Eating Healthy, But Staying Active?: Food Diaries

Our diarist this week does a great job of planning ahead with her meals, but our expert recommends she ups her activity level

Our diarist is participating in a walking challenge through her office, but will it be enough to keep her activity level up?


Gender: Female.
Age: 24.
Height: Five-foot-nine
Size: 18.
Location: Leesburg.
Profession: Higher education administration.
Self-described activity level: “Honestly, it depends on the day. I go through spurts where I’ll be at the gym or in my at-home gym every day, I’ll go for walks and really be active for a month, and then there are times when you’ll be lucky if I don’t go to bed at 7 PM and barely think about the gym. Right now I’m in the in-between stage. I’m going to the gym/at-home gym occasionally, but certainly not as often as I should. I’m fairly active, but also fairly lazy. (I blame the fact that I’m a Gemini.)”


4:15 AM: Awake. Too early to go to the gym. Turn on the news and promptly fall back to sleep.
5:57 AM: Overselpt! (Grumble.) No time for the gym this morning I guess. I watch the weather. It’s going to be hot, and it’s already 78 degrees.
6:15 AM: Roll out of bed, I suppose I should get a move on.
6:45 AM: Ugh, what will we want for supper tonight? I take out boneless skinless chicken breasts to thaw.
6:47 AM: (Tummy grumble.) I should eat something but I really want Cheerios, which I keep at my desk at work. I find a FiberOne bar. Chocolate. Perfect way to start the day.
I joined a gym back in February and when I have the free personal trainer consultation, he drove it into my head over and over that I should eat something within a half hour of waking up to kickstart my metabolism. This is as close to a “half hour after” that I get. I hate eating first thing in the morning.
7:00 AM: While feeding my pets (all six of them) and the stray cat that my landlords next door took in, checking my bank account, and watering the plants, I finish the FiberOne bar. I get distracted easily. I toss my Kindle, wallet, keys, a Tupperware of grapes, and an empty water bottle (24 oz., courtesy of MultiGrain Cheerios) into my bag and open the door. Ugh. The humidity is brutal. It’s too hot for this.
My company, a local university—the one I graduated from in ’09 and promptly sold my soul to for a full-time job—runs a fun little competition among its employees. For eight weeks employees form teams and do a “walking challenge,” and the team that records the most steps wins. I put on my pedometer and head out the door.
7:07 to 7:35 AM: Traffic, blasted traffic. I work eight miles from my house and yet it takes me this long to get to work? I contemplate (for the 100th time) riding my bike to work.
7:40 AM: Fill up my water bottle with the filtered water, toss my grapes in the fridge (I probably won’t eat them) grab my milk, and get my first cup of coffee. Colombian, two Splendas, one tablespoon of French vanilla powdered Coffee Mate creamer.
7:42 AM: Pour myself a bowl of MultiGrain Cheerios (I swear I don’t work for them, but if I did I’d save money) and add about on half of a cup of 1 percent milk.
9:06 AM: My coffee’s cold, and I think about getting another cup. I chug the last bit—I think I’ll drink a little water before getting another cup.
11:12 AM: (Quiet tummy grumble.) I could have those grapes but I don’t want them. I get a second cup of coffee, same as before. Mmm hot coffee. For a moment I forget that it’s 87 degrees outside.
11:39 AM: I visit a coworker’s cubicle with a question. I grab four peanut M&Ms (two red two brown). I eat two now and save the other two for later.
12:22 PM: My stomach grumbles again. My assigned lunch break is from 1 to 2. I pop the third M&M into my mouth and check the cafe lunch menu for the third time today. Do I want my Healthy Choice meal I’ve been keeping in the freezer since last week or do I want something else? (It’s a daily battle.) I drink some of my water to quiet the stomach until my assigned lunch time.
12:27 PM: I almost forgot to take my D3 vitamin for today. I pop it and chug it down with the remainder of my coffee. I look at the empty cup; it’s after noon, no more coffee for me today. I pop the fourth M&M into my mouth and get back to work.
1:00 PM: Lunch time! I decided on a cup of soup and a “salad” from the cafe. The soup is chicken tortilla (posted nutrition facts say 202 calories per cup, 4 grams of fat, but a tad high in sodium for my liking—420 milligrams) and my “salad” has a small amount of chickpeas, carrots, broccoli, green and red peppers (all raw), and a sprinkling of feta cheese and shredded cheddar. The “salad” is topped with approximately a tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette and half a handful of sunflower seeds. I forego my usual Diet Coke for some water instead.
I don’t eat leafy greens—not because I don’t want to, don’t get me wrong, I could eat romaine lettuce until the end of time—but about five years ago I started getting stomach cramps and getting sick every time I ate romaine, and over the last 5 years it has developed into a pretty bad intolerance of all leafy greens. So I avoid them, saying it’s an allergy (it’s more like an intolerance . . . like the greens version of lactose intolerance).
2:00 PM: I’ve barely put a dent in my soup but I finished my salad.
2:47 PM: Just now getting toward the bottom of my soup . . . it’s cold now. I decide to pick out the last pieces of chicken and toss out the rest. Wicked salty. I drink half my water bottle.
3:56 PM: I finish that bottle of water and fill it up again before I leave.
5:00 PM: I parked on the far side of the parking lot so I could get more steps logged on my pedometer for the day. It’s so humid, I kind of wish I hadn’t.
5:42 PM: I decide to make barbecue chicken, rice, and broccoli. I George Foreman two breasts with a little barbecue sauce on it, make barbecue rice (one of the packaged rice mixes), and steam fresh broccoli.
6:30 PM: We finish eating. My boyfriend loves it. Success. As an Italian, I take pride in every meal I cook even if part of it was prepackaged.
7:00 PM: Wicked thirsty, I down a small bottle of water.
8:00 PM: In bed with a book and another bottle of water. Pedometer reading: 3,948 steps—just short of two miles.
9:00 PM: Asleep. I’m such an old person.


6:57 AM: I wake up, two hours late. I have to rush out the door to make it to work on time. I grab my pedometer, my empty water bottle, and my bag and book it. Ugh. It’s even more humid today than yesterday. My glasses fog up instantly.
7:45 AM: Pour myself a bowl of MultiGrain Cheerios again. (I know they say ‘variety is key’ but these are just so good!) My first cup of coffee for the day—Colombian, two Splendas, hazelnut non-dairy creamer today (I’m gettin’ freaky!)—and I fill up my water bottle with the office’s filtered water. Begrudgingly ready to start the day.
8:15 AM: I finish my cereal. Who takes that long to eat? Seriously.
9:14 AM: I pick up my coffee cup to take a drink, but it’s empty. When did I finish that? I remember to take my D3 and wash it down with some water.
10:19 AM: I want another cup of coff
ee but I opt for more water instead.
11:06 AM: Retrieved the grapes I brought yesterday from the fridge. Not really hungry, but I know lunch time for the rest of the office is about to start and I’ll be hungry as soon as I smell their food. I pop a couple grapes; they’re pretty tart. Surprisingly appealing today.
1:20 PM: I decide to forego my frozen meal in the freezer for the fourth workday in a row and instead waste 20 minutes deciding what I want. I decide on another “salad,” this time it’s: chickpeas, carrots, cheddar, feta, blue cheese, green, red, and yellow peppers, ham, and turkey topped with about a tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette and half a handful of sunflower seeds. I don’t finish it until 3.
4:00 PM: I finish my bottle of water (my 24-ounce bottle)
4:49 PM: Just realized I only ate about a quarter of the grapes I had grabbed from the fridge. I put them back in for tomorrow. Fill up my water bottle with the filtered water.
5:00 to 5:57 PM: I finish my filtered water before I get home. I fill up the bottle with tap water when I get home.
7:00 PM: Without central cooling, the 97-degree days make cooking in my kitchen unbearable. We order from Andy’s, a pizza and sub shop in town. I get the french dip and a side of fries. The french dip is very basic, just thin sliced lean beef on a french bread roll with 2 slices of provolone. I hardly use the dip; the meat is so tender it’s unnecessary. I only eat half of the small order of fries. I also split an eggplant neapolitan (eggplant stack topped with meatless marinara) with the boyfriend. I drink half my bottle of water.
8:15 PM: I’m already in bed, I watch TV for a little while before dozing off. My pedometer says I walked 4,038 steps today.


6:30 AM: I’ve snoozed since 5. I suppose I should get up. I force myself to do a little exercise even though time is short. Some crunches and “push ups” (I do the girly kind) and a few jumping jacks to get my heart pumping.
7:50 AM: I take the stairs today. I get my coffee—same as yesterday—fill up my water bottle, pour a bowl of MultiGrain Cheerios, and finish off the milk.
8:45 AM: I’m just now finishing that cereal. Even when they’re soggy they taste so good! I wash down my D3 with the milk from the bowl.
11:30 AM: I never finished my coffee and drank half of my water instead.
2:00 PM:  I’m just now sitting down to my BMT from subway. On nine-grain wheat, the works (minus lettuce, hots, and olives) spicy mustard, light mayo. No chips, cookie, nor soda.
4:22 PM: It’s my co-worker’s birthday, and we have ice cream cake. My piece is so tiny—2 inches by 2 inches by 1 inch. Just enough to satisfy my chocolate cravings.
7:30 PM: My boyfriend offered to pick up supper instead of having me cook when our house is even hotter than it was in the last few days but he’s picking up Subway. Since I had just had it for lunch, I pass and instead make myself two Morning Star vegetarian burgers on one piece of whole grain bread each (open sandwich) with just ketchup added.
9:00 PM: The burgers were tasty, but I’m hungry already. I grab a FiberOne bar from the fridge, down a bottle of water, and head to bed. I walked just under 4,000 steps today.

See Also:

Staying Balanced After Losing 12 Pounds: Food Diaries

13 Smoothies to Keep You Full and Satisfied


6:45 AM: I’m up and at ’em. I got a little at-home work out in again this morning. Today is the office retreat, so I’m not heading to my office. Instead we’re going to a rec center in Germantown. I grab a piece of whole grain toast with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spread to tide me over until we get to the retreat.
8:15 AM: I carpool to the retreat location with two of my coworkers, halfway there one of them pulls out a small coffee cake and offers me a piece. I take it; it’s hard to pass up coffee cake. My piece is about 3 inches by 3 inches by 2 inches.
9:00 AM: We arrive where there is “breakfast” waiting. I have a handful of grapes and a handful of fresh cherries and a Nature Valley granola bar.
10:48 AM: I’ve already downed three bottles of water today (one 24-ounce bottle and two 12-ounce bottles) because we’re outside and it’s nearing 95 degrees already. I opt for a can of Diet Coke—I need something different and I’m (admittedly) addicted to Diet Coke.
12:25 PM: After downing another two 12-ounce bottles of water, it’s finally lunch time! It’s a cookout, and I have one hamburger and roll with ketchup, a hot dog and roll with ketchup, a very small serving of potato salad (2 bites), a serving of baked beans, a “fruit salad” of fresh peaches and strawberries (no sauce), and another Diet Coke. I also have a chocolate chip cookie.
2:00 PM: We are allowed to go home early, and I down another bottle of water on my drive home. It’s over 100 degrees now.
5:15 PM: I meet up with some old coworkers for happy hour. I have a couple glasses of red wine and a chicken quesadilla for happy hour/supper.
8:30 PM: I head to Old Town Alexandria where my boyfriend and I meet up with my old friends Danielle and Lisa (former diarists) where I partake in a “melontini” and split chips with queso and guacamole among the four of us. So tasty. I want to bathe in the queso and guac.
11:00 PM: We head home and I finish my last bottle of water for the evening. Around 1:30 I fall asleep. Over 8,000 steps today!


Karen Kafer, a registered dietitian at the National Dairy Council (you can read its blog here), says, “Overall the diarist does a great job of getting in three meals and a snack each day. She’s keeping her metabolism functioning normally and preventing herself from being overly hungry, which can lead to overeating. She also stays hydrated by always carrying a water bottle and refilling it often—another great way to curb hunger! This diarist is also great at planning ahead. She does this on several occasions, such as packing a healthy snack of grapes for work and defrosting chicken in the morning to have for dinner that night. Planning ahead helps us to stay on track, since we tend to make more unhealthy choices on an empty stomach.  She also practices good portion control when it comes to dessert, such as having four M&Ms or the small piece of birthday cake, instead of completely giving into cravings and indulging.”

“Her meals are fairly well-rounded, incorporating whole-grains and dairy (which provides protein) at breakfast and getting in veggies and protein at lunch. As far as snacks are concerned, the diarist could work to incorporate more fruit, which is somewhat lacking in her diet over the span of four days. While she does a good job of including dairy at breakfast and lunch—by having milk with her cereal and sprinkling cheese on her salad—she could benefit from getting a full three servings of dairy a day. This is important because low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt together pack a powerful nutritional punch with calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin. One way to help round this out could be to replace water or soda at lunch with a glass of low-fat or fat-free milk, because it provides nutrition and hydration.”

“When it comes to dinner, the diarist’s best choices were made on the night she planned ahead: the chicken, rice, and broccoli combo provides a suitable number of items that give a nutrient-rich mix of protein, grains, and vegetables. Cooking at home in the summer can be difficult with the heat, but she should look into incorporating more home-cooked meals as these tend to offer more nutrients and fewer calories. Cold or no-cook dishes, such as yogurt parfaits, smoothies, salads, fresh veggies and hummus, coleslaws, sandwiches, and wraps are ideal for the summer when no one wants to turn on their oven.”

“Regarding her activity, the diarist does make an effort and seems to have good intentions, but does not always follow through. It’s great to see that she wears a pedometer and does push-ups, crunches and jumping jacks on certain mornings, but perhaps she could challenge herself a bit more. She could take the stairs or park on the far side of the lot more often, perhaps starting with one day each week and increasing by one day each week until she’s doing it four or five days a week. The same strategy could be applied to biking. What a great idea to ride it to work instead of sitting in traffic! She could make this a goal one or two times a week and it would make a big difference in her activity levels.”

“One of the big takeaways from this diary is planning, planning, planning—and then follow through! Making a plan and sticking to it can keep you from making unhealthy choices while reinforcing your good choices like keeping a healthy eating plan and getting adequate exercise daily. You can also make sure your plan includes all the essential nutrients you need for the day. Check out the USDA’s MyPlate Web site for more information about building a healthy eating plan with fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Putting the time into planning will save you time in the long run—and help you to see changes in your body and energy levels!”

Are you brave enough to keep a food diary? We dare you. Send an e-mail to with your contact information and why you think you’d make a good diarist.

Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Well+Being on Twitter

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