Health

The Food Diaries Goes Biggest Loser

This week’s diarist is hoping a weight-loss competition will keep her motivated. Read on to see if she sticks to her goals and comes out a winner—or if a big Easter feast becomes her undoing.
Will a weight-loss competition help our diarist shed 10 pounds?

The Stats
Gender: Female
Age: 31
Height: Five-foot-eight
Location: DC’s Logan Circle
Profession: Digital communications
Self-described activity level: “It used to be pretty high, but in the past eight to ten months it’s consisted of a sporadic run, a sporadic yoga class, and some relatively low-key walking around. I’m working to change that, though, and am getting back to running two to four times a week, along with strength training and more yoga.”

The Background
“While gorging on homemade tacos the other night, my significant other—we’ll call him R—and I groaned, fell back on the couch, rubbed our widening guts, and came to the realization that we have gotten completely, and grossly, out of shape.

"The slowdown of our metabolisms in our thirties has probably contributed to it; so has the process of moving in together and constantly cooking and eating together (and, you know, never leaving our couch except to switch out the Netflix DVD). Shamefully, our general laziness has probably been the biggest cause of the 10-to-15-pound gain we’ve both incurred in the past year. (Not to mention a recent food-and-wine-filled vacation to Italy.) We both used to be relatively athletic, healthy people, but we’ve let it slip. It’s time to get back on track—literally and metaphorically.

“So we decided the best way to galvanize each other to lose the extra baggage was not by mutually supporting, respecting, helping, and motivating each other as any good couple should do. No, it was by entering into no-holds-barred competition. If I win, R has to go to a yoga class with me (the horror). If he wins, he gets to videotape me singing a song of his choice and keep it for future blackmail. (If you’d ever heard me sing, you’d understand why this cannot happen.) We bought a scale and recorded our starting weights (150 pounds for me, 198 for him). And we’re off.”

Day One
6:30 AM: I wake up and meet a friend for a three-mile run. I long ago discovered that the only way to fit exercise into my day is to do it in the morning. And the only way to do it in the morning is to rope a friend into doing it with me. After my run I come back, shower, and get ready for my day. R isn’t in the house. He’s gone on his own run. Sneaky. I suppose the competition really has started. I drink two cups of coffee with a splash of 2-percent milk and eat a smoothie of my own invention: fat-free yogurt, banana, a handful of spinach, and two tablespoons of ground flax seeds. I know it sounds gross, but I love it. I drink a few glasses of water as well.
1 PM: Gah, my normal lunchtime is supplanted by a never-ending conference call.
2 PM: Lunch consists of a Lean Cuisine meal (butternut ravioli with snap peas—three sad snap peas, to be exact) and a Fiber One chocolate bar. I generally drink a freakish amount of water, and at this point I’ve probably guzzled at least 60 ounces of water while sitting at my desk.
3 PM: I’m kind of hungry, but I’m in a competition here, so there’s no room for whiners. I reactivate my account on FatSecret.com, an online calorie-counting journal that I find super-effective. (They have smartphone apps that sync with your account, too, which make food-entering on-the-go an easy process.) I enter my caloric intake and exercise for the day. I’ve taken in only 650 calories so far today, and my exercise has already burned more than 2,000. (The site includes sleeping, sitting, etc., as calorie-burners and count them accordingly.) This means I have about 1,600 calories to use tonight before I hit my weight-burning limit of 1,800 daily calories. I’m grateful for this, because I tend to eat a lot in the evenings and probably need a bit of wiggle room here. I drink a cup of tea and more water.
6 PM: Rushing to the grocery store—I’m ravenous. I pick up the ingredients for a healthy dinner: fish, quinoa, and veggies. By the time I get home, I’m ready to eat everything in sight, but instead I snack on a can of tuna in water to quell the hunger while I cook. This definitely wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t for this competition. R comes home and uses his giant juicing machine, so I have a glass of strawberry-pineapple-apple-carrot juice before dinner, too. We end up eating halibut with cilantro chimichurra and quinoa with lots of veggies (corn, tomatoes, spinach, and zucchini) stirred in. Two ounces of wine each top off the meal, and I finish the night with a soy-ice-cream sandwich. 

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Day Two
7:30 AM: I sleep in a bit. R is up and has gone for a run—how dare he! Breakfast is a cup of coffee with 2-percent milk, fat-free peach yogurt with two spoonfuls of flax seeds, and a banana. Oh, and a leftover glass of juice from the juicer. On the way to work, I stop for an espresso and then indulge in one more cup of coffee with a splash of half-and-half when I get to work. Caffeine rules.
11:30: Mmmm, a can of Sprite Zero. Plus a few bottles of water. In case you’re wondering: I go to the bathroom a lot.
1 PM: Off to my favorite local lunch spot. I went on its Web site and realized it includes nutritional info for a lot of its products—score! I choose a chicken-salad sandwich because it’s relatively low in calories and fat compared with some of its other sandwiches, and it has some protein, which I think I’ve been lacking lately. On the way out the door to the cafe, I yoink one mini-Milky Way from the front desk. And one on the way back for a PM snack. Can’t resist those chocolates. I also pick up about half a cup of red seedless grapes from the lunch spot to snack on later. Another 17-ounce bottle of water rounds out my lunch.
2 PM: I add sitting to my exercises for the day. I keep reading that sitting is killing all of us. I consider a standing desk.
2:30: Delicious grape time.
3:35: Delicious mini-Milky Way time.
5 PM: Oh, no. A coworker has gone and bought beer. Since we’re all still stuck here late-ish on Good Friday, I can’t refuse and have a Stella. I know that booze is just lots of empty calories, so for the purposes of this competition I’ve decided to try to cut it out. But . . . cannot . . . resist.
5:10 PM: Sort of regretting Stella after realizing it has 150 calories. But it tastes so good.
8 PM: RealSimple.com has a great feature, A Month of 400-Calorie Meals, that I’ve been mining for inspiration. I make the Quick Spring Lamb and Veggie Stew and serve it over leftover veggie quinoa from last night.

Day Three
8 AM: It’s Saturday, and I’m a bit worried because my food intake on the weekends can be such a crapshoot. For breakfast, I make my spinach-yogurt-banana-flaxseed shake, plus add a small slice of Italian bread with some peanut butter and apricot jam. Two mugs of coffee round out the morning.
11:30: Oops. A morning meeting I had was canceled, so a brunch I have with a friend moves up. I really want all the greasy-looking delicious dishes, but instead I order (another) chicken-salad sandwich with dressed greens. It’s overflowing with delicious mayonnaisey chicken, but it seemed like the healthiest option on the menu. More coffee and water top off the meal.
3 PM: I go for a 4½-mile run through Rock Creek Park. Lovely!
6:45: We’re seeing a play tonight. Pre-theater, R and I have a Magic Hat #9 beer in the lobby.
7:30: I get chosen for interactive audience participation. I die on the inside.
9 PM: After a long walk around DC deciding where to eat, we settle on dinner at Eatonville. Given that the restaurant’s concept is Southern-style fried food, there’s not much that’s healthy-looking on the menu. I have a Georgia-peach cocktail, then order the crabcake with Cajun fries. Oh, the shame. A glass of white wine goes along with dinner, but I manage to resist dessert.

Day Four
This is going to be a tough one. It’s Easter Sunday at my parents’ house. Because my family isn’t really religious, this is basically an excuse to have a spring version of Thanksgiving: nothing but stuffing your belly as full as you can.
10 AM: We slept in. Over the newspaper, I make two pieces of Italian-bread toast with peanut butter and apricot jam and drink a mug of coffee and 2-percent milk.
11:30: Perhaps anticipating the hamfest tonight, we go on a rambling two-hour walk/hike throughout DC and Rock Creek Park. We consume lots of water and iced coffee.
3:30 PM: We show up at my parents’ house, and it’s all over. I’m eating Brie cheese on crackers, salmon dip on pita chips, and all sorts of salted nuts. I have two beers pre-dinner and two glasses of red wine at dinner. Dinner? It’s lasagna, ham, spinach quiche, buttered bread . . . the list goes on. Dessert is a piece of cheesecake the size of Manhattan. R (who’s tabulating his caloric intake more carefully than I am) estimates that our dinner alone was 2,400 calories. But we’re both stuffed and content and not too concerned. Tomorrow is Monday, and we’ll slide back into the regimen soon enough.

From the Expert
Enlighten Nutrition’s Elana Natker, a registered dietician in Herndon, says: “There are so many things this diarist is doing well—she’s making my job pretty easy! I love that she employs the buddy system both for weight loss and exercise. A little healthy competition with her boyfriend is a great way to keep the two inspired, and having a goal in mind can be a powerful motivator.

“Now, I haven’t met this diarist in person and don’t know anything about her other than the stats she provided, but with regard to her weight-loss goals she should feel some comfort in knowing that, even if she had gained ten or so pounds recently, she’s still within a normal body-mass index (BMI) range. Granted, BMI is only one indicator for health, but considering she’s well within the range of normal, I’m not too worried. Still, I wouldn’t begrudge her if she wanted to lose those extra pounds that have crept up over the past year—or at the very least, adopt healthier habits now to slow the expected metabolic decline (which can translate into weight gain) as she gets older.

“Now, back to what she’s doing well. Preparing meals at home and scanning the Web for healthy recipe ideas is a great way to eat healthy and be in control of what you’re eating. And it looks like she’s making some really good dinners! She’s getting plenty of vegetables, eating balanced meals (for the most part) and starts each day with a healthy breakfast. She’s also getting some good exercise, and I wholeheartedly agree with and endorse her strategy of planning morning workouts: It’s too easy to make excuses later in the day. I applaud the actions she’s taking to log her food intake and activity, though I do think logging sitting and other mundane activities can get tedious over time. But if it motivates her and keeps her honest, then I say go for it!

“I like how she planned ahead for her meal out. I’ll admit I’m surprised that a chicken-salad sandwich won out over other sandwich options; mayonnaise has very little nutrition and a lot of fat, and chicken salad typically swims in it. A grilled-chicken-breast sandwich or some kin
d of deli meat (hold the mayo) would be a much healthier choice. Nonetheless, checking menus online is a great way to plan ahead and make healthy choices.

“One plan-ahead strategy she could’ve done better is to prepare herself for Easter dinner. Granted, she did go for a long hike ahead of time, knowing what lay ahead at her parents’ house. And I do have to give her major props for recording and reporting what she ate on a holiday—special events, particularly those with a feast as the focus, can be eating land mines that are a challenge even for the most disciplined of people. Add some alcohol to the mix, and you might as well say goodbye to good intentions. What I suggest to clients is to visualize the meal and make decisions ahead of time about what they will and will not allow themselves to eat. Even better, write it down. One of the most effective tactics I suggest is to take a paper plate and jot down how you plan to fill it. Make an outline for your portion of ham, devote one-third to half of the plate to veggies, and so on. Do you really need bread and butter, or are those calories better spent with something you typically don’t eat and love? If you simply can’t pass up dessert, draw your slice of cake and make it tiny. It’s the first bite that tastes the best anyway.”

Are you brave enough to keep a food diary? We dare you. E-mail wellbeing@washingtonian.com with your information and why you’d make a good diarist. 

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