Keeping Weight Off Without Dieting: Food Diaries

Our diarist this week is a busy Hill staffer with a part-time bartending gig. Can she stay on top of her diet and exercise without yo-yo dieting?
This nutritionist recommends adding berries to your breakfast for their antioxidants. Photograph by Flickr user Foodie in Disguise

Gender: Female
Age: 25
Height: Five-foot-six
Weight: 175
Location: Columbia Heights
Profession: Hill staffer and bartender
Self-described activity level: After competing as a Division I athlete in college, I continued to maintain a high level of activity by running half and full marathons. In January 2010, I successfully lost 25 pounds by keeping a food diary on while training for a half marathon. Unfortunately, somewhere between the 2010 NYC Marathon and the 2011 National Half Marathon, I lost not only my motivation to run—but also my discipline when it came to eating responsibly. I quickly gained back the 25 pounds I’d lost and have found it difficult to get back into a routine. As it stands, my current activity level is fairly sedentary. I am hoping to use this food diary to kick-start my training for the National Half Marathon in March, and to secure lifelong health and wellness.



5:45 AM: Alarm sounds. Snooze. It’s a new day, I think. Time to hit the gym. Then I remember that my boyfriend will be heading to DCA soon to catch a flight for work. I should probably see him off. Tomorrow is a new day. I turn off the alarm and go back to bed.
7:30 AM: After wishing the boyfriend bon voyage for the week, I open the fridge, still feeling a bit groggy after a weekend of football and mediocre bar food. Monday always feels like a blank slate when it comes to healthy eating, so I want to get things started on the right foot. I scramble up some Southwestern-style Egg Beaters, top a piece of whole wheat toast with Brummel & Brown yogurt spread, and pour a glass of chocolate Silk.
9:00 AM: Arrive at my job on the Hill. Go through the normal morning routine: Make half a pot of coffee, fill a 32-ounce Sigg bottle with water, drink all 32 ounces, and follow with four cups of black coffee.
10:00 AM: Weekly staff meeting! Happy I ate breakfast, since these tend to run long. Per usual, I have to step out to use the restroom—the downside to the coffee-and-water binge first thing in the morning.
11:45 AM: Meeting is finished. Starting to feel a little mid-morning hunger set in, so I grab a handful of Emerald dry-roasted almonds to hold me over until lunch. These are my boyfriend’s favorite snack, but since he’s out of town all week, I thought I’d bring them into the office to finish. They’re so delicious it’s definitely hard to not grab another handful, but I resist.
1:15 PM: Can’t hold out much longer. The smell of my coworker’s lunch is making me salivate. I pop my head into the cafeteria closest to my office and see nothing too healthy—mostly cream-based salads and an assortment of greasy Asian-inspired food. I walk through the underground tunnel to the building next door for the overpriced yet always reliable salad bar. I load up my to-go container with baby spinach, and top it with a few black olives, shredded carrots, jalapeños, and about half a cup of cooked quinoa. I pay for my salad and immediately regret not buying supplies to make my own at home. Such cost savings!
1:30 PM: I get back to my desk and remember I brought in a few cans of tuna last week (leftovers from my Hurricane Irene grocery freakout). I add a can of tuna to my salad for protein, along with a splash of Newman’s Own olive oil and vinegar dressing, which I keep in the office fridge. Operation salad: complete.
2:02 PM: Refill Sigg.
4:34 PM: I’m starting to feel that afternoon energy slump coming on. I grab another handful of almonds, wishing I had purchased groceries this weekend. Carrots and hummus would make me feel slightly less guilty right now. Too bad I have to work at my second job tonight. That trip to Giant will have to wait until tomorrow night.
6:15 PM: Head out from the Hill to my second job as a bartender. I stop by CVS on the way to pick up a prepackaged sandwich from the cooler. My boyfriend gives me a hard time about eating these, but I’ve seen the exact same ones sold in different packaging at Caribou Coffee, so they can’t be that bad, right? Unfortunately the self-checkout doesn’t seem to want to scan the sandwich. I put it back and grab a honey Chobani instead. (Must have been the nutrition gods giving me a sign.)
6:45 PM: Arrive at work and realize the Greek yogurt might not hold me through the night, so I order a wrap from the kitchen. Luckily, our bar prides itself on serving locally grown produce and free-range meat, so it could be worse. The wrap comes on a whole wheat tortilla and has chicken breast, avocado, carrots, red onion, alfalfa sprouts, and a dollop of house-made herb cream cheese.
9:30 PM: I chug a bottle of water. It’s hard to remember to stay hydrated when you’re running around bartending.
11:55 PM: Finally make it home—a fairly early night compared with most nights. I feel a little pang of hunger and grab a handful of Snack Factory garlic-Parmesan pretzel chips. The little bit of salt satisfies me, and I get ready for bed.
12:30 PM: Lights out.



5:45 AM: Alarm goes off. Hit snooze. Just another ten minutes.
5:55 AM: Beep. Beep. Beep. Snooze.
8:20 AM: Welp, so much for that morning workout. Definitely hard to get up early after a night of bartending. And to make matters more difficult, the weather has made for perfect sleep-with-the-windows-open-and-stay-warm-under-the-covers conditions. The only upside to my boyfriend being out of town this week is that I actually get to sleep with the windows open. The Columbia Heights street noise is a bit too loud for his taste, but I seem to sleep right through it.
9:00 AM: Running too late for breakfast. I grab a quick glass of chocolate soymilk and head to the Metro.
9:30 AM: Arrive at work and purchase a quick iced coffee (no cream or sugar) and a Fiber One oats and chocolate bar. Lots to do today, and no time for the morning routine since I’m already running late.
10:33 AM: Fill up the Sigg for the first time today.
11:52 AM: Almonds for the win! Can’t resist these delicious morsels. Hoping this holds me over for a while.
1:10 PM: Office lunches are starting to come out. Guess it’s time to get mine. I peek into the nearest cafeteria, hoping to find something healthy. Just as I expected—nothing, unless you count the fresh fruit. Head over to the other cafeteria to grab another salad. Today it consists of baby spinach, shredded carrots, red onion, green beans, jalapeños, and wild rice sprinkled on top. I grab a banana for good measure and head back to my desk.
1:15 PM: Add a tablespoon of Newman’s Own dressing and I’m set. Note to self: Must. Buy. Groceries. Tonight.
3:03 PM: Refill Sigg.
4:38 PM: And it’s back—the dreaded afternoon crash. Consume a handful of pretzel chips and try to refocus on work. Hoping I can find enough time tonight to hit the gym and get groceries. I hate grocery shopping.
6:46 PM: Time to leave work. Have a few errands to run. Could really go for a power nap. Not sure how I’m going to get everything accomplished tonight.
8:00 PM: Finally finished with my errands and am pretty hungry. Do I get groceries now and then make dinner? I decide against it because, as we all know, grocery shopping while hungry is disaster. I hop off the bus and head to the brand new Panera at DCUSA.
8:22 PM: Get home and immediately consume my Panera: a Sierra Turkey sandwich, a cup of chicken noodle soup, a baguette, and a small apple. Yikes. Against my better judgment, I look up the nutritional info for these items online. Double yikes. Guess I’ll be doing a bit more research before I go next time.
9:05 PM: Feeling fairly motivated and decide to head to Giant for groceries. Not sure if I’ll make it to the gym at this point, but at the very least, I’ll have healthy food to eat tomorrow at work.
10:17 PM: Ugh. How is it 10 PM already? I quickly clean my disaster of a kitchen and decide that laundry and the gym will have to wait for tomorrow. I bake a quick batch of chocolate chip cookies to take to work tomorrow. Baking or cooking always provides me with some sense of accomplishment. Of course, I have one cookie after they’re done.
12:10 AM: Watch some MLB playoffs and then head to bed. Set alarm for 5:45 AM—this time with the radio wake-up—hoping I’ll finally make it to the gym. This week isn’t turning out how I had hoped.

See Also:

Keeping a Food Diary During Chemotherapy

Low-Calorie Choices at Happy Hour



6:15 AM: Shoot. Of course my radio wasn’t a) turned up loud enough or b) set to a music station. It took 30 minutes before the soothing voices of the NPR correspondents could wake me up. Press (what I think is) the snooze button.
8:15 AM: You’ve got to be kidding me. I guess I had turned the alarm off. Running late once again. Jump in the shower. Hot water is broken. Awesome. #firstworldproblems
9:15 AM: Arrive late to work and realize I forgot to put on deodorant. It’s not even noon, and already I am a hot mess. At least I come bearing chocolate chip cookies.
11:00 AM: I finally have time to breathe after rushing to a meeting first thing. I buy a large iced coffee downstairs in the cafeteria. Thankfully, I remembered to bring my groceries in my mad dash out the door. Eat a Kashi cherry-and-dark-chocolate granola bar and an Activia light peach yogurt.
12:30 PM: So excited for my first Honeycrisp apple of the season! They are my favorite, although Giant really doesn’t have the best selection. It’s a little bruised. I can’t wait to go to an actual orchard and pick up half a bushel of them. I also unwrap a Sargento light string cheese made with 2-percent milk.
1:00 PM: How did I let the morning slip by without water? Fill up the Sigg.
2:17 PM: It’s funny how few snack cravings I have during the day when I’m slammed with work. I didn’t think about food until I looked over and saw my favorite purchase from Giant last night: Goldfish!
The guy at the checkout laughed and sarcastically said, “This must be for you.” Little did he know my 25-year-old self would be enjoying a serving of whole wheat Goldfish crackers the very next day. Nom nom nom.
3:43 PM: Salad time! So happy I bought groceries last night. *pats self on back* To a bed of organic spring mix with herbs I add crumbled goat cheese, Newman’s Own light roasted-garlic-and-balsamic dressing, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, sesame sticks, almonds, and pumpkin seeds.
5:45 PM: Coworkers commend me on my baking skills. I ’fess up and say it was a “just add butter and egg” mix. I eat two cookies.
7:00 PM: Time to head home. Hooray! Get back and cook up a smorgasbord for dinner: Egg Beaters, whole wheat toast, and caprese salad, with a side of roasted portobello mushrooms. I decide against the gym—again—and opt for laundry and some last-minute tidying of the apartment. The boyfriend comes home tomorrow, so I have to at least look like I’ve been productive this week.
12:17 AM: Get sucked in once again by the MLB playoffs and then head to bed. Boyfriend calls to tell me he’s going to give me a wake-up call in the morning and make me go to the gym. We’ll see about that . . .



6:30 AM: Martin Solveig’s “Hello” blares from my phone. I look over and see my boyfriend’s smiling face on the caller ID. He refuses to hang up until I’m out of bed standing. Groggily head to the gym and bust out three miles on the treadmill. I’m glad I went and grateful for my boyfriend’s insistence.
7:40 AM: Breakfast consists of Quaker instant apple-and-cinnamon oatmeal made with skim milk, and a glass of Silk chocolate soymilk. I jump in the shower. The hot water is back. Yes!
9:15 AM: I arrive at work and grab a large black coffee from the cafeteria before rushing to my boss’s event.
11:30 AM: The event concludes. I realize I forgot my Honeycrisp and goldfish crackers. Drat. I eat a piece of string cheese and a handful of almonds instead.
12:27 PM: Fill Sigg with water.
2:42 PM: I run down to the cafeteria to steal a container to make my salad in. See what looks like a delicious seafood salad made up of calamari, shrimp, cucumber, red pepper, and rice noodles in a light olive oil. I can’t resist seafood, so I put a cup of it in my container, pay for it, and head back to the office. Add my greens and crumbled goat cheese for substance, and I’m in heaven. Best. Salad. Ever.
3:37 PM: Refill Sigg.
5:38 PM: Looks like it’s going to be a late night at work. Thankfully, the boyfriend’s flight home is delayed, so I don’t have to feel bad about not meeting him at DCA. Grab a handful of garlic-Parmesan pretzel chips.
9:47 PM: My boyfriend finally gets home. We order sushi delivery and sit down for a relaxing evening of Modern Family and Glee. I’m a sucker for the Philadelphia Roll; we also have a few other basic salmon and yellowtail-scallion rolls.
12:15 AM: Time to hit the hay. What an exhausting week. Glad it’s Friday tomorrow. Boyfriend makes me close the windows. “Too much street noise,” he says. Set the alarm for 5:45 AM so I can head to the gym again. We’ll see about that . . .



Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian who specializes in healthy weight management without dieting, says: “One of the first things I noticed about this diarist is that she lost weight and regained it quickly. She attributed it to losing motivation for running and discipline for eating right. Losing and regaining pounds is called ‘weight cycling,’ and it’s not good for a person’s body or well-being. It’s characteristic of going on a diet. If you’re too restrictive with your habits, when you go off that diet you spin in the other direction. The key to long-term weight loss is not dieting; it’s understanding your behaviors and shifting the focus from dieting to self-care and wellness. There’s no point in losing weight if it is just going to come back on. The best thing she can do is choose not to diet and instead learn how to fuel her body in a balanced way so she can feel good about her wellness.

“This diarist should save the chocolate soymilk for recovery nutrition after runs. It has added sugar, which should be low. Instead, she should have fruit with breakfast. Berries are a great choice because they have antioxidants, fiber, and natural sugars. I always tell people to look for color on their plate, and fruit fits the bill.

“I love seeds and nuts as snacks, and one handful is the right portion. If you are still hungry after a snack, I recommend waiting about 10 minutes. It may go away. If not, grab some veggies to fill up while keeping calories low.

“This diarist does a great job adding the tuna to get more protein in her salad. Olive oil is a smart choice, too. When you make salads, you need protein and fat for long-term energy. But later on, she doesn’t do such a good job including this important component. Her salad with baby spinach, shredded carrots, red onions, green beans, jalapeños, and wild rice sprinkled on top salad sounds great, but it lacks protein. No more tuna or quinoa? Seafood is a great choice of lean protein.

“The wrap this diarist grabs during work [at the bar] sounds delicious and healthy. One thing to be careful of is that usually restaurant portions are pretty large. Since she had the yogurt, I’d maybe order a small bowl of the fillings from the wrap or ask a coworker to share it. If she gets hungry again after work, she can always eat. But when you’re a member of the clean-plate club, you could be overfeeding yourself at times. It’s so important to be present when eating and ask, ‘How much do I need right now?’

“In my experience, it’s a challenge for many clients to distinguish hunger from fatigue, stress, or other feelings. This is her second job of the day. She’s wiped! I would have her do the ‘apple test’—if these chips were an apple, would I eat it? If the answer is no, that’s not hunger, it’s a craving. She should go to bed. We don’t always have to answer cravings by eating.

“Skipping breakfast is not a good idea. Chocolate soymilk on the way out the door is better than nothing, but I would have nudged her to grab a piece of fruit or plain oatmeal at work if she could.

“When I look at what she ate today, I notice that she skipped breakfast and pushed the morning snack, and doesn’t get lunch until around 3 PM. I call this ‘backloading’ energy. Even though you are busy with work, you still need good fuel. She should really take a look at her tendency to run late and ask, ‘What do I need to do to get nourishment in the morning?’ She could even scramble eggs the night before and nuke them in the microwave. Add a piece of fruit, and there’s a quick, healthy breakfast on the go.

“Kudos to the boyfriend for being a cheerleader. He is more motivated for her exercise than she is. She needs to realize that she deserves some ‘me time’ each day—and getting exercise is something important for her wellness. Not only did she get up in time to exercise, but she also got a better breakfast: oatmeal. I would add nuts to the oatmeal and swap the chocolate soymilk for fruit—remember that color!

“Nobody should ever feel guilty about eating. Yes, it’s ideal to have a variety of foods, and since she had almonds earlier, carrots and hummus would be a great choice, but almonds are good for you. Don’t ever feel guilty for honoring your hunger. It’s biological. You need to eat! Don’t wait too long. My dad used to tell me, ‘Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.’ It’s common for people to wait too long to eat and then over-order takeout food. Next time, she should realize that she is very hungry and that as soon as she starts eating, the hunger will start to go away.

“This diarist also keeps mentioning that she needs groceries. Planning is key for every lifestyle. Hopefully this week will remind her of the importance of making time to get healthy food in the house.”

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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