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Book Review - It Starts With Food

“It Starts With Food” by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig has been on my radar for while, mostly due to a large number of clients who were curious about the Whole30 approach. In one sentence, this yet another “change your life in 30 days” book.

The authors identify Robb Wolf as a dear friend and mentor, so it is hardly surprising that Whole30 is essentially a stricter version of paleo.


YES: Meat, seafood, eggs, lots of vegetables, some fruit, and plenty of healthy fats. NO: Added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes or dairy. NO: Do not attempt to recreate junk foods or desserts by using “approved” ingredients. NO: Do not step on a scale for the entirety of the program.

Of course, given my propensity to turn myself into a guinea pig at every opportunity, I decided to undertake Whole30, and see if it would, indeed, change my life. But that’s for another blog post.


1. Focus on whole foods.

The authors encourage you to move away from calorie counting, and focus on the quality of your food instead, basing your diet around animal protein, fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as nuts and seeds. Awesome.

2. Emphasis on experimentation.

The book encourages the trial and error approach to the dietary suggestions provided. Well, that’s a relief. Although with all the militant language throughout the book, it does not really feel this way sometimes.

3. Additional resources.

I loved the recipes included in the back as well, especially the formulaic meal planner: e.g. take any one of these things, add any three of these things, and pick one of these spice blends. Cook. It’s a simple approach, and helps with batch cooking.

The corresponding blog provides a great accompaniment to the book – many blog posts address specific populations, for example, addressing concerns of pregnant women, or those with history of eating disorders. The website also offers a number of great ready-to-print resources, such as a grocery list, meal planner sheet, etc.


1. Sensationalistic.

The claim to change your life in 30 days says it all.

If someone says they have all the answers, they are either lying or delusional. The Hartwigs really seem to think that they have all the answers. Eat this way, and you will feel unending energy, your skin will glow, your teeth will shine, and your third eye will open. Not to mention, your eczema will clear up, your arthritis will get better, and your sex drive will skyrocket.The presentation of this particular dietary approach is cure-all is a major turn-off.

Ironically, people are drawn to this radical approach, because abstinence is easier than moderation. It’s easier to label cookies as evil, and not to have any, than to just have one.

The heavy emphasis on miracle stories throughout the book takes away from its credibility. “I have type 2 diabetes and, after hearing about the side effects of the medicine I was taking, decided that I wanted to stop my meds. By the fifth day of the program, my blood sugar was in normal range!”

Many report losing 10-15 pounds after doing Whole30. Ok, losing 10-15 pounds in a month is not normal, unless you are cutting weight for a competition. And you definitely should not expect those pounds to stay off.

2. Inconsistent.

This is an incredibly restrictive approach to eating. In other words, this is a… diet. There is no way around it. Cutting out food groups because they are “evil” seems overly simplistic. Yet, what is even more frustrating is a lack of consistency in what the authors suggest.

Fruit and vegetables are ok. But white potatoes are not.

“If we are trying to change your habits, it’s best to leave white, red, purple, Yukon gold, and fingerling potatoes off your plate”.

Okkk? But why? Oh, and I was informed by the Whole30 Facebook group, that since the book came out, the authors have changed their tune, and decided that white potatoes are ok now.

Legumes are not ok. But green beans are ok. And snow peans are ok. Confused yet?

Sandwich wrap substitutes, made of nothing but coconut, first appeared among Whole30 “approved” foods. Now they are not. Hartwigs suggested that they are removing these wraps from the list “in an effort to apply consistent logic to the rules, and to avoid further confusion”. I would say, this particular effort failed.

3. Pseudoscientific.

The authors wave away any concerns about the paleo approach by saying: “We are far more concerned with health than we are with history”. Essentially, the sentiment expressed is: “Who the hell cares what history says, if you will be healthier eating this way!”. Fair enough. This may, indeed, be enough of a reason for many, however, that (conveniently) removes the need for any justification at all, and turns the book into “eat this, but not this, because we said so!”. Ummmm… no.

Perhaps, the most depressing piece is that every chapter of the book refers to a long list of references in the back, however, these references seem to refer to “the list of research articles and books that we perhaps read at some point”, rather than actual references to the text written – the way references are supposed to be used. The References section seems to be slapped together for no other reason, but to give credibility to a book that is largely a personal account of someone’s food experiment.

Here’s a quote I quite enjoyed: “Can anyone make a case that added sugar contributes positively to our health? […] In a most unscientific experiment, we Googled “sugar is healthy” to see if we could find any support for this hypothesis. The first link that appeared was titled “Experts agree – sugar is a health destroyer”. True story.”

And another one: “We assure you, no one ever made herself diabetic by overeating beets or pumpkin. We don’t have a scientific study to support this statement, but we’re pretty sure it’s true”.

Tongue in cheek? Sure. But that pretty much sums up the “science-y” approach of the book. I rest my case.


Watch your language! No, seriously… Watch that language.

1. Overly simplistic.

The authors attempt to provide a basic picture of how your digestive system works, and how hormones affect the body. If you generally do not like when others talk down to you, brace yourselves.

Any reference to scientific terms and processes is dubbed as “science-y stuff”. Perhaps so the dumber ones of us can find those sections easily and skip them?

Instead, you get gems like this:

2. Condescending.

While the messages are often well-meaning, I had real trouble getting over the condescending tone in which they were presented. “What are you, twelve?”, the authors ask.

“But I don’t like vegetables!” You want to know what we tell them? We don’t care. We say it nicely, of course. See, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like vegetables, because we’re all grown-ups, and sometimes, grown-ups have to do things they don’t like to do.

This seriously sounds like something I would say to a toddler.

3. Prohibitive

The book’s prohibitive language started giving twitches by the end. The book is peppered with “not allowed”, “not permitted”, “good”, “bad”, “sneaky” references. This approach not only comes across as pushy and obnoxious, but also creates a view of food as enemy, and takes away the individual’s sense of agency.

“It’s not your fault if you eat a box of cookies! It’s because sugar is sneaky! It makes you eat it!”



I have to admit that I am, perhaps, the biggest education snob out there. Hence, I was (and still am) incredibly sceptical about a nutrition book written by a physiotherapist and a kettlebell instructor.

I’m happy to read a personal memoir of someone’s food journey. I’m also happy to read a science-based book on principles of nutrition and digestion. This was mostly the former, mascarading as the latter. It’s just a little too Dr. Oz for me – simplistic and screams pop psychology.

Ironically, I would still recommend this book to some individuals. If you are looking for a radical “jump start” to a healthier diet or a “cleanse”, then try this out. I’d rather you ate whole foods, including meats, vegetables and fruit for a month, then drink some horrendous concoction of cayenne and lemon, and give yourself enemas. Nuff said.

* * *

Publisher’s Description:

It Starts With Food outlines a clear, balanced, sustainable plan to change the way you eat forever—and transform your life in profound and unexpected ways. Your success story begins with the Whole30, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig’s powerful 30-day nutritional reset.

Since 2009, their underground Whole30 program has quietly led tens of thousands of people to weight loss, enhanced quality of life, and a healthier relationship with food—accompanied by stunning improvements in sleep, energy levels, mood, and self-esteem. More significant, many people have reported the “magical” elimination of a variety of symptoms, diseases, and conditions in just 30 days.

Book Details:

Title: It Starts With Food Authors: Dallas and Melissa Hartwig Category: Nutrition (sort of) My Rating: 2 stars

YOUR TURN: Would you consider doing Whole30? Why? Why not? What would you expect to find?

Hugs, Solo

******************************************************************************************** *Have you heard? On August 16th, 2014, I will be running Tough Mudder Toronto blindfolded (yes, blindfolded!) in order to raise awareness for visually impaired athletes and to become a better guide runner. In October, I will be guiding Rhonda, a dear friend, an ultra runner and a visually impaired athlete through her very first Tough Mudder. Please read more and donate to the cause!


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