Reader Melanie Rosen let our diet spy, dietitian Molly Morgan, follow her every eating move. Did Melanie eat more than she thought?You get the dressing on the side, you take your chicken grilled, not fried, and youve never met a vegetable you didnt like. If youre so virtuous, why cant you shake that extra weight? Stop polishing your halo, and consider this: You may be eating more than you realize. To find out if she was, Health reader Melanie Rosen let our diet spy, dietitian Molly Morgan, owner of New York-based Creative Nutrition Solutions and the author of the Choose Right Supermarket Shopping Guide, conduct a daylong stakeout (or make that a steak-out!) to observe her grazing habits. Were Melanies little indulgences adding up to big damage to her waistline? Are yours? Read on.
8:30 A.M. Coffee break
Melanie grabs a tasty Venti Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino Blended Coffee with whipped cream while out for a stroll with Ben.
Ahhh, cozy sweaters, cool weather, and Melanies favorite seasonal drinks: pumpkin-spice lattes and Frappuccinos. She tries to watch calories by skipping the pumpkin-spice doughnut she used to pair with her drinks. Still, she worries Ben is starting to associate going for a walk with grabbing a treat.
540 calories, 16g fat
Diet Spy says: “There are plenty of ways to celebrate the season without drinking what really amounts to a glorified milkshake. Tell yourself that youll go into the next Starbucks up the street. With any luck, your mind will have moved on to something else by the time you get there, and the craving will have passed. If you really cant resist, though, jazz up a small skim milk latte with a dusting of cinnamon or cocoa powder, sugar-free flavored syrup, or vanilla extract for a less-than-100-calorie treat.“
11:30 A.M. At the gourmet shop
Melanie stops by a neighborhood cheese shop for groceries, indulging in a few free samples as she browses.
The only thing more tempting than Camembert and a sliver of warm plum crumble is free cheese and pastry! Melanie hesitates for a nanosecondthese samples arent exactly dietetic, and shes not exactly craving either food right now. But how much damage could she do with just a taste of each?
97 calories, 7g fat
Diet Spy Says: “You wouldnt buy a shirt just because its on sale, so why eat cheese simply because its free? Still, you often feel powerless in the face of free treats when youre hungry, so make a point of buying groceries after eating a meal. Or bring along a healthy snackeven a mint will do the trickto eat while shopping. When you see a tempting sample tray, help yourself to free coffee or tea instead. Another good strategy: Shop at off times (early morning, after dinner) when stores are unlikely to offer samples.”
12:30 P.M. Still running errands
Hungry, Melanie breaks into her grocery bag for half of a multigrain roll she bought for dinner.
After ignoring her grumbling stomach for nearly an hour, Melanie is ravenous. That hunk of roll isnt incredibly appetizing on its own, but at least its healthy. Right?
75 calories, 1g fat
Diet Spy says: “We often forget to count calories that we grab on the fly when were starving. If you plan ahead and pack a snack, an empty stomach should never take you by surprise. When youre hungry, eat right away. The longer you wait, the more likely youll blow your calorie count on whatever you can get your hands on … even a boring roll. Theres nothing awful about a multigrain roll, except that its not as healthy as it sounds. Instead, look for a whole-grain roll, which generally has a lot more fiber. When shopping at a bakery without access to food labels, look for the darkest grainthatll usually be the healthiest choice. Oh, and to keep from breaking into the bag, tie a knot in it.”
3:00 P.M. Checking e-mail
Melanie crunches on cashews straight from the container.
Her job allows her to work from home, with all the flexibility that entails (access to Ben, good; having her office in sight of the kitchen, bad). With deadlines looming, Melanie tends to nibble. Cashews meet her three “S” requirements for a snack: a little sweet, a little salty, and totally satisfyingsometimes too satisfying. She felt a little “gross” after three handfuls.
468 calories, 37g fat
Diet Spy says: “Sure, nuts are full of healthy fat. But Melanies afternoon pick-me-up contains more than half of her fat allotment for the day! Eating while e-mailing is a surefire way to lose track of calories. Instead of dipping into a container of nuts, put one handful in a bowl for built-in portion control. Also, keep dried fruit and popcorn in the pantry, both of which have fewer calories and more fiber. Leave these choices on the counter in plain view, and put trigger foods on a high shelfor get them out of the house.”
6:00 P.M. Feeding Ben dinner
Melanie gives Ben dinner, sneaking a few bites for herself.
With two hours to go until her husband joins her for dinner, its hard to resist when Ben offers Melanie some tortellini from his plate. Hes so cute (and shes so hungry). Later, Melanie pops Bens leftovers into her mouth instead of the garbage disposal. Why waste a perfectly good chicken nugget?
95 calories, 3g fat
Diet Spy says: “One hundred extra calories doesnt seem like a lot, but Melanie could save 36,500 caloriesor about 10 poundsa year if she stops grazing off of Bens plate. If youre so hungry you find yourself eating toddler food, its a sign you need your own snack during kid dinnertime. A serving of whatever veggies youre pushing would be ideal, because it also sets a good example. Do your kids consistently leave a half-cup of leftovers after every meal? You could be giving them too much; it could even be a subconscious way to keep yourself hooked up with leftovers. Time to cut back.”
9:00 P.M. Baking and tasting
With dinner over and Ben sound asleep, Melanie has time to frost a homemade cake.
Ever the meticulous chef, Melanie makes sure to taste the frosting a few times before slapping it on the cake. Oops! A little ends up on her fingers. Its easier (and far more delicious) to lick it off than to reach for a wet paper towel.
70 calories, 4g fat
Diet Spy says: “What Melanie needs is an obstacle between her mouth and the spatula. I suggest chewing gum, sipping tea, or sucking on a sugar-free lollipop while cooking and baking to discourage tasting the batter, frosting, etc. Oh, and keeping a paper towel on hand to wipe up excess frosting is a no-brainer. To prevent overdoing it on the finished product, it helps to have some substitute sweets with fewer calories on hand, such as chocolate pudding made with skim milk or a few squares of dark chocolate.“
9:30 P.M. Our diet spy's recap
“Melanie is inadvertently taking in loads of extra calories. Each morning, she should plan three meals and two snacks, factoring in on-the-fly nibbles. She says shed like to find a way to eat a brownie a day without wrecking her waistline. Thats doable. She can have a handful of cashews, Bens leftovers, or a browniejust not all three.”
|Half multigrain roll||75|
|Five licks of frosting||70|
Bonus tip: If Melanie cuts just one-eighth of her 490,925 extra calories a year, shell lose 18 pounds after only one year, according to Molly.
Melanie talk's back
“Having Molly point out the sheer number of extra calories I was eating was really a wake-up call. Before, I chose not to look at nutritional information because I just didnt want to know what kind of damage I was doing. Ignorance is no longer bliss! Im back to checking all of the labels.
Subbing a ‘healthy snack for a calorie bomb like chocolate cake is something that Id recently gotten out of the habit of doing. Thanks to Mollys prodding, Im happy to say that a glass of chocolate milk will sometimes do it for me. I also liked what she said about prioritizing my calories and thinking ahead about what Im going to eat for the day. This tip actually keeps me organized and helps me spend less money at the grocery store.
Wow! I cant believe that eating Bens leftovers could have cost me about 10 extra pounds. Breaking that habit is a simple tweak Im definitely going to try.”
So heres what I learned:
Give smart snacks the green light: Ill eat a healthy bite when hungry rather than waiting until Im famished.
One word: Mints. I should pop them (or gum) to keep my mouth occupied.
BYOC: To save coffee-drink calories, tote your own. I love the tip about adding a little shake of cocoa!
Stock up on snack cups: Mini containers help with portion control.