In 1991, when I was still an acne-riddled teenage busboy smoking cigarettes out by the restaurant dumpster, one of the waiters recommended two books to me that changed my life.
Logical, straightforward, appealing to common sense, and also very humorous, Fit for Life (and its sequel, Living Health) proved to be much more than books that temporarily impressed me. Filled with transformational ideas, including information and insights about meat and dairy, they'd found my decision to become a vegetarian (and later, vegan).
The books' author, Harvey Diamond, was the first to point out to me that "getting up your strength" by consuming meat was a joke: The strongest animals only consume plants, and the teeth and digestive systems of true carnivores differ substantially from our own. He was also the first to point out that there's no difference between companion and farmed animals, and he introduced me to the "great protein debate": Not only are deficiencies nonexistent, animal protein is not necessary, or even very usable, as our bodies much more efficiently build the protein we need from sources like produce, beans, and nuts.
By the mid-1990s, I was regularly using products I'd only first heard of in Harvey's books: Spike seasoning, Tom's Toothpaste, and Ezekiel 4:9 bread, among others. By the early 2000s, when I'd given up meat for good, I stopped getting the flu and colds. Last year, when I finally gave up dairy, my lifelong allergies and extreme sensitivity to loud noises disappeared. I recently reached out to Harvey to thank him for his influence and impact, and was fortunate to spend some time talking to him, catching up on his work since the original books and reflecting on how, in just 25 short years, some of his "craziest" ideas then have now become mainstream.
Though he does consume animal products, and I’m a vegan who won’t knowingly consume or use them for any reason, my eyes may never have been opened to the ease and joy of a plant-based diet without Harvey's accessible, humorous, informative writing style.
NVA: I became a vegetarian not long after reading the original Fit For Life book. And becoming vegan grew out of that. So thank you!
HD: I wrote the book in such a way that the reader would see the virtue of at least decreasing the amount of animal products they took in, if not becoming a complete vegetarian. Because of that, because it was low-key, and didn’t make people wrong, and didn’t attack them, a lot more people just gravitated to it, simply because it’s the most intelligent way to go.
NVA: Many of the ideas about health you presented in the original Fit For Life books were new, novel, and unorthodox for many people. At that time, widespread use of Internet and the attending decentralization of information had yet to take root. How has the Internet improved people’s access to non-establishment information about diet and health?
HD: It’s almost impossible to describe the extent to which it has improved things. When I first wrote Fit For Life, for any little thing I needed to know, I had to get in the car and drive up to the UCLA medical library. Up and back, up and back. I spent hours and hours driving up and back for any little tiny thing. Now, the entire world is at your fingertips.
Of course, you do have to use discernment, because anyone has access to the Internet, and they can put anything they want. There tends to be this phenomenon, that someone goes and reads something somewhere online and takes it as gospel. You can’t just leave it up to everyone else. You have to have a little self-education, so that you can show a little discernment, and when you see things that violate your own common sense, you have the wherewithal and strength to make that decision, and utilize what appeals to you and you resonate with, and pass on the things that don’t. But as far as access? Wow.
NVA: So abundant alternative information about health on the Internet is generally positive.
HD: It’s like anything else in the world. You can use or abuse anything. Sometimes people will say, ‘I don’t go out in the sun, because I don’t want to get cancer,’ and it almost makes me scream. The sun is the source of life of our planet. And water? Same thing. If you hold your head under water and don’t pull it up, you’re going to drown. Does that mean you shouldn’t go in water, and not drink water? No.
But it does mean you shouldn’t abuse it. And it’s the same thing with the sun. They keep discovering new things about the extent to which vitamin D benefits the body. The plain fact is, vitamin D is the result of going out in the sunshine. The sun will immediately interact with a substance underneath the skin called ergosterol, and it turns it right into vitamin D. A person can go out for an hour or so a week, and will have this vitamin that is immensely important for health and well-being.
NVA: It’s common sense, right? We’re human beings. We’re designed to be outside.
HD: That’s why I try to appeal to a person’s common sense, more often than anything else. Anybody can prove anything in a study. I give the example of something in The New England Journal of Medicine, where there were two conflicting studies in the same journal. Not only in the same journal on different dates; I mean in the exact same copy. One said that giving hormones to post-menopausal women would dramatically increase heart attacks. The other study said doing so would dramatically decrease them. Both studies were impeccably done, so just seeing a study doesn’t really mean anything. Someone with enough money and funding can prove anything.
NVA: You wrote the first Fit For Life in 1985, and the second one in 1987. Since that time, how has your practice of natural hygiene continued?
HD: The reason Fit for Life still remains pertinent today is because I made a point of writing the book in such a way where it utilized underlying principles that are true. And they’ll always be true. It doesn’t matter if the book was written 25 years ago or 125 years ago. There are certain basic fundamentals, certain truths, about the living body and how it functions physiologically and biologically that are true today. They were true then, and they’ll be true another 50 years from now.
I do exactly what I recommend my readers do: Use those principles to whatever degree is comfortable for your lifestyle. Yes, I do eat cooked food. Yes, I do eat animal products. But they play a lesser role in my diet. 75 to 80 percent of what I eat is raw food. The other 20 to 25 percent is cooked food of, basically, anything I want. Of course, I don’t eat trash; I try to eat pretty well. But whatever I want, I have. If I want to have a piece of pizza, I’ll have it. I certainly don’t do it often, but if I feel like it, I’ll have it.
So, I still utilize the principles. Like proper food combining. That’s the way the stomach works, and proper food combining works. I know it’s been slighted by some people who want to maintain the status quo, and they don’t want to find out that eating meat and potatoes together is not a good idea. However, if I feel like eating something that is not properly combined, I’ll still have it. If I feel like having lasagna, I’m going to do it. But I don’t do it often, I always take enzymes with it, I always make sure I have a salad with it, and I don’t do it the next day, or the day after that.
So I’m still using the principles, but I use them according to how my lifestyle works best. Which is exactly what I recommend what anyone who reads Fit For Life does. You use it the best you can, you understand the principles, you know what they are, you use them as often as you can, and that’s it.
NVA: Some things you wrote about and recommended seemed so exotic then—sea salt, pomegranate, avocado, couscous, and kale come to mind—which now, 25 years after publication, are everywhere. Similarly, concepts you advocated for like organic produce, juicing, detoxification, and the obsolescence of the "four basic food groups" have come to be commonly-accepted tenets.
HD: There’s lots of information in there that was badmouthed at the time. And now it’s almost like common knowledge. Detoxification was one of the underlying principles of Fit For Life. When I was first saying that, people ridiculed the word, said that was ridiculous. Now, there are detoxification centers all over the place. I used to talk abut the extent to which people could ameliorate difficulties with cancer. One time, I was on the Larry King show, and some medical doctor called up, and said that CNN was being irresponsible to have someone on who wasn’t even a medical doctor giving the impression that diet had anything to do with cancer, when it was an established fact that diet had "nothing" to do with cancer.
Now, today, that same medical profession acknowledges that at least 35 percent of cancer can be directly linked to diet. And, in three of the most common cancers - breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer - they attribute 80 to 85 percent to diet.
HD: Absolute validation! At the time, there I was live on TV, and this crazy person, this doctor, this arrogant person who had his credentials on the wall, I’m sure, was trying to badmouth me, saying that I was a fool and that CNN was irresponsible for even suggesting that diet had anything to do with cancer. And today, that person is the one who looks like the fool.
It’s the same thing with breastfeeding. Back then, doctors were convincing mothers to get shots to dry up their breast milk, because it was so inconvenient, and convincing them that they should instead use “formula”. I can’t even say that word without the hair standing up on the back of my neck. How could anyone give something like that to an infant? And now, of course, breastfeeding is recommended almost across the board.
And it’s the same with sleep. Back then, people were trying to figure out how they could get the least amount of sleep. One of the things the body absolutely has to have to survive is sleep. And now you can read articles all about that.
NVA: My mom and I still laugh about your quote, “Napping is an intelligent and productive use of time.” We always say that to each other when one is heading down for a nap. Your sense of humor opened a lot of doors for me and others.
HD: I’ve told people in the past, if I wasn’t writing health books, I’d be Jerry Seinfeld. I’ve always been a fan of comedy. I love comedy. If I go watch TV, I’m looking around for what’s going to be funny. I enjoy humor, and I enjoy reading books that have humor interspersed into them, so I always make sure that I put a little bit of that into my books.
NVA: Someone once said that laughter fills the gap of our discomfort. One of the points you made, when writing about why it’s not natural or necessary to consume animal products, shocked me into understanding that there’s really no difference between the “companion” animals we love and the “farm” animals we eat. You wrote, “Ever eat a dead dog? How about a dead puppy? (They’re a lot more tender.)” Though probably a joke, that resonated so deeply that it’s part of the reason I became a vegan.
HD: Humor can be a good teacher! Now, I’m often quoted by vegans and vegetarians for saying, “Put a rabbit and an apple in a crib with a baby. If the baby eats the rabbit and plays with the apple, I’ll buy you a new car.” That’s just common sense! You don’t need any studies to prove that.
NVA: Making the case against dairy products, you wrote that we just don’t see people crawling through a pasture and suckling at a cow’s udder. I recently saw that depicted in a cartoon! People have seized on the absurdity of that image. And yet, they continue to consume dairy products. And there’s no difference.
HD: I did that on the Oprah Winfrey show one time. There was a dietician talking about that. I actually went and got down on my hands and knees, and made it look like I was suckling from a cow. The audience roared. I said, “The only reason you’re laughing is to buffer the fact that you know that what I’m saying is true. You would not go out there into the pasture, and get cow doo-doo all over your nice shoes, and get down and suckle off the cow. What you’re going to do is, you’re going to let somebody go out there and get their shoes dirty, and hand it to you in a glass. You’re still suckling off that cow!
NVA: What's ahead for you?
I’m working on a project, but it’s not something that I am able to speak about, because it’s not official yet. I do have my latest book, Living Without Pain, which is really helping a lot of people. I’m really proud of that one. You know, pain is the number one health complaint in the United States. More money is spent on pain than on any other health problem. Nothing else even comes close. People think it’s a part of getting old, and it’s absolutely not true. And I’m proof of that.
When I was 21 years old, I was in the military and I was sent to Vietnam. And I was exposed to Agent Orange, and I have a devastating physical disability because of it. I cannot lift a glass of water to my mouth; I can’t pick up a fork to eat. I don’t have the use of my arms and hands, except very, very, minimally. I can only use my arms and hands to a very slight degree, and I limp pretty significantly in my right leg.
But I’m in the record books at the VA hospital, because other people who have been exposed to the degree I was are dead. They’re dead or in a wheelchair. They don’t know how on earth I’m still able to walk around on my own. I keep telling them, you don’t know? Read my book.
The reason I’m so enthusiastic and excited about the information that I write about is that, had it not been for that information, I wouldn’t be here. You’d be talking about me in the past tense. I used to be a member of the Agent Orange support group in Los Angeles. Every single one of them is dead. I’m the only one left alive.
The irony is not lost on me, believe me. I’ve helped millions of people all over the world experience a greater level of health and well-being, and I am essentially crippled - from a toxin that is considered to be the most toxic, human-made toxin in existence.
So life for me right now is a huge challenge. Little tiny things you’d never even give another thought to, for me, it’s a big deal. I mean, for me, just to dress and feed myself each day is a major accomplishment. Little things like putting a letter in an envelope, and putting a stamp on it? For me, that’s a huge production.
NVA: So sorry to hear it. I had no idea.
HD: Well, how would you? I finally wrote about it in some of my books because I don’t travel any more. There are only certain things I can do with my body, and other things I can’t. So I wrote about it in the last few books that I’ve written, so that people would know.
If you just look at me, just see me sitting somewhere, you’d never know that I have a problem. But then you’d see that I can’t use my arms to do what I want to do.
NVA: You’ve helped so many people, and now you're struggling in some very fundamental ways.
HD: I think the fact that I have such a devastating challenge to deal with helps me grasp what other people are going through, and have more of a desire to help them if I can. And if you read any spiritually-oriented books, whether it’s the Bible, or the Bhagavad Gita, or the Koran, or the Torah, or Zen Buddhism, they all say the same thing: In order to get closer to God, you have to perform service. You have to do for others, and that’s how you do it. And that is the noble pathway to God, to perform service for others less fortunate than yourself. And for me, that is my creed. I need to do things for other people.
NVA: And you are. And you have been, it seems, your entire life. Whether it’s military service, writing, educating: Even now, when it’s such a challenge, you’re helping people. I’m moved! Thank you.
HD: That’s okay! Thank you. I appreciate it!
NVA: Is there anything we haven’t talked about or touched on?
HD: Well, we didn’t get into the lymph system, which is the reason I’m still alive. It’s the body’s garbage collector. You have to detoxify, and the mechanism in the living body that does this is the lymph system. When people talk about the immune system, they’re talking about the lymph system. It’s the heart and soul of the immune system. So if there’s a way you can accelerate the effectiveness of your lymph system, you’re going to experience a higher level of health.
That’s what i did. And that’s something that everybody and anyone, anywhere, interested in their health and well-being, simply has to have an understanding about. I go into great detail about the lymph system in both Living Without Pain and Fit For Life: A New Beginning. It’s what saved my life; it’s the only reason why we’re talking right now.
NVA: Are there any specific projects, websites, or upcoming events you'd like to mention?
HD: Well, people can go to my website, harveydiamond.com, or they can go visit me on facebook.com/harveydiamond. There’s information there about the books, and about the lymph system, and there are some very short videos with me talking about different aspects of things.
NVA: We look forward to checking it out! Thanks again for talking today. All the best to you!
HD: Thank you! The same to you.
Note: Though no longer married to Harvey, Marilyn Diamond, who worked closely with him and co-authored the original Fit For Life books, is also still doing amazing things to inspire and educate others about health and wellness. Check out her website for more information.