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May 18, 2009

The Eating Diaries

eating foods that are good for you

Power Snacking
Jump-start your energy with good fats and complex carbs, found in avocados and oat crackers.

Photo Credit: Craig Cutler

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Eating for Energy
I want to beat the late-day burnout

By Meredith Bryan, 29

The first time I speak to Ashley Koff—the Los Angeles—based nutritionist who will attempt to cure, via her energy diet, my habit of collapsing in a puddle of drool on my keyboard each day at 4 p.m.—I am impressed, and a little scared, by her sunny California peppiness. She's calling from the land of cardio kickboxing and early-morning farmers' markets. In New York, we dream about that life, then we order another saketini. On a Tuesday. We blow off the gym to go to the office on weekends. We diet by skipping dinner.

I worry that Koff's plan won't gel with my hectic, sleep-deprived lifestyle. I'm a vegetarian, yes, but the kind inclined to dinner rolls, not lentils. And I refuse to relinquish $4 double Americanos from my adorable neighborhood coffee shop (the only reason I get out of bed most weekdays).

Koff says that lack of energy is her patients' top complaint, and explains that my body is designed like a race car, not a streetcar—meaning it needs a pit stop every three hours to fuel up on a mix of carbs, fat, and protein. I tend to feel more like the Oldsmobile beater I drove in high school, but maybe that's because my diet lacks consistency. In any given week, I yo-yo between virtuous salads and "screw it" fried Tater Tots. Koff praises my occasional blueberry shakes—holdovers from a short-lived health kick a few years ago—but blames my frequent morning bagels for the fact that I stumble out of the office in a daze mid-afternoon to forage for Japanese chewy candies (of course, what I really want is . . . cheesecake).

The plan initially seems like a lot of work. I prefer diets involving a simple list of "yes" and "no" foods—that way, when I inevitably overeat, I can just starve myself later. But "eating occasions" every three hours, Koff swears, will keep me energized, since protein and good fats kick in after carbs' more immediate boost expires. So I dutifully stock the office fridge with options like celery sticks, hummus, avocados, nuts, and oat crackers. Carbs are limited to "fist-sized portions" to prevent precipitous energy crashes.

On Monday, my first day on the plan, I start off buzzing from the eight hours of sleep Koff insisted I get the night before. I check items off my to-do list with a vigor I haven't felt in years. Of course, just because I'm never hungry doesn't mean I don't eat the hummus calling to me from the office kitchen between "eating occasions." At least I'm not bingeing on Twizzlers.

But after a week, I notice I'm not losing weight. Not that that was the goal here, but after seven days of fist-sized portions, I would have welcomed it. I blame almond butter, which is one part ground nuts, one part crack. Koff counts it as protein and fat, making it an easy snack. She suggests one tablespoon; I regularly inhale four.

But despite my struggle with portion control, the energy benefits of the plan persist. Even when I get four hours' sleep on a deadline. And drink four glasses of wine instead of the one Koff suggests. What initially seemed like an annoyance—eating every three hours—quickly becomes second nature. How did I ever eat just one meal at work? What did I look forward to?

After the two weeks are over, I'm still making regular visits to the office fridge, experimenting with small meals of Greek yogurt, berries and nuts, or frozen veggie burgers with avocado. Food is not just for workday procrastination and indulgence, it turns out; it's also useful for staying awake! Koff predicted I soon wouldn't need my Americanos, and she's right—I don't. But I keep drinking them anyway. Some "eating occasions"—for me, caffeine, cheese, the occasional burrito binge—will always be about more than just fuel.

NEXT PAGE >> Food For Thought: Eating for Your Memory

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