"When people see what I eat, they can't believe it," says Keri Gans, RD, a dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet. A fan of red meat, martinis, and french fries, Gans isn't one to back away from the foods she likes just because they don't have superfood status. In her words: "Eating should be enjoyable!"
In honor of National Nutrition Month, three dietitians are dishing on how they meal and deal. Believe it or not, they really do dig into slices of cake and sip mango margaritas – they just keep it balanced with healthy decisions, too. But don't take our word for it:
"I'm a huge fan of carbs like bread, pasta and french fries."
Gans isn't a proponent of deprivation diets, and says her regimen includes loads of "taboo" carbs, such as pasta, pizza, french fries, and bread. "I just pick and choose at each meal," she explains. "If I want some french fries, I get rid of the bun on my burger. If I want to have pasta, I use fewer noodles and add veggies like broccoli for volume." She also cops to having a bagel most days, along with whole-wheat bread at lunch. "But I'll cut out the center of the bagel, or have a 100-calorie sandwich thin," Gans says. "I'm always aware of my portion size."
"I eat chocolate every day."
Even dietitians have a sweet tooth, says Lauren Popeck, RD, a dietitian at Orlando Health. "Most days, I want dark chocolate," she says. "I stick to chocolate that is greater than 70 percent cacao with the least amount of added sugar I can find." Popeck's preferred bar has 230 calories and 11 grams of saturated fat per serving, but also packs a healthy 6 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. "It is rich and slightly bitter, so it's hard to overeat," she says. "One or two squares are completely satisfying." A bonus? Dark chocolate has the powerful antioxidants resveratrol and flavonoids.
You have to look at your diet as a whole, and not be so limiting or get down on yourself if you have a bad day.
"I'm a coffee addict."
Popeck admits to downing lots of coffee throughout the day, starting with at least 24 ounces in the morning, but she has her reasons: "The caffeine gives me a boost and makes me feel good in the morning," she says. "Coffee does have health benefits, like reduced risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. I keep mine simple by not adding sugar or cream, and I also have ample water." To maintain some balance, she keeps a 24-ounce bottle of water bottle at her desk and alternates sips of coffee and water.
"I eat a fat with every single meal."
Fat gets a bad rap, but the macronutrient is actually essential for heart health, hormone production, endurance exercise, blood pressure regulation, and hair and skin health, says Lauren Blake, RD, sports nutrition manager and dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center's Health & Fitness Center. "Key vitamins A, D, and E are fat-soluble and absorbed best when consumed with fat," she explains. "Aside from all the nutritional benefits, eating healthy fats help keep me satisfied, and prevents me from overeating throughout the day." Blake's go-to healthy-fats foods are avocados, nuts, seeds, cacao, and coconut oil.
"I drink (some of) my calories."
Gans doesn't abide by the always-calorie-free beverage rule. She selectively chooses the drinks she loves that pack a little something extra – but makes trade-offs. "A lot of people assume I don't drink," she explains. "I make myself a martini, but it's just one martini. If it's a glass of wine, it's one glass or a standard four-ounce pour." Gans also enjoys orange juice, but she slashes calories in half by cutting the OJ with seltzer water. She's a coffee fiend, but she only drinks it black. "You just can't turn your morning cup of Joe into a cup of dessert," she says. Simple and smart.
"I skip meals on the weekends."
Although common dietary wisdom insists you shouldn't skip meals, Popeck says she sometimes eliminates breakfast or lunch on the weekends. "Sometimes I indulge a bit too much on Friday or Saturday night," she says. "In turn, I'm not hungry on weekend mornings." Although Popeck is aware that this habit isn't ideal, she also knows how to get back on track. "I reboot on Monday morning with a nourishing breakfast of plain Greek yogurt, berries, and walnuts." She says deciding to start the new week with a healthy, filling breakfast keeps her motivated to eat well all week long.
"I have bedtime snacks."
According to Blake, you can eat a bedtime snack in the context of your normal, healthy diet and your body will process it just fine. "General health and weight loss are about nourishing our bodies with the nutrients it needs to work best, and keeping our blood sugar levels stable," she says. "Having a satisfied belly at bedtime will help you fall asleep and stay asleep." To get the best sleep, you should look to combine a fat and a carbohydrate before you hit the sack. "My favorite bedtime snacks are carrots and guac, apple slices and almond butter, coconut milk with berries, or mashed avocado and banana pudding," Blake says.
"I indulge in dips."
Popeck's friends and family have come to expect a giant veggie tray and multiple dips when they come over. "I love veggies, and sometimes I get carried away with eating too much dip," she says. "Even healthy dips like guacamole or hummus contain anywhere from 350 to 400 calories per 8-ounce container." Although Popeck says she could totally down a whole container by herself, she's found a strategy that helps: "I put lots of veggies and a few tablespoons of dip on a plate before moving away from the platter!"
"My daily diet isn't always balanced."
Although most dietitians stress balanced meals, Gans admits there are plenty of days she's on the run or eating out and will start to lack a key food group. "I'll think, 'You know what, I haven't had any fruit today,'" she says. "I stock it at home, but rarely get it while I'm out." Although balance is important, she tries to think of her dietary routine in terms of the big picture: "You have to look at your diet as a whole, and not be so limiting or get down on yourself if you have a bad day," she says. "It's not about one food I eat, or about one meal, but at the end of the week, I want to see balance and that I've consumed enough of all the key nutrients."
"I don't have next-level willpower."
Blake insists she doesn't have "dietitian superpowers" that allow her to avoid food temptation. "Many people blame themselves, or a lack of willpower, for not sticking to their diet," Blake says. "Instead of relying on my willpower, I control my environment at home so that tempting treats aren't accessible all of the time. If she keeps healthy food on hand at home, treats only get guest appearances in her eating regimen instead of a starring role. ("I would mindlessly eat like everyone else!" she admits.) When you're out and about and someone offers you a treat, Blake gives herself permission to eat all food — as long as she'll love it. "That criteria makes it easier to say no if it's not 100 percent worth it."