It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways by Dallas & Melissa Hartwig wowed me in a big way. I didn’t realize what a gem it was when the review copy originally arrived in my mail box many months ago. Unlike the cookbooks I frequently receive, this one didn’t have a flashy cover or pages and pages of food photos. What it did have was not obvious to me until I began to read it in mid April, just before leaving for a trip to Oxnard, CA, for Primalcon 2013. Once I got started, I didn’t want to stop. I read the book cover to cover in less than a week.
What I liked most
I liked the clarity, simplicity, and directness with which the authors outlined the details and benefits of their program, a 30-day whole foods-based nutritional re-set that has changed thousands of people’s lives in unexpected ways, helping them lose weight, feel great, and develop a healthier relationship with food. I liked the way the authors, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, succinctly summarized the science behind their approach and on the ways that food affects our bodies. Their sections on the effects of refined and polyunsaturated vegetable oils, sugar, and alcohol, are particularly valuable because these substances make up a large portion of the calories in most modern diets, even the diets of many health enthusiasts.
I liked the way the Hartwigs outlined their approach to clean eating, encouraging an awareness of how food affects us and of how particularly foods may be affecting us in ways we may miss until we cut them out of our diets for a period of time. I liked their emphasis on healthy habits, such as eating at the table, in a relaxed fashion and without distractions, such TV, phone, and email, that can lead to unconscious and over-eating. They offer other practical tips that enhance digestion and health.
It Starts with Food doesn’t require weighing and measuring portions or counting calories. Instead, it focuses on eating generous amounts of foods with a high nutrient, low calorie density. The authors offer tips for adjusting calories upward for those who are very active; however, everyone even those with high energy needs, will benefit from the super nutritious foods they recommend. Easy to apply rules of thumb will teach you how to assemble meals using your fingers and hands (rather than a food scale or measuring cup). You’ll find a meal planning template and meal map, a detailed shopping guide, suggestions for dietary supplements, and a sampling of simple recipes. The meal map is very similar to the meal planning templates I’ve used and shared with my students for more than 20 years. It’s practical and easy to apply.
Although high quality protein and healthy fats are of prime importance in the Whole 30, the Hartwigs place a great deal of emphasis on fresh vegetables and on making them the largest volume of what you eat in meals (something I’ve advocated for years but noticed that some paleo diet books fail give short shrift to.) This makes it easier for people to lose weight, if they need to, and to maintain a healthy weight. It also makes the diet more nutritious and more economical than if protein foods are over-emphasized.
If you suffer from food allergies, an autoimmune disorder, IBS, IBD, or some other digestive disorder, or if you’re very active, pregnant, lactating, you follow a vegetarian diet, or you’re cooking for kids, the Hartwigs have a special section to address modifications you may need to make to their program, particularly after you’ve completed the first 30 days.
Why do the Whole30?
By doing a Whole30 and eliminating certain foods for at least 30 days many people discover connections they never knew existed between what they eat and how they feel and function. Because the plan focuses on super nutritious foods, you won’t be missing out on any vital nutrients by eliminating sugar and other sweeteners, alcohol, dairy products, grains, legumes, and processed foods. In fact, most people will find that their diets become more nutritious when they follow the program outlined in this book.
What’s in it for you?
The Hartwigs report that many of their clients and readers have experienced stunning improvements in sleep, mood, energy, self esteem, digestion, metabolism, and other aspects of health along with the elimination of many chronic symptoms and conditions, such as elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, acne, eczema, psoriasis, sinus infections, allergies, migraines, asthma, acid reflux, celiac disease, Crohn’s, and IBS, in just 30 days.
Cold turkey or transition?
Some paleo and primal diet advocates recommend that people do a strict 30-day food challenge, where they follow the diet to the letter, when embarking on this new way of eating. The idea is that if people make big changes upfront, they’re more likely to see big results and feel inspired to keep going. In contrast, those who make only minor changes in diet, preferring a slow transition, may be left taxiing down the runway, never experiencing enough improvement in how they look and feel to motivated to make more more changes or to keep going.
After reading It Starts with Food, I’m a fan of the Hartwig's approach and plan to recommend it to my cooking students and clients who want to see rapid results. Even if you already eat a whole foods, real foods, paleo, or primal diet or something close to it, you may benefit from doing a Whole30 to quell cravings and reset your taste receptors and habits, so you’re more satisfied with simple foods and with the natural sweetness found in fresh fruits and vegetables without added sweeteners.
My own whole 30
I’ve been eating a diet of primarily whole-foods and one that is produce-dominated, with 3 to 5 USDA servings of produce per meal, for more than 25 years. Including dark leafy green, cruciferous, and other colorful vegetables or vegetables and fruits breakfast, lunch, and dinner and filling one-half to three fourths of my plate with vegetables or vegetables and fruits is a long-standing habit for me. A large proportion of my diet is and has been organic for many years. Most of the animal products I eat come from organic, pasture raised, or at least naturally raised, hormone and antibiotic-free sources. I’ve avoided fast food, hydrogenated fats and oils, and soda for almost 30 years. I eat out only infrequently, preferring home cooked meals. I'm conscious of the fats and oils I use and the only refined sugar that comes into my house comes in the from of dark chocolate bars and chocolate chips I occasionally purchase and consume. (Once in a while I eat something that contains refined sugar but it's not a daily or weekly occurence.) I use modest amounts of honey, maple syrup, and coconut palm sugar in cooking or baking, being conscious of using as little as I can to achieve a satisfying flavor.
Still, it’s easy to get out of balance with sweets and sweeteners, particularly with all of the blogs, websites, and cookbooks dedicated to making desserts and with our culture's obsession with sweets. As I cooking instructor, I'm often showing people how to make low impact desserts with healthier ingredients and much smaller amounts of unrefined sweeteners. That means I'm regularly testing and tasting other people's recipes or making dessert recipes from my own cookbooks. Even though I give away more of the desserts than I eat, I knew I could benefit from going without sweets and sweeteners for at least 30 days.
I know that the more often I eat sweetened desserts, even if they’re low in unrefined sugars, the more often I tend to want them. From past experience I know that cutting out sweeteners for a period of time can reset my taste receptors so that I’m supremely satisfied with the sweetness of juicy fresh orange, a crisp apple, a small bowl of berries, or a baked sweet potato. I knew I needed to do this. I knew that cutting out stevia as well, even though it doesn’t contain any calories, would only enhance this process. And that’s exactly what I found by doing my own Whole30. It didn’t take more than a few days for the benefits to kick in: a more acute sense of taste and satiety from fresh foods.
I did make a handful of minor deviations during the month (such as cooking classes where I needed to taste something to adjust the sweetness or to grade a student’s final recipe in a course I was teaching, a social situation in which I ate a small amount of cheese in a salad, and a couple of days when I needed to fast for medical reasons and chose to use whey protein). Still, I got a lot of mileage out of doing a Whole 30 and recommend that you try it. You can read more on the author's web site, if you like.
It Starts with Food would be great for those new to paleo, primal, whole foods, and real foods diets and for those who have been eating this way for a while but have gotten lax with the details and want to fine tune their diets to see what further improvements can be had. It is also ideal for anyone suffering from health challenges who wants to see what a difference diet can make in halting or reversing the disease process.
I’ve flagged several recipes that I want to try from the Hartwig's book. I’ll take pictures and share them with you when I do. (There are eight pages of food photos in the middle of the book and they look great!)
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