A Rhetorical View of The Nutritarian Lifestyle
A Critical Look at The Nutritarian Lifestyle
Nutritarian Diet Health Wellness
The world of health and wellness is rife with diets, regimens, and nutritional protocols. Even as we consumers attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff of what is good and what is true, many of us often give up due to overwhelming choices. Through the efforts of social media influencers and advertisers, we may be coerced to try this supplement or that shake. Many of us prefer to follow the advice of a “professional”, what I call “pop-docs” – the doctors that are found in popular culture. These include the likes of Dr. Oz, Dr. Axe, Dr. Hyman, Dr. Mercola, and Dr. Fuhrman. The focus of this essay is on a dietary movement started by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Dr. Fuhrman founded a diet lifestyle called nutritarianism. Rather than espousing generic nutrition advice, Fuhrman walks us through his doctrine of belief that he calls the nutritarian diet style. Is this simply another pop-doc diet? Or how may we see and understand the nutritarian lifestyle as beneficial for our health and longevity? The evidence suggests that the nutritarian lifestyle is more than a diet: its ideology encourages practitioners to construct their life around a nutrient dense dietary regimen that reduces risk of chronic disease, ultimately leading to a healthier way of life.
The artifacts reviewed for this analysis included three of Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s popular books: The End of Dieting, How to Live for Life; Eat to Live, The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss (a national bestseller in the United States); and the corresponding cookbook: Eat to Live Quick and Easy Cookbook. While these were the primary sources, a review was also made of ancillary artifacts, including Dr. Fuhrman’s website (www.drfuhrman.com/), the Hello Nutritarian website and blog, and The Watering Mouth nutritarian based blog/vlog and YouTube channel. Also examined was the Northern Arizona University website for the Nutritarian Women’s Health Study (NWHS), a research project whose purpose is “long term interventional / observational study on the effect of the Nutritarian diet on overall health plus the occurrence, recurrence, and progression of chronic diseases (including all forms of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke),” (www.nau.edu). This omnibus of artifacts provides an ample overview of the membership, activities, goals, core beliefs, values and norms, and social resources of the nutritarian lifestyle.
A brief disclosure about the author’s personal experience with this lifestyle is warranted. As a patient with auto-immune complications and late-stage Lyme disease, I am always on alert for lifestyle changes that may support and enhance my health and well-being with as little allopathic and pharmaceutical intervention as possible for maintenance. That said, and following a moderately stringent lifestyle already, I commenced the nutritarian lifestyle myself earlier this year. At the time, it seemed like a potentially magic "pill for all ills". The duration was short lived, however, as I had complications due to my pre-existing illnesses. Ultimately, nutritarianism was not for me due to serious health complications of a vegan diet. However, hindsight being what it is, I decided to take a deeper dive into this lifestyle. I thought it would be interesting to revisit the information with a new eye and employing rhetorical methods such as the traditional three appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos, and ideological criticism.
The primary method of analysis employed in this review was the ideological method of rhetorical criticism. Using an ideological framework, I examined the system of beliefs and ideas (Foss page 237) presented by Dr. Fuhrman in his nutritarian lifestyle. What follows is an examination of the membership, activities, goals, core beliefs, and resources for those following the nutritarian diet. An attempt has been made to deconstruct the basic elements, review postmodern influences, and notice cultural aspects of the lifestyle. The result will show the impact of nutritarianism and how it attempts to persuade individuals to follow the lifestyle, primarily for longevity and as a remedy for illness.
So how does Dr. Fuhrman persuade his audience? He is a board-certified physician with an active practice, so he lends an air of authority to the set of ideals he promotes. His ethos helps to persuade his audience by way of his credibility. He is an active, licensed physician practicing what he preaches, so to speak. Fuhrman’s authority to speak on the subject stems not only from his tenure as a physician, but from following the lifestyle himself for many years. He and his family follow and promote the nutritarian lifestyle because they truly believe in the validity of the regimen to reduce, reverse, and prevent chronic ailments and disease. In both Eat to Live and The End of Dieting, Dr. Fuhrman presents multiple case studies from his own patients. These case studies, the logos of his argument, aim to serve as evidence that a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds facing a variety of issues all ultimately benefitted from changing from their standard American diet to the nutritarian lifestyle. Not only does he provide case studies from his own practice, but Dr. Fuhrman has been working with the University of Northern Arizona for the past few years on the Nutritarian Women’s Health Study. This study works with women all around the country that are willing to adopt the nutritarian lifestyle and follow it rigidly over the course of two years. During that time, researchers (including dietitians, public health specialists, allied health professionals, and physicians) will monitor clinical laboratory results with the aim to show the health outcomes for women in the study.
Dr. Fuhrman also makes use of pathos and Kairos. As seen in the blogs and vlogs by Hello Nutritarian and The Watering Mouth, there is an audience desperate for healthy lifestyle that is clearly presented and scientifically backed. Also, from a cultural and societal standpoint, we (collectively) are in need of a nutritional intervention for our chronic disease. According to the 2018 Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease are in the top seven leading causes of death in the United States. In Eat to Live, Fuhrman says “the only way to significantly increase lifespan” is through dietary restriction, citing the evidence as “enormous and irrefutable” (pages 26-28).
There are visual and symbolic methods employed in the maneuvering of the nutritarian lifestyle. There is also an almost cult-like following by certain social media influencers. Applying an ideological criticism framework, I began looking at the elements of the nutritarian. I found that this lifestyle is rigid and highly structured, which tends to present a clear "good" or "bad" to potential followers depending on their mindset. If they are happy with their health, it may appear to be too restrictive. If someone is desperate for a fix or already vegan, they may go full speed ahead into the lifestyle. The beliefs and values of nutritarianism are straightforward and relatively simple. However, they are restrictive, especially where processed, pre-made food is concerned. For example: very little to no meat, no dairy, no sugar (also no artificial sweeteners or stevia), limited starchy carbohydrates, and very limited dietary fat from an ounce or two of nuts or seeds daily. Shelf stable processed foods and most fast foods are off the menu. Food intake must include "GBOMBS" (greens, berries, onions, mushrooms, beans, and seeds) daily, in addition to a large salad for a meal (as an example, a salad in the nutritarian definition is 5-7 cups of greens with 1-2 cups of colorful raw or cleanly cooked vegetables). It is recommended that one eat only three meals per day and allow the body to fast for at least twelve hours between the last meal of day one and the first meal of day two. While these rules to do not encompass the complete list of the essential ideological core beliefs of a "Nutritarian", they are the most remarkable. The guidelines for living a nutritarian lifestyle and recommended dietary intake ideas (suggested amounts of foods, recipes, etc.) may be found in a variety of Dr. Fuhrman's books, but his primary work on the subject can be found in his books Eat to Live and The End of Dieting. The titles reflect the underlying motive behind a nutritarian diet: you eat to live.
Nutritarianism makes use of visuals and symbols. Visually speaking, Dr. Fuhrman utilizes a fair amount of both in his books. In each of the case studies Fuhrman presents in his books, he includes before and after photographs of the patients. The case studies also call out vital statistics of the patients: their starting and ending lipid profiles, weight, glucose levels, etc. Often, they are dramatic before and after photos. Photographs presented in his cookbook are bright and clean. Is this not how we want to be? Bright and clean and free from disease? The colorful, rainbow foods, photographed are presented on glossy pages. They are inviting and serve to entice people to eat healthy foods, versus the over marketed fad-laden fast foods. Essentially, they are the antithesis to the almost pornographic fast food images we are assaulted with daily.
Dr. Fuhrman also makes use of mnemonic devices. Three tenets, the trinity – if you will, that are the core of the nutritarian lifestyle are as follows. GBOMBS: this stands for greens, berries, onions, mushrooms, beans, and seeds – something followers are advised to consume daily. ANDI: as in the ANDI scoring system seen in Whole Foods markets. ANDI stands for aggregate nutrient density index and is comprised of “twenty-eight important nutritional parameters”, which include a long list of vitamins and minerals, plant starches and sterols, as well as the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) antioxidant capacity of certain foods. In other words, nutrition is evaluated on the micro level versus the macronutrient value found on nutritional facts panels. While “macros” (fat, protein, carbohydrate) are important, a greater emphasis is placed on micronutrient values. And, Fuhrman posits, the higher the micronutrient values, the better the macronutrient values. The ANDI system is meant to help people visualize our last mnemonic device: H=N/C (Fuhrman page 126-127). Health equals nutrients divided by calories, or H=N/C, is a formula Fuhrman created for nutritarians. This formula assists in determining what Fuhrman calls “nutrient density” (Fuhrman page 6-9). The result of surveying the visuals is one of motivation and inspiration, with a side helping of intimidation. One can see that someone else had a positive health benefit, they look great, and the dietary advice is easily remembered by way of mnemonic devices and visual scoring systems. However, a sturdy resolve is likely needed to stick to the lifestyle.
The ability to stick to a regimen like the nutritarian lifestyle requires that one overcome a hurdle, something Fuhrman calls toxic hunger, or food addiction. In his blog post from May 2017, “Just one Bite” of Junk Food Fuels Food Addiction and Obesity, Fuhrman talks about an ever-present topic throughout his books and website: how junk food impacts dopamine receptors and leads to food addiction. In his own words, “The science on food addiction has now established that highly palatable foods, including low-nutrient, high-calorie, intensely sweet, salty, and/or fatty foods which make up the majority of the Standard American Diet produces the exact biochemical effects in the brain that are characteristic of substance abuse.” (www.drfuhrman.com). According to the claims, however, the benefits are worth the work. It is no wonder, then, that followers are devout in their support of the lifestyle and of one another. Membership in the nutritarian lifestyle demands resolve and support.
In his publications and in various appearances, Dr. Fuhrman tends to make strong claims about the nutritarian lifestyle. Among these are the following most often repeated claims about the lifestyle: it will stop the healthcare crisis thereby saving millions in medical expenses; it will save lives from premature death; fewer people will end up nursing homes and assisted living facilities; and it will reduce heart disease, dementia, strokes, cancer, and diabetes by up to 80%.
While these seem plausible, perhaps the most outlandish claim made by Fuhrman is this: “We would have less crime, and more successful, intelligent, and productive workforce.” However, if everyone were to follow a nutrition regimen that mitigated disease and allowed them to thrive, perhaps we would be a more happy and productive society? While scientifically backed health claims are empirically driven, this claim is anecdotal. But, that is not to say it cannot be true. I think it gives us good food for thought (pun intended). Can a healthy population be a happy population with less crime? I leave that for you to consider and decide for yourself.
I think the ideological framework works well to define the core beliefs of this system and highlight its highly structured beliefs and values. Though we tend to think of ideologies and their restrictive nature as something negative or deprecating, an ideology is simply a system of beliefs or ideals. A code of ethics is an ideology and we tend to see ethics in a positive light. When we pair ideology with food, however, it tends to take on a pejorative connotation. Does the pejorative notion of ideology concerning food correlate to “diets” where we feel depraved because of their restrictive nature? Most of us tend to think of a diet as “bad” – as a penalty for overindulging. Perhaps the pejorative is assigned to food belief systems such as the nutritarian lifestyle by those of us living in a nation whose formative foundation is built on freedom and liberty. We do not want people to tell us what and what not to eat. However, after seeing the evidence given by Dr. Fuhrman, it would also seem that people want the option to be free of disease and have more liberty to live their life without being tied to prescriptions, over utilization of healthcare, and the like. Food manufacturers and marketing professional’s primary motivation is to produce and sell processed foods and snacks to us. If we Americans do not care for the idea of someone telling us what to eat, then how is it we do exactly what is expected of “big food” industries? We are bombarded with marketing coercing and enticing us to buy and ingest certain food products. This is a fair comparison, but one seen as less invasive. Compare this to how a “whole foods plant based” diet and/or vegan diet is seen as the antithesis to food freedom. How are processed mass-marketed foods seen as less restrictive and rigid when an equal, if not more, emphasis is made for people to ingest them? Perhaps Dr. Fuhrman’s idea of food addiction is the answer.
To reiterate, the notion of ideology is often seen as “sinister and negative” (Foss page 237). In the case of nutritarianism, though, it would appear that Dr. Joel Fuhrman adheres to the Hippocratic oath taken by physicians. His goal is not to control followers, but to aid them. It would appear his goal is to provide lifestyle advice by way of nutritional counsel. In a culture where food producers and manufacturers are “training people how to eat” (Moss pages 14-15), Fuhrman is guiding followers through food addiction in an attempt to retrain their senses to find their “bliss point” (Moss page 241) by consuming whole foods, without the added salt, sugar, and fat. However, the lifestyle is a recommendation, a prescription for health, and not an exercise in hegemony. While nutritarian ideology encourages practitioners to construct their life around a nutrient dense dietary regimen that reduces risk of chronic disease, the power ultimately belongs to the audience to decide if this lifestyle is for them.
Cheri. (n.d.). YouTube. Retrieved from https://thewateringmouth.com/vlog/
Fuhrman, J., M.D. (2015). Chapter 5 Nutritarian Boot Camp. In The end of dieting: How to live for life. NY, NY: HarperOne.
Fuhrman, J., M.D. (2016). Eat to live: The amazing nutrient-rich program for fast and sustained weight loss by joel fuhrman, md | key takeaways, analysis & review. Place of publication not identified: Idreambooks.
Fuhrman, J., M.D. (2017). Eat to live: Quick & easy cookbook. New York, NY: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Https://hellonutritarian.com/ [Web log post]. (n.d.).
Moss, M. (2014). Salt sugar fat: How the food giants hooked us (pp. 14-15). New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.
National Center for Health Statistics. (2017, March 17). Retrieved December 01, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htmFoss, S. K. (2018). Chapter 8 Ideological Criticism. In Rhetorical criticism: Exploration and practice. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.
The Nutritarian Women's Health Study (Nwhs) Is A Long Term Observational Study On The Effect Of The Nutritarian Diet. (n.d.). https://nau.edu/nutritarian-womens-health-study/
Smart Nutrition, Superior Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.drfuhrman.com/
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Corinne Heymann