Imagine peeking into a dietitian’s food diary. Would it contain only healthy foods like salads and smoothies? And kale for dessert?
To find out, we asked Katrina Helcoski, registered dietitian at CoreLife Novant Health in Pineville, North Carolina, to log every last bite she over seven days.
Chances are, if you’ve ever tried a weight loss plan, you’re familiar with the concept of tracking everything you eat — often called a food diary, log or journal.
“It really makes you aware of your actions — like overeating or having long gaps between meals,” she said. “And a food diary can also help you make sure your body’s getting all the nutrients it needs.”
After logging a week’s worth of meals and snacks, Helcoski shared what she ate and what she learned from the exercise. She also offered suggestions based on her experience and insights.
Monday, Sept. 19, 2022
Egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin
Note: I was going mountain biking and made something I could eat on the ride, plus made sure to have carbs and a little bit of protein.
Fairlife chocolate milk
Note: Post-exercise fuel!
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Note: Packed to bring to the wake park where I wakeboard.
Cheese ravioli with turkey meatballs
Side salad with “Zesty Italian” dressing
Note: After a long day of activities you need to refuel your body with carbs and protein!
Note: I order a four-pack of cookies from Crumbl, a franchise that specializes in making large cookies and ice cream. Then, I cut the cookies into fourths, and have a few pieces each night for dessert.
Takeaway: Balance indulgences with nutrition.
Keeping this food diary made me realize how much I love desserts. I did feel a little funny writing them down, though, because people often assume dietitians don’t eat them.
But sweets are my favorite foods ever — and that is totally fine! It’s part of my lifestyle, so I incorporate them in a balanced way — like quartering a large cookie, instead of eating the whole thing.
Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022
Peanut butter banana protein shake, made with 1 cup milk, 1 scoop “Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder” (chocolate, of course!), 1 frozen banana and some ice.
Note: When I know I have a busy morning, I make a protein shake or smoothie and add a lot to it to make sure I'm giving my body all it needs to power through the morning.
Better health starts with finding the right doctor.
Hummus and cheese wrap — made with a tomato basil wrap, garlic hummus, provolone cheese, tomatoes, pickles and arugula
Note: I love wraps because you can really load in the veggies and change them up.
2 Hershey kisses
Note: Sometimes you just need something sweet!
Slower cooker chili — I use ground turkey, load it with different types of beans, and also add lots of chopped onions and peppers to get more veggies
Note: I LOVE my slow cooker! If I make too much, I often put the leftovers in containers and freeze for another week.
Pieces of Crumbl cookies
A glass of milk
Takeaway: Mind the gap — with snacks.
Going without food can affect your metabolism, blood sugar and energy levels. So I find most of my patients need to add at least one snack a day — especially if their days are filled with long gaps when they’re not eating.
Also, I’m mindful about planning strategic snacks — combining a protein with a fruit, vegetable or whole-grain carb — which sustains me from meal to meal.
Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022
Overnight oats — made with old fashioned oatmeal, vanilla Greek yogurt, a splash of milk, almond butter, banana and cinnamon
Roast beef and cheese wrap — made with a tomato basil wrap, Swiss cheese, honey mustard, arugula, tomatoes and banana peppers
Note: I like to add in some red meat to get iron, since I have been low in iron in the past.
Leftover cheese raviolis with meatballs and marinara sauce, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese
Side salad with balsamic dressing
Pieces of Crumbl cookies
One cup of milk
Takeaway: Embrace leftovers
Many of my patients who live alone say they don’t want to waste food by cooking too much or buying produce that goes bad. But, living alone doesn’t mean we can’t eat healthy foods.
Looking at my food diary for the week, you can see how I plan my meals so I don’t overbuy. For example, try:
- Buying smaller amounts of ingredients and halve recipes so there’s just enough for yourself.
- Cooking full-size recipes (like the ravioli and chili I made this week) and refrigerate or freeze individual portions for later.
Yogurt bowl with Nature’s Promise Peanut Butter Dots, vanilla Greek yogurt, peanut butter and a banana.
Buying smaller amounts of ingredients can help make sure you don't waste food.
Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022
Yogurt bowl — made with Nature’s Promise Peanut Butter Dots, vanilla Greek yogurt, peanut butter and a banana
Note: I like to make yogurt bowls with cereal or granola, a nut butter and some fruit. I always look for cereals with 10 grams or less of added sugar.
Handful of dried banana chips
Sandwich — made with turkey, Swiss cheese, avocado, arugula and “Everything but the Bagel” seasoning
Leftover slow cooker chili
Pieces of Crumbl cookiesNote: I always buy whole wheat or whole-grain bread.
Takeaway: Eat produce and whole grains to feel more satisfied
Instead of counting calories, I suggest my patients focus on eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You can snack on them, put them on sandwiches and include them in recipes.
When they try this, people always say, “Oh, my gosh! I feel like I’m eating so much!” That’s because these foods are not only nutrient-dense, they also contain fiber — so they add a lot of satisfying volume.
Friday, Sept. 23, 2022
Granola with milk, blueberries and half a sliced banana
Sandwich — made with turkey, Swiss cheese, avocado, tomatoes and lettuce
Breakfast for dinner — eggs and grits bowl with salsa, avocado and shredded cheese
Note: I like doing breakfast for dinner when I need something quick and easy to make.
Takeaway: Ditch diets and restrictive eating rules.
I try not to call foods good or bad, or even healthy or unhealthy. There are a lot of nutrient-dense foods our bodies and brains want so they can function. And those we label “junk food,” I call “foods your mind wants.”
I truly believe in letting your body and your mind have the foods they want — in a balanced way. Once you get rid of rules and rigidity, eating is neither a punishment nor a reward.
Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022
(On the road all day)
Egg and cheese on a bagel
Note: All from Dunkin’ — was driving to the beach to surf!
Note: A pre-surf snack — I like to grab a piece of fruit for quick energy.
Açai bowl — made with a berry/protein base, topped with strawberries, blueberries, bananas and peanut butter
Note: Açai bowls — made with antioxidant-rich berries from the açai (pronounced ah-sah-EE) palm tree — are super refreshing. They can be high in sugar, though, so make sure to have a protein powder added to the base. I like these when I am very active, because it replenishes my energy stores.
Note: I like a carb snack with some salt to give me energy when I’m surfing, and to replenish the electrolytes I lose from sweating.
Takeaway: Fuel your body for action
I’m very active, and love traveling and surfing. So, I’m often on the road, hopping here and there for various activities. Those are the times I really focus on what — and when — I need to feed my body.
Before any activity like surfing, wakeboarding or mountain biking, I know I need a carbohydrate — a banana, an apple or a slice of whole-grain toast — for energy. Afterward, I reach for a carb and a protein to help my body rebuild and recover.
Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022
One cup of milk
Note: Breakfast at the hotel.
2 mandarin oranges
Note: I also added a Propel packet to my water to replenish electrolytes and help stay hydrated at the beach.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Note: I made a PB&J at the hotel and packed it with me for the beach.
Note: I ate this on the car ride home.
Salmon with Old Bay seasoning
Baked sweet potato
Note: I added some cinnamon and a small amount of plant-based butter to my potato. I try to eat seafood/fish at least twice a week to get the omega-3 fatty acids.
2 scoops of Ben & Jerry's ice cream
Note: Sunday night is ice cream night! Just be mindful of portion sizes.
Takeaway: Eat for your lifestyle
Looking back at my food diary, I can see that the way I eat works well for me and my lifestyle. But we’re all unique, so I think it’s important to consider your own life, health and goals.
Instead of going on a diet you dread returning to after a treat, consider consulting a dietitian to custom-tailor a really awesome lifestyle that meets your needs. Then, it’s OK when you indulge — you can just move on, and continue living your life.