It’s a question that many of us wonder… “what does she eat?”. When she is a nutritionist, the question, and anticipated response, can be far more intriguing. I am that she, a person who spends most of her waking hours doling out advice about vegetables and warning against the dangers of those evil refined carbs. So what does my diet actually consist of?
To preface my response, I will note that in my opinion, there are two primary personality types of nutritionists. One group delights in the precision of counting carbs and calories, calculating nutrient needs and prescribing exact diet regimens. I’ve got a little of that in me… (Admittedly, I’ve always loved running on a treadmill for that reason – controlling my incline and speed with a feeling of definiteness.) The other group loves food – all food (perhaps a bit too much at times) and became nutritionists out of a desire to learn how to moderate the diet for health. I am very much a part of this second group, and my career has been focused on how to eat deliciously, while trying to reign in some (but not all) of my “less healthy” tendencies.
I’ve always thought that the best diet is a very individual prescription and is a balancing act between diet ideals and quality of life. Because scientists and medical researchers have not yet determined the exact diet prescription for optimal human health, there remains a great deal of debate on this topic. Therefore, determining a personal diet ideal takes a combination of filtering all the messages we’re provided about health, wellness, longevity, and fitness, deciding what you believe to be the most likely, and pairing that with what you’ve observed about how certain foods affect your weight, mood, energy levels, and overall performance. The quality of life side to this equation is about living fully, happily, and without feeling deprived. For most of us, what we eat and who we eat with plays a pretty significant role in our quality of life.
Personally, I feel and function at my best with some combination of Mediterranean and plant-based diet styles. This means a diet rich in non-starchy vegetables and fruit, a consistent intake of plant-based fats (olive oil, nuts, seeds, etc.), limited quantities of animal proteins (primarily fish and eggs), yogurt and cheese here and there, and a moderate to limited intake of starchy foods. This is pretty easy for me to stick to during the week, when performance at work is a priority and there are fewer excuses for indulgences. My husband tends to work long hours, so I will usually do something light and easy for weekday dinners, having a more substantial afternoon meal. Weekends are quite different… When the clock strikes five on a Friday, I could sprint to dinner with my husband, eagerly anticipate brunch with friends, and think of delicious things to cook in my free time. By Sundayevening, I’m ready to tone things down, and usually cook a healthy meal to reset for the week.
A typical weekday might look something like this:
- Wake up and drink 2 cups of water and about 2 cups of coffee with nut milk (see below).
- Grab a handful of almonds or some other snack while running out the door for work.
- Breakfast ‘aldesko’, which is currently my bring-to-work yogurt and blackberry parfait (see below).
- Carrot sticks between breakfast and lunch.
- If I’m not organized enough to bring lunch (trending lately), I will often grab a greek salad and a piece of salmon from a prepared food store down the street from my office.
- Grapefruit in the late afternoon to hold me over until dinner.
- Dinners vary tremendously. Lately, I’ve been into frambles. (“Framble” is a Bon Appetit-coined term for something between fried eggs and scrambles). I love sautéing scallions in my frying pan, before cracking the eggs on top, frying them for a few minutes, then mixing everything together. Crisp whites + runny yokes is divine. I might also have a few slices of avocado on the side and/or a slice of toast…
- Scrounge around for something sweet and usually end up with a few dried figs or a piece of chocolate.
A Saturday may go like this:
- Wake up and drink water and coffee
- Go to yoga
- Grab a baked treat (muffin, scone, etc.) to hold me until brunch.
- Meet my husband or friends. Lately we’ve been loving our neighborhood cheese shop’s grilled sandwiches. My favorite sounds healthier than it is: a delicious combination of grainy bread, avocado, pine nuts, wilted kale, and goat cheese, pressed in a buttery grill.
- Dinner out. We’ll try a new restaurant or go to an old favorite, and anything is game. We love to eat.
While this style of eating may not be appropriate for everyone, the weekday/weekend balancing act works for me. I look forward to my healthier weekdays as much as the more indulgent weekends and never feel deprived. By no means is my diet perfect, nor is this post meant to be encouragement for others to mimic my intake. However there are two important concepts to hone in on. First, what’s important about this style of eating is the concept of being thoughtful about and structuring in indulgences. Rather than haphazardly eating baked goods at my desk throughout the week, I’d rather save them for when they can be truly enjoyed and appreciated. Save the good stuff for the good times. Second, only eat delicious food. Even though my weekdays have fewer calories and are more healthful than the weekends, I love every one of my typical weekday foods. Why eat any other way?
Alex’s Homemade Nutmilk:
- 1 ½ cups raw, unsalted walnuts and cashews (I use more walnuts than cashews)
- ¾ tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ½ tablespoon ground ginger
- ¼ – ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 5 cups water
Combine all ingredients in a Vitamix** or other high-powered blender (see instructions for regular blenders below). Blend on high speed for about 10 minutes, until the milk is well combined. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated. This milk keeps from about 5 days – 1 week. Note that the milk tends to separate because there are no added emulsifiers. Do not be alarmed by this! Simply shake, and drink up.
**This recipe requires a Vitamix or other high-performance blender. If you do not have one of these, I recommend soaking the nuts overnight then straining them before blending with water. After blending well, strain the nut milk through cheesecloth and firmly squeeze out all the liquid from the pulp. Mix in the spices and seasonings, and store in an airtight container.
Alex’s Bring-to-Work Yogurt Parfait
- 1 cup frozen blackberries
- dash of cinnamon
- dash of ground ginger
- dash of salt
- 1 cup 2% plain greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup almonds, walnuts, or other nuts
Whack the bag of frozen berries to break apart large, frozen chunks. Combine blackberries, cinnamon, ginger and salt in a mason jar, tupperware or other pint-sized, air-tight container. Top with yogurt, and sprinkle with nuts.
The frozen berries brilliantly keep the yogurt chilled during a commute. (The parfait is best eaten when the berries have thawed but the yogurt is still cold.)
Alexandra Rothwell is a registered dietitian, with a specialization in oncology nutrition. She currently works at Mount Sinai’s Dubin Breast Center, in New York City, primarily consulting with breast cancer patients throughout treatment and survivorship. Previously, she worked with patients of head and neck cancer, bone marrow transplant, gastric, colon, and prostate cancer, among other malignancies. She has completed her Masters of Public Health from Mount Sinai’s Ichan School of Medicine and received her nutrition education from New York University. You can find other writings and recipes by Alexandra on her website feastofgreen.com.