It Starts with Food
By Dallas & Melissa Hartwig
(Victory Belt Publishing, 2012)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD
Dallas and Melissa Hartwig debuted their ‘Whole30’ program in 2009, after they themselves ‘changed their lives in 30 days’ after adopting a strict Paleo diet, “no cheats, no slips.” Each chapter begins with a different Wholer30er’s testimonial of how the program has done everything from improving skin to controlling blood sugar to incredible weight loss, and everything in between. The Hartwigs base their approach on four ‘good food’ standards: that food should promote a healthy psychological response, a healthy hormonal response, support a healthy gut, and support immune function and minimize inflammation. According to the book, the program is based on scientific research (references are in the back), clinical experience (the ‘tens of thousands’ Whole30ers) and self-experimentation (the reader’s own findings while doing the program).
Synopsis of Diet Plan:
The Whole30 program is a Paleo eating pattern ‘on steroids.’ In addition to the usual Paleo no-no’s (grains, legumes, dairy), the Hartwigs also prohibit soy, alcohol, seed oils, artificial and added sugars, nor can you recreate ‘junk food’ with allowed ingredients. Weighing yourself is also not allowed, as the Hartwigs insist that the program is not for weight loss, but for becoming healthier and weighing oneself may cause participants to become discouraged if the result is not as they expected. Participants CAN eat meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit and natural fats; a recommended meal is made up of one to two ‘fistfuls’ of protein and a plateful of vegetables with a fat source, like avocado. Participants are expected to follow the rules even when eating at restaurants, which can be difficult.
The Hartwigs claim that much of our poor health is due to our food choices, especially that of sugar, which breaks all of their ‘good food’ standards by promoting overconsumption of certain foods, a hormonal imbalance, poor gut health and inflammation. Their program is an elimination diet of sorts, complete with a 10-day reintroduction period in order to assess your body’s response to the offending foods.
Nutritional Pros and Cons:
While the Whole30 program eliminates not one, but two food groups, there is a lot to like. First, it’s meant to be a short-term ‘reset’ to one’s diet by focusing on the most nutritious foods, despite the fact that the ‘diet’ itself is sustainable. Second, the program addresses readers’ addictions to problematic foods, even if those foods are ‘approved’ items. Third, the program promotes label reading and awareness of ingredients, a skill useful to anyone trying to eat healthily. Lastly, there are no complicated food lists of specific types of meats, fruits or vegetables. With very few exceptions all fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs are allowed, and there is no need to calorie-count. Recommended fat sources include coconut and olive oils, nuts, seeds and avocados. Unfortunately, the program’s ‘all or nothing’ approach and extreme restrictions may turn off many readers.
The Hartwigs’ main point is to get readers to eat only super-healthy food for 30 days; they see grains, dairy and legumes as ‘crowding out’ healthier options on your plate. They also promote the idea that gluten contributes to ‘leaky gut,’ and that legumes are poorly digested, leading to inappropriate immune responses, neither of which are supported by a preponderance of research. One of the reasons meat, seafood and eggs are recommended is that they are a complete protein (meaning they provide all the essential amino acids in the correct proportions), as well as being a good source of heme iron and B vitamins. Additionally, studies show that calcium from kale, greens, broccoli, bone broth, salmon, almonds, walnuts, oysters is better absorbed than calcium from milk.
The Whole30 isn’t for appropriate for many readers due to its restrictive nature, but the structure/challenge may appeal to others looking for or willing to make drastic changes. Because we can get everything we need nutritionally from meat, eggs, vegetables and fruit, the diet is appropriate for either a short-term reset or a longer-term eating pattern. By addressing readers’ unhealthy relationships with food and teaching label reading, the program empowers participants in a way other ‘diets’ do not. Additionally, the Whole30 program goes a step further by using online and social media resources to provide participants with support during a program. While it’s solidly in the ‘fad diet’ realm, participating in a Whole30 program once (or once a year) can help readers achieve long-term health and fitness goals and break bad food habits.
The book includes a 25-page Appendix of recipes, including ‘master’ recipes for each type of protein, as well as multiple variations for each.