Do you ever have moments where you meet someone or hear someone talk and think to yourself, “That person just ‘gets’ it”? I had a moment like that recently when I was introduced to the philosophy of Sid Garza-Hillman. I was listening to the Rich Roll podcast and he happened to be interviewing Sid, who had just written a book called “Approaching the Natural.” I was intrigued by him because he seemed like a pretty regular guy, someone who could appeal to all types of people and not just hardcore vegans. But what really struck a chord with me was his holistic philosophy, which is essentially the opposite of any diet or “cleanse” you’ve ever heard of – take incremental steps towards health (not just from a nutrition standpoint but with regards to physical activity, mental approach, etc.) that are so incredibly small they are hardly noticeable. His theory that since these small steps towards health aren’t overwhelming, they’re sustainable and become habit forming. Over time, you’ll have made a world of progress without getting burnt out. He weaves this philosophy into various subjects from nutrition and happiness to the health of the world as a whole.
As soon as the podcast was over, I ordered and devoured his book, which really spoke to me on a number of levels. I did some more research on the guy and it turns out he lives up in Northern California and works at one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever seen, the Stanford Inn and Eco-Resort in Mendocino. Not only does this guy espouse an awesome philosophy, he seems to be really living it too. So I decided to try to contact him and sent out a tweet, never really thinking that I’d get a response. He actually ended up responding in short order and agreed to do an interview for the site.
Before we get to the questions, I want to mention that Sid now has a podcast that you can subscribe to for free on iTunes that shares the name of his book, “Approaching the Natural.” If you’re not into reading for some reason, he spells out his philosophy pretty darn well in the several episodes he’s posted so far. In addition, my Groceryships colleague, Sam Polk, and I were recently on the podcast and it was a blast. Have a listen here if you’d like.
And now, on to the interview. I think you’ll find Sid’s common-sense approach as appealing as I do, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy of “Approaching the Natural.” It’s amazing that so small of a book can be so full of potentially life-changing and life-saving knowledge, but Sid somehow accomplished that feat. I think if we all decided to take the steps that Sid lays out, we’d make a heck of a difference in the world.
1) Hey Sid! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. How did you become so passionate about health?
Over 20 years ago I witnessed the power of healthy food when I cured myself of chronic asthma and allergies through diet alone. I didn’t go back to school to become a nutritionist for another 15 years, but during that entire time I had definitely caught ‘the bug’ and read voraciously on nutrition and fitness. The more I read the more I realized how much power resided in the individual to achieve and sustain true health and happiness—and specifically how bound health and happiness are to each other. I found myself with an intense desire to get that message across.
2) Can you explain your philosophy?
My philosophy of health is that the closer our species moves by degrees to what is most natural to us, the happier and healthier we will be.
3) Tell me a little about “mental nutrition”.
My picture of health is a big picture one—one that incorporates physical and mental health. Mental Nutrition is simply the opposite side of the same ‘health coin’ from physical nutrition. It’s the idea that, like food, there are varying qualities of how we feed our minds, and that tools like journaling, meditating, learning, and art/creativity are all forms of healthy mental nutrition. How much and how well we feed our minds and our bodies will determine our level of health/happiness.
4) Tell me about your love of the mini-trampoline. I’m a big fan too (I share one with a colleague of mine in my office).
In my reading I stumbled on rebounding in a few different places/books (always a red flag) so I thought I’d give it a try. My wife had given birth to our twins just prior, and the mini-tramp turned out to be the absolute perfect thing for us. We have three children and virtually no child-care, so with twin infants, the mini-tramp allowed us to get in quality exercise very simply (and still be with the kids). It’s still set up in my living room and we use it all the time (it’s been almost 4 years of constant use, so definitely not one of those infomercial gadgets that ends up in the garage!). The great thing is that now my kids jump on it all the time too. We have the Cellerciser (which has held up extremely well) with a handle and they have a great time with it. My wife and I use it in conjunction with the TRX suspension trainer. Our lives are such that going to a gym is not logistically possible—we run and tramp, easy and affordable (the tramp was a bit pricey, but after four years of constant use it’s way way cheaper than a gym membership).
5) One of the things I like best about your philosophy is the idea of balance. Not to be confused with “everything in moderation” of course. Can you elaborate a little on that?
I believe that there is balance in everything, and that it varies with the individual. Our bodies and minds are constantly attempting to achieve balance with the world. Health and happiness come down to whether we help or hinder ourselves in that attempt. For example, feeding our bodies nutrient-deficient food makes it harder for our bodies to achieve balance with the world–with how much work/exercise our bodies are doing, and with environmental factors like air quality, pesticides, job stress etc. If we deprive our bodies and minds the tools they need to thrive and achieve balance, the quicker we’ll break down. I liken it to putting dirty oil and gas in a really well-designed car. As for ‘everything in moderation’…I think when you take into consideration the whole human being when discussing health and happiness (ie. the mind and body), I think it’s less about moderation and more about getting as close to what is most natural as possible such that you find your balance. I definitely don’t coach my clients to go from 0 – 60 out of the shoot, but I help them move in the direction of optimal health at a speed that is comfortable for them. I simply don’t believe ‘everything in moderation’ is a proper message. I advocate for learning what is most natural and therefore appropriate and healthy, and trying to get as close as you can without causing yourself stress in the process.
6) If possible, can you describe the concept of “Holistic Self-Interest” a bit?
In thinking about the book and my philosophy of heath and happiness, I came to understand and believe that selfishness is a completely natural state for the body and mind. I believe we are designed to survive, thrive, and be happy–that the body and mind are in a constant struggle to that end. Again, it comes down how much we either help or hinder ourselves. In the modern world, selfishness has come to be equated with greed, and furthermore, we are preached a message of ‘selflessness’ which I find completely counter to our natural design. I advocate for what I call ‘holistic self-interest’ which is, in a sense, a deeper understanding of what is truly good for us. It speaks to a long-term health and happiness over a short-term quick fix—for example, a Big Mac gives us pleasure, but whole plants give us pleasure plus health and long-term happiness. In addition, Holistic self-interest speaks to an awareness of the effect our actions have on our relationships, the environment, and the world. It is acting in accordance with the good of our species and the world we live in/on. It is natural for us to be happy, healthy, and to preserve our environment. I try and help people take however small steps as necessary to begin them in that direction.