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Why Being A Health Guru Is Bad For Your Health

It’s a bit of a shocking realization when you notice that health gurus, who write diet books and give advice on how to live long, tend to live shorter lives than the average person.

They seem to be beaten only by rock stars (who have an average life expectancy of 42 years old for American rock stars, and 35 for Europeans!)

Here are just a handful of examples of people who made a living teaching others how to extend their lives yet died younger than the average person:

Michel Montignac: A very famous Frenchman who promoted a healthy diet based on the concept of the glycemic index, died at 66 of cancer. He was the inspiration behind the “South Beach Diet.”

Dr. Atkins: Probably the most famous diet guru in the world (who weighed 258 lbs at 6 feet tall), died after spending 9 days in a coma at the age of 72 from a slip on the ice. The medical examiner noted that in his health files that he had previously had suffered a heart attack, congestive heart failure, and hypertension. There was never any autopsy performed on Dr. Atkins, so it can’t be confirmed whether or not his other health ailments prevented him from recovering.

Paavo Airola: Author of “How to Get Well”. Led the juice fasting and natural health movement in the 70s and 80s, yet died of a stroke at the age of 64.

Roy Waldorf: Said that he was a longevity expert and wrote the book “The 120-Year Diet”, died in 2004 at the age of 79. That’s still a fairly long life, but nowhere near the projected marker.

Dr. Nathan Pritikin: One of the most prolific authors on the low fat diet, he took his own life as his body was overtaken by leukemia at age 69.

Ross Horne: A student of Dr. Pritikin, claimed that he would have lived longer if he had embraced the fruitarian diet that Ross promoted, but he himself died of cancer, albeit well into his 80’s at the time.

T.C. Fry: Leader of the Natural Hygiene and fruitarian movement, died of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 70.

Robert E. Kwalski: Author of the famous book “The 8-Week Cholesterol Cure,” died at the age of 65 of a pulmonary aneurysm.

George Oshawa: Literally invented the macrobiotic diet (which actually translates to “the way of long life”) passed of lung cancer at the age of 73.

Adele Davis: Pioneered the concept of healthy eating and was known for her somewhat “radical” recommendations, died at the age of 70 from cancer.

Of course it wouldn’t be fair to say that all health and diet gurus died young, because they didn’t. Some of them lived to be at least a little longer than the average folk:

Paul Bragg: died at 81. Although it was widely claimed by his family that he died from a surfing accident, apparently cause of death was a heart attack, a fact which has since been removed from his Wikipedia page.

Norman Walker: known for his prolific works promoting raw foods and vegetable juices, died at 99 (and not at 118 years old as was previously claimed).

Jack Lalanne: More a fitness than a diet guru, died at the age of 96 from pneumonia.

What Does It All Mean?

The fact that a good majority of health gurus don’t live significantly longer than the average person, and in many cases actually live shorter lives, doesn’t in itself mean anything revolutionary.

People are fallible. Health gurus can be mistaken. More importantly… health gurus are human just like you and me!

Some health gurus promoted a low fat diet; others just as passionately promoted a high fat diet.

Some health gurus practiced what they preached most of the time; some did part of the time, And some, like always is the case, didn’t practice their teachings at all.

In some cases these inconsistencies didn’t prevent them from living a long life, like Paul Bragg who used to enjoy an occasional burger in his favorite Honolulu restaurant.

Others, like T.C. Fry, struggled to apply their strict teachings in their own lives 100% of the time, yet still lived far longer than what their doctors had predicted (T.C. was predicted to die in his forties, before he changed his lifestyle).

Some gurus have even tried to give immortality a go, like Roy Waldorf, and practiced calorie restriction. Yet as a result he only to lived slightly longer than the average male life expectancy.

Some diet gurus pretended to have the solution to weight loss, but were themselves overweight when they passed away. No need to name names or point fingers here!

Who knows? Maybe it’s too much pressure to be a high-profile health guru and knowing that people expect you to be perfect all of the time.

Maybe some health gurus would have changed their minds about a few things they got wrong, but to maintain their image they refused to admit to others and themselves that their program did not work and that they needed to try something else.

Or it could be that many diet gurus start with poor health in the first place and then get motivated to find a solution and write a book about it.

The fact that some diet gurus die young should not lead us to the conclusion that all diet advice is bad. But it should lead one to question the quality of the advice they are getting from anybody who is claiming to have answers.

I find that most diet books on the market are mostly just for maintaining the status quo and trying to encourage people to keep up their bad habits that they’ve become comfortable with.

Bad Health Advice Like:

  • Eating a ton of cholesterol is actually good for you, so start the day with organic bacon and eggs
  • Eating a lot of meat is man’s natural design (the last guy who tried to live on an all-meat diet is Vihjalmur Stephanson, and he died of a serious cardiovascular disease at 81).
  • Eating a lot of fat is good as long as it’s “good” fat, so douse your salad and everything else with buckets of olive oil
  • Carbohydrates are “bad” but lots of meat protein is good
  • Fruit is “bad,” but factory-made protein drinks are great for carbohydrates

It can be difficult to see through all of the confusion surrounding most health doctrines, but it doesn’t need to be.

Essentially, I think every diet claim falls in one of three categories:

  • Some things are good for everybody, and there’s science to support it
  • Some things are downright bad for everybody, and there’s science to support it
  • Some things are more complicated, and depend on individual situations.

Some Examples Of Good Health Advice:

  • Fruits and vegetables are GOOD for everybody, yet most diet books don’t promote a diet based on fruits and vegetables.
  • All science out there supports a diet based on fruits and vegetables, yet very few people actually do it.
  • A comprised of more plants is GOOD for everybody, and so is taking proven steps to improve your health such as exercising, and eating fresh instead of packaged food.
  • The Standard American Diet (SAD) without exception isn’t doing anybody any favors, nutritionally speaking. Any diet book is generally going to be at least a step above that!
  • Other things are not black and white. For example, there’s a debate as to whether a completely vegan diet is better than one that contains a small percentage of animal products. I prefer to eat a mostly plant-based diet, but others think they can get certain nutrients by eating some quantities of animal products.
  • Some people feel best on an all-raw diet, although there’s no definite science to say that it’s absolutely the best diet for everybody.
  • Some people just can’t eat certain foods due to allergies or sensitivities, likely because of past health experiences.

Ultimately, it’s up to YOU to become your own diet guru.

You’re the one who knows what’s right for you, and you know that better than absolutely anybody else.

It doesn’t really matter how much fat person A eats in a day or how bad pancakes are for you person B says, none it is really relevant to you, as you need to base your opinions and conclusions off your own thoughts and experiences. It’s always great to hear other people share their experiences, but at the end of the day: have your own!

Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.


Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.