Do you ever wonder about how well you’re eating? Or if your food plan is in line with your fitness goals?
Sure, some of us have that nagging voice inside our heads telling us not to eat the entire chocolate bar or have yet another glass of wine. But due to a host of reasons—how we were raised, food trends around us, what we’ve read or haven’t read—there may be a few habits still flying under our radar.
When it comes to our diets, maybe we’re eating better than we think; then again, maybe we aren’t.
This is where the beauty of registered dietitians comes in. “A Registered Dietitian (RD) is a trained nutrition professional who has met the strict educational and experiential standards set forth by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND),” nutritionED.org notes.
To find out how a registered dietitian can help us improve our everyday eating habits, I had our cofounder Kara Eschbach record what she ate and drank for one week. Kara’s goal is to achieve a weight where she feels at her best and maintain it. I shared her food diary and goals with Sylvia S. Ng, a New York City–based registered dietitian nutritionist, and asked her, “What is she doing right? And where could she be going wrong?”
In an effort not to inundate you, we selected one day that represents Kara’s typical meal schedule (when she’s not running around for travel and meetings, of course):
7 a.m.: 2 8-ounce glasses of water; 1 egg + 1 white, scrambled; 1.5 turkey sausage links; 3/4 mug of black coffee
8:20 a.m.: 1/4 mug of black coffee
10 a.m.: 10-ounce water, crunchy peanut butter Clif Bar
11:15 a.m.: 1/4 mug of black coffee
12:10 p.m.: lunch is chicken with broccoli and pepper shrimp (from a deli buffet)—8 ounces in total, about half meat, half veggies
12:50 p.m.: sipping through another 17 ounces of water; mug of Lemon Lift black tea
2 p.m.: chocolate brownie Clif Bar (OK, I might have a Clif Bar problem . . .)
5 p.m.: 8-ounce Stella Artois, 8-ounce water
6:10 p.m.: teriyaki-marinated tofu and Brussels sprout sandwich with chipotle mayo on a pretzel bun
6:45 p.m.: 4 large whole wheat crackers
9:30 p.m.: 16-ounce water
Looks pretty good (and pretty typical), right? Here’s what Ng had to say.
"Eating breakfast is a good idea to make sure you're not starving and over-eating by lunchtime, but overall there's no real variety," Ng notes. To get a better balance of nutrients, here's what she recommends:
"[It's] good that Kara eats lean proteins, but the turkey sausages are also processed foods. Since she's already getting protein from the eggs, I would recommend taking those out and just adding in a few vegetables and/or fruit in the morning (e.g. sliced tomatoes and avocado, some berries and an orange, etc.) for more fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins to round out her breakfast."
Here's where it gets interesting. Ng laughs: "I love the comment about her 'Clif Bar problem'—admitting you have a problem is the first step. Clif Bars are one of those things that appear healthy, but replacing her PB Clif Bars with something like apples + peanut butter (I like to add ground flax seeds to this combo, too) or a banana with a handful of walnuts could do a much better job of keeping her satisfied."
It's about volume and time. "Both the bars and the fruit/nuts can provide similar nutrition facts (kilocalories, fiber, sugar, protein). But the difference is the water content of the bar is less than the fruit so it really doesn't keep you as full because of the volumetric difference. Also, bars likely won't provide as many vitamins and nutrients, and can be eaten in like one minute while the fruit + nut combo might take a little longer to snack on."
In fact, a study by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity shows that slow eating supports "decreased hunger and higher inter-meal satiety" when women drank ten ounces of water between meals and snacks.
"Overall she does a relatively good job with some of her meals that are balanced on a macronutrient level, mixing vegetables with carbs and protein (though some of the proportions aren't stated)," Ng says. A good rule of thumb? Go 50/50: Make your plate at least half fruits and veggies.
In other news, "good use of lentils for plant-based protein," Ng says. [It's not shown here, but Kara often eats it for lunch.] Other examples of health-boosting, plant-based proteins you can sneak into your meals include chia seeds, quinoa, nuts, beans, and tofu.
"Sometimes we can mistake hunger signs for thirst signs, so she does a good job drinking at least eight glasses of water a day to keep hydrated," Ng says. Struggling in the water department? Read our ten tips to drinking the recommended amount of water each day.
Drinking coffee in moderation has its benefits. But Ng points out, "She drinks about one to three cups of coffee every day (based on the assumption that a "mug" = eight-ounce cup) and though there's no set limit on coffee, I would recommend switching out some of those cups to more of the tea she drinks on occasion, especially green tea for its antioxidant properties such as EGCG, which may help boost metabolism." And according to a major study in Nutrients, it could help prevent cancer, too.
"She's good at limiting her alcoholic beverages (recommend average one drink per day for a woman and she drinks zero to two per day)," Ng tells me. But when it comes to a balanced diet, of course there's a caveat. "[Just] note that alcohol also carries calories, so her 'cocktails' may or may not be caloric-laden, while an average glass of wine/beer could be 120-250 kcal." A great excuse to sub that afternoon tipple with a wine you truly love.
One Final Tip
"In general she did a good job keeping track of her daily intake, but I would also recommend taking note of when she gets up/goes to sleep, too," Ng concludes. "If she were a client, I would wonder how long after she wakes up and before she goes to bed that she is eating (to assess if she's eating when not hungry, or not eating when she's hungry in the morning/at night may affect hunger cues and 'mindful eating'), and possibly if there is a pattern of eating habits that correlate with days she's not getting enough sleep." That said, the research is clear: Thirty-six studies suggest that not getting enough sleep "is strongly and consistently associated with concurrent and future obesity."
Most of Ng's advice seems on par with food culture author and journalist Michael Pollan, who sums it up well in In Defense of Food: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." If you'd like to foster healthier eating habits and reap the benefits for the rest of your life, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Eat Right database to find a qualified practitioner near you.
Photo Credit: Ali Inay