So, we asked three R29ers — a vegetarian, a meat eater, and a near-vegan — to keep week-long food diaries that detailed everything (and we mean everything) that they ate. Then, we reached out to Nicolette M. Pace, MS, RD, CDE, CDN, CFCS, and the founder and president of NutriSource, who gave us a no-holds-barred review of how well we're eating — or not — along with some advice on how anybody can eat better. (That means you, reader.) Read on to see what went down.
She says: I'm a vegetarian. I currently have a "sticking-my-head-in-the-sand" mentality about what I eat. I am not making conscious efforts to maintain a healthy diet, although I believe I have a fairly stable foundation: I enjoy vegetables and salads and don't drink a lot of alcohol...but I do love carbs in all their luscious forms.
Day 1: I started with the same breakfast I have had every single day for most of my life: Special K with almond milk and raspberries, plus coffee with skim milk and two Splenda packets. For lunch, I grabbed takeout from 'Wichcraft: tomato soup with parmesan, and a spinach salad with peppers, olives, and lemon-olive oil dressing. If snacks are around, I will eat them...which is why I nibble pretzel sticks at work and don't keep snacks at home. I went out for dinner, where I had potato gnocchi in cream sauce with peas and mushrooms. It was the only vegetarian option; I have found the vegetarian options at a lot of restaurants to mainly be pasta dishes. Sad face. Oh, and I had two Pimm's Cups, too.
Day 2: Old habits die hard. Breakfast was Special K with banana and almond milk, plus coffee with skim milk and two Splenda. Once I find a salad or healthy lunch place that works for me, I tend to stick to it. We recently moved to a new office, and luckily, it didn't take me too long to find The One: organic marinated kale tossed with purple cabbage, avocado, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and tahini. Dinner was sad, but at least there was some protein: scrambled eggs with parmesan, arugula salad with walnuts and olive oil. Plus, a beer.
Day 3: There were bagels at the office, so I planned ahead (for once) by not eating at home. Had half of a plain bagel with cream cheese, plus — you guessed it! — coffee with skim milk and two Splenda. Lunch was another kale salad, like yesterday's. Remember how I said that if snacks are there, I'll eat them? I found white-cheddar popcorn in the office kitchen. (Why, R29, whyyy?) After work, on the way to feed my friend's cat, there was a falafel place right on the corner. For $3.25, what choice did I really have?
Day 4: Special K with almond milk, banana, coffee with skim milk, and two Splenda. Lunch was just what I had in my fridge: another avocado-Swiss-tomato-arugula sandwich on rye. Later, I went out to dinner at a vegan restaurant — which, I want to say loud and clear, does not make it light or healthy or sensibly portioned. I had a black-bean fake-cheez burrito with kale salad, brown rice, and salsa. Topped off with a whiskey soda.
Day 5: Ah, the weekend — the perfect time to act like you don't have free will concerning your food intake. Planning meals is for people who wake up early and read the paper. You left the house without eating? Hungry all of a sudden? Not to worry, there's a BagelSmithMuffinDonutSandwichThing on the corner. Sudden low-blood sugar turned into "I'll have an egg and cheese with mayo, on a roll, plus coffee with skim milk, and two Splenda, please." Later, friends were ordering sandwiches at the deli, so I picked up an avocado-Swiss-tomato-arugula sandwich with mustard on rye. Too many carbs, so I had a lighter dinner: kale salad with shredded carrots, walnuts, grapes, cucumber, and vinaigrette dressing.
Day 6: Shuffle to fridge, pour Special K and almond milk, slice up a 'naner. Same coffee setup. I'm good to go. In a desperate effort to mix up my lunch routine/not contract rickets, I ordered a slight variant: tomato soup with parmesan cheese, plus spinach salad with peppers, olives, and a lemon-olive-oil dressing, all from 'Wichcraft. Later, pretzel sticks were batting salty lashes at me again from single-serving bags. How could I resist? For dinner, another restaurant pasta dish with browned butter, mushrooms, and tomatoes.
Day 7: For breakfast, I grabbed a beet-ginger-kale-orange juice from the corner juicery, plus a coffee with skim milk and two Splenda. As a phenomenally lazy creature of habit who cannot cook to save her life, my go-to lunch is, surprise, a salad. Today, it was mixed greens with radish, avocado, goat cheese, vinaigrette dressing, and two pieces of toast. For dinner, laziness got the best of me — this time for the worse, because I violated my golden rule of no snacks in the house. I had some junky things on hand, so dinner was corn chips and guacamole, plus arugula salad with pine nuts and olive oil.
So, what does Pace make of Isabelle's week of eating? "I respect her honesty and her admission that she is not necessarily making conscious food decisions," Pace says. "And, I agree that she has a good foundation and good intentions." Eating lots of healthy veggies and low-fat options gives Isabelle nutrients and natural weight management, she says. But, the lack of meal planning isn't so great.
"Isabelle could do better by becoming more proactive with menu planning, so she doesn't get caught with choices she may regret," Pace advises. "Also, she should rebalance her macronutrient distribution to get in protein for meals and snacks." That'll help with too much starch — and the crashes and cravings that follow. "It's more challenging for vegetarian diets, but it's doable," Pace says. (Try vegan proteins such as soy and buckwheat, plus combinations of beans, grains, and nuts.)
For Isabelle to make even better choices, Pace recommends noting when she feels cravings. "Track your schedule and mealtimes to get a heads-up on the right mealtime that meets with your hunger," she says. And, when heading out to eat with friends, scope out the menus in advance — that way, heavy pasta dishes aren't the only option.
She says: I don't think I'm that unhealthy. Sure, I don't work out, and I enjoy one too many bags of Hot Fries, and yes, perhaps I'm shy of reaching my daily quota for fiber, but I do like to cook. I just don't do it. With my work schedule (and a recent after-hours development with a newfound crush), it's been difficult to prepare healthy dinners, let alone pack my lunches. And, now that our office is in the FiDi, what I eat for lunch is at the whim of the local eateries offering fast, to-go service.
I'll tell you one thing: Even if I can't find a juice bar for the life of me, I will manage to have some meat in every meal — even if it's gray and I'm not sure what it is exactly. What can I say? I'm your average meat-and-potatoes kind of girl.
I'm nervous to hear what the dietitian has to say, though it doesn't take a genius to realize that I don't eat nearly enough veggies to counteract all the beef — and I might have a few too many cocktails during the week. Would you believe me if I said this was a particularly bad week?
Day 1: For breakfast, I picked up a venti sweetened iced coffee with soy from Starbucks. A venti is unnecessarily large, so I feel like it constitutes a full-blown meal. For lunch, I had a Korean-Mexican fusion burrito with kimchi, sirloin beef, spicy cabbage, rice, and lots of hot sauce. Dinner was Wendy's chicken nuggets with fries and a strawberry lemonade. For a late-night snack, I had some avocado rolls and salmon with a few obligatory cocktails.
Day 2: I had a proper breakfast today: cereal with soy milk. Lunch was yesterday's burrito leftovers, along with a tall caramel macchiato from Starbucks. Dinner was a salad (hurray, greens!) with beef and vermicelli noodles (and of course, lots of hot sauce).
Day 3: It's Bagels Friday, so I had half of an everything bagel smothered in cream cheese and an iced coffee with soy milk and sugar. Did I mention that I'm lactose-intolerant? Lunch is a small cup of chicken noodle soup and a zucchini pancake. Dinner was a lot of cocktails in the L.E.S.
Day 4: Today, I was road-tripping to D.C....and I slept through my alarm. In a panic, I grabbed my duffel and jumped into a taxi. For breakfast, I picked up beef jerky, a cheese stick, and a bag of Hot Fries. Lunch was delicious Mexican tapas of fresh, table-side guacamole and chips, huevos rancheros, and a glass (or two) of blackcurrent margarita. For dinner, I had scallops and veggies, escargot, and a glass of pinot grigio at an awesome French restaurant. For dessert: lots of cocktails, which were warranted since I was on vacation.
Day 5: Brunch with eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, and salad with iced tea. Skipped lunch since I was back on the Megabus to go home. Dinner was rice, Spam, and a fried egg.
Day 6: Back at the daily grind with iced coffee for breakfast. For lunch I was deciding between grilled veggies or fried chicken wings. Guess which one won? For dinner, I had a chicken panino and two cocktails.
Day 7: Had a Naked Green Machine juice to make up for all the lack of greens in my diet this week. (That counts, right?) A croissant and a cup of coffee for breakfast. Lunch was udon noodles, and for dinner I had a wallop of MSG with instant Shin Ramyun noodle soup.
Because Sharon has a busy schedule, Pace advises doing more planning, especially for those after-work hours. "Explore restaurants and takeout options for veggie choices that are tasty," she says. "Draw a two-to-three mile circle around where you live and work, and see the food venues and menus so you can boost nutrition. Don't fight your schedule — work with it!"
She says: I'm a lactose-intolerant vegetarian, which means I wind up eating vegan most of the time. Because I prefer fresh and healthy foods over junk food, I think I'm healthy, but this week was hectic — on Friday, I barely had time to eat! Plus, I was traveling from Saturday through Monday night, so I ate a lot more carbs (and a lot less protein) than I would like. As much as possible, I eat breakfast to fuel my days, but the rest of the day is up and down.
Day 1: I had a three-egg omelet with spinach during a breakfast meeting — a healthy way to start. For lunch, I picked up raw cauliflower-cashew rolls from the local juice place, then snacked on a mix of pecans and carob. My fiancé made an amazing dinner: spaghetti with pistachio-asparagus pesto, plus sautéed garlicky kale. For dessert, I had some fresh blueberries and apricots.
Day 2: I begin every day at home with Cheerios and almond milk. Because of back-to-back meetings and appointments, I didn't have time to eat a proper lunch, so I snacked when I could: a macaron at a fragrance launch, a few handfuls of popcorn back at the office. For dinner, I had a veggie plate of sautéed kale and shallots, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted beets, and asparagus with lemon. A glass of sauvignon blanc, along with some cherries and blueberries for dessert, was a nice end to the day.
Day 3: A crazy day — I barely had time to eat. I had Cheerios and almond milk for breakfast, then picked up an iced soy latte and a croissant on my way to work. No time to pop out for lunch, so I didn't eat again until around eight. Slurped down an almond milk/date/carob/coconut smoothie, then inhaled some frittata with asparagus and tomato. Not my finest nutritional moment.
Day 4: Up at 5 a.m. to fly to Miami Beach for a hair show. At the airport, I gobbled a few bites of plain oatmeal before boarding, but by the time I landed, I was HONGRAY. Headed to Yardbird, a great Southern restaurant, where I had three eggs, a salad of kale and Brussels sprouts, and bourbon blackberry lemonade. So good. I didn't get to eat dinner until 11 p.m., when I headed to The Bazaar for modern tapas: caprese salad, quinoa with fresh carrots and beets, Brussels sprouts (again), and a foamy passion-fruit cocktail. I was so pooped, I fell asleep at the dinner table. Embarrassing.
Day 5: Since I was in Miami, I had some rice and beans, Cuban-style, for breakfast. (A croissant was also involved.) In the afternoon, I was busy seeing the backstage prep for the hair show, so I only managed to eat some olives and hominy around 5 p.m. After the show, I went to a restaurant by my hotel; the only vegetarian option was spaghetti with sun-dried tomatoes. Had some Brussels sprouts, too, but overall, I wish I'd had more vegetables.
Day 6: Breakfast with the Oribe hair care team — I had lemon pancakes and eggs, plus a fruit salad of strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple. Headed back to Yardbird for more Southern goodness: grilled corn, hominy, kale salad, a bourbon blackberry lemonade, and some creamy mac 'n' cheese. Unfortunately, that last dish was a violent affirmation of my lactose intolerance. Bought a cucumber maki roll at the airport, but it tasted so foul, I couldn't finish it.
Day 7: Back in NYC, back to Cheerios and almond milk in the morning. Picked up a green juice (kale, apple, romaine, and ginger) on my way to work. For lunch, I went big: chickpeas and mint, spicy brown rice with tomatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, broccoli and quinoa with almonds, roasted carrots and cherries, and roasted red pepper. For dinner, I had lentils with rice and more roasted Brussels sprouts. I think it's safe to say that I really, really like Brussels sprouts.
Pace also recommends that Annie close the gap between the times she's eating. "Plan on eating something on a three-to-four-hour time frame to fuel you when you're away," she says. "Have some standby items at the ready with you, so you don't get caught in a situation where there aren't acceptable options." Protein shakes and homemade protein bars can provide sustenance, for example. Another easy-to-eat option: kefir smoothies, which will go down easily and not trigger her lactose intolerance. Overall, having healthy options in mind (and at hand) will help her keep a more consistent eating schedule — and keep her energy up all day.
Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza