At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post called “On Turning Pro” where I laid out my plan to make some changes in my mindset — this after the roughest six months of my life, when anxiety issues came (seemingly) out of nowhere to render me pretty darn useless.
Central to my plan: reading for one hour each day.
It’s the one habit I can identify that is most closely tied to my sense of well-being. My hope was that by making sure I absolutely stuck to it, other good habits would naturally form.
And I’ve actually done it! I’ve gone through busy periods where much of the daily hour has shifted to listening to books (easy during 100-miler training), but that’s acceptable, and I must say it’s worked pretty much as I hoped it would.
I’ve taken on a lot this year — finishing up writing my book, training for a 100, moving to a new house, and having a new baby (granted, my wife played a slightly larger role in that than I did) — and anxiety has really taken a back seat to it all. Gooooo, reading!
My Summer Reading Recommendations
Anyway … in this past month I decided to read five health and running books that had piled up on my to-read list. Many of them had been sent to me for review by publishers, and I had back-burnered them in favor of books that I personally wanted to read. (By the way, I’m trying to get back into updating my GoodReads account, so you can follow me on there if you’re into that sort of thing.)
But I decided to get through them, and to my surprise, I really liked every one of them! This usually doesn’t happen; I’m no stranger to abandoning a book midway through if I’m not enjoying it. But I was never even tempted with these.
Here’s a quick look at what I took from each of them, so you can decide if there’s room in your suitcase for one of them this summer. Oh yeah, and they’re not all brand new — some had been on my shelf since last year. I present them here in no particular order, except that the first one had the biggest immediate impact on me (perhaps not coincidentally, it was the only one I purchased myself).
1. Super Immunity, by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
I had heard of Joel Fuhrman before (my wife had read Disease Proof Your Child, and I’d seen him in Vegucated), but after a few conversations with Ray Cronise, I decided I ought to take the time to really understand what Fuhrman is teaching.
What I found in Super Immunity was an approach to nutrition that I’d long been waiting for — one that, while ultimately delivering the message “eat whole, plant foods,” underpinned the philosophy with science and logic that resonated with me better than others’ arguments.
The biggest takeaway, for me, is the idea that H = N/C (health equals nutrients over calories), which translates into the message that in order to live the longest, healthiest lives, we should seek to maximize nutrient intake while minimizing caloric intake (once meeting our basic energy needs, of course). This equation, of course, is Fuhrman’s main reason for advocating phytonutrient-dense plant foods over calorically-dense animal products.
Super Immunity is the book I wish my parents would read. No doubt, it’s strict, and it delivers news most people don’t want to hear: animal products, added salt, oils, caffeine, and alcohol are mostly bad — limit them to very small amounts in your diet. I know that many are turned off by anyone who so much as allows any animal products in a healthy diet, but I don’t mind it. Much the opposite, in fact — I eat 100% vegan, and partly for ethical reasons, but I think the lack of an ethical bent to a doctor’s teachings helps to build trust in otherwise skeptical readers.
Highly recommended. If you’re interested, check out my notes from Super Immunity.
2. The Longest Race, by Ed Ayres
Ed Ayres is the founder of Running Times magazine, but The Longest Race isn’t a typical Rodale book (the publisher that owns Running Times and Runner’s World). In fact, it’s not a Rodale book at all — it’s published by The Experiment, an independent publisher, who, by the way, puts out a lot of good vegetarian and vegan stuff.
Ed tells his story against the backdrop of the JFK 50, a historic ultramarathon. But his attempt to set an age-group record at the race is merely a metaphor for what the book is really about: our “endurance” as a species on this planet. Though interspersed with running gems that only someone who has been at it for 50+ years could provide, the underlying theme is sustainability, and it’s well done. I admit that I’m not as in touch with environmental issues as I ought to be, and this book presented a nice (well, not nice) overview of the gravity of the situation.
Ed Ayres happens to be vegetarian — not surprising, considering his interest in environmentalism, but his diet is only mentioned in passing. Read this book to feel excited about running, in a way that reminded me of how I felt while reading Born to Run and Eat & Run, but you’ll take away a much bigger, more important message.
3. Whole, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
This is your big boy. While the other books on this list were fairly quick reads, Whole took me quite a bit longer, at close to 300 pages and with material that’s fairly dense. In it, China Study author T. Colin Campbell argues for a wholistic (means essentially the same as “holistic,” but avoids the woo-woo connotations) approach to nutrition, as opposed to the prevailing reductionist approach in which scientists focus on variables in isolation, and far too often miss the bigger picture.
Whole was not what I was expecting — I thought it would be a long, detailed argument about why whole foods are better for us than processed foods, manufactured “health” foods, and supplements. Instead, it’s a much deeper look first at scientific philosophy and later at the institutions (governmental, corporate, academic, and even charitable) whose survival and/or profitability depend on ensuring that the reductionist approach lives on.
Basically: nobody profits when the advice is “eat whole plant foods.” But there’s plenty of profit, promotions, and pats on the back when the way to treat illness is “take drug X, buy supplement Y, and have procedure Z done.” Campbell is fair in pointing out that most individuals in the so-called health industry do have our best interests at heart, but are part of a system that does not, and one that is very good at hiding it.
Yes, it’s kind of conspiracy theory, but I get the sense it’s very true, and so pervasive that most of us don’t even see it anymore. Which is scary and overwhelming, and there aren’t a lot of solutions — Campbell says that it starts with changing the way you eat, on an individual level. Beyond that? I suppose it’s up to us to figure it out.
4. Running with the Kenyans, by Adharanand Finn
On a much lighter note … this one’s about running, and a British reporter’s attempt to discover just what it is that makes the Kenyan’s so damn good at it.
Finn and his family go to live in Iten, Kenya, a town famous for producing some of the best runners in a country where everybody is a good runner. Among other “secrets,” Finn discovers that barefoot running, a childhood filled with running, altitude, and a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet based on the staple ugali are responsible for the Kenyan dominance of the sport.
I’m sure I won’t be the first to point out that Running with the Kenyans feels a little bit like Born to Run, with the whole “let’s find out what makes this mysterious, impoverished group of people so good at running” theme. But the two are different: while Born to Run might be described as thrilling at times, Running with the Kenyans is relaxed — at all times. The “secrets” really aren’t so secret, nor are they of the variety that we outsiders can easily apply to our running and see sudden, massive improvements — and I’m sure Finn would be the first to admit this. Indeed, one of the jokes in the book is about foreigners coming into Kenya looking for exactly those kind of quick-fix secrets.
But even without the excitement of Mexican drug cartels, I found this one to be a really pleasant read, part travel-writing and part running experiment. Of all the books in this post, the light Running with the Kenyans will fare the best for lazy afternoons on the beach.
5. Approaching the Natural: A Health Manifesto, by Sid Garza-Hillman
Finally, the quickest read of them all. At 128 pages, and easy-reading ones at that, Approaching the Natural is perhaps the book with which the most No Meat Athlete readers will find themselves nodding their heads along. And if you appreciate my dumb jokes, or at least don’t hate them enough to unsubscribe, then you’ll probably have the same tolerance for Sid Garza-Hillman‘s.
I think of this one as more a lifestyle handbook than a manifesto — it touches on everything from plant-based diet to minimalist running to grounding (new to me) to meditation to journaling to sending your buddies an occasional text to say, “What’s up, it’s been a while.” If you’ve been frustrated with strict diets or exercise programs in the past, you’ll like Sid’s alternative approach with very few absolute rules. I love Sid’s approach to habit change (mainly, start small and don’t worry about perfection, hence the idea in the title of “approaching” rather than attaining), making the whole thing seem very realistic … which, if it’s natural, it should be, right?
This could be another good beach read — though I bet it’s even better over coffee before the rest of the family wakes up to hit the beach (and Sid won’t kill you for the java habit; he’s a coffee fiend himself!) .
For more from Sid, check out his appearance on the Rich Roll podcast.
Alright, get reading! And don’t forget, come nerd out with me on GoodReads if you’re on there.