How a Career Firefighter Eats on the Job: Food Diaries

This food diarist is extremely active, but is she getting all the nutrients she needs from her Paleo diet?

This food diarist takes fish oil capsules, but is she getting enough nutrients with her Paleo diet? Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Stephen Cummings.


Gender: Female
Age: 31
Height: Five-foot-five
Weight: 153 pounds
Profession: Career firefighter/hazardous materials technician
Self-described activity level: I’m lucky that I get to move around quite a bit at work, and I enjoy power lifting (bench press, squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses). Staying strong, especially in the upper body, is essential to my job. In between my lifting days I typically do some sort of conditioning work, usually a shorter CrossFit-style workout. I also enjoy hiking, backpacking, skiing, and most forms of outdoor play. As far as diet goes, I follow primal/Paleo principles, but still do include some dairy (in the form of butter and heavy cream). I am completely gluten-free (I miss beer, though, badly) and do not consume any grains or beans, except for green beans and an occasional pea.



6:20 AM: I wake up at the firehouse and get ready to head home from work. I grab a cup of coffee and add some cream, but work coffee often tastes like someone dissolved a brown crayon in water, so I decide to hold off for better coffee at home.
8:40 AM: Home from work, and coffee is brewed. Make bacon and eggs with apple slices for breakfast. I’m glad I’m getting to eat a good breakfast, because I have an appointment at 10 AM to donate platelets at the Red Cross.
12:15 PM: Donation done! I have one of the cranberry drinks from the Red Cross fridge because I forgot to bring an orange. I try not to read the ingredients.
2 PM: Eat two hot Italian sausages with a sautéed pepper and onion. I kind of forgot when I picked it up that we’re having fajitas (with peppers and onions) for dinner. Oh, well.
5 PM: Dinner is fajitas, so the steak is marinating while I make coconut flour tortillas and fresh guacamole. I grill the steak, and the fajitas are delicious.
9 PM: Enjoy some gingerbread coffee with cream and some almond butter with coconut and banana. I don’t always eat dessert, but I was craving a little something sweet. Oh, and I’ve been pounding lots of water to get my fluids back.



4:30 AM: After a bad night’s sleep I wake up to get ready for work with one thing on my mind: coffee. In fact, given that I drank some last night and slept poorly, it may be the cause of, and solution to, all of my problems.
9 AM: We’re done washing the fire trucks, and I am definitely hungry. Feeling good after scrambling a couple of eggs and having an orange.
10 AM: I succumb to the omnipresent holiday candy and have a Hersey’s Kiss.
1:30 PM: Time for lunch. I have the leftover sausage from yesterday with some greens left over from another meal. Kind of a bizarre mishmash, but it hits the spot.
6:30 PM: My shift made dinner that is “Paleo-friendly”—pot roast (and they didn’t use any flour or corn starch to thicken the juices). I steered clear of the potatoes, except for one that snuck in.
9:30 PM: Damn omnipresent holiday candy! Two more Hershey’s Kisses.



6:30 AM: Wake up at work and head home. The unit I was on didn’t get any calls last night, so I feel reasonably rested.
7:45 AM: Get home and make delicious coffee with cream, and also enjoy a couple of the holiday treats my partner made while I was at work: bacon, dark chocolate, and cashew bark, and a homemade peppermint patty. They are delicious, but not exactly a healthy breakfast. Oh well—it’s the “holiday season.”
11 AM: Finally getting around to a real breakfast of apple slices, bacon, and a fried egg.
2 PM: Hit the gym for some heavy squats, lunges, and situps. I do a lot of “squat therapy,” which basically consists of mobility work, before lifting. It feels great!
4 PM: Finally home from the gym and the grocery store, where I got the ingredients for our “Paleo Reuben in a bowl.” Since we skipped lunch, we are both pretty hungry, I wish it were magically ready! We put the corned beef in the oven right away to cook for a few hours.
7 PM: Okay, now I’m really starving. I have my partner, Kim, to thank, because dinner is ready and delicious! It consists of homemade sauerkraut, carrots, a Paleo Thousand Island dressing (yes, we make our own mayonnaise), and, of course, corned beef. It is amazing.
9 PM: I’ve been resisting the gingerbread man container full of treats all day. Time for another peppermint ball, and then a couple of fish oil capsules and bedtime.



6:20 AM: Wake up and make some coffee.
8 AM: Make the usual scrambled eggs and have half of an orange with them.
11 AM: I’m pretty sore from yesterday’s heavy squats, but I need to get up and get mobilized. I decide that a walk to the grocery store for some provisions is in order to iron out the legs and get some much-needed winter sunshine. It’s about a mile to the grocery store, and there is a fairly substantial hill. I keep a nice brisk pace.
11:45 AM: Shopping done, I schlep back up the hill with our food. It does make you think twice about what you’re buying when you have to carry it home. My bags contain blueberries, blackberries, some heavy cream, pork chops, bacon, two pears, two beef marrow bones for making bone broth, and two avocados.
12:30 PM: Make lunch: some bacon-wrapped avocado slices with pork chops and shallots. A very tasty and satisfying lunch.
4:30 PM: Start some prep stuff for dinner, Mongolian beef with spaghetti squash “noodles” and broccoli. I also throw the bones into the crock pot with garlic and a little salt. This beef bone broth will be the base for a chili I’m making later in the week, and will be cooking for more than 24 hours.
6:30 PM: Dinner is served. We enjoy our meal while watching Kung Fu Panda 2. It’s amusing, and Kim found me a pair of chopsticks to eat with. Fun!
8:30 PM: Dessert is a coconut-almond-date ball; a bacon, cashew, and dark chocolate bark piece; and a peppermint ball. I sort of feel a little guilty eating so many sweets when I really haven’t had many treats since going Paleo over a couple of months ago, but the holidays come once a year.
10:30 PM: I forget to take my fish oil and pass out for the night.



Ann Nothwehr, a certified nutrition support clinician with a certificate in weight management at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, says:

“Our diarist’s activity level is fantastic and should support all-around good health. Judging by the physicality of her job and the exercise she describes, our diarist likely has a high percentage of lean body mass. Her BMI of 25.5 is not a good indicator of muscle mass, but she falls within a normal weight range for her height.

“Her eating habits are based on the “primal/Paleolithic” diet, a regimen that includes foods allegedly eaten during the Paleolithic period of history: (grass-fed) meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and nuts, but not grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, salt, or processed oils. Our diarist seems to be using the diet’s principles as loose guidelines, so it would be interesting to k
now the reasons behind her food choices.

Coffee and chocolate seem like modern intrusions into the diet that can be justified to varying degrees. Up to two cups of antioxidant-rich coffee daily may help to prevent Parkinson’s, diabetes, and liver cancer. Dark chocolate’s antioxidants are good for cardiovascular health and insulin sensitivity (the milk in milk chocolate seems to inhibit the absorption of antioxidants). An appropriate dose would be a couple of squares daily. Beyond the saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium arguments are the many studies showing increased risk of cancer linked to the consumption of processed meats. These breakfast meats go with eggs—lots of eggs—which are problematic in quantity due to the fat and cholesterol in the yolks. I suggest that the diarist get lab work done, including a lipid profile (cholesterol) and having her vitamin D level checked. This will help to get an objective snapshot of the impact that the diet is having on her overall health. (Note that one’s lipid profile will be unnaturally skewed during periods of active weight loss and/or dramatic dietary changes; wait until weight and diet have been stable at least two weeks before testing.)

“People with an allergy or sensitivity to gluten need to avoid wheat, barley, rye, and oats that may be contaminated with any of the previous three grains. For people without this reaction, whole grains such as whole wheat are good sources of B vitamins, selenium, dietary fiber, and magnesium. Our diarist’s current intake of these nutrients is likely low. Depending on her level of gluten tolerance, she should either adjust her diet to include these nutritious foods or use supplements to avoid deficiencies.

“Remember that skipping food groups generally means running low on certain nutrients. I’m glad to hear about fish oil capsules in the house. Increasing the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is an anti-inflammatory tenet of Paleo diets that we can all agree on. I’m happy the diarist gets some outdoor time—summer sunshine can help her vitamin D status. However, at our latitude, our skin makes little, if any, vitamin D from sunshine during the winter. She should add calcium and vitamin D supplements if she is skipping dairy. If she continues to avoid food groups such as grains, she should consider a daily multivitamin. She would also benefit from a fiber supplement or preferably many more vegetables in her life. In summary, I suggest choosing healthy proteins, many varied vegetables and fruits, and vitamin supplements for omitted food groups.”

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