Profession: Foreign service officer.
Self-described activity level: “Moderate-high. I run about 20 miles most weeks. Walking is also part of my daily commute (about 40 minutes every week day), and I try to take a 20-minute walk outside during lunch. I live in a very walkable neighborhood and basically leave my car in the garage during the week. But despite being relatively active, my job is quite sedentary and I’ve steadily gained about 10 pounds over the past year and a half. My job and life can be overwhelming sometimes—in addition to being in a stressful job, I recently left a long-term relationship and am preparing to move overseas again in a couple of months. I definitely turn to food when I’m stressed or upset. I turned 34 last month and am wondering how I can improve my eating habits so I don’t gain any more weight but still get enough nourishment to power through.”
0520 hours: Alarm goes off. Consider turning it off and going back to bed for another hour, but end up rolling out of bed. Drink a glass of water and eat half a banana while tying my shoes. Walk five minutes to Gold’s in Ballston. At least it’s almost sunrise and pleasantly cool. Getting up and going to the gym is brutal when it is dark and cold.
0645: After a 3½ mile run, weight exercises, and stretching, I walk home to shower and eat breakfast. I have oatmeal made with water and a tablespoon of walnuts, a spoonful of brown sugar, and the remainder of my banana. I also eat a Morningstar Farms vegetarian sausage patty and drink a glass of calcium-enriched orange juice to wash down a woman’s multivitamin. I eat oatmeal for breakfast almost every day—it’s the only food I can really stomach that early in the AM.
0730: Walk ten minutes from my apartment to the Ballston Metro. I’m running late, so I power walk the ten minutes between Foggy Bottom and the State Department.
0930: Drink first cup of coffee—dark, French-pressed with a sprinkling of Splenda. I bought this neat Bodum French press thermos recently at Sur la Table, and it quickly became one of my favorite things.
1100: Between meetings and phone calls, I make second cup of coffee to eat with two smallish homemade oatmeal-raisin cookies. I inhale those cookies in like two seconds—I get really hungry on days when I work out in the morning.
1215: Lunch is chicken marsala on penne with green beans, leftover from the weekend. I eat at my desk while responding to e-mails. Open a Diet Coke. Most weeks when I’m not travelling, I cook a few meals over the weekend and eat leftovers the rest of the week. I started to do this about 18 months ago to save money and time during the day (the cafeteria at the State Department is really expensive and the lines are long). Although it takes a bit of planning, it has definitely been worth my time.
1300: Raining outside. I usually like to walk around the Mall at lunch if I have time, but that’s not going to happen today.
1500: Eat a Yoplait light yogurt. I don’t like yogurt or other dairy products very much. I know that there are probably better yogurt choices out there (Greek? Icelandic?), but Yoplait is about all that I can handle.
1600: Grab a few handfuls of baby carrots. I’ve been at my desk most of the afternoon finishing up a speech for my boss.
1730: Eat a couple of handfuls of reduced-fat Cheez-Its and drink a glass of water. I definitely crave salt on days that I work out.
1830: My boss is giving a dinner speech at a private club in Washington, so that is where I will eat dinner. Part of my job is attending “representational events” around town in the evening, where there is usually a lot of good wine and rich food. Drink a glass of San Pellegrino during the reception. Dinner is a three-course plated affair. Pick at the salad, which is bathed in a creamy dressing and feta cheese (feta is one of my least favorite foods), but enjoy the salmon with tomatoes, green beans, and wild rice. Drink a wonderful glass of pinot grigio with dinner. Dessert is a pomegranate berry tart. I eat the pomegranate seeds and berries, but leave the crust behind.
2100: Attempt to take the Metro home, but realize that I will have to wait 20 minutes for the next train. Decide I can’t wait that long and take a taxi instead.
2200: Drink a glass of water, fall asleep while reading a magazine.
0700: Wake up. Eat oatmeal with banana, walnuts, and brown sugar, along with OJ and a Morningstar sausage patty. I eat in front of the TV while watching the Today show. Pop a multivitamin.
0750: Run into an old colleague on the way to the Metro—happy to see him, but catching up on the street makes me a little late. Walk as fast as I can from Foggy Bottom to the State Department so I’m not late for my 0830 meeting.
0930: Make first cup of coffee.
1015: Eat a couple handfuls of reduced-fat Cheez-Its. Drink another cup of coffee.
1200: Heat up lunch. Today is half a package of Buittoni beef ravioli, with marinara and spinach on top. Open my Diet Coke. Eat lunch with colleagues while watching President Obama’s speech on the Middle East and North Africa on our internal network.
1400: Late to a meeting, not going to get a chance to take a walk.
1600: Eat Yoplait light yogurt, raspberry flavor. Drink a glass of water. I have a small headache—probably dehydrated.
1800: Eat two oatmeal-raisin cookies and finish my water while replying to e-mails.
18:50: Munch on apple during my ten minute walk to the metro. I absolutely have to have a snack before the commute. My neighborhood is a land mine of food temptations; it’s really hard to navigate on an empty stomach. Between the Metro and my apartment, I pass three of my favorite junk food outlets—Chick Fil-A in the Ballston Common Mall, Chipotle, and the new Buzz bakery. Think that a chocolate cupcake would taste good right about now, but manage to resist temptation.
1930: Arrive home. Have a few hours to putter. Still have a minor headache. Drink another glass of water.
2000: Eat a piece of leftover spinach-potato frittata and a big piece of French bread. Drink another glass of water. Headache seems to be lifting.
2100: Have a handful of strawberries. Lay out my exercise clothes for tomorrow. Answer a few e-mails before bed.
0520: Wake up early for the gym. Drink a glass of water. I try to eat a banana for energy, but can’t stomach more than a bite. I leave the rest for later.
0545: At the gym, I run three miles on the treadmill at a decent pace, do some ab work, and stretching. I don’t like waking up so early, but once I’m at the gym, I actually enjoy it. I’m running a half marathon in Williamsburg this weekend, so this is my last workout before then. My fitness goal for the past few years has been to maintain half-marathon fitness level. Sunday’s race will be my second half marathon this year.
0715: Eat a breakfast identical to the day before.
0800: Walk to the Metro. Notice a number of cyclists and remember that today is Bike to Work Day. Entertain thoughts about biking to work some day.
0900: Make first cup of coffee.
0945: Every Friday, my colleague generously brings in a dozen doughnuts for the office from Sprinkles in Potomac. They are some of the best cake doughnuts around, and I live for doughnut day! My office is generally quite healthy and fitness-focused, but we all look forward to Fridays. I choose a cream-cheese doughnut and make a second cup of coffee.
1230: Heat up last of the leftover chicken marsala, penne, and green beans from last weekend. Drink a Diet Coke. Eat in front of the computer at my desk. Trying to finish some of my work before the weekend.
1320: Go outside for a 30-minute walk around the duck pond and the Washington Memorial.
1500: Eat Yoplait light lemon yogurt. Read the ingredient label for the first time and can’t believe that tiny cup has 15 grams of sugar.
1645: Grab a couple handfuls of baby carrots and a glass of water.
1800: Stop by a friend’s farewell party on the way home. I have a bottle of Sierra Nevada ale, but skip the snacks.
2000: At home. I eat a bowl of homemade minestrone and drink a glass of water for dinner.
2100: Enjoy a smallish piece of carrot cake, have another glass of water.
2230: Force myself to go to bed early.
0700: Wake up and pack. I’m driving to Williamsburg to run the Race for the Achievable Dream half marathon on Sunday and spend time with my mother and sister.
0800: Eat a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and cinnamon, plus a banana. Make a cup of coffee for the road.
0930: Pick up my mom in Fairfax. We’re driving to Richmond to pick up my sister on the way to Williamsburg. Drink my coffee along the way.
1200: Nibble on a few handfuls of dried apricots and cranberries in the car.
1330: Stop for lunch at Food for Thought in Williamsburg. I’m really hungry and have a couple rolls from the bread basket, including a piece of cornbread with squash mixed in. I have the jerk chicken breast with mango salsa, a scoop of mashed potatoes, and steamed broccoli. I also stole a few French fries off of my sister’s plate. Drink a glass and a half of Diet Coke with lunch.
1900: Dinner at Second Street Bistro in Williamsburg. My mom, sister, and I share the bib lettuce chicken wraps as an appetizer. I have a plate of pasta made with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers, and olive oil for my entree. I also had about three dinner rolls with olive oil. My drink is a water with lemon. One of those rolls was a multigrain roll. My parents only fed us multigrain bread growing up, but I’ve unfortunately abandoned that habit in adulthood. Too full for dessert.
2200: Drink another glass of water, go to bed at the hotel.
0630: Race day! I drink a Gatorade and half a liter of water, and eat a banana. I’m not at all hungry, but I force down most of a cinnamon-raisin bagel with about a tablespoon of peanut butter on it.
0735: The inaugural Race for the Achievable Dream begins! The course begins in the colonial village and then weaves through Williamsburg and the surrounding area. It’s a beautiful day and just feels great being outside and getting some fresh air. I down a Dixie cup of Gatorade at every water station from mile two onwards.
0940: Cross the finish line! Grab a bottle of water to chug under the cooling tent. Pierce’s Pitt Barbeque of Williamsburg, one of my favorites, is one of the race sponsors and they’re giving out free sandwiches to the runners. Score! Even though it isn’t even close to lunch time, I inhale a barbecue sandwich on a white-bread hamburger bun with coleslaw on top. Drink another bottle of water, eat a Dannon light yogurt, and a bag of apple slices from the snack tent.
1100: Head back to Northern Virginia via Richmond with my mom and sister. Eat a banana, a handful of reduced fat Cheez-Its, and drink more water. I’m not that hungry but definitely thirsty. And craving salt, as usual.
1300: Still in the car, I eat a ginger cookie I got from Colonial Williamsburg, made from an old-fashioned recipe. It’s the size of a fist and really dry and gummy in my mouth. It is actually not very good—cookie recipes have definitely improved over time. But I eat the whole thing anyway.
1730: Stay at my parents’ house for dinner. My dad has made beef stir fry with cabbage, bean sprouts, broccoli, and snow peas. We eat it over white rice. I have two servings and enjoy a yummy Häagen-Daz ice-cream bar for dessert.
2100: Drink a glass of water and go to bed early. It has been a tiring weekend, especially without any naps or sleeping in.
From the Expert
Registered dietician Rima Kleiner, who’s based in Vienna, says: “Kudos to this diarist! She lives an active lifestyle, makes conscientious food choices, and has a healthy body mass index (BMI). Because she mentioned a 10-pound weight gain over the past year and a half, we’ll focus on an eating pattern and foods to help her sustain her energy throughout the day and prevent weight gain.
“First, let’s talk about her meal pattern. This diarist does a great job of eating small meals and snacks frequently throughout the day, which helps maintain energy, regulate blood sugar (to prevent energy spikes), and tends to help prevent binging late in the day. Some of her mid-morning snacks, however, are more than four hours after breakfast and close to lunch. Since she seems to eat lunch about five hours after breakfast, I recommend a mid-morning snack that splits the difference—eat it about 2½ hours after breakfast and before lunch.
“She does a great job of rounding out her meals with a good mix of high-fiber carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, oatmeal, and wild rice)and heart-healthy protein and fat. However, her snacks could use a makeover. While her snacks—like baby carrots, an apple, and dried fruit—are healthy choices, they could be more nutritious and satisfying pai
red with a lean protein or healthy fat. For example, she could add some hummus or a cheese stick to the carrots, peanut butter or low-fat cheese with an apple, or a handful of unsalted nuts with the dried fruit. For her mid-afternoon snack, she could eat mix some berries and chia seed for a fiber, antioxidants, and a healthy fat boost. Since it sounds like she eats yogurt for health benefits instead of preference, she could get the benefits without the taste by whipping some nonfat plain Greek yogurt with fruit into a smoothie or mix in herbs and use as a dip for veggies or whole-grain pitas. Or, she can grab a half a peanut butter and jelly or turkey or roast-beef sandwich. Studies show that mixing high-fiber carbohydrates with protein and fat provides energy, sustains blood sugar levels, and keeps us feeling fuller longer, which is important for helping her maintain weight and prevent weight gain.
“Next, let’s talk nutrients. On average, the diarist does a good job of including a fruit and/or veggie and lean protein at every meal. The area where she really seems to need a little boost is calcium. The calcium recommendation for young (non-pregnant, non-lactacting) women is 1,000 milligrams a day. On average, she consumes about one serving of calcium-rich food (yogurt) each day, which only meets about half her daily needs. In order to minimize bone loss as she gets older, I recommend adding skim milk (maybe to her coffee or oatmeal), low-fat cheese, beans, sardines, or more calcium-containing veggies like kale and broccoli. She should also talk to her doctor about whether she should take a vitamin D supplement to help the absorb calcium.
“Another nutrient of concern is sodium. While the diarist seems to eat a lot of homemade foods, sodium lurks in many processed ones. She’s likely getting more than her fair share of added sodium from Cheez-Its, frozen vegetarian sausage, and restaurant or already-prepared foods. Since she eats about six times a day, I recommend getting less than 500 milligrams of sodium at each meal and less than 200 milligrams of sodium at each snack. This will bring her in lower than the dietary guidelines-recommended 2,300 milligrams per day.
“The diarist does a good job of hydrating throughout the day. This is especially important during periods of training. Her occasional coffee, diet soda, and “adult” beverage is fine since she’s drinking these in addition to (not in place of) water.
“Lastly, portion control. It’s nearly impossible to talk about weight loss or management without talking portion sizes. For weight loss, I would recommend sticking to healthy serving sizes (think: what fits in a cupped hand for fruits, veggies, grains, and meats, or the size of a thumb for higher-fat foods, like peanut butter and cheese) and following the new dietary guidelines MyPlate method—fill half your plate with fruits and veggies, one-quarter with healthy protein, one-quarter with high-fiber starches, and a little dairy or calcium-rich food (and heart-healthy fat) at every meal.”
Are you brave enough to keep a food diary? We dare you. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact information and a paragraph or two about why you'd make a good diarist.