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Book Review: It Starts With Food

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 I started researching the diet through Rob Wolff and The Primal Blueprint’s Mark Sisson. I was intrigued, but not sold. So, humans evolved eating a certain way. So what?

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.

Some crazy things happened during the month of September.

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.

Like what you read about this book? I earn a small commission if you click through this link and buy from Powell’s. Happy reading!

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Filed under: Nonfiction, Paleo · Tags: , ,

6 Responses to "Book Review: It Starts With Food"

  1. Erin@Whole9Life says:

    Hi Brooke,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful review of ISWF and congratulations on your successful Whole30 journey! I was wondering if you could please email me at if you would be willing to let us share a portion of your review on our testimonials page (we would credit you, of course, and link back to your full article). Let me know!

    Thanks again!

    1. Brooke says:

      Erin, thanks so much! The Whole 30 had a huge impact in my life. I’d love to share my story!

  2. [...] Last week I shared my journey with the Whole 30, a month-long nutritional program that made me feel AWESOME. I radically changed my eating habits overnight. Since our habits define us and how we spend our time, here are the best strategies I found for starting a new habit and sticking to it. [...]

  3. [...] news! Part of my review on It Starts With Food, which detailed my experience with the Whole 30, was picked up by the Whole 9 site!  Check out my experience of new-found calm under Testimonials, [...]

  4. I don’t know how I missed this post the first time, but I’m so glad to have read it now (and to have shared this journey with you)! Off to share it now. :)

  5. john says:

    Hi Brooke!

    I just read your story and I am quite intrigued. I suffer from anxiety and just happen to come across your story as I was researching the paleo lifestyle.

    Do you think you could shoot me an email with how its helped so far since you’ve written this!?


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