Q&A with Simon HillAugust 16, 2022
Get to know Simon Hill in our exclusive Q&A. We sat down to chat about everything from what inspires him to how he manages stress and his work-life balance between being a qualified Nutritionist, published author, host of TheProof Podcast and Head of the eimele Scientific Advisory Board.
1. What is your favorite quote, saying or mantra you live by?
Be the change you want to see in the world. While this can be interpreted at the macro level, to me this is about aligning my daily actions with what I value, and holding myself accountable to that. It’s never perfect, but in my experience the more congruent my actions and values are, the better I feel.2. What’s the perfect start to the day look like?
I’ve always found this interesting. For years I used to sacrifice ‘living’ for large chunks of the year and then spend a few weeks on a dedicated holiday to finally ‘live’. I might have answered this question differently at that point in my life. Now my focus is on living every day as best as possible and I don’t need anything extravagant to achieve that. I’m best able to achieve this when I manage to keep stress down which is usually the inevitable outcome of doing exercise, eating well and spending quality time with friends and family. I never get it perfect and rather than letting that create stress I accept that that’s part of being human.
3. What inspired you to study nutrition?
I’ve always been fascinated by science. After my undergraduate degree in Physiotherapy I became very curious about how our lifestyle affects our risk of developing chronic disease - conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease etc which have become very normal in our society. I’d always been fascinated by exercise but that seemed a little less exhilarating - in that everyone agreed that it was good for you and that we should be doing more of it. Food on the other hand, and more specifically the optimal diet, was hotly debated. I wanted to understand nutrition science to come to my own conclusions and use that information to better take control of my health. I was inspired to start sharing information online in 2018 (so really not that long ago) by friends and family who seemed to enjoy the way I explained things. Interestingly, I am now beginning to dive back into the literature on exercise and healthspan/longevity because the magnitude of effect that a good weekly exercise program has on our health is gigantic - so I’ve come full circle and appreciate that we really need to be optimising diet, exercise and several other parts of our lifestyle if we are going to combat the western world we find ourselves in, which is really at odds with our genetics.
4. What’s one thing you would recommend people think about when they come across a nutrition claim online or in the media?
Run it through a quick filter. Look for the reference. Usually this is a PMID# which essentially is just a unique number that PubMed (a library for peer-reviewed papers) assigns each paper. If no reference is provided be very skeptical and ask for one. If one is provided search the PMID # in google and the paper will come straight up. Is this a study in vitro (outside of a human, in animals or a Petri dish), is it an observational study of a free-living human population or a randomised controlled intervention trial? This is important because not all science is equal and often online you’ll see people over-extrapolating - which means they take a Petri dish or animal study and create a wild claim about food x, or compound x, and human health. There are a few problems with this. One, usually a food or nutrient interacts with human physiology through multiple pathways. If they are just looking at an isolated mechanism how can we be sure that this reflects the NET effect of that food or compound? Two, usually people sharing these studies are overlooking higher quality human health outcome data which looks at what actually happens when humans are exposed to compound x or food x. I discuss all of this in more detail in my book The Proof is in the Plants and on my podcast The Proof. One episode in particular that will interest folks that want to learn more about reviewing evidence is Episode #207 with Dr Gil Carvhalo.
5. If you had to simplify nutrition advice into one recommendation, or sentence, what would it be?
Eat over 35g of fibre per day from a wide variety of plants.
6. What’s your favourite holiday destination?
I have a soft spot for Greece - have many amazing memories from my time there. I’ve also got to say Bali, Indonesia. I love the Balinese culture, the people, the food, the waves and the weather. We’ve been running retreats there for a few years now and every time I walk away feeling more inspired than ever. The next one is the first week of October this year - be great to see a few friends from the eimele community there.
7. In your book you focussed a lot on the environment. Why is eating plant-based good for the planet?
The biggest reason, other than the direct emissions from livestock, is land-use. 75% of land used for agriculture is used to produce animal foods yet that only gives us 18% of our protein. It’s been estimated that we could free up land the size of Africa if the entire world ate plant-based. This land could be rewilded back into natural ecosystems that sequester carbon (pull it down from the atmosphere and store it) and thus help cool the planet. Nature is our greatest ally in our fight against climate change - we just need the brains and humility to get out of the way.
8. What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting a plant based diet for the first time?
Transition at your own pace. After years of a low fibre high (possibly high ultra-processed food diet), antibiotic exposure, over sanitisation etc it can take some time for our microbiome to adjust to higher fibre foods. But just like going to the gym and building strength you need to progressively overload (ramp up over time) and your body will adapt. The end result is a microbiome that can unlock the power of prebiotics - acting like your own personal pharmacy dispensing a plethora of drug-like molecules that improve your gut lining, lower inflammation, lower cholesterol, improve blood glucose control, impact mood and more. We are only just starting to piece together how powerful this is.
9. How do you manage your work-life balance?
Learn to say no haha. It took me 15 years to master this skill. This can be difficult because as you make progress you get more opportunities. I used to say yes to everything and would end up doing things at a surface level and always chasing my tail. I felt like I was letting myself and others down at certain times. Now I say no more often - to protect precious time with friends and family - and to ensure that I can execute at a higher level on the things I do commit to. When I say no I often feel guilty - but I’m slowly coming to terms with this.
10. How do you manage stress?
Guided meditations. Jon Kabat-Zinn keeps me aware, centred and unflustered by the everyday stressors that typically arise.
11. What is your biggest life lesson?
Actions speak louder than words. If you want to be a leader, and a good influencer, work more on what you do, and how you make people feel, than what you say.
12. What are you working on right now?
I’m constantly trying to work out how I can better communicate science. So while I can’t give away specifics just yet, something in that realm.
Learn more about Simon Hill on our eimele Experts page.