A few weeks back, my sweetheart and I went to The Stanford Inn, and ate ourselves silly on the best food I’ve ever had. When I was there I had the pleasure of meeting the head of The Stanford Inn’s nutrition program, Sid Garza Hillman. Since he just so happened to be super personable and I knew I dug his theories about health and nutrition from his podcast, I figured I should buy his book, Approaching the Natural.
I’m being serious when I saw Approaching the Natural changed my life. The book is very short (129 pages, to be exact) and surprisingly uncomplicated. Basically, the Approaching the Natural theory can be summed up in a few words, and they are as follows:
(My paraphrase here)
We complicate health, wellness and nutrition far too much.
We don’t need to take huge leaps to become healthy.
In fact, we shouldn’t take huge leaps. Instead, we should take impossibly tiny steps, as to build sustainability.
Weighing our options and choosing what’s most natural in any situation is the way to go.
If what is most natural is very far from what you currently do, you should take just one tiny and sustainable step toward it.
It’s totally common for someone to want to radically shift their lives to achieve immediate results. This is true especially in the realms of food and exercise, and unfortunately, these sorts of changes simply don’t offer lasting results, or make anyone very happy, like, ever. (and I’m speaking statistically here, I seriously encourage you to look up long term statistics for diets and weight changes. They are straight up abysmal.)
Instead, Approaching the Natural suggests you start small. It says that if you commit to doing five squats a day, that makes you an exerciser. That if you are drinking a glass of water, you are automatically getting healthier than you were before that moment. It suggests that if you regularly take very small steps, eventually you will you may be at the marathon level, or the CrossFit level, or the yoga teacher training level (or not!), but that those things are totally unlikely unless you build a basis of successive small steps. I couldn’t agree with this more, even though it applies entirely differently in my life.
I am an all-or-nothing person, and in fact had an easy time suddenly becoming an hour-a-day-every-single-day exerciser. Was it fun for me? Nope. Did I dread it? Yes, 100%. Did I do it anyway? Absolutely. Because I felt I needed to exercise constantly to be a good person. Huh. Funny how that happened.
I started out exercising with 60 minutes of cardio 7 days a week, and this was damaging to my physical, emotional, and mental health. Today I exercise about five times a week, and some of it is cardio and a good deal of it is strength, balance, and core work. Had I gone straight from one to the other, I would have felt like I was crawling out of my skin with those two full days to do anything but exercise. To actually change my habits, I took a million infinitesimal steps, which maybe hardly anyone noticed but me. Now, I would categorize my exercise as sensible. Before, I would say it was desperately unhealthy. That’s a giant shift, which I made through taking tiny steps every single day.
That’s Approaching the Natural in action.
Another example: I eat an entirely plant based gluten-free diet, and that feels normal and intuitive (I think this is what Sid means by “natural”) to me. Sometimes, I hear a different vegan and gluten free nutrition theory, it sounds appealing, and I think about making changes. (Adding protein powder, giving up protein powder, eating higher carb, eating lower carb, eating more raw foods, eating more cooked foods, upping my protein, lowering my protein, taking a break from nuts and nut butters, lowering my soy, subtracting grains, adding beans, adding grains, subtracting beans, etc. These are ALL things that have stressed me the fuck out at different periods of time.) When I would think about these potential changes, I felt a lot of anxiety. In this world of constantly evolving nutrition theory, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae.
Reading Approaching the Natural totally eased my mind and recontextualized the way I think, though, and here’s how.
Say I am in a grocery store, or restaurant and I am making a choice about food. There are a lot of options, a lot of them seem good, and I have all the aforementioned thoughts about nutrition floating around in my mind. I am fucking confused. I want to eat something delicious and satisfying, and I want to do what’s best for my body. I am considering something grainy but then remember what I’ve heard about too many carbs, or something with tofu and remember what I’ve heard about processed soy, or maybe I want a smoothie and I’m worried about the sugar content of the fruit. I take a deep breath, and I ask myself “what would be Approaching the Natural?”
Because I’ve read Sid’s book (thanks Sid!) I know a few things about what’s natural. I know my body enjoys sunlight, that community is awesome, that being outside is beneficial, that getting in the dirt or touching a tree, even if just for a second, will make me feel just a little radder. But dude, I am trying to eat here, so none of that exactly applies in this moment. I know that my body enjoys hydration, like almost every second, so why I am deciding what to eat, it makes sense to have a glass of water. I know that I have the opportunity to ask myself what Approaching the Natural with my food looks like every time I eat, and for me vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and beans are all natural and wonderful foods. I don’t have to get caught up in perfection. That makes eating just a little bit easier.
The closer food is to what’s natural for humans to eat, the better. If I am at a vegan and organic restaurant I can get a huge leafy salad and some brown rice , black beans, salsa and guacamole, and that’s Approaching the Natural pretty easily (at least in my opinion). But let’s say I am at a gas station, on a road trip. It is totally possible to Approach the Natural there, too. Almonds, apples, bananas, water, even juice or a granola bar might be the closest “Approaching the Natural” choice one can make, and guess what dudes?! That still counts. Approaching the Natural just basically says we should do what we can, when we can, in all circumstances of life, within reason. Some days “doing our best” is going to be better than others, but there is no diet or exercise “failure”, no regimen to cheat on. With that in mind, you seriously can’t lose. As long as you take a tiny step toward what you would consider more “natural” (and I suggest you educate yourself on what you think that would be!) you are winning.
A lot of the clients I have are so confused about how to be healthy, that it is paralyzing. For reals, I was not paid to read this book or write this review, but holy crap- the whole Approaching the Natural theory has the potential to be SO freeing for so many people that I had to share it immediately. I feel like I want to shout it from the rooftop.
Sid says all of this much better than I did, so duh, you should totally buy his book. And, if you are only interested in the nutrition part of the text, you can get that chapter free from his website. How cool is that?
Have you read Approaching the Natural? What did you think? Also, what were YOUR life changing nutrition books?