This is the first article in a new series: The Diet Diaries. Based off New York Magazine’s Sex Diaries and Ramit Sethi’s Money Diaries, I have collected stories from real people about their eating and fitness habits over seven days, and I’ll be posting them here. These are true, accurate, and brutally honest accounts of the struggles- physical, mental, emotional, and social- that people go through as they try to get in shape.
Our first entry features Sharon (not her real name), a 44 year old professional who lives in the Maryland/DC area, and has struggled to lose weight since her divorce 5 years ago. I’m starting with this entry because it perfectly illustrates why losing weight is harder than it sounds- under the weight of stress and social pressure, it just isn’t that easy to make the food decisions that might seem obviously correct to an outsider. And for the guys, this diary contains a couple of fascinating insights into the unwritten rules of female friendships.
Day 1: Monday August 3
Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41% Age: 44 Height: 5’6
It feels like August snuck up on me today because last time I was aware of the calendar, it was still July (Friday). This morning’s struggle to get out of bed started last night if I’m being honest with myself though. It wasn’t a good decision to sleep over my boyfriend’s when I knew he wouldn’t come home until after midnight last night but we are very much in love and I wanted to greet him happily when he came in tired with his guitar. However, I fell asleep early and only remember being grouchy and monosyllabic when he walked in. Then I couldn’t fall back asleep because I felt the weight of tomorrow pressing down. It’s probably not realistic to juggle so much AND want to undergo a major transformation but I don’t know how to stop thinking about it. Keeping a diary feels simultaneously hopeful and depressing.
Breakfast: 9:30am: Coffee with 2 tbsp honey. 11am: Tuna salad on 4 sliced tomatoes. 2 pieces of Trident gum.
Macros: Carbs 35g Fat 5g Protein 10g
I was proud of myself for eating something “healthy” this morning (let’s ignore the mayo) so I felt hopeful until I was interrupted by vacuum lady at work. I had the same thought I have every single Monday for the past 9 years: WHYYYYY must they vacuum during the day? And a MONDAY at that??? It seems like every minute, someone interrupts to vacuum, dust, empty the trash bin or chat. It drives me crazy, especially because my job is stressful right now. I work with dysfunctional software which requires fragmentation of my focus. Each interruption takes me out of that darned state of “flow” everyone says is essential to life satisfaction.
Maybe I don’t need a diet coach. Maybe I need a focus coach.
Incidentally this is PMS week. I guess if you’re going to document things, why not pick the worst case scenario week? Ugh.
Lunch: 1:30pm veggie burger with sautéed mushrooms & onions, no bread. 2 tbsp bbq sauce, 15 chocolate pomegranate bites, and 1 piece of sugarless gum. 2:30pm: salad with spring mix, carrots and mushrooms with 2 tbsp thousand island dressing.
Macros: Carbs 57g Fat 9g Protein 20g
I threw out the roll from my veggie burger because I don’t really like the way bread tastes, not because I’m trying to avoid carbs but if I was really good, I would have avoided the candy jar by the sign-in sheet. I cannot refuse the siren call of that dish. I wish I knew how to improve my willpower. It’s only a few hours into Monday and I’ve already blown it.
Snack 4pm: popcorn
Macros: Carbs: 26g Fats 1g Protein 4g
Why did I say it was okay for the cubicle neighbor to borrow my salt? He’s used it all up and I forgot to get some from the cafeteria and now the popcorn tastes like cardboard. Work got super stressful and I locked myself in my seat and didn’t get anything to drink for hours. Why do I do this? Ignore my own bodily needs? They say thirst can mask itself as hunger so I should be drinking more but I actually hate the taste of water.
Dinner: 7:30pm southwest chicken salad and frozen chocolate yogurt with wet walnuts.
Macros: Carbs 72g Fats 33g Protein 30g
I go to a women’s counseling group Monday nights and while I love the insight I get from these sessions, they are emotionally wearying. I buy myself some frozen yogurt afterwards because I feel entitled. The day took a lot out of me. I console myself by saying at least it’s yogurt and not ice cream.
Total calories for the day: 1452
Macros: Carbs 193g 51%, Fat 49g 29%, Protein 74g 20%
Day 2: Tuesday August 4
Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41% Age: 44
I feel hopeful again like I usually do when I wake up. But seeing the week stretch before me, I can see I have too many plans lined up after work, something I told myself I would stop doing. Except that scaling back means I don’t get to see friends as much. How can you wish for your life to be simpler without making it smaller? Maybe I want the impossible.
Breakfast: 1 tbsp peanut butter and one grapefruit.
Macros: Carbs 20g Fat 8g Protein 5g
I am hoping the peanut butter is satiating and I can get away with not eating much else for breakfast. It tastes delicious. One part of me believes it’s not all bad and the other part thinks it must be horrid. I guess I should look that up and see for sure but I don’t really want to know. So I head to work with a spoonful.
Lunch: 12:30pm Tuna wrap with tomato. Cheese wedge, popcorn with butter, and chocolate chip cookie. 3:30pm: Caesar salad with chicken
Macros: Carbs 74g Fats 76g Protein 68g
I planned to have tea with a girlfriend at lunchtime for her birthday today. I picked up some chocolate chip cookies to surprise her (they don’t sell cake at work) and snarfed down a tuna wrap while driving so I’d have something in my system besides sugar when we celebrated. If I ate nothing else, cookies alone would make me sick.
She welcomed me warmly and I started telling her about this diary. She looked me up and down and then exclaimed, “Why? You’re so thin!” She seemed betrayed and I realized I violated one of the unspoken rules of sisterhood: never mention feeling body conscious around someone who is larger than you. She offered me cheese and I ate some even though I didn’t want any. It seemed rude not to.
I do this a lot, I notice. Wear my baggiest clothing around girlfriends who are larger than me. Their comments make me feel self-conscious, like I need to apologize for being thinner so it’s just easier to look even more terrible than I already do being 20 pounds heavier than my college weight. I should lose 10-15 pounds to look like my old athletic self and while that doesn’t sound a lot, I’ve not been able to do it. I got close one fall and while I felt great inside my skin, the comments and stares made me so uncomfortable. I feel ashamed of not mastering control over my body. If I really wanted to, I would, right? Am I uncomfortable being seen? Or too entitled to deny myself when my willful innards demand instant gratification? Or maybe I don’t really believe trying will make a difference, and my unrealistic schedule requires so much energy I’ve got little left for hope. Maybe it’s multiple things. Whatever it is, it’s motivated me to try observing myself for a week.
Lunch with my girlfriend was wonderful but I lost track of time and ended up using vacation hours to cover being out. I’m annoyed that I let this happen and didn’t plan to offset that in advance. I guess it’s not much different than not planning to have a healthy snack handy when cravings hit but planning just seems so extraordinarily difficult and complicated.
I thought I recovered from feeling stressed and playing catchup but then at the end of the day, just as I was typing a summary to my boss, the keyboard crashed and I had to reboot my entire system, delaying my leave time by 20 minutes. I was so hangry (hungry and angry) that I ate 3 freezer-burned brownie bites from the communal fridge. The idea of driving 45 minutes home that hungry was intolerable. I used to keep emergency food in my car but since I bought a new(er) one last month, I haven’t fully “moved in” to it yet. (Or that’s what I’ve told myself. I don’t know what the real excuse is. It seems like I only have so much energy to throw at things and there are a lot of things that need attention besides myself.)
Dinner: 8pm Steamed veggies with olive oil and salt, mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Macros: Carbs 52g Fats 30g Protein 10g
I had dinner with my sweetie and started to calm down for the evening. We ate something healthy together but I wondered if I shouldn’t be putting olive oil on my veggies. Fat is confusing. Also, I know I shouldn’t eat ice cream but today sucked. I don’t even like mint chocolate chip but it’s in his freezer and I want something sweet.
Total calories: 2058
Macros: Carbs 151g Fat 113g Protein 82g
Day 3: Wednesday August 5
Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41% Age: 44
Breakfast: 9am piece of colby jack cheese and coffee with honey.
Macros: Carbs 36g Fats 21g Protein 16g
Teleworking while my car is in the shop but there’s no food in the house. Planning FAIL.
Lunch: 12noon – 3 squares of chocolate nut crunch by True North, 1 piece of colby jack cheese and 8 tortilla chips. 1pm: BLT sandwich
Macros: Carbs 84g Fats 64g Protein 30g
I am hungry and I decided to down 3 squares of chocolate, a piece of colby jack cheese and 8 tortilla chips before my lunch date arrived. I have zero impulse control. They brought me a BLT which was delicious. Doesn’t bacon cause cancer? I shouldn’t be eating it but whatever.
6:30pm 4 bites of fish taco, 4 bites of chocolate cake, 3 fiber gummies with vitamin D3 and 2 pieces of gum. 9:30pm milk chocolate bar with almonds, 10pm: 10 crackers with spaghetti sauce and cheese.
Macros: Carbs 80g Fats 64g Protein 35g
Had dinner with a friend at a local diner. “What’s new?” she asked, smiling, and I told her about this diary. She said, “Why are you documenting what you eat, you look great!” So I ordered a piece of cake that I didn’t want and didn’t even like. It was dry and too sweet. But she was ordering dessert even though she hates her body and wants to lose weight too, how could I not have some too? At least I didn’t eat much but then I felt crummy wasting money.
I also didn’t eat much of the main course because I was talking too much. I tend to eat so slow that adding any other preoccupation practically stops the entire process. My girlfriend noticed I wasn’t eating much so I made up a story about not being hungry. I don’t like eating when the other person is finished because then they just stare at me. I feel on the spot to rush. Why does everyone eat so fast? I hate eating socially.
After the diner, we went to a bookstore, my favorite place in the whole world! I was in heaven. Just as we were about to leave, I was struck with severe hunger pangs and grabbed a chocolate bar on the checkout line. When I got home, I downed cheese and cracker mini-pizzas like I hadn’t eaten for 3 days. I don’t think I’m giving myself enough down time this week.
Total calories: 2401
Macros: Carbs 199g Fat 148g Protein 80g
Day 4: Thursday August 6
Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41% Age: 44
Breakfast: 9:30am: coffee
Macros: Carbs 34g, Fats .1g Protein 0g
I wasn’t hungry so I only drank coffee for breakfast. Could it be because I ate so late last night? That wouldn’t matter for something that happened that many hours ago, would it? Hmmm.
Lunch: 12:00pm red grapefruit, 12:30pm salad with chicken and barley soup.
Macros: Carbs 66g Fats 10.5g Protein 36g
For lunch, I at a delicious salad with chicken until I was bursting. But I was so thirsty afterwards that I ate the soup I bought for dinner just so I could drink the broth. It was heavenly but when I finished, my stomach was so full I had trouble breathing. That feeling didn’t go away for almost 2 hours. Was it worth it? Why can I not see this in advance? I wait until the need is so great that I absolutely will not heed what’s wise.
Another software issue arose and I started fantasizing about those freezer-burned brownie bites in the communal fridge. I didn’t even care that they are 6 months old or that the pleasure of eating them only lasts 30 seconds, I still wanted them. Small victory: I resisted! For a few hours at least.
Dinner: 10pmWendy’s apple pecan chicken salad, 8:30pm 4 brownie bites.
Macros: Carbs 159g Fats 62g Protein 48g
After I logged out of work, I decided to make a playlist for my 4 hour drive up north. I had recently purchased some self-help audiocasts and couldn’t wait to listen to them but I didn’t know how to transfer the files to my phone.
I spent 2 hours flailing at technology before I gave up and just burned some CDs. I was 2 hours off schedule and so hangry (hungry and angry) that I ate those damned brownie bites I resisted earlier. I hadn’t expected to be there until almost 9pm.
I hit the road feeling extremely stressed and even hungrier so I stopped at the first rest station I saw and bought chicken salad and a package of peanut butter cookies but I was happy until 1am when I realized I was still quite far from my destination. I spent 45 minutes texting my sister, who was also stressed, and didn’t end up at the hotel until 3am. I was so wound up that I couldn’t fall asleep until almost 4am.
Total calories: 1966
Macros: Carbs 259g/51%, Fat 72g/32%, Protein 84g/17%
Day 5: Friday August 7
Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41% Age: 44
Woke up after only 5 hours of sleep, quickly showered and hit the road to pick up my mom for a family luncheon, the first of many events scheduled over the next few days. Bummed that I missed out on the hotel’s free breakfast and coffee.
Lunch: 1.25 lb lobster and coffee 12:30pm. 4:30pm 80 calorie dried quinoa cocoa bar
Macros: Carbs 50g Fats 33g Protein 29g
Lunch was a real treat. Loved seeing family although there were some tense moments when they asked for an update about my love life. I don’t like sharing details because it seems to invite criticism with this particular side even though that’s the only part of my life right now that doesn’t feel like it needs any adjustment. I ate all the waffle fries even though I don’t even like fries, but I can’t eat moist foods when I’m feeling high-strung because it reminds me of the few times I almost choked to death as a kid and an adult. Plus everyone was commenting that I’m so thin (compared to them), the pressure made me feel apologetic.
Dinner: 7pm: half a shrimp & scallop greek salad (2 scallops and 3 shrimp), small decaf coffee with 1/2 coffee and 1/2 nondairy vanilla creamer and 2 chocolate covered cherries. (10pm: ate the other half of the salad and 2 pieces dove dark chocolate with almonds.)
Macros: Carbs 77g Fats 29g Protein 15g
Dinner with more family was great but I only ate half of it because I was so busy talking. I saved the other half for later. Driving home at 10pm, I suddenly felt starving. When hunger strikes, I panic. I can’t be calm about it, like “oh I’m feeling hungry, let me think about next steps.” It turns into a desperate call for survival somehow. I don’t know how to just be hungry, or make reasonable choices when ravenous.
Total calories: 1215
Macros: Carbs 126g/41%, Fat 61g/45%, Protein 43g/14%
Day 6: Saturday August 8
Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41% Age: 44
1:30pm 6 cheese wedges and a piece of dark chocolate almond bark. 4pm: sliver of roast beef sub with mayo.
Macros: Carbs 73g Fats 59g Protein 33g
I had loose plans to meet with someone at lunchtime that I hadn’t seen in 5 years but I didn’t realize until I arrived at their studio that they had said “lunchTIME,” not “lunch.” No food was planned. I hadn’t prepared for this. I never ate breakfast so by the time we finished talking, it was 1:30 and I was both starving and emotionally spent, although I was very happy to see them. Note to self: eat breakfast if you’re going to discuss your failed marriage!
Then I drove to another family member’s house and mistakenly shared the morning’s activities. They said, “that must have been hard” except it came out sounding like, “what’s wrong with you?!” and I cried, my default setting when overloaded. I couldn’t choke down lunch until a few hours passed.
I’ve noticed that I seem to eat more when anxious. My throat just closes up when I’m sad and I can’t get anything down.
Dinner: 6:30pm: 3 bites of eggplant rollatini and 4 bites of broccoli rabe.
Macros: Carbs 31g Fats 4.9g Protein 12g
Drove to another relative’s house for dinner. I wasn’t totally hungry but I ate a pecan tart in the car on the way over. I felt entitled. Like, “Look how crummy my day (week) has been, I just want something that feels nice.”
It doesn’t feel nice to feel fat but I didn’t care then. I cared later, when I saw how fat I looked in photos, but I feel powerless over my impulses. I don’t know how to be different.
I didn’t eat much at dinner. My dad was concerned that I wasn’t eating enough so he offered to share his dessert. I didn’t mention the pecan tart but I only had 2 small spoonfuls and said I was done. He looked satisfied with that.
Around bedtime, after a long and wonderful talk with my amazing dad, I started to relax and authentic hunger kicked in. Had an 80 calorie blueberry yogurt and went to bed.
Total calories: 1121
Macros: Carbs 104g/36%, Fat 63g/49%, Protein 44g/15%
Day 7: Sunday August 9
Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41% Age: 44
Breakfast: 9:30am black unsweetened coffee and 1/2 a mushroom & cheese omelet.
Macros: Carbs 4.5g Fats 8g Protein 7g
Had breakfast with my dad and stepbrother. I don’t get to see my stepbro much because he lives 1,000 miles away so this was a real treat. We horsed around like old times but it was a bit rushed because I had to leave to drive to yet another family member’s house.
Lunch: 12:30pm other half of the omelet and half a peach. 3:30pm tuna with lettuce and tomato (no bread), vanilla moose tracks (Hershey’s).
Macros: Carbs 65g Fats 49g Protein 35g
I ate the rest of the morning’s omelet (thank goodness for leftovers!) and drove 45 minutes to see a new baby in the family, born only 2 weeks ago. All the family visits this weekend were good stress, but still stress because the logistics of each were particular.
My marathon weekend finally finished around 3pm! I climbed into my car and my whole body relaxed palpably. I didn’t realize how tense I was until everything in me slumped at once. I no longer had to prop myself up!
I wanted dinner for the ride home so I stopped at the first rest station I could and got myself ice cream to steel up for another 4 hours. I felt self conscious walking out of the rest station with a cup of ice cream, imagining that everyone must be thinking, “No wonder she’s chunky!” but I also felt defiant, like, I will NOT be told what to do, especially because of all the demands on me lately.
Looking back on my diary, the schedule I’ve been trying to keep looks crazy.
Dinner: 6:30pm Starbucks mocha and popcorn, 7 pieces of gum.
Macros: Carbs 58g Fats 15g Protein 10g
I was in danger of falling asleep while driving so I pulled into another rest stop, put my seat back and got 7 full minutes of sleep before the car behind me started blaring its alarm. That’s relaxing. I went inside to search for coffee but the line was so long that I decided to go to the travel mart.
While browsing options, people appeared behind me, impatiently waiting to access the same area and I fled with the more fattening choice because it was the fastest. It didn’t require putting it back into the row of drinks and grabbing the healthier choice, which I would have done if no one was breathing down my neck. I couldn’t handle anymore scrutiny so I told myself I already shot the day to hell, what’s an extra few calories?
I know this is terrible logic but I think it anyway.
I wanted a snack and noticed a lady selling popcorn and thought “oh, fiber!” It was $4 which is too expensive but it felt awkward to ask and then walk away so I bought some. I’m cringing admitting this. Then I chewed 7 pieces of gum and drove home.
This has been an interesting experiment and I don’t know now if I need a food coach, a workout coach, a focus coach, a self-esteem coach, or a “help me get my life back in control” coach! Or if I just need to be 6 people.
Total calories: 1497
Macros: Carbs 127g/38%, Fat 71g/47%, Protein 51g/15%
From John- I’ll be posting more of these diaries over the coming months and years- along with analyses of some of the insights that can be gleaned from them, and how to overcome the challenges highlighted in these diaries. If you want to read that- sign up below to have all future articles delivered directly to your inbox.