A “Flexitarian” Writes a Food Diary

This most-of-the-time vegetarian has a hard time fitting balanced meals into her busy schedule. Will our expert approve?

Our diarist is bananas for this Icelandic-style yogurt.

The Stats
Gender: Female
Age: 22
Height: Five-foot-four
Location: Bethesda
Profession: Research scientist at NIH
Self-described activity level: “Low-ish. I’m not a big gym person or runner. I fit yoga in when I can, but for the most part I just stay active by walking places, riding my bike, or playing tennis or golf. A word about my diet: About a year and a half ago, I went totally vegetarian for a few months. I was motivated by a combination of health, environmental, and ethical reasons. While it was hard giving up meat and seafood, the experience showed me how delicious and satisfying a veggie-only diet can be. Currently, I’d describe myself as a ‘flexitarian.’ I eat mostly vegetarian, but I have fish a few times a week and meat about once a month.”

Day One
7 AM: Alarm goes off.
7:50: Out of bed after “snoozing” the alarm more times than I can count. Snoozing is a habit I’ve been meaning to kick but haven’t managed to yet. It doesn’t help that my boss is super-nice and lets me come in whenever I want.
8:35: Off to work with 24 ounces of homemade iced green tea and my packed lunch in hand. I like my iced tea to actually taste like tea, not just straight sugar, and I haven’t found a bottled tea I like yet. Lucky me, I catch the NIH campus shuttle, so I only have to walk 5 of the 20 minutes it normally takes me to get from my apartment to work.
9:20: After setting up my first experiment of the day, I start in on a handful blackberries and plain Siggi’s skyr yogurt, the traditional yogurt of Iceland, according to the label. I discovered Siggi’s at Whole Foods during the summer, and I have to say it’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever tasted. It tastes oddly dry but super-creamy at the same time. Delicious. The greatest part is that a container has 15 grams of protein and no fat.

Noon: Leave my workstation to nuke my lunch. Leftover beans and rice inside a large flour tortilla with cheese and salsa. More substantial than what I normally eat—I hope I don’t fall victim to a food coma in a few hours.
2:30: Super-thirsty. Fill up my awesome University of Maryland Tervis Tumbler from the water cooler. Back to work, no food coma.
3:30: More water with my watermelon.
6:30: A few polite bites/sips of udon-noodle soup my boyfriend grabbed for me because he thought I’d be hungry after training for my new part-time job at a rock-climbing gym. I guess he forgot we’re going to a friend’s house in Baltimore for dinner and drinks. Gotta love Fridays.
8:15: Two pieces of veggie pizza and two glasses of red wine. Got to keep things balanced. Off to a local comedy show.
8:50: Eating my first-ever deep-fried Oreo and wishing I had a elementary-school-style carton of milk.

Day Two
12:30 AM: Back to my friend’s house. I have half a glass of Dogfish Head Sah’tea Brew, beer that tastes like chai tea and that has become my new go-to hostess gift. It’s followed by a glass of white wine and some stinky French cheese.
8 AM: Up and on my way back to DC because my boyfriend has to work.
9:30: Two cups of herbal tea with honey and two miniature blueberry scones courtesy of Let’s Dish’s premade scone batter. Attempt to have a productive day.
2 PM: Run out for a “veggie delight” sandwich and a cup of vegetable-cabbage soup from Woodmont Deli, one of the few delis in Bethesda with decent vegetarian options. I get the dressing on the side so I can just add a bit. San Pellegrino orange with lunch followed by lots of water throughout the rest of the afternoon.
7:10: Another cup of herbal tea as I get ready for dinner and a movie with friends.
8 PM: Cava rice bowl with falafel and a glass of white wine.
8:45: Large cup of Darjeeling tea and an apple tart from one of those irresistible bakeries.

Day Three
9 AM: Two scones (they’re really not very big) and two cups of herbal tea. My throat is killing me, and I’m sneezing up a storm. Either I’m sick or finally succumbing to allergy season. Lots and lots more tea this morning.
2 PM: Brunch at a friend’s place—buffet style, which is always dangerous because I tend to eat too little or too much. Fortunately, this friend is Indian and his family is vegetarian-only at home. I fill one plate with a bit of everything including naan, spiced chickpeas, Asian noodle salad, and couscous to have with my mimosa. I go back for some more chickpeas and noodle salad. I have three fruit-jelly squares for dessert—basically fancy versions of those sugar-coated jelly-fruit slices from when I was a kid. They’re made with real fruit but probably have just as much sugar as the kid version.
7 PM: Half an order of vegetarian Tokyo Dashi soup with udon noodles from Raku in Bethesda. I love this soup because they pack it with veggies and tofu, and the broth is deliciously flavorful without being too salty. Plus, one order is only $9 and plenty to share or split over two meals. I also have a glass of red wine.
9 PM: I have one of the mini-Butterfingers my roommate put out to share, and a hot toddy (tea with honey and whiskey) because I really don’t feel well. Off to bed.

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Day Four
6:45 AM: Alarm goes off.
7:20: Out of bed. Not so bad on the snoozing front today. Still not feeling so hot.
8 AM: Out the door with a huge cup of green-ginger tea and a small blueberry scone. Packed lunch in hand. I have to drive to work today.
11 AM: Apple and five-ish pieces of New York cheddar cheese along with a vitamin-D supplement. I’m not a big supplement person, but I haven’t seen much of the sun recently (blame the weather and work) and none of my dairy products are fortified with vitamin D. Down a Tervis of water.
12:45 PM: Leafy salad with tomatoes, carrots, and blue-cheese dressing. Same Tervis of water as earlier. I hope I can finish before my interns show up at 1. I always feel awkward when they catch me eating lunch.
4 PM: Get to leave work a little early after an awesome lecture by Jane Goodall.
4:30: Leftover half of veggie-dashi soup and some homemade iced tea.
5 PM: The weather is so nice, I just want to be outside! But I’m still not feeling so good and now my asthma’s acting up (yep, I’m a science nerd with asthma, so cliché). Ruling out anything truly active, I opt for a nice long walk around Bethesda with my boyfriend. We grab a couple of caramel candies to snack on and manage a pit stop and a local shoe boutique.
8 PM: To Harp and Fiddle for Monday-night trivia and some dinner. I order fish and chips and ask for green beans instead of slaw. When they come, however, the green beans are just as greasy as the fries, so I may have been better off with the slaw. Guinness to wash it down, followed by half a Coke to sharpen my brain for trivia. 

Day Five
7 AM: Alarm goes off.
7:20: Up (good for me) to get ready for the day and pack lunch.
8 AM: Start the 20-minute walk to work in the rain. Luckily I have hot tea and a scone to keep me warmish.
12:20 PM: Where did the morning go? A pear, half a cup of spinach orzo, and the same cup of tea as earlier for lunch.
5:40 PM: I wrap up my day’s work and realize I’m starving and thirsty. I still have the unfinished tea from this morning on my desk. Dump the tea and open a skyr yogurt to eat on the walk home.
6:30 PM: I eat the salad that was supposed to be my lunch. I added some kumquats to mix it up, but I’m not a huge fan, so I avoid about half of them. I also have a huge glass of iced green tea followed by a less huge glass of water. Contemplate making ravioli for dinner (I have a pre-prepared Let’s Dish meal in my freezer that looks super-easy. The scones are from Let’s Dish, too, and they’ve been treating me well). Realize I can’t see the TV from my kitchen, and decide to watch Mad Men while I figure out if I’m really hungry for a big dinner. Snack on some really, really delicious pistachios.
7 PM: Get a text from a friend inviting me to dinner around 8:30. So much for the ravioli. My roommate comes home with his golden retriever. He’s been keeping his dog at his parents’ house on the Eastern Shore and he just brought it to our Bethesda apartment yesterday. I’ve never had a big dog before, and I’m not really that great with animals in general, so I’m a little nervous.
8 PM: Roommate goes to work leaving me alone with the dog. I’m sitting on the couch, and the dog apparently wants to sit on my lap even though he’s definitely not a lap dog. Dressed to go out and not really knowing how to handle this, I retreat behind the kitchen table until my friend picks me up.
8:45: Dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant with my friend. I have a Thai iced tea and tofu with vegetables in garlic sauce along with a little rice.
10:30: Back home. Attempt to walk the dog. I manage to get him outside but quickly realize he’s a lot stronger than me and has no intention of staying near the apartment, so I corral him back inside. Clean apartment and read a bit before bed. 

Day Six
7 AM: Alarm goes off.
7:30: Up, get ready for the day, etc. I pack my lunch in an insulated lunch box with an ice pack so that I can keep it at my desk instead of in the fridge down the hall. Pass on packing a salad today in exchange for about two cups of watermelon.
8:20: Walk to work with the last of the blueberry scones and a cup of tea that promises to energize my brain. Resolved to actually finish my tea today.
10:30: Finish my not-so-warm tea (yay!) and start on watermelon. Brain feels energized but not so focused.
12:20 PM: Two cups of spinach orzo. Tervis of water to work on in the afternoon. Running an experiment that takes about 50 percent of my attention, and actually managing to be productive with the other 50 percent (maybe the tea gets some credit after all).
2 PM: Water, a vitamin D supplement, an apple, and six bite-size pieces of cheddar cheese.
5:15: Walk the 20 minutes home.
6 PM: After walking the dog, doing the dishes, and packing my overnight bag, I’m off to my mom’s house in Annapolis for the night.
7:30: Meet my mom at a specialty-cocktail-and-small-plates lounge in Annapolis. To start, I have a ‘Pear’fect Tripple, which has pear purée and egg white along with alcohol and other flavoring. We share a cheesy flatbread, which I follow with a scallop dish, a glass of white wine, and bread pudding for dessert. Yum! 

From the Expert
Ginny Inglese, a registered dietician at Vienna's Total Health Concepts, says: “This hard-working, time-crunched diarist is not unlike most professionals who feel they’re too busy to plan healthy meals and snacks. She finds herself eating in transit and making quick and convenient food choices that are probably not the healthiest. Her frequent breakfast choice—a blueberry scone washed down with a lot of herbal teas—is easy, yes, but it lacks protein. Protein stabilizes blood sugar throughout the day and prevents sugar crashes. The diarist would benefit from adding a protein source to each meal and snack to help maintain energy levels and offset overeating.

“She should also learn to listen to her body and recognize hunger cues; timing her meals right is critical. Think of your food as fuel for your body. Try not to wait too long to eat between meals—small frequent meals are best. Meals that are more than three to four hours apart may lead to low blood sugar, fatigue, irritability, mood swings, poor concentration, decreased productivity, and cravings. This diarist’s inconsistent eating patterns often leave her running on empty.

“Even though this diarist enjoys drinking tea and having an alcoholic beverage, those habits might be why she feels so thirsty and exhausted, and has trouble getting out of bed in the morning and maintaining steam throughout the day. Alcohol and tea consumption contributes greatly to dehydration and fatigue, and might be affecting her metabolism and sleep patterns. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day.  And don’t wait until you feel thirsty—you may already be dehydrated. Without the proper amount of water, the body is unable to process nutrients efficiently, which means it takes more time and e
nergy metabolize meals. The result? The dreaded ‘food coma.’

“Many of us get into ruts picking the same food items that are quick and easy, but variety is essential for balanced eating and overall wellbeing. From the looks of it, this diarist’s intake is lacking in calcium, fiber, iron, and omega 3 fatty acids, among other nutrients. Nowadays it takes five or more fruits and vegetables, four or more calcium-rich sources, and other nutrient-dense foods to meet recommended daily requirements.

“A simple rule: If you don’t enjoy a certain food, don’t eat it. While it might provide the nutrients you need in your diet, there are other foods that can fill the same needs. Take a risk and try something new. You may be surprised to discover a new favorite.

“Despite eating on the run, you can still get variety and balance—carbohydrates plus protein—from quick and easy meals and snacks. A few examples: eggs and cheese in a wheat-tortilla wrap; an apple and peanut butter; cheese and whole-grain crackers; yogurt and granola; oatmeal with fruit and nuts; humus and pita chips.”

Are you brave enough to keep a food diary? We dare you. E-mail with your contact information and a paragraph or two about why you’d make a good diarist.

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