What a Busy City Girl Eats: Food Diaries

Our expert says our diarist is doing a lot right—making healthy choices and exercising regularly—but are supermugs of beer and too much sodium her downfall?

Supermugs of beer may be this food diarist’s downfall


Gender: Female.
Age: 25.
Height: Five-foot-four.
Weight: 115.
Location: Arlington.
Profession: Advertising Account Executive.
Self-described activity level:“Slightly above average. I ran my second half-marathon last month, but have been a little sluggish with my workouts since then. I love to bike ride, and I try to walk as much as possible during the workday—to get lunch, to run errands, or wherever I need to go.”


7 AM: I’m usually starving when I wake up, but I try to wait until I get to work to eat. Today I’m running a bit late so I grab a handful of Golden Grahams to quiet my stomach in the meantime.
9 AM: Arrive in the office to my coworkers telling fun stories, and get distracted until my stomach growls loud enough for everyone to notice.
9:45 AM: Finally eat the Lean Pocket (bacon, egg, and cheese) that I brought. It’s so hot and tasty.

10:45 AM: Hungry again . . . fortunately I have a can of almonds in my desk, so I grab a handful of those and get back to work.
12:30 PM: Time for lunch! I made a great dinner last night—steak with a red wine and mushroom sauce—and I eat the leftovers over a plate of fresh spinach. That makes me feel healthy and powerful and ready to take on the afternoon.
4:30 PM: I forgot to enter my hours for the entire last week, and my mind is looking for anything else to focus on besides billing and timesheets. I grab a string cheese and Diet Coke from the fridge. (Free sodas in the office . . . I know this is not a good thing, but come on, they’re free!)
6:30 PM: It’s Harry Potter night! I pick up half of a hummus and veggie sandwich at Pret a Manger to eat during the seven-block walk to the movies.
9:00 PM:Despite my best efforts, I ate the whole box of Sour Patch Kids and had a bottle of water. Could be worse, I guess. When I get home I grab a couple handfuls of pretzels to eat while I watch TV.


9:30 AM: Instant oatmeal (low-sugar, banana bread flavor) and coffee is my breakfast today. I try to not to drink too much coffee, but some days I smell it from the kitchen and just know it will help get me moving.
11:00 AM: Morning snack is a pack of Veggie Straws, one of my favorite Costco finds. According to the packaging, “veggie” seems to refer mainly to potatoes and extracts for color, but at least they’re healthier than regular chips.
1:00 PM: My face has been buried in the computer all morning, so I walk a few blocks (Exercise! Yay!) to get some fresh air and pick up a couscous and lentil side salad from Pret a Manger to eat with the packet of tuna fish that I brought from home.
4:30 PM: My birthday is later this week, and I’m having a happy hour today to celebrate! My coworkers and I leave early and head to Chef Geoff’s down the block. Supermugs of beer, here I come!
10:30 PM: Turns out that I was too busy socializing to drink much. Maybe that’s what being an adult is all about? Damage for the night: four beers (pints), half an individual pepperoni pizza, and some guacamole. And one glass of water.
11:30 PM:Home, and hungry again. I dig a freezer-burnt Smart Ones quesadilla from the back of my freezer and nearly fall asleep while it’s microwaving. Still, I don’t want to waste food so I eat it anyway, and then go to bed.


8:15 AM: I’m going to a conference today and drive by a Chick-fil-A on my way there. I impulsively pull off to get a breakfast biscuit sandwich, definitely a treat—I never buy these!
10:00 AM: Wishing I had brought a snack.
12:30 PM: Finally, lunch is served. I have a turkey sandwich on wheat bread, a Diet Coke, and half of a chocolate chip cookie. Also in the box is some pasta salad, which I ignore, and an apple, which I save for later. This convention center is huge. I feel like I’m getting a workout walking up and down from floor to floor, and around the building from one room to another.
2:30 PM: I hate conferences without lots of snacks, especially healthy ones. There is no food to be found here. Glad I saved the apple and the other half of my cookie from lunch.
3:30 PM: Coffee break, and I found a tray of cookies set out! I’m hungry, so I eat another half of a chocolate chip cookie.
7:00 PM: Tonight is my birthday dinner at Jaleo, one of my favorite restaurants. I especially love dipping their bread in the leftover sauces from some of the tapas. Between two of us, we split two baskets of that delicious bread, a pitcher of sangria, and five tapas: chorizo, mushrooms in garlic sauce, sautéed eggplant, a mini paella, and ham croquettes.
10:00 PM:Three frozen Thin Mints. I’m on my last box. When does Girl Scout Cookie season start again?


8:30 AM: Happy birthday to me! You know you’re an adult when you spend your birthday at a conference. On the drive in, I stop by Dunkin’ Donuts for an egg-white flatbread sandwich. I think these are pretty delicious but wish they were bigger.
10:30 AM: My boss calls and tells me that if I don’t mind leaving early, I need to come into the office at lunchtime. Too bad I don’t have a lunch.

See Also:

Lunch Break: What Are Healthier Options at Five Guys?

DCEventJunkie Gets Off the Junk: Health Heroes

The CrossFit Diet: Food Diaries

12:00 PM: I get another phone call and learn that the Internet in our office is down, so after a quick meeting I’ll be able to go work from home. (Talk about a great birthday treat!) I pick up a chicken and mushroom Lean Cuisine panini at CVS on my drive back into the city so I can eat quickly and head back to my apartment.
2:30 PM: Working from home is great but I tend to snack. I eat a string cheese, a few jellybeans, a handful of almonds, and a cup of Italian ice.
6:30 PM: I love to cook, so I wanted to make dinner on my birthday. I make a spinach and cabbage salad with a sesame vinaigrette, and a chicken and broccoli stir-fry over rice noodles. My boyfriend and I split a bottle of white wine.
9:00 PM: My boyfriend went out to get a Redbox movie and came back with not only the movie, but also a bag of berry Sour Patch Kids, my favorite. I eat about a quarter of the bag.


9:00 AM: Headed to the airport today for my cousin’s wedding weekend in the Adirondacks. I have breakfast at Cosi: a bagel sandwich with egg, bacon, and tomato.
11:00 AM: Eat another quarter of the Sour Patch Kids, and a snack-sized bag of pretzels.
1:00 PM: Meet up with my parents at the resort. They’re about to eat lunch, so I join them and split a Caprese sandwich and sweet potato fries with my mom.
1:30 PM: Dad and I kayak over to a marina, which I’m guesstimating is about a quarter of a mile away, and back again. I haven’t had an arm workout like that in ages and I’m feeling the burn.
3:00 PM: The bar opens and the liquor starts flowing. Jack Daniels is the family’s drink of choice, and I mix it with Diet Coke.
6:30 PM: My cousin’s rehearsal dinner is a barbecue, and I’m starving. I eat one hot dog, an ear of corn on the cob, and three helpings of salad with tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and a little feta cheese. And another couple of Jack and diets.
8:00 PM: In honor of my birthday (hooray!), they bring me a slice of cheesecake, but since I don’t like cheesecake I share it with the rest of the table and stick to a couple pieces of fruit for dessert.
10:00 PM: Party in the maid of honor’s cabin! I drink a tall glass of wine, and am very tempted by the French onion dip that’s in the fridge. When it comes out, I have a full snack-sized bag of potato chips with a generous scoop of dip on each—a tasty end to the night.


What’s working:

Katrina Seidman, a registered dietitian, exercise counselor, and private practice consultant in the Baltimore/Washington area with a strong background in both nutrition and exercise physiology, says, “You go girl! Health-wise, this busy city girl has a lot going for her. She makes an effort to be active in her daily life and she truly enjoys exercising. She eats when hungry, stops when full, and eats an overall balanced diet, with regular meals and snacks (including breakfast!) most of the time. Walking to work and on errands is a great way to stay physically active without purposeful exercise. Some people don’t realize that workouts can take place outside of the gym or without spandex; good for our diarist for getting in a ‘workout’ when time is tight.”

“One of this diarist’s star qualities is her ability to control portions. From single-serve string cheese and individually packaged oatmeal, to pre-portioned frozen meals and making a habit of sharing both desserts and entrees with friends and family, she succeeds in eating appropriate portions in a world full of super sizes. And, she strategically enlists the help of the grocery store by having somewhat healthy convenience foods such as Lean Cuisines and Weight Watchers Smart Ones on hand when she needs them. She also has tremendous control over her cravings—I don’t know any adult who eats half a cookie and saves the other half for later.”

“She also gets an ‘A’ for incorporating all five food groups. She chooses fruit for dessert on her birthday, and eats a variety of vegetables at home and at restaurants. Lean proteins such as tuna turkey, egg whites, and alternative protein sources such as hummus and lentils make regular appearances on her plate. She is getting calcium from string cheese and almonds, and she chooses wheat bread for her sandwich. I’m assuming it’s ‘whole’ wheat, but your best bet is to check the bread ingredients list for the word ‘whole,’ preferably in the very first ingredient, and also see how many grams of fiber are in one serving (usually one slice). Aim for two to three grams per slice.”

“She successfully manages her hunger between meals by choosing snacks full of both protein and fiber such as string cheese and almonds. And, she makes an effort at the barbecue to fill up on veggies which research has shown to reduce the total amount of calories consumed. This may be because foods such as vegetables, fruits, and broth-based soups have low energy density; that is, they have a modest amount of calories in relation to the amount of nutrients they contain. In contrast, French fries are calorie poor because they have a lot of calories and not a lot of nutrition. Foods with low energy density help us to fill up on fewer calories by supplying a lot of volume which can fill the stomach and make us feel full. For more information on this style of eating, check out Volumetrics by Barbara Rolls Ph.D.

“And great news for coffee lovers, such as this diarist! Don’t worry about kicking your habit just yet. The latest research on coffee is mostly good. It has been shown that those who drink coffee have reduced risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. Coffee also has powerful antioxidants that can help your body fight off cancerous free-radicals from the environment. Those with high blood pressure should keep tabs on how coffee affects his or her blood pressure and ask a doctor how much coffee is okay or not okay to have.”

What needs improvement:

“Golden Grahams, at 15 grams of sugar and less than 1.5 grams of fiber per cup, is probably not the best choice for cereals. A better cereal choice would be Cheerios or Wheaties, as these have far less sugar and more fiber, which will promote fullness and won’t cause as much of a blood sugar rise.”

“I would caution our diarist to pay attention to sodium levels—particularly in restaurant and processed foods such as frozen meals, which she consumes regularly. Current sodium recommendations for adults under 50 are less than 2,300 milligrams per day (less than 1,500 milligrams for those over 50 or with chronic disease). A frozen meal can easily pack 800 to 900 milligrams of sodium. However, there are new lines of low-sodium frozen meals available at the stores. One such brand is Amy’s Organic. For those eating on the go, nutrition information is widely available, and should soon be listed on menus. For places like Chick Fil-A and Dunkin’ Donuts, glancing at calories, saturated fat and sodium can help us make smarter decisions.”

“Eating while watching movies or TV can contribute to overeating because less attention is paid to how much is being consumed, and to hunger cues. At the movies, she’s setting herself up for failure by buying a box of sour patch kids, a high sugar, low fiber option. A better option would be to share it with a friend or to bring some sugarless gum to chomp on. And contrary to what our diarist might think, veggie straws are not better than potato chips. They are just that—potato chips! She even read the label to confirm it. A healthier crunchy salty snack option would be air-popped popcorn or baked corn tortilla chips, which are both higher in fiber and lower in fat.”

“A word about alcohol: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that if you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation—up to one drink per day for women; two for men. One alcoholic drink is defined as one of the following: a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits). Therefore, consuming four 16-ounce beers is definitely drinking too much. Alcohol calories count, too! At seven calories per gram, alcohol intake can really pack on the calories, and what’s worse, is that the liver has to work overtime, slowing metabolism, which makes it more difficult to maintain our weight and keep healthy. Alcohol can also lower our inhibitions, leading to poor food choices and/or to ignore fullness cues, possibly leading to overeating and weight gain.”

“On the physical activity front, our diarist is doing better than most Americans as she is biking and walking on a daily basis. She could improve her regimen by adding one to two weekly sessions of strength training. As we age, we lose muscle mass, which leads to a slower metabolism and weaker bones. Lifting weights, using resistance bands, or even using your own body weight to do resistance exercises can help to maintain muscle mass, strengthen bones, boost metabolism, and improve overall health. My favorite way to strength train is taking the group fitness class called Body Pump, which is available worldwide.”

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 Washingtonian on Twitter

Follow Well+Being on Twitter

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