Sid Garza-Hillman, Approaching the Natural: A Health Manifesto

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4/2/2013:

Part II: Sid Garza-Hillman
Approaching the Natural: A Health Manifesto

Sid Garza-Hillman was born in Los Angeles. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Philosophy. For over a decade after college, Sid was a working musician and actor with a growing interest in nutrition. Sid is now a Certified Nutritionist and Weight Management Coach. He works with private clients all over the country and teaches nutrition and healthy living classes to children and adults through his practice Transitioning to Health. He is also the Staff Nutritionist and Programs Director at the Mendocino Center for Living Well located at the Stanford Inn Eco-resort in Mendocino, California. He currently lives on the Mendocino Coast with his wife, 3 children, two dogs, and two guinea pigs (White Rose and Pink Rose).

TRANSCRIPTION

Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, we’re back. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food! Here we are on April 2, 2013. Okay, next up I’m going to bring on Sid Garza-Hillman, he has a lovely little book – Approaching the Natural: A Health Manifesto. We’re going to be talking about that a little today. Sid was born in Los Angeles. He graduated from UCLA with a BA in Philosophy. For over a decade after college, he was a working musician and actor with a growing interest in nutrition. Sid is now a certified nutritionist and weight management coach. He works with private clients all over the country and teaches nutrition and healthy living classes to children and adults through his practice, Transitioning To Health. He’s also the staff nutritionist and programs director at the Mendocino Center for Living Well, located at the Sanford Eco-Resort in Mendocino, California. He currently lives on the Mendocino coast with his wife, three children, two dogs, and two guinea pigs, White Rose and Pink Rose. Well, there you have it. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Sid!
Sid Garza-Hillman: Thanks! It’s funny to hear that bio read back to me. Yes, the guinea pigs, that’s the pivotal point of the bio.
Caryn Hartglass: Is it really? Why is that?
Sid Garza-Hillman: It’s just that my daughter named them White Rose and Pink Rose.
Caryn Hartglass: White Rose and Pink Rose – well, they’re very nice names. Sid, I’ve never met you in person but I feel like we may be kindred spirits after reading your manifesto; I’m just speechless. I’m just saying, “Yes! Right!” – I would have written it exactly that way.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Thank you!
Caryn Hartglass: So I really appreciate where you’re coming from.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Thank you, that’s great to hear.
Caryn Hartglass: We don’t like to feel alone in this world, and it’s nice to know that we agree with people or people agree with us from time to time.
Sid Garza-Hillman: That’s right. And we’re both singers, so that’s a good thing.
Caryn Hartglass: I think that might be a part of it, but we’ll get to the music; I’m going to save the best for last.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Right, right.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so it sounds like you have a pretty good life. I’ve never been to Mendocino, and I’m going to get there now.
Sid Garza-Hillman: You’ve got to come up; it’s an amazing place to live, and after 20 years in Los Angeles, it was a really welcomed change.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, I have visions of Mendocino, this little town that time forgot or something like that, but what is it really like today in 2013?
Sid Garza-Hillman: It really is kind of like that. It’s kind of amazing. The entire town of Mendocino has less than 9000 people in the entire county. So it really is one of the last bastions of small-town living. The little things, when I moved up here, made me the happiest – like, there are no parking meters. People would go, “Yeah, but what about the trees?” and I would go, “But there’s no parking meters!” And there’s one stoplight in the town of Mendocino. It really is a legitimate small town, and it has the aesthetic of this beautiful little coastal place. The people are very friendly and it’s… natural.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, let’s not advertise it anymore, because we don’t want everyone running there.
Sid Garza-Hillman: I know, right?
Caryn Hartglass: Alright, so in a brief nutshell, when did you get so smart about nutrition and food and health?
Sid Garza-Hillman: It began, in a nutshell, in 1992. I had just graduated from UCLA the year before and I was a struggling musician, I hadn’t yet fallen into acting yet, so I was still working at UCLA in the visual department, but I was a chronic asthmatic and was handed a book by Woody Harrelson, who I worked for in college as a personal assistant. He and his wife Laura, who is a close friend of mine and my sister’s, handed me a book and I read it, and I removed dairy. And that’s the only thing I did at the time, and my asthma went away. That began my trek of reading literally book after book. I’ve been reading constantly for over 20 years on the subject. And that’s how it began. And finally, when I moved up here, I thought, “I want to do this for a living.” So I went back to school and became a certified nutritionist.
Caryn Hartglass: So you also studied Philosophy. And I think there’s a connection. And I know all philosophers don’t get to where they think they should go – I mean, I appreciate the books that have been written from a a philosophical standpoint where they realize that we shouldn’t be eating animals.
Sid Garza-Hillman: I had to address that in the context of a broader approach to health and an approach that – if you had to make an overarching statement – the approach is that when we work in line with our natural design, we thrive, and when we work in conflict with our natural design, we don’t. When it comes to our treatment of animals and the way that we harvest them, and the imbalance, the natural imbalance that we have created – in large part because of the animal culture, and also because of the refining and processing of food and the environmental toll that takes – that’s working in conflict, I believe, with our species as a whole. You can see the effects of that on the world and on the way we treat ourselves. I think there’s a direct relationship there. So yeah, I took that big questions there.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, now you train and you consult with people about nutrition. You come up with a plan and you go through it in this lovely book, Approaching the Natural: A Health Manifesto, and what I like about it is that you can almost slip it in your back pocket, even though it’s loaded with lots of information. Your technique is telling people to take whatever steps and take the time you need – small bites, small changes – you don’t need to jump into a big transition and big steps.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Yes. In a nutshell, you nailed it. The reason is when they begin practicing, they’re sort of drawn to that kind of thing, and that’s why most diet books are usually popular for a time. You know, the 7 Day this and the 21 Day this. It’s not like they’re bad plans at all but people don’t stick to diets; we know they don’t. I decided that I’m going to write a book – and it does fit in your back pocket, the publisher specifically sized it to be that kind of thing where you could have the reminder. It doesn’t sound like it could do anything, but it really does, for you to do the littlest step you could do that will actually make you do something every day for the rest of your life and create a foundation from which you can build. But when we constantly do this “Juice Fast for 10 Days” and everyone goes, “Oh my gosh, you look fantastic,” and you lose all this weight, and then you go back and you don’t make the change and then you feel worse about yourself because you just gained all the weight back and it’s just a never-ending cycle. We do that with exercise; we join a gym and you get all the equipment and say, “That’s it, I’m going to exercise and hour and a half every day,” – but most of us don’t have the time. If you just establish a good behavioral pattern – a new living healthy pattern, even if it’s just walking around your house one time a day, that’s a good start. That’s the argument I make. Because we know the other way doesn’t work.
Caryn Hartglass: I know most people say they don’t have the time, and I want to say that I don’t believe it. I want to say, “Turn off the television!”
Sid Garza-Hillman: Yeah, that’s a whole other thing. I’ve got to say – my wife and I have an eight and a half year old, and we have four year old twins. My wife is a graphics designer. She works full time and I work full time. We don’t watch TV. We’re busy. We work at night because we don’t really have childcare at all, so we are super busy. So for me, and I address this in the book, the only thing that I – and I love running, it is my love – but we just didn’t have time; the first couple of years with the babies was brutal. And the only thing I could do was, I bought a mini-tramp. Because I could do that in the living room and still watch the kids and my wife could get work done and then she could get on the tramp. That’s what we could manage. So, you can find the time. Anyone can do squats in their living room and hold two big books in their hands as weights. I argue, those are profound acts. That’s the difference, I think those are huge.
Caryn Hartglass: Even, I think, taking a ten minute break from whatever it is you’re doing – sitting at a computer or working in an office – you are much more productive.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Oh yes. Huge. I think, again, we understand that, but people are like, “That’s not going to do anything.” And I just try to argue in the book, whether I’m effective at it or not I don’t know, but I make the argument in the books that that’s where it’s at. Like, those little ten minute shots – they will infuse such an energy into your life that it’s just astounding. You’ll be like, “Oh my gosh, I just turned off my phone for one minute and talked to someone over a cup of coffee, and that really made a difference in the rest of my day.” You know, it does.
Caryn Hartglass: Turn off the phone! Turn off the phone!
Sid Garza-Hillman: Yes, and I’m totally guilty of that same thing. Thank goodness I have a good marriage, because my wife’s like, “Get off that thing.” It ‘s good to have someone in your life like that who helps you get recalibrated for a second.
Caryn Hartglass: Very good. I run, I do some yoga, a bunch of different things – and I learned yoga from tapes, actually, not from going to classes; I’ve never been really good sitting in a class – but I hear this one line that Patricia Walden says on one of my tapes. “It’s the consistency of your practice! It’s the consistency of your practice!” No matter what it is – five minutes a day, ten minutes a day – whatever it is, consistency will get you somewhere!
Sid Garza-Hillman: 100% I think if you break it down into literally what is manageable for you. If all that is manageable for you right now, because all you do is eat fast food every day and that’s just where you’re at, but you want to change your health and all you can manage is a piece of celery per day, and you can do that every day, I think that is an incredible thing to do. Most people would argue that that’s not going to do anything, but I think it will – because if you can eat celery every day, just one stalk of celery, you become a person who eats well. Maybe not well enough to become super healthy, but that’s later. You establish the baseline behavior pattern and then you can build, later, to two stalks of celery, or eating a salad with your BigMac, and then onward and upwards. But you start thinking about things, you start paying attention to what you put in your body and how you feel. And that’s where it begins. That’s lifelong change.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s talk about celery a little bit here. I’m glad you brought celery up. That food really doesn’t get the press it deserves, but again, most food doesn’t. Celery is loaded with electrolytes, minerals…
Sid Garza-Hillman: What’s funny about celery is that everybody who talks about celery says that, “You burn off the same amount of calories you get from when you eat it.” First of all, that’s not true anymore. That has been debunked. But secondly, that just shows our focus on macronutrients and calories. When I tell people, when I teach, I say, “You, in America, do not have a shortage of calories. You’ve probably never met anybody who has a shortage of calories. We’ve not a starving nation. But we are a malnutrient nation. And we’re lacking are the vitamins and minerals and antioxidants and other chemicals – celery is full of those things. If you’re worried about calories, yeah, okay, celery is not calorically dense, but it’s full of a bunch of awesome stuff we need.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well most people don’t know anything about nutrition. And then they spout out stuff that they’re heard in a sound-byte somewhere. And it’s killing us.
Sid Garza-Hillman: I always tell people in my classes, “If eating is like taking a vitamin pill, and eating really bad food was working, then I wouldn’t have a job.” It’s the proof of the pudding that we’re not getting healthier, no matter what people say.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. Okay, anyway, I love celery and I make a green juice every day; I usually have 5 or 6 stalks of celery in my juice.
Sid Garza-Hillman: I eat like 5 stalks of celery every day.
Caryn Hartglass: And then there are people who say, if you want to loose weight, just eat 5 stalks of celery and a pound of greens, and then you can have whatever you want.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s the message – “Add in the good stuff and you’ll be fine.” And then you stat thinking about it more and you start realizing how other food doesn’t make you feel good and it makes the decision easier.
Caryn Hartglass: The thing is, most people can’t eat a pound of greens and six stalks of celery; they’re stuffed.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Right, I know, I know. There’s very little calories, right, but a whole bunch of good stuff. A whole bunch of amazing stuff that we’re lacking.
Caryn Hartglass: You talk about running with these special barefoot…
Sid Garza-Hillman: Yeah, the ones I run in, Vibram Five Fingers, and then I’ve become friends with Rich Roll, who’s an ultra athlete.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve had him on this show.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Yeah, he’s awesome.
Caryn Hartglass: Extremely crazy!
Sid Garza-Hillman: Huh?
Caryn Hartglass: It’s crazy! I was just thinking about him today when I was running; I don’t know how he has managed the physical feats that he has done.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Oh yeah; he’s an amazing guy and it was just a pleasure reading his book. I’m really happy to have befriended him. He recommended another pair of New Balance that are minimal shoes too. And my only argument is that, like everything else, we have a pretty incredible natural design, and if we let our personalities get out of the way and let our bodies do what they were meant to do and designed to do, we usually do pretty darn well. And that means that the whole hugely padded, raised-heel shoe model hasn’t worked for us, and we’re getting injured. So that’s why there’s a big move to go back to a more minimal footwear and appear to the more natural design of the foot.
Caryn Hartglass: So is it like a marketing thing to get us to buy more stuff?
Sid Garza-Hillman: You know, I don’t think it is. First of all, those shoes are way cheaper than a lot of stuff. But also, I go barefoot. Sometimes I just take off my shoes and I go running literally barefoot; there’s nothing less expensive than that. Surely there are people who think this thing is a fad, but from my end, and from my approach, it’s all about returning to what’s natural. My Vibrams lasted way longer than my other shoes ever did and they’re less expensive, so it’s a better model for me.
Caryn Hartglass: I live in New York City, and I usually run on concrete. Are they okay for that? Because concrete isn’t natural; that’s my point. There’s no such thing as natural anymore.
Sid Garza-Hillman: You’re right, but the thing is that there are hard surfaces in nature. There’s trail running that is hard-packed. And when you run in the barefoot style, there’s a great book called Barefoot Running, and you hit mid to front foot, and it makes the pressure not on your knee, but on your calf. We’re built with a very springy step, and when you return to that kind of gait, you suffer much less injury, even on concrete. Scott Jurek is one of the best marathoners in the world and his shoes are minimal; they have no arch support and very little of anything, and he’s been running injury-free for 100 mile races. So, it’s happening.
Caryn Hartglass: So if I want to get into this, I need to start slowly.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Like anything else – and I said that in the book – I didn’t. And I hurt my foot because I went way too fast and way too far. And that was part of the reason of inspiration for my book. I thought I needed to apply this to myself; I needed to ease my way into these things, just like everybody does. So yeah, you start by walking barefoot. Bring back the muscles that have been unused for years and years, and just walk barefoot. Go run in your normal shoes, but during the day when you’re in your room and walking around, take your shoes off. See what it’s like to bend your feet again; spread your toes out. Later, maybe run 1/10 mile barefoot, and see how that feels. Or less, just build up over time.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m barefoot all the time in my apartment, and it drives some of my neighbors crazy because sometimes I forget to put shoes on when I have to go out into the rest of the building and do laundry or something; so I occasionally put flip flops on. I do prefer walking around barefoot, so I guess I have to try this running.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Go on youtube and there’s like a thousand videos showing the proper step. And the thing is, it’s not a new step; it’s getting back to what happened before we had running shoes. We didn’t evolve with running shoes. Years ago, we would run in mocassins, and those have no support at all; it’s a very thin piece of leather under our feet that would kinds keep us from getting cut, but there was no support at all and we managed to do just fine.
Caryn Hartglass: Now you work with people to transition to a healthy diet, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who don’t want to go all the way plant-based, the people you work with.
Sid Garza-Hillman: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: How does that work out? Do some of them surprise you in the end after all you’ve told them and want to eat more plant foods? Or do some believe that it’s just really not good for them?
Sid Garza-Hillman: I think that I get less people who believe that it’s not good for them, and more people who understand that it’s not good for them but have some other concerns in terms of the taste of food and the ritual of food and the tradition of food, and sometimes you have people who just weigh it out for themselves, and they would rather be on prescription drugs and eat their fried chicken than make a change. I hit a wall and I just go, “Okay, cool,” but some people really surprise me; some people that you would least expect to turn around do sometimes, and they do because the better they start to feel, the better they want to feel, so they start adding a little bit in and they go, “That’s cool, that feels really good” – and all of a sudden, they raise their level of overall health such that when they eat cheese, all of a sudden, cheese doesn’t make them feel good, when before they just felt crappy all the time, they didn’t know it. So I start by saying, “Why don’t we add in a few things, and if you’re going to have cheese, have a salad with it” – and all of a sudden, the bad stuff starts to make them feel crappy. And then they just don’t want it anymore. I had that exact thing happen to a client who, after a year of eating well, she went to a party and her favorite cheese was on the table. She said that she walked up to it and looked at it and was going to grab it, but she said, “I didn’t feel like having it.” That means she got over the hump. And it’s not worth it for her, just like it’s not worth it for me. I loved cheese, but I was tired of being asthmatic with allergies; there was too many other things that I wanted to do in my life. So I’m not tempted by it. And that was even before I learned about the ethical and environmental ramifications of food choices.
Caryn Hartglass: What do I always say here on the show It’s All About Food – I always say, “You don’t know how good you can feel.” You just don’t know.
Sid Garza-Hillman: That’s right, that’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: You can just feel amazing.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Yeah, and Louis C.K. is this comedian I’ve been quoting recently because he said, “Just recently, I found out that food is supposed to make you feel good.” We don’t even know that the food we’re drawn to is supposed to naturally nourish us and give us energy; it’s not supposed to make us go into a food coma and give us allergies and make us sick.
Caryn Hartglass: We’re such a nutty bunch.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Right, we are a nutty bunch.
Caryn Hartglass: So you have small children, and you feed them plant foods?
Sid Garza-Hillman: 100% And about 90% whole, but 100% plant.
Caryn Hartglass: And how do they respond to all this? Because that’s one of the big complaints parents have – they can’t get their kids to eat, they can’t get their kids to eat well…
Sid Garza-Hillman: What I would say – and I make this argument in the book – as parents, do it for yourself first. Be that example. One of those things is to get the food out of the house – get the bad food out of the house. Period. What kids will do is they will transition just like everybody else. And they may raise a stink for a couple of days, but if you cut a bunch of vegetables and put them on the counter with a good dip, and you walk away and you don’t say, “You’ve gotta eat this!” – I’m speaking from experience here, I understand, I get it, I’ve got three kids, okay? – They will eat it. They will eat the food. Sure, they might miss a meal because they’re gonna rebel against you, but that’s fine. Your job as a parent is to make sure – and this is my opinion – is to make sure that your kids grow up healthy and happy, and you want to provide for them what is best for them. And that means that you should be feeding them really good food. And I always say this to parents, because parents don’t want to draw the line with food – I go, “Do your kids watch TV?” and they say yeah, and I go, “Do you let them watch whatever they want, whenever they want, as much as they want?” and they go, “No, of course not. We always let this watch from this time until this time, and only these shows,” and I go, “Okay, so apply the same constraints to food,” – because that’s the most important thing that you’re doing for their child, feeding their body so that they grow up thinking clearly and acting well and being calm. Food affects that ADD and ADHD and all these other kinds of things. You can do that, apply the same constraints to food. It’s okay, you can do it in a pleasurable way, but first, it’s living the example.
Caryn Hartglass: I like that, the analogy with television. Because most parents get it that they shouldn’t be letting their kids watch television whenever they want.
Sid Garza-Hillman: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s a good one.
Sid Garza-Hillman: They’ll totally get that, you know, they’ll get that. They’ll even get, like, candy – they’ll get that. But when I say cheese is in the same realm as candy, they just about die. And I go, “You know, it’s not helping your child become healthy and if you really want to feed them cheese, understand that it’s a treat. Minimize it as much as you would minimize lollipops. It’s just that we’re told that milk is a good thing for us – and it’s not; it’s a totally unhealthy thing for us.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s talk about music!
Sid Garza-Hillman: Now we’re talking! Here we go!
Caryn Hartglass: I have some visions and dreams of all vegan kind of musical events, and putting plant-powered musicians together and making beautiful music.
Sid Garza-Hillman: I think it would be great, and I say because we don’t eat dairy – a lot less phlegm in the throat.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely.
Sid Garza-Hillman: That’s where I’m coming from – really clear throats. So it’s gotta be some good music.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well I’ve sung opera and musical theater and I know all about the phlegm in the throat and the power of a dairy-free diet. You know, it’s just common sense.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Yeah, right.
Caryn Hartglass: So what kind of music do you do, and where can we listen to it and find it and enjoy?
Sid Garza-Hillman: Well, I’m the head of a band called the Sid Hillman quartets, and we’ve been alive for years now. We put out a bunch of records and toured the US and Canada and Europe. So it’s indie rock, a little bit of Western – alternative rock with a little bit of western flavor there. Mostly it’s indie rock, and all original stuff, mostly albums. And they can find that at sidhillmanquartet.com, or theshq.com. Or they can just google “Sid Hillman Quartet” and they can find us pretty fast. But we’re all over iTunes and that kind of stuff.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Okay. So can you talk about the Stanford Inn in Mendocino?
Sid Garza-Hillman: I can, because I don’t mean to sound like an ad campaign again, but I can’t believe that I work at this place. It’s owned by Joan and Jeff Stanford; they’re owned it since 1980. They basically, from the very beginning, created a green business, I always joke, before green was even a color. They wanted to build it in that way and they bought it, this little teeny building, but since have added huge things on – there’s two other buildings and an entire organic nursery. It’s got canoeing, all this kind of stuff. But anyhow, they asked me to be the programs director for their Wellness center, called the Mendocino Center For Living Well, so I’ve been doing that. It has everything – Jeff and Joan and I definitely align in our philosophies of having health – it includes art therapy and nutrition and health and gardening and cooking and yoga and massage and tai chi and a full Chinese herbal dispensary and nature tours on the big river – and I mean, it’s just this incredible place.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve gotta get there. I’ve just gotta get there.
Sid Garza-Hillman: You’ve gotta come up. People come to that inn just to have a vacation, because of course, it’s just a beautiful 41-room inn. And they have these life-changing experiences where it happens and they didn’t even know it, and it’s just… it’s just this awesome little place.
Caryn Hartglass: Well thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food. I hope to meet you sometime and see you up there at the Sanford Inn! Thank you for writing Approaching the Natural.
Sid Garza-Hillman: Thank you so much for having me!
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you, and I just want to remind everybody – go to swingingourmets.com, that’s my latest project with responsibleeatingandliving.com. We will be premiering on Earth Day, April 22, in San Jose, California. If you’re anywhere near San Jose – if you know the way to San Jose – please join me there on April 22. So you can go to responsibleeatingandliving.com or swingingourmets.com. Have a delicious week! Bye!

Transcribed by Sarah Brown, 5/27/2013

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