It Starts with Food, by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, changed my world and transformed my relationship with food.
The Paleo Diet
A few months ago, my mom’s doctor ran some blood tests and, concerned by some of the cortisol and cholesterol numbers, encouraged her to start eating a Paleo diet. A traditional Paleo diet eliminates all foods that humans didn’t evolve eating–namely, processed foods, grains, legumes, and sometimes dairy. I thought she was crazy. No cheese, bread, ice cream, candy? No sandwiches? No cereal for breakfast? Horrors!
Then, in August, my mom told me about the book It Starts With Food. In one slow work afternoon, I devoured the entire preview of the book on Amazon. I tore through the authors’ website, Whole 9. I was most intrigued by their nutritional arguments: we shouldn’t stop eating foods just because people didn’t always eat them. We should stop eating foods that make us less healthy and eat only foods on which we can thrive.
The thesis of the book is this:
The food you eat either makes you more healthy or less healthy. Those are your options. There is no food neutral; there is no food Switzerland—every single thing you put in your mouth is either making you more healthy or less healthy.
More & Less Healthy
The Hartwigs then spend the entire book outlining what they believe, from nutritional research and clinical experience, makes you less healthy: all processed foods, seed oils (canola, soybean, etc.), added sugar (whether table sugar, honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, or low-cal sweeteners like Splenda, Equal and Sweet n Low), dairy, all grains (everything from whole grain wheat to white rice) and legumes (including soy, peanuts, and beans). They include their thoughts on what makes you more healthy–protein from meat, eggs, and seafood, healthy fats, vegetables, and fruits.
Most compelling, they challenge you not to take their word for it. The challenge is the Whole 30, which is to create an experiment of one: for 30 days, you eliminate the foods that they contend make you less healthy, and evaluate how you feel. Then you add foods back in, one by one, and see how your body reacts.
The Whole 30 changed my life.
For 30 days, I did not eat any added sugar, and ate fruit only in moderation. This in itself was revolutionary. I realized just how addicted to sugar I truly was, whether it was in the form of organic breakfast cereal, a morning granola bar, my two pieces of post-lunch candy, a handful of sugary trail mix in the afternoon, and Cool Whip over fruit after dinner. I went from eating three meals and three snacks a day to eating only three meals a day, without being hungry in between. (Well, by the time I got home from work I was pretty hungry, so I’d eat dinner. Because it was 7:00.)
Another life-changing thing was breakfast. I’ve always been one of those people who has to eat breakfast food for breakfast–even if I’m eating breakfast at noon. I went from the only breakfast-edible foods being cereal, eggs, and some kind of carb-loaded sugary sweetness like pancakes or French toast, to eating savory frittatas, butternut squash soup, or leftover chicken with kale in the morning. And all morning long, I couldn’t believe that I was bypassing 10:30, 11:00, 11:30… without needing a snack.
I couldn’t believe how well-nourished I felt and how my energy stayed stable throughout the day. My stomach no longer grumbled at odd times, churning through hard-to-digest foods. My skin cleared up, I swear my hair is shinier, and I’m in a better mood.
But the very first thing to change was that, three days into my 30-day experiment, I felt significantly calmer.
I’ve always had a problem with anxiety. You know: the chest-tightening, stomach-clenching, always-worrying kind of anxiety. I thought it was a spiritual and emotional problem. But it turns out that a big part of it was actually physiological. I sleep better. I freak out about things less. And I’m just happier. Sure, I still combat anxiety. But the panic button in my chest has gone mostly dormant.
The other crazy thing that occurred (I told you there were a lot) was that I voluntarily stopped drinking coffee every morning. (Those of you who know me well are saying, WHAT?!?) I’ve been drinking coffee every single morning for the past seven years. One morning, I just didn’t want my coffee. (I’d had NO plans to give up coffee along with everything else.) After a 24-hour no-caffeine-induced headache cleared, I started drinking black tea in the morning. I have coffee maybe twice a week now. I drink it because I want to, not because I can’t function with out it. And to me, that is freedom.
My Whole 30 ended on October 2. Since then, the only off-plan things I’ve eaten (which were totally worth it!) have been a serving of ice cream, and two absolutely delicious, fresh-baked apple cider donuts. (I also had a few things that weren’t really worth it–cheese in a salad, some milk in my coffee.) I have no desire to go back to my old way of eating, although I will definitely indulge in a glass of wine or a piece of cake every now and then. But it’ll be because I want to, and because I’m celebrating something–not because I feel like I have to eat anything. Because food is meant to feed my body.
Again, that’s freedom.
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