'Approaching the Natural : A Health Manifesto' by Sid Garza-Hillman
Sid Garza-Hillman has a degree in Philosophy from UCLA and is now a certified Nutritionist and Health Coach – an interesting combination!
He has used this background to create a way of living which he has called ‘Approaching the Natural’ – as explained in this book.
Recently, I had the great pleasure to meet Sid, when he and I were speaking at the Vegan Festival in Edinburgh. During his excellent talk, he used the word ‘frickin’ – at which point I suddenly realised that this was the same guy I had previously come across on YouTube – in particular, when he is demonstrating how to make a real salad!
His contention is that, generally, we humans do not live a particularly natural existence – all too often our nutrition is poor and we live much of our lives disconnected from the earth and the rest of the living world. This has a negative influence on both our physical and mental health, as well as having a huge impact on our happiness.
Towards the end of the book, he suggests that a major part of the problem is that GREED and SELFISHNESS are so prevalent. He says
‘Essentially, selfishness is the direct result of the unnatural environment we have created. As a species, we are almost completely disconnected from how we are designed to exist and this separation keeps our minds and bodies far from the natural’
In his introduction he suggests that, in general, humans now seriously overthink nutrition and health. He doesn’t think it needs to be complicated and can be summarized as :
Eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans
Drink clean water when thirsty
Sid likes his analogies – and has two good ones in the first chapter!
We are brilliantly designed, but if we eat food which is nutrient deficient, our bodies simply will not function well. He compares this with a car. No matter how well it is designed, if dirty oil and fuel is put in, it will
not run well
eventually break down
not be fun to drive
The food we eat is made up of macronutrients and micronutrients. The macronutrients provide the calories – carbohydrates, protein and fat. The micronutrients are the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Fortunately, most of us get enough to eat – so macronutrients are generally not a problem - though they have to be in the correct proportions. Of critical importance are what micronutrients are packaged with the macronutrients – and in what amounts.
His analogy here is to think of our food as a gift box – the box and the wrapping represent the macronutrients and the contents the micronutrients. A ‘LIGHT BOX’ represents food that is short on micronutrients, whilst a ‘HEAVY BOX’ is packed with them!
He cites a ‘Big Mac’ as an example of ‘light box’ food and broccoli as ‘heavy box’ food.
No surprise that his advice is to eat primarily ‘heavy box’ foods i.e. whole plants.
Those of us who advocate, and benefit from, Whole Food Plant Based living are constantly concerned to note how much misinformation there is out there – especially when it arises out of a clear conflict of interest.
When Sid’s wife was pregnant with their twins, she was given a booklet on nutritional advice. Basically, this was suggesting the need to eat plenty of meat and, although it might be possible to be plant based, this would be risky and should be closely supervised by a doctor.
The small print on the back of the booklet:
‘Copyright 1988, revised 1992, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’
As an aside, when we were in Edinburgh, another speaker was Kate Strong ( strongkate.com ) – World Ladies Triathlon champion in 2014. A few years earlier, she was living in Australia and suffering from eczema and asthma. She was given a leaflet by the National Asthma Council Australia, in which it was made very clear that removing dairy products from the diet would NOT help. When Kate investigated this more closely she discovered that the Asthma Council was part funded by the Australian Dairy industry!
When Kate became plant based, the eczema and asthma both cleared up!
Sid had a similar experience – both he and his father suffered from asthma. They had repeatedly been told that it was their ‘genetics’. They gave up dairy and the asthma disappeared!
Another way in which many people have disconnected from the natural is in the amount of physical activity they do each day – in some cases, it is tantamount to none.
One of the characteristics of all living things is MOVEMENT. However, for most of us, survival no longer requires the movement that was necessary when we were gatherer hunters – or indeed, before the advent of the motor car.
The movement to which Sid is referring is generated by muscle contraction and requires the expenditure of energy.
For many, who travel everywhere by car and sit in front of a computer screen or television for most of the day, this self-generated movement can be absolutely minimal. Given this, a conscious effort has to be made to increase the level of physical activity. In my case, I cycle (as do many people) – others run or go to a gym.
Whilst reasonably high levels of daily exercise provide huge benefits in terms of health and well-being, benefit will also be derived from, where possible, small changes like walking instead of driving and using the stairs instead of the elevator.
Sid himself runs and uses a trampet. The trampet is a great way to incorporate some physical activity into an otherwise busy day. The intensity and length of the exercise can be varied - but the important thing is to be doing it!
As far as running is concerned, Sid extols the virtues of Barefoot Running. This can be done either literally barefoot or wearing shoes with minimal cushioning and designed to be as close as possible to having bare feet.
There is much evidence to support the fact that we humans evolved to be very efficient long-distance runners. This is discussed in Christopher MacDougall’s excellent book, BORN TO RUN – a book which also triggered the surge of interest in barefoot running. Anyone interested in running really should read this book, as well as BAREFOOT RUNNING by Michael Sandler.
As far as footwear is concerned, I noticed that, while in Edinburgh, Sid purchased a pair of FREETS. I also have a pair of these and find them to be absolutely excellent.
It pretty much goes without saying that anyone achieving good levels of daily physical activity needs to make sure that they are not trying to do it on a nutrition regime based around ‘light box’ foods!
When I Read Chapter 3, I was reminded of a wonderful website: www.scaleofuniverse.com
Essentially, this allows you to scroll through objects of different sizes and provides an idea of scale comparison – from the smallest know sub-atomic particles to the estimated size of the universe (and everything in between).
However, there is also a short video on this site, in which the Astrophysicist, Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson, answers the question ‘What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the universe?’ His answer is that it is astounding to realise that everything within the universe is inter-connected and made from the same atoms – and this includes all life on earth.
Sid has called this chapter ‘Connecting to the Earth’ and points out that by covering ourselves in clothes, wearing shoes, moving around in vehicles and covering so much of the earth in asphalt and concrete, we are disconnecting from the earth – and he contends that this has serious repercussions.
Basically, the human body is electrical and full of charged ions – many of which are essential for vital processes such as the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle contraction.
Particles called FREE RADICALS (Sid thinks ‘The Free Radicals’ would be a great name for a rock band!) have unpaired electrons and can be quite harmful – especially oxygen free radicals which are formed during respiration. It is these which damage cells, are largely responsible for the ageing process and can disrupt the immune system. As soon as they form, we need to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
Antioxidants help greatly in neutralizing free radicals – so, again, ‘heavy box’ foods are what we should be eating.
When we are in direct contact with the earth, electrons flow in both directions – so this helps to neutralise free radicals and maintain electrical balance.
This is where ‘tree-huggers’ have got it right – an excellent way of connecting with the earth – and walking barefoot as much as possible is definitely advantageous.
Give it a try!
So much for our physical nutrition – ‘heavy box’ foods, increased physical activity and more direct contact with the earth.
The second part of the book deals with our mental health. Chapter 4 is ‘Mental Nutrition’
Sid says ‘Caring for the mind is as important and crucial as caring for the body. In fact, one cannot be healthy without the other’.
In a busy life, long-term happiness is much more difficult to attain than short-term highs.
So many people are completely worn down by the sheer effort needed simply to get through each day unscathed. Humans are naturally creative and curious – and it is crucial that we do all we can to maintain such creativity and a desire to learn and understand. It is equally important to remain POSITIVE in our outlook, whatever the circumstances!
To help in this, Sid has three suggestions:
MEDITATION – Clearly, meditation is an important component of many cultures and is widely practiced every day. I have never tried it – but reading what Sid has to say about its benefits, I am going to start.
He recommends www.centerpointe.com
JOURNALING – Again, this is not something I have done – but I can see that it would focus the mind and make you give some thought to whatever is going on in your life. He suggests that it can almost be a form of meditation.
It is the actual writing of the journal that is important – it doesn’t really matter if you throw it away once it has been written!
ART – By this he seems to mean either being aware of and appreciating different forms of art or being creative.
I cannot say that I would describe myself as being particularly artistic – but I do spend a lot of time focusing on the writing of these blogs (which, I guess, is me being creative!) – and I often listen to music when doing so.
Also, I have always found it enriching to visit museums and art galleries.
The penultimate chapter is ‘The Social Network’.
I am quite sure that the way we interact with other people – especially family and friends – has changed dramatically during my lifetime.
Increased mobility and the opportunity to live anywhere in the world has meant that families now split up much more and no longer necessarily remain living in close proximity.
The development and almost universal ownership of televisions has undoubtedly reduced the amount of contact we have with other people – as have the arrival of mobile phones and the internet.
Whilst these technologies bring huge benefits, I do think it is regrettable that our lives have become so dominated by mobile phones and social media. I am very well aware of the impact this has had on my life.
I agree with Sid that regular interactions with close friends and family (NOT just texting!) have a very positive effect on our health and well-being – and bring us back towards a much more natural way of living our lives!
I am particularly interested to note that this is one of the main features of the BLUE ZONES, as identified by Dan Buettner. They also have a diet based largely on ‘heavy box’ foods, a good level of physical activity and a lack stress in their lives.
The need to remove stress from our lives is another factor to which Sid constantly refers in Approaching the Natural.
This may be the stress caused by our way of life or the stress placed on our bodies when consuming ‘light box’ foods and a lack of exercise.
The book closes with quotes from Albert Einstein and from Dr Will Tuttle in The World Peace Diet.
‘A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest ….a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty’ Albert Einstein
As a result, our species is suffering and the planet is suffering.
Essentially, in The World Peace Diet, Dr Will Tuttle explains that
The environment is being destroyed
Millions of people are starving
Access to fresh water is dwindling
Billions of innocent animals are brutalized and tortured every minute
Finally, Sid Garza-Hillman concludes that the only way forward is to Approach the Natural :
‘The Approaching the Natural philosophy holds that it is no coincidence that the very same (heavy box) foods that are healthiest for our bodies and minds are best for the planet and the most compassionate to all other species. A grounded, connected existence will deliver health and happiness for all because it is a conflict free co-existence with all other species that inhabit the earth’