The Whole30: A Chat with Authors Melissa and Dallas Hartwig

Could you give up sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy, legumes and soy for an entire month? Find out why the authors of The Whole30 think that their elimination diet can change your relationship with food forever.
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Could you give up sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy, legumes and soy for an entire month? Find out why the authors of The Whole30 think that their elimination diet can change your relationship with food forever.

Melissa and Dallas Hartwig spurred a diet revolution in 2009, when their New York Times bestselling book It Starts with Food introduced hundreds of thousands of people to a whole-food, paleo lifestyle. Their follow-up book The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Health and Food Freedom, just released in April, provides step-by-step instruction, recipes and answers to frequently asked questions about their strict 30-day elimination diet.

In a nutshell, The Whole30 requires you to give up all added sugar, alcohol, grains (even gluten-free grains), dairy, soy and legumes. After 30 days of removing these foods that may cause inflammation in the body, you take another 10 days to slowly reintroduce them in a controlled manner. In the process, you discover which foods, if any, cause you discomfort, illness or zap your energy.

The entire Clean Eating office is doing a group Whole30 this month and we’ll recap our experiences on this extreme clean diet in a later post.

Describe the Whole 30 program.

Melissa Hartwig: You can think of the Whole30 like pushing the reset button with your health, your habits and your relationship with food. For 30 days, you’ll eat nothing but whole, real, nutrient-dense food and at the end of the 30 days, you’ll reintroduce some of the foods you may have been missing and pay attention to how those foods impact how you look, how you feel, and your quality of life. So, it’s a way to really learn how food interacts with you and your own body and help you create the perfect diet for you.

What was your motivation for devising the program and eating this way?

Dallas Hartwig: The motivation was really just to make ourselves healthier. It was an experimentation process….Our experiences were so powerful that we really thought we should share this with anyone that was interested. It turns out a whole lotta people were interested.

Were you having particular health issues at the time?

DH: Nothing that we thought of as “health issues.” I was having chronic shoulder pain, but I played volleyball a lot so I thought I was just overdoing it. I think what we found through experimentation was these little nagging things were able to be improved and resolved with dietary change. But, also it brought some attention to our emotional relationship with food which we previously thought was really pretty good.

What do you find is the hardest aspect of the program for most people?

MH: People struggle with the foods that they’re leaving out: no added sugar, no alcohol is really hard for a lot of people. But, I think across the board people are surprised by having to eat and cook and prepare real food every single day...being forced to eat real food three meals a day means that there is a lot more focus on planning and preparation and cooking and that catches a lot of people off guard. That’s why we dedicate such a large portion of the new book to basic cooking skills and meal preparation techniques.

Whole30_cover (1)

Why was this book a natural follow-up to your first book,

It Starts with Food

?

DH: We never planned on writing a second book about nutrition. But what happened was It Starts with Food was largely the “why” and people asked for more “how.” We wanted to help people physically prepare for the program, but we also know that there is an emotional and psychological preparation that people really need to consider to be successful. We wanted to put all of these tips all in one place. So, we laid the first half of the book out as a guide to getting started. Then, there’s a quick reference FAQ because people don’t always want to go back through paragraphs of text. The last half of the book is the meal planning and basic cooking techniques and the actual recipes you’ll use while you’re doing the program.

How much of a hand did you have in Recipe development?

MH: Most recipes came from chef Richard Bradford. But, along the way, it was a pretty collaborative process. We’d do some recipe testing and go back to him and say ‘This is just a little bit complicated; is there any way you can simplify?’ So, he was definitely the expert, but we did weigh in here and there to make sure that the recipes were exactly what our readership needed to get started with the program.

Why do you think you’ve been so successful in the over-saturated diet/nutrition sphere?

DH: I think there are a couple of components to that. I think that one is that it addresses the emotional relationship with food in a way that most diets don’t. I think that the other piece is that it is not intended to be something that you have to come back to or stay on indefinitely…It’s a very empowering message because it gives people a tool to learn about themselves. And, in doing so, they are much more successful long-term at making choices that work well for their bodies, because they’ve learned about themselves individually. That improves success rate and that begets a lot of sharing, particularly on social media.

What do you say to people who just don’t think they can do this? Eliminate all of this food at once for 30 days?

MH: There’s a line in the Whole30 program that’s been in the rules since absolute day one, and it’s probably the most famous line. “This is not hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black is not hard.” And that’s really meant to speak to the fact that everyone has done much harder things than this. It lets you empower people to take on a 30-day, short-term nutrition reset and do really well and succeed with it. There’s a little bit of “tough” but its really heavy on the “love” and very heavy on the support that we offer people.

What kind of support?

DH: There’s all kinds of support. There’s a free Whole30 forum that’s extensive and very, very active. We have an optional 30-day email support program for people who are interested in daily email support. And there’s all sorts of support networks on our social media, our facebook page, our instagram, our twitter, and lots of other people have opted to create their own local support communities for people they know they’re doing the Whole30 with. That social support is a huge component of success.

What would you say to someone about to start a Whole30?

MH: Planning and preparation are key…If you have a plan, the brain is far more relaxed. In the absence of a plan, you can revert back to what’s easy and what’s rewarding. So, think about some of things that are going to come up in the next 30 days. For example, if I get stuck late at the office, then I’ll munch on the beef jerky or nuts and seeds I have in my desk. Or, if I get invited to a business lunch, I’ll research the restaurant ahead of time and know what I’m going to order before I go in.

Could you share a favorite whole30-compliant meal in the book?

MH: Romesco Garlic Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles is a favorite. Pretty much everyone in my family has made this and loved it.

romesco-shrimp

Romesco Garlic Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles

Serves: 2
Hands-on Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

GARLIC SHRIMP

  • 4 medium zucchini (about 4 cups of “noodles”)
  • 2 tablespoons cooking fat
  • 1/4 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

ROMESCO SAUCE

  • 2 tablespoons cooking fat
  • 1/2 cup almonds, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

GARLIC SHRIMP

  1. Peel the zucchini with a regular peeler. Then, using a julienne peeler, make long slices along one side of each zucchini until you get down to the seeded core. Rotate the zucchini and continue to peel until you’ve done all four sides. (If you have a spiral slicer, you can use that instead of a julienne peeler.) Discard the core, and set the noodles aside.
  2. Add 2 cups of water to a large pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil while you begin cooking the shrimp.
  3. Melt the cooking fat in a large skillet over medium heat, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan. When the fat is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in the garlic and cook for until aromatic, about 1 minute.
  5. Add the shrimp, toss to coat with the onion and garlic, and cook stirring, an additional 2 minutes.
  6. Add 1/4 cup water to the skillet and cover with a lid. Cook until the shrimp form the shape of a “C,” 4 to 6 minutes.
  7. Transfer to a serving bowl (draining any remaining water), and season everything with the salt and pepper.
  8. After you add the water and cover, place a colander or steamer inside the large pot of boiling water. Add the zucchini noodles, cover, and steam until the zucchini is al dente in texture, 2 to 3 minutes.
  9. Drain the “zoodles” and transfer to a serving dish or individual plates.
  10. Sprinkle the shrimp with the parsley, toss, and spoon over the zoodles. Spoon the Romesco Sauce over the shrimp and zucchini and serve.

TIP: Shrimp are actually quite easy to prepare, but unlike beef, shrimp actually get tougher the longer you cook them. Perfectly cooked shrimp will be pink in color, and shaped like a “C”—if they are curled up tightly into an “O” shape, they’re overcooked. If you’re using frozen shrimp, make sure they are completely thawed before you start cooking.

ROMESCO SAUCE

  1. Melt the cooking fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the fat is hot, add the almonds and toast for 3 minutes, stirring often.
  2. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the chili powder and paprika and cook until the flavors open up, about 30 seconds.
  3. Finally, add the tomatoes, mix into the ingredients, and cook, stirring to bring up the tasty bits from the bottom of the pan, until the tomatoes are warmed through, about 2 minutes.
  4. Transfer the sauce mixture to a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend on low speed until the sauce is smooth, then pour into a serving dish or glass storage container.
  5. Allow to cool before refrigerating; the sauce will keep for up to 5 days.

TIP: Seeding a tomato can be messy if you try to dice it before removing the seeds. Try this method: place the tomato on a cutting board, stem facing up. Slice left-to-right across the middle of the tomato, creating two equal halves. Then, scrape out the seeds and white core with a small spoon. You’ll be left with nothing but firm tomato flesh, far easier to slice and dice.

MAKE-AHEAD: You can save yourself some prep time and make your Romesco sauce up to two days in advance. This dish is just as delicious served cold, substituting Pesto for the Romesco Sauce, and cold cucumber noodles instead of steamed zoodles. You can also cheat and buy cooked shrimp—just skip the 1/4 cup water and covered cooking at the end of the third step.