A Gluten-Intolerant Vegetarian Takes on the Food Diaries

This week’s diarist is a vegetarian who recently discovered she’s gluten-intolerant, meaning she can’t eat wheat, barley, or rye products. Our expert, nutritionist Cheryl Harris, follows a gluten-free diet herself. Read on for her review.

Our diarist starts everyday off with a smoothie—a naturally gluten-free breakfast.

The Stats
Gender: Female.
Age: 29.
Height: Five-foot-six.
Weight: 138 pounds.
Location: Adams Morgan.
Profession: Litigation support.
Self-described activity level: “Very active; I go to gym classes six to seven days a week and walk about 2½ miles home from work most days. I am stuck at a desk all day, though, like most other office workers. I’ve been a vegetarian for many years and eat vegan when possible. I recently discovered that I’m gluten-intolerant; it has been causing headaches and joint pain for several years. Bread can be hard to resist, though.”

Day One
8 AM: Gorgeous day outside. I throw on work clothes and walk the dog. Best part of my day is seeing how happy he is to crawl in the grass and sniff fire hydrants.
8:45: I make a smoothie with frozen berries, calcium-fortified OJ, flax seeds, and a couple scoops of brown-rice protein powder to have at work. It’s a little grainy, but the metals in other protein powders scare me. It only takes about ten seconds to blend in my Magic Bullet and I’m out the door and on the bus to work. I have the smoothie once I get to my desk.
10 AM: Tall soy latte from Starbucks. I usually end up drinking only half of it (caffeine makes me jittery), but I enjoy walking over and talking with my coworkers, so it’s worth it.
Noon: I hit the gym for spin class with some intense climbs today. I wear a heart monitor to make sure I’m not cheating and end up burning 650 calories, which is my average. I take a two-minute shower and dress at warp speed.

1 PM: I grab a salad on my way back to work with spinach, black beans, carrots, tomato, and cucumber with light vinaigrette. Wash it down with a few glasses of water and B-12 and calcium supplements (vegans can be low on B-12 because it’s mostly found in animal products). I eat while working in front of the computer, as usual.
2:45: I have some herbal tea because I’m still a little hungry and hope it will kill the craving.
4 PM: Handful of roasted, unsalted almonds.
6:30: Loving this spring weather. I walk home from work listening to Pandora.
8:30: Boyfriend brings over sushi! So sweet. I have a cucumber avocado roll on multigrain from Whole Foods, using Coconut Aminos instead of soy sauce to avoid gluten—it’s not as salty but does the trick. Big cup of water to work on while I read and watch TV.
10:30: Convince the boyfriend to walk the dog while I clean up the apartment.
11:30: Reading in bed, then lights out.

Day Two
8:15 AM: Hit the snooze button too many times. Put on the first thing I find in the closet and walk the dog.
8:50: Frozen berries, almond milk, protein powder, and flax seeds in my smoothie today. Run to catch the bus.
9:15: Sneak over to my desk and hope my boss doesn’t notice I’m late. Drink my smoothie while responding to e-mails.
11 AM: Another paper jam? Of course. I make some green tea and hibernate in the copy room, practicing deep breathing so I don’t throw the printer off the top of the building.
Noon: Head to the gym for total body conditioning, my favorite class. It’s a combination of free weights and cardio, and every exercise is a combo movement to keep up the calorie burn (usually about 600 calories for me).
1 PM: Salad with mesclun, artichokes, roasted tomatoes, farro, and chickpeas, scarfed down while working. I know eating in front of a computer is a bad idea, but I’d rather do that than miss a gym workout. It’s all about compromise.
3:30: Handful of raw almonds. Would much rather be eating some sort of cookie. I have a second handful.
6 PM: Call boyfriend to make sure he walked the dog after work per usual. Wonder if my dog likes my boyfriend better than me.
7 PM: Walk home. Finally free from the office!
8 PM: Drat, have to work from home tonight. I steam broccoli in the microwave, zap a half cup of brown rice and eat while working. I probably end up eating about three cups of broccoli. I have a serious thing for broccoli.
9 PM: Two squares of dark chocolate (that’s a lie; it was three squares). Five more hours of work before I fall asleep on the couch, exhausted.

Day Three
8:30 AM: Shoot, I’m really late already. Blame it on the late work night. Dog walk, smoothie.
Noon: It’s noon already? Did I drink my smoothie? I can’t remember. I have a meeting for my company’s wellness committee, in which we talk about appealing to people who want to get started on an exercise program but aren’t sure where to start. Encouragement is great, but we have to be careful not to be pushy. I eat a salad with romaine, cucumber, tomato, peppers, chickpeas, and olives with red-wine vinaigrette during the meeting. It’s a little ironic that I have to skip my usual workout to be here.
3 PM: There are bagels in the pantry. I stare at them longingly. Sometimes the craving for bread is overpowering, especially when I’m tired.
4 PM: I’m out of almonds, so I grab a Fiber One bar, which tastes delicious. Wash it down with some herbal tea.
5:50: Run out of the office to try and make it to a 6 PM Pilates reformer class.
6 PM: Made it! There’s only one other person in my class, so it’s almost like a personal-training session (but cheaper). Someday soon I hope to see my ab muscles reappear from the layer of fat they’ve been hiding under. In the meantime, my posture is better and my lower back no longer aches when I sit in a chair all day. Baby steps.
7 PM: Walk home from Pilates feeling much more relaxed. Check BlackBerry while waiting at traffic lights. Play tug-of-war with the dog.
8 PM: Make some lentil soup for dinner using pre-cooked lentils from Trader Joe’s—complete lifesaver. Mix in some onion, garlic, carrots, lemon juice, garam masala, and vegetable stock. Dinner is ready. Canned soup would be even easier, but sometimes those contain gluten, so I stick with making it myself.
10 PM: Still hungry, I microwave a 100-calorie bag of popcorn.
10:30: Walk the dog.
11:30: Read fitness magazines and food blogs in bed until I fall asleep.

See Also:

Smoothie Recipes to Keep You Full and Satisfied

Food for Fuel

Going Gluten-Free

Day Four
8 AM: Wake up to rain. The pug is not happy about getting his paws wet, and I carry him over the puddles. We both hate mornings to begin with and this is not helping.
8:45: Make a smoothie with mango, pineapple, and light coconut milk for a treat, head to work, and drink it at my desk.
Noon: Can’t believe it’s noon already. The smoothie was really filling, and I didn’t even think about coffee or a snack. Spin class today is an endurance workout, and the music keeps me going when my legs feel tired.
1 PM: I pick up a romaine salad with snap peas, almonds, edamame, oranges, and those crispy Chinese noodles that are terrible for you. It’s a small amount, though. Plus it’s Friday! Let’s think of them as celebration Chinese noodles.
4 PM: The afternoon flies by. I have a blueberry yogurt (made with coconut milk!) and it’s my new favorite flavor. Too bad the protein stats aren’t that great.
7 PM: Walk home from work, help tourists with directions.
8 PM: Spicy tofu soup with rice noodles for dinner. I leave most of the tofu in the container because the texture is too mushy. Lots of bean sprouts, carrots, and snap peas, though!
Midnight: Can’t sleep, take some melatonin to help things along.

Day Five
10 AM: Love sleeping in on Saturday. Boyfriend brings me a soy latte, and we head to the dog park.
Noon: I walk to total-body conditioning at the gym closer to my apartment. I can’t eat anything before class—I would just end up throwing it up doing burpees. This class is more bootcamp-style, and the calorie burn is insane. My heart monitor tells me I’ve burned 900 calories after an hour with Coach King. I feel like I’ve sweated off ten pounds and had three heart attacks.
1 PM: Pick up a sandwich on the way home from the gym. This is my cheat meal for the week, and I get egg salad with lettuce and tomato on a bagel. I can’t taste any mayo in the egg salad, so I pretend it’s not there. I’ve tried gluten-free bread before—not impressed. I eat it open-faced, though, to cut down on the bread. I’m probably going to have a headache tonight, but I can handle it once a week.
2 PM: My boyfriend and I spend the afternoon transporting a puppy from a Maryland shelter to a foster home down in Richmond. The puppy is too energetic to sit in a car, so we play fetch for 30 minutes to calm him down. At some point, I end up eating French fries because I’m stuck in the car so long.
8 PM: Back home, I make some red quinoa and drizzle in olive oil, then stir-fry a mix of red cabbage, carrots, broccoli, jicama, radish, celery, peppers, and onions. Since it’s not the weeknight rush, I take the time to chop fresh ginger, hot peppers, and garlic. Boyfriend has some leftover chicken in the fridge that I heat up and throw in with his serving of the vegetables.
11 PM: I eat a few squares of dark chocolate and have a glass of red wine while reading the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel. Don’t judge.

From the Expert
Alexandria dietician Cheryl Harris, who specializes in gluten-free diets, says: “The diarist is doing a lot of wonderful things. She’s very active, which is fantastic, and truly enjoys the activity—even better! She’s starting her day off with a mix of protein, fruit, and fiber, and she’s getting some vegan omega 3s from the flax seed. She also seems to favor whole, unprocessed foods, which is obviously a big plus.

“My biggest concern is that her caloric intake is much lower than she needs to sustain such an active lifestyle. As she points out, she’s burning a lot of calories in her workouts (600 in one workout, 900 in another). Granted, I don’t know her portion sizes, but that would have to be one heck of a ginormous salad to make up the difference. Her diary also looks a bit low on protein. The smoothie gets her off to a good start, but most of the other meals were low in protein given her activity. Brown rice and broccoli alone for dinner just can’t cut it; add in some tofu and peanut sauce and you’ve got a meal. That is most likely a big contributor to her fatigue, and she mentions a few times having tea or popcorn to quiet her hunger.

“Regarding the gluten-free aspect, I don’t have the benefit of knowing how this was diagnosed, but if she hasn’t gotten a blood-test screener for celiac disease, I’d definitely recommend it. Headaches are a pain in the tush, but if she has celiac, the cheat day could jeopardize her bones and her chances of becoming a mommy as well as raise her risk of cancer and other diseases. Since she’s already mostly gluten-free, it may not be accurate; however, it’s a simple test and worth looking into. I’m also not sure if the diarist was aware of the gluten she was eating outside of her cheat day. The farro in her salad is actually a form of wheat, and the Fiber One bar has some, too.

“Especially since the diarist is new to the gluten-free world, I am resisting the urge to write a novel here, but here are the highlights of my advice:

“Listen to your hunger! Don’t go more than three hours or so without eating a meal or snack. Add in an extra handful of walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts—you name it! Bring along a bag of Mary’s Gone Crackers (gluten-free, vegan, high fiber) or add in a Larabar. Free-range hard-boiled eggs are an easy high-protein pack-along, or maybe apple slices and almond or peanut butter are more your thing. Hummus and peppers, carrots, cucumbers—think grab-and-go, simple, nutrient-rich snacks to stash at work. Along those lines, consider tracking your calories online or with an app. My bet is that you’ll be shocked at the gap between what you’re eating and what you need.

“Learn more about label reading for a gluten-free diet. You mentioned concerns with finding a gluten-free soup. Amy’s Organic, Dr. McDougall’s, and Progresso all have gluten-free vegetarian/vegan options. For more on a gluten-free vegetarian diet, check out my May newsletter.

“I know you’re a woman in perpetual motion. I’d challenge you to eat one meal a week, slowly, without a gazillion distractions. Food is more fun if you get a chance to enjoy it!

“Oh, and one other thing: I’d pay to see you carrying your pug through the puddles. Lucky dog!”

Are you brave enough to take on the Food Diaries? We dare you. Send an e-mail to with your contact information and a paragraph or two about why you'd make a good diarist. 

Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Well+Being on Twitter

More >> Health | Top Doctors | Well+Being Blog