how "toxemia lays the foundation for putting on excess weight." According to Tilden's theories:

Diamond also explains how:

Actually, all sugars, whether refined or present in fruit, are almost entirely absorbed in the small intestine. But Diamond declares that "fruit should never be eaten with or immediately following anything" -- a rule he calls "unquestionably the most important aspect of Fit for Life." Actually, fruits contain pectin, which is fermented. If the Diamonds' theory that fermentation products cause obesity were correct, eating fruit would increase obesity rather than cure it!

Like most advocates of "natural" methods, Diamond repeats a number of "nature-is-best" myths. For example, he claims that "animals in nature are magnificently healthy in comparison to the health that we humans experience" but that pets and zoo animals develop "many of the problems of humans." The fact is that most animals in nature are infested with parasites and succumb to infections and malnutrition. It is only because predators usually kill sick animals that we don't see them stumbling across the plains and through the jungles. Perhaps it has never occurred to Harvey Diamond that the average American lives much longer than any mammal in the wild. The reason pets and zoo animals develop debilitating diseases is because they live much longer than their wild "cousins."

Diamond also claims that many people live well past 100 in various remote areas of the world because they eat "high-water" foods. As evidence for this supposed longevity, he cites a 1973 National Geographic article in which Alexander Leaf, M.D., was interviewed following trips to three such areas. (Dr. Leaf is chairman of Harvard Medical School's Department of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology.) However, in an editorial in the August 1982 Journal of the American Geriatric Society, Dr. Leaf explained how further investigation had revealed that many individuals had been exaggerating their age in order to enhance their social status or to promote tourism.

The American College of Life Science, where Diamond got his "doctoral" degree, was formed in 1982 by its president, T.C. Fry, whom Harvey calls "today's most eminent, active proponent of Natural Hygiene . . . a most brilliant spokesperson for health." Although Fry obviously has high native intelligence, he admitted in a recent radio debate that he was a high school dropout. He also told me that viruses do not exist and that it was just coincidence that smallpox and polio epidemics ceased when people were immunized against the viruses that cause these diseases. According to the Life Science catalog (a booklet called Careers in Health):

Whereas medical practitioners look to drugs . . . Life Science presents an entirely different approach. We hold that exuberant and radiant health is normal and natural. We hold that suffering and ailments are abnormal, unnatural and unnecessary . . . Cease to indulge in the causes of disease and disease will not occur.

The catalog also claims "you can become an expert nutritionist in less than a year" by taking the school's 111-lesson correspondence course. Students can acquire a certificate of proficiency after 32 lessons, a "bachelor of science degree" after 58 lessons, a "master of science degree" after 84 lessons, and a "doctor of philosophy degree" in nutrition science at the end.

Presumably flushed with the success of his star pupils, Fry announced this year that tuition for his nutrition course would rise from $875 to $1,250 and that graduates could expect to earn $500 to $1,000 per month from home on a part-time basis. But the future of his school is uncertain. In 1982, the Texas Commissioner of Higher Education ordered Fry to "cease and desist advertising or otherwise offering degree programs without a Certificate of Authority from this agency." Fry replied that his school was exempt from the law because it was a religious institution but later said that it had left the state. In 1986, when it became clear that the school was still operating in Texas and would not stop voluntarily, an injunction was obtained forbidding Fry, the College of Life Science, and the American College of Life Science from using the word "College" or granting academic credits or degrees.

______________________

This article was published in the March 1986 issue of Nutrition Forum. Dr. Kenney is a nutritionist at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Santa Monica, California. T.C. Fry died in 1996.

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This article was posted on November 12, 1999.