A Food Diary Is Pretty Much What It Sounds Like

My diary history began in about 1978. I treasured my little lined book with the Mork and Mindy cover, the delicate lock and tiny silver key. I hid the key under my pillow. Turns out my younger brother could pick the lock with his pinky nail. So most of my diary was in all caps: “KEEP OUT OR DIE PIG FART! IF YOU ARE READING THIS YOUR EYES WILL BLEED JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIE CARRIE!”

Being in Catholic School at the time, there were also little prayers. Things like, “Dear God, if you have to make a whale eat someone again, maybe it should be Sister Jordan? And maybe that could happen before my piano lesson on Thursday?”

But there were secrets, too: “Jessie gave me a pecan. What does that mean? I am keeping it in my desk forever.”

By college I was a budding writer. When I skipped off to Paris in 1989, I poured my heart out. In French. Song lyrics, mostly. In my defense, I was madly in love with a singer, the winner of the French version of Star Search. And if you speak any French at all, you know pretty much every word rhymes with every other.

I hadn’t kept a diary again until our head of CoreNutrition Barbara Lincoln asked me to keep a food journal. All I had to do was download an app and type in everything I ate or drank for five days. No problem. It gave me something to do when the other mothers at pick-up were tapping importantly on their phones. I imagined them typing: “Tell Hil I’ve got Iowa covered,” while I banged out “2 T cold saag paneer, 1 apple, and a Dunkin Donuts flatbread.”

Five days straight of food journaling. And then Barbara asked for the password to my account. Insert vivid flashbacks here of my brother and his tiny pink fingernail, of the French musician who cheated on me with a Swedish flight attendant and then made fun of my songs. None of that matched the horror of allowing Barbara to see what I ate every day. While I was running a fitness studio.

And yet, somehow I swallowed my pride (and then journaled swallowing my pride – No saturated fat! No calories!) and gave Barbara the password. We are planning a meeting to go over my food choices in detail. But Barbara’s initial reactions already have made a big difference in my energy level. Bottom line is, I need to ask myself: “Am I eating healthy food that nourishes my body, or processed food filled with sodium and junk?”

In our first meeting, I discovered:

1. I was eating about half of what’s necessary to sustain life. Whaaaa? Yay! I get to eat more food! But wait. There’s more…
2. Barbara doesn’t want me to add just any calories. They have to be healthy. I’m not eating enough vegetables and fruit. “How can I wash, prepare, cut and bag a bunch of fruits and veggies when I feel like I’m shot out of a cannon every morning?” I ask. “Make time,” Barbara gently insists. “Five to seven servings a day.”
3. I eat too much saturated fat and not enough healthy fat. Sausage pizza and saag paneer are not great choices. Walnuts, salmon, olive oil and avocado get the green light.
4. My diet is high in sodium from processed foods. And I’m not drinking enough water. Add the Megaformer sweat factor. Hello, H2O!
5. I should trade some carbs for high-quality protein, about 75-90 mg a day. Bye-bye flatbreads.
6. No more half-n-half with my coffee. That one really hurt. But with whole or 2% milk I’ll get some protein and less saturated fat.
7. I need to nix the granola and go for 2% Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and raw nuts. Guess what? It’s delicious.

I’m not focused on losing weight, but I’m truly desperate to have more energy, sleep better at night and just feel better. I’ll keep you posted after we do a deep dive into my food choices. But just the process of keeping a food diary has been insightful. Saag paneer is not a food group. And I need to get chopping.
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I’m Putting My Food Where My Mouth Is

I’d like to look like I own a fitness studio rather than, say, a 24-hour donut franchise. I’m obsessed with the workout we teach and I can honestly tell you that at 46, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. But the stress of a new business, the lack of sleep, the almost constant work cycle and the demands of a family that insists on my love and presence, have all taken a toll on my eating habits. I’m learning the hard way that exercise alone simply isn’t enough to achieve the healthy body I want.

It would seem obvious that if you have a registered dietician like Barbara Lincoln on your team, you should tap that resource. She’s super-knowledgeable, generous, empathetic, and her biceps make Michelle Obama look like a slacker. But something kept holding me back. Answering a detailed questionnaire about my eating habits felt a little like inviting Barbara over to watch me shower. Could I really let the director of CoreNutrition see the secret Dunkin Donuts stops I’ve made when I’m seeing spots and lightheaded because I went 7 hours without eating? And the terrible choices I’ve made once there?

I tested the waters with Barbara during a casual chat about breakfast. I thought I’d get an A-plus for my nonfat Greek yogurt, blueberries, and the low-sugar, all natural cereal I stir into it.

“The berries are great!” Barbara said. “But I really think you should switch to full-fat yogurt. And that cereal, along with the fat-free stuff, is adding a lot of carbs.”

She was helpful, not judgmental. And I learned in two minutes that the start to my day, every day, might not be the best choice. So I downloaded a food-tracking app and filled out the dreaded questionnaire.

It’s amazing how unconscious I can be about food choices when I’m driving, creating a new playlist and mentally planning Henry’s birthday party all at once. I eat at least one meal a day in my car. It limits my range to anything hand-held that doesn’t drip and is available at a gas station or drive-through. It’s time to get a grip.

“You could carry two hard boiled eggs and some cut-up vegetables with you,” Barbara offered. Switching out a fast food flatbread sandwich for whole foods clearly could have a big impact.

Tracking food is fascinating and humbling. It forces you to be honest with yourself about what you’re putting into your body (sodium! hidden sugars!) and what you’re not (enough protein!).

So I’m putting my food where my mouth is and sharing this with you. I want to be a positive role model, not a hypocrite. I want to be able look my clients in the eye when I talk about nutrition.
I’ll keep you posted. Maybe even videotape some of my sessions with Barbara. You’re welcome to ride along on this journey with me. Just don’t ask me to stop at Dunkin Donuts on the way.


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